Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
The Hermeneutics of Jesus (Part Two)
The Lord Jesus constantly assumed His hearers could grasp His meaning and, where necessary, do it (e.g. Lk. 9:44; 10:26-28; 11:28; 18:17). John ends his Gospel with a grand hermeneutical lesson which usually has remained unheeded:
Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
The lesson is simple: Jesus means what He says!
d. Jesus’ Kingdom Teachings
Anyone writing about Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture has to mention the subject of the kingdom. The kingdom was important to Him:
Before the Cross: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)
Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 14:25)
“So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. (Lk. 21:31)
After the Cross: to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
The question before us is how Jesus Himself interpreted the subject of the kingdom. I have already shown in the foregoing installment, that the prospect of the kingdom in the first years of Jesus’ life and ministry did not deviate from OT expectation. I want to show how this expectation is only intensified as Jesus ministry continued.
First. in Luke 19:12-27 Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman who goes into a far country “to receive a kingdom.” (19:12. cf. Dan. 7:13-14). While he is away, some of the people say they will not have him to reign over them (19:14). Eventually the nobleman returns – though now as a king (19:15), and judges his people, including meting out recompense on those who had refused to acknowledge his rule (19:27). The parable was told shortly before Christ was crucified. The interesting thing about this parable is the reason it was given:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. (Lk. 19:11. cf. 21:9).
Clearly, the kingdom would not appear immediately, but awaits the return of the nobleman! Therefore, anyone who teaches that this kingdom came after the Cross is gravely mistaken.
“The Days of Vengeance”: Concentrating again mostly on Luke’s account we come to Jesus’ clipped quotation from Isa. 61:1-2a in Lk. 4. In verse 21 the Lord announces, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If He had continued with the quote past the point where He left off He would not have been able to say that. The reason being, the details contained in the scroll reading truly were fulfilled by Him at His first coming. But the reference to the “days of vengeance” which directly follows in the Isaiah passage bore no resemblance to anything in the Lord’s earthly ministry. They refer, as anyone can see, to the second coming. But Jesus uses this phrase, “the days of vengeance,” again in Lk. 21:22, and there He refers to phenomena strongly reminiscent of OT prophetic passages speaking of His second advent. The passage reads (I have supplied some cross references):
19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. [see Zech. 14:1-4] “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 “Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, [Israel] 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot [Zech. 12:18-20] by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [Isa. 63:1-3; Rev. 19:11f.] 27 “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory [Dan. 7:13-14, cf. 7:24-27]. 28 “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption [Isa. 61:2b-3; 62:11-12; Jer. 31:31-36; 33:14-16] is drawing near. – Luke 21:19-28.
No Jewish hearer of Christ would have had any trouble at all in understanding precisely what He was referring to – and it wouldn’t be the idea of the church!
Some Old Testament Background: The “day” or “days of vengeance” is a phrase found in several crucial eschatological contexts. Isaiah 34:8 speaks of “the day of the LORD’s vengeance,” linking it to “the year of recompense for the cause of Zion.” The same chapter mentions heavenly disturbances and phenomena reminiscent of second coming passages (see 34:4, after a great battle in v.3). The reference to “Edom” and “Bozrah” in vv.5 and 6, together with the bloody sword (v.6) connect it to the second coming passage in Isa. 63:1-4; a passage that once more speaks of “the day of vengeance…in my heart.” (Isa. 63:4). Then one finds a referral to “the book of the LORD,” which can be checked to ascertain whether God’s Word has come to pass (34:16). Then there is the partitioning of the land to those who “shall possess it forever” (34:17), reminding one of Ezekiel 48, after the battle of Ezek. 38-39.
Returning to the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4, we witness Jesus reading from Isa. 61:1-2a and claiming literal fulfillment in his ministry. Are we to believe He cut off mid-sentence because “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2b) would not be fulfilled literally? Notice again that after the pouring out of vengeance comes comfort and consolation “for all who mourn in Zion” (61:3). This is the kingdom which follows the day of God’s vengeance: the second coming of Christ. It ought to be unnecessary to prove that Isa. 63:1-6 refers to the second coming (cf. Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-16), but some people will never be persuaded.
Jesus Corroborates OT Expectations: What does Jesus say about the phrase we are studying? I have already shown that in Lk. 21:19-28 He puts the fulfillment of “the days of vengeance” at the time of His second advent. This corresponds with His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He answered and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt. 13:36-43.
The parable comes to a crescendo with eschatological judgment in verses 40-42 and blessing upon the righteous in the kingdom in verse 43. It is worthy of note that these predictions of vengeance are often accompanied by overtures of peace and salvation for God’s people. This pattern of judgment and blessing can also be seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 as well as Revelation 19:11-20:6.
“The Days of the Son of Man”: In Luke 17:22-25, 30 there is a most interesting passage in which the Lord refers to “the days of the Son of Man.” What I find so fascinating about this text is that Christ makes it expressly clear that His “days” occur “AFTER” His rejection! Jesus has His day, but it was not Calvary. Neither, if the second coming language of the passage is to be believed, was it His resurrection, nor again the armies of Rome assaulting Jerusalem nearly forty years later. Jesus’ “day” is yet to come! (cf. Lk. 9:26; 18:8).
Not only is this reference to His “day” noteworthy, but in several places the Lord makes it clear that this world will experience an “age to come” in contrast to “this age” (Lk. 18:29-30 with 20:34-35). When those places are looked at carefully, it appears that “the age to come” is what we might call “the resurrection age.” This is the future age when the Son of Man will sit upon “the throne of His glory” (Matt. 19:28). There seems to be no sane way to relate this prediction to any other time than the return in glory (Lk. 9:26) of Jesus to this earth to conquer it and renew it (cf. Rom. 8:18f.). It is “the regeneration”, or, as Peter calls it, “the times of refreshing” and “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:19, 21): another second coming passage. This was the “kingdom” which the disciples asked Jesus about in Acts 1:6 after being instructed by Him for many days on that very topic.
Readers should note how in the Acts passage, Peter points to the ignorance of the Jews (3:17), and then appears to re-offer Christ to them (3:18-19). They ought to have known Christ when He was among them (see Lk. 17:20-21; 19:44). If only the Jews had paid less attention to their Christ rejecting leaders, who, although they knew who Jesus really was, pointed people away from Him (Matt. 21:33-46; 26:63-64), and instead taken the prophets, and Christ Himself, at their word!