the Restoration of
Some Christian denominations believe that the coming Kingdom of God will be based on a restored kingdom of Israel. Specifically they believe that the kingdom which Jesus Christ will establish will be the kingdom of Israel restored, in the territory it formerly occupied, viz., the land bequeathed for an everlasting possession to Abraham and his seed (the Christ) by covenant. There are other denominations, however, that have the view that the New Testament has nothing to say about a return of the Jews to their own land. To them, Christ reigning on a throne at Jerusalem in which those of Jewish descent will have national pre-eminence is a fanciful delusion.
It is certainly the case that the literal restoration of the kingdom to Israel does not appear in the New Testament in anything like the detail in which it appears in the Old. However, it is not true to say that it does not appear at all; there are words in the New Testament which can only have reference to the restored kingdom of Israel.
It must be remembered that the New Testament can only have preserved a tiny fraction of what Jesus, and the inspired apostles and prophets, taught. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have no detailed teaching about the restored kingdom of Israel recorded, when this subject is so comprehensively covered in the Old Testament. All the teaching of Jesus, and nearly all the teaching of the apostles, was to Jews, or Gentiles already attending synagogues, and such would have known the Old Testament teaching anyway. We cannot assume that it was not taught to those who were in ignorance of it.
Let us now look at New Testament passages which do refer to, or clearly imply, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
The birth of Jesus Christ
When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, and told her that she was to have a child by the operation of God's power upon her, he said of this child: "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever" (Lk. 1:32,33). What would these words have conveyed to Mary? Undoubtedly that her son would rule the nation of Israel, as her ancestor David did. We make the following points:
1. No Old Testament scripture indicates any other meaning of these words.
2. There is no recorded New Testament revelation prior to the angel's visit to Mary that would have indicated to her that the words had any other meaning.
3 Whilst not relevant to how Mary would have understood the words, there is no later New Testament teaching that tells us that we should interpret the words any differently from how Mary would have understood them.
Later on in Luke 1, the words of Zacharias, specifically stated to be uttered when he "was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied" (v. 67), are recorded. With reference to the one yet to be born to Mary he praised God because "He hath...raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began" (vv. 68-70). Here, then, was the promised Messiah who was to fulfil what the prophets had spoken of; and the prophets spoke of Messiah largely in the context of the restored kingdom of Israel. Their prophecies were not already fulfilled or rescinded.
Were then these prophecies "modified" by this inspired New Testament prophet? By no means, for he goes on to say that the Messiah would bring "salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us" (v. 71, RV). What does this mean but the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures that Israel will one day "dwell safely" under the one called "the LORD our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6)?
Similar words are spoken later in Zacharias' song, when he says that "the mercy promised to our fathers" and "His holy covenant" and "the oath which He sware to our father Abraham" all involved the fulfillment of the prayer "that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life" (vv. 72-75). The work of the Messiah cannot be divorced from the Old Testament prophecies, which involve Israel dwelling peacefully in their land, saved from all their enemies. What does not seem to have been revealed at this stage is that a considerable length of time would pass before the Messiah carried out this aspect of his work.
In Matthew 2 we have recorded the response of the Jewish leaders to the question of Herod, who "inquired of them where the Christ should be born" (v. 4, RV). The response was, "In Bethlehem of Judea"; and in support Micah 5:2 is cited, which says that from Bethlehem would "come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel" (vv. 5,6).
These words show very clearly that Jesus Christ is to rule the nation of Israel. However, anyone wishing to object to this could point out that it was the Jewish leaders who cited the prophecy, and they were mistaken about the true role of the Messiah they looked for. In reply to this we make two points:
1. The angelic revelation quoted above from Luke 1:32,33 links perfectly with this, confirming our understanding that Micah 5:2 refers to the restored kingdom of Israel, and that this promised restoration will be fulfilled literally.
2. It may well be that the citation of Micah 5:2 is by Matthew, as an aside in the text, rather than by the Jewish leaders. Matthew is explaining to his readers the reason why they answered as they did. In doing so he endorses the literal meaning of "rule My people Israel".
In the ministry of Jesus
Although Jesus nowhere goes into detail about his future work of ruling a restored Israel, he refers to it on occasions in words which cannot be explained away.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in telling his followers that they must not swear oaths, cites Psalm 48:2: "Swear not...by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King" (Mt. 5:34,35). The psalm refers to a time to come when Jerusalem will be "Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth" (v. 2, RV). This is Jerusalem as it is to be, the place from which God's anointed king will rule.
Later in his ministry Jesus promises his twelve disciples that, "in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt. 19:28). The translation "regeneration" is a literal one, since the Greek does mean 'rebirth', and the natural meaning here is that it applies to the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Linking this verse with Matthew 5:35, the throne of glory on which Christ sits is situated in Jerusalem, and his rule is over Israel. Hence his twelve disciples each rule a tribe of Israel. It is interesting to note that W. E. Vine says of this verse:
"In Matt. 19:28 the word is used, in the Lord's discourse, in the wider sense, of the 'restoration of all things' (Acts 3:21, R.V.), when, as a result of the Second Advent of Christ, Jehovah 'sets His King upon His holy hill of Zion' (Ps. 2:6), and Israel, now in apostasy, is restored to its destined status, in the recognition and under the benign sovereignty of its Messiah".
