When Jesus proclaims that “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15), He draws upon a powerful idea that pervades the Hebrew Scriptures and history. There was an expectation in the Hebrew Scriptures that God’s kingdom would catastrophically break into the world. The Scriptures described a figure—the Messiah or Son of Man—who would inaugurate God’s kingdom and bring renewal and change to earth. But even as He proclaimed the kingdom’s arrival, Jesus also offered a radically different understanding of what the kingdom was all about.
To help us understand that, let me offer a quick overview of four other approaches to the hope of God’s kingdom that were prominent in Jesus’ day. I am drawing upon the helpful summary of these approaches in Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen’s book The True Story of the Whole World.
- The Pharisees – The Pharisees were a religious group deeply concerned about compromising with culture. Because of this they advocated for strong religious separation from pagan corruption and radical obedience to God’s Word. They worked within the existing religious structures, the synagogues, to urge the people to influence culture by being different. The wanted to bring the kingdom by forceful separation.
- The Essenes – Like the Pharisees, a second group had a similar desire to be different from the culture but took a very different approach to that. The Essenes withdrew from society, forsaking even the existing religious structures to form entirely separate communities centered on God. It is likely that the area of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, was an Essene community. The wanted to bring the kingdom through withdrawal.
- The Zealots – A third group, the Zealots, were furious with the Roman occupation of God’s land. Like the Pharisees, the Zealots called for radical obedience to God’s Word, but took it to another level. They promoted violent revolution against Rome. While the Zealots were not really one organized movement, these groups took their religious commitment frightfully seriously, sparking revolutionary movements against Rome that eventually led to reprisals from Rome, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. They wanted to bring the kingdom by violence.
- The Sadducees – A fourth group was known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees were largely a priestly group responsible for the maintenance of the Temple. They held positions of power with great influence under the Roman occupation, but often made politically compromises with the occupying forces of Rome in order to stabilize the country and maintain their power. They sought to bring hope and God’s kingdom through compromise.
Each of these groups wanted to bring in the hope of God’s kingdom, but they took different approaches toward making that happen: forceful separation, withdrawal, violence, or compromise. Jesus’ approach is distinct from all of these. So let’s examine first what it is that Jesus declares and then what it is that Jesus does.
First, in Luke 4:16-21, Jesus declares that He is the One who fulfills God’s promises in the prophets – the One who is to come and usher in the kingdom. After reading in His hometown synagogue from Isaiah 61, which speaks of the arrival of God’s kingdom, Jesus boldly declares:
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
And when Jesus begins His public ministry, as we have already read in Mark 1:15, He says:
“The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
This is a bold proclamation—a declaration that something new has come. The only response to such a thing is to repent; that is, turn around, pay attention, and respond to this new reality.
To those holding various other views, such as the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Sadducees, Jesus essentially says, “Turn away from your current approach. God is doing something new in Me. Turn from your old ways of bringing in God’s kingdom and follow after Me and My way.” Yes, repentance is a turning from sin, but it is also a turning from alternate ways of living and alternate philosophies.
In a world that offers all sorts of philosophies of life, Jesus says there is one philosophy that truly brings in God’s kingdom and reflects God’s kingdom and it only comes from and in Him.
 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The True Story of the Whole World: Finding your place in the biblical drama (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2009), 102-103.