Kingdom of God

The Future Kingdom in Zephaniah

From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2013. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The question of the literalness of the prophecies concerning Israel’s future is a major theological issue today. That issue is a key distinction between dispensational and Reformed/Covenant views of eschatology. In this article explores the prophecies related to Israel’s future in Zephaniah 3, and this careful interpretation provides a paradigm for interpreting other prophetic passages.

Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. He ministered after the spiritually disastrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon and during the attempted revival of godly King Josiah (640–609 B.C.). Unfortunately, Josiah’s revival was not enough to stem the tide of wickedness in the kingdom, and God allowed Judah to be captured and enslaved by the Babylonians, beginning with King Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Jerusalem in 605 B.C. Zephaniah probably penned his prophecy in the mid-620s. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Habakkuk.

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A Jewish Roots Perspective on Palm Sunday

Disciples and rabbis

Hundreds of sages or rabbis in the first century recruited disciples who would follow them to receive instruction in the Torah (the Law of Moses) and the oral interpretations of that Law propounded by notable rabbis. It was not unusual for a devout Jewish man to take a hiatus from his career for a month or two to follow a master teacher, traveling with him to minister in small towns and villages.

It seems that The Twelve followed Jesus part time for about two years and full time the last year and a half of His earthly ministry. This was an unusually long—but not unheard of—period of time.

There was nothing odd about a Jewish sage asking men to follow him as his disciples. The culture acclimated people to open their homes to traveling rabbis and their disciples and Jewish leaders established rules to regulate discipleship. For example, a married man could not leave home to follow a rabbi for more than 30 days without permission from his wife.

When Jesus told His disciples to borrow a donkey and explain that, “the Lord needs them” (Matt. 21:3)—this was not unusual either. The Jewish ethic taught individuals to do what they could to support the training of disciples, thus promoting Torah study (during that time, when one studied Torah, he entered “the Kingdom of God”). In fact, the Talmud instructs the disciple to prioritize his Rabbi even above his own father:

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Reflections on the Gospel of the Kingdom

As N. T. Wright observes, “kingdom of God has been a flag of convenience under which all sorts of ships have sailed.”1 These ships are social, political, nationalistic, and theological. Their corresponding agendas often have little to do with the arrival of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus. The kingdom as found and presented in the New Testament will not be pressed into a one-dimensional box. There are passages which indicate a present kingdom aspect (Luke 17:21) and others which indicate a future aspect (Matthew 25:34; Luke 21:17, 31). Multiple texts demonstrate that the gospel of the kingdom was the message of Jesus and the apostles (Luke 4:43; 9:1, 2). Jesus “instructed the seventy to proclaim, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ ” (Luke 10:1, 9). In Acts we find Philip who “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ….” (Acts 8:12). The Apostle Paul in Ephesus “entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Near the end of his ministry, Paul “expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God….” (Acts 28:23).

The opening of the gospel of Mark proclaims the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Jesus arrives on the scene, “preaching the gospel [of the kingdom, KJV] of God” (1:14). He announces that “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). The phrase “is near” can be understood as referring to something still to happen. However, as France comments, “If Jesus is understood to have proclaimed as ‘near’ something which had still not arrived even at the time when Mark wrote his gospel (let alone 2,000 years later), this is hardly less of an embarrassment than if he had claimed that ‘it’ was already present.”2

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