In the Mount Olivet Prophecy, having spoken of "Jerusalem compassed with armies", leading to her "desolation" (Lk. 21:20), Jesus goes on to give the well-known prophecy: "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (v. 24). Clearly we have here a prophecy of literal Jerusalem, which suffered at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70, and was then ruled by various Gentile powers. However, a limit is placed on this treading down by the word "until", and the end of the treading down is equated with the ending of "the times of the Gentiles". What can this refer to but the restoration of Jerusalem to Jewish rule at the time when the nations of the Gentiles cease to rule on earth?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem a multitude of Passover pilgrims came out from the city to meet him. They cried: "Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord". John goes on to report that Jesus rode a young ass in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9: "Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt" (Jno. 12:13,15). What does being king of Israel mean, other than to literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob as stated by the angel in Luke 1? Certainly we are not offered any other explanation in the Gospels as to what these words mean.
In Acts 1:3 we are told that, after his resurrection, Jesus was with his disciples "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God". At the end of this period the disciples asked him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (v. 6). After forty days of instruction about the Kingdom, the disciples clearly thought it involved the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Had they got it wrong? Hardly, for Jesus did not seek to correct them, but rather said: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (v. 7); which shows that they correctly understood what the Kingdom involved but not when it would be set up.
A few days later, Peter, in preaching to the Jews of Jerusalem, spoke of Jesus Christ in the following terms: "...whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (3:21). Peter had seen his Lord rise to heaven, and had heard the words of the angel, telling them that he would one day return. He now knew that there would be an interval before the kingdom was restored to Israel.
The word "restitution" means literally 'set in order back again', and applies aptly to the restoration of Old Testament Israel, ruled by David and Solomon; the same land, the same people, the same capital, a king of the same line, a similar law, and a glorious temple as a center of worship. That the phrase "restitution of all things" applies to Israel is evident from the fact that this restitution is stated to have been that spoken of by "all [God's] holy prophets since the world began"; the reading of the Old Testament prophets shows that they often speak of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
The kingdom of David restored
In preaching the gospel in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul said: "And as concerning that He [God] raised him [Jesus] up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, He said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:34). The words cited are from Isaiah 55:3, which refers back to the promises to David: "My mercy shall not depart from him [David's seed]...thine house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. 7:15,16, RV).
Isaiah 55:3 is cited to show that the Christ must be raised from the dead to live for ever, but the force of this reference is only apparent from its roots in the promises to David and their reference to the everlasting Kingdom. This everlasting Kingdom is the kingdom of Israel; the throne of David on which David himself sat and which is to be established for ever is in fact "the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel" (1 Chron. 28:5). The one who is to rule from this everlasting throne must also live for ever.
A further New Testament reference to this is to be found in Acts 2. Here the Apostle Peter cites Psalm 16 as being prophetic of the resurrection of Christ, pointing out that it could not have applied to David himself because David was "both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day" (vv. 25-29). He then says: "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ" (vv. 30,31). As defined in the verse from 1 Chronicles cited above, the throne of David is "the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel", and it is on this throne that the resurrected Christ will rule.
In Acts 15 James cites Amos 9 as proof that the Gentiles had a part to play in the purpose of God: "After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom My name is called" (vv. 16,17). The context of the verses quoted is that of the restoration of Israel: "I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel...And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land" (Amos 9:14,15); and the quotation of this reference is a further example of the New Testament endorsing the doctrine of the restoration of Israel.
Some might point out that these verses are cited in the New Testament in order to show that the Gentiles had a place along with the Jews in the early ecclesia, and this is therefore what the passage is about. Yet this does violence to the context. The passage is cited to show that, when the kingdom of Israel is restored, Gentiles will have their place too. Given this, they must therefore be allowed an equal place to Jews in the early ecclesia.
Romans 11, if carefully read, also supports the idea of the restoration of national Israel. In verse 15 the apostle says: "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?". The "them" of this verse applies to the Jews, those who were not part of the faithful "remnant" (v. 5) who accepted the gospel message about Christ, but were "the rest [who] were blinded" (v. 7). Such were cast away as God's people in the apostles' day, but would be received back again at some future time.
Likewise, verses 23 and 24 indicate the restoration of the Jewish nation: "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in [into the Jewish olive tree again]: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?". On the basis of the preceding verses the "they" of verse 23 refers to natural Israel, cut off in the first century for their rejection of their Messiah, not to individual Jews accepting the gospel message. This is in accordance with the teaching of the prophets in such passages as Isaiah 59:20,21 (cited by Paul), Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 37:21-27, which speak of a Jewish restoration on the basis of national repentance. Note the force of the question, "how much more ...?"; if we Gentiles can have a part in God's plan and purpose through Israel's Messiah, how much more fitting is it that the nation of Israel should ultimately have their part?
Although the New Testament does not teach the restoration of Israel in detail, it is clearly there. The references to it which occur accord with Old Testament teaching on the subject, they do not supercede it. The copious Old Testament scriptures on the subject cannot therefore be dismissed as rescinded or modified, nor were the words of the prophets on the matter properly fulfilled in the limited restoration which took place after the captivity in Babylon.