Monday, June 5, 2017

Jewish Expectations after the Close of the Old Testament

Jerusalem from the South with Cross
What would did the Jews expect to happen next after Malachi left the scene? Is the Old Testament an open-ended book?
Here are some things to consider as we try to answer these questions ...
In Isaiah 40-66, God promised that He would send his Messiah who would usher in a time of peace & prosperity. But by the close of the Old Testament that had not yet happened.
In Jeremiah 31, God promised that He would make a New Covenant with the Israelites and write His law on their hearts. But by the close of the Old Testament that had not yet happened.
In Ezekiel 40-48, God promised that the Temple would be rebuilt in a glorious fashion and that the entire land promised to Abraham would be filled with Abraham’s descendants. But by the close of the Old Testament that had not yet happened.
These prophesies and others all pointed to a time beyond the close of the Old Testament period. There were numerous prophesies that were not yet fulfilled in 415 B.C. when Nehemiah and Malachi penned the last words of the Old Testament. The Temple was standing, but was by no means glorious. The Jews were living in the land, but were continually falling back into sin and unfaithfulness. Jerusalem and the surrounding region had been resettled, but the vast majority of the Promised Land was still inhabited by Gentiles. The Israelites had benefited from the favor of God, but still faced His fierce judgment because of their persistence in sin.
So it would have been clear to a believer in the late 5th century B.C. that there was still more to come. The Old Testament is an open-ended book. Even the last few verses of the last prophet look forward to a time beyond the pages of the Old Testament:
Malachi 4:5-6 (ESV)
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
It was clear to the Jews at the end of the Old Testament period that God still had more to say.  This is abundantly clear in some of the stories from the Intertestamental Period and from the early stories of the New Testament.
In 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple and the altar. After the Jews regained control of the temple, they were trying to decide what to do with the altar that Antiochus had desecrated. First Maccabees records this: 
1 Maccabees 4:44–46 (NRSV)
"They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them."
Notice that the Jews knew that they did not have a living prophet at that time, but they had faith that God would one day send a prophet to them (see also 1 Macc. 9:27 and 14:41).
In the New Testament, when John the Baptist came onto the scene, the Jews were trying to figure out how he fit within God's plan. Notice in the following conversation that the Jews had several individuals they were waiting for and looking for:
John 1:19–24 (ESV)
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)
So devout Jews in the Inter-testamental and New Testament periods were expecting God to send them messengers and to fulfill his prophecies. They knew there was more to come. What they didn't know was how God would bring those things to pass.