STUDY FIVE: THE ESCHATOLOGICAL CONNECTION – OLD TESTAMENT
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
A. GENERAL COMMENTS
When we study the books of the Old Testament prophets [Isaiah to Malachi] it is clear that a portion of their content is verbal prediction of events which from the prophet’s perspective were in the future. There is also verbal prediction of such future events in other Old Testament books.
About this predictive content it is evident that:
Some of the verbal predictions are about events that were fulfilled in the history of specific nations named – for example, Israel, Judah, Babylon – shortly after they were announced, and this fulfilment in history is recorded in the Old Testament.
Some of the verbal predictions have already been fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have already seen that this was affirmed by Jesus himself and the apostles, who clearly understood this first coming of Jesus Christ as the inauguration of ‘the last days’ anticipated by the Old Testament.
Both of the above are fairly easy for us to see and understand. There are, however, two further characteristics of Old Testament verbal predictions that can easily confuse us, or cause us to misunderstand the eschatology of the Old Testament:
 Some Old Testament prophecies have multi-layered fulfilment. They have already been fulfilled in micro, for example, in the judgments of God that fell upon Israel, the nation, centuries before Christ, but they are yet to be fulfilled in macro in the final judgment of God that will fall upon the whole world at the return of Christ. For another example, they have been fulfilled in micro in the rebuilding of the Temple when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, they are currently being fulfilled in the Church, the temple of the Spirit of God, and they are yet to be fully realised in Revelation 21 where the God himself dwells with his people.
 Old Testament predictions of Christ and his saving work are sometimes telescoped: they seem to describe his first and second comings as one event. What the Old Testament prophet spoke of as the one event, one victory, is, in the New Testament, very obviously understood to be partly fulfilled at the first coming of Christ and finally and completely fulfilled at the second coming. An example of this is the prophecy in Joel 2, quoted by Peter in Acts 2, and referred to in section C.1 above. While this telescoping of the last days is sometimes confusing, it does help us to see how the first coming of Jesus Christ, and his second coming, are both legitimately understood as the end of the ages foretold by the Old Testament prophets.
Both of these make it necessary for us to be careful when trying to work out where Old Testament predictions actually fit into the New Testament reality.
Another point of confusion and disagreement about Old Testament eschatology is caused by the fact that some of it is flavoured with an apparent tie to the physical nation of Israel. It is probably because of this that some Christians hold to an eschatology dominated by interest in current events in the physical nation and land of Israel. It is here at this point that we need to exercise great self-control and godly discernment. A few considerations that need to be mulled over are:
There are predictions about ‘Israel’ which are actually fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one true Israelite – the Servant of the Lord. In him alone God’s purpose for Israel is fulfilled. It is his worldwide Kingdom and his universal throne that last forever.
That the blessings of Israel were always to be shared with ‘the stranger who is within your gates’.
That in the Old Testament the blessings of God were commonly understood and expressed in physical terms – the land, prosperity, many children, long age. These things were conditionally promised to the physical nation of Israel. In its eschatology the Old Testament frequently retains this physical perception of the blessedness that comes from God. It speaks of physical blessedness to the physical nation. But interwoven with these physical references are other predictions that lift our eyes beyond the physical to the spiritual blessedness of the new covenant which the Messiah would initiate. This spiritual blessedness is the real eschatological blessedness sought and experienced by the Old Testament believer.
That, as we have seen in Section C in The Gospel Connection study, the Church is called ‘the Israel of God.’
The challenge for the Bible student is to discern to what extent, if any, physical promises to the physical nation are intended to be understood in a purely physical way in respect to ‘the last days’. From our perspective as New Testament believers –
Is it right to revert to a physical/national/political understanding of the Messiah, when Jesus himself clearly refused and rejected such an understanding?
Is it right to demand a physical/national/political understanding of the Kingdom, when Jesus refused such a kingdom?
Is it right to define deliverance in physical/national/political terms, when Jesus described deliverance in spiritual terms?
It is right to expect physical/national/political blessedness, when Jesus defined blessedness as belonging to ‘the kingdom of heaven’?
Is it right to focus on the physical/national people of God, when Jesus identified as his brothers and sisters those who do the will of his Father in heaven?
Such questions could go on and on. We should be very, very cautious about deriving from the Old Testament an eschatology in which the key features are the very things that Jesus himself rejected and refused to be part of. In all humility we need to confess that Jesus, not we ourselves, has the insight needed to understand the Old Testament correctly. It is, after all, his word, inspired by his Spirit. And it is Jesus who both is and has unveiled the ‘mystery’ of God that was hidden in the Old Testament [Colossians 1:25-2:3].
