In the Old Testament the hope of resurrection was a central component of the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL and the prophets looked to the resurrection as a one-time event at the end of the age. However, in the New Testament we find that Jesus was the first to fulfill the promise of resurrection for Israel as the first-fruits of the resurrection of the righteous (Acts 26:23, 1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus paved the way for the two-part resurrection of all who would put their faith in Him. Every believer first experiences a SPIRITUAL resurrection by being born again when they are inhabited by the Spirit of God (John 5:24, Romans 8:11), yet we also look forward to the total PHYSICAL resurrection that will yet take place at the very end of the age.
When we read the book of Acts we find that the Apostles recognized and preached that the end of the age had come! The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and Jesus Christ the King reigned from the right hand of the Father in Heaven! The age of resurrection had come, and the prophesies of the Old Testament concerning Israel’s restoration were being fulfilled in their midst. The Kingdom had arrived, yet God’s people still looked forward to the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness. There was an overlap of the ages that was not explicitly predicted in the Old Testament, as the old world was passing away and submitting to the global takeover of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was already, but not yet.
This simple concept of inaugurated, but not yet consummated, eschatology, is crucial to properly understanding the Kingdom of God. And of course we must understand the Kingdom because the coming of the Kingdom of God was the central message that Jesus was appointed to deliver. If we get the central message of Jesus wrong then we will completely misunderstand the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL.
Mark 1:14-15, “…Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”
Luke 4:42-43, “I must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God… for I was sent for this purpose.”
Now we will turn to a brief overview of a few Old Testament texts concerning the resurrection of Israel. Within these texts it is easy to pick out the events that were inaugurated by Jesus, and those which yet remain to be consummated at the very end of the age. This commentary comes from “The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan,” by Alan J. Thompson, Kindle edition, location 670-682:
In Ezekiel 37 a day is anticipated when God’s people will have God’s Spirit (37:14), return from exile (37:21), be united again (37:22), experience cleansing from sin and enablement to keep God’s commands (37:23-24), and live under the reign of a new David (37:24-25). This is a time when God will fulfil the goal of his covenant promises to his people: he will dwell among them and be their God and they will be his people (37:23, 26-27). This ultimate restoration of God’s people and fulfilment of God’s promises is characterized as nothing less than a resurrection from the dead. The dry bones represent the people of Israel and the departure of their ‘hope’ (37:11). Corpses rise, new life is breathed in and God’s people will know that the Lord has spoken and that he has done it (37:13-14). As Schreiner observes, although there are complex issues in Ezekiel 37, it is clear that ‘resurrection signifies the fulfillment of God’s promises, the inauguration of the age to come — the restoration of exile and the return of Israel.
Likewise, Isaiah 26 anticipates a time when the proud city of those who do evil will be levelled to the ground in judgment (26:5); in fact this judgment will come to the whole earth (26:9, 21). In contrast to this, the city of salvation for those who trust in the Lord will be strong and characterized by peace (26:1-4, 12-15). The language of ‘your zeal for your people’ and ‘you have enlarged the nation’ (26:11, 15) indicates that God’s covenant promises are also in view here. Those who take part in this city of salvation, however, include the dead, as corpses will rise and shout for joy (26:19).
Similarly, Daniel 12 looks ahead to the time when some will rise to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt. There will be judgment for some; while others, like Daniel, ‘at the end of the days’, will rise to receive their allotted inheritance (Dan. 12:1-3, 13). Those who will be delivered are those whose names are in ‘the book’; that is, those who are in a covenant relationship with God (11:32, 12:1).
In each case, the resurrection is bodily, is clearly God’s doing, is reserved for the end of the age and is associated with the onset of the age to come, the culmination of the promises of blessings for God’s people. Israel will be reunited, restored, forgiven and blessed with God’s presence. There was not, of course, an expectation that there would be any overlap of the ages. It was expected that, with the resurrection at the end and the onset of blessings for God’s people, there will be judgment for the wicked and the end of ‘the old age.’ This, we could say, was ‘the hope of Israel’.
There are many who teach that Ezekiel 37 predicted the restoration of Israel as a nation on May 14, 1948. Yet the Apostles and the early followers of Jesus saw this Scripture fulfilled at Pentecost. Many also view Isaiah 66:8 (“Can a nation be brought forth in a day?”) as applying to Israel’s Independence Day in 1948. Yet Isaiah is clearly speaking in spiritual terms and the spiritual “sons of Zion” referred to by Isaiah can only refer to the true followers of Jesus who are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem! The spiritual resurrection and rebirth of Israel did not occur in 1948, rather it occurred on the day of Pentecost in 33 AD!
The Apostle Peter was an eyewitness to this amazing event, when the Old Testament predictions given by Ezekiel, Isaiah and Joel, of the coming of the Spirit to Israel, marking the nation’s spiritual rebirth and spiritual resurrection, were fulfilled. Yes, indeed, a nation was born in a day! And here is how Peter described this new Spirit-filled nation:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
For the early followers of Jesus the New Exodus path of salvation was a journey with a future destination, and not a point that was already arrived at, as God’s people heeded the call to come out of Babylon, making their way through the spiritual wilderness of this dark world and heading for the final promised land of the New Jerusalem. That is why Peter goes on to describe the citizens of God’s chosen nation as “sojourners and exiles” in this world.
Just as Ezekiel 37:24 predicted, the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL is right now in progress because the Davidic King now reigns from the heavenly Zion that is the final destination of restored Israel’s New Exodus! The enthronement of the Davidic King (Jesus) is acknowledged throughout the New Testament, and is emphasized by James, quoting from Amos 9:11-12, in Acts 15:16-18.
The RESTORATION OF ISRAEL has begun, but it is not yet complete. The spiritual resurrection of God’s nation has taken place, but the total resurrection of God’s people is still in the future. Even as Abraham looked to a promised land that is not of this world (Hebrews 11:10-16), we too look ahead to a promised land in the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the fulfillment of what Isaiah had to say about the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL in Isaiah 66:22.
Restored Israel is much bigger than what many of us have been led to believe. Yes, God keeps His promises, but He reserves the right to far exceed our expectations!