Israel’s prophets told stories of Israel’s post-exilic future – stories of a new age of the kingdom of God in which God’s purposes for Israel were at last fulfilled. It is my belief that NT theology only makes sense against this background.
It is not easy to put all the different, overlapping prophetic visions together into a single, fully coherent picture. However the following themes, whilst not all found in all of the visions, are recurring (sorry for the patchy refs - I am racing against the clock to write this).
- Israel’s Gentile enemies would be destroyed (e.g. Isa 34:1-4; Zech 12:1-9; 14:1-5, 12; etc.)
- The northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah would be brought back from their respective exiles to their Promised Land (e.g., Jer 33:7).
- In later traditions there was the expectation of a resurrection of the dead to vindicate the righteous martyrs of Israel – they too would share in the blessings of the new age (e.g., Dan 12:2; 2 Macc 7).
- The land would flourish under divine blessing (e.g., Ezek 36) and, in several traditions, under the restored rule of a king from the line of David (the Messiah) (e.g., Jer 33:14-18; Ezek 37:24-27; Zech 9:9-10, etc).
- Israel and Judah, divided after the time of Solomon, would be reunited under a new Davidic king (e.g., Ezek 37:15-28).
- The Jerusalem temple would be rebuilt and YHWH would dwell there again (e.g., Ezek 40-48).
- God would make a new covenant with Israel and Judah that included
- pouring out his Spirit on Israel (e.g., Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:27)
- enabling Israel to obey the Law of Yhwh (e.g., Deut 30:6; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:27)
- The word of the Lord would go out from Jerusalem to the nations (e.g., Isa 2:1-4).
- The survivors of the nations would come to Jerusalem – no longer as enemies but as pilgrims coming to learn the ways of Israel’s God and to worship him (e.g., Isa 2:1-4; 11:10-12; 18:7; 19; 45:20-25; 60:1-16; 61:5-6; 66:12, 18, 23; Ps 86:9-10; Zech 14:16).
- Tentative suggestion that needs more thought: The restoration of Israel in its land would represent and bring about the redemption of the whole creation – a redeemed cosmos. The roots of new creation eschatology are found in the book of Isaiah 65:17ff in the context of the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem. This idea may be grounded in the links between Adam/humanity in Eden and Israel in the Promised Land (something N.T. Wright makes much of). So Israel in the Land can represent humanity in the earth (a point well made by Christopher J.H. Wright). Consequently the restoration of Israel is linked somehow to the restoration of humanity and the whole created order. Just a thought. I'd need to ponder that a lot more.
Whilst attempts to piece together a unified chronology for the occurrence of these hoped-for events is a precarious business (you won't catch me mapping out a timetable of the Last Days!), the very broad structure is clear – first God restores Israel and then, through Israel, he reaches out to save the nations in accord with Israel’s mission of blessing the nations.
With those ideas in place we can look at the NT.