“These Days” Part 1
In the denominational world there is the popular theory that what God had promised to Israel in the Old Testament has never really been fulfilled. That in the future the Jewish temple is going to be rebuilt, Jesus is going to return to the earth, reign for 1000 years in Jerusalem, and the Jewish nation will occupy their land and have all the prominence that they had under the rule of kings like David and Solomon. Yet, is this true?
Jesus the Apostles and the Old Testament
I find it significant that Jesus and the Apostles viewed the Old Testament prophets as predicting the time and events in which they lived, rather than far distant events in the future:
- “That all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled….Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44, 46-47).
Observe that Jesus here says nothing about the prophets predicting a millennial rule, over which He would supposedly act as King.
- “And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days” (Acts 3:24).
In the context of Peter’s sermon on this occasion, the time period in which Peter was living included: 1) The fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 concerning a coming Lawgiver (3:22). 2) The period of restoration (3:21) mentioned by the prophets. 3) The times of refreshing were now (3:19). 4) The final promise to Abraham was being fulfilled (3:25).
“Beginning from Jerusalem”: Luke 24:47
Jesus said that the prophets had actually taught that a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached from Jerusalem to all the nations. This verse in Luke is part of what has been called the Great Commission and is also mentioned in Mark 16:15-16 and Matthew 28:19-20. Remember, when John the Baptist and Jesus arrived they both said “repent” for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15). To readers of the Old Testament Scriptures this was saying that what the prophets had promised to the faithful among God’s people was soon to arrive.
For many people, what Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 2:2-4 must still be future and can only be fulfilled when Jesus returns and supposedly reigns on the earth, yet consider the following:
- What Isaiah describes is said to happen in the last days (not on the last day). The time period of the New Testament claims to be the last days (Acts 2:16; Hebrews 1:1-2).
- God’s house would be established, and God’s house is clearly the church which was established in the First Century (1 Timothy 3:15).
- God’s house or kingdom is spoken as a mountain that is elevated over all other mountains (or kingdoms). In the book of Daniel, God spoke of a kingdom that He would establish that would become “a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35). The timeline for the arrival of this kingdom is clearly given. From the time of Nebuchadnezzar, there are four kingdoms mentioned. Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman, and it would be in the days of the fourth empire (Roman) that God would set up His kingdom (2:44).
- All nations would stream to God’s house (Isaiah 2:2), that is, it would be a household that includes Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:16).
- God’s new law would go forth from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3), just as Jesus said in Luke 24. This new law is the gospel message that was preached in Acts chapter 2.
- Isaiah 2:4 is not describing a period of utopian peace, as we will see in Isaiah chapter 11, but rather is beautifully illustrating the changed lives that will be a part of God’s kingdom. This verse is describing what happens to people when they repent and come into contact with the blood of Jesus (Titus 3:3; Ephesians 2:3-4).
Particularly, the verses in this section that mention the wolf dwelling with the lamb are often taken by people to refer to some future utopian period of time on the earth, yet there are major problems with this view:
- Paul quotes Isaiah 11:10 as being fulfilled in the First Century (Romans 15:12), and cites this text as proof that it had been God’s will to save Gentiles who believe in Christ.
- If Isaiah 11 has not been fulfilled and can only refer to some period in the distant future, then there is a huge problem. Non-Jewish people are only allowed to come to Jesus when the events of Isaiah 11 have happened.
- Observe that at the same time Gentiles (nations) are allowed to come to Jesus, that God is said to recover a second time the remnant of the Jewish people (11:11). The first time was during the time period of Ezra and Nehemiah. This second return never meant a literal return to their land, rather this meant that as He gathered Gentiles with the gospel message He would also gather the Jews who chose to believe, like Paul. Paul writes that such a remnant did exist in the First Century (Romans 11:1-5). In addition, we see that remnant being collected in Acts 2:41 and other passages.
In this context God speaks of His people rebuilding the ancient ruins (61:4), and once again possessing their land (61:7). Yet, Jesus quotes this section in Luke 4:18 and claims that it was being fulfilled when He was upon the earth the first time (4:21). Thus, the language about rebuilding the ancient ruins and possessing the land was never meant to be viewed as a literal rebuilding.
This section of Scripture speaks of the booth of David being rebuilt as in the days of old. It also speaks of God’s people possessing Edomite territory (9:12), the captivity of Israel being reversed (9:14), rebuilding ruined cities and being planted on their land (9:15). Yet, none of this was ever meant to be viewed as being literal. The reason I say that is because James in Acts 15:16-17 speaks of this very passage as being fulfilled in the First Century. He focuses in on the statement, “And all the Gentiles who are called by My name”, and uses this passage as proof that God had intended to bring salvation to non-Jewish people. Again, if Amos 9:11-15 can only apply to some future and literal restoration of the nation of Israel to their land and prominence in the future, then the nations at the present time do not have the right to seek salvation in Jesus Christ. Much like Isaiah 11, Amos 9 places together the imagery of Israel being restored and Gentiles seeking Jesus at the same exact time. Therefore, the restoration and rebuilding in those passages is speaking of them being restored to God and being, along with believing Gentiles members of His household (Ephesians 2:17-22).
Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 cites this section of Scripture as being fulfilled in the arrival of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and people being told what to do to be saved (Acts 2:16-22). Yet observe that in the next chapter of Joel the writer continues: “For behold, in those days and at that time” (3:1). That is, at the exact same time that people are calling upon the name of the Lord to be saved. “When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem” (3:1). “In that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine…but Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem for all generations” (3:18,20). Observe that the restoration of the fortunes of God’s people is directly linked with calling upon Jesus to be saved. Thus, the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem never meant a physical living in the land, because over the centuries many Jews had lived in the land and were unfaithful to God, as it true to this day. Rather, the restoration here is a restoration of a right relationship with God. When the gospel was preached, Jews with honest hearts would be given the opportunity to become part of God’s kingdom as well as any Gentiles. In fact, they were given the opportunity first (Romans 1:16).