Old Testament eschatology Summary
- What is the role of Israel in the End Times?
- ~There is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ
- ~The old covenant has been fulfilled and so superseded by the new covenant
- ~The church is the flowering of God’s eternal purpose through Israel
- ~Any continuing purpose God has for Israel is dependent on her obedience to God
- ~God has not finished with Israel
- ~Biblical prophecy about the return of the Jews to Israel is being fulfilled
- An outline of Old Testament eschatology
- ~Israel will return from exile throughout the world
- ~Israel will turn to Christ
- ~The Antichrist will arise and eventually be defeated in Israel
- ~There will be an unprecedented time of “great distress”
- ~There will be an international attack on Jerusalem
- ~The Lord will return to the Mt of Olives
- ~The Lord will bring judgment for the wicked and blessing for the obedient
- ~The temple will be rebuilt?
- ~The nations will come to Jerusalem to worship?
- ~Christ will reign on earth?
- ~There will be a new heavens and a new earth
- There is a great deal of teaching on the End Times in the Old Testament and its influence on New Testament eschatology is very clear.
- One important question is: What, if any, is the role of Israel in the events of the End Times? Some see Israel as totally and finally replaced by the church. Others see Israel as quite distinct from the church (the church age being a side issue). These people see the main player in the End Times as Israel, with the church safely removed from the scene in heaven. I don’t think Scripture supports those views.
- We need to remember that:
- Jesus speaks of Jews and Gentiles being one flock (John 10:16). Paul says they are both baptised by the Spirit into one body (1 Cor 12:13). He adds that God has made the Jews and Gentiles one, removing the division and making one new humanity, building and temple out of the two (Eph 2:14-16, 19-21).
- Paul writes “there is no difference between Jews and Gentile” (Rom 10:11) and “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised” (Col 3:11). Both are are children of Abraham (Rom 4:11, 16-17; Gal 3:29).
- The old covenant made with Moses at Sinai is definitely and completely fulfilled and superseded according to the NT. God has finished with the sacrificial system, ceremonial foods and ritual washings. So God does not want the Jewish people to renew the sacrificial system (although they might actually do so, as some groups in Israel currently intend).
- The NT states that the old covenant with its animal sacrifices, ceremonial foods and ritual washings is “obsolete and outdated” (Heb 8:13). It has been set aside (Heb 10:9 cf 7:18). Paul says “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (Gal 5:6).
- We now have a new “better covenant” (Heb 7:22) which is “superior
to the old one” (Heb 8:6).
- The church is not a digression from God’s main purpose (which some say is his purpose for Israel). It was God’s eternal plan to create the church (consisting of both Jewish and Gentile believers) in order to show his “manifold wisdom … to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph 3:10-11). It is part of his purpose to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:9-10 cf. Col 2:24-27).
- It is important therefore that our eschatology does not divide up Jew and Gentile, Israel and the Church.
- The OT teaches that Israel’s possession of the land depends on her obedience to God (Ex 19:5-6). God warned them that if they were disobedient he would scatter them among the nations (Lev 26:33-34; Deut 4:25-27; 32; Jer 9:13-16; 13:20-27).
- I am strongly against all anti-Semitism and unfair negativism towards Israel. But we must remember that Israel is in very serious disobedience today. She has rejected God’s Son and her Messiah. That is why she was exiled for so long from the land. Israel is certainly in no state to be used by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
- The New Covenant changed the emphasis from a corporate (national) to an individual relationship with God. Now the law has to be written on individuals’ hearts and minds (Jer 31:29-34 cf. Ezek 18; 36:25-27). It is about individuals, from the least to the greatest, knowing the Lord personally. (This is not to deny the importance of the corporate aspect which is also stressed in the NT teaching on the church).
- For Israel to have a future purpose it must be Israel which has turned to Christ. It cannot be fulfilled until the time when “all Israel will be saved” as Paul puts it in Rom 11:26, at which point, Israel would be part of the Body of Christ, the church.
