Messianic Hope in Biblical Eschatology
David W. Shenk, Ph.D.
“What will Jesus the Messiah do, when he returns the second time?” the leader of the Germantown Mosque in
“The Messiah will bring to fulfillment the
Our Muslim friends accepted the invitation, and spent a weekend in our homes and churches to see signs of the eschaton.
Both Muslims and Christians believe in a second coming of Jesus the Messiah. Although there are differences in Muslim and Christian understandings as to what his appearance will mean, both communities believe the second coming relates to the intention of God to extend his kingdom of justice and truth throughout the world.
The President of Iran, Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad, in his May 8, 2006 letter to USA President George W. Bush, refers to this common Christian and Muslim expectation for the second coming of the Messiah. He writes, “Will we be given a role to play in the promised world where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) will be present? Will they (the prophets) even accept us?”
Hope is a Central Theme in the Torah
Eschatological hope permeates the biblical scriptures and is at the core of the Christian faith. God planted the seed of that hope within humanity at the beginning of human history.
God’s Promise to Adam and Eve
In the Torah account Adam and Eve turned away from God by disobediently taking fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What is the meaning of the tree? Probably one meaning is giving nature (creation) ultimate authority. That is the essence of nature worship and polytheism. In these modern times, the tree might be considered science, as in Marxism where dialectical materialism was the ultimate authority. The tree is giving ultimate loyalty to that which is other than God. The consequence is alienation and death. 
Adam and Eve were smitten with shame and sought to hide from God by hiding in the bushes in the garden where God had placed them at the time of their creation. God did not abandon them and met them in the garden hiding. God described the consequence of their decision to reject him. They would experience alienation in their work, with creation, from one another, between mother and children, and from God. They would experience death; in fact murder invaded their family; their first-born son, Cain, killed the brother, Abel.
In this context of rebellion, alienation and death God addressed the serpent, who is the representation of rebellion against God, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is a promise that a Son born to woman will confront and triumph over evil but be wounded in the battle. A stream of Protestant and Catholic theology believe this promise is the beginning of biblical messianic eschatological hope.
Abraham: A Blessing to All Nations
It is with Abraham that God’s promise of hope is established. God called Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household…” (Genesis 12:1). The significance of this journey of transformation is especially evident when comparing Abraham’s saga with all other religious practices of the ancient
God’s call to Abraham also included an astonishing promise.
I will make you into a great nation
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And whoever curses you I will curse;
And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you!
All gods of the nations empowered their devotees to oppress others. However, God’s call to Abraham turns such notions upside down. The God of Abraham empowered Abraham and his seed, not to oppress others, but rather to bless all nations. Indeed Abraham’s sojourn was a blessing to the nations among whom he moved. God made an irrevocable covenant with Abraham that his seed will become many nations, and that the seed of Abraham will bless all nations. (Genesis 17:3-7).
God blessed Abraham with two sons, Ishmael and Isaac; the birth of Isaac to 90-year-old Sarah was a complete surprise. That is the nature of the reign of God, which breaks into our experience graciously and surprisingly. Abraham experienced injustice, as for example, when Sarah died the local inhabitants of
Moses: Deliverance and Justice
Later the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and his son Jacob were known as
That incident revealed to Moses that violence against those who inflicted injustice only created threats of counter violence. In time God would intervene to deliver
It was to bring deliverance from oppression and injustice that God met Moses in the burning bush in the
As Moses approached the burning bush the Lord God proclaimed, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people….I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them….” (Exodus 3:7).
Subsequent to the burning bush encounter, Moses returned to the land of Pharaoh and, with his brother Aaron, they confront Pharaoh declaring, “This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me!” Pharaoh resisted, and God confronted the land with a sequence of ten plagues. Finally Pharaoh acquiesced and
The Covenant at
The commitment to worship only the Lord God was to be expressed in righteousness and justice, in love for one’s neighbor. They were never to forget that they had been slaves, but God delivered them. Therefore they were to care for the fatherless, the aliens, and the poor. Even animals were to be treated justly. For example, the oxen were to be free to eat all the grain they wanted when they were working in the grain. The covenant community was to be a community of salaam, wellbeing.
