“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Mk 13:28-29)
There are basically two ways to understand end-times prophecy – figuratively or literally. The literal view refers to the rule of Christ over a restored nation of Israel in a future physical kingdom of one thousand years. The figurative view refers to the present age during which Christ rules in the church through the Holy Spirit. The length of that rule is indeterminate. Here is how those two views interpret Scripture.
There are those who see no place for the nation of Israel in the coming kingdom of Christ. They teach that God abrogated his covenant with the Jews when they crucified Christ. Under this view, the covenant between God and the Jewish nation was replaced with the new covenant between believers and Jesus Christ. This is called “Replacement Theology.” Paul very clearly addresses this fallacy in the book of Romans when he warns Gentile believers against becoming proud that God has included them in his new covenant:
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches… For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved...”(Rom 11:17-18, 25-26)
We live in what some call the church age. This is the time when God has hardened the hearts of the Jews as a nation and is gathering Gentiles into his kingdom in their place. But Paul calls this period a “partial hardening” because it is only temporary. There is coming a day when the Jewish people will look on him whom they have pierced and repent:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn…On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech 12:10; 13:1).
On that day, all Israel will return to Christ. That is what the image of the dry bones in Ezekiel portrays:
“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 37:4-6)
A Figurative Millenium?
Some of those who claim that God has finally rejected the Jews also equate the millenial rule of Christ with a figurative thousand year reign through the Holy Spirit in the church. In this view, “millenium” simply means a long time – over 2000 years and counting. This is a real stretch given the nature of the biblical descriptions of end time events. Listen to how the Bible describes those events:
“Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!” Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake – an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed. So Babylon the great was remembered before God, and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath. Every island fled away and no mountains could be found. And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous.” (Rev 16:19-21)
Clearly nothing like this has ever taken place. Isaiah 24 describes the same event this way:
“Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word… The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers… therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. .. Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins. For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done.” (Is 24:1-13)
Geologists tell us that all the major geological fault lines are connected and that a large enough earthquake in the right spot could trigger a world-wide quake that would cause unbelievable damage. That is likely what is described in the books of Isaiah and Revelation. This is a quake that will literally level the mountains, wipe out every city and sink every island. Obviously, this didn’t happen when God brought a temporary end to the Jewish nation in AD 70. Neither were there hailstones that weighed a hundred pounds each. The Bible says these apocalyptic events will be so severe that, “if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Mat 24:22). If such an extinction-level event had already occurred it most certainly would have been recorded in our history books and be observable in the ruins of past civilizations.
The book of Matthew says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.“(Mt 24:29-30). There can be no doubt that the return of Christ to earth in power and great glory to take up his throne immediately follows a great tribulation that will nearly destroy the earth.
A Literal Millenium Makes More Sense
There is no reason to interpret the prophetic passages that describe the millennial rule of Christ in any other than a literal sense. In fact, Matthew 24:23-28 warns believers to beware of false reports of his second coming, saying that it will be as unmistakable as lightning that shines from one end of the globe to the other and that the corpses of those who oppose Christ will be scattered across the face of the earth (Mat 24:23-18). There will be no room for conjecture or speculation when this happens.
All other Bible prophecies have been fulfilled literally. The kingdoms represented by Daniel’s visions all rose and fell as prophesied. We can identify those kingdoms today and we know their history. All the prophesies of Christ’s coming were also literally fulfilled.
But most important, the view that God has rejected the Jews may lead to a false sense of pride among those who have taken their place, as the Apostle Paul warned. Antisemitism is a horrible evil which God condemns. He may use other nations to punish Israel, but he always punishes those nations more severely. The proof lies in the fact that Israel still exists, but the nations that have conquered her have all vanished.
A literal one thousand year period in which Christ physically comes to earth, vanquishes his enemies, restores the Jewish nation, renews creation and establishes a kingdom governed by absolute justice, equity and righteousness is the only common sense rendering of all Bible passages that deal with end time prophesies. Any interpretation that replaces the Jewish nation with the church breeds spiritual pride and a contempt for the nation of Israel that God will not abide. A literal interpretation also makes the best sense of the apocalyptic events that precede the second coming of Christ.