James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

Primary Doctrinal Issues of the First Three Decades (Winds of Doctrine #4)

False teachings had been making the rounds in the Christian churches in the early- to mid-60’s AD, but these were of a different sort from those in earlier decades.  When Paul wrote to the south Galatian churches (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe) around AD48, the primary heresy he had to address was the insistence of Jewish followers of Jesus that Gentiles turning to the Messiah had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law (Gal 6:12‑15).  Just weeks or months after dashing off this epistle to the Galatians, the Council of Jerusalem agreed with Paul that Gentiles did not need to become Jewish to follow the Jewish Messiah (Acts 15).  Once the Council’s official letter began to be circulated, the door was now wide open to Gentile conversion.  [See my post on Galatians and Acts for a defence of this scenario.]

Only a year later, however, in AD49, the Roman emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome over disputes about the Messiah (evidently the gospel had arrived!), which eventually resulted in the next big doctrinal issue Paul had to address – the place of Israel.  Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish couple from Rome who chose to settle in Corinth, may have already been believers when they met Paul there on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-4).  When Paul left Corinth after eighteen months, around AD51, they went with him as far as Ephesus.  Although Paul continued on to Antioch, they chose to settle in the Jewish community in Ephesus, and were thus ready to teach Apollos when he arrived there soon afterwards (Acts 18:18‑28).  At the start of Paul’s third missionary journey he spent two years teaching in Ephesus (Acts 19), and during this time, around AD54, he wrote to the church in Corinth, mentioning Aquila and Prisca’s house church to them (1Cor 16:19).  Resurrection was clearly a problem subject for several churches planted during the second missionary journey (e.g. Thessalonica – 1Thes 4:13–5:11; 2Thes 2:1‑15; Corinth ­– 1Cor 15), but this doesn’t seem to have been due to ‘winds of false teaching’ so much as localised misunderstandings.

Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians from Macedonia about a year after his first letter (see 1Cor 16:8‑9; 2Cor 1:8‑11, 15‑23; 2:12‑14; 7:5‑7; 8:1‑6; 9:1‑5), but by this stage Priscilla and Aquila had probably already returned to Rome from Ephesus; Jews were now being allowed back, and when Paul wrote his letter to Rome from Corinth just a few months after writing 2 Corinthians, his friends were already leading another house church there.  Naturally, Jewish believers returning to Rome would expect to pick up where they had left off, as qualified teachers of the Jewish scriptures in the believing congregations.  However, the Gentiles were now confident in their access to grace by faith without any need for the detailed cultural regulations of the Jewish Law, and looked down on Jewish believers for their ‘weak faith’ that prevented them eating meat from the markets.  When Paul arrived in Corinth as planned around AD57 (Acts 20:2‑3), he heard news of the Jewish / Gentile divisions in Rome, perhaps in a letter from Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:3‑5).  Although he had often wanted to travel to Rome, he could not travel there himself quite yet, because he had a responsibility first to deliver the financial Collection from the Gentile churches to the church in Jerusalem (Rom 15:22‑32; Acts 20:4, 16).  Instead, he decided to write an extended letter to the Roman church, setting out clearly why neither Jew nor Gentile could claim moral superiority, even though the gospel was still ‘to the Jew first’ and Israel still had a crucial place in God’s future purposes [see my two posts on Romans 1-8 and 9-11].  Because of the five years of Jewish absence, Rome had been ahead of its time in having to deal with issues raised by being a ‘Gentile majority’ church, even though it had been less than ten years since Paul had addressed the ‘Jewish majority’ issues of the Galatian churches.

The 30’s had dealt with the question of ‘Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?’, the 40’s resolved the problem of ‘Do Gentiles need to become Jewish to be saved?’, the 50’s asked the question, ‘What value is there in being Jewish at all?’, but the 60’s would return to questions of Jesus’ identity and nature.  By this stage, the Jewish churches were less in touch with those who had known Jesus personally, who by now were taking the gospel to distant corners of the world, and Christian thinkers were beginning to engage more with the Jewish apocalyptic philosophy and revolutionary ideology prominent in the final decade before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, to which we turn in the next post.