The commitment to justice and well-being was institutionalized in the Year of Jubilee, which happened every 50 years. On the Day of Atonement when they offered sacrifices to God and gave thanks for the forgiveness of sins, the priests blew the ram’s horn and proclaimed the Year of Jubilee. The term, Jubilee, comes from the Hebrew word, Yobel, meaning ram’s horn.
What happened in that Jubilee year? First, they proclaimed forgiveness of sins; they offered animal sacrifices in their prayers for forgiveness. Second, they rested from work; even the land rested from farming. This was a commitment to care for God’s good earth. Third, they freed their slaves. Fourth, they forgave debts. Fifth, they returned all land to the original owners that had been bought during the past fifty years. Jubilee was a celebration where those who were oppressed by debt or enslavement were freed from those burdens (Leviticus 25, 8 – 43; 27:17 – 25). We do not know whether
Jubilee was the inspiration for churches throughout the world pleading with governments and banking interests to make the year 2,000 a Jubilee year for the forgiveness of the debts of poor nations. That call was heard by many of the wealthy governments, and debts were forgiven for some nations struggling with debt burdens.
We emphasize the Jubilee dimension of the Mosaic Law, for Biblical messianic hope is rooted in the conviction that the Lord God came down to deliver the covenant people form slavery under Pharaoh and met them at
The Monarchy and Exile -- Messianic Hope
After God established the covenant with
Early on when the monarchy was being established, Nathan, a prophet of God, approached King David, who was the second king. Saul was the first king. Nathan proclaimed, “The Lord declares to you that….your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:11, 16). David was astonished! After that promise the Biblical scriptures affirmed repeatedly that the Messianic ruler would come of David’s line. This is why the Messiah is often referred to as the Son of David.
Especially under King Solomon, who was David’s son, the monarchy and the temple system became amazing, with so much wealth in Jerusalem that silver was considered only like stones (1 Kings 10:27). When Solomon dedicated the temple they offered 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats as sacrifices to God. People came from afar to see Solomon’s splendor and hear his wisdom.
However, all of this was at tremendous cost. The monarchy and temple system became a heavy burden. After Solomon’s death the nation divided with a Northern Kingdom (
Some of the kings did horribly unjust things. For example, King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, arranged for the murder of Naboth because Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard. Instead of being a blessing to the nations
There were times of repentance and submission to God. For example, under King Hezekiah they destroyed the centers of idolatry and returned to the ways of justice and peace. However, on the whole the
The Prophet Amos declared,
I (the Lord) hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
But let justice roll on like a river,
Righteousness like a never-failing stream
In regards to the religious fasts, God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah saying,
Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice
And untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
When you see the naked to clothe him,… (Isaiah 58:6-7)?
The Exile: Blessing to the Nations as Suffering Servant
The Assyrians took the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity in 722 B.C. Then the Davidic monarchy over
The people believed that the reason for this calamity was because, “…they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
The 70 years of the Exile was overwhelming for
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed,
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse (He is the father of David. This refers to the promise that a son of David will rule forever.)
From his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
And he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
Or decide by what he hears with his ears;
But with righteousness he will judge the needy,
With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
With the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked,
Righteousness will be his belt
And faithfulness the sash around his waist….
They will neither hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
The nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious
(Isaiah 11:1- 5; 9 - 10).
The Prophet Micah encouraged the people with this Messianic expectation.
He will judge between many peoples
And will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
Nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
And under his own fig tree,
And no one will make them afraid,
For the Lord Almighty has spoken
(Micah 4:3 - 4).
