Eschatology

Father Peter Hockens’ final talk at the Kiev conference went something like this…

Everything that we have heard in this consultation so far – the complementarity of Israel and the nations, the Church as the union of Jew and Gentile through the cross of the Messiah, the ingrafting of the Gentiles into the natural olive tree of Israel, the need of Jews and Gentiles for each other – all this now needs to be applied in the area of eschatology. TJCII as a vision for Jewish and Gentile reconciliation in Messiah requires the reconciliation of the Jewish and the Christian contributions to eschatology, to our faith in the end-times and the restoration of all things in Messiah.

In other words, the distinction between Israel and the nations also has major implications for our eschatology. In Romans, Paul uses the term “fullness” (pleroma), first of Israel (11: 12) and then of the nations (11:25). “Now if their transgression [that is, of Israel] means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean!” (Rom. 11:12). Later Paul writes, “I want you to understand this mystery” (i.e. this is part of God’s eternal plan): a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number [pleroma] of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom. 11:25-26). The fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations are inter-related; they cannot be realized independently of each other. This connectedness was expressed in a different way by Yeshua himself: “they [the Jews] will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24). This relates also to a verse in Matthew: “And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14). “For if their rejection (aposate = setting aside, that is, of Israel) is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead.” (Rom. 11:15).

From the Church of the One New Man to One Universal Church

The Church of Jew and Gentile together in one body, the Church of the One New Man, did not last. The warnings of Paul against Gentile boasting over the Jews were not heeded (see Rom. 11:18, 20, 25). By the fourth century, the Church did not permit converted Jews to retain their Jewish identity or to continue Jewish practices. The Church understood itself to be universal embracing all nations, and the main model for unity increasingly became the unity of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. Several Fathers of the Church recognized that the Jews would enter at the end, but this was understood as taking their place among the nations, not as restoration of the one new man.

This process had major repercussions in a number of areas, including church unity and eschatology. It had negative effects on eschatology because the Jewish people are the bearers of the Messianic promises: “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom 9:5). Jewish life is rooted in the covenant with Abraham and in the Torah, being oriented to the Messianic promises. The references to past and to future are lived and expressed in the feasts of Israel. The promises given to Abraham, to David, and through the prophets, concern the coming Messiah-King-Deliverer and the coming Messianic age/kingdom of righteousness and peace that is established in and from Zion. When there is no longer an explicit Jewish presence in the Church, their strong Messianic orientation towards the final fulfilment is removed.

Was this orientation to the final fulfilment completely lost in the Church? No, and for two reasons. First, the Church rejected the attempt of Marcion to remove the Old Testament from the Christian Bible. The Scriptures of Israel remained foundational for the Church. Second, the liturgies of the Church retained the orientation to the completion that had come from the Jewish origins. But nonetheless in the teaching on eschatology something was lost.

Effects on Eschatology of Distancing from Israel

How then did the distancing of the Church from its Jewish roots weaken the eschatological hope? Christians began to speak of the Church as the new Israel, saying that the Church has become heir to all God’s promises, with the assumption or explicit statement that the promises have been transferred to the Church because of Israel’s unbelief. When this happened, the promises were re-interpreted in a spiritualizing sense – so that the promised Land becomes heaven, the earthly Jerusalem is replaced by the heavenly, and the rule of the Messiah becomes the glorified Christ’s rule from heaven. In this process, the new realities with the coming of the Christ are seen as superior to the material things characterizing the covenants with Israel: the Jews are seen as carnal, the Christians as spiritual. Christians search the Old Testament for everything that can be interpreted as a type of Christ.

This form of spiritualizing in fact produces a rupture with the Messianic hope of Israel. Why? It is not because typological interpretation of the Old Testament is mistaken; we find typological interpretation in the New Testament, for example in 1 Cor. 10 “the rock was Christ” v. 4 and in the description of Jesus as the Lamb of God. Why then? First, because the only value of the type is its Christological signification – the covenants with Israel have no more value in themselves. Second, the Messianic promises were seen as totally fulfilled in the first coming of the Christ. This is the fundamental reason why the historic Churches have great difficulty in seeing any contemporary fulfilment of Messianic promises in events concerning Israel and the Jewish people in modern times. This conviction – total fulfilment in the first coming – cuts off the Messianic expectation of Israel: no more Messianic fulfilment, just the outworking of the consequences of the first coming. If Paul had believed that, he could not have told the Jews of Rome: “it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:20).

