All Israel, Part 8 – The Theology of Return

VII-The Theology of Return

As we have seen in the previous chapter, there appears to be more than one theological idea that Jewish people have of return to the land of Israel. Added to this are the several different views that Christians have too. Seeing this is so, it seems logical to look further into what the Bible says about this. Obviously, there is only one right point of view that Christians should have on this subject. In this chapter, we will seek to examine several key points about this that arises from a number of Scripture texts that relate to the matter. It will first be necessary to consider from Scripture the promise made to Israel of a return to the land, once having been evicted from it. This is usually overlooked by most, who are quick to give Israel to the Jews, as a matter of un conditionality. It will next be necessary to consider the manner of the promised return, relative to the Eschatological kingdom. And finally, it will be necessary to consider its application to the Christian church. If the church is not in view then Paul erred when he said “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (II Cor. 1:20).

Thus far, we have made a mostly negative presentation of the subject, according to what is commonly believed Paul’s word’s concerning “all Israel” means in Romans 11:25-27. By negative, what is inferred is a denial of any promise or fulfillment of the land to ethnic Jews, pertaining to what is now called the state of Israel. But that in and of itself, does not answer, nor defend any other view of the Scripture that people might have of it. There are, after all, many passages in the Old Testament that seem to suggest a continuation of God’s favor to Israel, and their eventual return to the land. If this were not so, there would hardly have been such a zealous school of teachers to come along in support of the notion that Israel is, indeed, a fulfillment of prophetic promise. To them, we must endeavor to present a positive system of theological teaching in support of any denial of theirs. To put it in other words, we must ask what does the Scripture say concerning the land which was once held by God’s people, land which they also lost?

A-The importance of possessing land

The earth is made of land, and possession of it has always been at issue since the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1,28). If fact, the Hebrew word ‘erets’ in both verses translated as earth, is more literally rendered as land. Control of land was the original creation mandate from God to man. It was also an object of control concerning the temptation presented to Eve by the serpent (Gen. 3:1ff). Besides control of the earth, mankind had special possession of the land upon which the garden of Eden rested. Possession of it was lost when they, Adam and Eve, sinned against God, and were subsequently evicted from it. And not only was Paradise lost to them, but the entire earth itself was lost in terms of its fruitfulness (Gen. 3:17-19,23,24). Part of the promise of salvation God gave to Eve, involved a return to Paradise. This is evident in what the promised Savior would do to restore it. The Lord said to the serpent “He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen. 3:15). That is, the promise of salvation involved re possession of land, by virtue of standing upon it. The serpent’s head would be crushed underfoot. So the concepts of earth and land as one, and as a possession, have always coincided together in Scripture, since the beginning of its creation.

It is not surprising then, that the Old Testament program instituted by God was to establish a land-based kingdom here on earth through Abraham, a descendant of Eve’s. This kingdom was a twofold development of the original promise given to Eve in the garden. Her son Abraham, was promised a nation of people and a land (Gen. 12:1,2). That land, when it was obtained enjoyed the special presence of God within it. So the people who dwelt there were said by God to be “a holy nation,” and their function while there as such was to be “a kingdom of priests” unto Him (Ex. 19:6). As “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” God’s rule through Israel here on earth was re established, at least in part. Israel was given a divinely instituted moral code, a divinely ordered religious service, and a divinely ordained monarchy. These three aspects of law, worship, and rule when considered together are at the heart of what was lost in the garden, in terms of dominion. So Israel was in essence, a sort of representation of the original paradise man lost.

But even at its best, Israel could only be but a representation of the real kingdom that was lost. Everything God made at the beginning was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Man was good, his environment was good, life was good upon earth. But once sin entered creation, everything changed, it became corrupt, tainted by the poison of unrighteousness. When sin entered, death entered with it, “and thus death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12). Corruption is the chief quality of death that sin wrought upon mankind. The earth became corrupt, “For the creation was subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20), by the presence of sin within its borders. As a result, chaos ensued. Nothing about the environment of earth was agreeable to the good life man once lived anymore. Not only did the animals that were to be under his dominion become a terror to him, but the weather itself was adverse, bringing searing heat or frigid coldness upon him. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunami’s and earthquakes disrupted life and caused death at every turn.

Clearly, this shows that the goodness that was once enjoyed upon earth was but a fleeting thing, if it was able to change, to be lost in the end. But this brings us to the whole issue of what, Paradise on earth was all about. No matter how good it was, and indeed it was “very good,” if it was able to be lost, then something better was necessary not only for its maintenance, but for its recovery as well. This also brings us to the ultimate purpose of God in it all, which is the perfection of creation through redemption. The Savior intimated in the garden to the woman, was to be much more than just a Son who would tread this earth with the serpent underfoot. This Son was no less than the Son of God incarnate. God and Man were to be joined together in a hypostatical union of two natures in one Person, within the confines of history, to secure an eternal and abiding redemption for mankind that included a perfect abode.

This redemption, and the ultimate perfection the Bible speaks of, is not one that pertains to this life and its present condition, although it is certainly enjoyed now in part (I Cor. 13:12). No, it is one that awaits a future glory, a future place and fellowship with God that is completely separate from all the corruption that sin has wrought within man and upon earth. Since that is the case, the Paradise that is recovered by God is of the same quality as mans eternal state, holy, heavenly, unchangeable, and perfectly suited for fellowship with Him. This is what Paul means about God’s purpose in redemption that it was “because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21). There will be a new recreated land, a new place for man to live eternally with his God. That is not only the recovery of Paradise lost, but the gift of eternal Paradise gained to man in his glorification.

The first page of the Bible opens with these words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). Not only did God create the cosmos as we know it, with the entire expanse of space called heaven, but He created a place beyond it that is called “the heaven of heavens” (I Kings 8:27). Scripture tells us that this “heaven of heavens” spoken of by King Solomon, is the dwelling place of God (Ps. 115:3; Ecc. 5:2). Enquiring readers might ask, if this place which Solomon refers to as “the heaven of heavens” that “cannot contain” God, what purpose was there in creating it in the first place? The answer to this is twofold. First, in the original creation it was the sanctuary of God, a place where His special presence abode along with those creatures He made of a higher order, the angels who are His ministers. The garden of Eden was an earthly sanctuary, where man who was made in God’s image abode. God’s presence spanned both locations, the heavenly and the earthly. Of course, the reason Solomon remarked about the inability of heaven to contain God, is that He is an eternal Spirit, omnipresent and not limited by or to anything such as space and time. But creatures are limited in this way.

Second, the heaven of the future is part of the redemption of man and creation. God made this new creation known to Isaiah saying “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Is. 65:17). God revealed to Isaiah that redeemed man would dwell permanently within this new creation. “For as the new heavens and the new earth Which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, ” So shall your descendants and your name remain.” (Is. 66:22). The same thing appears in the New Testament epistle of Second Peter where he writes “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (II Pet. 3:13). The Paradise of future glory where man will dwell with God, is a new redeemed place. Peter also tells us how this will come about. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (II Pet. 3:10).

To sum it up, there is nothing about this life and earth in its present state that pertains to eternal life and future glory in God’s kingdom, with the exception of course, that its fulfillment begins here within a historical framework. That being said, we now come back to the land of Israel, which served as a representation of this future Paradise. Israel was but a type of something else to come. This assertion is abundantly proven by the fact that it too, was lost because of sin. This was not original sin of course, but the effects of present and abiding sin in man upon earth. Reading through the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was a story about repeated sin and apostasy from God. If anything, Israel’s failure is positive proof of the futility of erecting any sort of kingdom here on earth, as some sort of attempt at a return to Paradise. If an earth without the presence of sin could be lost, how much more one that is otherwise?

Certainly, the ungodly have tried to do this over and over again. Man has tried throughout history to erect some sort of utopian society on earth. We have seen the spectacle of mans effort to try and do this in any number of failed despotic empires.[1] It has been tried in Monarchies, tried through Fascism and Communism too. And now, modern man seeks to build a one world, utopian society without war. Democracy is now the doctrine of Paradise on earth. So we have globalism promoted through the United Nations as a means to accomplishing these ends. In order to do this however, the world must utterly reject God and everything said in His word about sin and coming judgement. Righteousness will never dwell on earth without its restoration by God as outlined in His word. And yet, even though this is revealed in Scripture, we are led to believe by some that there are holy, covenant nations that exist to advance the cause of God and Christ.[2] But we charge that these too, by the authority of the word, will all be found wanting in the final analysis (Rev. 21:1-8).

B-The promised land

Turning to the Old Testament, we see the theme of land and its occupation displayed everywhere in reference to Israel. But just as Israel was a typical representation of Gods present spiritual, and future physical kingdoms, so was the land of Canaan they dwelt in. What made the land special, was Gods special presence there with them. Without that presence, the land was no different from any other land, spoiled by sin. The presence of God always sanctifies that which it comes in contact with. And so it was with the land of Israel. It was a special place as long as God’s presence abode with them. The unhappy story about this however, is that God’s presence did cease to abide with Israel, as did the land cease to be in their possession. Nobody can legitimately deny this loss, for it is not only recorded in Scripture, but secular history bears this out as well. Nevertheless, even though Israel ceased to occupy the land, and by that we mean control of it, it did not cease to be a dominant theme, at least in terms of covenant redemption. And since repossession of the land is what is at issue here, the word inheritance as associated with the land, appears alongside it too.

We have previously considered Israel’s rejection by God, and their subsequent loss of an earthly kingdom. We have also considered the disqualification that Jews now face in their claim to possess the land that Israel once occupied. These have all found fulfillment as types in the New Testament church of Jesus Christ. But what about the land, was it merely intended by God to be figuratively fulfilled? If it was a typical representation of Paradise in the Old Testament, there must be an antitype. So we need to determine exactly what this antitypical fulfillment is. In one way, occupation of the world by the Christian church today would seem to fill that requirement. But as we have already determined, there is no Paradise that can exist in this world, so long as sin is present in it. Therefore, a present occupation of any land cannot be the antitype.

