By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
When Christ appears in history he begins fulfilling the old covenant expectations: he announces the kingdom’s nearness. The kingdom’s coming does not await some distant future, as per dispensationalism.
John Baptist, Christ’s divinely commissioned forerunner, preaches: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). In Mark 1:14–15 Jesus takes up the same theme: “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’” This is a very important statement. I will note three crucial aspects of this declaration.
First, Christ asserts “the time” is fulfilled. What is “the time” to which he refers? The Greek term here is kairos, which indicates “the ‘fateful and decisive point,’ with strong, though not always explicit, emphasis . . . on the fact that it is ordained by God.”1 This “time” surely refers to the prophetically anticipated time, the time of the coming of David’s greater Son to establish his kingdom, for he immediately adds: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The Father sends Christ into the world in “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10),2 to initiate the “favorable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:16–21). This time is “the accepted time”/ “the day of salvation” (2Co 6:2).4 It is the very day righteous men and angels in the old covenant desire to see.5
Second, Christ clearly asserts that the time “is fulfilled.” Actually, a better translation of the verb tense and voice here (the perfect passive) would be: “The time has been fulfilled.” Luke 4:21 is similar to Mark 1:14–15 in regard to the time fulfillment: “And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Both the perfect tense (peplerotai, “has come to fulfillment”) and the emphatic position of “today” strongly emphasize the beginning of its fulfillment.6 That which is now being fulfilled is Isaiah 61:1ff, from which Christ quotes. The “acceptable year of the Lord” has come.
Apparently John the Baptist is significant for Christ as a line of demarcation separating the fading kingdom-expectation era from the dawning kingdom-fulfillment era. Earlier John notes of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). And Jesus observes regarding John: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Mt 11:11–14; cf. Mk 2:18–19; Lk 16:16).
Third, at this historical juncture — the beginning of his ministry — Christ clearly and pointedly announces that the kingdom is near. The root term engus literally means “at hand.” The word derives from compounding en (in, at) andguion (limb, hand).7
The time which Christ introduces as “at hand,” Paul later calls “the now time” (2Co 6:2; cf. Ro3:21–26; Eph 3:10; 2Ti 1:9–10). Though John and Jesus announce it, Jerusalem does not recognize the coming of “the time” (Lk 19:44; cf. Mt 23:37). This is a great tragedy for Israel in that their pronouncements summarized all that had been the object of Old Testament prophecy and of Israel’s expectation of the future from the oldest times…. “The time,” i.e., the great turning-point of history, promised by God himself for the full revelation of his kingly glory; the time for the liberation of his people and the punishment of his enemies.8
The kingdom’s early new covenant revelation, then, declares itsnearness in time, not its potential nearness, and certainly not its distance. Jesus promises that some of his hearers would live to see the kingdom’s acting in great power in history: “There are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mk 9:1). Here the root word erchomai, which is translated “come” is “not, as the English words may seem to mean, in the act of coming (till they see it come), but actually or already come, the only sense that can be put upon the perfect participle here employed.”9 Thus, his disciples expect to live to see its exhibitionin power. This would not be immediately, for some of his disciples would die before it comes in power. Yet it must be within the lifetimes of others, for “some” standing there would witness it. This apparently refers to the dramatic AD 70 destruction of the temple and the removal of the Old Testament worship system (cf. Heb 12:25–28; Rev 1:1, 3, 9). This occurs as a direct result of Jesus’ prophecies (Jn 4:21–23; Mt 21:33ff; 23:31–34:34).
Such data as these set the stage for clearly elucidating the victory theme. The long-awaited kingdom, which the Old Testament prophets expect, is about to break forth in history. Would its effect be wholly internal, limited to small pockets of the faithful? Or would it exhibit itself in powerful victory, transforming the mass of men in salvation, whole cultures by righteousness, and national governments for justice? Postmillennialists take the latter view.
1. Gerhard Delling, “kairos,” TDNT, 3:459.2. Of the Eph 1:10 reference Hodge comments: “This phrase does not indicate a protracted period — the times which remain — but the termination of times; the end of the preceding and commencement of the new dispensation.” Hodge, Ephe-sians, 48.3. For a related discussion of “the last days,” see ch. 13 “Eschatological Time Frames” in another blog article.4. Significantly, Paul is referring to Isa 49:8 which promises God’s restoring of Israel’s land. Obviously he sees this prophecy as applying in the New Testament context and the growth of the church of Jesus Christ.5. Mt 13:17; Lk 2:28–30; 10:24; Jn 8:56; Heb 11:13, 39–40; 2Pe 1:10–11.6. See discussion in Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom, 49.7. TDNT, 2:330.8. Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom, 13.9. Alexander, Mark, 230.