Does Eschatology Matter in Jewish Evangelism?

Kenneth J. Morgan

Eschatology is the study of “last things.” Christians believe that Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah will return, a doctrine called the second advent of Christ. However, there is much disagreement about what events will transpire just before his return and subsequent to it. There are three theological views on these issues, but today only two are prominent.

Some believe that when Yeshua returns, there will be the “general resurrection and judgment” followed by the eternal state in the new heavens and the new earth. This view is called Amillennialism in theology.

Others believe that when Yeshua returns, he will establish a 1000-year reign over the whole earth, reigning from the city of Jerusalem on the throne of David in a reestablished nation of Israel. This view is called Premillennialism in theology.

Many Christian ministers and pastors today admit they have little interest in eschatology. There is a common joke about this: the minister says that he is a “pan-millennialist,” because it will all “pan” out in the end.

I believe this attitude is dishonoring to God; but that is not the subject of this paper. Rather, the question is this: Is there any relationship between one’s millennial view and Jewish evangelism? There is no doubt that the answer is yes.

Let me quote a few statements from The Bible and the Future (1979) by Anthony Hoekema, an Amillennial scholar:

“Paul clearly identifies the church as the true Israel. This would imply that promises which had been made to Israel during Old Testament times are fulfilled in the New Testament church” (p. 197).

“The words Zion and Jerusalem are commonly used in the Old Testament to stand for one of the hills on which Jerusalem stood, the capital city of the Israelites, or the people of Israel as a whole. Once again we find that the New Testament widens the understanding of these terms. . . . The term Jerusalem, therefore, used in the Old Testament of the people of Israel, is used in the New Testament of the entire church of Jesus Christ” (p. 199).

“The Bible does not teach a millennial restoration of the Jews to their land” (p. 206).

“Here, then, we find the New Testament itself interpreting an Old Testament prophecy about the restoration of Israel in a nonliteral way” (p. 210).

Amillenarians do not believe that the Old Testament passages about the glorious future promised to the nation of Israel can be taken in their plain, literal sense. If someone who holds this view presents the Gospel to a Jew, how much credence do you think he will be given?If this same Christian missionary attempts to use Isaiah 53 to show that Yeshua is the Messiah, the inconsistency will be immediately seen. When it comes to Old Testament passages dealing with the first advent, during which the Messiah was to suffer, die, and make atonement for sin, they are taken quite literally. But the passages dealing with the glorious future of national Israel restored to the land God promised them — which will take place at the second advent — oh, no, they must be interpreted in a “nonliteral” way and are really fulfilled by the church!

One of the best books I have read on Messianism is The Messiahship of Jesus by Alexander McCaul (1852). Take a very careful and prayerful look at this quotation from Dr. McCaul:

The Jews object that many prophecies, and those such as especially concern themselves, have not been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, and that therefore He cannot be the Messiah promised by the prophets. To this many Christian writers have replied, that such declarations are figurative, and that under earthly emblems, heavenly things are intended–that the Jews are never to be restored to their own land, or the Messiah to have a kingdom over Israel; that the only blessings which they have to expect are adoption into the Christian family here and admission into the heavenly Canaan hereafter. But to this the Jew objects: that mode of interpretation which is based upon two contradictory principles is necessarily false. “You prove that Jesus is the Messiah,” he says, “by the grammatical principle; you evade difficulties by the adoption of the figurative. Choose one of the two. Carry through the figurative exposition, and then there is no suffering Messiah; carry through the literal, and a large portion of the prophecies are not yet fulfilled.” The Jew’s demand is reasonable, and his objection to this expository inconsistency valid; . . . To receive the one [those prophecies which foretell Messiah’s humiliation and atoning death in their plain and literal sense] and deny the other [by seeking to allegorise those which deal with His glorious reign on the earth and over restored and blessed Israel] is to place an insurmountable stumbling-block before every Jew of common sense, and to hold up prophecy to the scorn of the infidel” (p. 69-71).