I’m re-reading NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, which should be required reading for anyone who knows English.
Beginning at page 228, Wright discusses Jesus’ quintessential announcement that the Kingdom of God had indeed drawn near in and through his life and work.
It’s funny, Jesus talks so much about the Kingdom of God, but I’m not sure many Christians know what it means.
In my own words, following Wright’s lead, it means this: When a first century Jew heard Jesus say that the Kingdom of God had drawn near, the Jew would have thought in terms of God acting in their day to vindicate His people Israel. The Jew would have thought that God was coming, perhaps supernaturally, perhaps in the form of a representative hero, to defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the nation to sovereign rule over, at least, her own affairs. The Kingdom of God could very well have been virtually synonymous with Israel in her rightful place, the blessed of God.
Of course, the astonishing part about the gospels is that the Kingdom of God means all of that and a lot more. And it turns out the Kingdom comes in a way completely unexpected by the majority of Jews in the first century.
Israel’s enemies (or enemy, more probably) were defeated. The true people of God were vindicated. The representative hero of God was victorious and exalted to the throne, his rightful place.