B. JESUS CHRIST – THE FOCUS OF OLD TESTAMENT ESCHATOLOGY
The focus of Old Testament eschatology is Jesus Christ. Looking back from the New Testament perspective we know that even creation is both Christocentric and eschatological – all things were created for him [Colossians 1:16]. We have already seen that this is also the perspective of Revelation – that Jesus Christ is the end, the Omega, the goal of all things. Towards him everything is directed. In him everything finds its completion. Just as without him nothing was created [John 1:1-4], even so without him nothing can find its identity, its meaning and its purpose. Nothing and no one can achieve its own individual or personal eschatos apart from him.
But this eschatological focus on Jesus Christ has an even deeper and more powerful significance: the beginning had the end in mind. Creation is not a thoughtless, carefree, naïve action on God’s part. God created the universe and us, fully and deeply aware of what it would cost. God created the universe and us knowing that we would reject him, and knowing also what he would do to save us. Creation anticipates redemption. The beginning anticipates the end. For this reason Jesus is ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ [Revelation 13:8], chosen before the creation of the world [1Peter 1:20]. This planned end, this redemption, predates creation and permeates Old Testament eschatology.
As mentioned in Section C above:
God’s deep wisdom by which we are saved was destined for our glory before time began [1Corinthians 2:7].
God chose us in Christ ‘before the creation of the world’ [Ephesians 1:4].
God’s grace was given to us in Christ before the beginning of time [2Timothy 1:9].
The hope we have in Christ was promised before the beginning of time [Titus 1:2].
The end, the eschatos, in all of its completeness and perfection, was in God’s mind, fixed in his eternal purpose, even as he spoke the universe into existence. This is the mystery ‘which for ages past was hidden in God, who created all things’ [Ephesians 3:9]. This completeness and this perfection that is central to this original, underlying and prevailing Old Testament eschatology was and is always, ever and only in Christ.
For this reason, the Old Testament predicts the coming of Christ, the conquering Saviour, from Genesis onwards. This is its over-riding, over-arching, all-embracing, eschatological theme. All other eschatological themes in the Old Testament are the servants, the expressions or the evidence of this one dominant perspective. They do not and cannot displace it, nor were they ever intended to do so.
B.1 Jesus Christ, OT eschatology and rest
The first intimation of this eschatological hope is deeply embedded in God’s rest on the seventh day [Genesis 2:1-3]. Already, when God rested here, the saving work of Jesus Christ was an eternal reality. Already God had planned our redemption through the death of his Son. Already the grace and the hope of salvation were in place. Already, in eternity, the Lamb was slain, establishing peace. This rest of God is the hope of the Old Testament. This hope, where all is good, and all is peace, and all is right, is the rest to which Christ the Saviour calls us, the rest that he gives us. This rest is both depicted and anticipated in the inactivity of every Sabbath – a rest in which the sovereign grace of God reverses the alienation brought in by Genesis 3 [Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12], a rest that is entered only by repentance and trust [Isaiah 26:3; 30:15; Jeremiah 6:16; Hebrews 3:7-4:11]. This rest is Christ himself [Colossians 2:16,17]. It is both the original rest and the eschatological rest. It is the key feature of the timeless covenants that were yet to be expressed.
Here at the very beginning, there were no divisions, there was no striving. Man was at peace with God, man was at peace with his fellow humans, man was at peace within himself, and man was at peace with his environment. Even so is the rest brought in by Christ, the eschatos - it transcends and undoes all divisions, all tensions, all conflict at every level.
For this reason, Old Testament eschatology teaches:
That this rest, even now experienced in part by people of faith [Psalm 23:2], will be maximised by the eschatological Shepherd [Ezekiel 34:23-31].
That God promises peace to his people [Psalm 85:8; Zechariah 9:10].
That the future state is one of perfect peace and rest [Isaiah 2:4; 11:6-10; Micah 4:3]
Jesus, the Son who is given to us, is the Prince of Peace …the inaugurator and dispenser of peace [Isaiah 9:6]. Indeed, he is our peace [Micah 5:5].
That the future reign of God is encompassed by the one word ‘peace’ [Isaiah 52:7].
The eschatological covenant is a timeless covenant of peace [Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; 37:26; Hosea 2:18].
This rest, this peace, this eschatological hope of the Old Testament, is linked to Jesus Christ in an absolute and irreducible way. In its eschatological fulfilment it is both spiritual and already inaugurated by Christ’s redemptive death, and physical and future in the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth when Christ returns.
