Almost all Messianic Jews are Zionists. We take seriously the land-promise given to the patriarchs and matriarchs. According to our post-supersessionist understanding of the teaching and work of Yeshua, the Jewish people—the genealogical descendants of the patriarchs and matriarchs—remain recipients of an irrevocable covenant. That covenant includes the promise of the land. In light of these convictions, we find it difficult to deny the working of divine providence in the regathering of Jews to the land, and in the emergence of the State of Israel.
We share this perspective with Christian Zionists of various stripes. Like them, we affirm the compatibility of our faith in Yeshua, our acknowledgement of the continuing covenantal status of genealogical-Israel, and our belief in the enduring validity of the promise of the land. We all make the case that these three beliefs are compatible with one another.
However, in my view these claims do not go far enough. They leave us with a Judaism to which Yeshua has been added, or with an apocalyptic or prosperity gospel to which the Jewish people have been added. The additions may be compatible with the primary convictions, but they are still no more than “additions.” The Yeshua part and the Israel part constitute separable and self-sufficient units, rather than interdependent components which function properly only when joined together.
In my recent volume, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen, I seek to present a more integrated understanding of Yeshua, the Jewish people, and the land. I propose that Yeshua died and was raised as the messianic representative of the Jewish people, and that these events in his life foreshadow and order the course of Jewish history. Yeshua’s suffering and death constitute a proleptic participation in the intensified exile of the Jewish people which will begin a generation later when the Romans destroy Jerusalem. This messianic participation in Israel’s suffering imparts to the coming exile a redemptive character, so that the dissolution of Jewish national existence centered in Jerusalem functions not only as punishment but also as a source of purification and corporate renewal. In corresponding fashion, Yeshua’s resurrection serves as the pledge and efficient cause of Jerusalem’s ultimate redemption.
In other words, I propose that the besorah (good news) of Yeshua’s death and resurrection is a prophetic message which points forward to genealogical Israel’s destined historical journey. This means that the besorah itself is inseparable from the Jewish people and the land. In light of the historical events of the twentieth century, we may conclude that this besorah is also inseparable from at least a modest form of Zionism.
In this article I will examine the role of the city of Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. I will argue that these texts view the holy city as the fulcrum of God’s action in human history, and as indissolubly bound to the crucified and risen Messiah. Since the capital city represents the land as a whole, demonstration of the ongoing theological significance of the city in the New Testament is sufficient grounds for affirming the theological significance of the land. If Jesus identifies himself with Jerusalem, he thereby identifies himself with the land in its entirety, and with the Jewish people to whom that land was promised.
The Judgment and Redemption of Jerusalem
Drawing upon a common description of the Gospel of Mark, N.T. Wright characterizes the Jewish War by Josephus as “a passion narrative (the war itself) with an extended introduction.” Wright thus implies a parallel between the way Mark presents the suffering and death of Yeshua and the way Josephus depicts the suffering and destruction of Jerusalem. Then Wright proposes that this parallel between the passion of Yeshua and the passion of Jerusalem already exists within the New Testament itself—not in Mark, but in the Gospel of Luke: “Luke’s narrative has, in this sense, a double climax to Josephus’ single one, and that (I think) is part of the point: the fall of the Temple, seen as future from within Luke’s narrative world, is set in close parallel with the death of Jesus. The distinction between Luke and Josephus at this point is a powerful clue to the theological point that Luke is making.” Wright’s assessment is astute, though he slightly misstates Luke’s concern; this gospel shows a unique preoccupation not only with the fall of the temple but also with the fall of the entire city. Luke juxtaposes the death of Yeshua and the fall of Jerusalem in such a way as to make each an interpretation of the other. What precisely is “the theological point that Luke is making” through this juxtaposition?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (Luke 13:31–35)
To answer that question, I will begin by examining four passages in the Gospel of Luke (13:31–35; 19:41–44; 21:20–24; 23:27–31) which anticipate the events of 70ce. The last three of these texts are unique to Luke’s gospel, and display lucidly the author’s particular theological emphasis. The first, Luke 13:31–35, appears also in Matthew, but its distinctive Lukan context and form manifest the same perspective as that of the latter three passages. This passage falls within Luke’s lengthy narrative of Yeshua’s departure from Galilee and journey to Jerusalem.
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
Verses 31–33 are found only in Luke. The Pharisees warn Yeshua of Herod’s murderous intentions, and as a group they are thereby distinguished from the Jerusalem authorities of the following verses who will implement Herod’s wish. This reflects Luke’s moderate portrayal of the Pharisees in both his gospel and Acts, and likewise reflects his depiction of the Chief Priests as the primary actors initiating the arrest and conviction of Yeshua and the subsequent persecution of his disciples in Jerusalem. Verse 33 highlights the special role of the city of Jerusalem in Luke as the object of both judgment and redemption. The final two verses (34–35) appear also in Matthew 23 (vss. 37–39), where they function as the climax of Yeshua’s lengthy denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees. In contrast to Luke, however, Matthew’s placement of these verses stresses the Pharisees’ shared responsibility for the crucifixion. The broader context in Matthew of harsh rebuke also qualifies the tone of intense grief which these words convey in their Lukan setting.
In Matthew 23 Yeshua’s address to Jerusalem occurs after his triumphal entry into the city when the accompanying crowds shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt 21:9). Matthew’s version of the promise “you will not see me” contains the added word “again” (Matt 23:39), which suggests that the triumphal entry was a prophetic symbolic act anticipating Yeshua’s future coming to the city in glory and victory. Yeshua’s address to Jerusalem in Matthew 23 also occurs after his arguments with various Jerusalem authorities (Matt 21:10–22:46), and the reference to Jerusalem’s unwilling response to his overtures points back to those disputes. Luke’s version, however, occurs before Yeshua has arrived in Jerusalem, and before he has tested Jerusalem’s “willingness” to be gathered under his wings. How then does Luke understand Yeshua’s sadness at Jerusalem’s past rebuff, and his claim that the city “will not see” him? Luke here likely presents Yeshua as a prophet speaking in the name of God. As Robert Tannehill argues, the words “how often have I desired to gather you” (Luke 13:34) refer to “the long history of God’s dealing with Jerusalem,” and the words “you will not see me” likewise refer not to Yeshua, but to God: “verse 35 is speaking of the departure of Jerusalem’s divine protector, who will not return to Jerusalem until it is willing to welcome its Messiah, ‘the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” This interpretation makes sense of what is otherwise a difficult text. Luke here alludes to the theme of the return of the Lord to Zion, which N.T. Wright underscores as a central element in both first-century Jewish eschatological hopes and the aims of Yeshua.
In summary, Luke 13:31–35 focuses attention on the city of Jerusalem and its temple authorities as those who persecute the prophets and who will put to death the Messiah. The Pharisees are distinct from this persecuting body and in some measure opposed to it, as are the Galileans who accompany Yeshua on his journey to the capital. The longing for a welcoming response from Jerusalem belongs not only to Yeshua but even more to God, whose love for the city and whose grief at its wickedness is not a recent development but has extended through multiple generations. The predominant tone of this text, as of all four of the passages we are now considering, is one of lament. Nevertheless, a more positive note emerges in the final words: “you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:35). There is reason to hope that the divine presence, whose departure renders the city vulnerable to its enemies (“See, your house is left to you”), will return once again, presumably to comfort and glorify Jerusalem. The condition for such a future return is clear: the city—apparently still in its character as the capital of the Jewish people—must offer the same welcome to the Messiah which he will receive from his Galilean disciples on Palm Sunday.
Yeshua Weeps for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44)
Luke 13 anticipates the inadequate response which Jerusalem will offer to Yeshua, the divine representative. That inadequate response is then narrated in Luke 19. In comparison to the other gospels, the Lukan version of Yeshua’s entry to Jerusalem emphasizes the failure of the city to receive Yeshua in a proper manner. As Steve Smith recognizes, “[I]t is only the followers of Jesus who welcome him, not the city…Far from
being a triumphal entry, as the event is commonly understood, it is a non-triumphal entry…”
Jerusalem’s failure sets the stage for a distinctive Lukan addition to the account:
41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized [egno_s] on this day the things that make for peace [eire_ne_]! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies [echthroi] will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize [egno_s] the time of your visitation [epi-skope_s] from God.” (Luke 19:41–44)
Here the tone of intense grief is unmistakable. Looking upon the city as he descends the Mount of Olives, Yeshua weeps over it. He weeps because in one glance he beholds two prophetic pictures, one superimposed on the other: the first is his own suffering and death, which will reveal that Jerusalem has not “recognized . . . the things that make for peace” or the time of her “visitation”; the second is Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 ce.
One of the most striking features of these verses is their allusion to the Song of Zechariah in Luke 1:68–79. That song, uttered on the occasion of the circumcision of John the Baptist, is a celebration of God’s saving power at work in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The object of praise is “the Lord God of Israel” (vs. 68), and his redeeming act is in accordance with his oath to Abraham (vs. 73), his merciful covenant with all the patriarchs (vs. 72), and the words spoken “through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (vs. 70). Thus, the tone of the song is diametrically opposed to that of Luke 19:41–44. Even more, the content of Yeshua’s prophetic words as he approaches the city appears to be a direct negation of Zechariah’s song. In the births of John the Baptist and Yeshua, God has “visited [epe-skepsato] his people to redeem them” (1:68) and “to give knowledge [gno_sin] of salvation to his people” (1:77), but Jerusalem “did not know [egno_s] the time of its visitation [epi-skope_s]” (19:44). God has come to “give light to those who sit in darkness” and “to guide our feet into the way of peace [eire_ne_]” (1:79), but now “the things that make for peace [eire_ne_]” are “hidden from your eyes” (19:42). God’s work through John and Yeshua will result in Israel’s being “saved” and “rescued” from its enemies [echthroi] (1:71; 73), but now Yeshua foresees the coming siege of Jerusalem by Israel’s “enemies” [echthroi] and the city’s utter destruction at their hands [19:43–44]. We have here far more than a non-fulfillment of what was promised; the identical diction draws attention to the blatant contradiction between what was anticipated and what is actually taking place. Furthermore, the problem cannot be evaded by attempting to distinguish the “Israel” of Zechariah’s Song from the “Jerusalem” which Yeshua approaches, for the infancy narrative of Luke treats the “redemption [lutro_sin]” of Israel (1:68) as equivalent to “the redemption [lutro_sin] of Jerusalem” (2:38). If Jerusalem is judged rather than redeemed, then Israel is judged rather than redeemed.
Robert Tannehill has viewed this contradiction between the joyful expectation of Jerusalem’s redemption in the infancy narrative and the actual events which occur in Jerusalem in both 30 and 70 CE as evidence that the Lukan narrative concerning Israel should be read as a tragedy. Without denying the tragic element in the story, it is highly unlikely that Luke thinks the promises to Israel in his infancy narrative have been—or can be—definitively thwarted. To see God’s dealings with Israel as ultimately tragic would mean that God’s dealings with Yeshua result in failure. Yeshua mourns over the coming suffering of Jerusalem just as many in Jerusalem mourn over his suffering (23:27–31). The suffering of Yeshua and the grief it causes are swallowed up in the joy of his resurrection (Luke 24:41, 52); if Luke considers the promises to Israel cited in the Song of Zechariah as divine in origin, would he not expect Jerusalem’s suffering and grief likewise to be swallowed up in joy?
Most commentators agree that Luke would never entertain the notion that God’s dealings with Israel could fail. Many of them, however, propose that he radically reinterprets what those dealings entail: only those who believe in Yeshua constitute the true Israel, and their communal life in the Spirit represents the redemption and restoration which the Lukan infancy narrative anticipates. However, this view ignores the tone of lamentation which permeates the Lukan texts we are now considering. Furthermore, it misses the many indications in both Luke and Acts that the author/editor looks for a redemption of Israel that is yet to come.
While the Lukan infancy narrative resounds with the tone of joyful hope, an ominous hint of lamentation enters at one point, namely, when Simeon blesses Mary and Yeshua: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Luke 2:34–35). Many see this text as pointing to the division in Israel that will occur in response to the Messiah’s words and actions. However, David Tiede argues persuasively that “the falling and rising of many in Israel” should be taken as a prophetic temporal sequence, with at first “many in Israel” falling and experiencing judgment, and afterward “many in Israel” rising to receive redemption. This corresponds to the pattern of imminent judgment followed by future redemption which marks the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. This also fits the final verse of Luke 13:31–35, which anticipates a future welcome of the Messiah to be extended by the city of Jerusalem and a consequent return of the divine glory to Zion. If this is Luke’s vision of Israel’s future, then the allusion in Luke 19:41–44 to the Song of Zechariah is neither ironic nor contradictory, but instead a way of signaling that the sad events taking place in Jerusalem are not the end of Jerusalem’s story. In fact, the judgment of Jerusalem—and Yeshua’s bearing of that judgment proleptically and representatively on the cross—will itself be instrumental in achieving her ultimate redemption.
Simeon’s blessing points to the cross (the “sword” that will pierce Mary’s heart) and to the coming judgment (“falling”) of Israel. Entering Jerusalem, Yeshua likewise ponders both events together. The disciples do not initially understand the role the cross will play in Yeshua’s work “to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). In order to “rise,” Yeshua himself had to “fall.” It appears that Jerusalem must walk the same course.
The End of the Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:20–24)
The third passage in Luke which anticipates the events of 70 CE (Luke 21:20–24) is found in Luke’s version of Yeshua’s eschatological discourse (Luke 21:5–36). In Mark and Matthew this discourse combines and compresses references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce and the great distress at the end of the age in such a way that one event is superimposed on the other. The overlay effect is especially evident in Mark 13:14–20:
14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege [to bdelugma te_s ere_mo_seo_s] set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days.”
The “desolating sacrilege”—or, more literally, “the detestable thing of desolation”—alludes to the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel which had their preliminary realization in the desecration of the Jerusalem temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; see also 1 Macc 1:54). The relationship between the eschatological message of Daniel and its partial historical enactment in the Syrian persecution of Antiochus is similar to the relationship between the eschatological message of Mark 13 and its partial enactment in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. In each case one event is telescoped typologically upon another in such a way that the two cannot be disentangled by means of a purely literary analysis.
In contrast, Luke’s version of these verses distinguishes clearly between what will happen in Jerusalem in 70 ce and what will happen at the end of the age.
