THE PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Required Reading: Gospel of Luke, chapters 1-4
Pope John Paul II explains in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae that each of the “mysteries of light” is “a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.”[i] Therefore, with the divine robe restored to Adam in the Baptism of Christ, and the proper covenantal relationship between man and woman restored at the Wedding at Cana, Christ may now openly proclaim the Kingdom of God, the restoration of the dominion of Adam over all of creation.[ii]
Adam received dominion over creation because of his robe of glory, the gift of grace which likened him to God his Father, the King of all the universe. Thus, Adam was a king, not as a replacement of God’s kingship, but rather as an extension of God’s dominion over creation. “Adam was a subordinate ruler, a king (prince) under God. He was a king only because God had created him as such and ordered him to rule. God’s plan was for His image to rule the world under His law and oversight.”[iii] Adam thus found his royal dignity in his sonship, which in turn was confirmed in the familial covenant. However, when Adam disobeyed, he rejected the gift of God, his royal robe. As a natural consequence, he lost the dominion which he had exercised over creation.
Though Adam had rejected his duty and, therefore, lost his dominion, God did not leave man to his demise. From the moment of the Fall, God began to prepare man to return to his proper relationship as son, and, thus, to his proper office as king. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament the Sacred Text reveals God as a Father who is continually and systematically bringing man toward his redemption.
THE ANNOINTING OF SAUL
Although God remained King over the Universe, always directing it toward its end, He did not explicitly exercise His kingly power over man until He had prepared a kingdom to rule. Once God has formed His people as a nation, He reveals Himself as King over His earthly kingdom (Ex.19:6; Judg. 8:23; 1 Sam. 4:4, 12:12). God exercised His newly revealed kingship through a succession of mediators: “First Moses, then Joshua, and eventually through a line of fourteen judges, the last being the prophet and judge Samuel.”[iv] During the reign of Samuel, the people of God, surrounded by the pagan peoples, began to desire to look “like all the nations.”[v] Therefore, the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah saying, “appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:6). In much distress, Samuel turned to God for direction, Who said “Harken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (I Sam. 8:7). Under the direction of God, Samuel anointed Saul, son of Kish, king over Israel: “Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people?’ . . . And the Spirit of God came mightily upon him” (I Sam 10:1,10).[vi] Thus, Saul became the first “anointed” king of Israel. This anointing, performed by the pouring of oil, was a sign of the descent of the Spirit of God: “and the Spirit came mightily upon [him].”[vii] The gift of the Spirit changed Saul from within and likened him to Adam before the fall. He was “turned into another man” because the Spirit had “come mightily upon him” (1 Sm. 10:6). However, as God had forewarned and Samuel had prophesied, the king that the people requested would turn his back upon the Lord. Like the kings of “all the nations,” he would become a burden to Israel (1 Sm. 8:10-18), rejecting obedience to the King of all, like Adam at the fall.
Although God had allowed Saul to reign as king over Israel, He retained his own Divine kingship over the people he has prepared. As Sebastian Carnazzo explains, “God continued to collect a 10% ‘income tax,’ the tithe, which was used to support his Levitical army and government, and the building and maintenance of his royal palace, the Temple (cf. Lev. 27:30, 32). God’s royal authority and power were not diminished, and he continued to govern just as before. Therefore, Israel did not receive a substitute king, but rather a second king, who also required a 10% tax to support an army, government, and royal palace (cf. 1 Sam. 8:9-22).”[viii] When Saul began to act in a way contrary to God’s Kingship, as the Lord had foretold he would do, God sent Samuel to the tribe of Judah, to the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite. There, Samuel took Jesse’s youngest son David and made him king. “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him . . . and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 16:13). When David was anointed with oil, as the chosen one of God, he received the Spirit of God. In the same moment “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14).
THE PROMISE TO DAVID
Unlike Saul, David found favor in the sight of the Lord, Who blessed him through the mouth of the prophet Nathan:
I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. . . . And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place. . . . Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. . . . When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. (2 Sam. 7: 9-16)
Despite the covenantal promises of God to King David, within one generation, with the death of King Solomon, the son of David, and the election of David’s grandson Rehoboam, the great Davidic kingdom underwent a revolt.[ix] The ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel and elected a rival throne, while the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, united with the priestly tribe of Levi, remained loyal to the throne of David under the kingship of Rehoboam, and became known as the Kingdom of Judah (1 Kgs. 12:16-21).[x]
THE “END” OF THE DAVIDIC HOPE
The northern kingdom of Israel survived for approximately two centuries, but was eventually destroyed by the Assyrian empire (cf. 2 Kgs. 18:9-12).[xi] After undergoing a number of corrupt kings for over a century, the southern kingdom of Judah also faced annihilation, but this time at the hands of the Babylonians. “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; and they built siegeworks against it round about” (2 Kgs. 25:1). After a two year siege, King Zedekiah, the last Davidic king to rule in Jerusalem, was captured:
Then they captured the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Rilblah, who passed sentence upon him. They slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters, and took him to Babylon. . . Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city, . . . the captain of the guard carried into exile.” (2 Kgs. 25:6-11)
The kingdom of David appeared to have failed. What had come of the promises of Yahweh concerning the son of David, whose throne would last forever? Had God abandoned his covenantal promise that the son of David would also be the son of God? The first step in answering these important questions is to consider why God allowed the annihilation of the kingdom of Judah in the first place. Why were the people of God exiled from the Land of their fathers? Part of the answer lies in the Pentateuch of Moses.