It cannot be denied that there is a great deal of emphasis given to Israel’s occupation of the land of Canaan in the Old Testament. This emphasis is not easily swept away by simply viewing the church’s present dominance in the world as the true meaning of it. Also, if the ultimate end of redemption is the possession of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13), where is the connection made between Canaan and it, how is it resolved? Dispensational brethren believe they can answer this with a literal interpretation of Paul’s words in Romans eleven concerning “all Israel,” and a figurative, or, spiritual interpretation concerning Peters words just quoted. They simply separate the inheritance in two. This is their theology of return, that the land of Canaan must be occupied again in fulfillment of Gods promise to Abraham, that he and his descendants would inherit it “as an everlasting possession” (Gen 17:8).

There is an obvious problem to this way of resolving the difficulty. The promise of a new heaven and earth was given to Israel in the Old Testament as well as to the church in the New Testament. In other words, the same end is in view for both. This fact merely bolsters the assertion of a single covenant purpose in a single kingdom. Nevertheless, how is it, the inherited land which was lost, also returned to God’s people, as an earthly and heavenly possession? The Scripture does resolve this in what it shows as God’s intention. There are a number of verses that speak of an inheritance of land in the Old Testament, while also alluding to the restored earth as well. These verses are interpreted in the New Testament in light of covenant fulfillment too. By comparing Scripture with Scripture, rather than separating them, a single theology of return is established that properly puts forth the way to understand what is said.

Abraham inherits the earth

The first thing to consider is what God said to Abraham concerning his possession and heritage (Gen. 12:1-3). In verse one, the words “country” and “land” are both actually translated from the word ‘erets’ in Hebrew. This is the same word as “earth” used in Genesis 1:1. The immediate context of its usage is made clear in chapter twelve, just as it is in chapter one. “Country” and “land” in the first verse of chapter twelve are referring to a portion of the earth. The promise itself is comprehensive in scope, it is made to the descendants of Abraham, as well as to “all the families of the earth” (verse 3). Interestingly here, the word translated “earth” is from a different Hebrew word ‘adamah’ which means country or land. So in other words, it means the families of various countries and lands. The meaning of this word usage emerges as a promise to Abraham that encompassed the entire earth. So the land of Canaan, was subsidiary to this further end, which was the repossession of “the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1).

Two more verses to consider of primary importance to this are given in chapters fifteen and twenty-eight. These concern the inheritance of Abraham and his descendants. God said that he and his descendants would inherit land. The first one, spoken to Abraham reads thus, “Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” (Gen. 15:7). The second one, spoken by Isaac to his son Jacob reads thus, “And give you the blessing of Abraham, To you and your descendants with you, That you may inherit the land In which you are a stranger, Which God gave to Abraham.” (Gen. 28:4). Here there is an immediate problem concerning the land of Canaan. God said that Abraham would inherit the land. Unless he took possession of it, he had nothing to leave his descendants as their inheritance. The truth of the matter is that Abraham did not inherit Canaan, for he never took possession of it as his property to give.

Of course, it is obvious from Scripture that it is God who has ownership of all things, and furthermore, gives it to whomever He wills. But those who point to Abraham, as the primary source of human ownership, fail to realize that he never had it as a personal possession to give in the first place. Abraham did journey to Canaan, but he never took possession of it as his. The writer of Hebrews makes a point of this to the Christian church, and for a very good reason (Heb. 11:8-12). The writer of Hebrews points out that not only did Abraham not possess the land, but his son and grandson did neither (verse 9). And what was his point in saying this, but that it was not the land of Canaan which was actually in view concerning the promise. The promise to Abraham was indeed, involving possession of a land, but not one in this present world (verse 10). That was a new “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” that Abraham inherited. This is the same city that the writer of Hebrews was speaking of in chapter twelve (verses 22,23).

The point in Hebrews concerning this is the nature of the promised land in reference to its inhabitants. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are showcased along with many others in chapter eleven of Hebrews, as the Christian Hall of Faith. The object of the writer was to convince the Jewish Christians of their need to abandon hope of repossessing a fallen kingdom in a fallen world. And he starts with Abel in order to show these Christians that their faith encompassed the same promise as theirs, to wit, eternal life in an eternal kingdom, in a new heavens and a new earth. Canaan was but a type of this eschatological Paradise. And it served a purpose in God’s scheme of redemption. This was the land of His Messiah who would come to do everything needed toward the end in view. Of course, Abraham’s descendants came onto the land and possessed it for a time. They did so in order to fulfill a function appointed to them by God.

Throughout the Old Testament there are repeated statements by God in reference to the inheritance of the land given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants (Ex. 32:13). This word inheritance, in reference to land, must be understood in light of the new heaven and the new earth. This point appears most clearly in Psalm 37, when David uses two phrases “inherit the earth” and “inherit the land” interchangeably (Ps. 37:9,11,22,29,34). The point of David’s Psalm is to encourage the faith of God’s people concerning the seeming prosperity of the wicked, over and against the seeming failure of the righteous to prosper. Certainly, David has the present land and covenant people of Israel in mind when he says to them to “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Verse 3). But he also has the same land and covenant people in mind when he says “For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Verses 9-11).

This is not some clever play on words that David makes here in Psalm 37. David appeals to the faithful of Israel, those who are the true children of God, with this encouragement of faith in the light of present discouragement. It is to them the inheritance of Abraham is given. The land which seems so fleeting to hold onto and possess in this fallen world, will be theirs in spades when the Messiah comes to usher in a newly restored heaven and earth. The possession of the godly is not a pile of dirt in Palestine, but the restored cosmos. David could legitimately make this connection in his Psalm, for he understood what the inheritance entailed. David knew that all true believers in Israel were like Abraham, looking for that “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). So he framed his encouragement to God’s people from the visible object of the land, in order to make his point of future glory. This Psalm would also, no doubt, be used by the Holy Spirit to encourage faith in a day future to David, in which the earthly kingdom was in utter disrepair.

That redemption and possession of the earth were joined together as one and the same thing is seen in another of David’s Psalms. In Psalm 25 David speaks to God of his own need of encouragement from enemies within and without (verses 1,2,7,19). David’s prayer in this Psalm is a true reflection of every believer’s experience here on earth. There is a constant assault from external enemies toward the Christian, from those who hate God. More often than not, these enemies are found within the church as well. The reason for this is obvious. The enemies of God live for nothing but this life and its pleasures. Therefore, they give themselves to stealing, lying, and conniving toward others, in order to obtain their treasure. Even though the people of God live for Him and His blessing, still, they must live in this world too. So the oppression which is felt by the wicked is great against any true child of God. Also, the visible church, whether Old or New Testament in character, is a depository of hypocritical reprobates, out to rob God of His glory for themselves.

While this happens, the remaining sin in the flesh of God’s people never rests. It is always at work to tempt them to sin, especially under great trials of adversity and the persecution of the wicked. For this reason, discouragement of faith can set in, hope in the future blessing of God can seem elusive. But here is where David was brought to know the present blessing of God toward him. After praying for pardoning grace from God in despair, and finding it, David is made to know the final prosperity of the godly. David first asks, then answers his own question regarding this concerning his own situation with these words. “Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.” (Verse 12). Trial and temptation are but tests and preparations for future glory. These are all lessons of Gods providence, given in order to disabuse him of any permanent attachment to this world’s bauble. Let the worldlings have them if it makes them happy. That’s all they will get, and with it, in the end, loss of eternal happiness.

The man who turns to God in reverence on the other hand, seeking His forgiveness and help, will be shown the true nature of the covenant promise of Paradise, given to Abraham (Rom. 4:13). God showed David first that as one of His redeemed, “He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth.” (Verse 13). Second, God made David know “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant.” (Verse 14). That is, God will give assurance of faith to His redeemed by showing them what His intended purpose is concerning the inheritance. Redemption was for David and his spiritual descendants the possession of a reconstituted cosmos. This was the secret God had shown to every Old Testament saint listed in Hebrews chapter eleven. The covenant promise of eternal life in Paradise was in “a new heavens and a new earth,” not in the old corrupted world of sin and evil.

This theme is exactly what Jesus alluded to in His sermon on the mount to the disciples. Jesus described the state of the redeemed in terms of their spiritual blessings. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3). The poor in spirit are of course, those who are discouraged by trials and temptations. But this is not a sign of rejection from God, but rather a blessing from Him. And what does this blessing entail, but possession of “the kingdom of heaven?” And where is this blessed “kingdom of heaven” (verses 3,10)? Why, it is and will be here on earth. The saints are to “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” when the Lord comes in His glory (II Pet. 3:13). Little did they at the time, nor did the Old Testament saints know that the Messiah would accomplish redemption first. Second, He would gather His people into the kingdom He secured. Then third, He would return again to establish it in the new creation. Jesus’ final revelation to John, which he records in his book reads thus in this regard. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” (Rev. 21:1).

C-The glory of a holy land is in the Lord’s presence

Return to the land of God’s people is a major topic of discussion for many Christians when the subject of “all Israel” in Scripture arises. But rarely, if ever is there any discussion about another major Bible theme that is inseparably connected to it. As it has already been noted, the issue of land being holy in Scripture, is revealed to be a place of God’s abiding presence. The two go hand in hand together. The visible presence of God known as the Shekinah glory went with Israel throughout their wilderness wandering. It accompanied them into the promised land as well. It was the same presence which filled the tabernacle first, then the temple when it was built by King Solomon. The presence of God not only sanctified the temple, but the land upon which it stood. More important, it sanctified the people living in the land who met with God representatively in the temple, when the priest entered on their behalf. As a typical representation of Paradise, the presence of God and His glory is what sanctified it all.

Now when Israel lost possession of the land and the temple was destroyed in 586 BC, it happened because the glory of God had departed from them. They became Ichabod (Heb.-the glory has departed from Israel) once again (I Sam. 4:21). This time however, was not like the first time recorded by Samuel in his book. In that instance recorded by Samuel, there was but a temporary loss of God’s presence. That loss of God’s favor among the Hebrews was due to the sins of Eli and his sons, recorded in First Samuel chapter three. The immoral conduct of the priesthood encouraged the people to sin as well. So Israel attempted to go out and do battle with the Philistines, without direction from the Lord or the promise of His good favor with them (I Sam. 4:1,2). This proved disastrous for the Israelites, for the Philistines prevailed against them. The Israelites failing to see what went wrong, determined to fetch the ark of the covenant from its temporary resting place in Shiloh, again without direction from the Lord, and bring it with them this time into battle. In doing this, they hoped to prevail a second time (I Sam. 4:3-5).

