Keith: Also, in my previous statement, I meant to say Bilateral Ecclesiology and NOT Bilateral Eschatology.
ProclaimLiberty: But I think that, philosophically, we could really have some fun with a notion like: “Bilateral Eschatology”! As Linus once exclaimed in Charles Shultz’s cartoon opus “Peanuts”: “Why, the theological implications alone are staggering!” [:)]
ProclaimLiberty: Hmmm…. Your Wikipedia reference under the “Christian” link seems to open the notion up to “Multilateral Eschatology”; which really drives the theological impact up a notch or two (or seven). I do think I prefer the Jewish link.
James: Actually PL, so do I.
-from the comments on The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews.
And the inspiration for another blog post was born.
I never really fully realized that one of the major differences between traditional Christian thought and Messianic Judaism is how they consider eschatology or that branch of theology that addresses what we call “the end times” or the final events in human history.
Since Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that accepts the revelation of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, it makes a sort of sense to assume that much of Christian theology would be absorbed by that Judaism including the eschatological presuppositions involved, but what if that’s not true?
I’m going to use Wikipedia for my main sources which isn’t the best, but it has the advantage of not having to wade through someone’s religious bias.
Christian Eschatology and Jewish Eschatology seem light years apart, and the Christian version, at least as Wikipedia presents it, seems hopelessly confusing with far too many variations to be easily understood.
I decided to address three specific themes:
Christianity acknowledges that the doctrine of the resurrection predates the Church:
The word resurrection comes from the Latin “resurrectus”, which is the past participle of “resurgere”, meaning to rise again. Although the doctrine of the resurrection comes to the forefront in the New Testament, it predates the Christian era. There is an apparent reference to the resurrection in the book of Job, where Job says, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though… worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I will see God.” [Job 19:25-27] Again, the prophet Daniel writes, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Dan 12:2] Isaiah says: “Your dead will live. Together with my dead body, they will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust, for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth will cast out the dead”. [Isa. 26:19]
This belief was still common among the Jews in New Testament times, as exemplified by the passage which relates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, that Lazarus would rise again, she replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” [Jn 11:24] Also, one of the two main branches of the Jewish religious establishment, the Pharisees, believed in and taught the future resurrection of the body. [cf Acts 23:1-8]
In Judaism, although there is extensive information about the resurrection in eschatological thought, it doesn’t seem to be a major theme and references to the resurrection are less centralized. While some authorities in Orthodox Judaism believe that the resurrection will accompany the Messianic Age, Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam, didn’t directly associate the Messiah’s coming with the resurrection.
The Hebrew Bible, at least as seen through interpretation such as Bavli Sanhedrin, contains frequent reference to resurrection of the dead (Jacob Neusner The Documentary History of Judaism and Its Recent Interpreters 2012 – Page 138, also see Exodus 15.1; Joshua 8.30; 1 Kings 11.7; Psalm 84.5; Isaiah 52.8; Deuteronomy 33.6; Daniel 12.2; 12.13 and Proverbs 30.16). The phrase ‘olam ha-ba, (עולם הבא) “world to come”, does not occur in the Hebrew Bible.
Later, the Mishnah (c. 200) lists the belief in the resurrection as one of the three necessary beliefs for a Jew.
Christianity has developed are far more involved doctrine around the resurrection than apparently Judaism has, based on the Apostolic scriptures, including two resurrections, the resurrection of the saints and the general resurrection, specifics about the nature of the resurrection body, and specifics associating the resurrection with the second coming of Christ.
See The Resurrection of the Ekklesia for more on this topic.
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
According to the Wikipedia article, many but not all Christians believe:
- The coming of Christ will be instantaneous and worldwide. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” ~ Matthew 24:27
- The coming of Christ will be visible to all. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” ~ Matthew 24:30
- The coming of Christ will be audible. “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” ~ Matthew 24:31
- The resurrection of the righteous will occur. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16
- In one single event, the saved who are alive at Christ’s coming will be caught up together with the resurrected to meet the Lord in the air. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Notice that none of the prophesies about the coming of Messiah from the Tanakh (Old Testament) are listed here.
