Was the Destruction of Jerusalem The “Good News of the Kingdom”
How Was that Good News?
The End of Israel’s Covenant Age was to be the time of her “Re-Gathering / Restoration” which was the resurrection.
One thing that is undeniable from the Olivet Discourse and Jesus’ prediction of the coming end of the age is that at that time, the gathering of the elect would take place (24:31):
“And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Here we have the coming of Christ as the Son of Man, sending out his angels at the sounding of the Great Trumpet, for the gathering of the saints- all at the destruction of Jerusalem.
Thus, in some way, in some manner, we must admit that Matthew 24 is about the in-gathering, the gathering of God’s elect. Needless to say, the nature and identity of this gathering is hotly disputed, but, the fact that Jesus was speaking of the gathering is indisputable.
To note that the in-gathering is an eschatological motif is to state the obvious. What is important to realize is that what Jesus was predicting was the climax of Israel’s covenant history, the “restoration of Israel” that would lead to the salvation of the nations.
Throughout the Tanakh, the story of God’s end time gathering is a constant theme. It is the story of the “Second Exodus” of Isaiah 11. It is the gathering from the east and the west of the children of God scattered abroad (Isaiah 43:5). What is fascinating in this latter text is that Jesus “widens” the perspective from just Israel to the Gentiles.
Speaking to Israel about the faith of the Centurion, a pagan, Jesus promised that “many shall come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom” (Matthew 8:11-12). He was thus including those like the Centurion, who were not of Israel, in those to be gathered into the kingdom. This is confirmed by taking a look at some of the other OT prophecies of the end time gathering.
For brevity, we will look at just one of many texts, Isaiah 56:1-12:
“Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the Lord Speak, saying, “The Lord has utterly separated me from His people”; Nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. “Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants— Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant- Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him.”
The context is that the ten northern tribes had been scattered among- “swallowed up” – among the nations (Hosea 8:8). But, the Lord looked to the time when Israel would be “restored / re-gathered” (In the LXX the word for gather is from sunagogee, v. 8, and Jesus used a compound cognate of this in Matthew 24:31, where he used episunagogee).
The word sunagogee and its cognates is an important eschatological word in the LXX. This is a very distinctive and powerful word. While the word can be used in a “mundane” sense of gathering of people (or even animals), it is also used in the LXX (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) to speak of the eschatological gathering of Israel under Messiah in the kingdom. Or, the idea conveyed in sunagogee and cognates is expressed in terms such as the Lord’s return to His people after His departure. Let me illustrate from Hosea 5:15-6:1-3:
“I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain,”
Take note of the following:
1. Due to Israel’s sin, YHVH departed. Now, it is patently obvious that this was not a physical, bodily departure.
2. Israel said that she would return to the Lord. This is likewise not a physical return, (or rapture) but a covenantal return, a return to obedience of the Lord’s word.
3. Israel expresses her faith that if she repents, “He will come to us.” This is the return of the Lord, but, once again, there is no visible, literal, bodily coming of the Lord.
In Hosea 2:15f, that return and restoration is posited under the imagery of the Lord gathering Israel to “the valley of Achor,” making the New Covenant with her, and remarrying her (Hosea 2:18f).
So, the idea of the gathering and the idea of the return of the Lord are inter-connected with one another.
This departure, repentance and return / gathering motif is found throughout the Tanakh. Notice Malachi 3:7– “Return to Me, and I will return to you.”
Ezekiel 37 also contains one of the key Messianic “gathering” promises. In the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, the Lord promised to restore “the whole house of Israel” (i.e. all twelve tribes) under the Messiah and the New Covenant.
“Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land.”
The word sunagogee and cognates is used many times in Ezekiel to speak of the Lord literally gathering the “Jews” into Jerusalem for judgment at the hands of Babylon (Ezekiel 22), the literal return / gathering from Babylonian captivity back to the land of Israel (chapter 11), and the ultimate eschatological gathering of the whole house of Israel to Messiah her king (36-37).
