Author: Ron Graham
The Prophecy Clock
—Was the restoration of Israel postponed?
We have noted how premillennialists claim that Old Testament prophecy is “literal” and predicts events in our daily newspapers and in our immediate future. This claim leads to a distorted understanding of the restoration of Israel.
1 Israel Was Restored
It is claimed that there was a “parenthesis” in history —a period unintended and not prophesied— because Jesus at his first coming failed to restore Israel and establish his kingdom.
The theory asserts that God had to stop the “clock of prophecy” and postpone the prophesied restoration of Israel for around 2000 years until Christ’s second coming.
The kingdom of Israel had been a mighty empire in the time of king David and his son Solomon. But later there was only a remnant1 of the kingdom left. Yet, among the prophets of that time, there was hope of a restoration.
Here is a small sample of their prophecies...
- "And my servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd..." (Ezekiel 37:24).
- "The sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king" (Hosea 3:5).
- "I will raise up the fallen booth of David, wall up its breaches, raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old... declares the Lord" (Amos, 9:11-12).
- The prophet Nathan had conveyed this promise from God to king David: "I will raise up your descendant after you... and I will establish his kingdom... your throne will be established forever" (2Samuel 7:12-17).
2 Christ Established a Heavenly Kingdom
The hero of Israel who would bring about this restoration was the Messiah (Daniel 9:25).
Note —MESSIAH: The two titles, Messiah and Christ, are synonymous and interchangeable. “Messiah” is the Hebrew for which “Christ” is the Greek equivalent.
The basic meaning of these titles is The Anointed One. See Strong: Hebrew 4899 (cf 4886), Greek 5547 (cf 5548).
When Messiah came, he did not set up David’s throne again in Jerusalem on earth. People might have thought that Messiah would conquer the world in a political or material sense, and establish an earthly kingdom of the same nature as the kingdom of David and Solomon. But that didn't happen, nor was it meant to.
The prophecies were to be fulfilled by a greater heavenly kingdom. Where the prophets described the kingdom in material terms, they were speaking figuratively and symbolically:
- Jesus made that clear: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) .
- He set up a heavenly kingdom and sat down on a heavenly throne —of which David’s throne on earth had been a "type" or figure, a shadow (Galatians 4:24-26).
- People might have expected the Messiah to liberate the earthly city of Jerusalem and once again make it the capital of a great golden empire. However the gospel tells of a new Jerusalem —not an earthly city, but "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22-23).
- Although we live on earth just now, we belong to this heavenly city, and we are pilgrims going there (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:8-10,16, 13:14).
Note —ISRAEL: In this lesson I do not imply that the physical remnant of Israel ever ceased to exist, or that it could never achieve nationhood. But whatever its fortunes may turn out to be in God’s providence, the earthly nation of Israel never was, and never will be, the Messianic kingdom established by Jesus.
- This new Israel is not like the old nation, since its constitution is a "new covenant... not like the [old law]" (Hebrews 8:8-10).
- The kingdom which Jesus established is his church, and its members have already been "translated from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13-20).
3 Prophecy Was Fulfilled On Schedule
Peter says, "David was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne. He looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ" (Acts 2:25-36).
Peter understood, and claims that David understood also, that the kingdom of Israel would be restored at the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
We will look more closely at this “prophecy clock” notion. So far we have concentrated on the fulfillment of the prophesied restoration of Israel. This happened at Messiah’s first coming, when he died, arose, and ascended to the throne in heaven. The fulfillment of the prophecies was not postponed until his second coming.
4 God’s Clock Did Not Stop; Jesus Did Not Fail
In this lesson we are examining whether Jesus brought the kingdom prophecies to fulfillment. Did he fail to become a king like David? Did he really restore Israel, or was he a king without a kingdom? Jesus had taught his disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:9-10). Did their prayer fail?
Peter says, "David was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne. He looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ... exalted to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:25-36).
We rejoice in this fact that Jesus ascended into heaven. But wasn't he meant to restore the kingdom to Israel and rule the world from Jerusalem on the throne of David? It was all very well for him to go away into heaven, but what of the kingdom prophecies he was supposed to fulfill?
One has a clear choice. Either Jesus set up a different kind of kingdom —a heavenly or spiritual kingdom not of this world— or else he failed and had to postpone setting up his kingdom.
These are the only two ways you can go when confronted by the fact that the kingdom, which the prophets said would come, did not come as a political and material empire.
5 Premillennialism Goes Wrong Way
- Premillennialists say that Jesus did not fulfil the kingdom prophecies the first time he came, so we should now expect him to fulfill them at his second coming.
- Premillennialists say that that, at the crucifixion of Christ, God stopped the prophetic clock, much as the countdown of a space shuttle is paused should something unforseen go wrong; God will start the clock again in our generation.
- Premillennialists say that God inserted a 2000 year gap or “parenthesis” in history; prophecy been holding its breath for two millennia, waiting for the countdown to resume.
- Premillennialists say that God’s Plan A was to fulfill the kingdom prophecies with an earthly kingdom, but that plan failed so God resorted to Plan B.
- Premillennialists say that Christ postponed the setting up of his kingdom and the fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies, and established his church as an interim measure until his second coming.
- Premillennialists say that prophecies that should have been fulfilled in the first century still remain unfulfilled in the 21st century.
Without those notions, the fulfillment of most Old Testament prophecy could not be brought into our generation. It would be placed in the first century instead of the twenty-first. There would be no grounds for the complex end-time teachings of premillennialism.
6 Stopped Clock Theory is Unknown in the Bible
The difficulty with the stopped clock theory is very simple: Old Testament prophets nowhere even hint that Jesus would fail to establish his kingdom at his first coming. If he failed, it was a failure unforseen.
The Old Testament prophets forsaw both the death of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom as being two facts consistent with each other. There is no sense among those prophets that God’s predetermined counsel would be frustrated.
For example, Isaiah says, ¶ "A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government will rest on his shoulders... There will be no end to the increase of his government or of its peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness, from then on and forevermore." (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Nor do the apostles of Christ seem to have noticed any postponement of God’s plan. They speak only of its fulfillment. Many places in the New Testament speak of the kingdom as a then-present reality..
For example, Peter in his speech on the day of Pentecost, claims that it was "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" that Jesus was taken and crucified. (Acts 2:23).
Peter then claims that the oath that God swore to David "to seat one of his descendants on his throne" was fulfilled by means of "the resurrection of Christ" (Acts 2:29-32).
The whole sense of Peter’s sermon is that Jesus was victoriously "exalted to the right hand of God" who made him "both Lord and Christ" to reign on the throne of his kingdom (Acts 2:32-36).
Jesus therefore was not forced to retreat and try again another day some 2000 years later. He did not need a second chance. He did it the first time. He established his kingdom, and sat down on the heavenly throne, just as the prophets said.