- Romans 11 teaches that God has not rejected Israel (vv1-2). They have not fallen beyond recovery (v 11). The will be fully included in the future (v 12). Gentile believers must not feel superior to Israel because Israel is the spiritual root which supports them (vv 17-18). God has removed the Jewish branches but “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” vv 19-24). Paul then writes: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved” (vv 25-26).
- I have also written at length about why I believe the predictions of the OT prophets about the return of Israel to its ancient homeland are basically literal. See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html. I believe the recent re-establishment of the State of Israel to be part of that process (despite the current widespread lack of faith in Christ and the secular nature of the state).
- I shall now outline the OT teaching on eschatology, putting it in chronological order as I understand it, relating it to NT chronology. However, I am not being dogmatic about this chronology because it is not always clear from the OT text.
- Prophecies about a return to Israel by the Jewish people have begun to be literally fulfilled and this suggests other prophecies about Israel could be literal too. Also the world’s longest continuing hatred: anti-Semitism, shows that Satan is aware that God has a purpose for the Jewish people even if some Christians are not.
- There is OT-inspired symbolism, including in titles such as the Lamb of God, but I do not think it is credible to treat all this prophecy as symbolical of, for example, the church. One principle of interpretation of Scripture is that the text is literal unless there is very good reason that it cannot be. However, we also need to avoid speculative literalism.
- See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html. Various passages say that the nations will bring back Israelites and support them - including with their riches Isa 60-62 (Isa 14:2; 43:6; 49:22-23; 60:9). Jesus himself predicts that the Jewish people would regain control of Jerusalem in the End Times (Luke 21:24).
- Zechariah prophesies that Israel will look on “the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” God will “cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zech 12:10-13:1). Scholars see this as referring to Christ.
- Some people believe that after the terrible international attack on Jerusalem which Zechariah prophesies will lead to the death of two thirds of the population of Israel, it is the remaining one third who turn to Christ (Zech 12-13). The main thing is that Israel turns to Christ. Paul confirms this in Rom 11:25-27.
- The impact on the world of so many hundreds of thousands of Jewish people turning to their Messiah would obviously be huge.
- Daniel prophesies about a “little horn” (symbol of political power) which “spoke boastfully” (Dan 7:8). This is associated with “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” to receive eternal “authority, glory and sovereign power” so that all nations and peoples worship him. (Dan 7:13-14). The NIV is surely right to see the horn as “The antichrist, or a world power sharing in the characteristics of the antichrist.” The son of man is Christ.
- Daniel also predicts that a ruler will “set up an abomination that causes desolation” which Jesus relates to the End Times in Matthew 24:15. Similarly he speaks of a king who “will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods” (Dan 11:36).
- Paul predicts the “man of lawlessness” who “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:4). This is the Antichrist.
- The common term for this is “The Great Tribulation.” Jeremiah calls it “a time of trouble for Jacob” (30:7). This teaching is paralleled in the NT (e.g. Matt 24:21-22).
- I have written before in some depth about the battle of Armageddon but briefly refer here to the relevant Old Testament teaching. Ezekiel predicts the invasion of Israel by Gog (ch. 38). Zechariah predicts that all the nations will attack Jerusalem (12:1-3; 14:1-2) and two thirds of the people will be struck down (13:8-9).
- In his vision Daniel sees “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14). There are various interpretations of this passage and some say it has nothing to do with the Second Coming. However it seems to me that Jesus’s words: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30) refer to Daniel’s prophecy and relate them to the Second Coming.
- Zechariah foretells that after the international attack on Jerusalem: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem…” (Zech 14:4). It seems clear that this refers to the Second Coming.
- The Second Coming is the Day of the Lord foretold by various
prophets (Isa 11:4 cf. 24:1-12, 17-23; 26:20f; 27:1; 34:1-4; 63:1-6;
Obad.15-16; Zech. 14:3, 12-15). Joel prophesies that when the Lord restores the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, he will “gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of
Jehoshaphat” (Jerusalem) to judge them for their maltreatment of Israel (Joel
3:1-16). Ezekiel says something similar (Ezk 38:18-23; 39). Zephaniah says that the Day of the Lord will be “a day of
wrath – a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of
darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zeph. 1:15). Haggai writes
that the Lord will “shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land’”
(Hag 2:6). The theme is taken up in 2 Thess 1:5-10; 2:1-5; Rev 19:11-21.