What is so significant about Ezekiel 37 and the promise of the gathering of Israel “into the land” is that at that time, the Lord would establish His tabernacle among them, and dwell with them (Ezekiel 37:26). There is no mention, either explicitly or implicitly, of a removal from the earth. It is God dwelling with man.
Paul, whose eschatological hope was nothing but the hope of Israel found in the OT prophets, quotes directly from this very verse to say that the church of the living God is that promised tabernacle (2 Corinthians 6:16): “You are the temple of God, as it is written…”. This means, can only mean, one thing: Israel was being “re-gathered”! But of course, the Diaspora of Israel were not being physically gathered into the land of Israel. But, they were being gathered into Christ! There was no physical tabernacle being built, but, there was the spiritual house of the living God (1 Peter 2:5f).
Notice now Isaiah 27:9-13:
“Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; And this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: When he makes all the stones of the altar Like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, Yet the fortified city will be desolate, The habitation forsaken and left like a wilderness; There the calf will feed, and there it will lie down And consume its branches. When its boughs are withered, they will be broken off; The women come and set them on fire. For it is a people of no understanding; Therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, And He who formed them will show them no favor. And it shall come to pass in that day That the Lord will thresh, From the channel of the River to the Brook of Egypt; And you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.”
There is so much here! But notice some bullet points:
Isaiah 27 is part of the “Little Apocalypse” (Isaiah 24-27) as the scholars call it. It is called this because it is so focused on the end time salvation, resurrection, restoration, kingdom. And the NT writers cite, echo, allude to these chapters repeatedly in their predictions of the last days, the resurrection, the kingdom and the salvation of Israel – the re-gathering and restoration of Israel.
☛ This is a prophecy of the salvation of Israel, “Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered.” It is important to realize that Paul cites these very verses in Romans 11:25-27 in his prediction of the then future to him salvation of Israel at the coming of the Lord. See my in-depth discussion of this connection in my Elijah Has Come: A Solution to Romans 11:25-27.
☛ The Lord says that Israel’s salvation would come through judgment- “When he makes all the stones of the altar Like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, Yet the fortified city will be desolate, The habitation forsaken and left like a wilderness.” This is a clear cut prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.
☛ The people whom the Lord had created would no longer find mercy (v. 11): “For it is a people of no understanding; Therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, And He who formed them will show them no favor.” This is a direct echo of Deuteronomy 32:28 which is a prediction of Israel’s last days! Thus, Isaiah is speaking of Israel’s ultimate fate, her last days judgment and salvation.
☛ And notice now that it would be “at that time” or “in that day” which is the day of the judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple,
“And it shall come to pass in that day That the Lord will thresh, From the channel of the River to the Brook of Egypt; And you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” (V. 12-13).
Do you catch that? At the time of the Lord’s coming in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the time of Israel’s salvation, the “great trumpet” would sound for the gathering of the people! (The reference to the “great trumpet” is an allusion to the trumpet blown in the seventh month of Israel’s calendar to announce the commencement of the last three feasts – the eschatological feasts. See Leviticus 23.
It should be noted that the rabbis and the scholars are agreed that Isaiah 27:12-13 was a prediction of the end time in-gathering – the resurrection.
Mitch and Zhava Glaser say, “The holy one, Blessed be He, will sound the shofar at the time of the ingathering of the exiles of Israel to their place (Isaiah 27:13) (Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel, Chicago; Moody Press, 1987), 22, 23– citing Eliyahu Zuta 2).
Greg Beale, commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the sounding of the trumpet at the time of the resurrection says that 1 Corinthians 15 is an echo of Isaiah 27:13. (Gregory Beale, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the OT, (Grand Rapids; Baker Academic, Apollos, 2007), 747). The implications of this are staggering!
John Nolland, also says that Matthew 24:31 is drawing on Zechariah 9:14 and Isaiah 27:13. (John Nolland, New International Greek Text Commentary, Matthew, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, Paternoster, 2005), 985.
Donald Hagner says, “The reference to the blowing of the Great Trumpet in connection with the gathering of the righteous is found in Isaiah 27:13 (in the NT reference to the eschatological trumpet occurs in conjunction with the descent from heaven in 1 Thessalonians 4:16; there, as in 1 Corinthians 15:52 the trumpet is associated with the resurrection of the dead, which Matthew makes no mention of here.” (Donald Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew 14-28, Vol. 33b, (Dallas; Word Publishers, 1995), 714).