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October 27, 2009

Promised Land in the New Testament – summary [I&NC #14]

One of the possible ways of reading the numerous Old Testament prophecies about a Jewish return from exile is to see it all as having happened already in the return from exile in Babylon [see  the first post in this series].  Jesus arrived over five hundred years after that return, so His teaching and the teaching of His apostles, contained in the New Testament, should reveal to us whether or not they considered those prophecies of return to have already been fulfilled.  As will be clear below, they actually not only believed the nation of Israel to be still in a condition of spiritual ‘exile’ that denied them secure and permanent dwelling in the land, but they also knew that the Jewish people would again be cast into exile.  This exile to all nations (not just Assyria, or Babylon) would be a far greater exile than the first one, but even this one would eventually be finished.  To fulfil His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God would finally bring the Jewish people back to the land of promise very shortly before the return of Jesus.

1.  The conquest of the land under Joshua was not the ultimate fulfilment of the inheritance promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Paul clearly taught that the Law of Moses had actually made the Jewish people ‘slaves’ to sin, and as slaves rather than sons they were not permitted to inherit (Rom 7:1‑25; Gal 3:23–4:7; 4:21‑31).  Hebrews taught further that if Joshua had given the Israelites ‘rest’ in their land, David would hardly have written to a later generation warning them that rebellion would disqualify them from entering God’s ‘rest’ (Heb 4:1‑11).

2.  Even in Jesus’ generation the nation was considered to be in an ongoing condition of exile.

Jesus taught His people using parables in order to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah that the nation would “keep on hearing and will not understand… keep on seeing and will not perceive” (Mat 13:13‑15; cf. 11:5).  Isaiah was told that his prophetic task was to harden the eyes, ears and hearts of the Jewish nation until the fulfilment of the curse of exile (Isa 6:9‑13; cf. 32:1‑4; 34:16–35:6).

3.  Jesus decreed another greater exile on the Jewish nation, a final one that would complete God’s judgement against the sins of all previous generations of Israel.

In fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy to the Levites of his generation after the Babylonian Exile (Mal 3:1‑6), Jesus arrived four hundred years later as the appointed judge of the nation.  In response to their sin and hard-heartedness He delivered the verdict that the nation was unforgivable (Mat 12:31‑45; 23:1‑28).  To prove that they were more wicked than any previous generation, He would send them further messengers whom they would persecute, and therefore God would be justified in bringing on that generation the complete punishment for the sins of both them and all their fathers (Mat 23:29‑36; Luke 11:49‑51; cf. Isa 65:1‑7; Jer 16:10‑18; Rom 10:20-21).  When there is a complete judgement visited on the nation for all the blood of the prophets shed from the foundation of the world, there can never be another such punishment meted out again (Isa 51:17‑22).

4.  Evangelism amongst Jewish communities will not be completed until Jesus’ return.

Although seventy disciples were sent out in pairs to prepare for Jesus’ arrival in a town during His ministry (Luke 10:1‑17), Jesus also sent out the Twelve with a specific commission to the Jews (Luke 9:1‑10; Mat 10:11‑42), because they will be given authority over the twelve tribes of Israel when Jesus returns (Luke 22:28‑30).  Their commission, therefore, while similar to that of the seventy, concerned specifically Jewish communities (Mat 10:5‑6, 23), within and presumably beyond the land of Israel also.  They were told that this specific focus for preaching the Gospel would not finish “until the Son of Man comes”, a phrase Matthew linked closely to the Second Coming (24:3, 27‑44; 25:31‑46).  This was also explained as being the result of Jewish hard-heartedness and persecution in city after city of Israel, and Jesus’ intention was to clarify to His followers that the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in exile (cf. Eze 34:11‑16) would not all be ‘found’ until the time of His own return.