20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation
[ere_mo_sis] has come near. 21Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23Woe [ouai] to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people [lao_]; 24they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled [patoumene_] on by the Gentiles, until the times [kairoi] of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20–24)
Luke transforms Mark’s reference to the desecration of the temple (to bdelugma te_s ere_mo_seo_s) so that it becomes a description of the “desolation” (ere_mo_sis) of the entire city. The sign itself becomes the armies surrounding Jerusalem rather than the erecting of an idolatrous altar. The Markan text implies a cosmic distress, whereas the Lukan version speaks of “wrath against this people” (i.e., the Jewish people who inhabit Jerusalem). Most significantly, the world in its unredeemed form—and the Jewish people—remain in existence after this event, for not all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are slain but some are “taken away as captives among all nations,” and “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This concluding statement about Jerusalem implies that an extended period of time will elapse between the destruction of the city by the gentiles and the end of the age (which will occur only after “the times of the gentiles are fulfilled”).
While commentators generally assume that the “times of the Gentiles” begins with their trampling of Jerusalem in 70 ce, the text permits another reading: the phrase may refer to the extended era of the four gentile empires described in Daniel 2 and 7, the fourth of which was understood by first-century Jews to be Rome (4 Ezra 11:39–40). Such an interpretation is supported by Daniel’s mention of the divine control of “times [kairoi] and seasons [chronoi]” (Dan 2:21 LXX), which may be alluded to by the resurrected Yeshua when he responds to the disciples’ question about the imminent restoration of the kingdom to Israel: “It is not for you to know the times [chronoi] or periods [kairoi] that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). If that is correct, then the “times of the Gentiles” begin with the Babylonian conquest of 586 bce rather than the Roman destruction of the city in 70 ce. Thus, according to this interpretation, Luke 21:24 implies that the exile continues—and is even intensified by a “trampling” of Jerusalem—after the death and resurrection of Yeshua.
Luke 21:20–24 thus demonstrates once again this author’s particular focus on the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce. However, verse 24 also confirms what we have already suggested in relation to Luke 13 and Luke 19—namely, Luke’s anticipation of a future redemption for Jewish Jerusalem. Taking account of the literary traditions underlying this verse, Robert Tannehill offers the most cogent reading: “That Jerusalem or the sanctuary has been or will be ‘trampled on’ is a repeated theme in ancient Jewish writings. . . . This trampling of Jerusalem will last only ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ We are not told explicitly what will happen then, but if we return to the other texts that speak of this trampling, we find the expectation that Jerusalem will be restored.”
Perhaps Luke expects the period in which the gentiles “trample” Jerusalem to end when the Jewish people corporately welcome Yeshua as the Messiah with the words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” If so, such “trampling” must be compatible with Jewish residence in the city, since Luke 13:35 appears to speak of a welcome extended to Yeshua by the Jews of Jerusalem. On the other hand, perhaps the transition from the “times of the Gentiles” to the fullness of the messianic age is an extended process rather than a singular event—a process which culminates in the corporate Jewish welcoming of the Messiah, but begins well before that greeting.
The Daughters of Jerusalem Weep (Luke 23:27–31)
The fourth and final Lukan passage concerning the destruction of Jerusalem brings that event once again into close proximity to the death of Yeshua. The verses appear in the midst of Luke’s passion narrative, as Yeshua is being led to his place of crucifixion.
27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed [makariai] are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27–31)
These verses, which appear only in Luke, contain a number of noteworthy features for our purposes. First, the women who beat their breasts and wail for Yeshua’s fate show that the city is divided in her response to Yeshua, just as she will later be divided in her response to the twelve (Acts 5:33–39), Stephen (Acts 8:2), and Paul (Acts 23:6–10). Nevertheless, in the final analysis those who are sympathetic to Yeshua and his disciples are unable to carry the day. Second, these women respond to what is happening to Yeshua in the same way that he responded to what he envisioned of Jerusalem’s fate as he anticipated his arrival in the city (Luke 13) and as he actually approached its gates (Luke 19). This gospel has already sounded the note of grief, and these women are but echoing a note that readers have heard before. Third, this echo means that readers have been prepared for the response that Yeshua gives to the wailing women when he points them to what should be the true object of their grief. The passages being echoed—Luke 13 and 19—also enable us to understand the tone of Yeshua’s words to the women. He does not speak harshly or vindictively, but instead beckons the women to join him in his own grief for Jerusalem which is coming to a head as he reaches his place of execution. Fourth, Yeshua’s words concerning the happiness of barren women in that day allude to a verse from our previous passage: “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!” (Luke 21:23). “Woe” (ouai) and “blessed” (makariai) are parallel and converse forms of speech, and Luke’s literary preference for balancing one with the other is evidenced by Luke 6:20–26. Those who are “blessed” here in our fourth passage on the destruction of Jerusalem are those who are not subject to the “woe” of our third passage. Thus, the beginning of Luke’s crucifixion narrative (Luke 23:27–31) echoes the three earlier grieving-for-Jerusalem texts (Luke 13:31–35; Luke 19:41–44; and Luke 21:20–24) as it sets the stage for their dramatic enactment. This echo confirms the bond connecting these four texts, and their special role in telegraphing an essential feature of the author’s message.
A fifth and final point concerns the closing words of this passage: “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31). N.T. Wright describes this as one of Yeshua’s many “riddles” which reveal the meaning of what is happening in his crucifixion. Yeshua is innocent of violent insurrection, yet he suffers the punishment reserved by the Romans for just such offenders. He is the green wood, which will be burned up in the “baptism of fire” which he must undergo. If one innocent of offense suffers in this way, what will be the fate of the city as a whole and its leaders—the dry wood—when the torch is tossed in their pile? In this way Yeshua takes his place as the innocent representative of his people, who bears in advance the judgment which they merit and will eventually receive. In interpreting this “riddle” Wright points readers in the proper direction:
[W]hat is happening to Jesus is a foretaste of what will happen to many more young Jews in the not too distant future. . . . It suggests, in its dark riddling way, that Jesus understood his death as being organically linked with the fate of the nation. He was dying as the rejected king, who had offered the way of peace which the city had rejected; as the representative king, taking Israel’s suffering upon himself, though not here even with any hint that Israel would thereby escape. . . . Having announced the divine judgment upon Temple and nation alike, a judgment which would take the form of awful devastation at the hands of the pagan forces, Jesus was now going ahead of the nation, to undergo the punishment which, above all, symbolized the judgment of Rome on her rebel subjects. If they did this to the one revolutionary who was not advocating rebellion against Rome, what would they do to those who were, and those who followed them?
Yeshua here signals that his death is “organically linked with the fate of the nation.” By inserting this fourth passage on the destruction of Jerusalem in the midst of the passion narrative, Luke underlines this organic linkage. In other words, rather than attempting to dissuade the daughters of Jerusalem from grieving at his death, Yeshua urges them to recognize how his death—his “baptism of fire” (Luke 3:16; 12:49–50)—anticipates the national conflagration to come. He thus invites them to grieve with him rather than merely for him.
These four passages confirm the assertion of N.T. Wright cited earlier concerning the shape of Luke’s narrative. The author gives special attention to the future destruction of Jerusalem, and presents that catastrophe as intimately connected to the suffering and death of Yeshua. In part, these passages imply that the events of 70 ce are a consequence of the events of 30 ce—or, more precisely, a consequence of the consistent behavior over several generations which comes to a head with Jerusalem’s rejection of its divinely-appointed king. However, as implied by the riddle of the green wood and the dry, and by the grief of the soon-to-be-crucified Yeshua which has as its object not his own suffering but that which the city will undergo a generation later, the relationship between the two events is more complicated than such an exclusively unidirectional analysis would suggest. Indeed, Luke views the destruction of Jerusalem as judgment for the unjust execution of Yeshua; but he also sees Yeshua’s death as a voluntary act in which Jerusalem’s future king proleptically bears the judgment which will come upon his guilty but still beloved city.
Luke considers Jerusalem to be Yeshua’s rightful possession, though this Galilean has never resided there. This is evident already in the story of Yeshua’s visit to Jerusalem as a twelve-year old boy, accompanying his parents to celebrate the Passover.
43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy [pais] Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. . . . 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. . . . 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke ٢:٤٣–49)
The NRSV interprets Yeshua’s response as referring to the temple (“my Father’s house”), but the Greek is less specific: en tois tou patrou mou means “in the things/places of my Father.” Yeshua may be speaking of the temple in particular, but he may also refer to the city as a whole. The use of pais (“boy”) in verse 43 may also be significant. Elsewhere in the Lukan writings the word is used as a title for David and for Yeshua as David’s heir. Jerusalem was the city of David and his dynasty, and therefore for Luke it is also the city of Yeshua. There may even be a play on words in the term pater in verse 49: the city of Jerusalem and its temple belong ultimately to God (Yeshua’s divine “Father”), but God has bestowed it as a heritage upon David (Yeshua’s human “father” or ancestor).
If Luke links the destruction of Jerusalem to the death of Yeshua, and if in the very texts which establish that link he also anticipates a future restoration of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, it seems natural to ask a question which is rarely considered: does Luke assume the same sort of connection between Yeshua’s resurrection and the future “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38) as exists between Yeshua’s death and the events of 70 ce? Good reasons exist for answering that question in the affirmative. Prominent among them is Luke’s pattern of associating the resurrection of Yeshua with God’s promises to David and his dynasty. The author highlights this theme by featuring it prominently in the two most important speeches of Acts—Peter’s first public proclamation of the apostolic message on the day of Pentecost, and Paul’s speech in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch on his first apostolic journey. Peter argues for the resurrection and ascension of Yeshua by citing Psalms 16 and 110 and noting that their traditional author, David, spoke of events that he did not experience in his own life:
25 “For David says concerning him . . . 27 ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. . . .’ 29Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah. . . . 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:25–36)
The resurrection of Yeshua constitutes his vindication and glorification as the promised son of David, and his subsequent ascension represents his heavenly enthronement as “Lord and Messiah.”
In Luke’s description of Paul’s opening speech we find the same exegetical logic displayed. He first underlines the importance of Yeshua’s lineage as David’s descendant and heir (Acts 13:22–23). He then cites Psalm 2 as a Davidic prophecy of the resurrection (Acts 13:33) to accompany a reference to Psalm 16 (Acts 13:35) which he shares with Peter. He also adds an illuminating text from Isaiah 55:3: “As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy promises made to David’” (Acts 13:34). The resurrection of Yeshua thus stands at the heart of the “holy promises made to David.” In other words, that momentous event is not merely the raising of a holy Galilean prophet in whom God was uniquely present, but also the glorification of Israel’s Davidic king whose eternal reign could not be divorced from the city which was elected to be the place of his throne. If the Son of David has been raised from the dead, and if the city of David is destined to likewise be raised from the dead, we have sufficient reason to see the former as a firm pledge, proleptic realization, and efficient cause of the latter.
This conclusion is reinforced by Paul’s final speeches in Acts in which the resurrection of Yeshua is presented as the source of hope for Israel’s national resurrection. When Paul appears before the Sanhedrin, he identifies himself as a Pharisee (i.e., as member of a party for whom Israel’s future resurrection is a fundamental tenet of faith), and then makes the claim, “I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). The word “dead” here is plural (“resurrection of those who are dead”). Paul thus refers to the hope for Israel’s future resurrection, a hope which he shares with his fellow Pharisees. While this claim was a shrewd political maneuver, setting the Pharisees in his audience against the Sadducees, it was also an entirely accurate statement. Paul was on trial for his proclamation of the risen Messiah of Israel, whose resurrection funded a firm and joyful hope in Israel’s corporate destiny.
Paul restates this claim when he appears before Felix, the Roman governor (Acts 24:15, 21), but the fullest articulation of Paul’s message of national hope and resurrection occurs when he appears before King Agrippa:
“I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. 6And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, 7a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! 8Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead [plural]? . . . 22To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: 23that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:5–8, 22–23)
Yeshua is only “the first to rise from the dead,” and Paul implies that his resurrection will be instrumental in effecting Israel’s future resurrection, the “promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain.” Paul does not here link Yeshua’s resurrection to the restoration of Jerusalem, since at this point in the narrative the city and its temple remained intact. Instead, he focuses more generally on Israel’s national hope of future glory. In his final speech in Acts, this time to the Jewish leaders of Rome, Paul again reiterates his conviction that the message he proclaims concerns Israel’s corporate destiny: “For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). The “hope of Israel” to which Paul refers here is not Yeshua himself, but the eschatological renewal of Israel which Yeshua will accomplish. For readers at the end of the first century, aware that in the years immediately following Paul’s proclamation Zion was not glorified but instead burned to the ground, these words would point to a future redemption of the city which would be a true resurrection from the dead.
This proposal regarding Luke’s view of Yeshua’s resurrection coheres perfectly with Luke’s portrayal of Yeshua’s death. Luke sets these two intertwined events within the context of a proleptic Israel-Christology, in which Yeshua’s death and resurrection are intrinsically and inseparably bound to Israel’s eschatological destiny. For greater precision, one might characterize Luke’s teaching as Jerusalem-Christology. But such a Jerusalem-Christology is but a particular expression of Israel-Christology. For Luke, as for Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, Jerusalem represents both the people of Israel and the land of Israel, fusing in one vivid image the corporate life of the Jewish people and the site apportioned as its promised inheritance.
Jerusalem and the Geographical Structure of Luke and Acts
The author/editor of Luke and Acts reinforces the thematic centrality of Jerusalem for his two volumes by structuring his narrative geographically, with Jerusalem as its pivot. No other books in the New Testament adhere to such a defined geographical pattern as a primary principle of organization. An examination of the geographical structure of Luke and Acts will provide clues regarding the message which the two volumes convey.
The Geographical Structure of the Gospel of Luke
Among the four gospels, only Luke begins in Jerusalem—and not only in Jerusalem, but in the temple, with the future father of John the Baptist offering incense in the holy place and receiving there an angelic visitation. While both Matthew and Luke describe Yeshua’s birth near Jerusalem in Bethlehem, only Luke depicts the presentation of the infant Yeshua in the Jerusalem temple, accompanied by the prophetic blessings of Simeon and Anna. Only Luke among the canonical gospels provides readers with a story of Yeshua as a youth, and that story recounts his visit to Jerusalem for Passover and his lingering there in the courts of the temple. Thus, Luke’s two-chapter introduction centers on the city of Jerusalem and its temple.
