Today, we’re back looking at the Story of the Bible and the Kingdom of God. And the piece we need to give some attention to next is the idea known as the Restoration of Israel. We’ve seen what Israel was supposed to be in the world — a people that would function in the world as a kingdom of priests, mediating God’s blessings to the world and showing them what life as a community of people under the reign of God looked like. Sadly, Israel didn’t always do that as well as they could have. They repeatedly became self-focused, unfaithful to their God, oppressive to the most vulnerable among them, and didn’t always cast a great reflection of God to the world. But God hadn’t given up on Israel. He was about to renew and transform Israel, restoring them not to what they were, but to what they were always supposed to be, so that they would fulfill their destiny.
And the Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting it. They were expecting a restoration of Israel that the Messiah would inaugurate. There were some key pieces to what the Jews in Jesus’ day were expecting, things found over and over again in the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets. When God restores Israel:
- The Holy Spirit would be present
- There would be a Davidic King
- All twelve tribes of Israel will be represented
- It will involve a gathering together of Jews from all parts of the world; a kind of a reunification of Israel.
- There’s would be a strong connection with Zion or Jerusalem.
- And then finally, you’ll have a testimony to Gentiles.
These things show up in a lot of messianic passages throughout the prophets, for instance in Isaiah 11:1-13. You can also see these themes very well in Ezek. 37 (the valley of dry bones) and other places. Peter and Paul in the New Testament will quote a number of other Old Testament texts that bring some of these things to light. And you see these things in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost when Peter will quote from Joel chapter 2:28-32.
What’s happened a lot throughout church history, is that many people have looked at Pentecost and seen it as the end of Judaism and the beginning of Christianity. But that implies a discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity. But the restoration of Israel suggests not discontinuity, but continuity.
Christianity is not the end of Judaism; it is the fulfillment of Judaism. Christianity — those who trust and follow and give their allegiance to Jesus, the new King of Israel — IS the renewed, restored Israel. And as Paul will remind us all in great detail in Romans 9-11, who comprised Israel was NEVER based on blood and DNA. Being Israel was always based on faith and covenant and not heredity.
Paul will say in Romans 11 that Christianity is a cultivated olive tree. And the root of that olive tree is a Jewish root, and Gentiles are grafted in and sustained by that Jewish root. So there is now one olive tree — Jewish and Gentile — tended by Israel’s King Jesus.
So there’s great continuity between what God was doing in Israel in the Old Testament and what he’s about to do in the New. And this idea of the restoration of Israel is a very big deal in understanding that. So, when we come to the gospels, and read passages like Luke 2:25-32, we need to read them with all of that background in mind.
The restoration of Israel is a huge part of God’s ultimate goal to bring people into his holy community of love so they could experience the fullness of life with him, and through that, change the world.
I hope you’ll all stay safe this week. By all accounts, the next two weeks are likely to be pretty rough. Practice good social distancing, but pray. Invite the Father into your frustrations and fears. And take care of people who may not be doing as well as you are. Check on the elderly and the poor.
Thanks for listening, and remember, you are greatly loved.