What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 4 - Israel – What is the nation’s role in the 1,000-year reign of Christ?
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
The Old Testament prophecies are full of references to Israel’s regathering from all parts of the world and to their full restoration to the Lord under the New Covenant. These events will immediately follow their supernatural deliverance from annihilation by the glorious second coming of Christ to the Mount of Olives to rescue them at the climax of the campaign of Armageddon around Jerusalem. Then, the survivors of the nation will deeply repent of their rejection of their true Messiah as they recognize Him ‘whom they have pierced’, Zech. 12. 10, and be converted as a nation in a day, Isa. 66. 8. Only the believing remnant of the nation will survive the judgements of that time and enter Christ’s kingdom on earth in their mortal bodies. All apostates and unbelievers among them will die at its beginning, judged by Christ in a wilderness location near the Promised Land, Ezek. 20. 34-38. The righteous, believing dead of Israel from all ages of time will be resurrected in the last stage of the first resurrection of the just at the end of the tribulation, Rev. 20. 4-6. They will be rewarded, and then enter the earthly kingdom of Christ in glorified bodies, Dan. 12. 1-3. The New Testament confirms these truths, especially in Romans chapter 11, which clearly concerns God’s earthly people, Israel, and not the New Testament Church.
The unconditional New Covenant made with the houses of Israel and Judah will be the basis for the Lord’s restored relationship with them, see especially Jer. 31. 31-34. This will replace the former covenant of Moses; a conditional covenant of Law based on their works of obedience. The nation always failed to keep the covenant of law and thus lost occupancy of their Promised Land. Under the New Covenant, God will freely forgive them, the Holy Spirit will come to indwell every believing Israelite, and thus enable them to keep God’s laws. In the same way today, Christians are enabled to serve Christ acceptably; for we have come into the spiritual, though not the material or earthly, blessings of this future covenant with God’s earthly nation many years before they will do so.
Throughout the millennial kingdom, Israel will occupy the whole extent of their Promised Land for the first time, from the brook of Egypt to the River Euphrates. Then will be fulfilled Moses’ prediction that Israel will be the head, or chief, of the nations, not the tail, as has happened throughout much of history, Deut. 28. 13. They will bask in the reflected glory of their great Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who will sit on the throne of the whole world. It will be the day of their greatest blessing, and all other nations will benefit from this.
The role of Israel in the administration of the millennium
First and foremost, their true Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the nation decisively rejected and crucified at His first coming in grace, will reign upon His throne from Jerusalem. He will be without a rival as the prophesied Son of David and acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will receive His rightful due from earth’s inhabitants, being the object of universal worship and obedience, until all His enemies are subdued.
Second, other faithful believers, from both Old Testament and New Testament days, will be enlisted to share His rule as part of His civil service. Despite some uncertainties in interpreting some of the relevant scriptures, we can probably name a few of these favoured believers. Some will serve as resurrected saints while others, as survivors of the tribulation, will serve in their mortal bodies. It is likely that the resurrected King David will be chief among these, an honoured prince, as is predicted in many scriptures, and they may not all be understood to refer only to Christ Himself as ‘great David’s greater Son’. Daniel will have a place in Christ’s kingdom, Dan. 12. 13; also, probably Zerubbabel, Hag. 2. 23. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be there, Matt. 8. 11, while the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, Matt. 19. 28. Members of the New Testament Church and resurrected tribulation martyrs are also promised that they will reign with Christ with varying degrees of responsibility. 1
Less clear are the scriptures concerning an unnamed prince, mentioned only in the final chapters of Ezekiel concerning the millennial temple. He will offer sin offerings for himself and will have sons who can inherit from him, so he must have been married and be still a mortal believer, not a resurrected one, Ezek. 45. 22; 46. 16-18. More probably, he will be a faithful survivor of the tribulation, not a glorified saint. This seems to rule out the possibility that he will be King David in resurrection, since resurrected saints neither marry nor are given in marriage, Matt. 22. 30. He will be a privileged believer representing the Lord to the people and the people to the Lord and will be given a special area of the central part of the Promised Land as his portion of Israel’s inheritance.
