Jesus Christ and the Future Kingdom of God Part Ten
In the previous article, we saw that Christ offered the future theocratic Kingdom to Israel and told the nation what it must do for the Kingdom to be established. He offered the Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel and the performance of miracles verifying that message. This article examines Israel’s response to Jesus Christ and His offer of the Kingdom.
Israel’s Response Foretold
Old Testament Prophecies. Through Israel’s Old Testament Scriptures, God foretold that the nation would reject the Messiah and His message. More than seven hundred years before Christ preached the gospel of the Kingdom to Israel and demonstrated the truthfulness of that message through His powerful miracles, God had moved Israel’s prophet Isaiah to write, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Is. 53:1). This prophecy foretold that the people of Israel would not believe the report that the Messiah was present or the subsequent truth that the theocratic Kingdom of God was at hand in the sense of its potential for establishment.
In the Bible, “the arm of the LORD” refers to God’s mighty power (Ps. 89:10, 13; Is. 62:8; Jer. 32:17). In Isaiah 53:1, that expression refers specifically to God’s revelation to Israel of His mighty power through the miracles that Jesus Christ performed in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom. Thus, through the prophet Isaiah, God foretold that in spite of the display of God’s mighty power through the miracles that Christ would perform, the people of Israel would believe neither the report that He was the Messiah nor the fact that the theocratic Kingdom of God was at hand. Several years after Israel rejected Jesus Christ and His offer of the Kingdom, the apostle John confirmed this understanding of Isaiah 53:1. John wrote,
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him; That the saying of Isaiah, the prophet, might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Jn. 12:37–38).
Through the Isaiah 53 prophecy, God foretold that Israel would not desire or esteem the Messiah when He would come. He would be rejected (vv. 2–3).
God indicated further that He would use this rejection as His means of effecting the death of the Messiah as an offering for the sins, transgressions, and iniquities of the people (vv. 5–6, 8, 10–12). One reason why His death would be necessary was that, just as sheep wander from their shepherd, so the people of Israel had strayed from God by turning to their own way instead of following Him. Thus their iniquity had to be laid on the Messiah (v. 6).
More than five hundred years before Christ offered the theocratic Kingdom to Israel, God delivered a significant prophecy to Israel’s prophet Daniel through the angel Gabriel. Gabriel indicated that this prophecy related specifically to Daniel’s people and their holy city, Jerusalem (Dan. 9:24). Through this prophecy, God revealed the exact time the Messiah would officially present Himself to Israel as its prince (the one who could establish the theocratic Kingdom and rule over it as king [Dan. 9:25]). Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy through His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey (Mt. 21:1–5). Centuries earlier, God had revealed that this was precisely how Israel’s future King would present Himself to the nation (Zech. 9:9).
Then God indicated that after Messiah’s official presentation, He would be “cut off” with a violent death (Dan. 9:26). Christ was crucified several days after His triumphal entry (Mt. 27:33–50). This portion of Daniel’s prophecy implied that Israel would reject the Messiah and His offer of the theocratic Kingdom.
The prophecy also revealed that after the Messiah was cut off, Jerusalem and the second Temple would be destroyed by a particular people (Dan. 9:26). Christ also foretold this future destruction, indicating it would occur because the nation did not recognize the significance of the day of His triumphal entry and the peace that was available through His offer of the theocratic Kingdom (Mt. 24:1–2; Lk. 19:41–44). The Romans were the people who fulfilled the prophecies of Daniel 9 and the prophecies Christ uttered. They destroyed Jerusalem and the second Temple in A.D. 70.
Jesus Christ’s Prophecies. While Christ was present on earth, He Himself foretold His future rejection and death. After His twelve disciples had preached the gospel of the Kingdom to Israel for a significant time, Jesus began to tell them “how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Mt. 16:21). Later Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again” (Mt. 17:22–23). On His last journey to Jerusalem before His death, Christ spoke these words to the twelve:
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him. And the third day he shall rise again (Mt. 20:18–19).