Judaism does have a rather extensive list of requirements for the Messiah’s coming, based on the Tanakh, that Christianity largely ignores:
- The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
- Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4)
- The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
- He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8–10)
- The messiah will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
- Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
- Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
- He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
- All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12, Zechariah 10:6)
- Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
- There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
- The dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
- The house of David shall be as God (Zechariah 12:8)
- God will seek to destroy all the nations that go against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:9, Isaiah 60:12)
- Israel and Judah will be made into one nation again (Zechariah 11:12-14, Ezekiel 37:16-22)
- The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
- He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 53:7)
- Nations will recognize the wrongs they did Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
- The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
- The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
- Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
- The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot
- He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
- He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)
I think Christianity acknowledges some of this such as the resurrection, the end of war, and that the whole world will worship God, but where many Christians get hung up is that they (we) expect to be raptured up to Heaven with Jesus and stay there forever. Others expect to be raptured for a certain period of time until the tribulation ends, and then to accompany Jesus back to Earth so the Church can rule and reign with him.
Jewish eschatology doesn’t talk about Heaven at all and expects a very human Messiah to be King and to rule over Israel and the rest of the world. By comparison, Christian eschatology is more focused on Heaven, and Earth seems to be reserved for those unbelievers who will suffer through the tribulation and later be judged and sent to hell.
While Judaism in general addresses the war of God and Magog, at the end of it all, when Israel’s enemies are all defeated, the final victory is here, not in Heaven:
Although Judaism concentrates on the importance of the Earthly world (Olam Ha’zeh — “this world”), all of classical Judaism posits an afterlife. The hereafter is known as ‘olam ha-ba (the “world to come”, עולם הבא in Hebrew), and related to concepts of Gan Eden (the Heavenly “Garden of Eden”, or paradise) and Gehinom. According to religious Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to the Seven Laws of Noah is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.
If you are at all familiar with how Messianic Judaism in general presents its eschatology, although it has elements of the Christian viewpoint, it primarily resembles a more Jewish perspective.
Jewish People in Eschatology
Christian views of the future of the Jewish people can be quite different depending on which eschatological model you are using. As far the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8) are concerned, there are three major perspectives:
- Futurist belief: Various interpretations of a literal number of 144,000, including: 144,000 Evangelical Jews at the end of the world, or 144,000 Christians at the end of the world.
- Preterist belief: A symbolic number signifying the saved, representing completeness, perfection (The number of Israel; 12, squared, and multiplied by 1000 = 144,000). This symbolises God’s Holy Army, redeemed, purified and complete.
- Historicist belief: A symbolic number representing the saved who are able to stand through the events of 6:17.
Now lets look at the actual scripture:
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
–Revelation 7:4-8 (NASB)
Although the literal text speaks of the “sons of Israel” and specifically names each of the twelve tribes, most of the prevailing Christian interpretations see this as symbolic and not literal and the one belief that takes the number literally, describes them as either “Evangelical Jews” (which probably means people who are Jewish by heritage and who converted to Christianity) or “Christians” (which most likely means Gentile Christians). In all cases, the Jewishness of these “tribes” is either minimized or eliminated altogether.
Christian hermeneutics regarding the ultimate future of the Jews vary depending on the specific emphasis:
Supersessionist: Under the Covenant of Works mankind, represented ultimately in a covenantal sense under Adam beginning from the Garden of Eden, failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. But beyond time the Covenant of Redemption was made between the Father and Son, to agree that Christ would live an acceptable substitutionary life on behalf of, and as a covenantal representative for, those who would sin but would trust in Christ as their substitutionary atonement, which bought them into the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace applies to all who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of ethnicity, and thus the Covenant covers Jews and Gentiles alike with regard to salvation, sanctification, and resurrection. The Covenant of Grace forms the basis of the later covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant in Christ.
Kingdom-Dominion: In the New Testament, God’s rule is exercised through Jesus Christ the King, who is also the temple of God (John 2:19-21), over his people the Church (of which Israel was a type). Salvation for all people in all times is found by trusting (explicitly or implicitly) in Jesus. Thus, Abraham, Moses, David, and all Christians today are saved by the same faith. The Jews are regarded as special in God’s plan (as in Romans and Ephesians) and yet the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Church rather than in a literal restoration of Israel.
Dispensational: History is divided into (typically seven) “dispensations” where God tests man’s obedience differently. The present Church dispensation concerns Christians (mainly Gentiles) and is a parenthesis to God’s main plan of dealing with and blessing his chosen people the Jews. Because of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, Jewish sovereignty over the promised earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and Palestine was postponed from the time of Christ’s first coming until prior to or just after his Second Coming when most or all Jews will embrace him.
