Does anyone ever think about the return of Jesus these days? In my experience, the backlash to the Left Behind Series has made it harder for Christians to get motivated to discuss eschatology. Orthodox or Traditional Judaism says Jesus didn’t bring the kingdom or restore Israel.
As far as Christians, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians think Jesus will bring the physical or earthly aspect of the reign of God in the future. It is evident that Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom of God. However, he didn’t do this physically but spiritually. Thus, Jesus spoke of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21). And once again, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians have concluded that Jesus corrected the view that there will be a restored Israel in the future. I should note that Craig Evans says:
“Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike.” -Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation
Prophecy Can Be Contingent on How People Respond
Remember, while the “test of a true prophet” is the fulfillment of his predictions (Deuteronomy 18:22), many predictions given by biblical prophets are never fulfilled because the people who these prophecies were delivered to responded by changing their lives. For example:
Some proof texts show this:
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”- Jeremiah 18: 7-8.
In Ezekiel 22:30 the Lord uses this same expression when he says: “I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.”
“ In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the Lord’s house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word! Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.’ -Jer. 26: 1-3.
“Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and to all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you.”- Jer. 26: 12-13.
Amos 7:1-6: God gave Amos several visions of future judgments he was planning; God then changed his mind in light of Amos’s intercessory prayer.
The people of Nineveh repented and believed that “God may relent and change his mind” (Jon 3: 9). Consequently, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring on them (Jonah 3:10).
At one point, the Bible says “the Lord intended to destroy [the Israelites], (Deut. 9:25; 9:14), and was ever ready to destroy [Aaron], (9:20), but Moses 40-day intercession changed God’s intention.
Jesus spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him in the following text:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35
A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.
Another text that is important to the concept of Israel’s repentance and the Messiah’s return is seen in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:19-21:
“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel. C.K. Barrett said that this text speaks of “the times of refreshing” which suggested “moments of relief during the time men spend in waiting for that blessed day.” – C.K. Barrett, “Faith and Eschatology in Acts 3” in Glaube und Eschatologie (ed. E. Grässer and O. Merk), J. C. B. Mohr. 1985). 1-17.
The point is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance. Also, as widely respected theologian Gerald McDermott notes in his book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land:
1.The Greek word he uses here for “restoration” is the same word “apokatastasis” used in the Septuagint for God’s future return of Jews from all over the world to Israel.
2. I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to their own land that I gave to their fathers. (Jer. 16:15)
3. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to this land. (Jer. 24:6)
4. I will restore Israel [apokatastēsō] to his pasture. (Jer. 50:19 [27:19 Septuagint]
5. Peter was using a Jewish code word for a future, renewed earth in which Israel would be preeminent.
Ironically, the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the Rabbinical literature. In the book Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife, Leila Leah Bronner says the following:
All “the ends” have passed and still the Messiah has not come; it depends only upon repentance and good deeds. (BT Sanhedrin 97b) If [the whole of] Israel [genuinely] repented a single day, the son of David would come immediately. If [the whole of] Israel observed a single Sabbath properly, the son of David would come immediately. (JT Ta’anit 64a) If Israel were to keep two [consecutive] Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed forthwith. (BT Shabbat 118b) Because they describe a uniformity of devotion and behavior that is difficult if not impossible to attain, these passages show the lengths to which Jews as a community must go to attract the Messiah, as does this statement from Rabbi Yohanan: “The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.”
Also, in a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah which features a dialogue between Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:
What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.
Now this is very interesting! Does moral regeneration sound familiar?
As Carl B. Hoch, Jr says in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,“It is absolutely necessary for a person to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. In the central passage in the New Testament about the new birth ( John 3 ), Jesus tells Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, that he will not enter the kingdom of God unless he is born anew. The alternation between singular and plural Greek pronouns in the passage shows that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus both personally and representatively. The need for the new birth is not only true of Nicodemus, but of the entire Sanhedrin, all Jews, and, by extension, all people.
The new birth allows us to have the supernatural cleansing from sin that God through the Spirit effects on all who believe on his Son. This water-Spirit combination is a reflection of Ezekiel 11, 36, and Jeremiah 31. In these Old Testament passages God’s Spirit is viewed as doing a revolutionary work in the lives of God’s people in the new covenant age.
Just some for thought!