Once again, the consequences of this were disastrous for Israel, even more so than before (I Sam. 4:10). Only this time, the ark was captured and carried away by the Philistines (verse 11). This providence was but temporary however, for it served a purpose. It served the purpose of God as a chastisement to Israel for their sins, and as a judgement to the Philistines for their idolatry. But here is an important point. The Israelites could not have entered the sanctuary of the tabernacle to carry the ark out unless God had removed His presence from it first. This was done in order to teach sinning Israel a lesson. The ark was soon enough returned to them, after the Lord brought destruction upon the Philistines for having taken it (I Sam. 5:9,10). So the return of the ark was a sign of return to God’s favor. The event was commemorated by a memorial stone called Ebenezer which was raised in honor of the Lord for this (I Sam. 7:12).

What happened in 586 BC was something quite a bit different than God’s previous removal of favor in Samuel’s day. Israel as a nation continued to sin against God for many generations that followed, in repeated acts of false worship, immorality, and rank unbelief. After God sent them many warnings from select prophets, Israel was ejected from the land and allowed to be taken into captivity. The land of Israel was occupied by foreigners, and the temple worship suspended when it was destroyed. The Israelites were never allowed to enjoy the glory of the former kingdom again. This brings us to the main point here. This loss of the land coincided with the loss of God’s visible manifestation of His presence with them in the sanctuary of the temple. Once the Lord removed His visible presence revealed in the Shekinah glory, their land was no more holy, nor were the people living in it holy and safe under covenant protection.

A graphic illustration of Israel’s loss of God’s favor through the removal of His glory is described in Ezekiel chapters 9-11. It begins by showing the glory of God’s presence dwelling in the Holiest place of the temple, above the ark of the covenant, between the cherubim. Ezekiel’s prophecy came to him while he was in captivity, carried away to Babylon several years before the final destruction of Jerusalem. The picture was in many ways explanatory of what had happened to Israel. The process that came to its conclusion in 586 BC occurred incrementally. Israel was a nation steeped in wickedness. Because of Israel’s sin, God’s glory moved out of the Holy of Holies, to just inside the entrance of the temple (Ez. 9:3). As He looked out the door, the Lord spoke to Ezekiel saying “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!” (Ez. 9:9).

Thus, the order had gone forth from the Lord to His appointed servants (angels?) at the door, to go and execute His judgement on Jerusalem (verse 2). One servant in particular was told to “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” (Verse 4). This was to mark out the remnant of true believers’ who were to be saved from destruction. “To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity.” (Verse 5). Unto the reprobate the Lord sent the others to “Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” (Verse 6). This was but a picture of what actually took place, when the Babylonians invaded Judah and performed the appointed task.

Next, after leaving the Holy of Holies and stopping momentarily at the door to speak to the servants, the glory of the Lord that had filled the temple departed (verses 4,18). The text between these two verses (4,18) describes the ark of the covenant, along with the cherubs that look upon it from each side of the Shekinah glory, as departing with the Lord. Mention of the wheels that move was first introduced to Ezekiel in chapter one. They indicate the idea in graphic depiction of a chariot engaged in war. The sovereignty of the Lord in being able to execute judgement over the earth is seen in the fact that the wheels went in every direction. “When they went, they went toward any of their four directions; they did not turn aside when they went, but followed in the direction the head was facing. They did not turn aside when they went.” (Verse 11). The vision of the living creatures Ezekiel saw was the same as that which Isaiah saw (Is. 6:1-4; Ez. 1:1,5,6). It was a vision of the throne room of God in heaven, the same as John saw in Revelation (1:4, 4:1-11).

The significance of this is that God’s presence revealed by His glory sanctifies the place of His dwelling. It could only be a temporary dwelling on earth however, under its present condition of corruption. Israel’s temple was temporary, and so wasn’t God’s presence there. But these visions of the true throne room of God, especially revealed in Isaiah six and throughout Revelation, show something undefiled and permanent. So the Lord departed from the temple altogether, leaving its outer court and traveling eastward (Ez. 11:1). Once the Lord had gone from the temple, His gracious presence was removed from Israel. It was only then that Judah and Jerusalem, along with the temple could be destroyed by invading forces. The temple and the city were no longer holy. Therefore, all of God’s protection was removed from it. It no longer possessed any defense against the foreign troops.

Chapter eleven does not end on that note. Encouragement is given to Ezekiel, and to those who believe with him, that God will restore a remnant to their possession by granting them spiritual renewal (verses 14-20). He does this by referring to Himself as a “little sanctuary for them” in all the places they were scattered (verse 16). Let’s take a moment, in order to consider this statement by the Lord. The temple was destroyed when His glory departed, but nevertheless, God’s people would still have an abiding presence from Him as a sanctuary. This is not a reference to the future physical temple that was rebuilt in Jerusalem. No, this was a reference to the Lord Himself, being there in the sanctuary. Salvation under the Old Covenant was no different from now in that respect. These folk were in Christ by faith before the cross, although not privileged to have the same knowledge and fellowship that Christians enjoy today. There was no lapse of God’s elect being saved, nor of their spiritual worship because the temple no longer stood.

The possession of God’s redeemed, as we have already proved is within the context of a kingdom that cannot be shaken like that kingdom in the Middle East was (Heb. 12:27,28). So possession of the land promised here in Ezekiel is something far beyond what was lost. Likewise, the glory of God revealed in His presence with His people, is a matter of uninterrupted possession. So what is different here in chapters nine through eleven of Ezekiel? The difference is the Shekinah glory that indwelt the temple which had departed. God’s presence remained with His people, this never left. Also, along with an expectation of a repossession of land, which we know as the new heaven and earth, there was an expectation of a returned, revealed Shekinah glory. The two are inseparable. A holy land requires a holy presence of God for it to be so. This is where the expectation of Paradise regained is directed by Scripture.[3] It is also but one more very good reason that Paul’s reference to “all Israel” has nothing at all to do with the modern state of Israel.

The Lord’s return

These three words ‘the Lord’s return’ is the most widely discussed, widely argued, and the most sought after truth to try and be understood by Christians from Scripture. One segment of the church makes it their prime doctrine, the most important thing they focus on from the Bible. Consequently, their doctrine of salvation pales, in terms of it’s content to this one overriding interest of theirs. Another segment, so sick and tired of hearing of dates and circumstances surrounding the Lord’s return that does not come to pass, do exactly the opposite. They excel at studying the doctrines of grace concerning salvation. But they do this in exclusion of a serious interest in understanding what the Bible means concerning its theology of return. It’s not that these folk have no opinion at all either. In fact, they all tend to share the view that it is somewhat irreverent to be so dogmatic, like the former segment of the church is, in holding to their particular opinion. May we suggest that while we reject the former opinion which places an almost undue amount of importance on this subject, we also reject the attitude of the latter, that it is a less important matter than other doctrines.

We therefore, use this phrase ‘the Lord’s return’ not as one more competing opinion among others, but as the basis for reconciling things in Scripture that have long been in dispute. We refer to what the Bible teaches about the glory of God’s abiding presence with His people, when He returns. For this after all, is what concerned the people and the prophets of the Old Testament in the loss of the kingdom, the land, and the temple. A fixation on “all Israel” in the Middle East as a precursor to the Lord’s return is carnal and worldly. The novelty of secret raptures, followed by scenes of Armageddon before the Lord’s return to “all Israel” for their deliverance in a Millennial reign is the stuff of best-selling books.[4] But the Lord’s people of old looked for and longed for the revealed abiding presence of God with them once again. It was what Isaiah saw “In the year that King Uzziah died,” when he penned these words “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (Is. 6:1). The Shekinah glory was but a visible display of God’s excellence. What Isaiah saw in this vision, was a pre incarnated appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The destruction of Jerusalem God revealed to Isaiah was obviously not the end of God’s everlasting covenant of grace to His chosen people. The earthly typical kingdom ended along with possession of the land. But the remnant, those who believed the Lord and followed Him, were to be kept and blessed regardless of the catastrophe which came upon Israel. It was to them that all further redemptive purposes pertained. This is clearly shown in many places in the words of the prophets sent by God to them. To sinning Israel the words of the prophets were warning and doom. To the remnant believers the words of the prophets were comfort and hope. Through it all, the land was made to them something of an eternal possession, one they would return to eventually. That being the case however, it was not to be in the same manner as before, nor would the Lords’ presence and glory abide there in the same manner as before either.

The Lord’s return is generally viewed as an event which occurs either, at the end of time, or, at a period of time which precedes it. There are a few fringe people who suppose that the Lord returned in a final and figurative sense in 70 AD.[5] This idea is utterly heretical and will not be entertained here in any way. The truth of the matter is, however, that consideration of the Lord’s return begins with Ezra the priest and the new temple prophets. Why do we say this, because the predicted return of the Lord to His people is not a single event in history? It is a single event concerning the end of time as we know it, this is true. What is meant here is the Lord’s return as envisioned by the prophets, was spread out over a long period of time, and involved many historical events. Keep in mind, there are two issues involved in this which we have already outlined previously. The first is the eventual occupation of the earth, and the second is the abiding visible glory of the Lord with His people.[6]

The Lord’s return begins with the re gathering of His people in Ezra’s day. That return however, was anticlimactic for several reasons, which all point to further truth concerning them. Nevertheless, this is still the starting point in any further consideration of the matter. So we turn our attention to Ezra once again, to view the scene which took place when construction of the second temple commenced (Ezra 3:10-13). This was a time of joy and a time of weeping for the people. This was due to the fact there were two categories of people present at this event. The first category was of those who were too young to have remembered the previous temple. These folk were extremely happy to see the temple under reconstruction. The second category of people, were of those who were old enough to have witnessed the previous temple. These people wept at the sight of the new construction. Why did they weep, and why is it relevant to us?

