In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt. 3:1-2)
Prophecies of a Messianic King appear throughout the Old Testament and many in the Jewish leadership saw John’s arrival on the scene as their fulfillment. They sent representatives to the place where John was baptizing to see if he was the promised Messiah. He said he wasn’t, but that the one they had been expecting was even then in their midst (John 1:19-28).
750 years earlier Isaiah had said when the Messiah came He would reign on David’s throne forever (Isaiah 9:6-7) but the throne of David had been vacant for 600 years. John had come to tell them the time was finally at hand and they had better get ready for Him.
When Jesus began His ministry, John introduced Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:8) and publicly testified that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:34). Right from the beginning Jesus began teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (Matt. 4:17), and sent His disciples through out the land to alert the people to this fact as well (Matt. 10:7-8).
But even with Isaiah’s prophecies, John’s testimony, and the Lord’s teaching, the Jewish leaders refused to accept that Jesus was the Messiah. They questioned His claims, His doctrine, and His miracles in spite of the fact that all were clearly foretold in their prophecies.
Isaiah had also said when He came the Messiah would have no beauty or majesty that would attract them to Him and that nothing about His appearance would make them desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). The fact that Jesus was not like they expected Him to be was a big problem for them.
Just before John was executed, He had sent a delegation of his disciples to confirm for themselves that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
In reply Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)
Jesus fed the multitudes, walked on water, healed the sick and raised the dead and still they asked for a miraculous sign. Finally in frustration He responded, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:38-40). They would get their sign, but only after they had executed Him.
Later, just a few days before His execution, He warned them again. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (Matt. 21:43). He was speaking of the coming Church.
After the resurrection, having performed the miraculous sign they asked for, Jesus waited 40 days for them to acknowledge it. But upon being informed of the empty tomb the Jewish leaders bribed the soldiers to keep them quiet and refused to recognize the Lord’s fulfillment of the sign of Jonah (Matt. 28:11-15).
At the end of the 40 days His disciples asked if He was now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus said it was not for them to know the times or dates (Acts 1:6-7) and after telling them to wait for the Holy Spirit to appear He ascended into heaven.
Some have criticized His response as being ambivalent, but I disagree. The disciples knew 69 of Daniel’s 70 weeks had passed, and there was one week (7 years) left to fulfill. They knew the Messiah had been cut off (put to death) like Daniel had prophesied (Daniel 9:26) and from His teaching they knew why. It was to fulfill three of the six objectives the angel had set forth when he gave Daniel the 70 weeks prophecy over 500 years earlier.
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy”. (Daniel 9:24)
The purpose of the Lord’s death was to finish transgression, put an end to sin and atone for wickedness. What was left was to bring in everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy. Bringing in everlasting righteousness is a reference to Isaiah 9:7 which says the Messiah will reign with justice and righteousness forever. Sealing up vision and prophecy means to bring them to their conclusion by fulfilling them. Anointing means to consecrate or sanctify, and the Most Holy probably refers to the Temple.
By telling the disciples it wasn’t for them to know the timing of the kingdom’s restoration and immediately changing the subject to the coming Holy Spirit, I think the Lord was saying the offer of the kingdom was still on the table, but His focus was about to change. Obviously God knew they had rejected the kingdom at that time, but He was leaving the door open for them to accept it at some point in the future.
This is borne out by a prophecy He spoke through Hosea 750 years earlier.
“Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). Please note the word “until” because it conveys the notion of “not now” rather than “not ever.” The door was still open.
10 days after the Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and the Church was born. For about 20 years the Church remained mostly an offshoot of Judaism until James, the Lord’s half brother, revealed that the Lord was first going to take from among the Gentiles a people for Himself before moving to restore Israel (Acts 15:13-18). This was a clear promise of a future for Israel.
But shortly after that Israel ceased to exist as a nation and has been absent for most of the past 2000 years while God’s focus has been exclusively on the Church. Because of this many scholars began to express doubt that Israel would ever return, even asserting that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan and all the unfulfilled promises to Israel have been inherited by the Church. As far as they were concerned, there was no longer a reason for Israel to exist.
I’ve been going to church all my life but I was nearly 50 years old before I realized that the Age of Grace, aka the Church Age, only exists in a parenthesis between Daniel’s first 69 weeks and the coming 70th one. It began when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost after the Lord’s Ascension and will end with the Rapture. Once the Church is gone the Lord will turn back to Israel to fulfill Daniel’s 70th week and implement the kingdom Daniel prophesied.
“In the time of those kings (the Gentile powers who control the Earth) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44).
In Daniel’s time it was already understood that this kingdom would be headquartered in Israel, but would have authority over all the Earth. Speaking through David, God said, “I have installed my King on Zion, My Holy hill” (Psalm 2:6)
He was referring to His Son, to whom He said, “Ask of Me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the Earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8).
Those who teach that there’s no future for Israel have forgotten that James had foretold of one that would begin after the Lord finished with the Church (Acts 15:13-18). They have also forgotten that Paul confirmed this in Romans 11:25-27. And they’ve forgotten (or ignored) all the unconditional promises God had made to Israel.
This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord Almighty is his name:
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms” (Ezekiel 37:21-22).
I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God (Amos 9:14-5).
There are probably dozens of others, but I’m sure you get the idea. Only by refusing to read these promises as they’re written can one deny that they are meant for Israel.
So the offer of a Kingdom to Israel was never rescinded, it was only set aside while the Lord built His Church. Following that, He will turn His attention once again to Israel for the final segment of Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy. To say this will be a difficult time would be a gross understatement because Israel has to atone for the sin of rejecting the Lord’s earlier offer. Jesus called it the worst time of trouble the world ever has or ever will see (Matt. 24:21) but just as Hosea had prophesied, in their misery they will earnestly seek Him.
“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence” (Hosea 6:1-2).
God will hear their prayer and pour out His Spirit of grace and supplication, allowing their hearts to be softened and their eyes to be opened to the fact that the one they put to death was their promised Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14). After a period of intense mourning, they will admit their sin, and the blood guilt that He has not pardoned, He will pardon (Joel 3:21). It’s will be national conversion and it will change everything. Remember, it doesn’t matter who you are, no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).
Then the Lord will appear over Jerusalem and fight against all the nations of the Earth, who have gathered against His people (Zech. 14:3). He will strike them with a plague that causes their flesh to rot while they’re still standing. Their eyes will rot in their sockets and their tongues will rot in their mouths. Those who survive will be stricken with great panic and actually begin attacking each other (Zech. 14:12-13). At the end of the day the victory will belong to the Lord, and He will be King over the whole Earth. There will finally be only one Lord and His name the only name. (Zechariah 14:9).
After that, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it (Isaiah 2:2).
From all over the world people will say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house 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. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:3-4).
This will be a time of rejoicing for Israel such as the world has never seen. The creation itself will join in the celebration.
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God (Isaiah 35:1-2).
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands(Isaiah 55:12).
The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:10).
For this is what the Lord says, I will extend peace to her like a river and the wealth of the nations like a flooding stream. When you see this your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass (Isaiah 66:12,14).
The promised kingdom will have come to Israel, and the world will finally be at peace. Next time, the Gospel of Grace.