Isaiah chapter 44 provide a foundation for the things we are going to address in part 6 of our study. First of all, from verse 6, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the Lord of hosts, I am the first and I am the last and there is no God besides Me. And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it, yes let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation and let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble, do not be afraid, have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me or is there any other rock? I know of none.”
In those few verses, God identifies Himself as the Lord the King of Israel and Israel’s Redeemer. He is a God who fulfils what He proclaims and what He declares, who brings to fruition what He establishes, who declares things that are yet to come and events that have not yet taken place. Down to verse 21, again God is the speaker and He says, “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant. I have formed you, you are My servant. O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.”
And then looking at the future salvation of Israel, God says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me for I have redeemed you. Shout for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done it. Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth. Break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel He shows forth His glory.”
Isaiah prophesied that the children of Israel would be taken into captivity and they would be recovered from captivity, but that would only be a historical preview to the great redemption that God had planned for the nation. In verse 24, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the One who formed you from the womb, I the Lord am the maker of all things.” That is to say, I do what I will to do.
In chapter 45 and verse 17, Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation. You will not be put to shame or humiliated to all eternity. In chapter 46 of Isaiah and verse 9, “Remember the former things long past, I am God there is no other. I am God there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done saying, My purpose will be established and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” Verse 13, “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off, and My salvation will not delay and I will grant salvation in Zion and My glory for Israel.” Here is God affirming His nature, His purpose and His promises to Israel, promises that ultimately bring about the redemption, the salvation of Israel and God manifesting His glory through that salvation.
To put it simply, God has already written history. It is all moving in the direction and toward the objectives that He has already designed and determined. Scripture reveals much about how the world will end and how redemptive history will come to its final consummation. The foundation of any understanding of end times is an understanding of God’s future promises to the Jews. The history of the world is really the redemption of the world.
Scripture tells us the truth about the future. In fact, Scripture records the future before it happens and therefore He speaks of it in the past tense even though it has not yet happened.
The fulfilment of God’s purposes in the end will come only when a future generation of Jews repents and acknowledges Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord. Only then will God bring salvation to Israel, and then will the Messiah come and establish His Kingdom. That is the sequence in Zechariah 12 through 14, which we looked at in part 3.
The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the establishment of His messianic Kingdom is contingent upon the salvation of a future generation of ethnic Jews who will collectively understand the horrors of the crucifixion of Christ and embrace Him as their Lord and Savior. It will come to pass, because God promised it would come to pass. In fact, God calls Israel, “My elect…Israel, My elect.” We all understand that the gifts and callings of God, as Romans 11 says, are without repentance. If God elects some to salvation, He is bound to fulfill His purpose.
We clearly saw that the Old Testament is not Amillennial. It does not deny a future Kingdom. In previous parts we looked in detail at the Abrahamic, the Davidic and the New Covenant (in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and 37). The Old Testament is precisely clear on all of the promises that relate to the future of Israel and the Kingdom to come, to which God bound Himself.
JEWISH ESCHATOLOGY AT THE TIME OF JESUS
So, were the Jews of Jesus’ day Amillennial?” How did they interpret the Old Testament? Had something happened in the four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the time of our Lord when the New Testament was written? Had something happened in that period of time which gave reason to change the interpretation that they put on the Old Testament?
It was back in 1880 that a man named Amel Schurer wrote a book on this very subject. He did a very definitive study on existing Jewish eschatology at the time of Jesus. It lays out what they believed concerning Old Testament Covenant promises. Here is the sum of it.
The coming of the Messiah will be preceded by a time of severe trouble. That is what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation and they believed it even without the New Testament. Jewish eschatology at the time of our Lord also believed that before Messiah comes, Elijah or one like Elijah would come. Jewish eschatology affirmed that Messiah will be a Son of David who will exercise power to set up His Kingdom on earth in Israel and fulfil all the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs and to David. The Jews also believed that the Old Testament taught that the Kingdom would be established in Israel and Jerusalem would be the capital city. They also believed that dispersed Jews would be gathered from around the world into the land for that great Kingdom. They also believed that the Messianic Kingdom would extend to cover the whole earth and the whole of human society would be dominated by peace. There would be no war, only joy, gladness, health, prosperity. They also believed that the temple would be rebuilt because that is what Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 40 to 48, and temple worship would be at its apex. The eschatology of the Jews at the time of our Lord is precisely the eschatology what the Bible teaches. They were just interpreting the Old Testament in its normal sense.
They also understood that there would be renovation of the world because that is what Isaiah said would happen. They also understood there would be a general resurrection, Daniel 12, of the righteous, there would be final judgment and they even understood that there would be a new heaven and a new earth because that also is specifically prophesied by Isaiah. So at the time of our Lord, nothing had changed in terms of how you interpret the Old Testament.