B.2 Jesus Christ, OT eschatology and the ‘seed’
We find in Genesis, just after the beginning, specific eschatological predictions. They speak of Jesus as
‘The seed of the woman’ who will conquer and destroy Satan [Genesis 3:15],
‘The offspring of Abraham’ through whom all nations will be blessed [Genesis 22:18],
The descendant of Judah, the Lion, clothed in blood red garments, to whom the sceptre of government belongs and to whom the obedience of the nations is due [Genesis 49:10].
These eschatological expectations narrow down the identity of the expected eschatological hero to the line of Abraham, then further to the line of Judah, but they do not restrict his activity and his impact. He brings deliverance from the cosmic enemy. He brings blessedness to all nations. He rules all nations. Nor does he achieve this victory and this deliverance with physical power: he achieves it by shedding his blood.
When we move further into the Old Testament the predictions become more specific:
As a prophet like Moses he will speak God’s truth, exposing and outlawing the deceptions of the evil one [Deuteronomy 18:9-19].
His identity is narrowed down to the line of David, and his reign is not only global but eternal [2Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 33:17; Ezekiel 37:25].
As the Shepherd after God’s own heart he carries the weak and seeks the lost [Isaiah 40:9-11; Ezekiel 34:11-24; Micah 5:4].
As the suffering Servant of God his blood will be shed in a substitutionary, sin-bearing death, by which sin’s guilt and condemnation are turned aside and sinners are acquitted [Isaiah 53].
Most of these eschatological expectations have already been fulfilled: The ‘fullness of time’ has come [Galatians 4:4], and God has sent forth his Son. He has crushed Satan, he has brought, and is still bringing, the blessing of God to the nations, he has demonstrated his power and authority in his miracles and in his resurrection, he has spoken the word of God in its fullness, he has suffered as our sin-bearing substitute, all authority in heaven and on earth has already been given to him, and he is even now seeking out the lost and carrying them close to his heart.
B.3 Jesus, OT eschatology and the Messiah
There are only a small number of Old Testament passages that specifically mention the ‘Messiah’ - God’s ‘anointed’. There are, however, quite a number of passages that have obvious Messianic content.
‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed’. Both Saul and David were ‘anointed’ by Samuel as king over Israel, and are often referred to as God’s ‘anointed’. The concept of the Messiah is thus intimately connected with the concept of kingship and kingdom. It is not totally surprising that Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting a King who would re-establish the throne of David, deliver Israel from Roman domination, and re-establish the independence of the nation of Israel. They had grasped only those predictions that speak of the permanence of the reign of David and his descendant, and failed to see their bigger spiritual significance; and they had also over-looked those other predictions that focus clearly on spiritual salvation and on the global purpose and impact of the Messiah. They had overlooked the fact that the priests of Israel, and in particular, the High Priests, were also ‘anointed’.
As we have already seen Jesus would have nothing to do with the national/political perception of the Messiah, but he did affirm that he was indeed the promised Messiah:
He applied to himself Isaiah’s prediction of the one ‘anointed’ by God [Luke 4:18].
He assured John the Baptist that he was the expected one [Matthew 11:1-6].
He affirmed Peter’s confession that he was ‘the Christ’, that is, ‘the Messiah’ [Matthew 16:16,17].
In none of these affirmations do we find any reference to the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. What we do find is Jesus undoing of the impacts of Genesis 3 and anticipating of the restoration of the original reality of Genesis 1 and 2:
We find that the Messiah reverses physical pain and suffering.
We find that the Messiah reverses spiritual bondage, setting people free.
We find that the Messiah reverses Satan’s deceptions, proclaiming the ‘good news’ of the spiritual kingdom.
The Messiah is far more glorious than a local King of a small nation. He is the King of all the earth, he is, in fact, God himself. The restoration he implements is far more glorious than the restoration of physical Israel to the boundaries and the glory it possessed under David and Solomon. He restores the universe to its pre-fall integrity. He restores sinners to the perfect relationship with God for which they were created. He destroys far more than the enemies of political Israel: he destroys the enemy of all mankind, he destroys the enemy of God. He rights all wrongs. This grand, cosmic, eternal restoration was initiated with his first coming and will be consummated at his second coming. The Gospels record its initiation and speak of its ultimate completion. Revelation records both its initiation and its consummation. The Old Testament anticipates both:
The identity of the Messiah is both divine and human: Isaiah 9:6; 11:1-3.
The rule of the Messiah is global: Psalm 2; 24; Isaiah 11:10.
The glory, perfection and righteousness of the Messiah are absolute: Psalm 24; 45; Isaiah 11.
