Blood Moon and the Day of the Lord

Tonight (15 April 2014) was a ‘blood moon’. That is, there was a total eclipse of the moon (I dare you not to think of Bonnie Tyler!) that turned the moon a reddish colour for a short time. Unfortunately, here in Sydney it was overcast and raining, so I didn’t get to see it. However, I’ve seen images that others were able to take, and it’s quite a phenomenon to behold.

The lunar eclipse creates a red moon above Melbourne. Photo: Jason South. Published: The Age.

In Joel 2.31, we read these words:

The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the great and awe-inspiring Day of Yahweh comes.

There has been a lot of talk about how the particular blood moon of today might be a fulfilment of this prophecy, especially since there seem to be more such celestial phenomena to come in the near future. Some see in this blood moon a sign of the imminent return of Jesus.

I beg to differ.

But not because I want to be a heretic, party-pooper, or a lover of novelty. I’m just taking my lead from the Apostle Peter.

In Acts 2, we read that the Apostle Peter preached to crowds of Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God had just rushed upon Peter and the other Apostles, enabling them to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus in all the languages of the various pilgrims in Jerusalem at the time. This was such a groundbreaking event that Peter interpreted it as the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. And he quoted directly the very passage that contains the ‘moon to blood’ quote. There was no astronomical phenomenon happening at the time. It was, rather, a bunch of people speaking in languages they didn’t natively know, proclaiming ‘the magnificent acts of God’ (Acts 2.11). Yet Peter saw the entire passage from Joel as appropriate for describing this linguistic phenomenon. He didn’t just quote the part from Joel that referred to various people prophesying, dreaming, and seeing visions—he chose to quote the whole passage, which included reference to signs of blood, fire, and smoke, the sun growing dark, and the moon turning to blood.

In other words, Peter did not see Joel’s image of celestial catastrophe as a sign in need of literal fulfilment. Rather, he interpreted Joel’s prophecy as fulfilled in a figurative manner by the apostles speaking in other languages on the Day of Pentecost. The motif of cataclysmic events is frequently seen in proto-apocalyptic and apocalyptic texts. It is not meant to be taken in a literal fashion. It is, rather, a vivid way of portraying something that is going to ‘rock the world’, so to speak.

We do this kind of thing today without batting an eyelid. When we talk about something being ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘earth-shattering’, we don’t actually mean that the earth under our feet has split open. We simply use it to refer to something new, exciting, and highly significant. The image of a blood moon in biblical literature is very similar to this.

What this means is that Peter viewed the events of his day, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus, as the most groundbreaking event of history. It was the Day of the Lord—the time in which God would act in such a significant way that nothing would ever be the same again.

Now, while I believe that Jesus will one day return, I don’t think we need to be looking for eclipses, blood moons, and celestial catastrophes before he can return. Many will point to other supposed signs that are meant to happen before Jesus returns (e.g. the re-emergence of modern Israel, or the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple), but I don’t think a rigorous and prophetically responsible reading of either the Old or New Testament supports any of these. There is only one substantive sign that the Bible gives as a prerequisite for the return of Jesus, and that is the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. And that occurred in AD 70.

In biblical thought, the Last Day is characterised by the resurrection from the dead. This day began when Jesus was raised from the dead. He was the first one to experience Judgement Day, when God declared the verdict of ‘righteous’ on his life. The rest of us will experience judgement at a later stage. But there is nothing more than need happen before this occurs, for it the day has already begun. And the return of Jesus as the judge of all humanity, which will wrap up Judgement Day, will occur at any time.

So what should we make of this blood moon today? Let it remind you of Peter’s speech in Acts 2. Let it remind you that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the most groundbreaking (or should that be ‘tomb-breaking’) event in all of history. But also marvel at the natural phenomena the Creator has put in place. Let the words of Psalm 8 resound:

Yahweh, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth,
how you put your majesty over the heavens!
From the mouths of infants
you have established strength,
so that your rivals stop,
the enemy be avenged.
When I observe your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars,
which you have set in place,
what is humanity that you remember them,
the son of man that you look after him?
You made him less than gods,
yet crowned him with glory and splendour.
You have him rule the works of your hands,
everything have you put under his feet;
sheep and oxen all
even the animals in the wild;
the birds of heaven,
and the fish of the sea,
that which swims the paths of the seas.
Yahweh, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!