The answer to this question develops in the ongoing history of the re gathering of Israel, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), which is the Christian church. The people who wept did so because it was clear to them at that point the new temple was going to be far less glorious than the previous one. In other words, the pitiful sight of the new temple, in terms of its size and appearance was an incredible let down to them. Not only was it not what was expected according to their understanding of the prophets, but it was going to be far less in appearance than the previous temple. As time progressed, the unhappiness of those who wept for Jerusalem would be increased by the inadequacies of new temple Judaism. There are several things about this that are relevant to the Lord’s return, things which become evident in Scripture. 1) there was only a small Jewish remnant who returned to Jerusalem. 2) the new temple when built was far less in stature than expected. 3) there was no ark in the new temple. 4) there was no Shekinah glory in the most Holy place. 5) there was no return of a King to Judah. 6) there was no return to national independence.[7]

From these six things, a picture emerges. Let’s consider each one in fuller detail. The first one is that God was done with Israel as it was constituted before. The return of Israel to Jerusalem, therefore, was not to be realized by an earthly event as it was before. The number of people who returned to Jerusalem in Ezra’s day is estimated at less than fifty thousand, compared to the three million who entered Canaan with Joshua a thousand years earlier.[8] This reduced number of people, returned and occupied a much smaller amount of space than before in Canaan, indicating a reduction of prophetic intent as it concerned them in the land. As we have already stated, the New Testament is clear in showing the inheritance of land was an ideal that involved the entire earth (Ps. 25:13, 37:9,11,22; Matt. 5:5). Also, the Jerusalem of God that resides within the reconstituted earth was what Abraham, and those who were of like faith with him looked to as the promise (Heb. 11:10).

The second one is, the new temple, constructed upon the same place as the old, was far less than the previous one that Solomon built. Its size and appearance were such that it could not possibly be a restoration to Israel’s former glory, let alone an exaltation to one greater. This reduction in the new temple coincided with the reduced size of the re gathered people, into a smaller plot of land. It also indicated a reduction of interest in them by God, in terms of the return of His glory and presence in the land of inheritance. It is true. The temple was remodeled in Herod’s day, and therefore, improved in appearance. But there was nothing about this that was even remotely connected with a renewed interest by the Lord in earthly Israel. In God’s providence, the same temple was desecrated by the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, it was finally destroyed by the Roman General Titus (Dan. 8:9-24; Matt. 24:1,2).

The third one is, there was no remaking of an ark, such as the one that dwelt in the most Holy place of the first temple. The ark represented God’s covenant with earthly Israel (Num. 10:33, 14:44; Deut. 10:8, 31:9,25,26). There was no remaking of the ark because there was no covenant relationship with earthly Israel anymore. God’s covenant of grace with His redeemed remnant remained, but temple worship as it once was, was never restored to them in the same way as before. Sacrifices returned and continued at the temple as part of their Old Testament typical worship. But there was no ark of the covenant, with gold-covered cherubim and a mercy seat, rebuilt and installed there in the new temple (Jer. 3:16). This is where the Shekinah glory had previously dwelt, above the ark and the mercy seat, between the cherubim. The ark was no more needed, for the Lord had something else in-store for returning Israel (Jer. 3:14,15).

The fourth one is, there was no Shekinah glory to come in and fill the most Holy place of the new temple. Without the ark of the covenant there, there was no reason for the Shekinah glory to dwell there either. This was the earthly throne room of God where He presided over the covenant kingdom. His glory above the mercy seat, was the place by which the administration of the covenant took place. The ark and the mercy seat represented the covenant blessings Israel enjoyed as His people. So apart from God’s presence in the temple, Jerusalem was no longer the city of God, in a Holy land, under covenant mercy. The absence of the revealed glory of God among the returning Jews was most significant. It implied the Lord must return to His people in another way, at some other time, if they were to receive the true inheritance. Jeremiah spoke of this time and circumstance saying “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the LORD” (Jer. 3:17). In other words, the Lord will preside over His people differently than before.

The fifth one is, no king was restored to the place of authority in Jerusalem when the Jews returned. A governor was appointed by decree over the district of Judah by the Persian Emperor. But no continuation of David’s monarchical rule occurred at that time. Following the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean family[9] ruled autonomously over the Jews for 103 years, but no son of David resumed the earthly throne during this time. Herod was installed by the Romans when they came to power, first as governor, then as King of the Jews. But Herod was the son of an Idumean convert, and no son of David. Only a son of David could rightfully assume that position. Also, according to Scripture after the end of earthly rule by Judah, the principal son of Jacob and head of the Messianic tribe, he was to pass the scepter to the Messiah who would alone rule the kingdom forever (Gen. 49:10).

The sixth one is, although a remnant returned to Jerusalem, there was never any return of Judah to its former independence as a nation. Except for a brief period time under the Maccabees, Judah was always under foreign domination. So the return of the people to Jerusalem was in no way a fulfillment of the theocratic ideal that existed originally with Israel, nor was it ever to take place again in the same way. These six things we have outlined all serve to show that the return of Israel to the land, and God’s glory to the people of His kingdom awaited something else. Yet, at the same time, it was the beginning to the Lord’s eventual return to His earthly people of a different sort. And it was the beginning of their possession of the inherited land. But as we have stated, this was to be something that happened incrementally, over a long period of time, through many successive historical events.

D-The coming glory of God’s house

The beginning of the Lord’s return to His people, began when Ezra and the Jews of the captivity returned to Jerusalem from their dwelling place under Persian rule. The Lord had sent prophets to Israel in preparation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Now, after their return to the land, more prophets were sent to Israel, in order to set the stage for the next part of the Lord’s glorious, revealed return to His people. This was a transitory time in redemptive history. To the casual observer it would appear to be a time of confusion, disorder, and disruption in God’s kingdom. Between the time of their captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and the emergence of Rome, several empires came and went. Second temple Judaism had really become an adjunct to the synagogue system that arose during the captivity. Unable to worship in Jerusalem, at the divinely ordered place, the Jews met in small local gatherings they called synagogues,[10] wherever they lived throughout the dispersion.

With the rebuilding of the temple, there was at least a return to the Mosaic sacrifices. But the main sacrifice of the Old Testament, which was offered on the Day of Atonement, ceased to be observed as it once was. This is significant, due to the fact that the Day of Atonement each year was done in order to maintain the covenant relationship the nation had with God. That one sacrifice offered each year, was the main one upon which every other sacrifice offered throughout the year depended. Each year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holy places with the blood of the sacrifice, to make atonement for the collective nation. Without it, there was no forgiveness for earthly Israel as a nation under covenant relationship to God. Without a national covenant, there was no need of a national sacrifice for sin, one that maintained the relationship. Absent this, the remnant that returned could never again worship God under this earthly administration. Thankfully, and according to the New Testament, Jesus Christ was and is the Mediator of the eternal covenant of grace for His people, under both the old and new administrations of it (Heb. 9:15).

The prophets sent by God during the period of new temple Judaism, all looked forward to His return to the people in a special way. The latter prophets were Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Daniel was born in captivity, and his visions commence the beginning of the return to Jerusalem. Haggai and Zechariah’s prophecy coincide with Ezra and Nehemiah’s return, and the rebuilding of the temple. Malachi, was the last of the Old Testament prophets, it ends with his prophecy. After that, there was a four hundred-year period in which God sent no other prophets to His people, that is, until it commenced again with the actual coming of the Lord. The silence ended when an angel appeared to Zacharias in the temple, with the announcement that a child would be born to his wife, John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-17). Along with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth, was joined the further revelation of the birth of the long awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-28). This commenced the beginning of the next phase of the Lord’s return to His people.

The new temple prophets in Ezra’s day, envisioned something far greater for Israel than what he and the returnees to Judah witnessed in their time. In fact, theirs was a vision of restoration so glorious, that it could not be contained within the boundaries of the Old Covenant types. For example, the vision of Haggai came at the exact time the temple was being rebuilt (Hag. 2:1-9, 20-23). The Lord brought timely comfort to His people through Haggai, when they lamented the pathetic appearance of the temple (verse 3). And here is the exact comfort given to the people. “Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the LORD; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!'” (verses 4,5). The Shekinah glory was absent from this new temple, but God was nevertheless, in their midst, His Spirit was still with them.

The covenant was ended with earthly Israel, but not with the true people of God. Their presence, that is, the Israel of flesh, were hangers on, incidental to what was about to transpire among them when the time was right. Haggai spoke of cataclysmic change within the cosmos, when the glory of the Lord would appear (verses 6,7). Here is a picture of the temple being filled with the Shekinah glory, following tremendous cosmic disturbances. Everything within creation would be affected by this event. The Lord says “I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations.” This was a picture of the coming Messiah, whom the prophet refers to as “the Desire of All Nations.” The Lord’s temple would be a place in which people of “All Nations” would love and be drawn to. The Shekinah glory that dwells there would sanctify the entire world unto God, making it Holy land. This is a view of the restored temple that is much more in accord with Ezekiel’s prior vision of it (Ez. 43:1-5). When the God of Israel returned to the temple it was filled with His glory, “and the earth shone with His glory.” (Verse 2).

Haggai concludes this theme in his prophecy of the Lord’s return with a comparison between the former and the latter glory of the temple (Verses 8,9). The former temple was a house constructed of earthly materials. It is true-it was adorned with silver and gold, the most precious of earthly elements. But its glory was really the Shekinah glory that indwelt the Holy of Holy places within it. It was a structure that did not actually contain the Lord, as Solomon points out in his prayer, and Paul asserts in his sermon too (I Kings 8:27; Acts 17:24). And the glory that dwelt in that place was not permanent, for it left with the Lord when His favor was withdrawn. That was a temple which could fall into disrepair, indeed it could be torn down as it actually happened. In Haggai’s vision the reconstructed temple would be different, for it would reveal a glory even greater than Solomon’s magnificent structure. Haggai said “The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Hag. 2:9).

Notice there are two things said by Haggai in reference to the restored temple. First, there is a return of God’s glory to it that is far greater than before. Second, there will be peace provided from God to His people because of it. The greater glory brings greater peace than what went before. The previous temple, along with whatever temporal peace Israel enjoyed before was eventually lost. This peace being spoken of here, could only be by the accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Earthly Israel, after their return to the land, never enjoyed any peace with God. They were always under the domination of others. There was for them, a few short years of independence during the Maccabean period, but that came to an end, for there was no permanent peace in the land. No, the peace associated with the restoration of Haggai’s temple was something different from what they experienced. This was not the peace that “all Israel” in Palestine now seeks, as is witnessed by their incessant fighting.