He brings the knowledge of God to the whole earth: Isaiah 11:9; 40:5; 42:9; 49:6; Habakkuk 2:14.
He brings spiritual salvation: Isaiah 42; 49; 53; Daniel 9:24.
He combines the two roles of King and Priest [Haggai 2:23; Zechariah 3:8,9].
He brings physical release and restoration to the whole earth: Isaiah 11; 61.
He is not just the hope of Israel, but the desire of all nations [Haggai 2:7].
The judgment he implements is global: Isaiah 11.
His throne is the throne of God [Revelation 3:21; 22:3].
This fundamental and pervasive expectation of Jesus Christ is the basis of Old Testament eschatology. It is his coming for which the Old Testament prepares us. It is his coming towards which the Old Testament points us and draws us. His coming was never intended to be just about Israel. Rather Israel’s existence was part of God’s preparation for his coming.
When we read Revelation we find this same dominant focus on Jesus Christ. Not a word is said in Revelation about the restoration of national/political Israel. Not a word is said about the restoration of the physical throne of David. Everything is about Jesus Christ. As in the rest of the New Testament, Old Testament eschatological expectations are here in Revelation understood to be fulfilled in both the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. And this fulfilment is given its broadest application:
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’ [Isaiah 49:6].
‘… you were slain,
and with your blood you have purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth’ [Revelation 5:9,10].
C. SALVATION IN OLD TESTAMENT ESCHATOLOGY
It is clear from what has already been said that the Old Testament anticipates a salvation that will impact not only all nations, but also the whole universe. This salvation inaugurated by the promised deliverer is both spiritual and physical. It was promised by God before any mention was made of the nation of Israel or the throne of David. It predates and transcends both. It is embedded in the eternal purpose of God and was a reality in his mind before the creation of the world.
The expected end-time salvation embedded in the eschatological hope of the Old Testament can be tracked from the very first moment rescue and restoration was needed. We find in the Old Testament:
Look up every reference in the following paragraphs:
Salvation is the destruction of Satan – Genesis 3:15. This destruction was inaugurated with the first coming of Jesus Christ in his confrontation with demons and by his death [Luke 10:18; 11:20-22; John 12:31; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 20:3]. Its final expression is recorded in Revelation 18:2-24; 19:19-21; 20:10.
Salvation is the restoration of universal physical blessedness. The original pre-fall world was one of blessedness [Genesis 1:28]. Each aspect of this blessedness became ‘cursed’ in Genesis 3 [verses 14-19]. Through Abraham and his descendant blessing is restored to all the nations of the earth [Genesis 12:3c; 22:18]. The physical aspect of this blessedness involves a restoration of physical peace in which all danger and destruction are removed forever [Isaiah 2:4;11:6-9; 65:25; Jeremiah 33:6; Micah 4:3,4] and the removal of the physical suffering that began in Genesis 3 [Isaiah 29:18; 33:24a; 35:5-7]. This restoration of universal physical blessedness was anticipated in micro in the miracles of Jesus [Matthew 11:2-6] and will be finally and fully completed with his return [Revelation 7:16,17; 21:4; 22:3].
Salvation is the disempowerment and reversal of death. Death is the absence of life. It existed in the original creation only as the state that would result if humans rejected God [Genesis 2:17]. The eschatological hope of the Old Testament is the restoration of life, a restoration that can only be achieved by a return to God [Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:11]. Isaiah [25:7,8] and Hosea [13:14, quoted in 1Corinthians 15:55], speak of the ultimate eschatological disempowerment of death, and Isaiah [26:19] and Daniel [12:1-4] of its eschatological reversal. Revelation 20:14 and 21:4 record this end of death.
Salvation is the restoration of the reign of God. Genesis 3 reports the beginning of human rebellion against God. The eschatological expectation of the Old Testament is the permanent restoration of the reign of God over all the people of the earth [Isaiah 2:4; 11:10; 12:4; 51:4-6; 52:10; Daniel 2:44; 7:14,26,27; Micah 4:3; Zephaniah 2:11; Zechariah 9:10; 14:9; Malachi 1:11]. Revelation repeatedly tells us that God is on the throne, and it is because God is on his throne that he is the focus of universal praise. It is also because God is on his throne that the global eschatological judgment and the eschatological restoration of the whole universe under his rule are certain.