The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9

Recently I’ve been discussing with a few folk the various ways of ‘solving’ the puzzle of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9. While this conundrum is sometimes called the ‘dismal swamp’ of Old Testament studies, others confidently assert that the Seventy Weeks are a direct prediction of Jesus. The former throw their hands up and say no solution exists for calculating the Seventy Weeks. The latter, who propose the Seventy Weeks are a prediction about Jesus, have to contort chronology and make the text of Daniel 9 refer to things that the text simply does not talk about—the angelic response to Daniel’s prayer comes to bear no relation at all to Daniel’s original concern about the end of exile in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophecy.

Now, as a Christian, I believe the whole Bible gravitates around Jesus. So when I read the Old Testament, one of the questions I ask is how it relates to Jesus. However, I do not think that Daniel 9 relates to Jesus as a direct prediction. Daniel 9 is, rather,  an interpretation of events in the second century BC that then form a precedent or typology by which we can understand the significance of Jesus.

I’ve written an article explaining my view that Daniel 9 is primarily about the Antiochene Persecution of 167–164 BC, and it can be found at the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (click HERE). In the article I re-examine the assumptions that usually frame discussion of this text. However, I’ll try to summarise them here (the article contains the fuller discussion).

Those who propose that Daniel 9 is a prediction of Jesus usually do so on the basis of seeing Dan 9.25 as a reference to Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem in 445 BC. From this, it is calculated that the text claims that there is a single period of 7 + 62 weeks of years (69 x 7 = 483), that then take us to AD 39. Unfortunately, this gets us nowhere. No one ‘messianically significant’ died in AD 39. The death of Jesus occurred in AD 33 (we can confirm that Antipas’ marriage to Herodias, which John the Baptist denounced, occurred in AD 31, and Pilate’s governorship was terminated in AD 36). In order to make Dan 9 a prediction about Jesus, we must claim that the 7 weeks and 62 weeks must actually be just a single period of 69 weeks (but that raises the question of why divide it into 7-week and 62-week periods to begin with), as well as claim that the figures are inexact anyway, because Jesus actually dies at the end of the 68th week. This simply does not match the text of Dan 9. Furthermore, this move makes no sense of all the other references to abominations and desecrations in the middle of the last (70th) week of Daniel. It seems to me that this kind of approach is deliberately aiming to align the 70 weeks with Jesus’ death, and in the end it still falls short, making the text erroneous at worst, or inexact at best. Methodologically, it all seems rather backwards and ends up with a rather tenuous view of Scripture.

The decree to rebuild Jerusalem did not come from Artaxerxes in 445 BC. It came from Cyrus in 538 BC, and was ratified again by Darius I in c. 520 BC. Artaxerxes sanctioned the repair of Jerusalem’s walls.

Furthermore, the text of Dan 9 does NOT refer to the building of walls. It refers to the building of street and conduit, which seems to imply residential areas. The attempt to locate the beginning of the 70 weeks in Nehemiah’s day must equate ‘street and conduit’ with city walls, but there is nothing in the text that requires this. In fact, the text just simply does not say that. Artaxerxes did not issue a decree to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not build streets and conduits—he repaired city walls. Therefore what Nehemiah does is quite simply not what the text of Dan 9 is looking at. To return and rebuild street and conduit is a way of talking about ‘resettling’ an urban area. In any case, even if for argument’s sake we allow the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to be something issued by Artaxerxes in 445 BC and carried out by Nehemiah, we are still at odds with the text. If the first 7-week period is connected to the rebuilding, then Jerusalem is rebuilt at the end of the 7-week period in 396 BC (49 years after 445 BC). But Nehemiah is said to have repaired the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days in 444 BC. If this is not what the text is claiming, then the 7-week period becomes meaningless as a distinction within the larger 69-week period to which it contributes. It just doesn’t make sense and it is simply not dealing with what’s in the text of Dan 9.

