When Jesus arrived on the scene, the Jews were looking for a messiah who would gather all the Jews to Israel, overthrow the oppressors, and restore shalom. Exactly how this would happen and when was a much contested issue. Still, these three elements were prominent within most Jewish eschatology.
The gospel of Luke takes the story of Jesus visit to Nazareth out of sequence and moves it to the beginning to the discussion of Jesus ministry. Why? Presumably because it is such a perfect job description of Jesus ministry. Luke 4:16-22:
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
This passage is notable for two connections it makes with Old Testament eschatology. First, the idea of “the year of the Lord’s favor,” is a euphemism for the jubilee described in Leviticus 25. The jubilee was an event that was to happen every fifty years. Each person returned to their ancestral land and all terms of indentured servitude expired. It was part of the covenant provisions instituted by God. It symbolized a time of peace and restoration. Second, the Luke passage is directly referencing Isaiah 61:1-2 (which in turn references Leviticus 25.) It is from the heart of the restoration chapters in Isaiah 59-66, where the themes of gathering the people, overthrowing the enemies, restoration, and judgment are the focus. Jesus said that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was claiming he was the messiah and that the eschaton had arrived!
Additionally, when Jesus sent out the disciples two-by two, scripture says,
12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:12-13, NRSV)
Calling for repentance, exorcism, and healing of the sick were activities identified with the messiah and Jesus sent out the disciples to do precisely these messianic duties. The same is true of the seventy-two disciples he sent out in Luke 10:1-20. There are many other passages pointing directly and indirectly to Jesus messianic role but cataloging them here is beyond the scope of this series.
While Jesus was indeed the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament he was not what the Jews were expecting. The Jews had understood that the messiah would restore Israel. By way of analogy, Israel was looking through a zoom lens that focused only on the people of Israel. God through Christ, “zoomed out” to show that the messiah was not just for Israel but for all humanity. Israel was still in the picture but now the picture was broader.
Evidence of the God’s larger concern was evident in the Old Testament. The priest-king Melchizedek and the Assyrians who Jonah prophesied to were outside the covenant with Abraham yet God was involved in their lives. There were passages that expressly mentioned God’s intentions like Isaiah 42:6-7:
6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Only after the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension did the pieces come together.
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:6-11 NRSV)
One thing to highlight in this passage is verse 8. I wrote earlier that Adam and Eve were given the mission to fill the earth with eikons (images) of God. He repeated the command to Noah. His purpose for the nation of Israel was for them to a witness to God so that the entire earth might come to know God and thus be filled with God’s eikons. God’s mission has not changed since Genesis 1.
The New Testament perspective is that the promise made to Israel about the restoration of shalom is now a promise that extends to all peoples and all creation. Revelation 5:9-10:
9 They sing a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth."
The clearest articulation of eschatological fulfillment is the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:1-5:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
It is important to highlight one other passage with regard the New Jerusalem and the coming shalom. One of the most abused passages in scripture has to be 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This passage has been interpreted by dispensational theologians to mean that the dead, and then the living, will be lifted off the earth to go live with Jesus in heaven. In reality, this passage conjures up some powerful imagery for the Thessalonians. When royalty came to an ancient town, all the people would go out of the town to greet the ruler and then usher him into the town amidst great celebration. Verses 16 and 17 paint a picture of Jesus coming from heaven to the clouds above the earth. The dead go up to meet him (out of the village) followed by the living. The unstated assumption is that the dead and the living usher Christ to his throne on earth (into the village) not ascend up into some ethereal dwelling. “We will be with the Lord forever,” but here on a renewed earth.
It is not possible for me to flesh out a full eschatology within the context of this series of posts. My intention here is to highlight the idea that the Kingdom of God arrived with Christ but it is not yet consummated. Things are not as they will be for eternity. The completion of the new creation and the restoration of shalom will be upon Christ’s bodily return to earth to be with us. Jesus was a window into the future for us. He called us to be his body on earth. He has given us the same mandate that was given to humanity from the start: Fill the earth with eikons. By being his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” we fill the earth with his eikons until he returns. He intends to succeed where Adam, Noah and Israel failed.