From the beginning of chapter three to the final paragraphs of chapter nine, Luke shifts focus to Galilee, following for the most part the order of events recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Then Luke begins a new section of his narrative which combines material from the double tradition (i.e., units shared by Luke and Matthew but not Mark) with material unique to Luke. The new section begins in this way: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The next nine chapters of Luke’s “Special Section” take the form of an extended travel narrative encompassing Yeshua’s final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51–18:14). The material itself is only loosely geographical in character, consisting of parables and stories that for the most part lack an intrinsic connection to the journey and its destination. Nevertheless, Luke has chosen to organize the material around such a journey, with occasional editorial reminders of the geographical context (e.g., Luke 13:22; 17:11). In this way the central section of Luke’s narrative, which occurs outside Jerusalem, employs the holy city as its point of orientation and source of structural unity.
As in all four gospels, the events of Luke’s passion narrative occur in Jerusalem and its immediate environs. However, only Luke restricts resurrection appearances to that location, and only Luke includes the dominical command that the disciples remain in the city (Luke 24:49). The gospel ends as it began—in the Jerusalem temple, with a community of Jews worshiping the God of Israel (Luke 24:53).
Among the canonical gospels only Luke begins in Jerusalem, ends in Jerusalem, and orients its central narrative around a journey to Jerusalem. Taken together with the particular Lukan material related to the destruction and redemption of Jerusalem considered above, this emphatic geographical structure underlines Luke’s unique concern for the holy city and her enduring theological significance.
The Geographical Structure of Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles likewise features a narrative ordered according to a geographical pattern centered in Jerusalem, and that pattern finds explicit articulation in the verses which follow the book’s preface:
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6–8)
These are crucial verses for a proper interpretation of the entire book. Is Yeshua attempting to correct the ethnocentric worldview of his disciples and urging them to adopt in its place a universal perspective in which Jerusalem and the Jewish people forfeit their role as the fulcrum and goal of the divine purpose? Only a reader holding such a belief as an established presupposition would interpret the verses in this way. In the text itself the only issue at hand is “the time”—will Israel’s full eschatological restoration occur now (or later)? On even this point Yeshua refrains from offering a negative answer but instead denies the appropriateness of the question. We will return to this topic momentarily. At this juncture we must attend to the substance of the response he does give: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As has been noted by generations of interpreters, this verse supplies us with a rough geographical outline of Acts.
Like the Gospel of Luke, Acts of the Apostles begins in Jerusalem, with a community centered on the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1–10; 4:1–2; 5:12; 5:20–21; 5:42). The story develops as the message and power of Yeshua radiate outwards—first to the towns of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1, 4–25), then with reference to Damascus (Acts 9:1–2, 10, 19). In Acts 10 Peter brings the message of Yeshua to the gentile Cornelius and his household in the coastal city of Caesarea. Then in Acts 13 Paul begins his travels, wending his way through Asia Minor, and eventually crossing over to Europe and establishing Yeshua-believing communities in Greece. The story concludes with Paul in Rome, capital of the Empire.
This narrative outline, like the condensed geographical summary of Acts 1:8, leaves out a particular detail which has profound implications for our interpretation of the geographical structure of Acts: while radiating steadily outwards, the story continually reverts back to Jerusalem. Paul encounters Yeshua on the road to Damascus, and then returns to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–29). Peter proclaims Yeshua to Cornelius in Caesarea, and then returns to Jerusalem (Acts 11:2). A congregation arises in Antioch, and then sends aid to Jerusalem in a time of famine (Acts 11:27–30). Paul and Barnabas journey from Antioch to Asia Minor, and then return afterward to Jerusalem for the central event in the book of Acts—the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:2). From Jerusalem Paul travels with Silas to Greece, and then returns again to Jerusalem (Acts 18:22). Paul takes his final journey as a free man, and then returns to Jerusalem, where he is arrested (Acts 21:17–23:11). While this feature of the geographical structure of Acts is often ignored by commentators, Robert Brawley sees it clearly and notes its significance:
Although Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, it is inaccurate to conclude that Jerusalem falls out in favor of Rome. The narrative in Acts actually reciprocates between Jerusalem and the extended mission. . . . Even when Paul is in Rome, his memory reverts to Jerusalem to reiterate his fate there (28:17). Hence, Acts does not delineate a movement away from Jerusalem, but a constant return to Jerusalem. In the geography of Acts emphasis repeatedly falls on Jerusalem from beginning to end.
If indeed Acts 1:8 is a geographical outline of the book, then its language supports this conclusion, for it characterizes Rome as being located at “the ends of the earth.” Rome may be the capital of a gentile Empire, holding political control over much of the earth, but for Luke and Acts it was neither the center nor the true capital of the world. That honor belonged to Jerusalem alone.
This assessment finds further confirmation in the geographical structure of the list of Jews gathered for the holiday of Pentecost (Acts 2:5, 9–11). Richard Bauckham has analyzed this list, and his results deserve lengthy citation:
Luke’s list of the nations and countries from which the pilgrims attending the festival of Pentecost had come (Acts 2:9–11) provides a much more authentically Jerusalem perspective on the Diaspora. The order in which the names occur has perplexed interpreters. In fact, if we take the trouble to plot the names on a map of the world as an ancient reader would have perceived it, we can see that Luke’s list is carefully designed to depict the Jewish Diaspora with Jerusalem at its centre. . . . The names in Acts 2:9–11 are listed in four groups corresponding to the four points of the compass, beginning in the east and moving counterclockwise. . . . The first group of names in the list . . . begins in the far east and moves in towards Judaea, which is then named. Recognizing that Judaea is in the list because it is the centre of the pattern described by the names is the key to understanding the list. The second group of names . . . is of places to the north of Judaea, and follows an order which moves out from and back to Judaea, ending at the point from which one might sail to Judaea. The third group of names . . . moves west from Judaea through Egypt . . . and Libya to Rome, and then back to Judaea by a sea route calling at Crete. Finally, a single name (Arabs) represents the movement south from Judaea, presumably indicating Nabataea, immediately due south of Judaea.
This list depicts Jerusalem as the center of the world. Moreover, it follows the same rhythm of outward and inward movement which characterizes the entire narrative of Acts. Reading Acts 1:8 in light of Acts 2:9–11 and in light of the overall narrative structure of Acts, we might say that the Pentecost list portrays the actual historical spread of the apostolic message in accordance with Acts 1:8, whereas the narrative of Acts focuses on one particular strand of that greater story—the strand associated with the figure of Paul. In both the greater story of the advance of the apostolic message and the more circumscribed story of Paul, the heart beats in an alternating diastolic and systolic rhythm, with Jerusalem as the perpetual center to which all must eventually return.
The Puzzling Conclusion to Acts of the Apostles
Yet, Acts ends in Rome rather than in Jerusalem. Moreover, it ends with Paul’s rebuke of the Jewish leaders of Rome as those whose hearts had been dulled by a divine judgment, in accordance with the words of Isaiah 6. In many respects this is a puzzling conclusion to these two volumes. The second half of Acts deals exclusively with the work of Paul, who will die in Rome as a martyr not many years after the events described in Acts 28. Luke could have brought closure to his narrative of the early ekkle_sia by recounting Paul’s heroic death, yet he refrains from doing so. As we have seen above, the Gospel of Luke gives more attention to the destruction of Jerusalem than any other book in the New Testament, and both Luke and Acts were composed after this cataclysmic event. Luke could have brought closure to his narrative by concluding with a reference to the ruin of Jerusalem, yet he again refrains from doing so.
I propose that this lack of closure constitutes the essential message of Acts 28. The story that Luke is telling is not concluded, but has in fact only just begun. Ending with the death of Paul could signal that the proclamation of the kingdom of God and the earthly realization of its transforming power had come to a suitable narrative climax. Luke seeks to forestall such a false inference by concluding the book with the statement that Paul “lived there [i.e., in Rome] for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). The work must continue, the kingdom to come must still be proclaimed, lived, and awaited. Similarly, ending with Jerusalem in ruins could signal that God had given up on the Jewish people and had made Rome the capital of not only a gentile empire but also of a reconstituted “Israel.” Luke seeks to forestall such a false inference by avoiding explicit reference here to Jerusalem’s destruction, only alluding to it cryptically through Paul’s citation of Isaiah 6.
This reading of the end of Acts finds its most powerful support in the beginning of Acts. As we saw above, the first chapter of Acts begins with a question from the apostles to Yeshua: “Lord, is this the time [chronos] when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6.). They ask this question in Jerusalem, where the Messiah has just been raised from the dead. They clearly anticipate the imminent restoration of the Davidic kingdom in its ancestral capital.
The disciples appear to have forgotten Yeshua’s earlier teaching regarding the destruction of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times [kairoi] of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Yeshua’s response to their question about the Davidic kingdom reminds the disciples of his earlier words concerning the trampling of Jerusalem: “It is not for you to know the times [chronoi] or periods [kairoi] that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). The death and resurrection of the Messiah has begun the process that will lead to the overthrow of the final gentile empire, but Luke makes clear that much suffering still remains for the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem will soon be “trampled on by the gentiles,” it is evident that the kingdom is now being restored to Israel in only a partial and imperfect fashion. Luke still awaits that day when “the times of the gentiles are fulfilled,” which will also introduce the “time” when God will “restore the kingdom to Israel.” Therefore, he rightly decides to leave his narrative without closure, for the narrative of God’s dealings with Jerusalem, Israel, and the nations has not yet been closed.
Luke wants his readers to grasp the rhythmic geographical flow of his narrative, which streams out from Jerusalem always to return again, like waves that beat on the rocks and then return to their ocean home. He leaves his narrative in mid-flow, in anticipation of its future consummation which will occur at some point after the judgment of Jerusalem. Rome may be at the “ends of the earth,” but it is not the end of the story. The story must end where it began—in Jerusalem.
The verses immediately following the opening dialogue between Yeshua and his disciples in Acts 1 confirm this conclusion.
9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. (Acts 1:9–12)
What is meant by the revelation that Yeshua “will come in the same way as you saw him go”? Verse 12 hints at the answer by telling us that the ascension occurred on the Mount of Olives. Luke’s reference to the location alludes to the eschatological prophecy of Zechariah 14:
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle. . . . Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley. . . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (Zechariah 14:2–5)
Given the almost certain allusion to Zechariah 14, and Luke’s unequivocal Jerusalem-centered cartography, the phrase “in the same way” should be read as including the geographical site of the two events. Just as Yeshua ascends now from the Mount of Olives, so he will descend at the end to the Mount of Olives. Just as the Mount of Olives serves now as his point of departure from Jerusalem, so that same site will mark his point of entry to the city when he returns. The angelic message calls the disciples to remember Yeshua’s “non-triumphal entry” on Palm Sunday, and to acknowledge that earlier event as a prophetic anticipation of the “triumphal entry” that is yet to come.
Acts 1:9–12 may also allude to the departure and return of the divine glory (kavod) as described in the prophet Ezekiel. When the kavod departs from the temple it first stops and rests on “the mountain east of the city” (Ezek 11:23)—that is, the Mount of Olives. When the kavod returns to the temple it comes “from the east” (Ezek 43:2)—that is, from the exiles in Mesopotamia. The prophet views the returning kavod from the vantage point of the temple mount, and so stands looking at the Mount of Olives. Thus, Ezekiel sees the kavod return “in the same way” as he saw it depart.
Jerusalem will suffer many things, as the prophecies of Zechariah (12–14), Ezekiel, and Yeshua (Luke 13, 19, 21, and 23) all foretell. But the city will be consoled when the Lord comes to defend her at the end, his feet standing on the Mount of Olives. “On that day” the Lord will be welcomed by Jerusalem in a fitting manner, reversing the failure of Palm Sunday. “On that day” the leaders and the people of the city will go out together to meet him, proclaiming with joy, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35; 19:38).
The narrative of the ascension in Acts 1:9–12 provides us with the strongest and clearest evidence for the Jerusalem-centered eschatology of Luke and Acts. This crucial scene set on the Mount of Olives casts a long shadow, encompassing the non-triumphal entry in Luke 19, the anticipation of that entry in Luke 13, and the disciples’ question about the restoration of Israel’s kingdom in the verses immediately preceding (Acts 1:6–8). Given the importance of this scene, it is surprising to see how little attention it receives from those who study Lukan eschatology. The present volume seeks to correct this error of negligence.
An eschatological reading of Acts 1:9–12 that highlights the allusion to Zechariah 14 enables us to perceive another signal of the incomplete character of Luke and Acts and their eschatological hope for “the redemption of Jerusalem”—namely, the approach taken by these two volumes to the pilgrimage festivals of Israel. Early in Luke we read of Yeshua and his family journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate the early-spring pilgrimage festival of Passover (Luke 2:41). As already noted, the central narrative of Luke is then structured around Yeshua’s journey to Jerusalem, again in order to celebrate the Passover (Luke 22:1, 7–8, 11, 13, 15). Acts of the Apostles has a similar orientation to the late-spring pilgrimage festival, Pentecost. The book begins with the giving of the Spirit on this day (Acts 2:1). Later the book describes Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem in a way that makes it resemble Yeshua’s pilgrimage before his death. But whereas Yeshua went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, Paul goes for Pentecost (Acts 20:16). The narrative of Acts is thus focused on Pentecost in the same way as the narrative of Luke is focused on Passover. This covers the first two pilgrimage festivals of Israel—but what about the third, the autumn feast of Booths? The festival year is incomplete without this crucial feast, which anticipates the final harvest and Israel’s redeemed life (with the nations) in the world to come. It is likely that already in first-century Judaism, as in later Jewish tradition, a key reading from the prophets for this holiday was Zechariah 14. “And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one. . . . Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths” (Zechariah 14:9, 16). If the Gospel of Luke is related to Passover, and the Acts of the Apostles to Pentecost, then the as yet unwritten conclusion to this trilogy will be related to Booths. In the eschatological celebration which will fulfill the meaning of this holiday, the nations will join Israel in Jerusalem to glorify the One who is the “king over all the earth.” Thus will be realized the “kingdom of God” which, according to the final verse of Acts, Paul proclaimed in Rome “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Only then will the story find its ultimate closure.
The conclusion of Acts, read in relation to the beginning of the book, supports our thesis. The geographical structure of Luke and Acts conveys the same message we discerned in their substantive message: the resurrection of Yeshua is the pledge and power which ensures Jerusalem’s future redemption. Only then will the “kingdom of God” reach its appointed goal.
Proleptic Joy in the Midst of Exile
Biblical scholarship is indebted to N.T. Wright for his identification of the theme of exile as central to the thinking of first century Judaism and to the New Testament. However, Wright’s construal of that theme in the New Testament has problematic features. According to his reading, Yeshua and the apostles assumed that the Babylonian exile continued even after the temple was rebuilt. In his death Yeshua endured the full power of that exile, and in his resurrection he overcame that power. When Jews rally to the resurrected Messiah, they become those who have already returned from exile. Paradoxically, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce involves no intensification of exile but instead demonstrates its termination by confirming the prophetic words and actions of Yeshua. Jerusalem had become the new Babylon, persecuting the servants of God, and her definitive judgment represented God’s victory and the vindication of God’s servants.