Also, few people stop to examine the Hebrew syntax of the relevant verses in Dan 9, but rather most carry unstated assumptions into their analysis. However, the following points need to be underlined:

  1. The clauses delineating the timeframes of each period of weeks need to be discussed. The phrase “from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem” need not mark the beginning of the 7-week period, but rather could (and probably does) serve as the signal for Daniel to reassess the whole concept of exile along the lines laid out in the following clauses: “Know and understand from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem: Until an anointed appears there will be 7 weeks…”. In other words, the decree to return is just a trigger for understanding, not the beginning of the calculations.
  2. The text does not talk about THE Messiah (definite and with eschatological significance) but AN anointed one at the end of the 7-week period (9.25) and AN anointed one at the end of the 62-week period (9.26). If there is only one anointed one here, then we have to propose that the end of the 7-week period and the end of the 62-week period are within a lifetime of each other. This automatically destroys any long-range understanding of the 62 weeks. The only way to get around this is to ‘glue’ the 7 weeks and 62 weeks together, such that an anointed one is seen only at the end of a 69-week period. However, this raises the issue of why a distinction is made between 7 weeks and 62 weeks in the first place. What purpose does this division serve? Why not 8 weeks and 61 weeks? Or even 26 weeks and 43 weeks? The gluing together of these two periods into a single consecutive 69-week period (something that some English versions follow) is meaningless within the text and goes completely unexplained by those who favour this interpretation. The only sensible solution is to see the end of the 7 weeks and the end of the 62 weeks as distinct periods, with something significant happening with anointed ones at the end of each respective period. If there is only one anointed one in view, then these periods have to be overlapping. If the end of these two periods doesn’t have to coincide, then we can start to entertain the possibility of two anointed ones being discussed here, as well as keep entertaining the possibility of overlapping periods.
  3. The verb תשוב in 9.25 is usually taken as a third-feminine-singular with adverbial force (‘it will again’). However, it could be (and more likely is) a second-masculine-singular (‘you will return’) addressing Daniel. This sees the return to Jerusalem in the 6th (not the 5th) century BC as integral to the 70 weeks. After all, the revelation is made to Daniel who, in the narrative of the book, receives this revelation just after the fall of Babylon (see 9.1). Daniel thereby becomes indicative of all faithful Jews (as he is throughout the book) who would return to Jerusalem. And this is in keeping with the rest of ch. 9 in which Daniel prays on behalf of the Jews. What happens to Daniel is indicative of what happens to the Jews.

The two-anointed-ones solution seems more sensible, and a period of overlap between the 7 weeks and 62 weeks seems warranted (see MY ARTICLE for further explanation). The result is that we can calculate precisely what Daniel was talking about, and stop dealing with round-about approximations and gymnastic contortion of the text.

O// Head of Antiochus IV. R// ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ Ν...

O// Head of Antiochus IV. R// ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ Zeus Nikephoros enthroned, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first anointed one is the first leader of the post-exilic community (either Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, or Joshua) and comes as the end of the 7-week period. This makes the 7-week period (7 x 7 = 49) the 49 years between 587 and 538 BC—that is, from the destruction of the temple to Cyrus’ decree for return. The second anointed one is a reference to Onias III, the last legitimate Zadokite high priest. He was deprived of the legitimate High Priesthood in Jerusalem when his brother, Jason, bribed Antiochus IV Epiphanes to gain the position. Onias III was subsequently killed by the Seleucids in c.171 BC, forever changing the nature and succession of the priesthood within Judaism. This makes the 62 weeks (62 x 7 = 434) run from 605 BC (the year that the book of Daniel begins the exile of Daniel and his three friends in Dan 1.1) to c. 171 BC (the year of Onias III’s death) And then the last (70th) week is the 7 years from 171 to 164 BC, the second half of which (times, time, and half a time) was characterised by Antiochus IV’s persecution of Jews. The 7 weeks and the 62 weeks are overlapping, but they fit the concerns of the book of Daniel. Everything adds up precisely.