Salvation is the restoration of the knowledge and worship of God: That deception introduced in Genesis 3 that holds the whole world in spiritual darkness will be removed. People from all nations will again know and worship God [Isaiah 11:9; 17:7,8; 33:5,6; 40:5; 42:6,7; 49:6; 60:1-3; 66:18,19; Jeremiah 16:19; Micah 4:2; Habakkuk 2:14; Zechariah 8:20-23]. This worldwide, trans-national knowledge and worship of God is expressed in Revelation [5:9; 7:9; 14:6; 15:4; 21:24]. It is both already inaugurated, by the first coming of Christ and the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel, and yet to be consummated at the return of Christ.
Salvation is the removal of sin and guilt and the restoration of a right relationship with God. Sin entered the world in Genesis 3. Sin broke God’s covenant with Israel. In both cases restoration of the right relationship with God requires the removal of sin and guilt – something that can only be achieved by a sacrifice of atonement. The Old Testament eschatological hope is a hope that longs for such a restoration – not a temporary forgiveness mediated through repetitive rituals, but a permanent everlasting forgiveness and acquittal [Isaiah 33:24b; Jeremiah 31:34b] wrought by the substitutionary death of the Servant of God [Isaiah 53:5,6]. The Gospels record this death and its saving impact; Revelation speaks of ‘the Lamb’ who was slain, and who by his blood purchased men for God [5:6,7], a death that had been in place in the purpose of God since the creation of the earth [13:8].
Go to Appendix #2 for comments on the Restoration of Israel.
D. THE DAY OF THE LORD IN OLD TESTAMENT ESCHATOLOGY
In Old Testament times in popular understanding ‘the day of the Lord’ meant the defeat of the enemies of Israel, and the restoration of Israel as a significant and glorious nation. It was something anticipated with eagerness and joy. However, the prophets, speaking as the messengers of God, had far broader perspective on ‘the Day of the Lord’, or ‘that day’. They saw ‘the Day of the Lord’ as:
A day of judgment on both Jew and non-Jew – a day of darkness and doom, not light.
A day of salvation for people of faith, both Jew and non-Jew.
A day in which the glory of the Lord would be manifest.
A ‘day’ that was not a literal twenty-four hour day, but a period of time; in particular, an extended ultimate period of time.
Check the following references about the Day of the Lord:
The Day of the Lord and judgment:
Isaiah 2:12-21; 3:18-4:1; 13:6-13; 24:21-23
Joel 1:15; 2:1-11
Malachi 3:1-3; 4:1-6.
The Day of the Lord and God’s Vengeance:
Isaiah 34:8; (35:5; 59:17,18;) 61:2; 63:1-4
The Day of the Lord and the glory of the Lord:
Isaiah 2:11,17; 4:2; (40:5; 60:1-3,19)
The Day of the Lord and spiritual salvation:
Isaiah 4:2-6; 11:10-11; 12:1-6; 17:6; 19:16-21; 25:6-9; 26:1ff; 27:1
Zechariah 3:8,9; 9:16; 13:1ff; 14:6-9
The Day of the Lord and the Messiah:
The Day of the Lord and the inclusion of the Gentiles:
Isaiah 2:2; 11:10; 19:18-22;
The Day of the Lord as an extended period:
Each of these elements of the Day of the Lord finds its counterpart in Revelation, as we will discover when we study the text.
D. OLD TESTAMENT APOCALYPTIC ELEMENTS
The Old Testament contains a number of ‘apocalyptic’ sections. In these chapters we come across visions and symbols that have similarity to the apocalyptic visions and symbols in Revelation. Of particular note are:
D.1 Visions of the glorious Lord
The vision of the exalted Christ in Revelation 1:12-18 is very similar to:
 Ezekiel’s visions of God: Ezekiel 1:25-28; 8:2-4.
 Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days: Daniel 7:9.
D.2 Various symbols
Revelation shares a number of apocalyptic symbols or images with the Old Testament prophets. Some of these appear to refer to the same reality in both; others do not. Sometimes the same symbol is used in reference both to God or his agents, and to Satan or his agents. The following are a short selection of shared apocalyptic symbols.
 Cherubim, seraphim and/or ‘living creatures’: Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 10; Revelation 4:6-9 etc. [Note that some translations have ‘beasts’ instead of ‘living creatures’.]
 Horses and/or horsemen: Zechariah 1:8; 6:1-7; Revelation 6:1-8.
 Beasts: Daniel 7; Revelation 13; etc.
 Horn, horns: Ezekiel 29:21; Daniel 7; 8; Revelation 5:6; 12:3; 13:1,11; 17:3,7,12,16.
 A life-giving river: Ezekiel 47:1-12; Revelation 22:1,2.
See Appendix #7 for discussion of Ezekiel’s vision in 40 – 48.