Sunday, September 10, 2006

Israel - Part 5

We continue our study of Israel and the New Testament in ‘End Time Delusions’:

Man has no choice but to choose. –Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

From the summit of Mt. Sinai, God Almighty thundered to Moses: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’” (Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis added).

Notice the words “if” and “then”. God said “if” Israel obeyed, “then” they would be His special treasure. That tiny word “if” involves a big issue. It concerns conditions. God loved Israel, and chose her apart from any obedience on her part. He brought the people out of Egypt, bore them on eagles’ wings, and brought them to Himself. Yet, contrary to popular opinion, God’s use of “if” made it clear that the continuation of His favor to the Israelites was conditional upon their response to His goodness, upon their choices to obey (see also 1 Samuel 2:30; Jeremiah 18:7-10). In other words, those of the chosen nation must themselves choose correctly, or the consequences would be disastrous.

Forty years later, Israel entered the promised land and remained there for about 800 years. During this period, many responded to God’s love by obeying His voice. But the majority strayed from the path of righteousness. Again and again, God manifested His mercy by sending prophets and pleading with Israel to return to His covenant. Yet apostasy continued and deepened. Finally, after hundreds of years of warning, disaster struck. In 722 B.C., the northern tribes were carried away by the cruel Assyrians. In 586 B.C., Judah was taken to Babylon. Such was the result of wrong choices.

In 586 B.C., the armies of Babylon demolished Jerusalem and burned its temple with fire. The Jews were removed from their land and carried into captivity. Yet, in the mercy of God, this exile was not to be permanent. The prophet Jeremiah predicted that God “would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:2). After 70 years, the Jews would leave Babylon, return to their land, and rebuild their temple and their city. God was giving His chosen nation another chance to respond to His love. In simple terms, the Lord was saying: “You blew it. Let’s try again!”

This new opportunity is revealed in the prophecy of the “seventy weeks”, which we examined earlier in this book. Previously, we studied this highly controversial day-for-a-year (see Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6) period in the context of the “seven year tribulation” theory. Now it’s time to approach this period again, but in a different light. We will view it in relation to the ongoing favor of God toward Israel as a nation.

Near the end of the Babylonian captivity, Gabriel told Daniel, “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy” (Daniel 9:24). This 70 week period (490 years) was “determined” for Daniel’s people, the Jews. During that period, the chosen nation would have another chance “to finish the transgression” and “to make an end of sins”. Near the end of that period, something big would happen. The Messiah would come “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” As we shall soon see, Israel’s status as a special nation under divine favor would then be determined by her choice to receive or reject that Messiah.

Gabriel told Daniel when the seventy weeks would begin, “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and to build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty two weeks” (Daniel 9:25).

Persia conquered Babylon in 538 B.C. Then King Cyrus issued a decree for the Jews to return to their land and to rebuild their temple (see Ezra 1:1-3). Later, King Darius issued another decree that led to the completion of the temple (see Ezra 6:1, 8). Still later, King Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the wall around the city (see Nehemiah 1:3, 2:1-9). Yet the predicted “command to restore and to build Jerusalem” did not occur until King Artaxerxes issued a lengthy decree giving Ezra official authority to “set magistrates and judges” over Jerusalem and to “execute judgment” upon all who refused to follow the laws of God and the king (Ezra 7:21, 25-26). Of the four options to consider as a starting point for the 70 week prophecy, this was the only decree which fully restored civil authority to Jerusalem and the Jewish state.

That commandment occurred “in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes” (Ezra 7:7), which was 457 B.C. This date – 457 B.C. – is listed in the margin of Ezra 7 in many modern Bibles and has also been confirmed by the widely acclaimed Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982) as the starting point of the 70 week prophecy. Gabriel said, “From the going forth of the command to restore and to build Jerusalem until the Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks (49 years) and sixty two weeks (434 years)” (Daniel 9:25).

7 weeks (49 years) + 62 weeks (434 years) = 69 weeks (483 years)

Going forward 483 years from 457 B.C. comes to A.D. 27, the time of “the Messiah the Prince” (Daniel 9:25). The word “Messiah” means “Anointed One”. In A.D. 27 – the exact year specified in Daniel’s prophecy – Jesus Christ was “anointed” by the Holy Spirit at His baptism (see Matthew 3:16-17); Acts 10:38) which officially marked the beginning of His public ministry. Right after His baptism Jesus declared, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added). Christ’s words, “The time is fulfilled,” can apply to no other time prophecy except Daniel 9! Jesus knew He was fulfilling that ancient prediction.

7 weeks (49 years) + 62 weeks (434 years) + 1 week (7 years) = 70 weeks (490 years)

We have previously seen that during the final 70th week (from 27 to 34 A.D.), Jesus Himself “confirm[ed] the [new] covenant” (Daniel 9:27, KJV). He did this personally during the first 3 ½ years, and then during the second 3 ½ years He “confirmed” His word through His disciples as they preached mainly to Jews (see Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4). In the “midst” of the last seven years (in 31 A.D.), when “His hour had come” (John 13:1), the ultimate confirmation came when Jesus caused “the sacrifice…to cease” (Daniel (9:27, KJV) through His painful death on the cross.

Here’s the big question: What was the true significance of these events to Israel’s status as God’s chosen nation? The answer can only come through a careful study of the closing scenes of our Messiah’s life before His feet were spiked to a tree.

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