Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC, and from that moment on, the Jewish people longed for the day when they would be returned to their land and have a son of David ruling as king over them once more. God encouraged them in this hope, revealing to the prophets that He would restore the monarchy and set His people over the nations (Amos 9:11–15; Micah 4).
Although the Jews returned to their land in 538 BC as the result of the decree of King Cyrus of Persia (2 Chron. 36:22–23), they were still subject to the rule of other empires. Aside from a period of about fifty years, the Jews lived under the governance of Persia, then Greece, and then Rome. This only increased the longing of the people for independence and for a mighty king to deliver them from the occupying powers. By the first century AD, the Jews, living under Roman domination, were eager for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King, to lead them against Rome and reestablish an earthly Jewish kingdom.
Certainly, the Old Testament picture of the Messiah includes the notion of a restored throne, culminating in the Messiah’s reign over all creation in a new heavens and earth (Isa. 66:15–24). But that is not all that the prophets say about the Messiah. Isaiah 53, for example, reveals that restoring the kingdom would not be accomplished without the sacrificial death of the Messiah on behalf of His people. Yet first-century Jews often overlooked the need for redemption from sin, focusing only on political salvation. Many individuals claimed to be the Messiah in the first century, and aware of these political aspirations, the Romans were quick to put down messianic claimants when they started making noise about being the promised King.
This may explain why Jesus frequently forbade His disciples from telling others that He was the Christ. It was not that He denied being the Messiah, for He affirmed Peter’s confession of Him as such (Matt. 16:13–19). Instead, He kept Peter and the other disciples from sharing this news widely because He knew the general Jewish populace was expecting a political form of salvation alone (v. 20). Perhaps broadcasting His messianic identity would have cut His ministry short, before its appointed time of completion, for the Romans were quick to squelch any potential Messiah and an uprising that people following the Messiah might instigate. Perhaps He kept His office as Messiah hidden from all but a few people so that He could accomplish the most important messianic work—atonement.