In Luke 1:67, Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he has been given a message that he was going to be the father and his wife, Elizabeth, was going to be the mother of the great prophet who will be the forerunner of the Messiah, the herald of the Messiah. He will have a son though he and his wife have been barren and they are likely in their eighties and past the possibility of conceiving children. They have never been able to anyway, but now they will miraculously give birth to a son. His son will be the forerunner of the Messiah, therefore the Messiah is coming. Zechariah says this in verse 68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, His servant.” They understood literally what the Old Testament prophesied. Verse 70, “As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Instead of being abused and hated and embattled, they would rise to a time of glory. This God would do, “Showing mercy toward our fathers, to remember His holy Covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham, our father, to grant us that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
Zacharias is a priest like a whole lot of other people who function as priests in the land of Israel. He is still in an Old Testament environment, pre-Christ. He teaches the Old Testament.
Our course Zacharias would have assumed that all of that would have happened at His first coming. The fact that it did not happen at His first coming is no justification to assume that it will never happen and that some other people have taken Israel’s place.
Jesus in this constant encounter with the Pharisees is confronted in Luke 17:20, with the question of when the Kingdom of God was coming. That tells you that the Pharisees, the elite, the fundamentalists, the scholastics, the purveyors of Judaism to the populous believed that a real Kingdom was coming.
In chapter 19 verse 11, “He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the Kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” There was only one way to understand the Old Testament, a real Kingdom is coming. The Old Testament is not Amillennial and the generation of Jews at the time of our Lord were not Amillennial. They believed in the coming of the promised King and Kingdom.
WAS JESUS AN AMILLENNIALIST?
Nothing in the Old Testament gives any hint of the cancellation of Kingdom promises which include the land, the primacy, the reigning Messiah, salvation, and all of those things. Nothing in the 400 years between the Old and the New Testament. So if it is now changed and if it no longer is to be believed that there is a real Kingdom for Israel, as defined by the Old Testament, the shift probably should come with Jesus.
Acts 1 is hard-pressed to get around if one wants to hold to the cancellation of God’s promises and replacement theology. This is post-cross and post-resurrection, therefore it is post-rejection and post-apostasy. It is after our Lord has said, “Your house is left to you desolate,” in Luke 13. It is after our Lord has said, “I will not answer your questions. You have enough light, you have rejected the light, I will give you no more light.” It is after the fickle crowd screamed for His blood on Friday calling, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Jesus has died, He has risen. Now we’re in to the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension. Jesus already declared in Luke 19:41 to 44, that there would be a siege against Jerusalem. He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and reiterates it later in Luke’s gospel before He was crucified. Judgement has already been pronounced on Israel.
And so during this 40 days, Jesus taught them concerning the Kingdom of God. Acts 1 verse 6, “So when they had come together, they were asking Him saying “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” The question is not…why did You cancel the Kingdom? He must in 40 days have affirmed to them unmistakably that the Kingdom promised to Israel was still coming. He said to them, “It’s not for you to know… times, seasons, which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” In all Jewish sources, “restore” is a technical eschatological term for the end time.
If Jesus was an Amillennialist, He would have told them that they have been replaced by a yet to be identified new redeemed people called the church, made up of Jew and Gentile. And what was once physical promises will become spiritual promises because Israel has rejected Him and crucified Him.
If Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of Christ cancelled the Kingdom for them, then we would have assumed that if they wanted to receive the Kingdom, they would have had to embrace Christ and not kill Christ. And if that had occurred, then there would be no salvation for anybody. Are we to assume then that the cross is an adjustment, plan B, a contingency, a reaction to an apostatizing Israel? Did He not Himself say that He was born to die?
At the end of Luke’s gospel in the twenty-fourth chapter, verse 25, He said to those disciples on the road, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken, was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” The Old Testament promised the suffering and the crucifixion of Christ. Psalm 22 describes it, Isaiah 53 describes it, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament typifies it, Zachariah 12:10 talks about Him being pierced. Same chapter, Luke 24:44, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the prophets in the Psalms must be fulfilled, including that Christ should suffer and rise again the third day.” The Old Testament prophesied His resurrection, Psalm 16, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption, but show Him the path of life.”
The cross is not an afterthought. It is not an adjustment to Jewish apostasy. Luke 18:31, “He took the Twelve aside and said to them, Behold, we’re going to Jerusalem and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished, He will be delivered to the Gentiles, will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him.” Matthew says, “Crucify Him.” “And the third day He will rise again.” He says that will happen.
When Jesus came the first time, He came in humiliation. He was born to die to propitiate God’s justice as a satisfaction for the sins of all who would ever believe in order that sinners could be redeemed, including Jews and Gentiles and in the end a whole nation of ethnic Israelites.
Israel’s rejection of Christ was written by God. It does not diminish their guilt and was not a reason to cancel the promises. In fact, it was necessary for the fulfilment of the promises that He bear sin and rise from the dead. Jesus was no Amillennialist. The Kingdom is not conditional on what men do. History is God’s story.
In part 5 of the series, we will deal with the question, whether the Apostles were Amillennials or not.