So what did Jesus mean when He told the people of Nazareth, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”?
In order to understand the New Testament, we must understand the “already/not yet” character of the Kingdom. As Jesus proclaims here, the Kingdom has arrived with the ministry of Jesus. Yet the complete fulfillment of all the promises of the Kingdom awaits His second coming. Throughout this time between His first and second comings, the Kingdom is already here, but is not yet fully realized.
Why? Why didn’t Jesus usher in the final Kingdom in 30 AD? Why didn’t He end history at that time?
Consider: What happens if the Kingdom comes before Jesus dies on the cross? Remember, in the final Kingdom there is perfect justice. Perfect righteousness. But Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Thus, in a crossless Kingdom of perfect justice, there are no human citizens. So if men and women are to inhabit the kingdom, the final fulfillment of the Kingdom must await Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That explains why Jesus had to suffer and die; that explains why He could not usher in His kingdom during His lifetime on earth. But why didn’t He come back shortly after His death? Why didn’t He come back in, say, 50 AD? Or 500 AD? Or 1500 AD?
At any of those points, some humans would have been forgiven. There would have been human citizens of the Kingdom. But the Kingdom would not have included those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The promise to Abraham – that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him – would not have been fulfilled. As Jesus says later,
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14
So Jesus will not return until this is fulfilled. Every tribe and tongue must stand before the throne of God.
In sum, then, consider the already/not yet nature of the Kingdom promises:
- Jesus offers complete forgiveness of sins now.
- He offers complete freedom from slavery to sin now.
- He offers partial purity from sin now, and complete purity later.
- He offers occasional physical sight to the blind and healing from disease now, and promises us new, incorruptible bodies later.
- He offers us a glorious but somewhat obscured view of Himself now; then we shall see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Jesus’ preaching, then, completes John’s preaching. He says: “The Kingdom is here! It is inaugurated! I am the promised One! So respond! Turn! Repent! Believe in Me! The one who believes will have forgiveness! Liberty! Sight! You will have God Himself! And eventually you will have political freedom, freedom from disease, freedom from slavery to corruption.”
During this already/not yet era of the Kingdom, that message continues to hold. Do you have that liberty? Have you responded?