Jesus Christ and the Future Kingdom of God Part Five
In previous articles, we have examined the first two things God must do to fulfill His purpose for history: (1) crush Satan by ridding the earth of him and his entire kingdom and (2) restore God’s theocratic kingdom-rule to this present earth. The third thing God must do is remove the curse upon nature that came as a tragic consequence of Adam joining Satan’s revolt against God. God must restore nature to the way it was before the fall of mankind.
Prophecies of the Restoration
Jesus Christ’s Prophecy. Matthew 19:28 records a prophecy Christ delivered to His apostles: “Verily I say unto you that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The word translated “regeneration” comes from two Greek words—palin and genesis (Friedrich Bushel, “palingenesia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1964, Vol. 1, p. 686). The word palin means “back” and “again, once more, anew.” It refers to the reoccurrence of “a state of being…in the same (or nearly the same) way as at first (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th Rev. ed., 1957, p. 611). Thus Christ was telling of a future time when nature will return to its original condition as recorded in Genesis, before it was subjected to the curse of mankind’s sin.
In Matthew 19:28, Christ indicated that this restoration of nature will take place when He, as the Son of man, “shall sit on the throne of his glory.” A comparison of Matthew 25:31 with 24:29–31 indicates that He will not sit on “the throne of his glory” until His Second Coming after the Tribulation. Thus nature will not be restored to its pre-fall condition until Christ restores God’s theocratic kingdom-rule to this present earth in conjunction with His Second Coming and when, as God’s representative King, He administers God’s rule over all the earth (Zech. 14:4, 9; Mt. 25:31, 34).
Other Scriptures confirm that this restoration of nature will not take place until the future, theocratic kingdom when Christ will rule as King. In Matthew 19:28, Christ taught that nature will be regenerated when the apostles “shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In Luke 22:28–30, the Lord indicated that His apostles will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” in His kingdom.
Thus in Matthew 19:28, Christ was prophesying “the renewing of the world in the time of the Messiah…in the new [messianic] age” (Ibid.).
The Apostle Peter’s Prophecy. Acts 3:19–21 records prophetic statements that the apostle Peter delivered to a crowd of Jewish people near the Temple in Jerusalem sometime after the Day of Pentecost (vv. 1–11). Peter told them they must assume their rightful share of guilt in the rejection and killing of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God had resurrected Jesus from the dead (vv. 12–15). Peter then commanded them to repent (to change their minds concerning Jesus) and to convert. The term convert did not mean that Peter wanted them to cease being Jewish. He was himself Jewish. Rather, it meant they should turn toward God and believe that God did not forsake them, but sent Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, in fulfillment of His promises to them. Peter indicated that this repentance and conversion were necessary for their sins to be blotted out.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, [compare with King David’s similar plea in Ps. 51:13] that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
The word translated “when” in the expression “when the times of refreshing shall come” indicates purpose (Ibid., p. 580). Thus the future times of refreshing cannot come until the people of Israel change their minds concerning Jesus Christ and turn to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. The expression “the times of refreshing” refers to “the Messianic Age” (Ibid., p. 63).
The apostle also made it clear that the times of refreshing cannot come until Jesus Christ returns from heaven to be physically present on the earth again (vv. 19–20). Peter emphasized this further by saying of Christ, “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things” (v. 21). Heaven had already received Christ into itself on the day of His ascension, sometime before Peter made these Acts 3 statements (Acts 1:9). The word until in the expression “until the times of restitution of all things” indicated that Christ would not remain in heaven forever (see also Acts 1:10–11). Thus Peter pointed out that the future times of restitution of all things cannot come until Christ returns from heaven to earth in His Second Coming after the Tribulation.
The expressions “the times of refreshing” and “the times of restitution of all things” refer to the same time and “mutually explain one another” (Albrecht Oepke, “apokatastasis,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, 1964, p. 391). Both refer to the future Messianic Age when the Messiah will administer God’s rule over the entire earth in the restored, theocratic kingdom.
In the expression “the times of restitution of all things,” the word translated as “restitution” had the following basic meaning in ancient secular usage: “restitution to an earlier state,” or “restoration” (Ibid., p. 389). Concerning its meaning in Peter’s Acts 3:21 declaration, Albrecht Oepke wrote, it “cannot denote the conversion of persons but only the reconstitution or establishment of things…These are restored, i.e., brought back to the integrity of creation” (Ibid., p. 391). In other words, Peter referred to the future restoration of the original order of things that God had established on earth at creation.
F. Bruce wrote that “the restitution” to which Peter referred in Acts 3:21 “appears to be identical with the palingenesia (‘regeneration’) of Matthew 19:28…the final inauguration of the new age is accompanied by a renovation of all nature ([cf. Rom. 8:18–23] Commentary on the Book of Acts, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1964, p. 91). This statement implies that Peter’s Acts 3 prophecy and Christ’s Matthew 19:28 prophecy refer to the same future restoration of nature to its original, pre-fall state.
Consequently, in Acts 3:19–21 Peter referred to the future Messianic Age that will begin when Jesus Christ, in conjunction with His Second Coming to earth after the Tribulation, will (1) restore God’s theocratic kingdom-rule to the earth and (2) restore nature to its original condition by removing the curse under which it has labored since the fall of mankind.
The Apostle Paul’s Prophecy. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul declared that in the past, the natural, created realm in which mankind lives was subjected to a cursed existence characterized by “vanity” (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 496).
For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope (Rom. 8:20).
This did not happen because of something nature did. Rather, God subjected it to the curse because of the fall of Adam, the human representative whom God had appointed to administer His rule over the earth (v. 20). Paul, therefore, implied that nature was not originally under this curse.
Because of the curse, however, nature is enslaved to “corruption” ([v. 21] Ibid., p. 865). Now all parts of mankind’s natural realm continue to groan together and suffer the agony of travail (literally, “birth pangs” [v. 22]). Because a woman’s birth pangs do not last forever, the metaphor implies that, eventually, nature will be delivered from this curse.
When God subjected nature to this cursed existence, He did so in hope (v. 20), based on the fact that nature itself will someday be set free from the curse with its slavery to decay (v. 21). Because of this factually based hope, nature eagerly waits with “earnest expectation” ([v. 19] Ibid., p. 82). The word translated “earnest expectation” describes “a person leaning forward out of intense interest and desire” (Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, 1976, p. 94). It denotes “diversion from other things and concentration on a single object” (William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1958, p. 206).
The single object upon which nature focuses is “the manifestation of the sons of God,” because at the time of that manifestation, nature will be freed from its cursed existence (v. 19). Sanday and Headlam note that the word translated “manifestation” is the same word that “is applied to the Second Coming of the Messiah and to that of the redeemed who accompany Him” (Ibid., p. 207). They also assert that the Messiah will deliver nature “from its ills” in conjunction with His Second Coming (Ibid.). Through the combination of these two items, they indicate that both the manifestation of the sons of God and the deliverance of nature from its cursed existence will take place in conjunction with Christ’s Second Coming.
John Murray asserts that the apostle Paul, in Romans 8, prophesied of the same future transformation of nature as the “regeneration” in Jesus Christ’s Matthew 19:28 prophecy and the “restitution of all things” in the apostle Peter’s Acts 3:21 prophecy (The Epistle to the Romans, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1965, p. 302).
The Old Testament Prophets’ Prophecies. In Acts 3, Peter indicated that through the Old Testament prophets, God gave revelation concerning the future Messianic-Age restoration of nature to its original pre-fall condition (v. 21). These prophecies will be explored next.