The following diagram helps to illustrate this schema:

Diagram of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9

All other so-called solutions can only come up with ball-park approximations that do not match historical events with any precision, and even then they are reliant on things that the text of Daniel simply does not say. As a Christian, I understand the compulsion to make this chapter say something about Jesus, since Jesus lies at the heart of Scripture. However, Daniel 9 simply does not work as a direct prediction about Jesus. Rather, this passage is saying that exile needs to be redefined. Exile is not just about absence from the land for 70 years. Rather, exile is about being under foreign rule. Jeremiah’s 70 years are reinterpreted and recontextualised as weeks of years. Even if you have returned to the land (note the importance of תשוב in 9.25) and have rebuilt Jerusalem (again, note 9.25), you can still be practically in exile if a foreigner rules over you, especially if that foreigner is killing anointed ones who are the legitimate leaders of your community. A particular Christian message can then be extrapolated from this and applied to Jesus by Christians (eg. Jesus is the anointed one par excellence who is unjustly put to death in supreme atrocity), but the text itself is not a direct prediction about Jesus. If it is, the text seems rather erroneous. It should, rather, be taken as a foreshadowing or precedent in line with classic typology, just as the New Testament seems to do with Old Testament prophecies.

The text of Dan 9.25–27, therefore, reads as follows [with my comments in brackets]:

25 Know and understand from the issuing of the word to return and rebuild Jerusalem [in 538 BC]: Until an anointed leader there will be 7 weeks [the 49 years from the temple’s destruction in 587 BC to 538 BC]. In 62 weeks [from the beginning of Daniel’s exile in 605 BC to 171 BC] you will have returned with street and conduit rebuilt, but with the anguish of the times. 26 And after the 62 weeks [in 171 BC], an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing [an allusion to the assassination of Onias III, as well as the fact that his legitimate priesthood was taken from him and his son did not succeed him]. The people of the coming prince [that is, the Seleucids] will ruin the city and the sanctuary. His/Its end will come like a flood, but until the end there will be war [note the Maccabean War]. Atrocities have been determined. 27 He/It will exacerbate covenant for many for one week, and in the middle of the week he will stop sacrifice and offering, and on the outskirts will be atrocious abominations [all this referring to Antiochus IV’s repression of Torah and desecration of the temple in 167 BC], only until the completion and the determination gushes over the Atrocious One.

What the text is doing is reinterpreting the idea of exile which is tied to the number 70 through Jeremiah’s prophecy. But because the notion of exile is being redefined, so too the significance of 70 is redefined. This is an example of recontextualising an older prophetic message for a new situation — something that was occurring throughout the Second Temple Period, including in the New Testament.

A Rapturous Event: Jesus will take us all… by surprise

I’ve written a blog post for ThinkTank about the recent non-rapture of May 21st. Just click HERE to read it.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 3)

In the previous instalments of this short series, we critiqued two views pertaining to the restoration of Israel. We first saw that the restoration has nothing to do with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. We then saw, through Paul’s theology, that the Church does not replace Israel. Rather, ‘Israel’ continues into the Church. I now want to draw the threads together and argue for a third option, namely that Israel is restored through the apostolic testimony about Jesus, as attested in the book of Acts. This option is, I believe, more in line with the Bible as a whole.

Let’s return, then, to the question that the Apostles posed to the risen Jesus (Acts 1.6). When does he restore the kingdom to Israel? We observed how Jesus doesn’t repudiate the notion of Israel’s kingdom being restored. He simply tells his apostles, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” (Acts 1.7) This sets up the expectation that Jesus will indeed restore the kingdom of Israel, albeit according to the timing determined by the Father. Yet Jesus does not leave the issue there. He goes on to say, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8) This is not some random prediction unrelated to the Apostles’ question. Rather, Jesus is clearly linking the restoration of Israel to the apostolic witness of him in the three classic loci of the nation of Israel: Jerusalem (the royal capital), Judea (that is, the southern kingdom of Judah), and Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel).

As we read on through the first eight chapters of Acts, that is precisely what we see happen. Starting with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2), we see the Apostles testifying about Jesus in Jerusalem and, after being scattered by persecution (Acts 8.1), throughout Judea and Samaria as well. As this occurs, people from the disparate parts of Israel hear their testimony and come to acknowledge Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. In other words, in the first eight chapters of Acts, we witness the reunification of Israel under its Davidic king. What the prophets of old had looked forward to now becomes reality as Jews and Samaritans both put their faith in Jesus as ruler, saviour, and Messiah, for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 5.31, 42). Here, then, is the beginning of Israel’s restoration. What’s more, this occurs with a fullness never before experienced, as those who would otherwise have been excluded from the inner ranks of Israel, such as the lame (Acts 3) and the eunuch (Acts 8), are enabled to become full citizens of restored Israel (cf. Isa 56). Only once the restoration of Israel under its rightful king, Jesus, is truly underway do we then observe the gospel going out to the Gentiles. In fact, the rest of the story of Acts (chs. 9–28) is the story about how the king of Israel, Jesus, becomes the king of the world, as the gospel eventually reaches the imperial capital, Rome.