There will be a rapture of the Gentile church followed by a great tribulation of seven (or three-and-a-half) years’ duration during which Antichrist will arise and Armageddon will occur. Then Jesus will return visibly to earth and re-establish the nation of Israel; the Jewish temple will be rebuilt at Jerusalem and the Temple mount, possibly in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock (see Christian Zionism). Christ and the people of Israel will reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years, followed by last judgment and a new heavens and new earth.
One last note from the Christian point of view relative to the future of the Jewish people:
Historicism v. Futurism: The division between these interpretations can be somewhat blurred. Most futurists are expecting a Rapture of the Church, an Antichrist, a Great Tribulation and a Second coming of Christ in the near future. But they also accept certain past events, such as the rebirth of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem as prerequisites to them, in a manner which the earlier historicists have done with other dates. Futurists, who do not normally use the day-year principle, interpret the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24 as years, just as historicists do. Most historicists have chosen time lines, from beginning to end, entirely in the past. But some, such as Adam Clarke have time lines which also commenced with specific past events, but require a future fulfillment. In his commentary on Daniel 8:14 published in 1831, he stated that the 2,300-year period should be calculated from 334 BC, the year Alexander the Great began his conquest of the Persian Empire. His calculation resulted in the year 1966. He seems to have overlooked the fact that there is no “year zero” between BC and AD dates. For example, the year following 1 BC is 1 AD. Thus his calculations should have required an additional year, ending in 1967. He was not anticipating a literal regathering of the Jewish people prior to the Second coming of Christ. But the date is of special significance to futurists since it is the year of Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War. His commentary on Daniel 7:25 contains a 1260-year period commencing in 755 AD and ending in 2015.
Even under the best of circumstances, the Jews are considered “special” in the end of days, but always taking a back seat to the (Gentile) Church. The worst case scenario from a Jewish point of view is that they cease to exist, either because they have totally been assimilated into the Church or because they have all been killed.
Not a very rosy picture.
By contrast, Jewish Eschatology is all about Israel and the Jewish people (see the list above of all the things Messiah is supposed to do). Rather than the Jews going to the Church and converting to Christianity to be able to enjoy the New Covenant promises of God (which were made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel – see Jeremiah 31:31), the Gentiles must attach themselves to the Jewish people:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
As far as the quote from Zechariah is concerned, although Judaism probably believes that any group of people from the nations (the number “ten” is considered symbolic rather than literal) will approach any Jew with this request, I’ve heard one interpretation that says the Jew in question specifically is Messiah. This folds into a Messianic Jewish viewpoint rather well placing Israel at the center of Gentile redemption rather than reverse-engineering the Bible and making the Jews come to the Gentiles to be redeemed by the God of Israel.
I don’t know that there’s a single Messianic Jewish eschatology. Certainly there are variations both in Christianity and the other Judaisms, so there’s no reason to believe that Messianic Judaism should have a single, overarching eschatology that is taught and believed.
I’m not writing this to tell you all the answers but perhaps to give you a starting place to begin re-conceptualizing what the future might look like when it’s not dominated by traditional Christian doctrine. It will also look different than the traditional Jewish points of view, since all other Judaisms do not anticipate a Divine Messiah who supernaturally comes (returns) to Earth having already been resurrected as the “first fruits of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20) some two-thousand years ago.
I’ve said in the past that I don’t think anyone has a terrifically clear picture of what’s actually going to happen. Whatever we have recorded in the Bible has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries and no doubt we’ve distorted what was previously understood by original audiences. These days, it is common to take our theology and read it back into the Bible rather than the other way around, for to take a fresh look at the Bible and use some honest exegesis might result if turning our beliefs on their collective head and forcing us to revise if not totally rewrite what the future is going to bring.
And if that future sees Israel and the Jewish people ascending to the heights as the head of all nations, and the Gentiles must go to them to be close to God, then the Church might not be in such a hurry to face that reality. Of course, should the King of Israel, that head of the nations, turn out to be Divine and resurrected rather than someone who will be born in the generation of the final war and the final victory, then that would give most Jews a rather poignant pause.
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
Oh, just one more thing:
In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. (emph. mine)
The “house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them.” Really? I know I’m going to be accused by some of misinterpreting or misusing the text, but it certainly seems like a Divine Messiah from the house of David isn’t entirely out of the question.