The peace Israel want in the Middle East today is, the same as the former ‘Pax Romana,’ or, Roman peace that came about by military subjugation over the nations they had conquered. Jews today pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but it’s a superficial, carnal peace which exalts man in his unregenerate condition on this perishing planet. Peace with God is something different from the succession of hostility between nations. The whole reason for Israel’s destruction was the fact that there was no peace between God and them (Is. 48:22). So what point was there to a continuation of their earthly rituals of animal sacrifice, when there was no faith or love from them toward God? Where this is so, the wrath of God abides on such a place (John 3:36). This is also why the yearly sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement was suspended.by God in Israel. Peace with God is the removal of sin through a perfect sacrifice. The future glory in the restored temple Haggai saw in his vision, was one associated with a permanent abiding peace between God and His people based on a perfect sacrifice (John 14:27).

Haggai envisioned a restoration of liberty from oppression for Israel, one based on the peace of God that would accompany the coming glory in the temple (Hag. 2:20-23). This was what Haggai alluded to earlier concerning cosmic change within the created order (verses 6,7,21,22). The Lord said to Haggai “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah” who was the titular head of the Judean district under Persian control. What on earth would Zerubbabel have to do with the accomplishment of this vision? It was simply this, Zerubbabel was a type of the coming Ruler, and the reign that the glory of God was to be associated with, in the day He says “I will shake heaven and earth.” (Verse 21). He was spoken to as if he was that Ruler, in a purely symbolic way.

The promise of the earthly kingdom was to David and his sons, of which Zerubbabel was one. But neither he nor any of his sons ever attained the position of king in Judah. Zerubbabel is mentioned in Scripture history as a son of David in succession to David’s eternal Son Jesus Christ, through Joseph, His adoptive father (Matt. 1:1-16). Zerubbabel is made a type of the coming Messiah in the words “‘In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the LORD, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Verse 23). Zerubbabel was God’s servant for that day of His return to the temple, the day the earth is shaken, and peace is established between God and His people in the land.

Zerubbabel was a type with a prophetic purpose. He was to hold the Scepter of rule in the “signet ring.” This represented the rule that was foretold long ago in Scripture (Gen. 49:10). In other words, this was a symbolic gesture concerning the true temple of God’s abiding glory. Possession of the “signet ring” was a symbol of authority associated with kingship. These words were spoken to him in the presence of the people, to inform them of this that they might look at the temple as something far better than wood and stone. This rule and peace also coincided with the liberty God’s people would have when it came. God’s words “I will shake heaven and earth” were followed by “I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots And those who ride in them; The horses and their riders shall come down, Every one by the sword of his brother.” (Verses 21b, 22). God even tells them how it will be done, “Every one by the sword of his brother.” He turns the reprobate world against itself, because “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” (Is. 48:22).

The peace and prosperity to be brought the people of God, was through a different kind of kingdom rule than the Gentile kings exercised. So the restoration of the kingdom prefigured in the Old Testament was inseparably tied to the return of God’s glory to the temple, when the Lord would return. Zerubbabel’s calling in Haggai as a type of authority deliberately fell short of the literal reality for one very good reason. God had revealed an end to the earthly rule of David’s family at that time, through Ezekiel the prophet. Zedekiah was the last king of Israel, as well as a thoroughly wicked one. So the Lord declared of Zedekiah that none else would wear the crown till the coming of the Messiah. “‘Now to you, O profane, wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose iniquity shall end, thus says the Lord GOD: ” Remove the turban, and take off the crown; Nothing shall remain the same. Exalt the humble, and humble the exalted. Overthrown, overthrown, I will make it overthrown! It shall be no longer, Until He comes whose right it is, And I will give it to Him’” (Ez. 21:25-27).

Ezekiel was already in captivity in Babylon when he received the visions which appear in his book. The end came for Israel while Ezekiel was there, so his prophecy was very much transitional in nature concerning God’s kingdom purpose, just as Jeremiah’s was. There are several things here revealed in this text (verses 26,27) that are relevant to the second temple prophets, things that transition away from earthly Israel to the coming of the kingdom of future glory. First, God said the profanity of this king and his rule had come to an end (verse 25). Second, with the removal of his crown, a dramatic change would come, for “Nothing shall remain the same.” (Verse 26). Three, this change of circumstance from a future perspective would be characterized by a change in character of those who are within the true kingdom (verse 26). Fourth, the Lord says of the earthly corrupt kingdom that it is “Overthrown” by Him, and “It shall be no longer” until the Messiah “comes whose right it is” to rule will come. (Verse 27).

The crown of David had been taken from his family and held in escrow by God. The sovereign God maintained His rule, not only over the people of God on earth, but over the Gentile nations as well. This brings us back to the second temple and Zerubbabel the governor. He would not wear the crown, but it would be given to another in a symbolic act that pointed to the Messiah (Zech. 6:9-15). The prophet Zechariah received a vision from God where he was instructed to perform this symbolic gesture. After receiving gifts from the captives returning to Jerusalem, Zechariah was told to make a crown out of them and place it on the head of Joshua the high priest (verses 9-11). Joshua, the priest who was revealed earlier on in Zechariah, was imperfect and in need of redemption (Zech. 3:1-5). This was a priesthood akin to that of Aaron and his sons. Later on however, after Joshua was cleansed, he was chosen to receive the crown Zechariah made, thereby becoming a perfect type of Him who was to come.

The language used here in Zechariah to describe the Messiah is “the Branch” (Zech. 3:8, 6:12). This was the same name used by former prophets as well to describe Him (Is. 4:2, 11:1; Jer. 23:5, 33:15). The meaning of this term is obvious by the context of the passage (verses 12-15). The Messiah, who is called “the Branch,” was done so because of what He would be and do in the latter temple. “From His place He shall branch out (verse 12b). This is God’s Holy tree Zechariah is talking about when he uses the term “Branch” to describe the Messiah (Rom. 11:16). So the Messiah is “the Branch” of God’s Holy tree, He will branch out over the whole earth. And what will this “Branch” do, in spreading the tree throughout the world? Zechariah tells us in these words. “And He shall build the temple of the LORD” (verse 12c).

Zechariah tells us the Messiah “shall build the temple of the LORD” (verse 13a). This is a temple not made with hands such as that of Solomon’s or Ezra’s. This is a temple the Shekinah glory will come to and dwell in for “He shall bear the glory” of the Lord in it (verse 13b). Now here is where we come to the symbolism of the crown Zechariah made for Joshua the High Priest. In receiving the crown, Joshua was to be but a type of the Messiah who would wear it as the antitype. It was a symbol of His rule and authority within the kingdom of God. “And shall sit and rule on His throne” (verse 13c). It was a symbol of His true Priesthood, in mediation of the covenant on their behalf. “So He shall be a priest on His throne” (verse 13d). And it was a symbol of the gospel peace between God and His people, wrought by the blood of His sacrifice. “And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Verse 13e).

The crown was “a memorial in the temple of the LORD” for those who brought the gifts to Zechariah “for Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah” (verse 14). And, it was for others who would “come and build the temple of the LORD” (verse 15). It was to be their encouragement, their solace in the Lord, “Then you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you” through the prophetic word. The Lord is the Messiah to whom the crown belongs. When He came, not only did He receive the crown of the kingdom, but assumed the Priesthood of the temple. From there on in the Messiah was to be exalted as a Prophet, Priest, and King. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). So to recap and summarize what is being said here in Zechariah. First, the crown was not given to Zerubbabel the governor in a civil sense. Second, the crown was given to Joshua the high priest in an Ecclesiastical sense. Third, it is the Messiah who builds the temple. And fourth, the church as the body of Christ, becomes the temple, for He is its glory (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22,23, 2:21,22; I Pet. 2:4,5).

1-The coming Messenger

The restoration of glory in the latter temple would coincide with the advent of the Messiah. The temple in Ezra’s day was lacking in stature for this very purpose, so that God’s people would be expectant of something far better, far greater than the earthly temple. The last of the Old Testament prophets to speak on this was Malachi. The end of the Old Testament closes with a very direct statement made by him in reference to this point we have been examining, the coming glory of the Lord to His temple (Mal. 3:1-4). Malachi frames his statement here in these four verses to this effect in the form of it being a message from God to His people. And to be more specific to the point, Malachi said the event in question would be preceded by a messenger that would indicate its immanency. God said to him “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me.” (Verse 1a). The Lord’s words were that He would send a messenger to announce the Lord’s appearance. This was none other than John the Baptist Malachi was speaking of here (Luke 1:13-17; Mal. 4:5,6). Malachi did not mean Elijah would literally return, but that a prophet like him would.

There is another Messenger spoken of here in verse one that is not John the Baptist. This is none other than Israel’s, long awaited Messiah, “the Lord, whom you seek” (Verse 1b). So here, we have another instance in Scripture of one Person of the Triune Deity, speaking to, or of another Person of the same Being (Ps. 110:1). So we must conclude this to be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, being spoken of here in this verse. As the Prophet of God, the Lord “Will suddenly come to His temple” when it is time to restore the kingdom and the temple (verse 1c). Jesus was not only Prophet of the covenant, but the Priest and sacrifice of it too. But notice what else is said about this and Him when He comes. When the Messiah appears, it is the day of the Lord’s return, called “the day of His coming” (verse 2a). Malachi saw this as only one event, not two, even though we now know it to be otherwise. This was to be the day recorded in John’s gospel, when Jesus went up to the temple, and cleansed it of the irreverent merchandising that took place in it by the Jews (John 2:13-22).

2-Jesus is the Shekinah glory

We know this event John wrote about to be a fulfillment of what the three latter prophets said concerning the coming glory of God. How do we know it? We know it by what John clearly states in the first chapter of his gospel about Jesus. The first chapter of John’s gospel presents Jesus as the Word, or, Revelation of God incarnate. The incarnation of God in Jesus, is the return of the Shekinah glory to God’s temple. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Verse 14). This is a true assertion to make on two accounts. First, Jesus is the glory of God in bodily form (verse 14). This means the second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh, and walked among men. This fact enables men to behold God in such a way as never before. In the Jewish temple made of wood and stone, no one could enter into the Holy of Holies and look upon God. Indeed, it is still impossible, and ever will be to do this of ourselves. But when God took our nature upon Himself, that incomprehensible and unapproachable glory was clothed by it and able to be seen and known.

