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The Restoration of All Things

Israel, the Church and the Nations

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Publish Date: 
Thu, 02/27/2014
The Restoration of All Things

One of the most exciting passages in the Word of God dealing with restoration can be found in the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Three of his disciples had the privilege of witnessing the appearance of Moses and Elijah and seeing Jesus transfigured, shining like the sun.

When Jesus was returning with those three disciples from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were still under the impact of their personal encounter with these great figures in Israel’s history. So they asked Jesus an interesting question: “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (Matthew 17:10).

The Days of Elijah

Their encounter with Elijah had reminded the disciples of an ancient Jewish tradition, which holds that before Messiah comes Elijah will first appear to prepare His people for their King. It is a tradition based on the vision of the prophet Malachi, who states: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

This tradition is alive even until today. At a certain point during the annual Passover seder meal, every Jewish family opens the door to invite Elijah in and a special seat is held empty just in case he does come that year.

The disciples, therefore, asked Jesus what he thought of this tradition, and Jesus answered: “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:11–12).

Jesus thus hints at a double fulfilment of the Elijah tradition. One looked back to the immediate past to John the Baptist, who had prepared the way for Messiah’s first coming, and one is looking to a future coming of Elijah when he will “restore all things”.

John the Baptist represented this Elijah ministry to his own generation. Already, when his birth was announced to his father Zechariah, the Archangel Gabriel referred to John as one who “will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children… to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17)

One should note that John the Baptist did not represent the physical return of Elijah, as he was born to Zacharias and Elisabeth. Yet the anointing and spirit of Elijah was upon him, meaning the same type of ministry anointing which operated in Elijah also rested on John the Baptist.

Jesus, however, indicated that John’s ministry would not bring “the restoration of all things”. On the contrary, they “did with him whatever they wished”. Indeed just months earlier, John had been beheaded by Herod the tetrarch on special request of his brother Phillip’s wife (Matthew 14).

But Jesus also declares that indeed there would be a future coming of Elijah himself to “restore all things”. So the first coming of Messiah was preceded by John the Baptist, and both their ministries were marked by suffering. But the second coming of Messiah will be preceded by an Elijah ministry marked by the restoration all things.

The main calling of John the Baptist was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”. Likewise, there will be a move of God, in the spirit of Elijah, which will restore both the Church and Israel in such a way that the Lord can send Jesus Christ back to this world, “whom heaven must receive until the time of the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).

Fathers and Sons

There are many aspects to the ministry of Elijah which could be highlighted. His ministry single-handedly confronted Israel’s double-heartedness on Mount Carmel. He removed idol worship from Israel and restored the altar of God. But there is one particular calling of Elijah to which the Prophet Malachi refers to as a core facet his ministry. It is so essential that God declares if this does not succeed, He will need to strike the earth with a curse. So let us read it again...

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6)

Restoring the fathers to their children and children to their fathers is apparently of such great importance to God that He is willing to punish the earth with a curse should it not happen. The father-son relationship is something that is holy to God. The first of the Ten Commandments that comes with a special blessing for obedience is: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

Here again, the relationship between children and parents can be a turning point between blessing and curse. It also applies to inter-generational relationships within the people of God. And it is not just the young who need to respect and honour those who went before them and on whose shoulders they stand, but it applies also to the older generation. They equally need to open and widen their hearts to the new and often different approaches of the youth.

The Sayings of the Fathers

There is still more to it. It is noteworthy how the New Testament uses the word “fathers” (patere in Greek, plural). This word appears 53 times in Christian Scripture, but only four of those refer to natural fathers (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21; and Hebrews 11:23, 12:9). Meanwhile in the remaining passages the word ‘fathers’ refers to previous generations of the people of Israel. For example:

“As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:55)

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert..” (John 6:31)

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, ….” (Acts 3:13)

“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers...” (Acts 28:25)

One of the leading rabbinic tractates of the Talmud is called Pirkei Avod, which means “the sayings of the fathers”. In the same manner, the New Testament authors referred to all the prior generations of Israel, from Abraham to the prophets, as ‘fathers’. It also often seems to refer more specifically to the Patriarchs.

Paul states that one of the great privileges bestowed on the Jewish people was that “of them are the fathers …” (Romans 9:5). And on these fathers the identity and existence of the Jewish nation rests. Paul declares that the Jewish people may be even in a state of rebellion against God and found to be ‘enemies of the Gospel’, yet this does not cancel out God’s faithfulness to His people, as they still remain “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28).