- However, Amos foretells that the Day of the Lord will also be a day of judgment on those who are disobedient in Israel. He gives a warning to those in Israel who long for the Day of the Lord as a judgment on the nations but who are religious hypocrites (Amos 5:21-24).
- On the other hand, the Day of the Lord will bring freedom, blessing and security for Jerusalem, justice for the poor (Isa 11:3-5 cf. Joel 3:17-21; Zech. 12:4-5, 7-8 cf.14:10-11; Obad. 17-21).
- Ezekiel has a very detailed vision of a new temple which is to be built (Ezekiel 40-48) and I have written above in some detail about the various interpretations of this. Paul talks about Antichrist setting himself up in God’s temple (2 Thess 2), which sounds literal.
- However Ezekiel also says David will be king, a river will flow out from under the temple to the Dead Sea, the land will divided amongst the 12 tribes (yet 10 have been lost) and that God will dwell in the temple for ever (whereas the ‘temple’ is now the church 1 Peter 2:4ff). Many people would not see these predictions as literal.
- More important, as we have noted, God would not want the sacrificial system to be re-established because it has been replaced by Jesus. However the Temple Institute in Jerusalem is working hard to achieve it and it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that the Jewish people will rebuild the temple (though it would involve many difficulties and dangers), and although not blessed by God, this would be used in his purposes.
- Isaiah’s prophesies that “many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:2-3 cf. Mic. 4:1-2). More than that, Zechariah warns that those nations who do not go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles will be punished (Zech 14:16-19).
- However, the idea of the whole world literally coming to Jerusalem to worship is totally impractical. I suppose it could be representative leaders from all the nations. Some Christians would see this as symbolical of the nations coming to embrace the Gospel which came from Jerusalem.
- This is another controversial subject. Some people believe in a literal Millennium (a literal rule of Christ on earth). Others see it as symbolical of his ultimate victory over evil and his spiritual rule on earth. The prophets predict such a Millennium. Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah “will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever” (Isa 9:6-7 cf. Ezk 37:24-28; Mic 5:2-4; Zech 14:9). The Lord will reign on Mt Zion (Isa 24:23).
- John writes about a millennium rule of Christ in Rev 20:1-6. Satan is bound for a thousand years, so could no longer deceive the nations. Saints and martyrs reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
- The prophets say that the Lord will establish peace on earth (Isa 2:4 cf. Mic 5:2-4). He will bring about harmony in nature (Isa 11:6-9). There will also be supernatural fertility in nature (Isa 35:1-2 cf 32:15-20; Ezk 34:25-31; Ezk 36:29-30, 34-36; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14).
- Will this idyllic scene be literally worked out in a millennial reign by Christ on earth? There is symbolism in the prophecies and a possibility that it is referring to the new heavens and new earth. I shall return to this subject.
- The Lord says: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth …. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isa 65:17-19, 25).
- This is similar to the passages which I have related to the Millennium and relates to Jerusalem and Mt Zion. But it also relates strongly to Revelation 21 where John described the new heaven and earth in terms of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. He describes it in similar terms to Isaiah (he is quoting Isaiah 25): “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
- We must bear in mind the NT teaching that there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ, the Old Covenant has been superseded by the New Covenant, the church is the flowering of God’s eternal purpose through Israel and any continuing purpose God has for Israel as a nation is dependent on her obedience to God and turning to Messiah.
- However it is also clear that God has not finished with Israel. Biblical prophecy about the return of the Jews to Israel is being fulfilled. The OT teaches (in harmony with the NT) that Israel will return from exile throughout the world and will turn to Christ. The Antichrist will arise and be defeated in Israel and there will be an unprecedented time of “great distress” culminating in an international attack on Jerusalem. The Lord will return to the Mt of Olives and will bring judgment for the wicked and blessing for the obedient.
- It is possible that the Temple will be rebuilt and that representatives of all the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship. Ultimately there will be a new heavens and a new earth.
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