Peter’s Sermon in Acts 3

In chapter 3 Peter is a bit more pointed than in his Pentecost sermon. He says that the people who are hearing the sermon are guilty of killing the Messiah. There are men in the audience who for Barabbas rather than Jesus! Peter accusing the crowd and the Temple aristocracy of killing an innocent man who was vindicated by God by the resurrection and ascension.

Solomon's PorticoIt is also more pointed in its description of what will happen when they repent – the “times of refreshing” will come. It appears, then, that Peter is promising the soon-return of the Messiah after Israel repents. The phrase is unusual, only appearing here in the New Testament.  In the  LXX the word “refreshing” (ἀνάψυξις) only appears only in Exod 8:15 to describe a pause int he cycle of plagues on Egypt.  It appears in the Apocalpse of Sedrach 16.3 as a description of heaven. There is no exact equivalent of the phrase in Acts 3 to describe the messianic age, despite Eduard Schweizer’s statement that the word refers to “messianic refreshment, the definitive age of salvation” (TDNT 9:644).

There are, however, a number of similar phrases in the literature of the Second Temple period which indicate that the language would have been well understood by the biblically minded Jews who were congregated in Solomon’s Portico that day.  Referring to the coming kingdom as “times and seasons” is also common, especially using the Greek καιρός (kairos). This word for time has the idea of the right time, the appointed time. Jesus used it in Acts 1, telling the twelve it was not for them to know the “times and the seasons.” It is highly unlikely that anyone in the Jewish crowd would have missed these eschatological allusions, even if they did not agree with them!

If the people repent, Peter says that God will send the Christ, Jesus who will fulfill the words of the prophets. Peter claims here that if the nation repents, then the messiah will return and establish the kingdom promised in the prophets. What is more, the ones who repent will participate fully in that kingdom, since a major aspect of the Messiah’s return (in virtually every view of the messiah) was a separation of “real” Israel from “false” Israel.

When Christ returns, he will restore all things (verse 21), a term which is also unique in the New Testament, yet a theologically packed term. The word does not appear in the New Testament or the LXX, but seems to have the sense of restoring creation to its original state. This too is a major expectation of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Second Temple period, the kingdom would be a restoration of the world to Eden-like conditions.

What we see therefore here in Acts is a clear statement that the Kingdom of God is about to begin. But there seems to be a condition – repent of the sin of killing the Messiah!  Acts 4-8 will describe the response to this offer from the majority of the “men of Israel.” Despite large numbers of Jews accepting Jesus as Messiah and Savior, Israel as a nation continues to resist the Holy Spirit in the chapters which follow.

Acts 2 and 3 are therefore the foundation for the resistance to the Kingdom found in Acts 4-8.  Are there other elements of this sermon which sound like they promise the dawning of the eschatological age?

Book Review: Schmitt and Laney, Messiah’s Coming Temple

Schmitt, John W. and J. Carl Laney. Messiah’s Coming Temple. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 248 pp. Pb; $16.99. Link to Kregel.

This book is an update to Schmitt and Laney’s original 1997 Messiah’s Coming Temple, adding three chapters and about 50 pages to the original. In addition to this new material, there are a number of new illustrations including new 3D models of the temple. All illustrations are in black and white, some of the 3D images are on Schmitt and LaneySchmitt’s Future Hope Ministries website. Like the original, this is a popular level introduction to Ezekiel’s vision of a future temple. The book is designed to be read by laymen, so there is little discussion of wider scholarship on the vision.

The first two chapter of the book survey the history of the Temple in the Old Testament. After a description of the Tabernacle, Schmitt and Laney give a brief sketch of the history of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The section on the Tabernacle creates a typology between various elements of the Tabernacle and Jesus Christ. For example the “single entrance” to the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ is the one door of access to the Father (citing John 10:9). As popular as these typological observations are, I have never found them convincing. Several key Hebrew terms appear in these chapters, but unfortunately the authors define temple by using Webster’s Dictionary rather than a Hebrew lexicon. The chapter does not compare Solomon’s temple to other Ancient temples. The history section begins with Solomon, runs through the the destruction of the first Temple and the rebuilding of the second Temple, Herod’s renovations and finally the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Chapters 3, 5 and 8-10 focus on the book of Ezekiel. The third chapter introduces the reader to the prophet Ezekiel in offers a general overview of the book. Chapter 5 is a new chapter in this edition of the book, comparing the temple in Ezekiel’s vision to several to the Solomonic gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. The chapter includes excellent photographs and several charts illustrating similarities. My only criticism here is the chapter relies on Biblical Archaeology Review articles rather than direct reports from archaeologists. This is simply the nature of a popular book, but a “for further reading” section would have enhanced this chapter greatly. Schmitt includes a section on Mount Gerizim since the Samaritans built a temple there after then time of Ezekiel’s vision. Unfortunately the temple has not been fully excavated because of Byzantine church was built on top of the Gerizim Temple, but it would be interesting to compare the general layout of the Samaritan temple to Ezekiel.