There is something even more striking in the lives of the early Apostles. In the Book of Acts, both Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 22) are confronted by hostile Jewish crowds who are about to stone them. Stephen becomes the first martyr while Paul barely escapes an attempt on his life. Yet both address these angry Jewish audiences in an expectant way: “Brothers and fathers, listen.” (Acts 7:2, Acts 22:1)  Both were fully aware of the hatred they faced, and yet both honoured their fellow Jews by calling them “fathers”.

‘Little Children’

Now if we look at how Jesus addressed his disciples, he often would refer to them as children (John 21:5) or even little children (John 13.33). In the same manner, when the early Apostles addressed the Church, they regularly referred to them as children (1 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 4:19; 1 John 2:1).

We find this usage early on when John the Baptist says, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Most Bible scholars take this as alluding to God’s plan to one day bring the nations into the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant alongside Israel.

The Apostle Paul then writes in Galatians 3:7 – “Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (See also Romans 9:7)

In other words, the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the natural seed of Abraham as being the “fathers” and the Church as being their spiritual “children”.

Restoration needed

The late Pope John Paul II once called the Jews the “elder brothers” of the church. I believe it is far more appropriate to call Israel the “fathers” of the church. It is a fact that everything which defines us as Christians was given to us by the Jewish people. The Bible is a Jewish book. Jesus was born a Jew and died as King of the Jews. The early Apostles were all Jews and the early church was exclusively Jewish.

Returning to the prophet Malachi, he declared that a major part of the Elijah ministry in the last days would be to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” And here restoration is urgently needed. There is an historic breach between the Church and the Jewish people which dates back to the earliest days of the church. The New Testament writers record that the early believers faced significant persecution from their Jewish brethren. This was true not only in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel (Acts 5:17ff; 8:1ff), but also in Asia Minor (e.g. Acts 14:1ff) and Greece (e.g. Acts 17:5ff).

When the early church became predominantly Gentile, they quickly forgot the Jewish roots of their faith. As they rose to power under Constantine, they turned on the Jews with force. So for much of the past 2,000 years, the history of Jewish-Christian relations has been defined by hatred and bloodshed.

Jews were massacred by the Crusaders both in Europe and in the Holy Land, tortured during the Spanish Inquisition, set upon violently in pogroms all across Europe, and just seventy years ago in the Holocaust over six million Jews were mass murdered by Germany, the country of the Protestant Reformation. The church for centuries violently dishonoured the fathers of their faith and stoked the fires of Christian anti-Semitism.

Restoration and reconciliation is therefore urgently needed, as otherwise God says “I will strike the land with a curse”. Yet many signs today give us great hope that it is a new day in which the historic breach between Jews and Christians is being mended. The formation of a Christian Allies’ Caucus in the Israeli Knesset or the Christian Desk at Yad Vashem gives us great hope.

All across the world, new friendship groups are being established where Jews and Christians are working together for better understanding and cooperation. In churches around the world, we see a new and unprecedented enthusiasm for Israel and the Jewish people. Huge pro-Israel solidarity rallies, large prayer networks for Israel, and countless initiatives to bless Israel are now found on every continent.

These are exciting historic developments. Another recent landmark was the speech by Amb. Ron Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, at our 2013 Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Representing Jewish communities around the world, he not only thanked Christians for their support of Israel but also pledged: “When your churches are burning in the Middle East, we Jews will speak up and stand with you.” These are words unheard for centuries.

Conclusion

This calling is precisely at the heart of the ministry of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. We are repairing the breach, healing the wounds, restoring paths to dwell in, and thereby preparing the way for Messiah to come again. Jews and Christians may still disagree on who the Messiah is, but it remains a time when both sides need to turn their hearts towards each other.

For Jews, it means to recognise that the Christian church is an offspring of their own tradition and faith. People around the world treasure a personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Entry into that relationship is through a Jewish Messiah of whom God said: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

For the Church, it is paramount that we recognise the Jewish roots of our faith. It has to do with finding respect for the people called by God to give the world His word and Messiah, bringing the nations into a covenant relationship with the God of Israel. Not recognising the trunk of the tree that holds us as the Church (Romans 11:18) leads to a faith without proper foundations and this can be fatal. Whether Israel responds to our love and friendship or not, and even if they are enemies of the Church, we should remember that God still loves them for the sake of the fathers. And so should we.

I am optimistic that God will not have to strike the earth with a curse, but that the Spirit of the Lord will turn our hearts to each other and He thus will bless both Israel and the Church, “that their days may be long” in the land and inheritance which the Lord our God is giving to us.


 

The theme of the ICEJ's 2014 Feast of Tabernacles is "Restoration".
Find out how you can be a part of this event and participate in what God is doing in Israel