Is the Return of the Messiah Related to Israel’s Repentance?
By Eric Chabot, CJF Midwest Representative
The reign of God is one of the most pertinent themes in biblical theology.The term “kingdom of God” is absent from the Tanakh. However, the God of Israel is identified as King: (1 Samuel 12:12; Psalm 24:10; Isa 33:22; Zeph 3:15; Zech 14:16-17), as ruler over Israel (Exod 15:18; Num 23; 21; Deut 33:5; Isa 43:15), and ruler over the entire creation (2 Kings 19:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 46:18; Psalm 10; 47:2; 93; 96:10; 145:11,13). The God of Israel also possesses a royal throne (Psalm.9:4; 45:6; 47:8; Isa 6:1; 66:1; Ezek 1:26); His reign is ongoing (Psalm10:16; 146:10; Isa 24:23), and rule and kingship belong to Him (Psalm 22:28). We see in the Tanakh that in an eschatological sense, God’s sovereignty is not universally accepted, but it will happen in the future (Zech 14 1-9; Dan 7:13-14; 2 Sam 7:11-12; 16-17; Matt 19:28).
As far as Christians, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians think Yeshua will bring the physical or earthly aspect of the reign of God in the future. It is evident that Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom of God. However, he didn’t do this physically but spiritually. Thus, Yeshua spoke of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21).
Depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians have concluded that Yeshua corrected the view that there will be a restored Israel in the future.I should note that Craig Evans says:
Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. -Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation, pg 18.
What is interesting is that Yeshua spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him in the following text:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35
A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.
Another text that is important to the concept of Israel’s repentance and the Messiah’s return is seen in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:19-21:
“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel.. C.K. Barrett said that this text speaks of “the times of refreshing” which suggested “moments of relief during the time men spend in waiting for that blessed day.” – C.K. Barrett, “Faith and Eschatology in Acts 3” in Glaube und Eschatologie (ed. E. Grässer and O. Merk), J. C. B. Mohr. 1985). 1-17.
The point is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance. Also regarding the Acts 3 text, widely respected theologian Gerald McDermott notes the following in his book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land
1.The Greek word he uses here for “restoration” is the same word “apokatastasis” used in the Septuagint for God’s future return of Jews from all over the world to Israel.
2. I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to their own land that I gave to their fathers. (Jer. 16:15)
3. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to this land. (Jer. 24:6)
4. I will restore Israel [apokatastēsō] to his pasture. (Jer. 50:19 [27:19 Septuagint]
5. Peter was using a Jewish code word for a future, renewed earth in which Israel would be preeminent.
Ironically, the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the later rabbinical literature. In the book Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife, Leila Leah Bronner says the following:
All “the ends” have passed and still the Messiah has not come; it depends only upon repentance and good deeds. (BT Sanhedrin 97b) If [the whole of] Israel [genuinely] repented a single day, the son of David would come immediately. If [the whole of] Israel observed a single Sabbath properly, the son of David would come immediately. (JT Ta’anit 64a) If Israel were to keep two [consecutive] Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed forthwith. (BT Shabbat 118b) Because they describe a uniformity of devotion and behavior that is difficult if not impossible to attain, these passages show the lengths to which Jews as a community must go to attract the Messiah, as does this statement from Rabbi Yohanan: “The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.”
Also, in a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah features a dialogue between Bruce Chilton and the late Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:
What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.
Now this is very interesting! Does moral regeneration sound familiar? Just read John 3 when Yeshua discusss the new birth with Nicodemus.
In conclusion, we see in the Bible and the later rabbinical literature that there is a relationship between Israel's repentance and the return of the Messiah!
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