God’s promise to restore Israel was well known among the Jews in Christ’s time.
Many expected Christ to free Israel from Roman occupation and rule as king. They asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” and no doubt they were disappointed when he said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority” (Acts 1:6-7).
House of Israel
Israel had once been a strong and wealthy kingdom under divine protection. A chosen people, redeemed from slavery and set up as a model to other nations. They had an agreement with God, a covenant that required them to worship Him alone. It was a marriage contract and any form of idolatry was considered to be spiritual adultery. Yet despite initial warnings via Moses, which were repeated through many prophets, these chosen people were unfaithful to God and suffered the consequences of their actions (Deuteronomy 4:23, 26-27 and 28:62-68).
Originally the name Israel was given to Abraham’s grandson Jacob and it applies to his descendants who, in the Bible, are called both the House of Jacob and the House of Israel. After King Solomon’s reign the House of Jacob split - Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Under King Jeroboam, Israel quickly turned to idolatry (I Kings 14:7-10, 15-16) and God warned them that He would not continue to extend His protection if they rejected Him. Because they would not listen, God said they would cease to be a nation and would no longer be His people (Hosea 1:9, 9:15-17). Consequently, they were defeated by the Assyrians and the survivors were taken into captivity.
When Israel turned to idolatry, many who remained faithful to God from the various tribes of Israel resettled in Judah (II Chronicles 10:17, 11:3, 15:9 and 31:1-6). But later, Judah also failed to heed the warnings and suffered a similar tragic fate, “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the prostitute also” (Jeremiah 3:8). Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon.
For a while the capital, Jerusalem, was allowed to continue with a certain amount of autonomy under the Babylonian occupation. But eventually they rebelled against their captors and came under attack. After a long and bitter siege Jerusalem, the last bastion of that once glorious Kingdom of Israel, was also destroyed. Only a pitiful remnant survived, and they were scattered among the nations exactly as Moses and the prophets had predicted (Leviticus 26:33, Ezekiel 20:23-24, Jeremiah 9:16).
During their long captivity Jacob’s descendents were able to reflect on their mistakes and no doubt deeply regretted the tragic outcome of their actions. On a more positive note they also recalled God’s promise in regard to the restoration of Israel in the future (Hosea 1:10-11 and 3:5, Jeremiah 33:4-10, Micah 4:1-2).
Interestingly there are a number of places in the King James version of the Bible that say God will “bring again the captivity” of Israel, but in Bullinger’s Companion Bible this phrase is described as an idiom which actually means that God will restore Israel rather than bring them into captivity again as many have interpreted this to mean. Confirmation of this can be seen in the way others translate the Hebrew, e.g. Moffat, RSV, the Living Bible and the Tanakh (the New JPS Translation According to the Hebrew Text). Also the New King James Version says, “I will bring back from captivity my people.” Some of the places this occurs are Jeremiah 30:3, 18, 31:23, Amos 9:14, Joel 3:1-2, Ezekiel 16:53, 39:25, Psalms 53:6 and also Deuteronomy 30:3. These passages imply that Israelites will be released from the captivity when it is time to restore Israel. The context in which these phrases are used confirms this.
Some might think that Israel was restored during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when many exiles returned to Judah to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple, but Judah was still under control of its captors. Even in Christ’s time, their country was occupied by the Romans.
Israel today is only a small nation surrounded by enemies and under constant threat of war. The Messiah is not their king (Zechariah 14:9-11), nor do they provide spiritual guidance to the rest of the world (Micah 4:1-7). The restoration promised by God has not yet taken place.
When asked if he was king of the Jews, Jesus said to Pilate,“My kingdom is not of this world”(John 18:36). The writer of Hebrews said that those who had, “died in faith” sought, “ a better, that is, a heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:13-16). Peter said that all the things God’s prophets predicted would be fulfilled when Christ returned (Acts 3:21).