Luke’s reiterated lament at the fall of Jerusalem and expression of hope for Jerusalem’s future redemption manifest a vision of Israel’s restoration and exile that is far more complex than that offered by N.T. Wright. On the one hand, Luke would agree with Wright that the resurrection of Yeshua constitutes the first-fruits and source of Israel’s ultimate restoration. On the other hand, Luke also sees the destruction of Jerusalem as a new stage in Israel’s enduring exile, which will not end until “the times of the gentiles are fulfilled.” The exile endured by Yeshua in his suffering and death was not primarily the exile that began in the distant past when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and that continued to his own day, but the intensified exile which was coming upon his people in the near future at the hands of the Romans. Moreover, Luke portrays Jerusalem as both the enduring capital and international center of the Jewish people, and also as the capital and international center of the community of Yeshua’s disciples—and indeed of the world itself. The agony and humiliation of the city at the hands of the Romans inspired in his work a profound sense of grief rather than exultation.
We find this complex vision of exile and restoration not only in Luke but in the synoptic tradition as a whole. No better witness to this complexity exists than the story of Yeshua’s teaching concerning feasting and fasting. All three synoptic gospels contain this pericope with little significant variation. Here is Luke’s version:
33Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” 34Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5:33–35)
N.T. Wright’s comments on this unit are instructive:
Fasting in this period was not, for Jews, simply an ascetic discipline, part of the general practice of piety. It had to do with Israel’s present condition: she was still in exile. More specifically, it had to do with commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Zechariah’s promise that the fasts would turn into feasts could come true only when YHWH restored the fortunes of his people. That, of course, was precisely what Jesus’ cryptic comments implied.
Wright helpfully characterizes the practice of fasting as a corporate Jewish response to exile. He also rightly sees Yeshua’s feasting rather than fasting as a sign that Yeshua is the one who will bring the exile to an end. However, in order to fit this text into his unambiguous understanding of restoration, Wright must go beyond this useful insight.
This is . . . a claim about eschatology. The time is fulfilled; the exile is over; the bridegroom is at hand. Jesus’ acted symbol, feasting rather than fasting, brings into public visibility his controversial claim, that in his work Israel’s hope was being realized; more specifically, that in his work the Temple was being rebuilt.
Unfortunately, this reading only makes sense if we ignore the final verse of the unit: “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35). This verse implies that Yeshua’s physical presence served as a proleptic sign of the coming restoration, but was not the final restoration itself. Fasting was not appropriate in his physical presence, but it would be appropriate after his ascension. The resurrection and ascension of Yeshua may secure the ultimate end of exile, but the appropriateness of fasting in the era inaugurated by these messianic events suggests that the condition of exile in some sense endures.
The restoration had begun, and through faith in Yeshua, the gift of the Spirit, and participation in the apostolic community one could receive an authentic foretaste of the final redemption. Nevertheless, for Luke the destruction of Jerusalem constituted a new stage in the exile rather than its conclusion. Still, this new stage also contained positive elements, even for Jews outside the apostolic community. First, the doors of the apostolic community remained open, and there the powers of the messianic age were available in proleptic form. Second, the Messiah had risen from the dead and ascended on high, and these events—and his continued presence in the world by his Spirit—stood as a sure pledge of Jerusalem’s ultimate restoration and glorification. Third, Yeshua took upon himself Jerusalem’s suffering when he died upon the cross. This established a dynamic connection between his redemptive work and the suffering endured by the Jewish people as a consequence of the exile. As one aspect of this connection, I propose that Luke envisions the Jewish people in post-70 exile as benefiting corporately from the redemptive suffering of Yeshua—even apart from explicit communal reception of Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah. At the very least, we may confidently assert that the radical identification of Yeshua with the Jewish people in his suffering and death—and in his resurrection and ascension—solidified a bond that is thereafter unbreakable.
That Acts concludes in Rome may be viewed as further evidence for the author’s vision of exile as both enduring and potentially redemptive. Writing from a post-70 vantage point, Luke knows that Roman armies will demolish Jerusalem after Paul dies in Rome. He concludes his two volumes with Paul proclaiming Yeshua and “the kingdom” in the very city that will be the agent of divine judgment upon the promised seat of that kingdom. Rome thus occupies the same position vis-à-vis Jerusalem as that previously held by Babylon in the sixth century BCE. The armies of Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and taken many of its inhabitants into exile; but it was from the midst of that exile, and from the city which had brought it to pass, that the post-exilic renewal of Judaism and the Jewish people would originate. Ezra, “a scribe skilled in the law of Moses,” comes to Jerusalem “from Babylonia” (Ezra 7:6). For Luke, as for 1 Peter 5:13, Rome is the new Babylon, the agent of judgment on Jerusalem which is destined also to become an incubator for her eschatological renewal.
Luke thus sees the saving work of Yeshua in his death and resurrection as simultaneously deepening Israel’s exile (through the judgment of Jerusalem in 70 ce), transforming it to realize its redemptive potential (through association with Yeshua’s suffering and death), and initiating the exile’s ultimate demise (through his resurrection). The community of Yeshua’s disciples takes its place in the midst of Israel, and in the midst of Israel’s exile, as a prophetic sign of the meaning of that exile and a pledge of the restoration to come. In fellowship with their Messiah, the disciples of Yeshua mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the center of their communal life and the focal point of their eschatological hope. With Paul, the ekkle_sia takes up her temporary residence in Rome, at the ends of the earth—but without losing her expectation of returning home to Zion, the true capital of the world. Indeed, this is a far more complex vision of exile and restoration than the one enunciated by N.T. Wright. Though we should be grateful to Wright for highlighting the importance of exile and restoration for the New Testament, we should also recognize the limitations of his manner of elucidating that theme.
The Lukan Vision and Israel Today
Luke and Acts portray Jerusalem as the city of David and the city of David’s greater son, the city of the holy temple, the city which Yeshua loved and the city in which he died and rose again from the dead. These two volumes present Jerusalem as the center of the land of Israel, the center of the Jewish people, the center of the messianic ekkle_sia, and the center of the entire world. They depict the suffering and death of Yeshua as a proleptic embodiment of and participation in the suffering and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce, and imply that his resurrection is the pledge and future catalyst of Jerusalem’s eschatological restoration.
The comprehensive vision of Luke-Acts, however, concerns not only the city itself, but also that which the city represents—the land of Israel and the Jewish people. According to Luke and Acts, the death and resurrection of the Messiah are bound inextricably to both the land and the people. In the final analysis, his salvific work either includes them in its scope, or fails in its purpose.
If we look beyond the narrative of Luke-Acts to the present, we might ask how this narrative sheds light on the Jewish return to the land of Israel in our own time. Something is happening in the Zionist movement of tremendous positive theological import. That something corresponds in some way with the prophetic besorah. But what does this mean for the specific questions which disciples of Yeshua must address as they reflect theologically on critical events taking place in the Middle East?
How disciples of Yeshua answer these questions has a profound impact on how they respond to those events. Most of the direct participants in the Middle East are not intentional disciples of Yeshua, and we cannot expect the besorah to shape their thinking and action. But disciples of Yeshua around the world play a prominent role in supporting or opposing various courses of action adopted by those participants. Thus, we need to know what the prophetic besorah requires or permits concerning these actions.
In what follows I am not advocating any particular political program or policy. My aim is to clarify the practical twenty-first century imperatives of the message of Luke-Acts outlined in this article. I seek only to define what that message requires concerning the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and where there is scope for prudential decisions based on the ethical teaching that is also central to the besorah.
Five theological questions
Question #1: Does a positive theological assessment of Zionism in light of the prophetic besorah mean that the Jewish State as currently constituted is the beginning of the redeemed order of the world?
Our theological reflection on these historical events suggests that the rebirth of Jewish national life in the land of Israel is a divine work with profound eschatological implications. This conclusion should be evident from the extraordinary form this history took and by its relationship to the Lukan besorah. However, this does not mean that the state should be regarded in exactly the same way. Considered as a particular political arrangement for the ordering of Jewish national life, the state serves the nation but is not identical to it. It is an instrument, not an end in itself, and could take a variety of forms and still fulfill its purpose.
In 1948 the two chief rabbis of the new State of Israel composed a prayer for the state that is still used by many Jewish communities today. That prayer refers to the state as reshit tzemichat ge’ulateynu—literally translated, “the first-fruit of the sprouting of our redemption.” The Hebrew word translated here as “sprouting” alludes to biblical and liturgical texts which speak of the eschatological reign of the Messiah. There are ways of interpreting this phrase that would be compatible with the prophetic besorah. The term “state” (medinah) may be understood as referring not primarily to a governmental structure but instead to the people served by that structure, and also to the entire historical sequence of events whereby they were regathered to the land as a self-governing community. These events may reasonably be viewed together as an eschatological sign manifesting God’s faithfulness to the covenant promises, and pointing beyond themselves to a future messianic expression of that faithfulness beyond all imagining.
However, the phrase employed in the prayer for the State of Israel may also be interpreted in ways that are incompatible with the besorah. This occurs whenever the State of Israel as a particular political order comes to be viewed as the first stage of the messianic redemption, with the ultimate reign of the Messiah merely adding the capstone to a nearly completed structure. Such an orientation to the Jewish State exaggerates the continuity between this broken world and the redeemed world, between Israel-now and Israel-then. The coming of the Messiah will heal the nations (Revelation 21:24, 26; 22:2), but will end states as we now know them by establishing a kingdom in Israel (Acts 1:6).
In this context, the approach taken to the reality of the Jewish State by Martin Buber has much to commend it. Before 1948 Buber had been aligned with those who had argued for a bi-national state in which the Jewish people would find a national home as an autonomous partner in a twofold Jewish-Arab political order. Displeased with the actual shape taken by the State of Israel in 1948, he nonetheless accepted it as his own. “I have accepted as mine the State of Israel, the form of the new Jewish community that has arisen from the war. I have nothing in common with those Jews who imagine that they may contest the factual shape which Jewish independence has taken. The command to serve the spirit is to be fulfilled by us in this state, starting from it.” While embracing the Jewish State, Buber still argued vigorously against an idolatry of that state. For him, the Zionist vision was fundamentally a moral and spiritual task given by God to the Jewish people, and the establishment of the state offered a decisive new opportunity to accomplish that task. Buber’s biographer summarizes his view of the State of Israel in this way:
“Every attempt to replace the living idea of ‘Zion’ through the establishment of a state must end in failure,” wrote Buber [in 1959]. “The state is not, as Hegel thought, the ‘self-determination’ of the spirit in which alone man can have a rational existence. It is at best a supporting structure that the spirit employs in its work; but can also be a hindrance.” Zion can grow out of a state that is faithful to the spirit but not out of one that forgets it unless it recollects itself and “turns.” The people need the land and freedom to organize their own life in order to realize the goal of community, Buber wrote in Israel and Palestine. But the state as such is at best only a means to the goal of Zion, and it may even be an obstacle to it if the true nature of Zion as commission and task is not held uppermost. “Zion means a destiny of mutual perfecting. It is not a calculation but a command; not an idea but a hidden figure waiting to be revealed. Israel would lose its own self if it replaced [the land of] Palestine by another land and it would lose its own self if it replaced Zion by [the land of] Palestine.”
Buber was the prophetic conscience of the Zionist movement. His attitude to the State of Israel produced by that movement has as much prophetic power today as it did a half-century ago.
Question #2: Does a positive theological assessment of Zionism in light of the prophetic besorah mean that the State of Israel must retain sovereignty over all the land it now controls?
If the State of Israel were the first stage of the eschatological redemption, destined to change gradually into the messianic kingdom, then one might justly argue against any territorial concessions on the part of the Jewish State. In that case, to yield land could mean delaying the day of final redemption. However, I have already denied such a status to the Jewish State. The State of Israel is at best a preliminary sign of the messianic kingdom, whose ultimate coming will rupture the order of this world as we know it.
In effect, I would argue that the Zionist ethos of collective action must be complemented and tempered by the traditional Jewish ethos of trusting expectation. Inspired collective action has providentially yielded a Jewish national home in the land of promise. But collective action alone cannot initiate the messianic age. In light of the besorah of Yeshua’s death and resurrection, one must hold that the existential condition of exile continues so long as sin and death dominate the created order. The corporate life of the Jewish people in the land of Israel constitutes a sign pointing beyond the exile to a world governed by the resurrected and glorified Messiah of Israel—yet the exile continues, even for Jews in the land. We will only see the true end of exile when God intervenes in an extraordinary and unilateral fashion to rend the heavens and transfigure the form of this world.
That is the eschatological perspective of the prophetic besorah. Viewed from this angle, the State of Israel is free to make territorial concessions if it determines that such decisions would advance the welfare of its people and promote the good of its region. Prudential judgments concerning security and other matters may make such concessions unwise in certain circumstances, but one should not confuse prudential judgments with theological imperatives.
Question #3: Does a positive theological assessment of Zionism in light of the prophetic besorah mean that the State of Israel must retain total sovereignty over a politically united city of Jerusalem?
As we have seen, the besorah acknowledges the unique bond joining the Jewish people to the holy city, and anticipates an eschatological day of redemption when that bond will be consummated. This means that disciples of Yeshua must resist all attempts to equate theologically the Jewish relationship to the city with the religious attachment to the place held by Christians (i.e., gentile disciples of Yeshua) and Muslims. Christians are joined to the city through their relationship with Yeshua the Messiah, who suffered, died, and rose from the dead there, and to whom the city ultimately belongs. However, the titulus under which he died identified him as “the king of the Jews,” and the city belongs to him because he fulfills that role as the risen Son of David. Consequently, gentile disciples of Yeshua are linked to the city through the Jewish people of which Yeshua is the sovereign. Muslims, on the other hand, derive their devotion to Jerusalem from a tradition that Mohammed ascended to heaven on the temple mount in order to receive divine revelation. This tradition won a special place in Islamic piety through the houses of worship constructed there to honor the event. Of course, disciples of Yeshua will be disposed to view this story as legendary, but they cannot deny the attachment that has arisen as its result. What is crucial for our purposes is to note that, in historical perspective, the story likely arose because the early Islamic tradition acknowledged the site as the place of the Jerusalem temple, and thus treated it as suitable for such an ascent. Thus, Muslim as well as Christian devotion to Jerusalem derive ultimately from the more basic Jewish connection to the site.
