‘The Kingdom Is at Hand’—When?
THE kingdom of God has always been of primary importance to Christians. The pre-Christian servants of God also looked forward to the Kingdom. In fact, the Kingdom is the theme of the entire Bible, for it is the kingdom of God that will sanctify Jehovah’s name and bring peace and blessings to humankind. Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom; he put it to the fore and set forth many parables concerning the Kingdom. In the four Gospels the word “kingdom” appears more than a hundred and ten times. The coming of the Kingdom is therefore of transcendent importance. It brings to prominence the questions: When is the Kingdom at hand? and, What would the announcement ‘The Kingdom is at hand’ mean to us?
The first time this proclamation was heard was by a crowd of Jews near the Jordan River in 29 C.E. Many had come out to hear the powerful preacher of this news. He was John, the son of priest Zechariah, who came in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3: “Listen! Someone is calling out in the wilderness: ‘Clear up the way of Jehovah, you people! Make the highway for our God through the desert plain straight.’” The theme of John’s message was: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matt. 3:2, AV; Luke 1:5, 13.
WHAT IT MEANT IN THE FIRST CENTURY
Was this proclamation to be limited to the ministry of John and his disciples? No, for about six months after John’s ministry began, look! approaching him to be baptized was a kingly person, of whom it had been said by the angel Gabriel before his birth: “This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Something marvelous took place at his baptism by John. The record reads: “The holy spirit in bodily shape like a dove came down upon him, and a voice came out of heaven: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’” (Luke 3:22) Earthly priests of flesh and blood had anointed his previous fellow kings of the line of David with a specially compounded oil, but it was Jehovah himself from the heavens who anointed this One who bore the earthly name Jesus. (Heb. 1:9) And it was with something that gave infinitely greater power and authority—God’s holy spirit. Here Jesus became the long-awaited Messiah or Christ, the Anointed One of God. He became king-designate of the kingdom of God. He was Jehovah’s king, among them. He as King was present, the kingdom of heaven in their midst! The Son of God in his royal majesty as Jehovah’s king and representative had full right to the title Immanuel, meaning “With Us Is God.” Men could actually converse with God’s king and see and learn the kingdom’s principles and requirements.
CHIEF OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
Jesus was anointed not only to be King but also to preach. Since the primary purpose of the Kingdom is to sanctify Jehovah’s name, its king must be a witness to Jehovah. As king-designate Jesus must undergo the test of integrity to prove qualified for heavenly kingship. Jesus had been born into the nation of Israel or Jacob, of which the prophet Isaiah had said: “This is what Jehovah has said, your Creator, O Jacob, and your Former, O Israel: . . . ‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen, . . . So you are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’” (Isa. 43:1, 10-12) Jesus knew he was born under the obligation to be a witness and also that he had been anointed with God’s spirit to proclaim the year of goodwill on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God.—Isa. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:19.
Jesus proved to be Jehovah’s greatest witness and qualified eminently as king. Before Pontius Pilate he made the fine public declaration: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37; 1 Tim. 6:13) The apostle John, who stood near Jesus at his death on the stake, writes of him as “Jesus Christ, ‘the Faithful Witness,’ ‘The firstborn from the dead,’ and ‘The Ruler of the kings of the earth.’” In every way he was an example for his followers, Jehovah’s witnesses of today.—Rev. 1:5; 3:14.
After undergoing a searching test of integrity in the wilderness, Jesus returned to Capernaum and opened up his ministry with the same words that John had opened his, namely: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Or, “is at hand,” AV; Matt. 4:17) As a reward for the faithful course of being a witness even to death, Jehovah had promised Jesus Christ a reward. This reward was to be a bride, not an earthly woman as a wife, but a spiritual bride, a choice group of followers, who, like him, would be faithful witnesses right down to a sacrificial death, Jesus’ kind of death. (John 3:29; Rom. 6:3) Out of all those who came to him and followed him to be prospective members of the bride, Jesus chose twelve to be apostles. These he thoroughly trained and sent forth to preach: “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 10:1-7; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16) So along with Jesus’ witnessing to Jehovah’s name he also was doing Kingdom work, the work of Kingdom development, for he was teaching and training those who would be associates with him in his kingdom. His twelve apostles corresponded with the sons of the patriarch Jacob, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel descended. (Gen. 49:28) In like manner the new Christian congregation, known as spiritual Israel, which would eventually be the Kingdom organization, was to rest upon the twelve apostles of the Lamb as foundation stones, but all twelve apostolic foundation stones rested on the Chief Foundation Stone, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.—Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:2, 9, 10, 14.
ZION’S KING PRESENTED TO HER
Besides being a Kingdom witness, Jesus Christ must be presented officially to Zion as her King. The prophecy at Zechariah 9:9 had to be fulfilled, which said: “Be very joyful, O daughter of Zion. Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem. Look! Your king himself comes to you. He is righteous, yes, saved; humble, and riding upon an ass, even upon a full-grown animal the son of a she-ass.” Jesus served as Jehovah’s greatest witness on earth for three and a half years, and, as the end of his ministry neared, the middle of the seventieth week of years approached, as foretold at Daniel 9:26, 27. This prophecy had foretold that he would be cut off as a human sacrifice to God, causing the animal sacrifices and gift offerings at the temple at Jerusalem to cease to be of real value. Jesus would become, as designated by John, “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” a sacrifice not on the altar at Jerusalem but on God’s great altar arrangement.—Heb. 13:10; 1 Pet. 1:19.
