As he moves into the first of three chapters dealing with the concept of the kingdom of God, Wright seeks to establish the way in which kingdom-of-God languages functioned in first century Judaism, and what therefore Jesus must have understood himself as doing when he declared the coming of the kingdom of God in and through his own ministry. Wright sets out primarily to establish two things. First, that when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he was intentionally referencing a story-line, a master narrative with which his hearers were intimately acquainted. When he spoke of the kingdom of God, it was in no way a general religious sentiment or sensibility, but a very particular narrative involving Israel, her exile, and her promised restoration by Yahweh. Secondly, when Jesus engaged in retelling this kingdom-story, he did it in a new way which subverted and redirected his contemporaries’ normal interpretation of it. To establish this point, Wright builds at length on his earlier work on the parables as creating a new world into which the hearers are invited.
Wright begins his constructive work on the kingdom of God by exploring the hope of Israel and what that means when we consider the eschatological content of Jesus’ message. He argues systematically that the phrase ‘kingdom of god’ unambiguously referred to the hope of Israel in exile, that God would decisively act, within history to vindicate Israel, end her exile, defeat oppressive powers (Babylon, Rome), re-establish the Davidic monarchy, rebuild the Temple and once again dwell in glory with his people. What is central to this claim about the Jewish understanding of the kingdom of God is that it that little or nothing to do with the “end of the space-time universe” (p. 207). The hope of the kingdom of God was not one of longing for the ‘end of the world’, but rather for God’s decisive action within the world to establish justice, shalom and to dwell with his people in the land.
Wright goes on to explore how the kingdom-of-god language evolved in early Christianity and in doing so shows how it stands in essential continuity with Jewish expectations, however with key redefinitions, primarily centering around the fact that the early Christians believed that all the promises for which Israel hoped had in fact come to fulfillment (though not a total consummation) in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The hope of Israel for God to dwell with his people and to draw them out of exile was fulfilled, the early Christian believed in the career of Jesus and the ongoing life of the community that he established. This is not, Wright contends, a “new story” being given by the early Christians in place of the Jewish expectations. Rather, it is “a new moment in the same story” (p. 219). In Jesus, the reality of ‘where’ Israel is in the story of God’s redemption of the world has changed. It has now been made clear that through Jesus, the promises of restoration and the presence of God have been fulfilled and this radical event “calls into being a trans-national and trans-cultural community” (p.219).