However, our answers to questions #1 and #2 underline the preliminary and provisional character of the Jewish State in relation to the messianic kingdom that is still to come. What is true of Jewish state sovereignty over the land as a whole applies also to Jewish state sovereignty over the holy city which is its heart. Of course, any political arrangement concerning Jerusalem must account for the city’s unique role as the center not only of the Jewish State but also of the Jewish people throughout the world. Administration of the city must always be such as to enable Jewish life to thrive there, and to assure freedom of access to Jewish holy sites. Having met those essential conditions, the Jewish State could negotiate any number of possible political arrangements that would be compatible with the message of the resurrected Messiah. Disciples of Yeshua should not impose theological constraints on the State’s right and duty to develop creative solutions to complex political and diplomatic problems. The prophetic besorah and the Zionist ideal (especially in the cultural Zionist tradition) share in common the imperative of joining ethical concerns, such as the priority of justice and peace, to national and religious concerns. As Buber argued, the “Zion” which animated the Zionist hope was not merely a place but also an ethical task, and the Jewish people should not be compelled to give up that task in the name of a particular expression of “state sovereignty.”
At this point in history it is unlikely that the State of Israel would agree to any political arrangement that compromises its sovereignty in respect to Jerusalem. I am not arguing against that position, nor proposing any particular alternative. I merely seek to define the boundaries of permissible political options for those committed to the besorah of the crucified and resurrected Messiah.
Question #4: Does a positive theological assessment of Zionism in light of the prophetic besorah mean that the State of Israel should claim ownership of the temple mount and seek to rebuild the temple?
All Jews treat the temple mount as the holiest place on earth. For most of the past nineteen centuries Jews have been unable to worship on the mount itself, and have expressed their devotion to the place by praying at the western wall of the mount’s supporting structure. Even after the Jewish State took control of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, rabbinic rulings prohibited Jews from visiting the temple mount in order to prevent the inadvertent profaning of the holy place.
The Lukan writings continue to show reverence for the temple mount. Regardless of whether a Jewish temple adorns the site, the place itself retains its unique character as a central component in the Lukan vision of the cosmos. Just as Jerusalem remains the holy city, so the temple mount remains the holiest of the holy.
Therefore, disciples of Yeshua should affirm the enduring connection between the Jewish people and the temple mount, and defend Jewish rights to worship freely at the western wall. Christians of the Roman and Byzantine eras commonly treated the mount with contempt, seeing it as a symbol of a people forsaken by God, but disciples of Yeshua today should show reverence for the site as a sacred symbol of a people chosen and beloved by God, whose identity and destiny are part and parcel of the besorah.
Jews have traditionally believed that the temple would be rebuilt by the Messiah, and therefore Jewish longing for the temple was enfolded in a greater longing for the messianic era. Religious Zionists believed in collective action in order to return to the land and refashion Jewish national life, but they still assumed that the temple would be rebuilt only by the Messiah. So, when it came to the hope for a new temple, one could only pray and wait.
This approach coheres well with the New Testament orientation to the temple and the messianic era. Like many Jews of the first century, the early disciples of Yeshua looked for a future temple “not made with hands,” which would descend from heaven. For many of them, that temple was equivalent to the entire creation transformed and filled with the divine glory. Some of them may have hoped for a particular edifice in a renewed Jerusalem—but even they knew that it would not be constructed out of earthly stones by ordinary Jewish hands.
In the Six Day War of 1967 Israel took control of the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in nearly nineteen centuries. After that dramatic event, a few Israelis began to think that the temple should be rebuilt now, before the coming of the Messiah. The same type of collective action which resulted in the establishment of the Jewish State and the unification of the city of Jerusalem could now result in the renewal of Jewish temple worship. Such a program has gained momentum in recent years, and, while still marginal, has a growing number of Israeli adherents.
Of course, this program also would likely entail destroying some or all of the Muslim religious sites which currently reside on the temple mount. That act would dishonor structures held sacred by a billion Muslims around the world, isolate the Jewish State even from its allies, and ignite a violent conflict with the Palestinians and other Muslim neighbors. Given the fact that building the temple before the coming of the Messiah is required by neither Jewish tradition nor the prophetic besorah, and given the catastrophic geo-political consequences it would produce, this is not a course of action which disciples of Yeshua need support or applaud.
I am not here suggesting that temple worship itself is incompatible with New Testament teaching. The early Jewish disciples of Yeshua participated in temple worship before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce, and there are no compelling theological reasons which would prevent Jewish disciples of Yeshua from doing the same if the Jerusalem temple existed in our day. Thus, I am not here arguing against the permissibility of temple worship but instead against the necessity or wisdom of advocating its restoration before the return of the Messiah.
Some may argue that disciples of Yeshua must advocate the rebuilding of the temple because the New Testament expects the temple to be in existence in the period immediately preceding the return of the Messiah. Paul (or one of his literary disciples) evidently held such an expectation (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4). However, Paul apparently also believed that Yeshua’s return was imminent, and he does not seem to know what the author/editor of Luke/Acts knew—that the temple would be destroyed, and the history of Israel and the nations would continue in its absence. Since prophets do not always know how their words will be fulfilled, it is possible that Paul’s reference to the temple in 2 Thessalonians should be taken in a figurative sense. The text may point only to the authority which “the lawless one” claims over the people of God, and the worship he demands from them. On the other hand, perhaps this text will indeed have a literal fulfillment, and the temple will be reconstructed at some point. Even if that is the case, it does not follow that such reconstruction is intrinsically a good and desirable act. There are many events which scripture anticipates at the end of this age which may be inevitable, but which in themselves are not good, and which should be resisted by the faithful rather than promoted. The initial triumph of “the lawless one” is itself the most extreme instance of just such an event, and (depending upon the circumstances) the reconstruction of the temple could be another.
While the prophetic besorah does not require disciples of Yeshua to advocate the reconstruction of the temple, it also does not require that they oppose such action. As noted above, current circumstances make the reconstruction of the temple a perilous and potentially disastrous venture which would dishonor a major world religion and violate the rights of its adherents. While it is difficult to envision a future scenario in which that is not the case, history takes many strange twists and turns that defy all attempts at prognostication. Should circumstances change in a way that makes the reconstruction of the temple a morally and prudentially acceptable action, disciples of Yeshua would be free to support it. As I have already stated, there is nothing about temple worship that is incompatible with New Testament teaching.
Nevertheless, our hope rests not on any such human project, but on the temple built without the help of human hands, whose holy of holies will be the New Jerusalem, and whose glory will fill the entire cosmos.
Question #5: Does a positive theological assessment of Zionism in light of the prophetic besorah mean that disciples of Yeshua should always support the policies and actions of the government of the State of Israel?
In contrast to the previous four questions, the answer to this one should be obvious: if disciples of Yeshua need not approve of every policy and action undertaken by the governing authorities of their own ecclesial communities—which even Catholics are not obliged to do—of course they need not do so in regards to the Jewish State. Once again, if traditional Jews who consider themselves Zionists do not adopt such a posture—and none to my knowledge do—then why should Jewish or gentile disciples of Yeshua be required to do so?
The reason for even asking this question is not in order to receive the expected negative response, but instead to clarify the attitude which disciples of Yeshua should take in their moral evaluation of Israeli policy and action. Fundamentally, that attitude should be one of solidarity with the people who have elected the particular government in power and whose continued assent provides it with legitimacy. A disciple of the Jewish Messiah cannot adopt a neutral posture in thinking about Middle-East politics, standing at an equal distance from all parties and giving the benefit of the doubt to none.
At this final stage of our argument, the bases for such solidarity should be evident. First, all disciples of Yeshua—gentile as well as Jewish—are bound inextricably to the Jewish people as brothers and sisters. As a consequence, one is considering the conduct of family members, not strangers. Second, disciples of Yeshua should view the overall Zionist enterprise as a miracle of the Holy Spirit in history, tied intimately to the besorah and reflecting the divine boule_ (plan or counsel). Just as we cannot consider the ovens of Auschwitz apart from the cross of the Messiah, so we cannot consider the life of this nation apart from his resurrection. Third, disciples of Yeshua should be vividly aware that the diabolical forces whose machinations culminated in the Shoah have not been banished by its manifest horrors. The spirit of anti-Semitism is identical to the spirit of anti-Christ, and it is alive and well today in both guises. Not all anti-Zionism serves as a socially acceptable cloak for anti-Semitism, but some of it does. This fact makes us all the more eager to speak constructively, if not always positively, about the inevitably ambiguous fruit of Israeli politics.
We should begin from a place of faith in the work of God in history. Like every government enmeshed in a tangled web of inter-national, inter-cultural, inter-ethnic, and inter-religious hostility and violence, the government of Israel has committed, is committing, and will continue to commit misdeeds of varying degrees of gravity. But does this not echo the biblical narrative itself, in which God weaves his own redemptive tapestry out of our frayed and tangled cords? We can acknowledge the misdeeds of the Jewish State and pray and labor for their correction, while also acknowledging our limited capacity to discern the precise outlines of God’s providential design in its historical outworking. At the same time, we are called to place our hope in the divine boule_ which turned the sin of Joseph’s brothers into salvation for both Jacob’s family and the nations of the world.
Within the broad framework of this ecclesial Zionism, there is ample room for vigorous debate and disagreement concerning the practical details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am attempting to provide a set of theological parameters within which advocates of the right, left, and center can all take their stand. In other words, the approach presented here does not dictate a particular political stance in dealing with the issues at hand. In fact, the purpose is to limit the impact of theology to those essentials which draw the outer boundaries of discourse. I seek to free those in the debate from the heavy burden of theological imperatives in order to focus on the prudential and ethical considerations whose content should be decisive in shaping the argument. The theological framework is indispensable, but every attempt to draw detailed practical conclusions from this framework imprisons us in a dogmatic box from whose unyielding judgments we cannot escape, regardless of urgent ethical and prudential considerations.
Here we have a Zionism that is thoroughly integrated with the besorah, and a besorah which is inseparable from the hope of Zion. This Zionism and this besorah find their most powerful witness in the Lukan writings. In Luke-Acts the earthly city of Jerusalem appears as a proleptic eschatological reality inseparable from both the Jewish people and the besorah of the resurrected Messiah. As the hope of both the Jewish people and the ekkle_sia, she is also an ecclesiological reality that has the potential to unify the whole people of God—Jew and gentile, Protestant and Catholic, Eastern and Western. Her holy mountain is destined to be a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa 56:7; Mark 11:17), with all nations streaming to it (Isa 2:2). Just as Jews find their spiritual home in Jerusalem, so also shall those whose descent from Abraham and Sarah is only by faith and not by genealogy: “Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon, Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—‘This one was born there,’ they say. And of Zion it shall be said: ‘This one and that one were born in it’” (Ps 87:4–5).
When the ekkle_sia of the nations rediscovers this truth she will join with the Jewish people in taking the words of the Psalmist as her own sacred promise: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Ps 137:5–6).
Dr. Mark S. Kinzer is the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Zera Avraham in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and president emeritus of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute. His previous books include Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church (2015), Israel’s Messiah and the People of God (2011), and Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (2005).
1 Mark S. Kinzer, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen: The Resurrected Messiah, the Jewish People, and the Land of Promise (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018). This article is adapted from the book.
2 N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 373. The saying concerning the Gospel of Mark apparently derives from the nineteenth-century German theologian Martin Kähler.
3 Ibid, 374.
4 Scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version (nrsv).
5 Luke’s passion narrative is the only witness to Yeshua’s appearance before Herod after his arrest (Luke 23:6–12). Herod’s contemptuous treatment of Jesus justifies the concern expressed by the Pharisees in 13:31.
6 Robert C. Tannehill, Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 225. See also G.B. Caird, Saint Luke (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963), 174, and N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 642. Tannehill also notes that the triumphal entry in Luke does not fulfill the condition of this promise, since it is not “Jerusalem” that utters the words “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” but “the whole multitude of the disciples” who accompanied Yeshua from Galilee (Luke 19:37).
7 See Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 612–53. See also my treatment of this theme in chapter two of Jerusalem Crucified.
8 “The four passages that address Jerusalem and prophesy its fate have an important role in the plot (see 13:33–35; 19:41–44; 21:20–24; 23:27–31). It is important to catch the dominant feeling tone of these passages. Jesus speaks words of anguished longing and lament (13:33–35; 19:42)…These four scenes, which build up to the crucifixion and help to set the tone for it, constitute one major reason for interpreting the story of Israel in Luke-Acts as tragic” (Robert C. Tannehill, The Shape of Luke’s Story [Eugene: Cascade, 2005], 134).
9 In a seminal article, Dale Allison demonstrates that Yeshua depicts the words, “Blessed be he who comes,” not as a response (joyful or mournful) which Israel will have to the Messiah after he comes, but instead as the catalyst that induces his coming. “’Until you say’ can be understood to signal a conditional sentence. The text then means not, when the Messiah comes, his people will bless him, but rather, when his people bless him, the Messiah will come. In other words, the date of the redemption is contingent upon Israel’s acceptance of the person and work of Jesus” (Dale C. Allison, Jr. “Matt. 23:39 = Luke 13:35b as a Conditional Prophecy,” JSNT 18 : 77). Allison’s argument reveals the weakness of the traditional Christian interpretation of these words which portrays them as the Jewish people’s coerced and mournful response when they behold the return of Yeshua. Peter Walker is among those who continue to advocate the traditional view which Allison refutes (Peter W.L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 99).
10 Steve Smith, The Fate of the Jerusalem Temple in Luke-Acts: An Intertextual Approach to Jesus’ Laments over Jerusalem and Stephen’s Speech (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), 58.
11 See footnote 306. Tannehill has argued this point in virtually all his writings on Luke-Acts.
12 To be fair, Tannehill also asserts that Luke hopes for Jerusalem’s future redemption. However, Tannehill stops short of what we are asserting here: that the certain redemption of Jerusalem in the future is as essential to Luke’s redemptive vision as is the resurrection of Yeshua.