THE YEAR OF RELEASE
In the book of Leviticus, Moses receives instruction from God for the celebration of a “Jubilee year.” Not only was Israel to keep holy the Sabbath day, but every seventh year was to be a year of rest: rest for the land, for the servants, for all of Israel, a rest unto the Lord. However, this year of rest was not the ultimate Sabbath: God also declared that “seven times seven years” should be counted, and “then you shall send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send abroad the trumpet throughout the all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family” (Lev. 25: 8-10). This command to kara deror, to proclaim release, was given to Israel so that they might “dwell in the land securely,” and so that “the land will yield its fruit,” and Israel could “eat her fill” (Lev. 25:18). This prescription, reminiscent of some of the images of Eden, was followed by a promise: “I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you. . . . And I will make my abode among you. . . . And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” These are promises that clearly call Israel back to Paradise (Lev. 26: 9-11). If Israel did not keep the Jubilee year, and did not walk in the ways of the Lord, God warned that He would destroy the cities of Israel and would “make the sanctuaries desolate.” God declared, “I will devastate the land. . . And I will scatter you among the nations” (Lev. 26:32-33).
WHY DID THE KINGDOM FALL?
The prophecy of Jeremiah gives a closer account of the fall of Zedekiah and the Davidic throne to the Babylonians. When “Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem,” Jeremiah was sent by God to declare to Zedekiah, king of Judah, “Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand, but you shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand” (Jer. 34:2-3). In response to this prophecy there could have been a number of reactions: Zedekiah could have surrendered, he might have attempted to escape, or he might have increased his defense and tried to rouse the soldiers to greater valor. However, Zedekiah’s next action was exactly what a Jewish king familiar with the Torah should do: he proclaimed a Jubilee year. King Zedekiah made a “covenant with all the people of Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them,” a kara deror (Jer. 34:8) To gain the proper perspective we must once again stand like Moses on Sinai, within the story, we must imagine ourselves as king Zedekiah standing in his ramparts with the whole of the Babylonian army at the gate of Jerusalem, under ultimate attack and sure defeat, with arrows whistling overhead and fire-balls falling from the sky.
In such a situation, the proclamation of the Jubilee seems ridiculous. However, under closer examination of the Levitical law as explained above and within the historical situation of the kingdom of Judah at the time, this decision was the only correct choice. Apparently, Zedekiah and the kings before him had failed to carry out the Jubilee proclamation. This is evident in Yahweh’s words: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I made a covenant with your fathers . . . saying, ‘at the end of six years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me” (Jer. 34:14). Initially the leaders in Jerusalem heeded King Zedekiah’s Jubilee proclamation, but this act of release was not from the heart, and soon the leaders repealed their promise of freedom. As Tim Gray explains, “Initially the leaders of Jerusalem swore a covenant oath to enact the Jubilee release, ‘[b]ut afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free’ (Jer. 34:11).”[xii] Thus, Zedekiah and all the people incurred the curse of Leviticus 26: “I [God] will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be desolate, and your cities shall be a waste” (Lev. 26:32). Through the mouth of the Prophet Jeremiah, God spoke the covenant curse upon Zedekiah and the inhabitance of Jerusalem:
You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, everyone to his brother and to his neighbor; behold I proclaim to you liberty of the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, says the Lord. (Jer. 34:18)
With the Davidic heirs murdered before Zedekiah’s face and the king’s eyes plucked from their sockets, with the people taken into exile and the throne of David and of God pillaged and burned, Yahweh’s promises to David the King seemed lost. As Zedekiah’s vision faded away, so the promise of Yahweh, to restore the son of David like Adam before the fall, as a son of God,[xiii] seemed to drift into darkness. For 600 years the Davidic dynasty seemed to disappear, and with it the promised covenant of Yahweh to David’s son: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14).