Secondly, by the incarnation Jesus became the true temple of God, not made with hands (John 2:21). The apostle Paul meant this very thing when he said of Christ, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). God in Christ is the true temple of which the prophets were revealing would be the latter glory, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” John made the same point as Paul made by saying that in His incarnation Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the glory and temple of God so that these two things are literally true and fulfilled in Him. God in Christ also literally came to His earthly temple too, as recorded here by John in chapter two of his gospel. Remember, this was Ezra’s temple Jesus came to, even though it had been rebuilt by Herod only forty six years earlier (verse 20). In doing this, there was not only a literal fulfillment of what the prophets were alluding to, but also a transition away from the earthly, to the heavenly prefigured in Scripture.

3-The greater glory than Solomon’s temple

Jesus’ words to the Jews when He came to the temple, were spoken in preparation for this change that would take place. Jesus called the temple His house, not theirs (John 2:16). So they demanded from Him some sort of sign in proof of this assertion (verse 18). The sign Jesus gave them was the tearing down of the temple (verse 19). In other words, Jesus declared an end to the temple in these words. But He also spoke of a new and different temple, in reference to His body (verse 21,22). The greater glory of the latter temple would be realized in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This historical event would be the ground of a spiritual union between God and His people, based on a positive legal relationship established by Jesus in the resurrection, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4:25). This was not possible in Solomon’s temple. There was no salvation in it, even though the Shekinah glory dwelt within it. There was no justification ever wrought by the offering of sacrifices, or any of the other services related to it.

Most of all, there was no abiding presence of God in Solomon’s temple, for He left it. The people of God were prevented from approaching God in it too. They got no further toward Him than the outer court. The priest entered the holy place on behalf of the people, but could go no further than that, except once a year on the Day of Atonement. The glory wasn’t present however, when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the scapegoat. In Jesus Christ, all of this is done away with. He is now the great High priest of our confession. It is He, whose blood was offered to God on behalf of us, the covenant people, who have access to Him in heaven because of it. This is what John understood was to be beheld of God in Jesus (John 1:14). The people of God now approach Him in their Priest and sacrifice Jesus, anywhere in the world. To limit this to an earthly temple in the future, as some people think, is a complete reversal of everything accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is actually anti Christian at its core, for it is a denial of the accomplished work of the cross, revealed in the gospel.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus entered the temple a second time and drove the irreverent merchandisers once again out of it (Mark 11:17). Mark tells us in his gospel that Jesus called it “a house of prayer for all nations,” a partial quotation of Isaiah 56:7. This is amazing, for how could a single building, located in Jerusalem, be a temple “for all nations?” Even when Israel stood as a single sovereign nation, all Jews did not have easy access to it, but had to travel to Jerusalem on specific occasions. So we understand it to have been the central meeting place of God with His people, in the land. This is the same idea that is envisioned in the return of the Lord to the temple, and the latter glory. According to the prophets, the glory of this latter temple would be the focal point of drawing “all nations” to the Lord (Is. 2:2,56:7,66:18,20; Hag. 2:7; Mal. 3:12). This makes the restored temple with the greater glory, one of enormous size and proportion. With an expansion such as this that includes the whole world, how are we to understand the intent of their words?

The prophetic vision of “all nations” is based on the same idea as that of “all Israel” in Romans. It is a general, figurative expression of fulfillment in what Jesus told His disciples, that true worship would no longer be in Jerusalem, but in Him (John 4:23-26). The people of God would expand to include the whole world, and so the temple would expand too. So what the prophets was revealing was a matter of covenant progression. God’s abiding presence would go from the glory of earthly Jerusalem, to the glory of heavenly Jerusalem, in that order when it returned. And it would not return again to its former glory (Gal. 4:26). The apostle Paul spoke of and applied the same principle in His apologetic on the doctrine of the resurrection. “And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.” (I Cor. 15:45,46).

This is not some falsely spiritualized application that is being made here from the prophets, by the various texts we have cited either. The writer of Hebrews clearly states it this way too, when he ascribes the worship of Jerusalem to the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:22-24). The real presence of God is with Christians when they meet, anywhere in the world for worship. This is affirmed by the direct testimony of Jesus Himself to His people (Matt. 18:20). In Jesus Christ, there need not be a single place on earth of meeting with God such as it was in Jerusalem. Every Christian has equal access to God, by faith in Jesus Christ, anywhere in the world, at anytime. When a local congregation of Christians meets in a particular location on the Lord’s day, the spiritual dynamic Jesus spoke of is especially present when this happens. In fact, Matthew is talking primarily of the assembled church on Sunday in his text. The context of the passage bears this out, for it is the matter of church discipline of which he speaks.

4-The inaugurated kingdom temple

What seems to confuse people most about the kingdom of God is how it is manifested here on earth. And so, all manners of explanations have arisen to explain Scripture references to the coming kingdom, the land of promise, and here in what we have been addressing, the restoration of the temple. All of this pertains to the theology of the Lord’s return. When Jesus came He said His kingdom was here, present among His disciples. It was revealed in their testimony of Him as the Son of God (Matt. 16:16). It is true, Jesus now has a glorified body that has ascended into heaven, and therefore, is no longer seen or with us here on earth. But He poured out His Spirit on the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago, so that His presence is known everywhere on earth, through the word of God when it is preached. Where there is faith in Jesus according to His word, there is the revelation of the kingdom. And prayer to God through Christ as Mediator of the New Covenant is meeting with God in His temple.

The government of God is present here and now on earth too, in the establishment of Christ’s reign through the church. The Christian church, which is the mystical body of Christ, is God’s temple (Eph. 1:21,22, 2:19-22). There is no salvation with God apart from the preaching, the ordinances, and the government of the Christian church. Of course, we do not mean to imply the same thing as what the Roman Catholics mean by saying there is any salvation outside of the church. What we do mean to say is the Christian church wherever it is on earth, is the temple of God; in it He is known, He is worshiped, He is approached through her Lord and great High Priest, Jesus Christ. God draws His elect “all Israel” from “all nations” to the Christian church. The glory of God is seen in her, by her Lord who dwells among its members spiritually, exercising His sovereign rule and grace within.

The advent of the Christian church on the day of Pentecost further confirms what Haggai saw in his vision of the latter day glory of the temple. Haggai saw the return of the Lord to His temple as that which coincides with the Messiah’s coming, in the last days (Hag. 2:1-9). Observe what the writer of Hebrews says in his book to this end. First, Jesus is said to be the One “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). This is the Shekinah glory, who accomplished redemption for His people, who is also reigning from heaven, the throne room of God. He specifically joins this to the last days of earth, which all the prophets envisioned as a time of judgement and the restoration of Judah, Jerusalem and the temple (Heb. 1:1,2; Zech. 12:3,4,6,8,9,11).

Second, the writer of Hebrews equated the advent of the church on the day of Pentecost as the day Haggai referred to as the shaking of heaven and earth (Hag. 2:6; Heb. 12:26-29). This was the receiving of the kingdom in its fullness here on earth by the church. The old order, under the dominion of the devil was disturbed, set off its course by a new and more powerful government in Jesus Christ from heaven. The cosmos was set on a new course, so to speak, by the shaking off of the old one, since a new and better world was and is in the making. Of course, this present world is but sanctified by the presence of God’s temple in it. It awaits a yet future manifestation when the Lord returns once again. Only this time, the Lord is not returning to what He left behind in shambles on earth as before, but returning to what He has purchased and perfected in His death and resurrection. For now, God’s elect are called out of the world and into the kingdom through the gospel until the last one is secure.

God has given His guarantee of this to the church by His Spirit (Eph. 1:13,14). This is exactly what was predicted by the prophet Zechariah in reference to the latter day glory of the kingdom (Zech. 12:10-14). God said of it “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” (Verse 10). “The house of David” is the family of God in Christ who is his greater Son, who were “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” and beyond. They were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when God poured out “the Spirit of grace and supplication” upon them. So the house of David became His temple, the house of God, by the manifestation of His glory, in His Son Jesus Christ. God revealed that when this comes to pass “then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” The true people of God would know Him as God and Messiah in the crucified, risen Savior, Jesus Christ.(Acts 2:22-32).

The prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when God poured out His Spirit upon those who believed in Jesus as God and Messiah. Another prophet, Joel spoke of this event too, Peter quoted his words in his sermon “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘ And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’” (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32).

Notice here, Peter said these were the “the last days.” This was the shaking of heaven and earth that Haggai referred to as well, captured in the words “I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.” (Verse 19). Blood, fire, and vapors are elements of temple imagery. In other words, the glory of the last days, are prefigured by these elements in Joel’s prophecy. They all relate to temple service. In fact, you can say they are the primary elements of it. The blood of the sacrificial offering was consumed on the altar by the fire of God. All that was left of it when consumed, was a vapor in the air that spoke of it’s having, been received. So this very imagery of temple worship was applied by Peter in his sermon to the Pentecostal event of God’s Spirit being poured out on the people of Jerusalem. The Spirit of God is the blessing of God, what we call the blessed assurance of His favor.

That these three things, blood, fire, and vapor all relate to temple service, are further proved in Joel’s prophecy by the next verse which follows it. “The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.” (Verse 20). Joel’s prediction is exactly what happened when Jesus was crucified. Matthew records this detail in his gospel (Matt. 27:45). This was no ordinary darkness that Matthew points out. It occurred in the middle of the day and it was not due to any natural cause such as a solar eclipse. The death of the Son of God on the cross for sin was such, that God the Father withdrew His favor from Jesus as He hung there before the world. This resulted in the cataclysmic event recorded by Matthew. God literally withdrew the light of the world in solemn testimony of His anger and wrath against sin. This wrath was directed against His own Son, as the sacrificial offering of God’s people. It was a darkness that was so dark there was no moon to be seen. It’s reflection from the sun was extinguished by the blood of Jesus’ suffering under God’s wrath.