I should add that some promises that just did not fit the spiritualizing reinterpretation were simply left out of our theology and our preaching: for example, the words of Jesus to the Twelve, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28; see also Luke 22:30). This also applies to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, “I tell you that I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29). Understanding this last text literally did not immediately cease in the early Church, as we find St Irenaeus of Lyon explaining around the year 200: “In promising to drink there of the fruit of the vine with his disciples, he [Jesus] made two things known: the inheritance of the earth, in which will be drunk the new fruit of the vine, and the bodily resurrection of his disciples. For the flesh that will be raised in a new condition is also that which will share in the new cup. It is not in fact when he will be with his disciples in a superior and supra-heavenly place, that the Lord can be thought of as drinking the fruit of the vine”.

Seeing the Messianic fulfilment totally in the first coming was not just a fulfilment on earth, but fulfilment in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. There is of course something fundamentally right in this. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was for Jesus himself being “made perfect” (Heb. 5:8). This opened up the heavenly dimension, which becomes a characteristic element in New Testament faith. So for example Paul writes: “But our commonwealth [politeia] is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:2-3). But seeing the fulfilment of the promises totally in the first coming easily overlooks the total orientation of the first coming to the second. This becomes more serious when the role of the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onwards as totally preparing for the second coming is forgotten. As a result the second coming of Jesus in glory is not seen as the fulfilment of the Messianic promises, and the assumption is that Jesus comes in order to take us out of this creation to heaven. So the Church developed an eschatology that is markedly different from the hope of Israel. In general, the Church has looked to a heavenly fulfilment, and Israel to an earthly deliverance and fulfilment. The Church sees the fulfilment as outside and above human history, whereas for the Jewish people the fulfilment is within this creation and the climax to human history. This is one of the most serious results of the separation of Church and synagogue.

With the separation of the Church and the synagogue through the centuries we have inherited a situation in which the Church affirmed the newness of resurrection and glorification through the cross while the Jewish people affirmed the continuing validity of the promises concerning the Land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. From the fourth century, Christian eschatology had no place for Israel as a distinct people. It developed differently in the Eastern churches from the West. Some of what I will say applies more particularly to Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, and I leave it to any of you from the Orthodox Church to discern how much this also applies to you. In general, this distancing of the Church from the Jewish people intensified over the centuries leading to very negative presentations of the Jews by preachers and people.

More positive approaches began slowly following the Protestant Reformation. With the Protestant emphasis on the Bible, more Christians studied Hebrew, and a few scholars began to understand that the promises to Israel were permanent, and that many Old Testament prophecies remained unfulfilled. The number of Reformed and Evangelical scholars who believed in a future return of the Jews to the land of Israel and in their coming to faith in Jesus had increased by the 19th century. But here a complication entered. One Protestant who saw the contrast between the Jewish earthly hope and the Christian heavenly hope was John Nelson Darby, a founding figure among the Plymouth Brethren, who became a major architect of dispensationalism pre-millenialism. Darby sought to solve the dilemma by separating Israel and the Church even more, so he taught two distinct destinies, an earthly destiny for Israel and a heavenly destiny for the Church. This was the inspiration, if that is the right word, the origin of the teaching on an invisible rapture of the Church, separated from the second coming. In Darby’s scheme the Church had to be removed from the earth before Israel’s destiny on earth could begin to unfold. The teaching of an invisible rapture of “the church” before the visible coming of the Lord in glory removes a key element in the role of the Church of Jew and Gentile to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. In this schema the Church is already in heaven for a significant period before the coming in glory.