Hagner exhibits a common, but troubling hermeneutic here. He implies that since Jesus (Matthew) in Matthew 24:31 does not explicitly mention the resurrection, that this means that the resurrection is not in view. This is specious and far removed from the ancient Hebraic mind-set. The idea that because specific words, terms or phrases are not used in a given text means that a doctrine is not present is just bad hermeneutic! The ancient Hebrews and rabbis simply did not think like that! See my series of articles addressing this hermeneutic, which was employed by Joel McDurmon in our formal public debate in 2012. That series of articles begins here.
Now, if it is true that Matthew 24:31 is drawing on the prophecy of Isaiah 27– and there can be little doubt of this – the implications are staggering!
That connection is established by a brief but closer look at Isaiah 27:
Isaiah 27 is actually a prediction of the coming of the Lord to avenge the blood of the martyrs. See Isaiah 26:19-21. Needless to say, the context of Matthew 24 is Jesus’ prediction of the avenging of all the blood of all the righteous, all the way back to creation – in the judgment of Jerusalem.
Isaiah 27 is thus a prediction of the judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple, just like Matthew 23-24 was a prediction of the judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Isaiah 27 predicted the sounding of the Trumpet for the gathering (sunago) and Jesus predicted the gathering of the elect (episunagogee) at the sounding of the Great Trumpet.
Isaiah 27 is actually a prediction of the resurrection, since the reference is to “those who are perishing” those in “captivity” and thus, they were considered “dead.” Thus, Matthew 24:31 was a prophecy of the resurrection! Jesus was unequivocal in positing the fulfillment of these things for his generation (24:34). That means that Matthew 24:31 was a prediction of the resurrection that would occur in Jesus’ generation!
All of this means that, as we have suggested, the impending judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple was both a good news / bad news scenario. The bad news was that the Old Covenant world had to be destroyed, just as Isaiah 27 foretold when it spoke of the destruction of the “fortified city” and the destruction of the altar of the Temple. And yet, in the midst of that catastrophe was the promise of the removal of Israel’s sin, her “re-gathering” to the Lord, i.e. the restoration of the fellowship that had been lost through her rebellion and sin.
This is the very situation Jesus described in Matthew 24. He foretold the coming Abomination of Desolation, with the resultant Great Tribulation, followed by his coming on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory, at the sounding of the Great Trumpet to restore and re-gather the saints! The Olivet Discourse is Isaiah 27 restated and interpreted by the Lord himself.
Jesus’ application of Isaiah 27 (and Paul’s application of Ezekiel 37) demands a rejection of the literalistic hermeneutic of the Dispensational world – and a surprising number of former preterists! The fact that Jesus posited the fulfillment of Isaiah 27 for his generation demands a rejection of that sort of literalism. Jesus was not saying that (just like Ezekiel 37 was not saying) there was to be a literal physical restoration of Israel to the physical land. That is patently not what those prophecies – as interpreted by the NT writers – foretold. Israel, alienated from God just like Adam had been, would be restored to God through Messiah Jesus and the New Covenant, bringing that Old Covenant world to its end. I will develop this further in the next installment of this series as I examine Isaiah 52, a marvelous prophecy of the end time “gathering” of Israel under Messiah in the New Creation.
The bottom line is that if we accept Jesus’ application of Isaiah 27 this means that the end of trhe Old Covenant age was the time of the restoration of Israel. That was truly “good news” and “good news of the kingdom.” It did, as Isaiah 27 clearly shows, have a dark lining to that silver cloud, but, it was good news nonetheless! Stay tuned as we continue!!
For more on the spiritual restoration of Israel, see my MP3 series of 52 lessons, entitled Acts and the Restoration of Israel. It is incredible how the NT writers, Luke particularly in Acts, applied one OT prophecy after another, of Israel’s restoration, to the first century work of Christ in his church. That study is available from this website.