In chapters 8-10 the authors examine the details of the prophecy in the book of Ezekiel, beginning with a survey of the various interpretations of the vision. Some take the vision as a “memorial of pre-captivity temple,” others see it as the real postexilic temple. Others have understood the vision as an allegory of the heavenly state or the present church age. For Schmitt and Laney the vision is a literal temple, a “building in the future kingdom.” The section is good overview although I would have appreciated footnotes to commentaries espousing each of the five views presented. The rest of these chapters survey the vision and offer some architectural comments. Reading the text in Ezekiel is difficult, these notes attempt to summarize and clarify the visions.

Chapter 6 is a new section in this updated edition. Schmitt and Laney survey several other predictions of future temple, calling these predictions “different temples.” Perhaps this chapter was added in response to critiques of the first edition of the book, which did focus on only Ezekiel. Chapter 7 offers a short introduction to Schmitt and Laney’s view of eschatology. “What is next on the Prophetic Calendar…” Chapters 6-7 were an interruption of the theme of the book (Ezekiel’s temple) and the book could be improved if these chapters were moved either before or after the survey of Ezekiel.

Chapters 10-15 concern the future temple, often moving beyond the text of Ezekiel. Here Schmitt and Laney develop the outline of eschatology presented in chapter 7 and deal with a number of “problems” associated with a literal future temple. First, chapter 10 discusses future predictions of the temple and the antichrist attack on that temple. They are adamant the future temple is designed for the Messiah. The problem is: are there two temples, one during the tribulation and a second, new Temple during the kingdom?

Second, Schmitt and Laney discuss the problem of an altar and sacrifice in the future temple (ch. 11). This of course is only a problem for premillennialists who believe that Christ’s  sacrifice on the cross puts an end to Old Testament sacrifices. For some Jews, Ezekiel’s references to an altar are also problematic since it is been two millennia since sacrifice has been made in the Temple. The authors conclude there will be sacrifices in the millennial kingdom and they will serve as a continuous memorial that the Messiah has come (140).

Third, the last new chapter in the book answers the question “Can Sacrifices Be a Part of a Future Temple?”(ch. 12). This chapter answers the question of the previous chapter. It explores the purpose of the sacrifices in the temple during the millennial kingdom. They conclude that Ezekiel’s temple sacrifices do not violate the mosaic system of worship because they are another in system entirely (158).

Fourth, Schmitt and Laney discuss the future temple and the land of Israel (13). Here the authors deal with several suggested locations for the original temple, but also the prophetic location of the future temple. Ezekiel’s map of Israel is idealized for the messianic Kingdom and there are a host of problems with the order of the tribes and the position of the temple.

Fifth, chapter 14 describes what Schmitt and Laney see as “life in the messianic age.” This chapter goes far beyond the confines of Ezekiel to describe what the eschatological age looked like in Old Testament prophecy. This age will be a time of peace, joy, holiness, comfort, healing of sickness, freedom from oppression, and economic prosperity. It will be a time characterized by the personal presence of the Messiah and the universal knowledge of God. It is a time when Jerusalem is at the center of all worship in the world.

Last, Schmitt and Laney list a few items missing from the future temple and offer some explanation for their absence (ch. 15). There are eight missing items listed in the book: the wall of partition, the court of the women, the laver, the golden lampstand, the table of the showbread, the altar of incense, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. In addition to the missing items division has a different view of the altar in the temple. Ezekiel uses a different word for altar in 43:15b, אֲרִיאֵל (ʾărîʾēl), although the altar is also spelled הַרְאֵל (harʾēl) in 43:15a. On pages 190-1 the authors transliterate this as ariel and state the root of this unusual word means “lion of God.” They then argue the name of the altar in Ezekiel “lion of God” is an allusion to Judah as a lion in Gen 49:9 (אֲרִי, lion, plus אֵל god). This in turn looks forward to the Messiah is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). While the word could be construed as a proper name meaning lion of God, their argument seems to me to be quite a stretch. The Mesha Stele uses the related word אראל in reference to a “hearth of an altar” (HALOT) and a similar word appears in Isa 29:1 as a metaphor for Israel as a whole. The etymology of “lion of God” may not be valid and it is even stranger to force the name of the altar into a typology of the Messiah. My criticism here is driven by the popular level of the book. An introduction like this book is probably not the place to discuss the complicated problems of the etymology of Hebrew words. On the other hand, since the problems exist it is probably safer to make typological claims more tentatively.