We have to hold Israel and the Church together, recognizing that their hopes belong together, even if we cannot yet understand how, and so affirm that the Church is the union of Jew and Gentile in one new man. It will only be possible for the Jewish and the Christian worldviews to be brought together by the light of the Holy Spirit. What then is it that we have to bring together?

The Central Christian Witness: Death and Resurrection

The heart of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God for our salvation. The Christian life, life in Christ, or life in the Spirit, is being plunged into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes: “Do you now know that when you were baptized, you were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Life in the Spirit is then to live in this new creation of being dead to sin and alive with the Holy Spirit. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11). It is the same in the first letter of Peter: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). The Christian is then fed on the death and resurrection: “When you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26). We feed on his body given for us and drink of his blood that is poured out for us. In this way we are preparing for our resurrection on the last day: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:54).

There is something fundamentally right about a total fulfilment already in Jesus provided we understand that this fulfilment is in his resurrection-ascension to glory. Jesus has reached the goal, this total transformation or glorification, through his bodily resurrection and his ascension as man to the glory of the Father. But this completion has still to be achieved in the whole creation, in the world and in the Church; that is, also on earth. So the Old Testament promises that are not yet fulfilled all apply to the fulfilment in the creation, on earth and in the Church.

There is a challenge here from the Christian tradition to the Messianic Jews. With their reclaiming of the Messianic hope of Israel – for example, the return of King Yeshua to Jerusalem and his rule over the nations in righteousness – it can happen that full justice is not done to the genuine newness introduced by the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah that is at the heart of the New Covenant. This newness is the bodily resurrection to a glorified bodily existence that is a greater transformation than could ever have been imagined, even by those Jews who believed in the resurrection from the dead.

I sometimes give a teaching about the three phases of the Holy Spirit’s action upon Jesus as man. The first is clearly that Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. The second is his baptism in the Jordan. Here the Holy Spirit descends upon him, in consequence of which he begins his public ministry in the power of the Spirit. As Luke says, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:14). But there is a third and final filling or total penetration by the Holy Spirit that we often overlook. It is the transformation in his resurrection and ascension. The verse that makes this clear is Acts 2:33: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear” – that is, on the day of Pentecost. Herein Peter’s Pentecost message, we are told what Jesus received when he was exalted to the right hand of the Father. He is now in his humanity totally penetrated and glorified by the Holy Spirit, so that he can now pour out on us this same Holy Spirit through his glorified humanity.

This same transformation is promised to the disciples. This point is emphasized by the apostle in Ephesians, ch. 1: “so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” (Eph. 1:18-21).

An element here is the false idea that the Christian observance of the first day of the week was designed as a replacement for Shabbat. No, the first day of the week was originally observed because it was the day of the Resurrection of the Lord. This has eschatological significance, because the first day is also the eighth day, which symbolizes the final fulfilment after the Shabbat rest. It was no coincidence that the body of Jesus lay in the tomb on the day of rest. Not to honour the first day of the week can take attention away from the resurrection of Jesus as the core of New Covenant faith.

So I suggest that a central witness of the Churches that the Messianic Jews need to receive is the centrality of the death and resurrection of Yeshua in the New Covenant, with a deeper grasp of the mighty transformation that bodily resurrection will bring on the last day. We need Shabbat followed by Resurrection.

The Central Jewish Witness: The Promises of the Kingdom of God

What is it that the Churches have to receive from the synagogue? The last verse from Ephesians 1 presents us with a fundamental element in the biblical and Jewish worldview: the difference between this age (aeon) and the age to come. Jesus mentions this in speaking of the sin against the Holy Spirit: Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matt. 12:32). It is mentioned in Hebrews 6 in a warning about those who fall away, for those who have become believers in Messiah are described as “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” (Heb. 6:4-5).

