The Early Church
Believed in the
Most in the church today deny even a remote possibility that the earth will ever be restored, and that the kingdom of God will ever have a place on such an earth. They further deny that God will ever install Israel as the pre-imminent nation on this refurbished earth. They believe the church is the only real kingdom of God, and belief in such a restoration is therefore erroneous. I believe this is a quantum leap from the viewpoint of the early church.
The early church did not see itself as an entity so spiritual and other-worldly that it did not, or could not have a place in the restored earth’s temporal future. Nearly all early Christians were Jews and they were very familiar with God’s promises to the patriarchs and with the words of the prophets. So, they had no reason to believe the kingdom of God, of which the newly birthed church was a part, was limited to what happened after Pentecost. They also understood that the church, whose existence and purpose were in the mind of God before the foundation of the world, did not void that aspect of God’s kingdom having to do with Israel. And it is in that context that the early disciple’s final question to Jesus before He left them had to do with restoring the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).
That, however, changed when Gentiles began to be added to the church. Many of the early Gentile converts were from Asia Minor and Grecian Europe whose cultures had been under the strong influences of mystical religions, Gnosticism and various other pagan philosophies for generations. What makes this an important point is that those new Christians brought some of those old pagan beliefs with them as they came into the church. The apostle John forged a very strong argument against those insidious influences as seen in his letter we call 1 John.
The foundation of the Gnostic belief system is that the physical world is entirely bad, and is thus of no concern religiously. Only that which is spiritual is considered important. Of course, this opened the church door to all kinds of problems including rampant immorality. Thus, when those new believers encountered Old and New Testament scriptures having to do with the restoration of this physical earth and the presence of a physical earthly kingdom, they could not reconcile those texts with their ingrained Gnostic and mystic backgrounds. In due course, as some of them rose to places of leadership in the church, they fostered the spiritual, non-literal interpretation of prophecy, and it easily caught on.
Why was it so easy? To answer that question would require more space than that available here, but one of the major reasons was the influence of anti-Semitism. From early on Jews have been blamed for every malady Europe and the Middle East faced. Whether disease or natural disasters, it did not matter; it was the Jew’s fault. The result was that it was too much of a leap to admit, or to even consider that the earth will be restored, and that the pre-imminent nation will be a restored Israel. In this way contempt and hatred of the Jews skewed the interpretation of scripture, especially any text that pointed to the future glory of the Jews and the ascendency of Israel (e.g. Zechariah 8:23).
Most people attending mainline churches each Sunday, even self-labeled conservative churches, do not realize that their denominations are in lock-step with Islamic policy regarding Israel. Today not only do the Muslims blame the Jews for everything, but most of the Christian churches, denominations and councils, also. The unspoken, yet clearly evident thought is that the Gentile world, even the Gentile church, would rather not see this earth restored if that means a Jewish presence, much less if it means their being the pre-imminent nation.
Consider the question the disciples asked Jesus just before He ascended to heaven, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” His answer was, “It is not for you to know the times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
In order to side-step a thorough investigation into this question, the church universal shrugs it off claiming that the disciples were confused, did not understand what they were asking and that Jesus’ answer proves there will never be such a restoration. I don’t think so. Read verses 1-5.
Jesus had spent the forty days since His resurrection teaching His disciples, and there is no doubt He was addressing some very important things. One might wonder how much of what we think is important today was on His list. Luke, however, leaves no question about what He taught — it was all about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
With that in mind consider that Jesus was the greatest teacher in all history, and that His disciples were receiving the most important instruction any group of disciples could ever hear, for they were to be the first with the message that would turn the world on its ear. We can be certain Jesus made no mistakes, was very clear, and would insure none of them would be confused when it was all over. To say they were confused is to miss that fact. It is obvious their question was in context with what Jesus had been talking about for 40 days.
So, why did they ask the question? Probably several reasons, not the least of which is that they were on the Mt. of Olives. They would have easily connected the prophet’s words, what Jesus had been teaching for 40 days, the exact spot where they were standing and that they were in the very presence of the prophesied King! What Jew would not have made the connection? They were dead on in their thinking, and Jesus’ answer actually reflected that point. It is clear He did not rebuke them for their question, for His answer had to do with the timing of the restoration and not the fact of the restoration.