5.  Gentile control over Jerusalem will come to an end when the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled.

Whereas Matthew recorded Jesus’ teachings about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and the Second Coming without differentiating them (Matthew 24:1–25:46; esp. 24:3), Luke recorded them separately, the Second Coming in 17:20‑37, and the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and exile in 21:5‑36.  Therefore Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and captivity and exile of the Jewish people (Luke 21:20‑24) has already happened and evidently continued until modern times.  Despite the obvious severity of the judgement Jesus decreed, He did explicitly declare that at a certain point Gentiles would no longer ‘trample under foot’ the city of Jerusalem (21:24; cf. Isa 63:17‑19), which must indicate that Jews will eventually regain control over Jerusalem.  The “times of the Gentiles” may be a reference to that period during which Gentiles control Jerusalem, but it would be better to understand it as the times in which Gentiles are the focus of God’s commission to His Church, which is suggested by the word “fulfilled”.  In the latter case, Jesus would be teaching that Jewish repossession of Jerusalem will coincide with the culmination of mission to the Gentiles.

6.  Israel’s national repentance will be prompted specifically by the reception of the gospel by all other nations.

Jesus taught that “the end will come” at the point when His witnesses have brought “this gospel of the kingdom” throughout “the whole inhabited earth” and “to all the nations” (Mat 24:14), which could be said to be the ‘fulfilment’ of the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).  He then instructed His witnesses to go from Jerusalem “even to the remotest part of the earth”, making “disciples of all the nations… even to the end of the age”, and in the context He was implying that only then would the kingdom be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6‑8; Mat 28:19‑20).  Paul explained this further, writing that Israel has been hardened temporarily “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”; then because of jealousy at the mercy shown to all nations, Israel would soften and “thus all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:11‑15, 25‑27, 30‑31).  Jesus indicated that this would be brought about particularly through the ministry of another prophet like Elijah at whose word the nation would turn back to God, ‘restoring all things’ (Mat 17:10‑11; cf. Mal 4:5‑6).  It is unlikely that this prophet is described in Revelation 11, where the two witnesses prophesy judgement against the nations, not salvation to Israel.  Although imagery is used from the ministries of Elijah and Moses, both prophets of judgement against unbelieving Gentiles and Jews, it is more likely that these two prophetic ‘olive branches’ are the Jewish and Gentile portions of the Church who are then resurrected as Jesus returns (Rev 11:4, 11‑13; cf. 13:7; Rom 11:17; Zec 3:8–4:6).

7.  Israel will be living in Judaea and Jerusalem when as a nation they welcome Jesus’ return as their Messiah.

Jesus regularly used the ‘fig tree’ as an image of the nation of Israel (represented by its leadership), to describe its fruitlessness (Luke 13:6‑9), its withering (Mark 11:12‑27), its destruction when dry (Luke 23:27‑31), and finally its softening and fresh leaves indicating His imminent return (Mat 24:32‑33).  ‘Sitting under one’s own fig tree’ was a common metaphor for being permanently at ‘rest’ in the land, particularly after exile (Mic 4:1‑4; Zec 3:8‑10; John 1:47‑51), so the images of softening and leaves coming out imply the beginnings of repentance and dwelling in the land respectively.  However Jesus also prophesied this explicitly:  In the ‘great tribulation’ immediately before His return, Jesus said that the believers living in Judaea would find travel on the Sabbath particularly difficult (Mat 24:15‑20, 29‑30).  Not only that, but He prophesied to ‘Jerusalem’ (both the city and symbol for the nation) at the very end of His public ministry that “from now on you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mat 23:39; cf. Luke 13:33-35).  Following the exile of the Jewish nation, the ‘desolation’ of Jerusalem’s ‘house’ (Mat 23:38; cf. Lev 26:31‑35; Isa 49:14‑21; 62:4), the nation would again see Jesus when as a nation they could welcome Him as their Messiah (cf. Mat 21:9).  In fact, for the sake of these ‘elect’, He will shorten the days of their ‘great tribulation’ (Mark 13:14‑20).  Peter also taught that national repentance was a condition for Jesus’ return (Acts 3:19‑21).

8.  Nevertheless, secure and permanent inheritance of the land for Israel will not be possible until Jesus returns, initiating the resurrection and restoration of all things.