As the Exile continued, there was a deepening awareness that the people of the covenant were called to be a blessing to the nations within their experience of exile. Although scattered in nations far from their homeland, God promised, “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). Is it possible that Israel in Diaspora with no political or military power and no territorial possession were more fruitful in their calling to be a blessing and light to the nations, than was true when they were an independent monarchy occupying the land of Canaan with the Temple system as the center of their worship?
In their suffering, God revealed that they were called to be God’s Suffering Servant, and in the ministry of suffering be a healing witness among the nations. This is a complete revolution in theological thought—that in suffering the
The Ministry of the Messiah
After 70 years in Exile, some of
It is in that context that Jesus the Messiah is born to the Virgin Mary. His birth was surprisingly unobtrusive; the Gospel describes his first bed as a manger in a cattle stall. When King Herod sought to take his life, the young child became a refugee in
The Presence of Jubilee
At the age of 30 he commenced his public ministry. On the Sabbath day, as was his custom, he went to the synagogue in his hometown of
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Luke 4:18 – 19).
Then he sat down and preached his first sermon. It was one sentence, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The congregation was astonished. They believed that this prophecy is about Jubilee that will be fulfilled when the Messiah comes! In his one sentence sermon Jesus was announcing that he is indeed the Messiah and that in his mission the
Then the mood turned angry, because Jesus said that outsiders like the Syrians would enter the kingdom more readily than the people in the synagogue. The worshippers that Sabbath morning considered themselves to be very righteous and religions. They were infuriated when Jesus warned that people they considered to be outsiders would enter the kingdom while they would remain outside because of their lack of faith. In fury they tried to throw Jesus over a cliff.
Thus began the public ministry of Jesus the Messiah. In all he said and did, he demonstrated the fulfillment of Jubilee; his life and ministry was the revelation of the presence of the
The Messiah welcomed sinners and those who were troubled into his community of followers. He invited, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Messiah taught with authority and confronted injustice and religious hypocrisy. He proclaimed, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisees! (They were religious leaders.) First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).
In his Sermon on the Mount the Messiah described the ethical foundation for the
Blessed are the poor in spirit
For theirs is the
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Jesus also elaborated on sexual ethics, marriage, integrity, our attitude toward wealth and possessions, forgiveness of our enemies, reconciliation, giving to the poor, prayer, fasting, and not to worry! The people observed that “…he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29).
The Suffering Servant
The revolutionary nature of the Messianic age as inaugurated by Jesus is especially revealed in the final weeks of his earthly ministry. I acknowledge that there is some diversity with Islamic understandings. I am grateful for the invitation of the planners of this conference to speak on Messianic eschatology, recognizing that there are may be differences in understandings.
At the height of his popularity the Galileans attempted to make him their king by force. At that time there was an insurgency in
Jesus the Messiah rejected that invitation forthrightly. Instead he went into the mountains for prayer that night, and thereafter he “resolutely” set his face to go to
As Jesus approached the Mount of Olives east of
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of
See, your king comes to you,
Righteous and having salvation,
Gentle and riding on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim,
And the war horses from
And the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah proclaimed that the kingdom inaugurated by the Messiah would extend among the nations to the ends of the earth. The instruments of war are put away, for this kingdom of peace is voluntarily received. As Jesus the Messiah came over the brow of the Mount of Olives and saw
Jesus then descended the Mount and entered the
The authorities were furious, and planned his arrest. One of his disciples, Judas, turned traitor and decided to co-operate with the authorities. The night of his betrayal by Judas, Jesus had a last supper with his twelve disciples. At that supper Jesus made it clear that Judas would betray him. Then he got up from the table, took a basin of water and towel, and proceeded to wash the feet of each disciple, beginning, it seems, with Judas. The Messiah washed the feet of his betrayer!
