While chapter 6 of The King Jesus Gospel centers on the gospel that is Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, chapter 7 concentrates on Jesus’ own preaching during his lifetime. McKnight’s question is simple: Did Jesus proclaim that Israel’s story was coming to completion in himself?
To show that, in fact, Jesus did place himself at the culmination of Israel’s story, McKnight first focuses on the concept of kingdom in the gospels. Spend just a brief amount of time in the gospels and you will find Jesus saying all sorts of things about either a kingdom of heaven or a kingdom of God. Kingdom is a major theme, but what has it to do with Israel?
Suffice it to say, in this confined space, that Israel, throughout its history, had idealized the notion of a people of God living in a particular realm and ruled by (1) God and (2) a human king who accurately represents God. For the bulk of Israel’s history, then, the people had looked back on the glory days of David’s rule and longed for a return at least to such a level.
Enter Jesus, who, when it’s all boiled down, proclaims that those glory days are now being exceeded. He is the representative king they’ve been waiting for. He is establishing a new citizenry of God (twelve new tribes led by twelve disciples, anyone?). He is setting the realm’s boundaries as the whole of creation. Indeed, in him God is claiming His rightful rule over the earth and the people of God. And it’s all happening in and around Jesus.
This is the core of McKnight’s message. The gospel, as originally understood, was not essentially about the justification of believers. It was not about some non-temporal heavenly salvation. The gospel was a historical hope, now realized. It was the restoration and expansion of the kingdom of God. It was the resultant liberation of the faithful people of God. It was the true representative of God ascending to the throne of Israel and the world.
The message of the gospels, then, is that all this happened. And it happened in and through Jesus of Nazareth.