The leaders of Israel at this time were the Jewish Sanhedrin. Luke describes them as ‘the full senate of the sons of Israel’ (Acts 5.21). They, however, fail to recognise Jesus, the one they had executed, as ruler, saviour, and Messiah (Acts 5.29–32). By this rejection of the apostolic testimony they are seen to be illegitimate rulers. Ironically, one of their number, Gamaliel, convinces the Sanhedrin to release the Apostles after their arrest, arguing that if their message was merely ‘the work of men’, it would die out, as many other movements within Israel had (Acts 5.38). The tragic irony here is that it was not the apostolic movement that died out, but the Sanhedrin itself. In rejecting Jesus, the Sanhedrin revealed itself as ‘the work of men’. When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, it went the way of the other failed movements within Israel.

The implication of this is that the portions of Israel that failed to recognise Jesus’ kingship forfeited their status as ‘Israel’. Indeed, this idea seems to be behind Paul’s important statement in Romans 9.6 that ‘not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’. Paul views only those in Israel who have believed (or will believe) in Jesus as members of the true Israel. As such, when Paul states in Romans 11.26 that ‘all Israel will be saved’, he is not talking about everyone descended from Abraham. Rather, he is implying that only those ethnic Jews who believe in Jesus (following the example of Gentiles who do the same) are true Israel.

There are a number of implications that arise from our considerations.

Firstly, true Israel is no longer defined by geography or politics. If we take Paul’s view, true Israel is defined as those of Jewish ethnicity who believe in Jesus as Messiah. That being the case, we must conclude that the modern state of Israel has no particularly special place in the grand scheme of things. It should not be privileged above any other state entity. It should, rather, be treated as any other modern nation state.

Secondly, we should not be expecting a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity marking the last days of history as we know it. Paul was not envisioning such a thing in Romans 11.26. Rather, Paul was pointing out that because many Jews rejected the apostolic testimony about Jesus, the gospel was able to go to the Gentiles. And as Gentiles believed in Israel’s Messiah, Paul hoped that these Gentiles would then take the gospel back to the Jews. In other words, Paul was not predicting a sudden eschatological conversion of Jews against all previous expectations, but was rather advocating some good old evangelism. The entire gospel message is, after all, native to Israel—it is for the Jews first, and then also for the Greek (Rom 1.16).

Let’s now summarise. In the revelation of Christ and the granting of the Spirit, we see the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament fulfilled: the Messiah had come and God had poured out his Spirit, resulting in the restoration and, indeed, the transformation of his people, Israel. Yet, so monumental is this salvation that it affects all of humanity. Salvation occurs within Israel, but not just for Israel. The gospel breaks out beyond the confines of Israel and spills out to the nations. As the apostolic testimony of Jesus goes forth, the Church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, is built. The Church is not Israel renovated with an extra room out the back for Gentiles, for Gentiles are not called to become a part of Israel. Nor does the Church do away with Israel, for Jesus is the King of Israel, and the gospel is for the Jew first. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles together form one body, the Church, and together have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit (Eph 2.18). The Church is a truly international entity.

The scene that John depicts in Revelation 7 is perhaps a fitting way to wrap things up. In that scene John sees the multitude of the saved gathered around the divine throne. There are people there from every people group and language—so many that they cannot be counted. But at the forefront of this multitude John sees 144,000 people from Israel. This is a symbolic number, indicating both numerical size as well as the fullness of Israel (there are twelve tribes in Israel, and multiples of twelve abound in the symbolic number). In other words, we see what Paul describes as ‘all Israel’ (Rom 11.26). Here, then, is a magnificent picture of the Church: the fullness of restored Israel standing alongside a multitude of Gentiles before the throne of the Lamb who was slain for them all.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 2)

A second widely held view about the restoration of Israel is what might be termed the ‘Replacement’ perspective. This view states that the Church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God and has taken over all the prerogatives that Israel once enjoyed as the people of God. In other words, the Church is the ‘New Israel’.

