If you were to read the Old Testament alone, what would you conclude about the end of the story?
Genesis begins with the fall of mankind, and then only a few chapters later Abraham is brought into the story as the key player in the redemption of the world. The story of Abraham quickly evolves into the story of Israel, which becomes a nation under the direction and guidance of Moses. Yet it would seem that even the plan to redeem the world through Israel goes wrong near the end of the Old Testament, because we hear Isaiah and Jeremiah both pronouncing God’s judgment upon the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah prior to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.
Yet the Old Testament does give us a picture of what the final result will be, not only for Israel but for all the peoples of the world. I submit to you that from the Old Testament we find that the redemption of the entire world is something that is predicted to be accomplished within God’s plan for the restoration of Israel.
Yes, the Old Testament story of the fall of man, ending with mankind’s ultimate redemption, culminates with the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL which is accomplished on a global scale through the grace and mercy of God in response to Israel’s heartfelt repentance.
This final and ultimate RESTORATION OF ISRAEL is predicted first by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-6. It was Moses who predicted that after Israel was scattered to the nations because of disobedience, if they turned back to God in repentance, then God would forgive them, gather them back to their land, and circumcise their hearts. Here Moses was predicting a New Exodus, an exodus not just from one nation (Egypt), but this time a global exodus from all the nations of the world.
The final RESTORATION OF ISRAEL is also predicted by Isaiah, even as he pronounced judgment on Israel during his lifetime and witnessed the Assyrian captivity. Isaiah 60-62 speaks of this ultimate restoration as well as the final two chapters of his prophetic message in Isaiah 65-66. Isaiah was very clear that the end of the age would culminate with the restoration of Israel as the climactic event for the world.
The prophet Jeremiah also predicted the final RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. His ministry was focused on the southern kingdom of Judah and he witnessed the Babylonian captivity. His prediction of seventy years of exile in Babylon is very well known, but it must also be understood that his predictions for the ultimate end-time restoration of Israel go far beyond the return from exile that was undertaken by Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Joshua and Zerubbabel. Jeremiah had much more in mind when he predicted the regathering and restoration of Israel as the culminating end-time event (read Jer. 23 and Jer. 30-33), which would be accomplished in tandem with the catastrophic fall of Babylon described in Jeremiah 50-51.
Daniel and Ezekiel were prophets who ministered during the Babylonian exile. Daniel received a prophecy in 9:24-27 that speaks specifically of Jerusalem and God’s holy people that culminates with desolation and destruction (v.27). Daniel’s story concludes with a description of Jerusalem as the capital city of the Antichrist (11:45), which would involve the purging and refining of God’s people, culminating with the resurrection (12:2). Certainly Daniel viewed the climax of history as the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL.
Ezekiel’s predictions end the same way. The last ten chapters of Ezekiel, from 39:25 to 48:35, are all focused on God’s great end-time restoration of Israel where Ezekiel is given a glimpse of a great temple where all the nations of the world worship and where even Gentiles serve as priests. Another important point about Ezekiel is that he was shown a vision of the Shekinah Glory of the Lord leaving the Temple (Ezekiel 10, at a time prior to the Babylonian destruction of the Temple), yet he was also shown a vision of the Glory of God returning to the end-time Temple in Ezekiel 43. For Ezekiel we can be sure that the end of the story culminates with the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL.
The minor prophets of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Zechariah and Malachi, etc., also viewed the end of history as the glorious RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. Zechariah and Malachi both prophesied at a time after many of the exiles had returned from Babylon, yet they did not presume to say that the prophesies of Israel’s restoration had been fulfilled. No indeed! They still looked forward to this great move of God, and this attitude prevailed even to the time of Jesus. Yes, the seventy years of Babylonian captivity had been completed and the captives had been released, but so much more had not been accomplished, including the return of the Glory of God to the Temple and, more importantly, the heart-felt repentance of Israel that Moses had given as the crucial pre-condition for God’s restoration of Israel from the nations.
The final Old Testament writer was Malachi, and he yearned for the end-times restoration of Israel. Malachi was given a revelation that God would shortly begin the process of restoration, but with it Malachi was also given a WARNING! He wrote in expectation of the restoration of Israel (which is what all the people wanted), but he also warned the people that they needed to repent because when God appeared to begin the process He would also appear as a judge, and many of Israel’s sinners would perish as the process of restoration was put into motion:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
When we turn to the pages of the New Testament we see that the prophecies of Isaiah 40:1-4 and Malachi 3:1 were fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist. If we can truly recognize this then we can see that John the Baptist’s ministry, from beginning to end, was all about the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. He was the one sent by God to prepare Israel for the appearance of the Lord who would enter into history to bring about Israel’s restoration.
This truth about John the Baptist, which is rather uncontroversial, leads directly into some very controversial questions about Jesus of Nazareth, the One pointed to by John the Baptist.
If all of the Old Testament prophets focused on the restoration of Israel, and if John the Baptist focused on the restoration of Israel, and if we know that all the Old Testament and John the Baptist pointed directly to Jesus of Nazareth, then how can we NOT conclude that the entire ministry of Jesus Christ is simply all about the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, from beginning to end, and even NOW as He sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven?
Just take a look at the two final chapters of the New Testament in Revelation 21-22. What do we see there? We see a beautiful and glorious picture of the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, named as the New Jerusalem, with the gates of the city named after the twelve tribes of Israel and the foundation stones named after the twelve Apostles.
Yes, I think that both Old and New Testaments agree that the story of redemption culminates with the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, which is a process that was begun about 2000 years ago by Jesus of Nazareth, and has been continuing uninterrupted ever since then.