Was the Fall of Jerusalem the Good News of the Kingdom? #6
In my last installment I shared with you that no matter what else we might think of the Olivet Discourse, one thing is certain. Jesus linked the eschatological gathering (the good news of the kingdom) to that catastrophic end. He said that at his coming in that event, he would send out his angels and they would gather together the elect, from the four winds of the earth. This “gathering” (from episunagogee) was foretold by the OT prophets. It was the restoration of Israel, dead in sin, alienated from God due to her violation of the covenant.
As promised in the previous installment, I want to examine Isaiah 52 as one of the key prophecies of the end time gathering. by doing this, we can show that the fall of Jerusalem really was the good news! Before doing that, however, I have decided to take a look at another important prophecy of the end times gathering – Psalms 102:14-28:
“For Your servants take pleasure in her stones, And show favor to her dust. So the nations shall fear the name of the Lord, And all the kings of the earth Your glory. For the Lord shall build up Zion; He shall appear in His glory. He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, And shall not despise their prayer. This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the Lord. For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary; From heaven the Lord viewed the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To release those appointed to death, To declare the name of the Lord in Zion, And His praise in Jerusalem, When the peoples are gathered together, And the kingdoms, to serve the Lord. He weakened my strength in the way; He shortened my days. I said, “O my God, Do not take me away in the midst of my days; Your years are throughout all generations. Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end. The children of Your servants will continue, And their descendants will be established before You.”
✸ The Psalmist said that all the kings of the earth would glory at the work of the Lord, and that He would “appear in His glory.” We know, of course, that Jesus promised to come in glory at the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29-31).
✸ This prophecy is cited by Hebrews 1 to speak of the passing away of the Old Covenant “heavens and earth” versus the abiding, eternal nature of the New Covenant – and the age to come (2:5) – of Christ. It is clearly Messianic in nature, so let’s take a look.
✸ There was to be, at the passing of the Old Creation, the creation of a New People: “a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” This is a massive problem for those who say that Psalms is talking about a so-called end of time, end of the Christian age event. Do those same people believe that the current people of God – the church – will be destroyed, for the Lord to create a New People? No, they do not. Thus, an appeal to Psalms 102 to prove a yet future end of time is not supported by this text.
✸ Notice that at the time of the creation of the new people, it would be a time of grace, mercy and freedom: “From heaven the Lord viewed the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To release those appointed to death, To declare the name of the Lord in Zion, And His praise in Jerusalem.” Needless to say, we have here a direct parallel with Isaiah 61:1-3:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
Of course, the observant reader will recall immediately that in Luke 4, Jesus emphatically declared that the time for the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 had arrived. Thus, unless Psalms 102 and Isaiah 61 speak of two different times of salvation for Israel and the nations, then we have proof that both Psalms 102 and Isaiah 61 were to be fulfilled in the first century. And that brings us to the promise of the gathering.
In verse 22 the Lord spoke of that event: “When the peoples are gathered together, And the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.”
The Psalmist used the word episunagogee (in the LXX) to speak of that eschatological gathering. It important of course to pay particular note that it would not be just Israel that would be “gathered” but, the nations as well. This reminds us of Isaiah 56 where the Lord foretold that in the last days He would not only gather (sunagogee) Israel, but, he would gather nations “besides” Israel. Israel alone was never intended to be the exclusive focus of God’s scheme of redemption. It was always God’s plan to use Israel to bring salvation to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The destruction of Jerusalem was God’s way of signaling that Israel’s exclusive day was now over. Salvation was for any man, of any nation!
So, at the coming of the Lord in his glory, to redeem “Zion” and bring deliverance and freedom to the poor, the outcast, the prisoner, the Lord would “gather together” (episunagogee) the outcasts of Israel as well as the nations.
This end time gathering was the hope of Israel. It was nothing less than the resurrection, since the re-gathering of Israel from her sin – bondage, her alienation from God (cf. Ezekiel 37) was always considered to be “resurrection from the dead.” To say that this was the promise of “good news” is a huge understatement. As N. T. Wright has cogently noted, what would happen to Israel would happen to the nations. The nations were dependent on what God would do for Israel:
“The fate of the nations was inexorably and irreversibly bound up with that of Israel…This point is of the utmost importance for the understanding of first-century Judaism and of emerging Christianity. What happens to the Gentiles is conditional upon, and conditioned by, what happens to Israel…The call of Israel has as its fundamental objective the rescue and restoration of the entire creation. Not to see this connection is to fail to understand the meaning of Israel’s fundamental doctrines of monotheism and election.” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1996), 308).
In similar fashion, he wrote:
“In many strands of Jewish expectation, demonstrably current in the first century, the fate of the Gentiles would hinge on the fate of Israel. What YHWH intended to do for the Gentiles, he would do in some sense or other through Israel” (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1992), 268).
So, what we find in Psalms 102 is a fantastic prophecy of the “restoration of Israel” the redemption of Zion, at the coming of the Lord in glory to gather the nations – this is the promise of the everlasting kingdom. It is for sure, the good news of the kingdom!
Of course, it takes but a moment of reflection to recall that Jesus foretold his coming in glory and salvation:
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28)
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together (episunagogee) His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31).
We have here many of the constituent elements of Psalms 102, just as we do in another passage in Matthew.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered (συναχθήσονται / sunexthesetai, a future indicative passive of sunagogee) before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31-33).
So, just as in Psalms 102 (and the other two texts just cited) we have the coming of the Lord in glory, for the time of salvation and the kingdom, when the nations would be gathered.
Certain things are certain from these passages and from the comments made earlier.
1. Jesus posited the fulfillment of these prophecies for the first century. To anyone not dedicated to a literalistic, presuppositional view of prophecy, this is simply undeniable.
2. The gathering in view is not a physical gathering of all the nations into one geographical location as the graphic sermonizing lessons have portrayed this gathering. The gathering is the bringing back into fellowship the people that had been alienated / separated from God due to sin. It is the time of the creation of a New People, in a New Creation, where grace, mercy, salvation are the blessings of the kingdom rule of Messiah.
To suggest that Jesus did not have these eschatological “gathering” texts in mind is, I believe, to turn Matthew 24:30-31 on its head and to rob them of the soteriological glory that these verses deserve. When Jesus foretold the passing of the Old People, that was, to be sure, bad news; it, meant the destruction of Jerusalem and everything she symbolized. But, his reference to the end time gathering meant that the promised salvation of the remnant in the kingdom of Messiah, and the extension of salvation to all the nations was to happen in that generation. This truly was “the good news of the kingdom” and that “good news” as a result of the fulfillment of those promises, extends to us today, since we can participate in the salvation that came into full bloom at the passing of that Old Covenant world and covenant of sin and death.
In our next installment I will take a look at Isaiah 52 and its marvelous promise of the gathering. Stay tuned! But, I think that the readers can begin to see how Jesus could refer to the destruction of Jerusalem as the “gospel of the kingdom.”
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