There is a most curious thing to be seen here in Joel’s words, as they are quoted by Peter. Joel said and Peter applied these words “Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” to the day of Pentecost. This would seem to imply that the day of Pentecost was “the great and awesome day of the Lord” we equate with the Lord’s second coming. We understand this day to be the day that the world as we know it ends. This will be a day when the church is raptured. Judgement will fall upon the nations of the world that reject Christ. This is the day Peter spoke of in his second epistle at a much later time, where he said “both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:10). This is the day that is supposed to be “the day of the Lord.” So the question arises, is there one or two days here in view? The answer to this question is that there is but one day in view, but it is a multi staged occurrence. Everything about the Lord’s return to His people on earth begun in Ezra’s day points to one final conclusion. That conclusion is the difference between the kingdom temple in an inaugurated state, and the kingdom temple in a consummated state.

5-The consummated kingdom temple

The prophets of old looked ahead to one ideal of God’s kingdom here on earth. This was an ideal that was revealed in Scripture at the very beginning of time. This is an ideal revealed throughout Scripture history as progressively developmental. And this is an ideal that is revealed in Scripture as something that comes into view in its absolute fullness at the end of present time as we know it. The ideal of God’s kingdom in Scripture is embodied in the term we know as Paradise. Therefore, we seek to conclude the present theme of this chapter with a look at this ideal called Paradise. Paradise as an ideal involves all of the various elements as put forth so far in the present study regarding the subject of “all Israel.” We have defined who “all Israel” is. Now it is time to look at where it is. Paradise is after all, the place or land in which “all Israel” receives her inheritance. Paradise is the location of God’s temple. Paradise is the place of His revealed glory. And Paradise is the eternal resting and meeting place of God with His people, according to Scripture.

Both of these things, Divine location and presence are what Scripture begins and end with. Scripture history opens with the creation and formation of heaven and earth. There was a garden placed upon earth, where God and man met together. This is what we call Paradise. From there, mankind was to populate the earth, taking dominion over it. This dominion was to be in essence, an expansion of the garden throughout earth, as Adam was to tend and keep it under God’s authority. This dominion mandate was to manifest itself wherever mankind dwelt on earth. So in other words, the Paradise man enjoyed in the garden as he fellowshipped and served the Creator was to envelop the whole earth as God’s kingdom. The garden of Eden was in essence a temple. It was not a building, such as that which later on became the temple of Israel, but it was a temple nonetheless. It was a place in which God’s presence dwelt. From this location, Adam, as the father of mankind, mediated mans relationship to God.[11]

We use the word mediated, for Adam acted as a representative for mankind before God. The whole matter of obedience or disobedience surrounding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was not simply for himself, but for all of mankind. Adam’s obedience in this was mediated on behalf of his people, and so wasn’t his disobedience, just the same. Adam’s fall then, due to sin, was a desecration of creation on several counts. Sin was first and foremost, a desecration of mans humanity, that upon which God had stamped His image. Next, the entrance of sin into the garden was a desecration of God’s sanctuary, the place where He walked and talked with Adam. Last of all, the entrance of sin into the garden temple, desecrated the earth it stood upon. Because of all this, mankind was cursed and so wasn’t the earth. He was therefore, kicked out of the garden, with its entrance blocked (Gen. 4:28). With no one to tend and keep it, Paradise disappeared from earth.

It would seem from this that all was lost and hopeless for mankind, for Adam’s mediation was quite imperfect and subject to change. Scripture reveals that the first of God’s creatures to fall were those of the angelic hosts, spiritual beings who were made to be servants of the Most High, and of His people here on earth. Creation was to be under Adam’s dominion, but here in the garden, we see it rise up and challenge that dominion through the serpent who called God’s word and authority into question. The serpent was embodied by Satan, the chief angel that rebelled. So when man followed in this rebellion, there was a complete usurpation of the created order. It seemed that what was once Paradise on earth had now become the dominion of Satan. Satan became the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4). When Adam believed Satan rather than God he ceased to reflect God’s image, and became more like the serpent who tempted him to sin.

So it is at this point that truth surrounding God’s eternal purpose of redemption begins to unfold. It is revealed in the context of the need for restoration of the Paradise temple on earth, in order for man to know and enjoy God once again. This becomes the focus of God’s dealing with His creation throughout the rest of history. It is also the beginning of what we have entitled this chapter, namely the theology of return. We should be clear about one thing. It is not a return of God to His creation, for of course, that never ended. Arminians view God as engaged in a life and death struggle with Satan over control of creation. That idea is never found in Scripture, for God is sovereign and in complete control of His creation at all times. No, the return contemplated here from Scripture, is a return to God’s order following a complete restoration of all things, not the least of which is mans redemption.

It is important to point something out about the early pages of Scripture that are often the source of error. Some people argue against God’s Covenant of Grace, simply because the word covenant does not appear in Scripture until Noah. And then, the word covenant is used primarily in reference to the preservation of creation. Yet, to deny the existence, yea, even the pre existence of God’s gracious covenant is to deny the entirety of Scripture teaching, even if the word does not appear till Noah. The same is true about the word temple, or, the tabernacle as it first appears in the context of Israel. The tabernacle was a tent that served as a portable temple. The temple was a permanent structure that was built when Israel was established in the land. To say that the temple theme begins with Israel is to make the same mistake as the covenant theme. To go even further with the point, we can include the word and concept of Paradise. Who would deny the idea of heaven on earth in the original creation? The concept of Paradise points back to a time and place where God and man walked and talked together on earth.

It is a mistake to think of Israel’s temple as a latter development of God’s purpose in redemption, or for His kingdom here on earth. For instance, everything about the tabernacle Moses built, which became the temple later on, looked back to the garden of Eden where the original relationship between God and man began. The tabernacle was built to God’s specification, just like the original created order. The tabernacle was a place, just like the garden of Eden. The tabernacle was a place sanctified by the Lord’s presence, just like the garden was. As such, it was where mankind met with God and worshiped Him. As a place built to specification, the tabernacle had dimensions and objects within it, just like the garden. The tabernacle had a priest and service to God, just as the garden did. Adam represented his family in the garden, just as Aaron did the people of Israel.[12]

There are some things that pertain to Israel’s house that is different from the garden however, and that for good reason. Worship in the garden consisted of obedience to God in the tending of it, and the populating of the earth. Also, that obedience had one negative aspect to it in the prohibition placed upon the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For that reason, service to God in the original temple was entirely a work-oriented service. Israel’s temple worship was similar to the garden worship, in that it too, had a service that was outward. But there is one major difference between the two. After the fall, worship in the world among God’s people revolved around the practice and theme of sacrifice. The killing of an animal with the offering of its blood upon an altar became the outward display of true worship, long before the tabernacle was built (Gen. 4:4, 8:20, 12:7,8, 13:4,18, 22:5-13, 26:25, 33:20, 35:1-7). The tabernacle then became a structure in which the service of worship was performed.

Later, when the temple was built, it became a structure that rested in a fixed location. Why did a building become the substitute for a garden? The reason for this has to do with another thing that was different about the temple from the garden. There were rooms of separation within it that did not have a counterpart in the garden. God originally walked and talked with Adam in the garden, however, after the fall, that all changed. God purposed beforehand to redeem people of His choosing in order to reestablish a relationship with them, following the entrance of sin into the world. This relationship is based on His sovereign grace. But grace has no meaning apart from justice. It was necessary for sin to be punished, in order for God to forgive and redeem His people. So the sacrificial animal offered in the temple represented the application of God’s justice for sin. It was not accepted by God on its own merit, as the blood of an animal is insufficient to pay the price of sin for a man, made in the image of God. Because of this, a separation remained between God and man that needed a bridge.

The sacrificial animal could not be accepted by God on the basis of the offerer’s merit either. This is obvious, for the presence of sin by an offerer is the absence of any personal merit. There needed to be a better sacrifice in order to satisfy the justice of God. So neither the worshiper nor the animal offered in temple worship could do this. Therefore, a separation must remain between God and man until the time it was rectified. So how was worship accepted of God in the temple? It was by faith in the promise of redemption, one that God Himself would accomplish in due time on behalf of His people. This was accepted of God in the worship. However, until that one true offering was provided by God that could take-away sin, there must be a separation in the temple between God and men.

So the temple had rooms within it. There was an outer court where the people came to the temple. There was an inner court called the holy place where the priest alone officiated the offerings on behalf of the people. And there was a most holy place within the temple where God entered in the Shekinah glory. The temple then, though serving as a substitute for the original garden temple, was woefully insufficient to accomplish the ultimate goal, of re establishing a permanent and abiding fellowship between God and man. There was always something lacking in this arrangement, even though it was ordained of God. For one thing, unlike Adam in the original temple, the priest himself was a sinner. For another thing, unlike God’s original creation, the objects of the temple, including the building itself, were the work of sinful mens hands. Even the ground the temple was built upon was cursed. Something much better was needed than that.

This is where we come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus as the incarnated Son of God embodied everything necessary in Himself to accomplish what Israel’s temple could not. Jesus’ death was the one true sacrifice offered to God on the altar of the cross that satisfied His wrath against sin. When Jesus died, we read an interesting statement in Matthew’s gospel concerning the temple. “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51). It was the death of the Son of God for sin that eliminated the separation that existed between God and men since the day Adam sinned in the garden. Because of the death of Jesus, the temple rooms which had been separated were now opened wide. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way concerning Israel’s temple.”The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.” (Heb. 9:8).

Israel’s temple was only a representation of the garden Paradise that was lost. It was also a prefigurement of a new and better temple, in a new and better Paradise, one which cannot be lost or changed. We have already considered the nature of this true temple of God, it comprises three distinct elements that make it up, each of which coexist in perfect harmony. The first, is the Son of God Himself who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The word dwelt in English is taken from the Greek word skay-no’-o, which literally means tabernacles within. The incarnation of God in flesh was “the temple of His body” (John 2:21). The Shekinah glory of God indwelt the Person of Jesus Christ as the antitype of Israel’s temple. With the return of the Shekinah glory to God’s true temple, the old were completely done away with, never to return again as a building. This is why Jesus is said to be the “High Priest” of a “perfect tabernacle,” one that is “not made with hands” (Heb. 9:11).

