(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)
Over the past two days, we’ve seen how Israel had a hope for the future. When God acted to restore them, they’d return to the promised land, throw off the yoke of foreign rule and oppression, and experience a time of peace, prosperity, healing, and justice. Furthermore, they’d be given the ability (“a new heart”) to live as God’s image-bearers they way God had always intended.
We also looked at the timing: a first return from exile in which they reoccupy the land, and a second, fuller return when all of God’s promises would be fulfilled. And by the time of Jesus, the expectation was that this would happen any minute now!
Today, we start by looking at the question: How?
The return from exile: how will it happen?
So how would the return come about? It would be through an “anointed one” who would do God’s work, exercising God’s rule. Expectations of such a figure were fuelled by different themes found in the Hebrew Scriptures:
The promise of a prophet like Moses:Deut 18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
A ruler coming from Israel – specifically Judah:Num 24:17 A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. Gen 49:10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
The promise of a king from David’s line on the throne:Ps 132:11 The LORD swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. Isa 11:1-5 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
Prophets after the exile (as well as other Jewish writings not found in our Old Testament) continued this expectation:Mal 3:1 I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
And in the book of Daniel (as well as other Jewish writings), there came the idea of a mysterious human-like figure who was in the presence of God, through whom God would exercise his rule:Dan 7:13-14 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
We could go on, but you get the idea: this second, fuller return from exile (and all of the blessings promised) would be brought in by God’s “anointed one” – the Hebrew word for this is “Messiah” (and the Greek, “Christ”). God’s people were waiting for a Messiah to do everything God had promised.
But it’s also important to notice another theme: that God himself was to return to Israel as king. Israel’s leaders hadn’t done their job – being bad shepherds (see Zechariah 11) – and God himself promised to return to the land to shepherd his people properly (see Ezekiel 34). This also formed part of the expectation: God himself would return to Israel as king, and he would act through his representative image-bearer, the “anointed one” or “Son of Man.”
What about the nations?
In amongst all of this hope for the restoration of Israel, the nations haven’t been forgotten, either. (Remember the promise to Abraham: blessed so that he might be a blessing to all nations? Or the ideals of Israel’s kingship in Psalm 72: to execute justice in Israel, so that all nations will be blessed through him?) The hope of restoration also included visions of Israel finally fulfilling her calling as God’s image-bearers.
In Isaiah, the nations will stream to Jerusalem to be taught by God:Isaiah 2:2-5 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple 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.
In Zechariah, Jerusalem’s king will rule the nations (just like Solomon was supposed to):Zech 9:9-10 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
In the Psalms, Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the nations of the world will come to worship God.Ps 102:16, 21-22 For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory… So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.
In the latter part of Isaiah – which is all about Israel’s restoration – God’s glory will be proclaimed to nations that have not heard of him:Isaiah 66:12, 18-19 “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.
Israel’s restoration will also have implications for the whole world.
We’ve just about finished building up our picture of Israel’s story – and what they were expecting to happen in the next “chapter.” Tomorrow, we’ll put it all together.