There are some significant implications that stem from this view. For example, the actual ‘Promised Land’ (what is today the State of Israel and the territories of the Palestinian Authority) is no longer of any theological consequence in the scheme of God’s plans. Rather, biblical statements about the physical land are spiritualised either to refer to any place where God’s people meet, or to heaven, or to a recreated earth after the Day of Judgement. Also, if the Church is the ‘New Israel’, then spiritually all Christians are ‘New Jews’. However, this is where I believe the view comes unstuck. Let me explain.


The Gentile churches in Galatia that Paul had founded during his journeys faced a significant problem after Paul left them. Apparently, Jewish believers came to them and demanded that they be circumcised (Gal 6.12). The point of this was to turn these Gentile Christians into Jews and, thereby, make them part of the covenant people of God, who alone had access to the special salvific blessings God had bestowed. After all, Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. This ‘Judaising’ view initially seems quite in line with the classic promises of God in the Old Testament, which were made specifically to Israel. However, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul was at pains to demonstrate to these Gentile Christians that they had already received God’s Spirit as Gentiles and, as such, were already party to the fullness of salvation without the need for becoming citizens of Israel (Gal 3.1–5). Now, the Judaisers, who were demanding a change of ethnicity in these Gentiles through circumcision, were not claiming that the Church had replaced Israel. They were, in fact, implying that Israel was the Church. However, in critiquing this ‘Judaising’ view, Paul also effectively critiques the Replacement view, for he denies that there is any ethnic (racial or spiritual) dimension to salvation. On the contrary, anyone who believes in Jesus, whether they are Jewish or Greek, male or female, slave or free, are saved children of God (Gal 3.28).

Artistic Reconstruction of the Roman Forum

Paul effectively faced the opposite problem with the Gentile Christians in Rome. Most of the Jews in the imperial capital, as throughout most of the Roman Empire at the time, did not acknowledge Jesus as Israel’s long awaited Messiah. In the eyes of Rome’s Gentile Christians this was just another sign of Israel’s continued history of obstinacy towards their God. They believed that God had finally abandoned Israel once and for all and now offered salvation to Gentiles. In other words, they believed Jews were a lost cause, and that to be a Christian was to be non-Jewish. Paul corrected this view by pointing out that the Jesus-centred gospel was actually for the Jew first, and then for the Greek (Rom 1.16). He urged Rome’s Gentiles to become living sacrifices (Rom 12.1) who would give up their legitimate freedom in the gospel (Rom 15.1–2) in order to serve the circumcised, just as Christ himself had done (Rom 15.8). In other words, Paul wanted the Gentile Christians of Rome to live in a way that attracted Jews to the gospel and helped them to recognize Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. In so doing, Paul states that Israel is still very much within God’s grand plans. God had not abandoned Jews (Rom 11.1–2), but rather was using their ‘hardening’ as an opportunity for bringing the gospel to Gentiles who, in turn, could then take the gospel back to the Jews (Rom 11.11–27).

What all these things show us is that God does not see saved Gentiles as a part of Israel, nor does he see the concept of ‘Israel’ replaced by a new concept called ‘Church’. The reality of ‘Israel’ continues into the ‘Church’, and yet Gentiles are not actually part of ‘Israel’. They are Gentiles! There is, in other words, a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the Church, and the distinction is such that the Church cannot really be viewed as a ‘New Israel’. In fact, the term ‘New Israel’ never appears in the New Testament. The earliest cognate we have for the term, as far as we can tell, is from Justin Martyr in the mid-second century AD in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. In this ‘discussion’, Justin, a Gentile Christian from Samaria, tells a Jew named Trypho that, because Jews had rejected Jesus, what had once belonged to Israel was now the preserve of Christians alone. For Justin Martyr, the Church had replaced Israel and become the ‘True Israel’ (Dial. Trypho 123; 135). I have little doubt that the Apostle Paul would have strongly objected to Justin’s view had they been contemporaries, since Justin’s view smacks of the elitism that Paul sought to correct in Rome a century earlier.