The middle of the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy arrived at Passover time, 33 C.E. Jesus as a faithful Jewish man had to attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. Jesus had been in Jerusalem many times before. When he was forty days old he was taken to the temple at the time of the ceremonial purification of his mother Mary, according to the Law. (Luke 2:21-38; Lev. 12:1-4) Since then he had made many visits to Jerusalem. One notable visit was in 32 C.E. to observe the festival of tabernacles, not openly, but as in secret, for even then the Jews were seeking to kill him when his time for dying had not yet come. (John 7:1-13) This time could not come until he had offered himself as King. This Passover, Nisan 14, 33 C.E., was the time for his sacrifice to be made.
A thousand years before, when King Solomon was presented to Zion as her king, he rode on a she-mule of his father, King David, and was welcomed by the people with great gladness. The apostle Matthew and his fellow apostle John describe the presentation of Jesus Christ, the Greater Solomon, as Zion’s King:
“When they got close to Jerusalem and arrived at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives then Jesus sent forth two disciples, saying to them: ‘Be on your way into the village that is within sight of you, and you will at once find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. And if someone says anything to you, you must say, “The Lord needs them.” At that he will immediately send them forth.’ This actually took place that there might be fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet, saying: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, “Look! Your King is coming to you, mild-tempered, and mounted upon an ass, yes, upon a colt, the offspring of a beast of burden.”’ So the disciples got on their way and did just as Jesus ordered them. And they brought the ass and its colt, and they put upon these their outer garments, and he seated himself upon them.
“Most of the crowd spread their outer garments on the road, while others began cutting down branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. As for the crowds, those going ahead of him and those following kept crying out: ‘Save, we pray, the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name! Save him, we pray, in the heights above!’ Now when he entered into Jerusalem, the whole city was set in commotion, saying: ‘Who is this?’ The crowds kept telling: ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee!’”—Matt. 21:1-11.
“The great crowd that had come to the festival, on hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. And they began to shout: ‘Save, we pray you! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name, even the king of Israel!’ But when Jesus had found a young ass, he sat on it, just as it is written: ‘Have no fear, daughter of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, seated upon an ass’s colt.’ These things his disciples took no note of at first, but when Jesus became glorified, then they called to mind that these things were written respecting him and that they did these things to him.”—John 12:12-16.
Mark 11:11 adds: “And he entered into Jerusalem, into the temple; and he looked around upon all things, and, as the hour was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Here Zion had official notice that the Kingdom was at hand, but she refused to recognize the King and rejected him because of the influence of her religious leaders, who were Babylonish and against God’s kingdom. Matthew 21:15, 16 informs us: “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the marvelous things he did and the boys that were crying out in the temple and saying: ‘Save, we pray, the Son of David!’ [therefore the heir to the throne of David] they became indignant and said to him: ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them: ‘Yes. Did you never read this, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have furnished praise”?’” (Ps. 8:2) The religious leaders had, however, already decided to kill Jesus for fear that, as they said, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”—John 11:47-57.
EARTHLY ZION REJECTS HER KING
Here was Zion’s king, the One to sit on “Jehovah’s throne,” in their midst. The kingdom of the heavens had indeed drawn near, but the people under the influence of their leaders would not accept him as King. The next day he returned to Jerusalem. “There he entered into the temple and started to throw out those selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves; and he would not let anyone carry a utensil through the temple, but he kept teaching and saying: ‘Is it not written, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a cave of robbers.’ And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and they began to seek how to destroy him; for they were in fear of him, for all the crowd was continually being astounded at his teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18) Thus with power and authority he cleansed the temple of the religious commercialism practiced there. What a foreboding for Babylonish religious commercialists of our day, when he returns in Kingdom power!
On Passover night Judas Iscariot led the enemies of Jesus and betrayed him in the garden of Gethsemane. Then Jesus was sentenced to death in a night session of. the Jewish Sanhedrin or Supreme Court in Jerusalem. In the morning, because the Jews themselves, due to Roman domination, could not execute the death penalty, the Sanhedrin turned him over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.—Matt. 26:47–27:14.
Upon examining Jesus, Pilate found no cause for death in him and offered to release him, as it was the custom for one person to be released from the death sentence at Passover time. Insistently the Jewish religious authorities cried out for the release, not of Jesus, but of a murderer and robber, Barabbas. (Acts 3:13-15; 13:28) They demanded that Jesus be hung on a stake and, differently from Pilate, who wanted to be free of innocent blood, they cried: “His blood come upon us and upon our children.” (Matt. 27:15-26) They made the charge against Jesus that he was seditious against the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar. Pilate in a last attempt to save Jesus said, “See! Your king!” and, “Shall I impale your king?” thinking to appeal to their Jewish nationalism. “The chief priests answered: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”—John 19:14, 15.
