How Was the Announcement of the Fall of Jerusalem the Good News of the Kingdom? #7
In our last installment of this series I shared some thoughts on the “good news of the kingdom” of Matthew 24:14, I shared some thoughts on the significant word family (episunago / episunagogee). These words are used in the Tanakh to speak of the eschatological gathering to the Lord at his coming and in the kingdom. While this study alone could be quite lengthy, I want now to explore another great OT prophecy of the end times gathering. That text is Isaiah 52:
“Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean Shall no longer come to you. 2 Shake yourself from the dust, arise; Sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion! 3 For thus says the Lord: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, And you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at first Into Egypt to dwell there; Then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. 5 Now therefore, what have I here,” says the Lord, “That My people are taken away for nothing? Those who rule over them Make them wail,” says the Lord, “And My name is blasphemed continually every day. 6 Therefore My people shall know My name; Therefore they shall know in that day That I am He who speaks: ‘Behold, it is I.’” 7 How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, With their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye When the Lord brings back Zion. 9 Break forth into joy, sing together, You waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God. 11 Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean, You who bear the vessels of the Lord. 12 For you shall not go out with haste, Nor go by flight; For the Lord will go before you, And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
We need to point out that in verse 12, the literal rendering in the LXX is that “the God of Israel will gather you.” The word episunagogee is used there. (I am not sure why episunagogee is not translated in many translations, unless they are following the Masoretic text, which is possible).
Now, don’t forget that this is the word, episunagogee, used by Jesus– the Messiah- in Matthew 23:37 and Matthew 24:31. Jesus was not using this word lightly, or in isolation from the eschatological expecations and hopes of his audience. They well knew that the OT prophets had spoken of the coming last days gathering, at the coming of the Lord, the judgment and the resurrection– in the eternal kingdom. It is a strange and specious hermeneutic to suggest or believe that Jesus was contemplating a literal, physical, end of time gathering when the OT prophetic source of the “gathering” hope had nothing to do with such an event.
Notice some of the elements of this wonderful text:
1. Verse 1 is a implicit prophecy of the resurrection. Israel is called upon to rise from the dust. This imagery – and it is imagery – of coming out of the dust is a well known Hebraic metaphoric and apocalyptic resurrection motif. It does not refer to a literal rising out of the literal dust, but rather out of a condition of humiliation, defeat, dishonor. See our previous discussion of the shame -v-honor motif in the Scriptures.
2. The text is also a prophecy of the “remarriage” of Israel. Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea. The putting on of her “beautiful garments” is a reference to the Wedding Garments. In both Isaiah (51-54) and Hosea, the Lord affirmed His past marriage to Israel, but that due to their spiritual adultery, He had divorced her (Hosea 2:1-2). Yet, He promised that in the last days, under “David” their king (Hosea 3), He would remarry them, making a New Covenant with them (Hosea 2:18-23).
3. It is likewise a prophecy of the New Jerusalem, the redeemed Zion. The promise is that when the redemption takes place, the un-circumcised and the unclean would not enter. (This makes one wonder if this passage served as part of the justification of the Judaizers, who accepted Christ as the promised Messiah, but, insisted that in order to be “in him” one had to be circumcised! I suggest reading Colossians 2:11-13 in light of this prophecy and in the light of the controversy over circumcision). This vision of the New Zion is nothing less than a vision of the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21:1f.
4. Verse 7 helps us identify, with certainty, the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy: “How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” This is a crux interpretum since Paul in Romans 10:14f cites this passage verbatim to speak of the first century proclamation of the Gospel! Paul applied Isaiah 52 to the then on-going proclamation of the Gospel! This virtually demands, therefore, that we see the promise of the resurrection, the Re-Marriage, the Redemption of Zion – the Gathering – as to be fulfilled in the first century. It is entirely inappropriate to deny Paul’s application.
5. Notice that Isaiah was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom at this time of redemption. The message was to be proclaimed was “Your God reigns!” This means that the “Gospel of the Kingdom”was the message of Israel’s salvation– which, as we have seen, would result in salvation flowing to the nations.
6. The prophecy likewise provides the source for what Jesus said would be done in his generation. He said that the “Gospel of the Kingdom” would be preached into all the world for a witness to the nations” (Matthew 24:14). Likewise, Isaiah said that the message of salvation, and the reigning of the Lord (“Your God reigns!”– the Kingdom) would be proclaimed into all the world: “The Lord has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.” This is nothing but the promise that the Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached into all the world.