So where do we go from here? Hopefully, a way forward is beginning to suggest itself. But we’ll save a discussion of it until the next instalment in this little series.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 1)

A couple of months back I wrote a short series for ThinkTank, the Moore College faculty blog. I’ve decided to post the series here as well. So here is part one of Restoring the Kingdom to Israel.


The concept of ‘Israel’ is loaded with significance. From the pages of the Old Testament, we see Israel as the descendants of the patriarch Jacob. They are a national entity, God’s chosen people, the carriers of his promises, and the recipients of divine revelation who stand in a covenant relationship with God. In the Old Testament, Israel is ‘the people of God’.

For this reason, it should come as no surprise in the New Testament when we find the apostles asking the risen Jesus whether, having conquered the grave, he would now conquer Israel’s enemies and restore Israel’s kingdom (Acts 1.6). For the apostles, faith in Jesus as the Messiah was simply the capstone of Israelite faith. Jesus’ response to them is very interesting. He does not chide the apostles for asking the question about restoration. Indeed, the question was brimming with classic biblical expectation. Instead, Jesus informs them that the timing of such things is not to be disclosed to them. In other words, he does not answer ‘No’, but rather ‘In God’s good timing’.

This, of course, begs the question: Has the kingdom been restored to Israel, and if it has, when did it occur? Over the course of a few blogs, I want to consider briefly two widely held views on this issue, and then argue for a third view.

The first view I want to consider is that which says Israel was restored when the modern-day State of Israel came into existence in 1948. As a result of this ‘restoration’, many eagerly expect the imminent fulfillment of the Bible’s eschatological promises.

However, there are numerous problems with this view. Firstly, it assumes that citizens of the modern State of Israel are coterminous with the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or at least with ancient Jews in a generic sense. Yet, they are vastly different. Consider the following factors:

  1. Ancient Israel/Judah was a monarchy ruled by the Davidic dynasty. Modern Israel is a democratic republic with a president elected by the Knesset (parliament) and a prime minister elected by popular vote.
  2. Ancient Jews saw themselves as being under the terms of a national covenant with Yahweh, their national God. Obedience to the terms of this covenant (the ‘Law’) was critical for Israelite identity. Today, however, Arabs make up approximately 20% of modern Israel’s population. The great majority of them are Muslims, while some are Druze, and others Christian. Furthermore, many Israeli citizens are agnostics or atheists. There is no ancient covenantal framework binding over modern Israeli citizenship. As such, the modern concept of ‘Israel’ and citizenship within it are quite different to the biblical concept.
  3. After the fall of the Davidic dynasty, the biblical prophets looked forward to its restoration. In fact, this was a common hope within mainstream Judaism for many centuries. However, there is no ‘constitutional’ room for a Davidic dynasty in the political structures of modern Israel today. If a Davidic descendant could somehow be found and his ancestry confirmed (which would be virtually impossible), the modern State of Israel would have to be dismantled in order to make way for a new Davidic Kingdom of Israel. As such, today’s State of Israel cannot be the long-hoped for kingdom.

There is a lot more we could say about these factors. They certainly have significant political ramifications for how we should (and should not) treat the State of Israel today. Yet perhaps the most critical factor to consider is the status of Jesus himself. The apostles viewed him as the long awaited ‘King of the Jews’—the promised Davidic descendant. In fact, this is the very reason why they asked him about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ status as Messiah, then, is totally unrelated to the modern political nation-state that today bears the name ‘Israel’. He was not foretelling the inauguration of the State of Israel in 1948. Jesus must have had something else in mind.

In the next blog, I’ll consider the second widely held view relating to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Stay tuned.

The Apocalyptic and the Ethical in 1 Corinthians

At Moore College‘s annual School of Theology, Michael Jensen (lecturer in theology and church history at Moore College) delivered a paper titled The Apocalyptic and the Ethical in 1 Corinthians.

Michael began by showing how Christian hope has been criticised for not putting the focus on the good of the present, but making the present tenuous and contingent on an eschatological future. The words ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘goodness’ do not rest easy in the minds of many, because Christians are often perceived as finding good in the future only. This, therefore, produces a dissonance between hoping for the world to come and living in the present.