TURNING BACK TO THE LORD
With the hope of the restoration of Israel as a son of God through the Davidic king seemingly dashed, the people, upon return from the Babylonian exile, turned their hearts to God as their only royal Lord. N. T. Wright explains, “One slogan stands out from the . . . dreams of this period . . . ‘no King (hegemon, despotes) but God.’” [xiv] Thus in the prophesy of Isaiah we find the words, “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our ruler, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Is. 33:22). Nonetheless, this refocused attention upon the Kingship of Yahweh does not mean that God could not act through a human king, who would restore the proper relationship between God and His people, a relationship of Father and son, as promised to the son of David. Thus, the prophecy of Isaiah presents a mysterious Servant of Yahweh in these words, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice” (Is. 42:1). As N. T. Wright teaches, “YHWH’s being king does not mean that Israel will have no rulers at all, but that she will have the right rulers.”[xv]
JOSHUA, ANNOINTED IN THE JORDAN RIVER
For 600 years the Davidic kingdom seemed to be lost, until a man named Joshua (Gk. Jesus) walked into the waters of the Jordan. In the infancy narrative of Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel announces that Jesus “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). When the time came for Joseph to return to his father’s native town to be enrolled according to the decree of Caesar Augustus, he took Mary and went to “Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Lk. 2:4). It was here that Mary gave birth to the one whom the Angel had declared would be both the son of God and the son of David. This event fulfills the words of the prophet Micah: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel, whose origin is from of old, from the ancient of days” (Micah 5:2). These words, in company with the words of 1 Samuel, where we read the instruction of God to Samuel the judge, “Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” (1 Sam. 16:1) combine to shine light upon the Lucan infancy narrative: Jesus is the son of David who is also the Son of God prophesied in the covenantal promise of 2 Samuel 7 (vs. 13-14).
THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GREAT JUBILEE
At Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan “The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove” (Lk. 3:22). And after 40 days in the desert, Jesus returned “in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Lk. 4:14).
And he came to Nazareth . . . and he went to the synagogue . . . on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk. 4:16-21).
To the men in the Synagogue that day in Nazareth, the words of Jesus would have been as the words of God Himself. For those who had ears to hear, who understood the plight of the Jewish people, the words of Jesus would have been the words of a king that they had awaited for many centuries. Jesus made the words of the Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy His own: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me” (Is. 61:1). He declared the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him in the Jordan to have been an anointing, the royal anointing. No one but the king (messiah), the descendant of David, had the power to say or was expected to say what Jesus said next, “He has sent me to proclaim release (kara deror). . . to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”[xvi] Jesus had declared Himself, in the hearing of all the people, to be the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed King of God, and openly announced the Jubilee declaration of release to those in bondage.
As His Holiness John Paul II has explained, when Jesus proclaims “the coming of the Kingdom of God,” He primarily “calls to conversion (cf. Mk. 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to Him in humble trust (Mk. 2:3-13; Lk. 7:47-48)”; it is, as the Pope points out, “the inauguration of [the] ministry of mercy.”[xvii] This is exactly what Christ does when He makes the words of Isaiah His own in the Synagogue at Nazareth, proclaiming release through forgiveness. N. T. Wright explains that if Israel were to be restored to her proper relationship with her Creator, “Israel’s God had to deal with her sins.”[xviii] As Tim Gray teaches, “The ‘release’ that Jesus proclaims and enacts is a release not from soldiers, but from Satan. . . . The release Jesus proclaims and is bringing about cuts far deeper than the old Jubilee legislation ever could. The debts to be canceled are the sins of both the Jews and the Gentiles.”[xix]
THE SABBATH DAY OF PARADISE RESTORED
With the proclamation of release, the forgiveness of sins, on the lips of the King, Christ Jesus is placed within the Jubilee framework of the Sabbath. Tim Gray explains:
For Israel, the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, was the sign of the covenant God made with her at the time of her Exodus from Egypt. In addition, every seventh year was a Sabbath year (from which we get the term ‘sabbatical’), a yearlong sign of the covenant. After a series of seven Sabbath years (for a total of 49 years), the next year, the fiftieth, was to be a year long festival of joy (jubilation) and celebration (Lev. 25:10). The fiftieth year was the year of Jubilee. The jubilee year was the Sabbath of Sabbaths of Sabbaths, the covenant sign par excellence.[xx]
