This week I received an email from someone grappling with the question of “the genuine offer of the kingdom” in the gospels. This correspondent was questioning whether traditional dispensationalism is right to say that Jesus offered the kingdom to Israel, meaning that had Israel received Jesus as king he would have ushered in the last days right then and there.
Well, at one level, that’s something of a trick question. It’s kind of like asking: What if the unevangelized repent and believe apart from the preaching of the gospel, do we still need to send missionaries to them? Such won’t happen because of the reality of human sin. If the Israelites had received Jesus as king, it would be because they weren’t sinners (John 8:47). The presence of Jesus exposes (for them and for us) the cold, deep reality of rebellion (John 3:19-21).
Yes, Jesus genuinely offered the kingdom, but he did so by pointing out who is qualifed (and who isn’t) to inherit it. It is not an offer based on ethnic or political identity. The Kingdom was never promised in the Old Testament based on bloodline. After all, there were many circumcised Israelites, with the blood of Abraham in their veins, who perished in the wilderness, the Bible reminds us.
The kingdom was offered to those who show themselves to be sons of God through trust in his promises and obedience to his commands. That’s why Jesus reiterates, with the Psalmist, that the meek shall inherit the earth (can also be translated, as it is often from the Psalms, “the land”.) Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is showing who inherits the kingdom, but he does so by excluding anyone who is a sinner. He shows himself, and himself only, to be the heir of the kingdom by birthright.
In the baptism, the temptations, the cross, and the resurrection, Jesus identifies himself with sinful humanity, and frees us from the kingdom of the satanic powers. Without this atonement, the Book of Romans shows us who among the Jewish people or the Gentiles would qualify for life in the kingdom: no one, no not one (Rom 1-3).
That’s really the fatal flaw of some of the popular systems that have come along in the past 150 years. They sometimes seem to make the cross and the empty tomb (the gospel!) a reclamation plan after Israel rejected the kingdom. But the Bible shows us that they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and that everyone is disqualified for life in the kingdom, everyone Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.
There is only one “genuine offer” of the kingdom in Scripture that comes apart from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and it isn’t made by the Father (Matt 4:7-9). In Christ’s identity and in his inheritance, though, we are made into a kingdom of priests, a holy people, heirs according to the promise.