The second aspect of this is the people of God who are in Christ is called the temple too (I Cor. 3:16). What does it mean to be in Christ? The term in Christ which Christians frequently use means two things, a legal and a spiritual relationship to God in Him by faith. The members of Christ’s church are called His body (I Cor. 12:27). There is a union which exists between them and God in Christ which makes the church part of the true temple of God. In this “spiritual house” the people of God become “a holy priesthood” that “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (I Pet. 2:5). The animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant were never spiritual in character, even though the true worshipers who offered them had faith. The redemption the church enjoys through Jesus Christ by grace is one that rests upon the merit of His righteousness, therefore, it can never be lost or annulled through sin.

This brings us to the third and final thing that makes the temple complete, which is what the theology of return in Scripture is all about. In the garden, heaven and earth were together. Both heaven and earth were affected by the introduction of sin. Before Adam sinned, there was rebellion in heaven, this led to the same on earth. What is heaven? It is certainly a place, one in which the presence of God dwells. But we do not understand that to mean the entirety of His Being, by any means, for no place ever created can contain Him (Acts 17:24). No, heaven was the sanctuary of God’s dwelling place on earth in the garden. It was where God and Adam met. So any idea of restoration within a new and better temple, a return to Paradise, involves a new heaven and a new earth, one we are told by Peter “in which righteousness dwells.” (II Pet. 3:13).

The new heaven and the new earth are what Jesus’ return is about. The only intervening period to be found between the first and second coming is the interadvental period, one in which He is gathering the elect through the gospel into His church. When this is done, the mystical body of Christ as it is intended has come to completion. Christ will return and destroy the present cosmos in a consuming fire so intense, nothing sinful will remain. Then He will restore its elements, creating a new heaven and earth, which is Paradise once again, only better. This is the temple Paradise the prophets looked to, it is one in which the Shekinah glory dwells. This is a temple Paradise without change or imperfection of any kind. Every member of this kingdom is glorified, in the glorified Savior, Jesus Christ. Satan and his demons, along with the reprobate will have their portion and place too, in hell, far away from Paradise, never to return or bother it.

Notice what the apostle John says about this in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation (Rev. 21:1-3). John saw the new heaven and earth emerge after the old one was done away with (verse 1). Then John saw the New Jerusalem, which is the church revealed from heaven, now upon earth (verse 2; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22). Then last, and most directly to our point, John states what he was told from heaven in conclusion to it all. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Verse 3). This is it, heaven and earth occupied with the church triumphant dwells together with God.

Notice the language God uses in verse three recorded by John. “He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” This is covenant language God has used throughout Scripture in reference to this, His ultimate purpose now consummated (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). This was after all, the purpose of the original creation, that God and Adam walked and talked together in the garden of Eden. God was Adam’s Creator, and he was God’s image bearer. In salvation, the people of God are made a “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24). But why the use of the term tabernacle found here in verse three, rather than the temple? Perhaps it has to do with the wilderness journey the church has traveled throughout history that has eventually brought them together with God in glory. In that, the imagery of the tabernacle is fitting.

The next thing worth noting in Revelation chapter twenty one is this. John was given a vision of the church referred to as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (Verse 9). But instead of seeing a great multitude of men and angels gathered together around the throne such as he saw in chapter four, what John sees here is a vision of the holy Jerusalem “having the glory of God” in it (verses 10,11). Further down in the same chapter John states “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Verse 22). This tells us the temple of God is Jerusalem itself, containing God’s presence in and through Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. The Shekinah glory is seen throughout the temple city. In fact, we are told “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” (Verse 23). The people of God in the new heavens and earth behold Jesus face to face in all His glory, something the saints of old were unable to do.

And finally, the last thing about this temple Paradise revealed in Revelation is stated in chapter twenty two, verses 1-5. Here, in these verses we now see there is a throne situated in its midst (verse 1). But what is conspicuously absent is the architectural language used to describe it seen in chapter twenty one. Instead, what we do see in it are a river, and the tree of life which bears fruit (verse 2). This image brings us full back to the garden Paradise in Genesis. Notice that God’s people are there with Him at His throne (verse 3). And what are they doing there in His presence? Exactly what they were created to do, serve God. So Scripture ends on this note, that the purpose of God all along was to create a perfect kingdom that can never fail. The theme of a temple Paradise is seen at both ends of Scripture, and it serves as a book end on either side of the story of God’s purpose in Jesus Christ and the church, which is “all Israel.”

Notes:

[1] Utopian ideas throughout history have always led to chaos and tyranny, like that characterized in Milton’s view of heaven after the fall in ‘Paradise Lost.’ John Milton (1608–1674) was an English Puritan poet dissatisfied with popular attempts at securing an earthly Paradise. Milton lived through the tumultuous days which preceded the English civil war, the commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell that followed it, and the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. He wrote two famous poems ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Paradise Regained’ in order to express his own musings on these things from a biblical perspective. Milton was anti Episcopal and therefore, anti Erastian in his opinion of the English Monarchy. Many attribute his political views as contributing to the modern Reformed concepts of freedom and order, according to the idea of a historical covenant founded on progressive revelation.

[2] See The Puritan Illusion, a three-part series of messages by Charles D. Alexander. These messages were written as a critique of the book authored by Iain Murray entitled ‘The Puritan Hope’ (Banner of Truth Trust). In his book, Murray not only puts forth the Puritan idea that God intends to Christianize all nations through the spread of the gospel, but that He also intends to save “all Israel” in Palestine as well. The chief criticism of this book is that it puts forth a theory of revivalism as historical proof of its prophetic assertions.

[3] The central theme of Milton’s ‘Paradise Regained’ is the temptation of Christ. Without His coming to earth and fulfilling that which was broken in the garden, there could be no redemption. Hence, there could be no restoration of Paradise without it either.

[4] The Lord’s return is a serious subject requiring the utmost of reverence. The Bible of course, teaches His return in great power,” in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thess. 1:8). While the public is generally not interested in what the Bible teaches about this, they are very much entertained by a number of books that talk about large numbers of people suddenly vanishing in front of their eyes, along with the chaos which will ensue. One such book entitled ‘Planet Earth 2000 AD: Will Mankind Survive?’ by Hal Lindsey says this on the back cover. ‘‘Hal will be your guide on a chilling tour of the world’s future battlefields as the Great Tribulation, foretold more than two thousand years ago by Old and New Testament prophets, begin to unfold. You’ll meet the world leaders who will bring man to the very edge of extinction and examine the causes of the current global situation—what it all means, what will shortly come to pass, and how it will all turn out.” (Published by Western Front Ltd; English Language edition, 1994)

[5] A view popularized by James Stuart Russell (1816-1895) that appeared in a book he authored entitled ‘ The Parousia.’ Observe what is said about him and his opinion in the opening biographical sketch of the book. “Russell is most widely known, and forever remembered as the author of The Parousia. He had held the idea of a past Second Advent for many years before writing or even speaking on the subject. He used to describe how the matter came to him as a sort of revelation. On discovering the key to the mystery, the whole theme gradually unfolded. It was to him a source of constant delight to see one point after another fall into harmony with what he believed to be the central truth. Accordingly, in 1878, he published anonymously this much celebrated book. Another edition followed in 1887 with the author’s name attached.” (from The Parousia, About the Author, published by the International Preterist Association, Bradford Penn.).

[6] Quote from John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 60:15, on the nature of Old Testament prophetic vision. “Besides, we ought always to keep in remembrance what I have so often said, that the Prophet does not speak of a few years or a short period, but embraces the whole course of redemption, from the end of the captivity to the preaching of the Gospel, and, finally, down to the end of the reign of Christ.” (Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah – Volume 4 by John Calvin, p 180).

[7] See an article entitled What About Israel? (p4) by Rev. A. Stewart (Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena, North Ireland, http://www.cprc.co.uk).

[8] See an article entitled An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism, 3. The Promise of Exile and Return (p 6) by Rev. Stephen Sizer (Challenging Christian Zionism, http://www.christianzionism.org).

[9] The Maccabees were a rebel Jewish army that revolted and took control of Judah while under the domination of the Seleucid Empire (167-160 BC). The revolt established the dynasty of the Hasmonean family (166-63). Hasmonean rule began with Matthias the Priest (166) and ended with Aristobulus II (63 BC) when the Roman Empire took control of Judah. The dynasty continued under Roman rule with Herod and his family assuming first, the title of Governor, and then the title of King of Judea from them as a sort of symbolic figure. The first Herod (37 BC- 63 AD) was the son of an Idumean convert to Judaism. This is the backdrop of historical events recorded in Scripture concerning the rightful King of Israel (Matt. 2:1-3; John 18:33-37; Acts 12:20-24).

[10] The Hebrew word Sunagogue means congregation or assembly. The Greek word Ecclesia means exactly the same thing. From this it is clear that the idea of an assembly of believers, who gather locally to worship God in the New Testament, is derived from the Jewish Synagogue. This furthers the contention that the period of time following the captivity for Jews was but a transition toward the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-33). There is no discernable command from God in the Old Testament to Judah to establish the local Synagogue. It grew out of their practical need, in the absence of the the temple. The New Testament is different. The local church gathering is most certainly taught as a feature of the New Covenant. So it being patterned after the Synagogue with Scriptural warrant, gives it full endorsement as to its previous form under the Old Covenant. It also shows a certain continuity from Old to New Covenant, one consistent with the Scriptural notion of a single covenant relationship between God and His people, albeit in two stages of development.

[11] See Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation*

*Gregory K. Beale, Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, 501 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187, delivered this presidential address at the 56th annuual meeting of the ETS on November 18, 2004 in San Antonio, TX. The original title of the presidential address was “The Use of Old Testament Prophecy in the New: Literal Fulfillment, Analogy, or Allegory?” (JETS 48/1 (March 2005) 5–31). This is an outstanding in-depth presentation of the concept of Paradise, as it is shown throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

[12] Ibid. See section III. Israel’s Tabernacle in the Wilderness and Latter Temple was a Re-establishment of the Garden of Eden’s Sanctuary (p 11ff).

 

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