However, Michael argued, Paul’s apocalyptic vision in 1 Corinthians is not drawing a dichotomy between a seemingly useless present world and a glorious future world, but rather presents a critique of the present when it is absolutised. Paul aims to frame the present by the cross of Christ. The effect of this is to produce a Christ-centred ethic that impels current action.

Michael briefly explored two commentators vigorously opposed to the essential contours of Christian eschatology. Firstly, Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) argued that Christianity, with its belief in a hereafter, conferred a religious sanction upon the abasement of a vita activa to a position secondary to a vita contemplativa. The vita activa retained a certain dignity only insofar as it helped one attain a blessed future, and therefore it has no inherent value in Christian thought. The result of this is to downgrade the importance of current political action. While Arendt saw Jesus as an ‘action’ man, Arendt charged the Apostle Paul with denigrating action and producing a vita contemplativa that subordinates and abases active life in the present.

Secondly, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) described Pauline Christianity as driven by ressentiment, seeing Christian eschatology as a form of systematic cruelty against human life. Nietzsche viewed Paul as taking everything good about this life and casting it into an imagined (and therefore false) future of eternal life, thus robbing humanity of current good and subjugating people to a lie.

Michael then turned to the commentator J. Louis Martyn. According to Martin, an apocalyptic motif is central to Paul’s gospel, as Paul’s gospel is a revelation (ἀποκάλυψις) of God’s ‘invasion’ into historical reality. A whole new way of life and thinking emerges from this ‘invasion’. There is an apocalyptic discontinuity in which the present evil age is pitted against the new creation. In Christ, God delivers humanity from slavery to this current age with its existential focus and, ultimately, death. God’s invasion into the current age is a movement from beyond. It’s not about humans moving into a blessed state, but about God breaking into the brokenness of human reality. The cross is where God is currently making things right in an expectation-shattering topsy-turvy way. Paul has a sense of his own calling within an apocalyptic framework. The change in his own life is evidence of the apocalyptic discontinuity that occurs as a result of God’s invasion into human reality. Another consequence of this ‘invasion’ and its surprising reorientation is that classic pairs of opposites reflecting a kind of apocalyptic dualism are changed. Flesh (σάρξ) and spirit (πνεῦμα) are now shown to be opposites, while other opposites, like Jew and Gentle, are undermined. The present evil age and the new creation are brought together as Christ breaks into the world. Michael also critiqued Martyn for not giving the continuity between the current age and the coming world enough weight. The analogy of ‘invasion’ perhaps gives the discontinuity too much purchase.

In believers, the end of the ages has come. Most crucially, they have not reached for this age. Rather, it has reached them. Believers embody both ages, functioning as a nexus between the two. The believer is now the contested field in an apocalyptic ‘war’. However, this is a temporary war, as the invading age will overcome the present age. But this is not about removing believers from the world, but rather transforming them in the present in anticipation of the future.

Michael moved on to consider Paul’s advice to virgins in 1 Cor 7.25–40 as a demonstration of how Christian eschatology informs current ethics. He noted how Paul appeals here to ‘good’ and ‘better’, rather than ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This overturns a classic antimony in which the future is viewed as ‘good’ and the present viewed as ‘bad’, seeing that as a mistaken caricature of Christian eschatology and ethics. Paul’s purpose is not to denigrate current existence and its concerns, such as marriage and family life. Rather, Paul affirms the goodness of such current existence, but does not wish to absolutise it as ultimate reality. Paul wants to remind his readers that there is an eschaton coming and, therefore, ‘better’ acts are also now warranted. Reality has been revealed as something contrary to ‘normal’ human expectation, resulting in a relativising of certain actions and patterns of thinking. Yet, this does not provide impetus for withdrawal from the world, but rather a reorientation of human life. The Corinthians are not to denigrate their bodies as something from which they will be released in the future. Rather, he wishes the Corinthians to reorient their thinking to see that they are temples of the Holy Spirit—people over whom God has made a claim. As such, they need to consider carefully what provides for human flourishing in the current age in anticipation of the age to come. This orientation comes from considering the Christ who represents God’s apocalyptic invasion of the present.