13 This view is well-represented by Michael E. Fuller, The Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2006). For Fuller the Jewish ekkle_sia in Jerusalem, ruled by the twelve apostles, constitutes the fully restored Israel. “From heaven, Israel’s messiah rules the world. The role of the restored Israel is to proclaim and interpret the significance of the messianic exaltation as the inauguration of Israel’s (spiritual) rule over the occupied world” (p. 268). Fuller regards as erroneous all attempts to interpret Luke 1–2 as referring to a redemption that will touch the Jewish people as a whole, whether those interpretations assume a future restoration of Israel or a tragic and unresolved failure in the accomplishment of the divine purpose: “A common error of scholars is to interpret these broadly construed hopes of restoration in Luke 1–2 as indications of Luke’s retention of a pan-Israel salvation, either in terms of (future) Jewish conversions or even nationalistic liberation. Other scholars, while also seeing a pan-Israelite inclusion in these hopes of restoration contend they are ultimately unrealized over the course of the narrative due to widescale Jewish rejection” (p. 206).
14 David L. Tiede, “Glory to Thy People Israel: Luke-Acts and the Jews,” Luke-Acts and the Jewish People, ed. Joseph B. Tyson (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988), 27– 28; see Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 111.
15 Peter Walker proposes that the phrase “the times of the gentiles” refers only to the short period when the Romans are actually engaged in subjugating Jerusalem (Jesus and the Holy City, 100). If that is the case, what is the point of the statement? Given the climactic rhetorical context of the verse, one would expect that something significant is to occur after the “until.” If only a short period is in view, and nothing is said about what is to follow that period, why even speak of the “fulfillment” of those “times”? Also, why the plural form of the word “times”? That seems to be an unusual way to refer to a short temporal span. Walker may sense the weakness of this proposal, for he immediately proceeds to an alternate interpretation: “even if the ‘times of the Gentiles’ does refer to a more extended period within the Church’s history, there is nothing in the text to suggest that these times will be followed by the ‘times of the Jews’ ” (pp. 100–101). In fact, the very use of the word “gentiles” itself implies something of the sort, for that word in Luke-Acts always means “non-Jews.” Of course, it is possible, as Walker then suggests, that “the moment when the ‘times of the Gentiles’ are fulfilled will be the time of the ‘coming’ of the ‘Son of Man’” (p. 101)—but it is also possible that his “coming” is expected to inaugurate an era of a restored Jerusalem that could be called the “times of the Jews.” That Luke 21:24 refers in some way to a restored Jewish Jerusalem is confirmed by the tight interconnection between that verse, Acts 1:6–7, and 3:19–21. Walker fails to note this interconnection, and so misinterprets each of the three passages.
16 “[T]he reference to ‘times or periods (seasons)’ in Acts 1:7 may lead the reader to recall the same phrase from Daniel 2, emphasizing divine control over kings and kingdoms within world history. It would, therefore, create expectations about the kingdom’s restoration to Israel and the divine role in that.” (Michael A. Salmeier, Restoring the Kingdom: The Role of God as the “Ordainer of Times and Seasons” in the Acts of the Apostles [Eugene: Pickwick, 2011], 25.)
17 Tannehill, Luke, 305–6.
18 In the case of the twelve and Paul those sympathetic to the disciples of Yeshua are Pharisees, just as we found Pharisees warning Yeshua regarding Herod Antipas in Luke 13.
19 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 570.
20 For pais in reference to King David, see Luke 1:69; Acts 4:25; for the same word in reference to Yeshua as David’s heir, see Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30.
21 Peter Walker (Jesus and the Holy City, 78) succeeds in articulating this question forcefully: “. . . the close connection between Jesus’ death and Jerusalem’s fate invites the question: would Luke have seen any parallel for Jerusalem comparable to Jesus’ resurrection? One tragedy (Jesus’ death) was followed by a divine reversal; would the same hold for the other tragedy (Jerusalem’s destruction)?” However, because he is convinced that Luke-Acts—and the New Testament as a whole—anticipate no restoration of Jewish Jerusalem (and because that conviction governs his entire volume), the best he can offer in response is the suggestion that perhaps this is “precisely the point of contrast between the two.” Given the emphasis in Luke-Acts on the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38), this is a weak response to a powerful question.
22 Jacob Jervell contends that Luke sees David, “father of the Messiah,” as “the prophet par excellence, the central figure in Scripture” (The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984], 126–31).
23 On the election of Jerusalem and its association with the election of David, see Psalm 132:11–18.
24 Peter Walker underlines this emphasis in the Pauline speeches of Acts. However, for Walker this only demonstrates that “for Luke the restoration had already been inaugurated through Jesus” (Jesus and the Holy City, 98). He acknowledges that “in a final sense Israel is ‘restored’ only at the Last Day” (p. 99). However, he dismisses any notion that the final restoration might involve an earthly Jerusalem and a genealogical Israel. He thus misses a central Lukan theme.
25 For a perceptive treatment of this theme in the Pauline speeches of Acts, see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation; Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 319–20. His conclusion concerning Acts 26:6–7 is especially apt: “Thus the hope and promise of which Paul speaks in 26:6–7 is not merely a hope for individual life after death but a hope for the Jewish people, to be realized through resurrection.”
26 Peter Walker notes this feature of the geographical structure of Acts, but minimizes its significance: “There are frequent returns to Jerusalem, but these become fewer, and give way to Paul’s extended journey away from Jerusalem towards Rome. There is a gradual severance from Jerusalem, with the city becoming increasingly ‘dispensable’” (Jesus and the Holy City, 81–82). The “returns” do not, in fact, become “fewer,” for every journey taken—except the last one—is concluded with such a “return.” Since the entire point of Acts is to document the spread of the apostolic message and community from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth,” it is essential that Paul’s journeys are of increasingly longer duration and take him farther away from Jerusalem. The fact that he always returns to the city after laboring at “the ends of the earth” shows that Jerusalem remains his center, that there is no “gradual severance” from the city, and that the notion of Jerusalem’s “dispensability” is alien to Luke and Acts.
27 “When he goes on to say that Paul went up and greeted the church, this is usually understood as a reference to going up to Jerusalem and seeing the church there. . . . If this is a correct assumption, it means that each of Paul’s missionary campaigns concluded with a visit to Jerusalem, so that Paul’s work began from and ended in Jerusalem in each case” (I. Howard Marshall, Acts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 301–2).
28 Robert L. Brawley, Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), 35–6. Emphasis added.
29 Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, ed. Richard Bauckham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 419. Emphasis added.
30 Klaus Baltzer sees the relevance of these texts in Ezekiel for Luke and Acts, but he fails to draw the logical conclusion regarding the eschatological-geographical significance of Acts 1:9–12. See Klaus Baltzer, “The Meaning of the Temple in the Lukan Writings,” HTR 58:3 (1965): 263–277.
31 Peter Walker rightly underlines the importance of the Mount of Olives for the narrative of Luke and Acts. However, he misses the allusion to Zechariah 14 and to Palm Sunday, and so misinterprets the text, claiming that the author contrasts the Mount and the city in favor of the Mount: “the Mount of Olives, not Jerusalem, is the geographical ‘hinge’ of Luke-Acts. . . . The Christian gospel has a close connection to Jerusalem, but its centre is fractionally, but significantly, different” (Jesus and the Holy City, 81). In fact, the significance of the Mount of Olives in the narrative derives from its destined role as the first stage of the divine entrance to the city. Rather than detracting from the holiness and centrality of Jerusalem, the Lukan emphasis on the Mount of Olives serves to confirm those very characteristics.
32 I first proposed this interpretation of Luke’s approach to the Jewish holidays in Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 121.
33 “The parallels with Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem have often been noted and are considerable” (Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 627–28).
34 Wright provides a succinct and nuanced explanation of his use of the term “exile” in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God”, ed. Carey C. Newman [Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1999], 257–61. In the same volume Craig Evans supports Wright’s approach to exile (“Jesus & the Continuing Exile of Israel,” 77–100).
35 On the destruction of Jerusalem as divine vindication and victory, see Wright’s exegesis of Mark 13 in Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 339–65.
36 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 433.
37 Ibid, 434. Emphasis original.
38 See, for example, the fifteenth blessing of the daily Amidah prayer: “May the offshoot [tzemach] of Your servant David soon flower [tatzmiach], and may his pride be raised high by Your salvation, for we wait for you salvation all day. Blessed are You, Lord, who makes the glory of salvation flourish [matzmiach]” (The Koren Siddur: Nusach Ashkenaz, trans. Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks [Jerusalem: Koren, 2009], 124–25).
39 According to David Novak, the notion of the State as the first stage of the messianic redemption is also problematic from a traditional Jewish theological perspective. See David Novak, Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 233–40. Novak argues that “the land of Israel exists for the sake of the people Israel; the people Israel do not exist for the sake of the land of Israel. . . . In the same way, the State of Israel is for the sake of the people Israel in the land of Israel; the people Israel in the land of Israel is not for the sake of the State of Israel. And, most importantly, the people, then the land, then the state all exist for the sake of God” (pp. 150, 151). I agree completely with Novak’s formulation.
40 Martin Buber, A Land of Two Peoples (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 292–93.
41 Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work: The Later Years, 1945–1965 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1983), 351.
42 This is also the eschatological perspective advocated by Jewish theologian David Novak, a perspective which he terms “transcendent messianism” (Zionism, 245).
43 That does not mean that Muslims today generally recognize the site as the ancient home of a Jewish temple. Thus, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has frequently stated that “there never was a Temple on the Temple Mount” (Yossi Alpher, “The Issues the Peace Process Should Avoid,” The Forward [July 29, 2013], https://forward.com/opinion/181261/the-issues-the-peace-process-should-avoid/).
44 This may appear to be a non-controversial statement. That this is not the case is demonstrated by an April 15, 2016 UNESCO resolution which spoke of the “Al-Haram Al Sharif” (the “noble sanctuary”) solely as a “Muslim holy site of worship,” and
which referred to the Western Wall as “Al-Buraq Plaza” (with “Western Wall” mentioned parenthetically, in quotation marks).
The resolution ignored the biblical connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. See http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.715442.
45 See Ari Shavit, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013), 215–17.
46 See Elhanan Miller, “Temple Mount Revival Movement Revels in Crowd-Funded Passover Sacrifice—but at What Cost?” The Forward (May 2, 2016) (http://forward.com/news/israel/339759/temple-mount-revival-movement-revels-in-crowd-funded-passover-sacrifice-but/).
The Fulfillment of Israel’s Land Promise and Hebrews:
“Transformed” or “On Hold”?
A. Boyd Luter
The following reassessment of the traditional view of the Land Promise in Hebrews, namely that it becomes spiritualized and universalized, fits within the wider context of post-supersessionist interpretation of the book as a whole. It focuses on the intra-evangelical debate over whether Israel’s Land Promise from the Lord continues into and through the New Testament. The purpose of this treatment is to demonstrate that a careful exegetical handling of Hebrews, linked with important New Testament data elsewhere, results in an understanding that the full realization of Israel’s Land Promise in the New Testament is “on hold,” until the end times. This purpose will be accomplished by: 1a) listing three recent “positive developments”; 1b) pointing out that those developments need further clarification; 2) offering such clarification; then, 3) adding relevant findings to the discussion of Hebrews from two fresh angles of a literary/rhetorical nature.
Recent Scholarly “Pushback” Defending an Ongoing Land Promise in Hebrews
In his 2010 volume, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology, Gary Burge says of Hebrews, “[W]hat is clear is that the letter is working strenuously to reforge the principal legacies of Judaism and warn Jewish Christians not to return to them.” Burge’s discussion of Hebrews makes it crystal clear that, in his view, one of those “principal legacies of Judaism” to be jettisoned is the Land Promise, which is replaced by “a new land, a heavenly land.” This helpful summary of his view serves as a starting point, time-wise and content-wise, to play off in regard to three positive developments since 2010 related to Israel’s Land Promise in Hebrews.
Implications of Israel in Hebrews and Looking Beyond a Heavenly Jerusalem
The first noteworthy attempt to counter the perspective on Hebrews championed by Burge was offered by Craig Evans, in his paper “Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles,” presented at “The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel” conference in October 2013. Evans begins his treatment of “The Land of Israel in the General Epistles”—including Hebrews—with these words: “In the General Epistles, there are no explicit references to the land of Israel. However, some inferences can be detected.”
Then, in his section “The Future of Israel in the General Epistles,” Evans summarizes in regard to Hebrews: “The future of Israel lies not with the earthly city of Jerusalem or the land of Israel; it lies in the hands of God, who is preparing a city, a new Jerusalem.” While not entirely correct, Evans’s words are a start toward a defense of the Land Promise in Hebrews: recognition of the role of “a new Jerusalem,” versus Burge’s view of “a heavenly land.” Evans thinks that the new Jerusalem will come to earth, but Burge does not.
Heavenly Realities Coming to Earth in Hebrews
At the same conference, Craig Blaising, in a paper entitled “Israel and Hermeneutics,” advanced the discussion with this assertion: “Hebrews is not speaking simply of a vertical dualism between earthly and heavenly realities since the writer expects that those heavenly realities are coming here in the future (Heb 2:5; 13:14).” The wording “heavenly realities that are coming here in the future,” to the same general effect as Evans’s second statement, goes an important step further.
Connecting the Perspective of Hebrews to the Overall Biblical Metanarrative
In the ground-breaking 2016 volume, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, Blaising again contributed a chapter on hermeneutical issues containing an important specific discussion on Hebrews. In a masterful refutation of the transcendentalizing (i.e., “heavenly land”) view regarding the Land Promise in Hebrews, Blaising draws the following wider conclusions:
[Hebrews’] vertical reference to Christ’s position and ministry in heaven and to the heavenly city need to be understood within a futurist eschatology. . . . Consequently, Abraham’s search for a heavenly city is to be understood as seeking not a heavenly land as opposed to an earthly one, but a city that will come from heaven to the land of promise. . . . While new revelation is given about the Christ, his ministry in heaven and the heavenly Jerusalem, the future expectation of Hebrews is not inconsistent with the story line from the Tanak regarding a kingdom that God would establish on the earth.
Blaising’s claims follow his withering critique of the position held by Burge—which turns the earthly Land Promise into a promise of a “heavenly land.” This critique exposes the failure of Burge’s view to meet any of the “four criteria for evaluating broad interpretive systems: 1) comprehensiveness: 2) congruency; 3) consistency; and 4) coherence.” Yet, a directly relevant question remains: Is Hebrews consistent with “the story line” elsewhere in the New Testament.?
Three Areas Needing Clarification Related to the Land Promise and Hebrews
Though Evans’s and Blaising’s citations are steps in the right direction, they require further development to anchor the point that there is not just awareness of Israel’s Land Promise in Hebrews, but a continuing hope in its earthly future.