The coming age is the Messianic age, the age of the rule of the Messiah in righteousness and peace. It is the rule of the servant of the Lord: “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Is. 42:1). For the Messianic Jew, all the promises of the Lord given to Abraham, David and the prophets will be fulfilled. A few promises have been fulfilled in the first coming of the Lord – the virgin will be with child (Is. 7:14); the suffering of the servant as the apostle Peter notes: “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.” (Acts 3:18). But many prophecies of the Old Testament have not yet been fulfilled, or only partially. So Peter continues, as reported in Acts 3, “the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus [who] must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:20-21). In effect, what Peter was doing in this message was a Jewish reinterpretation of the Messianic hope of Israel in the light of the Passion, Death and Resurrection-Ascension of Jesus (Yeshua).

What does the universal restoration mean? It means the liberation of the entire creation from the effects of evil and sin. Paul expresses this hope in Romans 8, the hope “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21). It is a return to paradise, but not just a return, the entry into what is more than paradise. The Jewish witness to Yeshua challenges us all concerning this earthly fulfilment. The Christian challenge is that the fulfilment is a massive transformation that has at its centre the resurrection of the body. For the witness of the Scriptures is that the resurrection of the just occurs with the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory.

What is it then that the Christian Churches need to receive from the Jewish believers in Yeshua? Without detracting from the New Testament witness to the fullness of eternal life in communion with the Father and the Son, we need to receive the Jewish vision for the Messianic fulfilment in and of this creation. It is only in this context that the full significance of bodily resurrection can be understood. This will also involve rediscovering Yeshua as Messiah and not only as Saviour and Lord. As Son of David, Yeshua will rule over the kingdom that is grounded in Israel, centred in Jerusalem, and opened up to the nations.

We can say what are the elements that need to be incorporated into our eschatological vision. There will be a fulfilment of the promises to Israel – concerning the people, concerning the land, and concerning Jerusalem. What does this mean for Jerusalem? The Jewish tradition does not allow for a total displacement of the earthly Jerusalem by the heavenly. The Christian tradition does not allow for a return of Yeshua to the city of David that does not involve the mighty transformation of resurrection and glorification. He will come in glory. Now, the book of Revelation ends with the vision of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2). It is pointless to try to imagine what the new Jerusalem will be like and how it comes down to earth. The foolishness of trying to imagine it is shown by the impossibility of imagining one tree that is found on both sides of the river that flows “through the middle of the street of the city.” (Rev. 22:2). But this vision tells us important things. It indicates that finally we are not taken up to God, but God comes down to us. “See, the home [tabernacle] of God is among men. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Rev. 21:3). Later, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it [the city]” (Rev. 22:3).

The Task for the Future

The task of Messianic Jews and of Christians from all traditions is to work for reconciliation in relation to “the one hope to which you were called” (Eph. 4:3). I do not believe that it is possible at this point in history to arrive at an adequate synthesis of the Jewish and Christian traditions concerning eschatology. At present none of our eschatologies do full justice to the Messianic hope of both Old and New Testaments. This reconciliation for which TJCII is working requires a purification in all of our theologies, so that what is from the Lord in each of them can be brought together in the one hope to which we are all called (see Eph. 4:4). This applies to the ancient Churches of East and West, to the Churches of the Reformation and to the free churches – and it applies to the Messianic Jews.

The history of the first centuries needs to be examined so as to determine what were precisely the consequences of the distancing from the Jewish roots. What resulted from wrong thinking that God had rejected the Jewish people? What came from losing sight of the Jewish character of the New Testament? What came from not understanding the “setting aside” of the Jews during the time of the Gentiles? This requires a careful re-reading of all the different strands in the New Testament, not neglecting the Epistle to the Hebrews. A purification is also needed in the teaching of those pro-Israel Evangelical Christians who teach the millennium, because in the teaching of Darby, Scofield and other dispensationalists, the millennium became part of a system involving the rapture of the Church, which is a very non-Jewish concept.

But the work of reconciliation cannot only be the work of scholars and specialists. The promises concern everyone. All of us have to apply the principles we have learned in reconciliation initiatives: the need for love and respect, the importance of confession of sin, the need for the purification of memories. We have to listen to one another, to study the Word together, and together to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Very importantly, we all have the hope within us by the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 5:5; 8:23-25). We have the full hope within us, not just part of the hope, even though we may not understand it fully or correctly. For the hope comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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