Conclusion. This is a very easy to read introduction to the Temple both past and future. Premiliennialists (and dispensationalists) will feel comfortable with the ideas presented in the book, although this terminology is not used in the book. The closest they get is in chapter 7 where they discuss the rapture of the church; Laney is pre-tribulational with respect to the rapture and Schmitt leans to mid-tribulational rapture (88). This is the language of dispensationalism, even if the writers want to avoid the term. I find it strange these terms would be omitted from a book so friendly toward dispensationalism. In fact, Laney has a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I suspect this is simply to create some space between the book and more popular (and strange) forms of dispensationalism.

While the sub-title of the book clearly states the book is about Ezekiel’s vision for the future temple, I would have appreciated a chapter relating Ezekiel’s vision to the New Jerusalem vision in Rev21. Since the book is not concerned only with Ezekiel, I think there is space for Revelation.

Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.




Already? Not Yet!

When we study Jesus’ understanding of “kingdom” in the Gospels there are two competing themes. In some texts, Jesus seems to say that the Kingdom of God is present in his ministry. For example, Mark describes Jesus preaching that the Kingdom of God is “near” at the very beginning of his ministry (Mark 1:15, Luke 8:1). In Jesus says that if demons are cast out the hand of God, then the kingdom of God has come (Luke 11:20). Jesus also says that the reason he teachings in parables was to reveal the secrets of the Kingdom to his disciples (Luke 8:10)

now laterYet in other texts he seems to say that the Kingdom is has not yet come and that his disciples ought to be prepared for a wait before the Kingdom finally comes. The parables in Matthew 25, for example, indicate that Jesus will go away for a long time before returning.  The Ten Virgins (25:1-12) indicates that the disciple will have to prepare for a long wait before the “wedding banquet” begins, and the parable of the talents (25:14-30) tells the disciples that they will have to give an account for how they use the time before the coming of the king. The parable in Luke 19 is told specifically to defuse the crowd’s expectation that Jesus was about to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem at that moment.

not-yet-gifHow do we account for this apparently conflicting data? One common way is to emphasize either one or the other aspect. C. H. Dodd famously stressed the presence of the kingdom, arguing that the kingdom was “fully realized” in Jesus’ ministry. This means that there is no real future kingdom, the present Church fulfills Jesus’ vision for a kingdom. This means that there is no future restoration of Israel, the promises of the Hebrew prophets are fulfilled in the Church. One potential problem with a fully realized eschatology is that the parables warning of a long delay must be taken as creations of the church to explain the non-return of Jesus.

On the other hand, it is possible to stress only the future aspect of the kingdom. Someone like Schweitzer, for example, thought Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who expected a messianic kingdom promised by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. While Schweitzer thought Jesus was wrong, other streams of theology (such as classic dispensationalism) understands Jesus as teaching a future kingdom, literally fulfilling the promises of the Hebrew Bible, including a restoration of the kingdom to the Jewish people. But a wholly future kingdom does not really do justice to Jesus’ claim that the kingdom is present in his ministry.

A third option is to see Jesus’s ministry as a present kingdom, but a kingdom which does not exhaust the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. This has the advantage of taking Jesus seriously when he says that his miracles are establishing some sort of kingdom, but also the warnings of a lengthy interim between the establishment of the kingdom and the consummation of the kingdom in the (now distant) future.

The catch-phrase “already / not yet” is perhaps so overused that it has lost all rhetorical value, but it remains a fairly good way of understanding the kingdom in the gospels. Some elements of the kingdom expected by the prophets is present in Jesus’ ministry, but others remain unfulfilled until a future time. The point is the present church lives “between the ages,” after the “already” but before the “not yet.” We look back to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also forward to the future consummation of the ages.

Are there other specific sayings or actions of Jesus where the “already / not yet” may help our understanding of the text?

Messianic Expectations and the Kingdom

In order to understand how a first century Jewish audience might have understood the phrase “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” is to examine messianic expectations from the Second Temple Period. This background should shed some light on the phrase “kingdom of God.”