Christ clearly asserted that His rejection, death, and resurrection had all been foretold in the Old Testament writings of Israel’s prophets (Lk. 18:31).
In Matthew 21:33–40, Jesus taught a parable about vineyard husbandmen who killed the vineyard owner’s son when he was sent to the vineyard by his father to collect its fruit. In this parable, the owner of the vineyard represented God the Father; the owner’s son represented God’s Son, Jesus Christ; and the husbandmen represented Israel’s religious leaders. Through this parable, Christ foretold that the religious leaders would reject Him and His offer of the theocratic Kingdom and would have Him killed (v. 42). He also foretold the tragic consequence of that rejection: The theocratic Kingdom of God would not be given to the nation of Israel that existed at that time. Instead, it would be given to a future nation of Israel that would produce what God wants (v. 43).
Satan’s Role in Israel’s Response
In the parable of the sower, Christ revealed that Satan played a key role in Israel’s rejection of Him and His offer of the theocratic Kingdom. At the beginning of the parable, Jesus stated, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some of the seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them” (Mt. 13:3–4). In His interpretation of that part of the parable, Christ indicated that the seeds represented the message concerning the theocratic Kingdom, and the birds represented Satan. He said,
Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside (vv. 18–19).
Christ thereby revealed that as He and others were preaching the gospel of the Kingdom to the people of Israel, Satan followed behind them and snatched that message away from many of the hearers, so they would not believe it and repent.
Satan did so because of the following biblical truth: Christ will crush Satan and his kingdom, remove them totally from the earth, and establish God’s theocratic Kingdom when Israel believes the gospel of the Kingdom and repents (Zech. 12—14; Rev. 19:11—20:6; Acts 3:19–21). In light of that truth, the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom to Israel and the performance of the miracles that supported the truthfulness of that message posed a serious threat to Satan and his domain. Thus, to prevent Christ from crushing and removing him and his kingdom when He was here, Satan worked to prevent the people of Israel from believing the gospel of the Kingdom and repenting.
Israel’s Response Fulfilled
The religious leaders of the nation played the key role in the rejection of Jesus Christ and His offer of the theocratic Kingdom. They were very displeased with His miracles, His cleansing of the Temple, and the people’s response to His ministry (Mt. 21:15; Mk. 11:18). They challenged His authority and planned how they could take and kill Him (Mt. 21:23; 26:3–5). They paid money for His betrayal, sent a large multitude to take Him, sought false witness against Him, and pronounced Him guilty of death (Mt. 26:14–15, 47, 59, 66). After more deliberation, they sent Him to Pilate, accused Him before Pilate and Herod, and persuaded a multitude to press Pilate to execute Him (Mt. 27:1–2, 12, 20).
The “What If” Question
Some people ask the question, “What if Israel had believed the gospel of the Kingdom and repented when Jesus Christ was here? Would that have jeopardized the necessity of Christ dying for the sins of the world and, therefore, the salvation of human beings?” The answers lie in the fact that both the Old Testament and Christ Himself foretold Israel’s rejection of Him and His offer of the theocratic Kingdom. His death indicates that these rejections were certainties. Second, even if Israel had believed the gospel of the Kingdom and repented, Christ would have died for the sins of the world.
If Israel had believed and repented, the nation would have acclaimed Christ as its king. The Roman government would have regarded this action as the beginning of a revolt and undoubtedly would have crucified Him. Then Christ would have risen from the dead, crushed and removed Satan and his kingdom (including the Roman Empire), and established God’s theocratic Kingdom on the earth.
The Israel of Moses’ day did not enter the Promised Land of Canaan because of unbelief. Thus its entrance was postponed for forty years until the nation of Joshua’s day believed God’s promise. Similarly, the nation of Israel at Christ’s First Coming did not receive the promised theocratic Kingdom because of unbelief. It did not believe His message and the witness of His miracles. Thus God has postponed the establishment of that Kingdom until Christ’s Second Coming when the nation of Israel of that day will believe.
The next article will examine biblical evidences of that postponement.