In order to understand the Jubilee within its proper context, we must recall that the instruction for this year of Jubilation was given during the time of the Exodus, when God released Israel from the bondage of slavery. The year of Jubilee was therefore meant to recall to the Jewish people the mercy of God in releasing them from the bondage of Egypt. According to the “Edenic Paradigm,” which was the mindset of the Jewish people at the time of Christ, the event of the Exodus is not to be understood as standing alone or as an event without background. It must be understood in light of the events of the story of Adam and Eve, and the fall from Paradise. Thus, N. T. Wright reminds his readers that: “The exodus had long been associated with the act of creation itself.”[xxi] Ultimately, the Jubilee covenant proclamation of Christ should not be understood in light of the Exodus alone, but also in light of the Sabbath day of Paradise, the festival day of the universe. The Exodus itself must be seen fundamentally as an act of re-creation; David Chilton explains, “God’s saving of His people through the Exodus was a re-enactment of the history of the Creation: in saving Israel, God was constituting them a New Creation.”[xxii] God uses the Exodus to re-create His people, releasing them from the bondage of slavery to sin, and leading them from exile into the Promised Land, where they are given dominion over Eden. Tim Gray, commenting on the prophesy of Isaiah, explains that “God promises that if the jubilee is truly practiced and the poor are taken care of, then the Lord will bless the land such that it will be like a new Eden.”[xxiii]
THE RELEASE OF ADAM
In proclaiming the Jubilee year, Christ does much more than proclaim release from material slavery: He also forgives Adam the sin for which he was cast from the Garden of Delight. Christ Jesus has restored Adam; He has placed upon his shoulders His own robe, the royal robe, the robe of grace by which Adam exercised his dominion over creation. In the Dead Sea Scroll 11QMelchizadek, we find the expectation of those men who had prepared themselves for the coming of the Kingdom of God. In his exegesis of this scroll, Tim Gray explains, “When the Messiah came he would announce the Jubilee year ‘to free them from the [debt] of all their iniquities.’”[xxiv] This Jubilee year, which the men of the Qumran community awaited, was called the “year of grace.”[xxv] This would be the year in which the faithful of Israel would finally be released from the debt of sin handed down from their fathers. It was this day that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed – the ultimate forgiveness of sin, the restoration of the Kingdom of God.
Let us stand in Eden on the Sabbath day and hear the footsteps of the Father walking in the garden. Let us see Adam humble himself in the Jordan instead of hide his shame in the fig tree. Let us see the prodigal son make his way home and the heavenly Father gird His loins and clothe His son once more in His own Robe, placing the ring of dominion on the finger of Adam, forgiving his debt, and restoring him as an heir to the kingdom of God. With Adam restored to his kingship, let us turn our gaze to Tabor, to witness the royal enthronement, seeing Adam shine in the person of Jesus the Christ, enthroned at the feast of Tabernacles.
[i]John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 21.
[ii]See Week I.
[iii]Chilton, Paradise Restored, 67.
[iv]Sebastian Carnazzo, “Foundations for the Papacy in Sacred Scripture,” NDGS Angelus, Fall (1999), 1.
[v]1 Sm. 8:5.
[vi] “The title ‘Christ’ is a transliteration of the Greek christos, which means ‘anointed one,’ and is equivalent in meaning to the Hebrew word messiah” (Sebastian Carnazzo, “Foundations for the Papacy in Sacred Scripture,” 1).
[vii]Three offices of Israel were conferred through anointing; priest (cf. Ex. 19:6; Judg. 8:23; 1 Sm. 4:4, 12:12), prophet (cf. Is. 61:1), and king (cf. 1 Sm. 10:1, 10; 16:13; 1 Kgs. 1:38-39), as well as any object that was to be used in a liturgical function (cf. Ex. 30:26-29). All of these anointing with oil were a visible sign of the invisible reality of the Holy Spirit being poured forth.
[viii]Sebastian Carnazzo, “Foundations for the Papacy in Sacred Scripture,” 2.
[ix]c. 930 B.C.
[x] The tribe of Levi who had inherited the temple and its service as their portion also remained loyal to the Davidic throne. Because they were not a “land” holding tribe they are often forgotten in a discussion about the political trials of the time. However, the tribe of Levi is an essential element in the argument, for, although they do not appear as a political power to the modern scholar, steeped as he is in post-revolutionary society, the power and justification of the throne of David was intimately tied to the union of the throne with the sacrifice of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is for this reason, that David’s throne was established by God and was maintained by the same, that the union of the southern tribes with the tribe of Levi, who held the “true land” of the Temple, is essential to a proper understanding of the political strife between the North and the South.
[xi]“The Samaritan people that are living in the land of the Northern tribes during the time of Christ were the result of the political conquest by the Assyrian empire. D. A. Carson explains the historical development, “King Omri named the new capital of the northern kingdom ‘Samaria’ (1 Kgs. 16:24), which name was then transferred to the district and sometimes to the entire northern kingdom. After the Assyrians captured Samaria in 722-721 BC, they deported all the Israelites of substance and settled the land with foreigners, who intermarried with the surviving Israelites and adhered to some form of their ancient religion” [D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eardmans Publishing Company, 1991), 216].
[xii]Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 34.
[xiii] 2 Sam. 7:14.
[xiv]Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 302.
[xv]Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 307.
[xvi]In the Dead Sea Scroll 11QMelchizadek, we find the expectation of those men who had prepared themselves for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Tim Gray, explaining the scroll, says that “when the Messiah came he would announce the Jubilee year ‘to free them from the [debt] of all their iniquities” (Tim Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 36).