Beyond Implications of Israel and a Heavenly Jerusalem in Hebrews
Evans was incorrect in this assertion: “In the General Epistles, there are no explicit references to the land of Israel. However, some inferences can be detected.” He somehow overlooks the clear wording “land of promise” ([i.e., Promised Land]; Gk gen tes epangelias) in Hebrews 11:9—and quite possibly 11:13, where the Greek tes ges can quite plausibly be rendered “the land.” Evans’s second statement is correct, as far as it goes: “The future of Israel lies not with the earthly city of Jerusalem or the land of Israel; it lies in the hands of God, who is preparing a city, a new Jerusalem.” If Evans added one word—“immediate”—to his sentence, it would have been correct. The wording would then be: “The immediate future of Israel lies not with the earthly city of Jerusalem or the land of Israel…” (insertion and italics mine). That wording allows for the maintaining of the long-term earthly future of Jerusalem and the Promised Land.
Beyond Heavenly Realities Coming to Earth in Hebrews Asserted Theologically
Craig Blaising is a master innovative theologian, but more than broad theological conclusions are needed to present the best case for the continuation of Israel’s earthly Land Promise in Hebrews. It is crucial to handle with great exegetical care the verses in Hebrews Blaising referenced in the following conclusion: “Hebrews is not speaking simply of a vertical dualism between earthly and heavenly realities since the writer expects that those heavenly realities are coming here in the future.”
In 2:5, it is unlikely at best that the Greek wording ten oikoumenen ten mellousin, best translated as “the world to come,” refers to heavenly existence. The Greek oikoumene never carries that sense in its other 14 uses in the New Testament or the other relevant Greek literature cited in BAGD. It thus seems fair to conclude that “the world to come” to which the writer of Hebrews refers in 2:5, will be of an earthly nature.
In 13:14, ten mellousan (lit. “that which is coming”) plays off the wording earlier in the verse: “For we do not have an enduring city here.” Therefore, “that which is coming” speaks of a future “city,” in contrast to a city (i.e., Jerusalem) existing when Hebrews was written that would not endure. This future city is described in 11:10 as “the city that has foundations (Gk themelious), whose architect and builder is God.” In 11:16, the reader is told “[God] has prepared a city for them” (i.e., those like Abraham and Sarah, who died in faith, but did not receive “the things that were promised” [11:13]). In 12:22, this city is called “the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem).”
That wording in 12:22 (“the heavenly Jerusalem”) appears to put 13:14 (i.e., “the coming [city]”) at odds with 2:5 (i.e., “the [earthly] world to come”). That is the case, though, if 12:22 offers the only alternative for understanding the meaning of “the coming [city].” However, if there is a heavenly Jerusalem that will be coming to earth, then any contradiction is removed.
Revelation 21 describes such a city. When John “saw a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1), he continues with these words: “I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” (21:2). Then, 21:14 says that the New Jerusalem—the city “coming down out of heaven from God”—Who is its “architect and builder” [Heb 11:10])—has “foundations” (Gk plural themelious), the same term describing “the city” in Hebrews 11:10.
Revelation 11 also describes a city, though one that is earthly and exists before the passing away of “the first heaven and the first earth” (Rev 21:1). If the Book of Revelation was written ca. 95–96 CE—as is held by the bulk of Revelation scholars—“the temple of God,” its “altar” (11:1), and “the courtyard outside the temple” (11:2) located in “the holy city” (11:2) do not refer to the Second Temple or Jerusalem since the Roman army destroyed them in 70 CE.
The Land Promise and the Story Line of the New Testament
Blaising correctly states that the perspective of the Epistle to the Hebrews on Israel’s Land Promise lines up with the Hebrew Bible. However, recent debate on the Land Promise has spotlighted what happens within the New Testament. A summary of the major movements of the New Testament metanarrative concerning the Land Promise is thus appropriate.
First, in Matthew 23:38, Yeshua predicts, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . . Your house is left to you desolate,” then informs his disciples about the Second Temple, “Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down” (24:2). Immediately (24:3), the disciples ask two follow-up questions to which Jesus’s response is Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse: 1) “[W]hen will these things (i.e., the coming destruction of the Temple Jesus had just described) happen?” 2) “And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The clear separate nature of these questions implies strongly that the disciples understood that the events described in them would take place at different times in the future . . . and Yeshua says nothing in the following (Olivet) discourse to correct that notion!
Closely related are Yeshua’s words in Luke 21:20, where he adds a description of the “desolation” of the city of Jerusalem in 70 CE (as signaled in the wording “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies”) to the destruction of the Second Temple described in Matthew 23–24. Luke 21:22 and 23 explain that this “desolation” is “days of vengeance (Gk ekdikeseos) to fulfill all the things that are written” and “great distress in the land (i.e., Israel) and wrath against this people” (i.e., the Jewish people). The most likely referent of “days of vengeance to fulfill all this is written” is Lev 26:25: “I will bring a sword (LXX machaira) against you to execute the vengeance (LXX ekdikousan diken) of the covenant.” This verse is found in the curses portion of the Blessings and Curses section (Lev 26) of the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai. The “covenant” referred to is the Mosaic Covenant, which God made with Israel initially in Exodus 19 and more formally in Exodus 24. The Mosaic Covenant is conditional (e.g., “If you follow my statutes and faithfully observe my commands, I will give you . . .” (Lev 26:3) and “But if you do not obey me and observe all these commands . . . and break my covenant, then I will do this to you” (26:14, 15–16). However, the Mosaic Covenant is erected upon the foundation of the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, which guarantees the Land to Israel as a “permanent (aionion, LXX) possession” (Gen 17:8), “forever (eis ton aiona, 13:15 [13:17 LXX]),” even given the future “ins and outs” related to the Land described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Simply put, Israel’s possession of the Promised Land is conditional, but her promise regarding the Land is not.
Luke 21:24 states that the people of Jerusalem and Judea alive at the time of the decimation of the temple/Jerusalem will “be killed by the sword” (Gk machaira) or “led captive into all the nations.” That tragic destruction apparently led into a period of unstated length: when Jerusalem is “trampled under by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
At this point, it is helpful to set the wording of 21:24 and Revelation 11:2 side-by-side:
Luke 21:24 and Context
Focus on Jerusalem (21:20ff.)
“[T]rampled (Gk pateo) by the Gentiles (Gk ethnon)” (21:24)
Lexical implication that the Jewish people will return to Jerusalem after the fulfillment of “the times of the Gentiles” (21:24)
It is also worth noting here that pateo (“to trample”) is used three other times in the New Testament (Luke 10:19; Rev 14:20; 19:15), but Luke 21:24 and Revelation 11:2 are the only similar uses. That point strengthens the case that Revelation 11:1ff. describes the point of fulfillment of Luke 21:24 with Israel back in the Land when “the times of the Gentiles” conclude.
In light of the above discussion, it is possible to list key events related to the Land Promise in Hebrews or the wider New Testament:
• The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE (Matt 23:38–24:3; Lk 21; 20, 24).
• The times of the Gentiles (Lk 21:24).
• A heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22).
• A temple in Jerusalem (Rev 11:1–2, 8) at the end of the age.
• The New Jerusalem in the eternal state, which has “foundations,” coming down out of heaven from God (Heb 11:10, 16; Rev 21:2, 10, 14).
Two Literary/Rhetorical Angles Further Clarifying the Land Promise in Hebrews
From this point forward, the method utilized in tracking the Land Promise in Hebrews will focus on two inverted parallel structures. Such an approach, still panned by some—mostly older—biblical studies scholars, flourishes through the number of new chiastic studies being produced over the last three decades, alongside strides in understanding the oral/rhetorical cultures of the Ancient Near East. The reason for such an upsurge relates to minimizing the subjectivity that earlier characterized the publication of numerous alleged chiasms. That has taken place because of: 1) growing awareness of appropriate criteria for recognizing extended chiasmus; and 2) continuing discussions on the proper interpretation of chiastic structures.
Israel’s Land Promise and a Plausible Overall Chiastic Structuring of Hebrews
The Epistle to the Hebrews has generated as many proposed grand (i.e., overarching) chiastic proposals as any part of the New Testament. The most influential of these proposals over time has been the work of Catholic scholar A. Vanhoye. Suffice it to say, though, that, given ongoing critiques of Vanhoye’s approach and the lack of widespread acceptance of other chiastic proposals, no consensus exists on an inverted parallel (i.e., chiastic) understanding of Hebrews.
Into this crowded environment the present writer in 2002 offered an alternate chiastic structure of Hebrews quite similar to the following in a book co-authored with Richard Wells. Each pairing in the diagram below will be discussed from two different angles, the latter of which has more significance regarding the Land Promise.
A (1:5–2:18) Messiah is superior to the prophets and angels, who serve believing mankind.
B (3:1–6) Messiah is superior to Moses.
C (3:7–4:13) The generation of unbelief in the Wilderness, who did not enter the promised “rest”
D (4:14–7:28) The everlasting Melchizedekian priesthood of Messiah
E (8:1–13) The superiority of the New Covenant, which Messiah mediated (Note the wording in 8:1: “Now the main point of what is being said” [Gk kephalaion de epi tois legomenois])
D’ (9:1–10:25) The once-for-all priestly sacrifice of Messiah
C’ (10:26–12:13) Hebrew Bible examples of, and the ongoing need for, faith/
faithfulness, to receive what was promised
B’ (12:18–29) Messiah is mediator of a covenant superior to that of Moses.
A’ (13:1–17) Followers of Messiah must live faithfully under the New Covenant, as if entertaining angels.
First, utilizing what John Breck calls “helix” (i.e., spiraling from the outer pairing to the center) interpretation of proposed extended chiasms, the cumulative interpretive effect of pairings A through D, then E, will be expounded. The following paragraph offers a brief summary of the overall meaning of Hebrews seen through the grid of the letter’s chiastic shape.
Layers A (1:1–2:18/13:1–25) and B (3:1–6/12; 14–29) clarify that the superiority of Yeshua HaMashiach means that the New Covenant he mediates is also superior. Layer C (3:7 4:13/10:26–12:13) uses a classic negative example (Israel’s Wilderness Generation) and numerous positive examples (Chapter 11) to show that faith/obedience is the way to enter God’s rest and receive that “promise.” Layer D (4:14–7:28/ 9:1–10:25) specifies that the superior priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice mean the Aaronic priesthood and Jewish sacrificial system are no longer needed. The E central section (8:1–13) emphasizes to the Jewish audience the huge theological/practical paradigm shift brought about by Jesus’s heavenly priesthood and the internalizing of the Law under the New Covenant.
Second, material related to the Land Promise in A through E now will be explored. While the following passages are not as immediately obvious in tracking the structural big picture of Hebrews, that does not mean they are unimportant when the Land Promise is in view.
The A layer (Heb 1:1–2:18/13:1–25) contains 2:5 (A) and 13:14 (A’), the passages Blaising cites supporting his concept of “heavenly realities . . . coming here in the future.”
In the B layer (3:1–6/12:14–29), Hebrews 12:22 speaks of “the heavenly Jerusalem,” the immediate/intermediate hope for the readers of Hebrews “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk 21:24) in regard to the wider Land Promise.
In the C layer (3:7–4:13/10:26–12:13), “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:10) looks ahead to the New Jerusalem, the readers’ eternal hope related to the Land Promise.
In the D layer (4:14–7:28/9:1–10:25), the phraseology “as you see the day approaching” (10:25, italics mine) may well refer to “the day” of the destruction of the Second Temple/ Jerusalem in 70 CE—when the “times of the Gentiles” would begin—not the Day of the Lord. In that regard, David Allen summarizes a viewpoint laid out by F.F. Bruce:
The 40 years in the wilderness corresponds to the 40 years from crucifixion to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Numbers 14 may not only be the key to 3:7–4:13, but also to 10:25. . . . If the author is writing after the death of Peter and Paul in the later part of the decade of the sixties, he might have heard that the Roman army is moving toward Jerusalem. Hebrews 10:25 could be a veiled warning to flee before the destruction that Jesus predicted in Luke 21:20–24.
E (8:1–13) is the likely center-point of Hebrews, due, for no other reason, to this highly unusual wording for the middle of a letter: “Now the main point of what is being said is this” (Heb 8:1). In this passage this key statement about the relationship between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant is noted: “By saying a new covenant, [God] has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away” (Gk engus aphanismou, better rendered as “near disappearing” than CSB’s translation [8:13]). Again, Bruce thinks these words may refer to Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Thus, each layer of the proposed grand chiastic structure of Hebrews contains something noteworthy related to Israel’s Land Promise from God. But, there is more in Hebrews 11.
Israel’s Land Promise and a Plausible Chiastic Structuring of Hebrews 11
There have not been as many proposals taking Hebrews 11 as inverted parallelism, given the interest in possible chiastic understandings of the overall structure of the letter. The most significant recent proposal is by Victor Rhee in his article, “Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11.” The following chiastic structure by the present writer is generally similar to Rhee’s view, though with less parallel layers. Both proposals agree completely, though, that 11:13–16 is the central point of the chapter.
A (11:1–2) “Faith,” “approved”
B (11:3–7) Examples of faith that pleases God and condemned the pre-Flood world
C (11:8–10) Abraham’s faith: bringing him to—and keeping him in—
“the Promised Land” (with co-heirs Isaac and Jacob)
D (11:11–12) The faith of Sarah: having Isaac
with a husband “as good as dead,” leading to innumerable descendants
E (11:13–16) Dying in faith without receiving the promises, but confessing to be foreigners/temporary residents in the Land
(see Gen 26:2–5); seeking a homeland, a heavenly one, a city prepared by God
D’ (11:17–22) The faith of Abraham: considering God to be able to raise Isaac from the dead, which faith caused Isaac, Jacob and Joseph to look to God’s future promises
C’ (11:23–31) The faith of Moses, the Israelites and Rahab: from Egypt to the Promised Land (i.e., Jericho mentioned specifically)
B’ (11:32–38) Examples of faith of which the world (Gk kosmos) is not worthy
A’ (11:39–40) “Approved,” “faith”
Allen correctly notes that the A layer (Heb 11:1–2/11:39–40) forms an inclusio (i.e., a “bookends” effect) around Chapter 11. That becomes clear with his observation of an abb’a’ mini-chiasm: “faith (a), then “approved” (b) in 11:1, reversed to “approved” (b’), then “faith” (a’) in 11:39. There is no reason, though, why such an inclusio cannot also serve as the outer pairing of an extended chiasm.
The B layer (11:3–7/11:32–38) first speaks of examples of faith before Abraham, the Father of Israel (11:3–7), then in a rapid listing of names of biblical characters and acts of faith (11:32–38). In both, the world (Gk kosmos) is not worthy of the faith that pleases God (11:6).