Using a parable, Jesus taught His disciples that only on His return as King would He distribute territories within His kingdom to them in reward for faithful service (Luke 19:11‑28; cf. 22:28‑30).  When asked about the timing of the kingdom being restored to Israel, He acknowledged His Father’s plan to do this, but instructed His disciples to focus first on mission to all nations (Acts 1:6‑8).  Jews in the Early Church, including Barnabas, Stephen and the writer to the Hebrews, modelled and taught that in this age they must not expect to be able to hold on to their property within the land of Israel (Acts 4:32‑37; 7:4‑6; Heb 4:1‑11; 10:34).  Rather, they were to live by faith, whether they left their land to bring the good news of salvation inheritance to other nations also, or whether they chose to remain in their ‘promised land’ but live as if they were foreigners, ‘strangers and exiles’.  Choosing to return to other countries for the sake of security was not a valid option (Heb 11:15), but rather they needed to persevere by looking forward to their ‘better, permanent possession’ in that very land, in the form of a city and country being prepared by God and soon to be delivered from heaven (Heb 11:8‑16; Rev 21:10, 24‑27).  Paul associated the fulfilment of Israel’s promised gift of land with the salvation of all nations (Rom 9:4; 11:26‑29; cf. Zec 2:6-12).  He therefore recognised that Jewish and Gentile believers, as both natural and adopted ‘sons of God’, would inherit their apportioned lands at the same time, freeing all of creation from its slavery to corruption (Gal 3:23–4:8; Rom 4:11‑17; 8:14‑22).  This inheritance by every nation of lands bestowed from heaven by God is a large-scale fulfilment of what will happen at the same time on a small scale with each of us inheriting ‘heavenly’ resurrection bodies (Acts 17:26 with Deut 32:8‑9; Rom 8:18‑25; 1 Cor 15:42‑49; 2 Cor 5:1‑5). Thus ‘all things’ will be restored (Acts 3:21; Mat 17:11).

In summary of New Testament teaching, the promise of land inheritance made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and spoken about by the prophets has not yet ever been properly fulfilled.  This was because God chose to use the Law of Moses to harden the Israelites in their sin, making them unable with uncircumcised hearts to inherit as ‘sons of Abraham’.  Moses taught that God would personally atone for Israel, and reconcile them to Himself by making them jealous of His favour on the nations.  Jesus then came as the ‘seed of Abraham’ bringing blessing: fulfilling the powerless Law by becoming a curse for Israel, and dying to atone for the sin of Jew and Gentile alike, reversing the disobedience and death of Adam.  His resurrection is both the object of faith, by which all can be declared righteous, and the content of our hope.  Jesus declared the Jewish nation of His own generation to be unforgivable, decreeing that within a generation they would enter into an exile that would complete God’s punishment for all previous rejection of His messengers.  Witness to scattered Jews must continue, but their full repentance and inheritance would not happen before every nation on earth had also received the good news of salvation (resurrection, deliverance and inheritance).  At the end of the age God will begin restoring Israel to her land and softening her heart towards Him, using a prophet like Elijah, and even more importantly the jealousy provoked by seeing all nations accept her Messiah.  In the midst of the ‘great tribulation’ that follows the fulfilment of the times of the Gentiles, Jewish believers in the land will undergo persecution, but will be delivered by their returning King whom they will welcome as a whole nation.  The faithful from previous generations will return with Jesus, met by surviving believers joining them from the earth in a visible imitation of Jesus’ own ascension, and all will receive their resurrection bodies with Jesus.  After destroying the enemies of His people, Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth from Jerusalem.  Within this worldwide kingdom, the Twelve disciples will rule over Israel in their land, and Gentile believers will rule over every nation across the earth, each in its own territory as apportioned by Jesus [the new ‘Joshua’].  In this way all creation will be released into the glorious freedom of the ‘sons of God’.

