|The Foundation of the Temple Being Laid
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, they King cometh unto thee . . . " Zech. 9:9
The Messiah is, of course, a King, among other things. But when and how does He reign? That is a question that has vexed theologians for centuries.
What did the ancient Jews expect? Part of the answer is provided by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. Zechariah lived in the late 6th Century B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah had been spent seventy years in captivity in Babylon. Now some of them had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. But while they had made some progress in rebuilding their homes, work on the temple lagged behind. The prophet Haggai had prodded them into action, and finally work had begun.
But the political situation still looked unpromising. After a period of civil unrest the Persian emperor Darius the Great had consolidated his rule. A measure of peace had been restored to the Middle East. And yet for the Jews rebuilding the temple a disturbing question remained: why hadn't Judah regained its independence? Why was it still under the control of a foreign power?
In response to that question Zechariah received a series of visions and revelations from God. Israel had gone into exile because of its sin, but had suffered excessively at the hands of its foreign oppressors. The Lord reassured the nation, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy" (Zech. 1:14). What follows is a remarkable series of prophecies in which God promises to restore Israel and punish the surrounding nations.
It is in this context that we hear about a Messianic figure who will usher in a reign of peace. Israel is told to "rejoice greatly" because "they King cometh unto thee." But what an unusual king He is! He is "lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." This was literally fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, shortly before His arrest and execution.
The next verse tells us what will happen when the King arrives. "And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off." In other words, there will be an end to war, and Jerusalem will be at peace at last.
But there is a broader, more universal aspect to Messiah's reign as well. For the text goes on to say, "and he shall speak peace unto the heathen." Our King James translation here is unfortunate. The word translated here "heathen" literally means "nations" or "Gentiles," i.e., the broad mass of non-Jewish humanity. What is in view here is nothing less than the proclamation of the gospel to the entire human race. As for the extent of Messiah's kingdom, "his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth." The first part refers to Palestine, from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. The river is the Euphrates. This is roughly the area originally promised to Israel (Gen. 15:18-21; Ex. 23:31; Josh. 1:4) and ruled over by King Solomon (I Kings 4:21; II Chron. 9:26). But the dominion of the Messiah would encompass even more than that; it would extend "even to the ends of the earth." Messiah's reign will be universal.
So when and how will all of this be fulfilled? In one sense the kingdom of God is already present; and in another sense it has yet to be fulfilled. In I Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul, speaking of the resurrection of the saints at Christ's Second Coming says, "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (vv. 24,25). Christ is already King right now (Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11), and when we become Christians God "hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col. 1:13). But after Christ returns, "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:37-43).
Some have supposed that the Christian church is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel, but those prophecies are meaningless unless the group being restored is the same group that had been sent into exile. And so far the Messiah is not reigning over a restored nation of Israel. He has yet to appear "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). The culmination of history still lies ahead.
It is also important to emphasize that there is amoral dimension to all of this. Israel went into exile because of its sin (Zech. 7:8-14), and restoration will involve a change of behavior on their part (8:16,17). The sin problem must be resolved. "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness" (13:1). Our past sins must be forgiven and we must receive a new heart that is bent on pleasing God. Only then can we "enter the kingdom of heaven."
Merry Christmas to all our friends!