Later that night Jesus was in prayer on the
Many accusations were made in his trial. The charges about his cleansing the
The next morning Jesus was placed on a cross between two thieves. The Roman authorities put this inscription in three languages above his head: This is Jesus the King of the Jews. People jeered, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37). Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Christians believe that in that cry of forgiveness with hands outstretched the soul of the
Three days after his crucifixion, God raised the Messiah from the dead. In one of his resurrection appearances he met the disciples and said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” He also commanded them to proclaim the forgiveness of sin. (John 20:21-22)
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus met his disciples on a hill in
We have observed that the church was born within the context of Jesus the Messiah promising to return again. The mission of those who are committed to Jesus the Messiah is to continue living and proclaiming the Jubilee that the Torah of Moses commanded and that Jesus fulfilled in his mission. In his life and teachings Jesus inaugurated Jubilee. The faithful church is a community committed to following Jesus the Messiah. This means a commitment to being a community of Jubilee among the nations.
Prior to his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus explained that a witness among the nations to the suffering and redemptive love of God had eschatological significance. He said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
It is for this reason that the faithful church around the world is often recognized as a community who encourages justice, peacemaking, schools, hospitals, agricultural development, cultural transformation in a humanizing direction, freedom, and ministries of compassion, like Mother Theresa’s nuns in
The Second Coming of the Messiah
The faithful church serves as a sign of the
The Apostle John describes the second coming of the Messiah thus, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him;…(Revelation 1:7). This reveals that the kingdom breaks into human experience through the transforming power of the redemptive suffering love revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah.
In his second coming the Messiah’s wrath will also be revealed, just as he expressed anger against injustice during his ministry on earth two thousand years ago. In fact, we read that in his wrath the Messiah will slay the nations with the sword as he establishes the eternal kingdom. The sword with which he slays the nations is the sword that comes form his mouth. He slays the unjust opponents of the Jubilee with the sword of truth. This is not the sword that severs people’s heads; it is the sword that penetrates the inner soul for it is with the word of truth that the Messiah triumphs over his enemies.
The Biblical scriptures reveal that in the messianic eschaton there will be a universal resurrection of the dead. God raised the Messiah from the dead; likewise God will raise all humanity from the dead in that final day. At that time everyone will face the judgment of God. The scriptures say, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12).
The Messiah warned that the final judgment is the great divide between those who embrace the way of Jubilee, and those who reject that way. The Messiah likens to goats those who do not serve the poor, oppressed, hungry, thirsty, sick, naked and imprisoned. These goats will be sent into eternal punishment, the just recompense for their selfish rejection of the way of justice. The sheep are those who visit the sick, care for the naked, comfort the prisoners, provide food and water for the hungry and thirsty. They will be invited into the eternal kingdom that God has prepared (Matthew 25:31-46).
President Ahmadi-Nejad in his letter to President Bush rightly comments that the righteous ones will have a role to play in the coming kingdom. The Biblical scriptures reveal the righteous sheep who are invited into the eternal kingdom will reign with the Messiah for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5).
The scriptures refer to a new heaven and a new earth. That will be the final consummation of Jubilee! In the grand conclusion of history, God proclaims, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away….I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:3-5).
Conclusion: Your Kingdom Come!
Jesus often went into the hills for a night alone in prayer. So his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. The prayer he taught captures the essence of the Messianic reign in Biblical eschatology.
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses As we also have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.
 Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad, President of the Islamic
 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 64 - 79.
 C. K. Leaman, Biblical Theology: Old Testament, Vol 1 (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1971) 65.
 William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, (New York: Doubleday, 1957).
 The New International Version Study Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), footnote 23:15, page 39.
 John D. Davis and revised by Henry Snyder Gehman, The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1944), 273.
 Millard C. Lind, Yahweh is a Warrior, (Scottdale; Herald Press, 1980), 60-64.
 Martin Buber, I and Thou, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970)
 Lind, 114-145.
 John Bright, The
 Bright, 127-155.
 Bright, 148-153.
 Kraybill, 66.
 Donald Kraybill, The
 John H. Yoder, The Original Revolution, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1972),13-18.
 Yoder, 34-52.
 Kraybill, 175-78.
 Volf, 99-166.
 Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Christian Eschatology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 47-76.
) Moltmann, 257-320.