Overview of the story
The announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand in the Gospels has to do primarily with the fate of first century Israel. Jesus warned the people of impending national disaster but also offered a way of salvation for the nation if people would walk with him on the path that he was following.
This salvation is depicted in the first place in terms of the Old Testament hope of a final end to exile and the return of YHWH to a Zion set free from oppression. It becomes possible because Jesus suffered judgment in the place of others: the community which identified itself in faith with him, therefore, would not be destroyed but would survive to be the renewed people of God.
The process of restoration, however, would be painful for those who are saved. A second Old Testament motif is invoked in order to express the conviction that those who suffered during this period of tribulation would in the end be vindicated. In the prophetic drama of Daniel 7 a human figure representing the persecuted ‘saints’ of the Most High receives ‘dominion and glory and kingdom’.
The ‘coming of the Son of man’ is a defining moment in an historical process that saw the violent termination of temple worship, the scattering of Israel, the ‘defeat’ of Roman imperial power, and the emergence of a renewed international people of God; it is a prophetic motif signifying the transfer of sovereignty from Rome to the Christ and those in him.
Having received the kingdom, Christ now reigns at the right hand of the Father with those who suffered with him, who make up the ‘first resurrection’. The church is now, in effect, in a ‘post-eschatological’ situation, called to manifest the light of an authentic knowledge of God in the world, sustained by grace and unmediated by the structures of formal religious behaviour.
There remains the expectation of a final judgment, the overthrow of death, and the appearance of a new heaven and new earth.