Prophecy – Axiom 2
· Axiom 2: The Church age is mentioned in the Old Testament rarely, and even then, in the vaguest of terms.
Say what you like about the character of the Scribes of Jesus’ day, they knew the scriptures (Matthew 2:4-5). They knew that Herod was acting foolishly when he ordered the massacre in Bethlehem. They also knew Herod had a habit of pronouncing death on anyone who disagreed with him.
So when Jesus said in Matthew 11:14, “if you are willing to receive it1, [John the Baptist] is Elijah who is to come,” the Scribes already knew Malachi 4:5, and his prophecy that Elijah would deliver the proclamation that would usher in Jesus Christ the King. The Scribes knew that Jesus was telling the people, “If you, Israel, simply receive John the Baptist as my messenger2, then I will seat Myself right here and now as your King.”
Now Jesus knew in His foreknowledge that Israel would not receive John3. But that did not invalidate the offer, or make it less sincere. The statement as Jesus spoke it is true. But Jesus also knew that if there was even a single verse of scripture that foretold the Church age, then the scribes would have pounced on Jesus’ words in 11:14 before Matthew 11 could give way to Matthew 12. But reading on in Matthew, we can see who received it:
Matthew 11:20 and following. Whole cities of Israel reject Jesus.
Matthew 12. The leaders of spiritual Israel reject Jesus. Later in the chapter, His physical family rejects Jesus.
Matthew 13. The people who watched Jesus grow up reject Jesus.
Matthew 14. Israel rejects John.
Matthew 15. Jesus is ACCEPTED, but by a woman not of Israel. The woman was a Canaanite; the woman was a descendent of the people who in the days of Moses were judged too wicked to continue inhabiting the land. As Israel rejects Jesus, His message, and his messenger, He finds acceptance from a Canaanite.
Matthew 16. After the final eleven verses of Matthew 15 discuss the signs and miracles Jesus performed, the Pharisees ask for a sign. Jesus dismisses Israel indefinitely (“but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah”) and announces “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” (Matthew 16:18 – the words cannot be emphasized adequately.4
The offer to establish the kingdom immediately remained in force through to Matthew 11:14, and was not rescinded until Matthew 16:18.
Discern this carefully: Jesus did not rescind the promise to establish His Kingdom in Matthew 16:18. He rescinded His offer to fulfill that promise immediately.
God did promise an eternal kingdom. That promise is not conditioned on any performance by man. Eventually, Israel will have her Kingdom, with a descendant of David on the throne:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:12-16
The offer in Matthew 11:14 to fulfill that promise immediately was conditioned on Israel receiving the message of John. But Israel refused, so the offer of Matthew 11:14 was rescinded in Matthew 16:18.
Jesus knew that Israel would refuse. But no statement in the Old Testament would have been contradicted had Israel accepted John’s message.
1“It” could also read “him,” referring to John the Baptist himself. It could also refer to his message. The choice has no impact on this comment.
2“Malachi” is a common Hebrew word that is translated “my messenger.”
3The cross is an essential part of God’s plan to redeem man. The Old Testament scriptures contain dozens of verses that describe Christ’s suffering, His death, and His resurrection. It is futile to speculate the path to the cross had Israel accepted John’s message, and many professional commentators have ruined their careers so speculating. Just as the insertion of the Church age, though prophesied, was unknowable to the Scribes – there are questions, the answers of which are equally unknowable to us.
4For instance, consider a fairly major mid-December snowfall. A child’s parents had a sled they planned to present their child on Christmas morning. But it is snowing today, and Christmas hasn’t arrived. They offer the child that in exchange for a few chores, the child could receive the sled today. But the child refuses. The parents will not give the child the sled today. But neither will they cancel their original plans to give it to him Christmas morning.
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