- From the genesis of hope (Gen. 3:15) the righteous live with expectation. Life is only lived forward. As the Creator-as-Israel’s-God administrated history itself through His covenant bond to this nation, the prophets, within this continuum, proclaimed the future fulfillments of God’s promises in the midst of their present contexts. In calling Israel to be faithful to the covenant, these prophets often appealed to the past in order to shine light on their present circumstance and at the same time deliver oracles concerning the certainty of what is to come. Past fulfillments of YHWH’s promises demonstrate He is reliable and trustworthy regarding things He promises for the future. The scope of many of these oracles, both for Israel as a nation, as well as their worldwide implications, were so radical and far-reaching that the record of Israel’s interim historical experiences fall short of fulfillment. In light of this, is YHWH faithful to His promises?
- Though the mechanism of discipline within the covenant was triggered throughout Israel’s history (Assyria, Babylon, Rome), there has never been a return and restoration commensurate with the magnitude of what was promised in the Torah and Prophets – namely one that is marked by the result of the entirety of Israel loving their God in unwavering obedience and devotion to YHWH in the land promised to Abraham (and no more possibility of expulsion), with a restored Davidic kingdom ruled by the Messiah, and walking out their special calling in administrating blessing to all the nations of the world.
- Furthermore, none of the returns were marked by a cataclysmic deliverance of Israel from her enemies by YHWH in a time called ‘the Day of the LORD.’1 At this appointed time of wrath, YHWH will come and execute vengeance on all His enemies, judge the world, and subsequently reward and vindicate the righteous who cling to Him in faith. This event segments biblical time itself; as the transition point of “this age” and “the age to come.”
Restoration in the Sight of the Nations – YHWH delivering and fulfilling His promises to Israel alongside His judging of the nations is a universal witness (Ps. 22:27-28; Is. 2:1-4, 17; 45:20-25; 52:10; 60:1-3; Ezek 20:41-42; 36:19-23, 36; 37:28; 38:16, 23; 39:7-8, 21-29; Mic. 4:1-6)– resulting in gods and their nations acknowledging Him alone (Dt. 32:43; Ps. 29:1; 82:8; 97:7; Zech. 14:9).
YHWH’s impending coming to restore Israel in fulfillment of His covenant promises as a witness to the nations of the earth became “good news” to be proclaimed (Is. 40:3-11; 52:7-10; 61:1-4; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 20:1) and was further confirmed as true through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Rom. 15:8).
- The return from Babylon was in accord with prophetic oracles spoken beforehand (Is. 44:28-45:1, 13, etc.), but the experience of the return paled in comparison to the restoration promised (Ez 3:12; Hag 2:3). Life in the exile had shaped Israel’s experience, but they were unprepared to cope with the crisis of a continued occupation of Gentile nations in their own land (Persian, Grecian, Roman empires). It seemed that the exile continued. This scenario evoked many questions concerning YHWH’s faithful administration of the covenant and the promises. An example of such questions in summary could be supposed as: ‘do the realization of YHWH’s promises now depend on human participation?’ (by merit of observance or piety, by zealous marshaling of resistance to Gentile oppression, by maintaining strict cultic or purity traditions, etc.). As time dragged on and Israel remained grappling with the tension between promises and their fulfillments, various groups sought to advance their own answers to such questions. As Israel’s ancient culture collided with the multicultural developments of the Greek empire and the biblical world became Hellenized (“Greek-ified”), Jews sought to understand how their own story would unfold against the backdrop of these novel changes. These historical developments and Jewish inquiry concerning YHWH’s promised restoration of Israel provide the context for the emergence of the Jewish narrative progressing toward the time of the New Testament.
1 Day of the LORD (cf. Is. 13:6, 9; Ez. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Am. 5:18; Ob. 1:15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5; Mt. 7:22; 26:29; Lk. 10:12; 21:34; Jn. 6:39f, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; Acts 2:20; Rom. 2:16; 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:3; 2 Tim. 1:12, 18; 4:8; Heb. 10:25; 1 Pe. 2:12; 2 Pe. 1:19; 3:10, 18; Rev. 16:14) Also, “Sometimes it is called “that day” (Mt. 7:22; 1 Thess. 5:4; 2 Tim. 4:8), and again it is called “the day” without any qualification whatever, as if it were the only day worth counting in all the history of the world and of the race (1 Cor. 3:13).” [H. E. Dosker, “Day of the Lord,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 879.]