The role of Israel in witness to the Gentiles during the millennium
The Lord has always desired that the nation of Israel should be His witnesses to the Gentile nations that He is the only true God and Saviour, Isa. 43. 10-12. In this responsibility, the nation has until now signally failed, misrepresenting the Lord badly by their wrong conduct and idolatrous practices through the centuries. They have selfishly reserved all of their privileges and blessings for themselves, rather than using them to bless the other nations, as God intended them to do. Salvation was intended to be of the Jews for everyone else too, not exclusively for themselves alone.
However, during the millennium this regrettable situation will become radically different for the better, once the remnant of Israel has become a saved nation. They will witness faithfully to all nations throughout the rest of the world, propagating the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in the way that He had always intended, because they will all know the Lord and His will and word from the heart as never before. Several scriptures confirm this truth. Both Isaiah and Micah spoke about it, saying that many nations would voluntarily encourage one another to go up to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem to the millennial temple to learn there concerning His ways and word, Isa. 2. 2; Mic. 4. 2.
Zechariah later confirmed this in his post-exilic prophecies of Israel’s restoration, saying that many peoples and mighty nations from the Gentiles would grasp the garment of a Jew, and plead with him, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’, Zech. 8. 22, 23 NASB. At last, the Jews will become good witnesses for their Lord, fulfilling their mission faithfully. Hallelujah for His grace to them!
The role of Israel in the worship of the millennial temple in Jerusalem
Soon after the exodus from Egypt, the Lord had said to Israel that, if they would obey His voice and keep His covenant, they would be to Him ‘a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation’, Exod. 19. 5, 6. In this desire of His they failed very badly from the outset. They worshipped the golden calf image at the foot of Sinai so that only the tribe of Levi was allowed to engage in priestly service in the tabernacle and, later, the temple. Even this tribe became confused between the families of Eleazar and Ithamar, and the later Levites were largely unfaithful in their responsibility, many of them becoming idolatrous and apostate, unfit for their service to the Lord and His people.
However, in the millennial temple all will be put right. Only Levites from the priestly line of Zadok will be allowed to serve as priests then, because they alone in their tribe remained faithful to King David during the dark days of the rebellion of Absalom, Ezek. 44. 15, 16. All other Levites will be assigned less prominent duties, and will not be permitted to serve at the new enlarged altar of sacrifice. This will be situated in the very centre of the temple complex, unlike the old brazen altar in the tabernacle or temple, thus forever reminding mankind of the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in the Lord’s purposes of grace.
Several of the Old Testament feasts with their sacrifices will be celebrated regularly during the millennium: namely, the Passover, the basis of all redemption; the subsequent Feast of Unleavened Bread, emphasizing the necessity for holiness of life; and the Feast of Tabernacles, which illustrated the blessings of the millennial kingdom. However, some of the other feasts will not be celebrated, because their significance will have been fulfilled, either in Christ’s resurrection (the Feast of Firstfruits), or in Pentecost and the Church by then in glory (the Feast of Weeks), or in the regathering of Israel (the Feast of Trumpets), or in Israel’s repentance and conversion at Christ’s glorious appearing (the Day of Atonement). The weekly Sabbath, not the present Lord’s Day, will be regularly kept. The animal sacrifices offered then will be memorial offerings, pointing back to Calvary, just as the present-day Lord’s Supper points back to Christ’s sacrifice there, but will not add anything to His unique, unrepeatable sacrifice for sin. They will illustrate gospel truth for those generations.
Finally, the Shekinah glory cloud of the Lord’s presence will return at the beginning of the millennium to dwell once again in the new temple, so that the city of Jerusalem is called Jehovah-Shammah, ‘The Lord is there’, Ezek. 48. 35.
The advantages of New Testament Christians over Israelite believers in the millennium
The Church is the Bride of Christ, and will be nearest to Him throughout eternity, whereas restored Israel is the wife of Jehovah, and her blessings are largely earthly and material, although they will enjoy a close spiritual relationship with their Messiah.
Today, in the day of grace, Christians enjoy a closer relationship with their Lord than believers in Israel ever will during the millennium. Even the most privileged Israelites then, such as the priests and the unnamed prince, will have restrictions placed upon them which we do not have now.
Therefore, how good it is to live in the present age; we enjoy such great blessings from our gracious Lord’s hand which others will never know in the same way! Praise His Name! Do we fully appreciate this?
1 Matt. 25. 14-23; 1 Cor. 6. 2; Rev. 20. 4.