The above is a section of the Mt. of Olives east of the Temple Mount's Eastern Gate. For thousands of years Jews have been buried here because they know Messiah will return to this spot when He comes to set up His earthly kingdom, and they want to be resurrected there and then. Being Jews themselves, Jesus' disciples were very familiar with those issues, and saw no contradiction between those prophecies and Jesus' teaching about the kingdom. Nor did Jesus.
Well, what about the restoration? Basically, it encompasses two major aspects, the restoration of the earth and the restoration of Jerusalem, Israel as the city of the Great King — the capital of the world.
In Acts 3 Luke gives the account of Peter and John and the lame man who was healed. This caused quite a stir among both the people and the religious leaders, and in Peter’s message to the crowd he reminded them that the suffering of the Messiah was predicted by their prophets and was fulfilled in Jesus. In the next sentence Peter told his Jewish audience of repentance, removal of sin, times of refreshing and that God would send Jesus the Messiah. The modern church often overlooks how Peter used the word Messiah (Christ) instead the word “Savior”. He further says Messiah will remain in heaven “until the period of restoration of all things”; the period the prophets wrote and spoke about. The Jews had no need of an explanation for that term, for they were familiar with it and with its use by their ancient prophets. In fact, this is the time Paul had in mind when, about 25 years later, he said in Romans 8:19-22 that all creation longs to be set free from its slavery to the curse of corruption.
The restoration will include many things such as the elimination of war (Isaiah 2, Micah 4) and the removal of the curse (Isaiah 11). Israel as a nation will finally recognize that Jesus is indeed their Messiah (Zechariah 12), and Jesus will be King over all the earth with all the world going to Jerusalem to worship Him (Zechariah 14). David will be resurrected and will be installed over Israel as their prince (Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24ff).
God’s prophets and some of His New Testament writers wrote about this coming time of restoration, but they did not mention its duration. It is not until we get to Revelation 20 that God tells us through John that it will last 1000 years. This period is followed by Satan’s last rebellion, the great judgment of the unsaved, the destruction Peter told us about (2 Peter 3:10) and the eternal state with the new heavens, the new earth and the new Jerusalem.
One of King David’s greatest admonitions is for God’s people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), for when there is “peace within her walls and prosperity within her palaces” then the entire world will experience the same. In these last days it is arguably true that when there is no peace in Jerusalem, there is no peace in the world. And, such peace will not happen in the church dispensation, for the church cannot deliver what she has not been given the right, ability or authority to deliver. Such peace will be by the hand of the Prince of Peace; His hand only, and He will do it in person.
I once saw a painting that was supposed to be a portrayal of Jerusalem at peace. The view was from the Mt. of Olives looking across the Temple Mount. Beams of light shone through beautiful clouds with the Star of David formed by the varied texture of their shadows. The buildings were brightly colored, and splendid greenery covered the mount. However, in the middle of the picture was the Islamic Dome of the Rock. Without questioning the intentions of the artist, his understanding of God’s prophets and current events was severely limited. When real peace comes there will be no Dome of the Rock and no Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
The question of the disciples in Acts chapter one is no surprise in that it is not the first time they had asked Jesus about His kingdom. In Matthew 19:23ff we find another account of Jesus teaching His disciples about the kingdom of God. During that conversation Peter reminded the Lord that they had left everything to follow Him, and he wondered if there would be anything for them in His kingdom. Jesus did not impatiently sigh and rebuke him for his question. In fact, His answer was very clear about the coming “regeneration”.
Three things jump out of that text regarding the regeneration. First, there is going to be one. Second, it will be inaugurated when Jesus sits on His thrown. Note, too, Revelation 3:21 about His throne being distinguished from His Father’s throne. And third, the 12 apostles will sit upon their own thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Gnostics reject this hands down, and most modern Christians also. But, mere rejection in itself does not explain away the temporal context of both the question and Jesus’ answer. If Peter’s question would have been out of order Matthew would have recorded Jesus’ correction for all future Christian generations to see and clearly understand. That did not happen.
It is beyond question that we are looking for the rapture of the church. Yet, we are also looking forward to the restoration, the regeneration. We will rule with Jesus on a restored earth where peace will abound, the media will not be biased, Islam and all other religious and cultural threats will be gone, mortals will not govern, but will be governed, no profanity will be heard in family restaurants, children will not be threatened by bullies or sexual deviants, fishing ponds will abound, lakes and streams will be clean along with the air...the list could go on. That is why Jesus calls it the “restoration”, or “regeneration”. I cannot say what anybody’s specific job will be, but we can know this: it will be much better than anything this wretched, evil and miserable world has to offer. Maranatha!