An attentive reader of the gospels, particularly the synoptic gospels, would notice there is a marked transition from Jesus’ itinerant preaching throughout Israel and to his later Jerusalem focused activity. Not only is there a difference in what he did but his attitude as well. In Matthew, Mark and Luke he goes about Israel announcing the good news of God’s imminent kingdom. (In other posts I explain what the gospel and the kingdom of God actually mean in scripture.) In the third act which is set in Jerusalem and it’s environs, Jesus drops his earlier kingdom preaching. It is not that the kingdom of God is no longer thematically important. On the contrary it rather intensifies.
The key to understanding the narrative transition is Palm Sunday. In all the gospels the final and longest act ostensibly begins with it. In my post from two years ago I explain the “Triumphal Entry” is a bit of a misnomer because the events of Palm Sunday are not about military conquest. It still remains intensly political because it is actually a royal coronation procession for the Messiah, God’s chosen king over his people Israel. In the Hebrew scriptures God had a covenant relationship with Israel where he ruled over them as their king. This covenant relationship was breached by the Hebrew people resulting in their exile and the loss of their sovereignty as a people. So preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was near meant the covenant was being renewed. God was reestablishing his rule over a fully restored Israel as his kingdom on earth. Jesus had been preaching this message for the last few years so it was only natural that he would go up to Jerusalem, the biblical and historical seat of God’s throne and the Messiah’s, and be crowned as God’s annointed ruler. Jerusalem was for Jewish people the centre of the world. Any kingdom activity had to be focused in Jerusalem. Through his procession into the City of the King on a donkey, the biblical and regional coronation animal I might add, he was dramatically announcing the kingdom of God was being established through him as the sovereign God’s appointed ruler over his people. God was finally reigning in and through the Messiah Jesus.
A fairly common criticism of Matthew Bates’ helpful summary of the gospel from his brilliant book Salvation by Allegiance Alone is that he does not say the gospel is Jesus’ preaching that the kingdom of God is near. He does not deny this but he rather says he “took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David” and he “is seated at the right hand of God as Lord.” If you pay attention to the gospel narratives Jesus’ kingdom preaching leads up to and is summed up in the claim that he is the promised heir of David’s dynasty. That is what the Christ, Son of God, means. In the Hebrew Bible, in passages like Psalm 72 the Davidic Messiah will have universal rule. Where he had been previously fairly cryptic about his royal identity, obliquely announcing the kingdom was “near”, in his final period in Jerusalem he bodly he went for the crown, a very risky move. He was brutally killed for it but that resulted in his heavenly coronation as cosmic Lord by God raising him from the dead, vindicating his extraordinary royal claims.