September 17, 2009

Promised Land in the Gospels, part two [I&NC #7]

In the first post on Promised Land in the Gospels, we considered Jesus’ teaching about ongoing mission to Israel throughout this age, and His metaphor of the fig tree to describe Israel.  Here we focus on Jesus’ eschatological discourses, and on His condemnation of His generation to their final great exile to all nations that would finish just before their final restoration to their land.

Matthew 24:15-31; Luke 21:24 – The explanation of the ‘parable of the fig tree’ in the previous post is actually confirmed more explicitly by other teaching in the same so-called ‘eschatological discourse’ Jesus spoke while sitting with His four disciples opposite the Temple.  While this discourse is notorious for difficulties of interpretation, there are some points in it that would seem to be fairly clear.  Mark 13 does little more than summarise Matthew 24 with the inclusion of 10:17-18, but Luke 21 makes some more deliberate alterations, clarifying certain aspects of timing that Matthew had conflated when he grouped together all of Jesus’ eschatological teachings.

In Matthew 24:3 the disciples ask Jesus not only when the destruction of the Temple would happen, but also what would be the signs of His second coming.  The following teaching can therefore be interpreted as applying either to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 or to the Great Tribulation immediately preceding Jesus’ return, or to both.  Matthew seemed to associate the two events, but his main focus was clearly on what would happen immediately before Jesus’ return (as shown by the addition of other eschatological teaching after this discourse in 24:36–25:46).  The mention in 24:14 of the conclusion of mission to the Gentiles, after which “the end will come”, is followed by a warning to Jewish believers [cf. 24:20] living in Judea to flee when they see the prophesied desecration of the ‘holy place’.  This will be the start of “a great tribulation” unequalled since creation, and never to be exceeded again, and immediately after this tribulation there will be signs in the heavens and Jesus will return in glory.  This prophesied flight from Judaea is therefore unmistakeably situated within the days immediately preceding Jesus’ return at the end of the present age, in accordance with Zechariah 14:5.  The implication is obvious, therefore, that in those final days of the Great Tribulation there will again be Jewish believers in Judaea who have to flee from the desecration and persecution of the prophesied ‘man of lawlessness’ who has set up his throne in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Thes 2:1-12).

Luke, on the other hand, had in his research come to a clearer understanding of the distinction in Jesus’ prophecies between the imminent judgement on Jerusalem and Israel, and His more distant coming in glory, perhaps because he recognised through participation in Paul’s missionary journeys (e.g. Acts 20:1-6) that it would take longer than one generation for every nation to be reached with the gospel (cf. Mat 24:14).  He also recognised that Jesus had spoken clearly of the imminent judgement against Jerusalem using very similar language to his prophecies of the end of the age (cf. Mat 22:7; Luke 13:34-35; 17:22-25; 19:41-44; 23:28-30), which explains why Matthew had failed to differentiate them.  Luke therefore chose to separate the two prophecies about fleeing Jerusalem that Matthew had conflated, and recorded Jesus’ prophecy of the Great Tribulation flight [described above] earlier, in Luke 17:26-35.  That way the first century flight could be described in its proper setting in response to the disciples’ specific question about the destruction of the Temple, which did indeed come to pass shortly after the believers fled to Pella beyond the Jordan (Luke 21:7-24).  In 21:20‑24, therefore, Luke avoids speaking of this “great distress” of destruction and exile as never to be equalled again, because he knows that the Great Tribulation at the end of the age will be even worse.  Similarly, he leaves out what Matthew includes about the completion of mission to the Gentiles, because that will only happen at the end of the age.  Interestingly, though, in 21:24 Luke does show his clear understanding of the duration of this mission which he terms the “times of the Gentiles”, when he records Jesus’ prophecy that the exile of Israel and Gentile control of Jerusalem (“trampled under foot”) will surely finish before the end of the age that is summarised in 21:25-28.  The return of exiled Jews from captivity, and their recapture of Jerusalem from Gentile occupation, will coincide with that period of time, immediately preceding the signs in the heavens and return of Jesus, in which the gospel proclamation to all nations (“the times of the Gentiles”) reaches a completion.  Thus the situation described in Matthew 24, of Jewish believers again having to flee from Judaea during a time of tribulation, will be possible because the Jews will have returned to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem at the end of the age.