In taking this course of action these religious leaders of the Jews were certainly reprehensible. First, they deliberately refused to acknowledge the king Jehovah had sent and to help the Jewish people to see that their King was indeed at hand. Moreover, though they themselves claimed to be priests of God, they were seditious against God and degraded their priestly office by accepting as king the Pontifex Maximus of pagan religion. Even in Jesus’ death they did not want him to be acknowledged as King, for they objected to the sign that Governor Pilate insisted on posting over Jesus’ head on the torture stake, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.”—John 19:12-22.
Even though the Jewish leaders took their puny precautions by having Pilate seal the door of the memorial tomb, which may have made them feel more at ease to enjoy their formal Passover festival, they did not do away with the King of Israel, for on the third day, Nisan 16, which is the day of offering barley-harvest firstfruits to Jehovah at his temple, God himself brought forth a far finer firstfruits by raising his Son Jesus Christ from the dead.
These chief priests and other religious leaders overlooked the fact that King David himself had written at Psalm 16:10: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol. You will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.” On this sixteenth day of Nisan Jesus was raised up, but no longer in a fleshly body that can be harmed and put to death by men. During the time of his fleshly presence among the Jews, which presence meant that the kingdom of the heavens had drawn near to Zion, Jesus proved his faithfulness and his qualifications to be raised up an immortal glorious spirit person. This is why the watchmen whom Pilate allowed the chief priests and Pharisees to station at the tomb could not see Jesus resurrected, for they could not see a spirit person. They did, however, behold the materialized angel who broke the sealed tomb. As the apostle Peter later wrote: “Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.”—1 Pet. 3:18; Matt. 27:57–28:4, 11-15.
WHEN ‘KINGDOM AT HAND’ NOT PREACHED
Jesus gave ample proof of his resurrection to his faithful disciples by appearing in many instances through the miraculous materialization of a human body. Then he went to the heavens to sit at the right hand of his Father, expecting or waiting till the time that he was to take over his power as the heavenly king. (Ps. 110:1, 2; Heb. 10:12, 13) On the festival day of Pentecost the fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter stood up and quoted Psalm 16:10 and then said: “[David] saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in Hades [Greek translation for the Hebrew Sheol] nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses.”—Acts 2:29-33.
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven the King was no longer at hand and therefore the kingdom of the heavens was no longer at hand. In fact, Jesus was not now exercising kingly authority except over those who were members of the Christian congregation. For this reason Jesus’ disciples did not announce “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” after his death. Jesus had told them that he would go away and he would come back in glorious kingdom power and he gave the disciples parables to this effect while he was on earth. (John 14:3; Matt. 25:31; Luke 19:11-27) The King would not again appear in the flesh in earthly Zion. The Kingdom was now something in the future. It was to administer the affairs of the entire earth from heaven, heavenly Zion, in due time. There was now no king upon “Jehovah’s throne” and there would not be until the seven “times of the Gentiles” had expired, which time would come in 1914 C.E. (Dan. 4:25; Ps. 2:6, 8; 110:2; Rev. 12:5, 10) That the Kingdom was not ruling and that Jesus’ disciples could not consider themselves kings even though they were in line for the heavenly kingdom to rule ultimately as kings was definitely shown by the apostle Paul when he reprimanded the Corinthian Christians, saying: “You men already have your fill, do you? You are rich already, are you? You have begun ruling as kings without us, have you? And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, that we also might rule with you as kings.”—1 Cor. 4:8; 2:2.
‘KINGDOM AT HAND’ NOW
However, all evidences now show that the King has taken his power in heaven and has begun his reign and therefore we again hear proclaimed world wide the message, “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” Just as with the preaching of Jesus when the kingdom of heaven was at hand in the days of earthly Zion or Jerusalem, so in these days the proclamation “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” is accompanied by the declaration of judgment on the Babylonish religious leaders. Particularly does it expose those who claim to believe in God’s kingdom and to preach it, but who do not want its rule and who try to block the news of the ‘Kingdom established’ from reaching the people, thereby hindering others from recognizing the Kingdom.—Isa. 61:2.
Just as Jesus did many miraculous works of healing and other powerful works of cleansing the temple and saving the people when he was at hand then, so in a complete and earth-wide sense he will do so during his Kingdom reign. Before this healing can come, however, those who have opposed the Kingdom must be cleared out; first of all, Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, after which the proclamation can be made, “Praise Jah, you people, because Jehovah our God, the Almighty, has begun to rule as king.” (Rev. 19:6) Yes, he will rule in an even wider way than at present, for then there will be no religious rival to true worship. Next, he will reign in the fullest extent when even the political governments of the world which now oppose his kingdom will be wiped out and the glorious thousand-year reign of Christ begins, in which those 144,000 whom he has chosen will reign with him and will be able to administer to all families of the earth the blessings promised by the Abrahamic covenant.—Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:29.