At the return of Christ, those who have God’s Holy Spirit will be changed to spirit and those who have previously died having received His spirit will also be resurrected to spirit (I Corinthians 15:51-53). They are the first fruits and will rule over this earth with Christ for one thousand years, a period commonly known as the Millienium (Revelation 20:4). After this there will be a time of judgement for all who have existed but have never received God’s Spirit. They will be resurrected back to a physical existence and given the opportunity to repent, after which they will receive His Spirit and eventually be changed to spirit so they can enter God’s Kingdom as well (Revelation 20:5-10, 21:24-27).
Paul said, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith, are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). They are the ones who are heirs to the promises, “For ye are all the sons of God though faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).
Jesus Christ was a direct descendent of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) and at baptism that same Spirit that is in Christ is also imparted to the individual where it unites with the spirit of man producing sons or daughters of God. In this manner Jew and Gentile alike, become spirtual descendents of Abraham through Christ. In other words those who have Christ’s Spirit are now the true Israelites, they are of the household of God – God’s very own sons and daughters (I Corinthians 2:11-12, II Corinthians 6:18, Ephesians 2:12-13 and 18-22).
God’s Spirit Promised
During Old Testament times the Holy Spirit was not freely available except to a few people called by God for specific purposes. The general population of Israel did not have God’s Spirit within them. Because they did not have God’s Spirit they cannot be resurrected to spirit among the first fruits. God said they would not be His people until such a time when He is able to say to them, “You are the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:9-10). He will only be able to say that when they have accepted Christ as their saviour, repented and received His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-28, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6,10-11, Romans 11:25-27). To do that they will need to be resurrected to physical life during the judgement period along with everyone else who has never received God’s Spirit. Then and only then can they become true sons (and daughters) of the Living God (Romans 9:24-26).
Ezekiel described their physical resurrection (Ezekiel 37:1-14) and Hosea confirmed that it will occur during a time of judgement, “for great shall be that day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:11). Jezreel is symbolic of judgement and that day of judgement is the one described by the Apostle John in Revelation 20:11-12.
New Covenant and New Jerusalem
In a vision on the Isle of Patmos, John the Apostle saw a representative group of one hundred and forty four thousand who were the first fruits of God’s Kingdom. He said, “I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him one hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written on their foreheads” and “ the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” also “These were redeemed from among men, being first-fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Revlation 14:1-4).
Those who are the first fruits, having become spiritual Israel through Christ will be subject to a new covenant of which he is mediator (Hebrews 12:22-24). Like the old covenant, the new one will also be a marriage agreement, “‘And it shall be, in that day’, saith the LORD, ‘That thou shalt call me “my husband”’ and “I will betroth you to me for ever” (Hosea 2:16, 19-20). This is exactly what John saw in his vision, “...the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). A city symbolising God's people, “...they shall be his (God’s) people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). They are the bride who is, "the Lamb’s wife” comprised of, “those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:9 and 27).
Whereas old Jerusalem represented the last bastion of the physical kingdom of Israel, new Jerusalem will represent the first-fruits of the new spiritual Kingdom of Israel – God’s Kingdom. John’s description in Revelation 7:4-8, indicates a familiar structure because the spiritual Kingdom will be the reality of what the ancient kingdom represented.
John said that after the first fruits an innumerable multitude is added to the Kingdom (Revelation 7:9-17). Clearly from what John describes, these people who stand before God’s throne in white robes, washed by the blood of Christ, have been resurrected to spirit. They represent all those who become spirit after the first-fruits -having come out of great tribulation. After six thousand years of Satan’s rule culminating in the end-time events graphically portrayed in the Book of Revelation, the affliction (tribulation) of sorrow and suffering that began when sin entered the world, will finally come to an end.
Ever since going into captivity the people of Israel have looked forward to a time of restoration - but they did not know when it would take place. Each generation thought it would be in their time. That is why Christ’s disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
Neither Christ’s disciples, nor their fellow Israelites understood the spiritual nature of the Kingdom to which they would eventually be restored. It was not until after Christ had died and his disciples had received the Spirit he had promised to them, that they understood who the true Israelites are and to what Kingdom they will be restored.
All who become true Israelites - sons and daughters of the Living God, Jew and Gentile alike, have God’s Kingdom to look forward to.