Paul is emphatic in his epistles, written in the late AD 50s and AD 60s, that Jesus’ words – and thus, the prophecy of Isaiah – had been – was being -fulfilled. Even in Romans 10 after citing Isaiah 52, he says that the Gospel had been proclaimed into the whole world. In Titus 2:12f, in Colossians 1, etc., Paul undeniably affirmed the fulfillment of the World Mission. See my book, Into All the World, Then Comes the End, for a full discussion of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 24:14. There can literally be no doubt that the World Mission was fulfilled in the first century.
7. Verse 11 also gives confirmation that the prophecy was being fulfilled in the first century. The redeemed of the Lord (which would be the righteous remnant) are called upon to be holy: “Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean!” Just as Paul cited Isaiah 52 as the ground of his Gentile Mission and the preaching of the Gospel to Israel of his day, in 2 Corinthians 6:16f, as he wrote to the church at Corinth, he cites this verse verbatim to remind them that they were the promised Messianic Temple, and that as a result of this, they were to be holy! We therefore have the Apostle citing Isaiah 52 verbatim to speak of what was happening in his day, his time, his ministry. And that can only mean that the time of redemption, the time of salvation, the time of the kingdom had arrived.
8. As noted above, in verse 12, we find the great prophecy of the gathering. Instead of the text saying that the Lord would be their rear guard, in the LXX, it is, “the Lord your God will gather (episunagogee) you.”
Several things are apparent from the above, and make no mistake, we could have expanded the points to be discussed. Isaiah 52 is a marvelous prophecy! But, based on what we have seen, we can draw some conclusions.
A. Since the NT writers apply Isaiah 52 to their day, their times, as being fulfilled, then it is incumbent that we honor and accept their declarations.
B. That means that the salvation of Israel, including the resurrection, Israel’s restoration, was to be fulfilled in the first century.
C. It means that the establishment of the kingdom was in the first century. Isaiah 52 is a devastating refutation and falsification of Dispensationalism! When Paul applied Isaiah 52 to his day and his ministry, saying it was being fulfilled, we must remember that the message that Paul was proclaiming, i.e. Isaiah 52– was “Our God reigns!”
D. Since Isaiah 52 was being fulfilled in the first century, this means, unequivocally, that the Gathering of Israel was underway! God said that in the day of redemption of Zion, the time of her resurrection, the time of her remarriage, was to be the time when He would gather her.
Remember that one of Jesus’ favorite themes and topics was the marriage (remarriage) of Israel (Matthew 22 / Luke 14, as well as the resurrection. In addition, Jesus declared that it was his desire to gather Israel (episunagogee) but, she refused (Matthew 23:37). Even though she – as the nation – refused to be gathered, he nonetheless said that the Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached into all the world, then, he would come on the clouds of heaven and “gather together” (episunagogee) the elect. He would “gather” the redeemed, his New Covenant bride, into his New Synagogue, his New Covenant gathering.
Is it not more then evident that Jesus never offered to gather Israel into one geographical location? While Dispensationalism says that 1948 was the beginning of the end time gathering of Israel, with the restoration of Israel, this completely flies in the face of what Jesus said he wanted and tried to do in the first century. He wanted to gather (episunagogee) Israel. But, he never, ever tried to gather his followers into one geographical location. But, he did try to gather people into a covenant relationship, fellowship, with him– “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28f).
With these things in mind, it is easy to see how and why Jesus could call the message of the impending fall of Jerusalem– at the time of the gathering – as “the Gospel of the kingdom”? As we have noted, the message was indeed horrific on one hand, but, on the other hand, out of that catastrophic end would come the glorious, redeemed Zion, the New Jerusalem!
There is much, much more that could be said about this text, and about the “gathering” – which was the harvest and resurrection – but this is sufficient, I hope, to whet your appetite. When we reflect on Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14 in the light of the OT prophecies of the coming “gathering” (utilizing the distinctive Greek words of sunagogee / episunagogee), it should settle the issue of the time of the resurrection, the time of the coming of the Lord for salvation, the time of the kingdom. These things were to happen in the first century, with the passing of the Old Covenant world, epitomized by the Temple. To deny that the end of the Old Covenant age was to be considered as “the Gospel of the kingdom” is to deny the prophetic word. More to come!