The C layer (11:8–10/11:23–31) assumes the historical background that, when God made the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 15:13–21), he told Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for 400 years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed” (15:13). From that time forward, Abram—as well as Isaac and Jacob—knew that their descendants would not live continuously in the Promised Land of Canaan, but would leave, and then, after 400 years (in Egypt), be restored to the Land (15:13). The author of Hebrews was aware that something similar was about to happen in regard to the Jewish people having to leave the Land (Lk 21:24). Interestingly, the Greek verb in Hebrews 11:9 describing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob staying in the Land (Gk katoikeo) is the same as God’s command to Isaac in Genesis 26:2 (LXX) to remain in the Land, just before the Abrahamic Covenant—including the Land Promise—was re-confirmed to him (26:3–5). In Hebrews 11:23–31, the people of Israel do (as Genesis 15:13 predicted) indeed get back to the Promised Land, as highlighted in the destruction of Jericho (11:30). Thus, it is exceedingly unlikely that Hebrews 11:8–10 means the Patriarchs had no hope for a long-term future for their descendants in the Land, though they themselves would not live to see it.
The D layer (11:11–12/11:17–22) is initially about God allowing Sarah to miraculously conceive Isaac by faith, to fulfill the part of the Abrahamic Covenant that promised Abraham his descendants would multiply greatly. The second part of the pairing backtracks, after 11:13–16, to describe Abraham’s faith in being willing to sacrifice Isaac (11:17–19), and the examples of faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, ending with Joseph’s request to his brothers to ensure his bones would be buried in the Promised Land when Israel returned there (Gen 50:24–26; Josh 24:32).
In the central E section (Heb 11:13–16), the initial phrase, “These all died in faith” (11:13a), does not mean all the Old Testament characters mentioned in 11:3–12 for two reasons: 1) Enoch (11:5) did not die; and 2) the wording “the things that were promised” makes sense here only in reference to the specific covenantal promises made to Abraham/his descendants. If those promises refer only to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob (11:8–12)—all of whom knew the Promised Land would not be “possessed” until after their descendants had been enslaved for 400 years (Gen 15:13)— Hebrews 11:13b–16 speaks of them knowing that no land in Canaan would be owned by the Patriarchs beyond Abraham’s burial plot (Gen 23:4–20) and Jacob’s field at Shechem (33:18–19). In the cases of Abraham (LXX 23:4, where he calls himself a parepidemos [“resident alien”], the same word used in Heb 11:13b), Isaac (Gen 26:3, where God tells him to “live in this land as an alien”), and Jacob (47:9, who, to Pharoah, referred to his life as “my pilgrimage”), all remained convinced of/committed to the promise of the Land the Lord had made to Abraham and his descendants until their deaths. None returned permanently (Heb 11:15) to Paddan-Aram, where the rest of Abraham’s immediate family lived (i.e., their earthly “homeland” [Gen 11:31–32; 24:1–4]). Instead, in faith, they believed God for the future in the Land that their descendants would possess and for their own heavenly “homeland” (Heb 11:14) in the meantime, where God had a city—the “heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22)—“a better place” (11:16) prepared for them until the end time, when that city comes down to earth (Rev 21:2, 10).
Conclusion: The Full Realization of Israel’s Land Promise
in Relation to Hebrews is “On Hold,” not Transferred to Heaven!
Without fear of contradiction, a major reason the Epistle to the Hebrews was written was to demonstrate the superiority of Yeshua the Messiah to certain Temple-related customs. This prioritization, however, does not mean that these Temple-related customs were unimportant or that other aspects of Jewish identity—such as the Land Promise—can be disregarded. Accordingly, the five areas fleshed out above demonstrate that the Epistle to the Hebrews does not teach that Israel’s Land Promise has been transformed into only the promise of “a heavenly land.” Specifically, the material discussed related to the Land Promise in Hebrews was sufficient to make clear to its original Messianic Jewish readers shortly before the Second Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed that: 1) though they would experience exile from the land, they could still participate in God’s “rest” promised to their forefathers in the Wilderness; as well as 2) in “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22); but also 3) they could look forward to the time when their descendants would again live in an earthly Jerusalem, at the conclusion of the “times of the Gentiles” (Rev 11:1–2, 8), just as Yeshua prophesied (Lk 21:24); as well as 4) in the New Jerusalem, which would come down out of heaven from God (Rev 21:2, 10).
Boyd Luter (Ph.D., Dallas Seminary) is Professor of Biblical Studies and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at The King’s University in Southlake, TX. He has published articles in New Testament Studies, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Bibliotheca Sacra, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Filologia Neotestamentaria and the Trinity Journal, plus commentaries on Ruth, Songs of Songs, Galatians, Philippians and Revelation.
1 The following is a selective chronological listing of significant relatively recent works defending different views on the supersessionist question: Charles Anderson, “Who are the Heirs of the New Age in the Epistle to the Hebrews?” in Apocalyptic and the New Testament, eds. Joel Marcus and Marion Soards (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 255–77; John Fischer, “Covenant, Fulfillment, and Judaism in Hebrews” in The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism (Baltimore: Lederer, 2000), 37–60; Richard Hays, “‘Here We Have No Lasting City’: New Covenantalism in Hebrews,” in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, ed. Richard Bauckham, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 151–173; Oskar Skarsaune, “Does the Letter to the Hebrews Articulate a Supersessionist Theology? A Response to Richard Hays,” in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, 174–182; Mark Nanos, “New or Renewed Covenantalism? A Response to Richard Hays,” in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, 183–188; and Jesper Svartvik, “Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews Without Presupposing Supersessionism,” in Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships, eds. Philip Cunningham et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 77–91.
2 For a summary of the debate through 2014, see A. Boyd Luter, “The Continuation of Israel’s Land Promise in the New Testament: A Fresh Approach,” Eruditio Ardescens 1/2 (2014): 1–5.
3 Gary Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to Holy Land Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010). Although a number of evangelical authors worldwide make essentially the same arguments as Burge, he is the American evangelical whose view has been most visible and most widely cited recently.
4 Ibid, 97.
5 Ibid, 102. In taking this position, Burge is following the lead of W.D. Davies in his classic The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), in “transcendentalizing” the Land Promise. See Ibid, 97–102 for Burge’s full discussion of Hebrews.
6 Later published as Craig A. Evans, “Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles”, The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014), 133–146.
7 Ibid, 142.
8 Ibid, 144.
9 Ibid, 151–166, in the edited volume of conference papers cited in footnote 7.
10 Ibid, 157.
11 The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, ed. Gerald McDermott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).
12 Blaising, “Biblical Hermeneutics: How Are We to Interpret the Relation Between the Tanak and the New Testament on This Question?” in The New Christian Zionism, 85–87.
13 Ibid, 86, italics mine.
14 Ibid, 82–83. Blaising here relies heavily upon the work of David Wolfe, Epistemology: The Justification of Belief, Contours of Christian Philosophy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), 50–55.
15 It may be telling as to how difficult Hebrews is in regard to the Land Promise, that, unlike The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel (see the discussion of Craig Evan’s paper/chapter above), The New Christian Zionism does not include an exegetical chapter that deals directly with Hebrews, though it does have such chapters on Matthew (by Joel Willits), Luke-Acts (by Mark Kinzer), and the Pauline Literature (by David Rudolph).
16 Bock and Glaser, 142.
17 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture citations are from the Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).
18 E.g., Marcus Dods, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” Expositor’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974 repr.), 4:357; William Lane, Hebrews 9-13 Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1991), 357; and David Allen, Hebrews New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2010), 554. Textually, to translate tes ges in Heb 11:13 as “the land” can be supported in two ways: 1) the extent of clear parallel wording between 11:13 and 11:9—where eis gen unquestionably refers to the Promised Land: In 11:13, the wording sequence is: kata pistin (“by faith”)/tas epangelias (“that which is promised”)/ xenoi kai parepidemoi (“foreigners and temporary residents”)/ epi tes ges (“on the land”). In 11:9, the wording sequence is: pistei (“by faith”)/ parokesen (“live as a stranger”)/ eis gen (“in the land”)/ tes epangelias (“the promise”); 2) the echo of Gen 26:3 in Heb 11:9, 13: Heb 11:9 refers to “Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.” In the LXX reading of Gen 26:3, God tells Isaac to live as a stranger in the land” (Gk paroikes en te ge) and God would confirm the promise He made to Isaac’s father, Abraham.
19 Bock and Glaser, 144.
20 Among other things, Blaising was the initial historical apologist for Progressive Dispensationalism, as well as its “systematizer,” along with Darrell Bock. (See C.A. Blaising and D.L. Bock, Progressive Dispenasationalism [Wheaton: Bridgepoint, 1993]).
21 Blaising, “Israel and Hermeneutics,” The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, 157.
22 BAGD, s.v. “oikoumene,” 561. The other NT uses of oikoumene refer to “the inhabited earth” or “the world in the sense of its inhabitants.”
23 When will “the holy city” and “temple” seen in Rev 11:1ff. exist? Chapter 11 is within the “interlude” (10:1–11:14) in the trumpets judgments cycle (8:6–11:19). In a futurist understanding, the wording “forty-two months” (11:2) and “1,260 days” (11:3) temporally locate the passage during “the great tribulation” (7:14) before the Second Coming of Messiah (19:11ff.).
24 A. Boyd Luter, “The Land as Covenant Backdrop: A Modest Response to Burge and Waltke,” Criswell Theological Review n.s. 9/1 (Fall 2011): 62–63.
25 Although the “the holy city” in Rev 11:2 is not specifically called “Jerusalem,” the wording “where also [the] Lord was crucified” in 11:8 cinches the identification.
26 The most common recent evangelical dating range for the writing of Hebrews is from the mid-to-late 60s of the first century CE and the clear majority of evangelical Revelation scholars date it in 95–96 CE.
27 Italics mine.
28 A slightly different version of this chart originally appeared in Luter, “Continuation of Israel’s Land Promise in the New Testament,” 8–9.
29 BAGD, 129, states that the Greek achri hou, rendered “until” by CSB in Lk 21:24, is equivalent to achri chronon ho (“until the time when”) in cases like Lk 21:24.
30 Numerous examples of such chiastic studies are either set forth or cited in the volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary series by William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 and Hebrews 9-13, and in the New American Commentary series by David Allen.
31 Among several helpful listings, in the considered opinion of this author, the best set of criteria is still found in Craig Blomberg, “The Structure of 2 Corinthians 1–7,” Criswell Theological Review 4, no. 1 (1989): 1–20.
32 Especially in regard to the two chiastic structures handled in this paper, the most helpful source of interpretive insight is John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994).
33 See the excellent compact recent discussion of the structure of Hebrews in Allen, Hebrews, 87–93.
34 Most accessibly in his Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews Subsidia Biblica 12 (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1989).
35 See Allen, 87–90, for a helpful concise discussion.
36 C. Richard Wells and A. Boyd Luter, Inspired Preaching: A Survey of Preaching Found in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 141–143. Some wording in the sectional titles was improved, but the only textual change was moving Heb 10:19–25 from the beginning of C’ to the end of D’ (see the diagram of the chiastic structure of Hebrews above).
37 Still among the best studies of this key section is David Alan Black, “Hebrews 1:1–4: A Study in Discourse Analysis,” Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 175–94.
38 Breck, 50, describes it this way: “The most appropriate image for this phenomenon is that of a “conical helix,” in which movement begins from a broad base, then spirals upward toward the point that represents the conceptual center.”
39 Simply put, the understanding of the relationship between D (Heb 4:14–7:28) and D’ (9:1–10:25), with E’ (8:1–13), expressed here is that the parts of the Law that were, at the time of the writing of Hebrews, “near disappearing” for the Jews were the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrificial Law.
40 Blaising, 157.
41 Allen, 519n69, Citing F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. Ed. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 258–259. This citation should not be taken to mean that Bruce agrees with this position, only that he states it.
42 Bruce, 195–196.
43 V. Rhee, “Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (July-Sept 1998): 327–345. See also Rhee’s later volume, Faith in Hebrews: Analysis within the Context of Christology, Eschatology and Ethics (New York: Peter Lang, 2001).
44 Rhee has A through ‘G’ pairings, with an ‘H’ midpoint (“Hebrews 11,” 329–344.)
45 John Bligh (“The Structure of Hebrews,” Heythrop Journal 5 : 176) is a rare example of a scholar who, over 50 years ago, identified Heb 11:13–16 as the center of an extended chiastic structure.
46 Allen, 539.
48 That is precisely the case in A. Boyd Luter and Nicholas Dodson, “Hidden in Plain View: An Overlooked Chiasm in Matthew 16:13–18:20,” Filologia Neotestamentaria, Vol. XXVIII (2016): 3–17.
49 The abrupt change in style between Heb 11:31 and 11:32 may emphasize the significance of Israel’s return to the Promised Land in 11:30–31. Perhaps the mention of Rahab, a Gentile example of faith (11:31), is a “glance ahead” to the New Covenant era, when Messianic Jews and Gentiles are equally parts of the people of God, though the church does not replace Israel or receive her promises. But, the Gk wording epileipsei… ho chronos in 11:32 may refer to hurrying timewise prior to an event. It is difficult to judge, since epileipo (“to leave behind” [BAGD, 295]) is a hapax legomenon (i.e., used only here in the NT). Still, the phrase plausibly can be rendered “the time… will be left behind.”
50 Harold Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, ١٩٨٩), ٣٢٩, also shares the opinion that Heb 11:13–16 is only speaking of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob.
51 Jacob, of course, did go to Paddan-Aram in fleeing from Esau, staying 20 years (Gen 31:38). As Jacob was about to first leave the Promised Land, though, he received a vision at Bethel in which the Land is promised to him and his descendants (29:13). The same thing happened (i.e., God repeating the Land Promise)—also at Bethel—soon after Jacob and his family returned to Canaan (35:12).
52 There is, in fact, very little focus on non-Temple related Jewish ritual, such as circumcision, or holy days beyond Yom Kippur, or dietary laws or other such topics.
Revelation 11:2 and Context
Focus on “the holy city” (11:2), which is “where [the] Lord was crucified (11:8) = Jerusalem
“[T]he nations (Gk ethnesin) will trample (Gk (21:24) pateo) the holy city”
Old Testament imagery related to the two witnesses (11:3–7) implies their Jewishness, and the stark contrast with “representatives of the peoples, tribes, languages and nations” (11:9) implies that the eschatological Jerusalem (11:2, 8) is indeed a Jewish city.