Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XXVII - 27)


The Second Return to the Land

For long ages after A.D. 70, the Jews lived as a despised people wandering in exile far from their homeland. But has the fig tree come alive again? The Zionist movement, which promoted Jewish reoccupation of Palestine, originated about a hundred years ago. With the support of powerful sympathizers, Zionist agitation soon opened the way for many people of Jewish descent to migrate to Palestine. By the time World War I began, almost 80,000 Jews lived there (1). At the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish population of the land had swollen to 450,000 (2). Then in 1948, when the number of Jewish settlers had reached nearly a million, the nation of Israel was reborn as a political entity (3).

Yet neither the regathering of Jews in the land nor the refounding of the Jewish state was the budding of the fig tree, although the renewal foreseen by Christ presupposes both of these developments. That is, the fig tree cannot put out new growth until the Jews have returned to Palestine and established their own government.

Prophecy offers glimmerings of both a reoccupied land and a reorganized state. Ezekiel foresaw that God would someday pour out His Spirit on Israel and establish them permanently in the land after He has gathered the people from a far-flung dispersion.

25 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name;26 After that they have borne their shame, and all their trespasses whereby they have trespassed against me, when they dwelt safely in their land, and none made them afraid.27 When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations;28 Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there.29 Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 39:25-29

Several other prophets in many separate prophecies also speak of the same future restoration of Israel.

14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.15 The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.18 I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
Zephaniah 3:14-20

6 And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.7 And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD.8 I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased.9 And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.10 I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them.11 And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.12 And I will strengthen them in the LORD; and they shall walk up and down in his name, saith the LORD.
Zechariah 10:6-12

See also Isaiah 1:25-28; 27:12-13; 33:20; 49:22-23; 60:1-12; Jeremiah 23:3-6; Ezekiel 20:40-44; 36:8-15; Zechariah 14:11; and Malachi 3:1-4. Of particular interest is an oracle of Isaiah.

10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.11 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Isaiah 11:10-12

The "root of Jesse" is Christ. The prediction that the gentiles will seek Christ (v. 10) implies a period of worldwide evangelism after His coming. This oracle is therefore one of the few Old Testament texts that speak of the Church Age. In the next verse (v. 11), the prophet foresees a day when the Lord will accomplish a "second" deliverance for His people. Most commentators suppose that Isaiah is treating Israel's deliverance from Egypt as the first. But the Israelites who escaped from Egypt were not a remnant. They were the whole nation in its infancy, when population was surging to new heights. Nor did they come from any nation but Egypt. Thus, as a few commentators recognize, the first deliverance by Isaiah's reckoning must be the return from Babylonian captivity (4). The placement of verse 11 after verse 10 suggests that the "second" will occur only after Christ has come and His gospel has been preached to the gentiles.

In fact, Isaiah envisions two regatherings at the end of history. The first (v. 11) will be partial, mainly from the nations listed. The second (v. 12) will be complete, from the four corners of the earth. The first will come about through the secret, Providential working of the Lord's hand. The second will happen in response to a public summons from the person of Christ Himself, the "ensign" in verse 12 as in verse 10. The following text describes the second regathering:

19 And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.20 And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.21 And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
Isaiah 66:19-22

Once enthroned, Christ will sift the whole world for any remaining descendants of the twelve tribes and bring them to their appointed homeland. Yet it does not follow that there will be no previous regathering. Prophecy teaches clearly that there will be. Notice particularly what Jeremiah says.

3 For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.4 And these are the words that the LORD spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah.5 For thus saith the LORD; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.6 Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?7 Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.8 For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him:9 But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.
Jeremiah 30:3-9

The prophet affirms that there will be a general regathering before the time of Jacob's trouble, which students of prophecy equate with the Tribulation. This regathering is the one which Isaiah designates as the second.

Yet the second regathering of the Jews is not in itself the sign that, according to the Olivet Discourse, would announce the end of the world. It is not the rebudding of the fig tree.

Rebirth of the Jewish State

One result of the second regathering will be the formation of a Jewish state. In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar which the Lord enabled Daniel to interpret, the king saw a succession of five gentile kingdoms (Dan. 2:41-43). The first four represented kingdoms with authority over an existing state of Israel. The fifth, which is still future, must therefore also refer to a gentile kingdom ascendant over a nation of Jews.

Zechariah is more explicit. He says that when the gentile world mounts its final assault on the land of Judah (an assault preliminary to the great battle known as the Battle of Armageddon), Jews will be living there under the rule of their own governors.

3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.4 In that day, saith the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness.5 And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God.6 In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem.
Zechariah 12:3-6

But, just as the second regathering of the Jews in Palestine is not the rebudding of the fig tree, neither is the new Jewish state that they establish. Neither development is the sign that Jesus said would anticipate His coming.

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