The best explanation for the return of the Jewish nation to the land of Israel at the end of the age, shortly before the return of Jesus, is that the land covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob remains in effect, and is approaching its complete fulfilment when Jesus returns.

Matthew 23:29-39 – Jesus grieved regularly over the hard-heartedness of Jerusalem, which epitomised what history showed from the time of Abel – that unregenerate people, even those of the chosen nation, always reject those who testify to the truth.  As Stephen preached [see coming 2nd post on Acts], both Joseph and Moses were rejected by their brethren despite being saviours, and Moses was assured by God that the people would continue to be rebellious after his death, bringing on themselves the judgement of exile (Deut 31:16-29).  Throughout the history of Israel in the land, the nation rebelled time and again after the death of righteous leaders (cf. Jdg 2:6-23), murdering prophets sent to them even within the temple itself (2 Chr 24:15-22), and in each case the judgement was oppression within their own land and exile from it.  Jeremiah the prophet, at the end of the Israelite monarchy, appealed to the people to circumcise their hearts and listen to God’s words, but exile was unavoidable (Jer 4:1-27).

According to prophecy, a remnant later returned from Babylon, and some wondered if this was the final permanent restoration that Moses and the prophets had foreseen.  Haggai knew, however, that still to come was a shaking of all nations who would then come and fill God’s temple with glory, establishing lasting peace (Hag 2:6-9).  Zechariah similarly prophesied that many nations would join themselves to the Lord and become His people, and only then would He “inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zec 2:6-13).  Malachi observed that the priests in the restored Temple were still rebelling against the Mosaic covenant that defined their role within God’s people, and warned them that corrupting that covenant would still bring on them the curse of exile (Mal 2:1-8).  However, as the final prophet in Israel for 400 years, he gave the nation an assurance that God would at least permit this ‘second Temple’ to remain until the time of the coming Messiah, the ‘messenger of the covenant’ who would test the priesthood intensely and bring on evildoers the severe judgement of exile, leaving ‘neither root nor branch’ (Mal 3:1–4:1).  Before the Messiah’s judgement, there would be a forerunner prophet, one like Elijah, who would give the nation a chance to repent, or else the land would be struck with the curse of exile (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6).

True to His word, God sent John the Baptist, a prophet like Elijah (Luke 1:16-17; Mat 17:10-13), to announce the coming of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus very clearly prophesied in Matthew 17:10-11 that there will be another forerunner prophet like Elijah sent at the end of the age to the Jewish nation, at whose words the nation will turn back to God in repentance ready to welcome their returning Messiah and the ‘restoration of all things’ (cf. Acts 3:21).  The first time ‘Elijah’ came to turn the hearts of fathers and children to each other, his prophesied rejection resulted in the land being struck with the curse of exile (cf. Mal 4:5-6); the second time the forerunner prophet will appear, at the end of the age, his message of reconciliation will be received by the whole nation, opening up the heavens again in a national and worldwide revival (James 5:17-18; cf. “all flesh” in Acts 2:17-21).  Because the Jewish nation have become counted among the ‘elect’, the Lord Himself will cut short the days of their oppression and vindicate His people (Mat 24:21-22; Mark 13:19‑20).

Fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy, Jesus indeed tested the priesthood intensely.  However the priest-led nation of His day had not changed their rebellious hearts, and knowing that they would do to Him what they had done to John, Jesus proclaimed His terrible verdict more than once over the leaders and thus the nation as a whole (Luke 11:39‑52; 13:32-35; Mat 23:1-39).  He set His face towards Jerusalem for the final journey of His ministry, knowing He too must be rejected there by the entire gathered leadership of that generation of Israel (cf. Mat 27:25).  Their blasphemy against His ministry, despite recognising it to be in the power of the prophesied Holy Spirit of the new covenant, was a sin that could no more be forgiven or atoned for – exile was now unavoidable (Mat 12:22‑45).

Jesus’ parable about his generation in Matthew 12:43-45 must be back-translated into Aramaic from Greek to be properly understood, because the word adamah can mean ‘the man’ in Aramaicised Hebrew or ‘land’ in biblical Hebrew.  Here Jesus is speaking of how the ‘unclean spirit’ of the Jewish nation [contrast ‘demon’ in 12:22-28] went out of their ‘land’ into exile in Babylon (‘waterless places seeking rest’).  However when it returned to its own land, it brought with it seven spirits more wicked than itself, and became worse even than the generation that had been exiled to Babylon.  ‘Seven spirits’ is an allusion to the seven wicked nations that God drove out before Israel under Joshua, leaving the land ‘unoccupied, swept and put in order’ (see Jos 24:11-13).  [Credit for this observation goes to Arkan Zaki.]  God Himself had come down to see if the prophets’ reports of wickedness were true, just as in the time of Abraham (Gen 18:20-21).  He saw that they were indeed worse than the generation that had been sent into exile in Babylon, so there would be no forgiveness for this generation even if they were to ask for it.

Not only that, but God had hardened that generation of the Jewish nation [forty years is God’s view of a ‘generation’ – Num 14:26‑35; 32:13‑15; Jdg 2:7‑19; 3:11, 30] so severely that the many Messiah-believing prophets and apostles and scribes He would send to the nation in the following four decades of God’s patience (Rom 9:18-22) would also be persecuted; such was God’s intention, that this generation would fully match every previous ungodly generation of their fathers (Mat 23:32).  In this way God could justly condemn that generation of Jews for “the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world” (Luke 11:50-51), and pour out His uttermost wrath on the rebellion of His people (1 Thes 2:16).  The exile that would result would be the most complete exile of their national history, and the destruction the Jewish people would experience among the nations would be paying her ‘double’ for both her own sins and the sins of previous generations (Isa 65:1‑7; Jer 16:18; Isa 40:2; cf. Rom 10:20-21).  They would drink from the cup of God’s anger, and drain it to its dregs, but when the Jewish nation had not even one person among them to stand up and be their leader, He would declare to them, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand … the cup of my anger; you will never drink it again” (Isa 51:17-22) – something that could not be said after the first return from exile in Babylon (cf. Isa 11:10-12).

God had promised that He would not destroy all of them (Isa 65:8-10; Jer 31:35‑37), but would leave a remnant in all the countries where He banished them.  This remnant would have to be persuaded to return to their land, first by ‘fishermen’ and then by ‘hunters’ (Jer 16:14-18), but the time would surely come when Jerusalem would no longer be trampled under foot by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24).  Even in His verdict of the uttermost wrath upon Jerusalem and the nation, Jesus still spoke of hope – there would be a time after the desolation of the land, when Jerusalem would “see” her Messiah returning and once more say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus is first recorded prophesying this on His way to Jerusalem from Galilee (Luke 13:31-35), but even while the crowds shouted out these words as He approached the city (Luke 19:37-38), He wept over it again because they ‘did not recognise’ who it was who came to them; “the things which make for peace… have been hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-44).  Matthew therefore records Jesus saying this once more to conclude His last public appearance to the nation in Jerusalem, when He passed His final verdict of judgement on the Jewish leaders – “from now on you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mat 23:39).

Although Jesus declared judgement over Jerusalem as representative of the Jewish nation [‘Jerusalem’ is only ever used as a metonym for the Jewish nation when they are dwelling in their land; cf. Isa 49:8-22], he also promised that she will see her Messiah return and welcome Him, and it is implied that this will happen after the nation is restored from exile (“your house is being left to you desolate … until” – Mat 23:38-39; cf. Dan 9:16-19).  Both the prophecy that ‘Jerusalem’ will welcome Her returning Messiah, and the conclusion of exile implied by the reversal of Jerusalem’s inability to see her Messiah (cf. Isa 54:4-8), indicate that Israel will again settle in her land.  The best explanation for this is that the eternal land covenant made with Abraham and the descendants of Jacob will be fulfilled at the end of this age.

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