A former student of mine once asked something like, “If the Jews misunderstood Jesus completely why would we care about their understanding of what the “kingdom of God” was supposed to be about?” If Jesus’ life and mission turned everything on its head, perhaps Jewish expectations are the opposite of what Jesus means by the kingdom. I find this an intriguing question, especially since N. T. Wright gives the impression that the Jewish leaders had many things correct and only slightly misunderstood Jesus announcement that he was the Messiah.

Not the Messiah

One possible way to answer this objection is to properly understand Judaism in the first century.  Like modern Christianity, the list of items “all Jews agree on” is fairly short. Hopes for a future Kingdom and the role of the Messiah in that kingdom varied greatly among the various sub-groups within Judaism. I heard students say things like, “all Jews believed the messiah would be a military leader who would attack Rome.” I suppose that is true for some Jews, but not all. At Qumran the Essenes appear to have expected a “military messiah,” but also a priestly messiah who would reform the Temple.

Pharisees seem to have expected a messiah and they were certainly the most interested in Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom in the Gospels. It is likely that the Psalms of Solomon reflect the view of the Pharisees. Psalms of Solomon 17 serves as an indication of messianic expectations which were current only shortly before the time of Jesus. Rome is viewed as a foreign invader who will be removed when the messiah comes. If these sorts of messianic expectations were popular in Galilee in the early first century, then we have good reason to read Jesus’ teaching as intentionally messianic and we are able to understand some of the confusion and disappointment among the Jews who heard him teach.

Consider the motives Judas may have had when he betrayed Jesus. If he believed things similar to Ps.Sol 17, then it is possible he was trying to “force Messiah’s hand” into striking out against Rome and the Temple establishment. Jesus seemed to be claiming to be the Messiah, but he did not seem to be the Davidic messiah expected in Ps.Sol 17.

On the other end of the scale would be the Sadducees, a group that (as far as we know) had no messianic expectations. The fact that they limited their canon to the Torah also limited their expectations of a future restoration of the Davidic kingdom. What would a Sadducee think when Jesus announced “the kingdom of God is near”? Perhaps that was enough to identify him as Pharisee or an Essene, and therefore not very interesting. (I would guess that the Herodians were even less interested in a coming kingdom, since any Jewish messiah would probably start their judgment with a thorough smiting of Herod and his family.)

This is all to say that there was a wide range of belief about Messiah, Kingdom, restoration of David’s rule, or a future reign of God in the Judaism of the Second Temple Period. I think it serves to show that Jesus did not fit neatly into any first century conception of Messiah or Kingdom, which is exactly why audience struggled to understand him, both disciples and enemies. But are there additional benefits to understanding the “Kingdom of God” in the light of the Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period? Perhaps there are other elements of Jesus’ life and teaching that would benefit from this contextual approach.

What Kind of Kingdom?

When N. T. Wright describes “Kingdom of God” in The Challenge of Jesus, he seems to be defending against two separate views he considers inadequate.  Frequently denies that Jewish expectations were looking for the “end of space and time,” which seems to mean “the end of the world.”  He has in mind here the distinctly American view of the end times found in traditional Dispensationalism (especially through Left Behind type fiction). Wright usually uses words like “lurid” to describe these apocalyptic fantasies. Essentially, most Dispensationalists have argued Jesus came to offer the kingdom promised in the Hebrew Bible to the Jewish people. Whether they know it or not, most Dispensationalists understand Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet and they understand the prophecies for a future kingdom more or less like many in the Second Temple period did.

rapture 1992


But Wright also wants to describe Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom as fairly radical in a Second Temple Jewish context. This means he must avoid the rather bland descriptions of the Kingdom as simply “doing good” or “loving your neighbor” popular in liberal Christianity. For Wright, Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom does refer to the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, although how the prophecies are fulfilled are quite different than in pre-millennialism.

I think both sides have a cause to be annoyed at Wright’s characterization of their positions. For example, while Left Behind is one representation of Dispensational thinking, it is a fantasy story not a reasonable presentation of a theological position. To me, judging Dispensationalism by Left Behind is life judging Catholicism by the movie Dogma. This is a straw-man argument at best and an ad hominem argument at worst. Wright regularly points out people in the Second Temple period expected a “real kingdom in this world” not the end of the world. This is exactly what Dispensational writers have said about Jewish messianic hopes. It disappoints me that wild speculation in bad fiction is used to judge a theological system.

On the second front, Wright is correct to chastise protestant liberal interpretations of the Kingdom as “bland.” Most of these descriptions of the Kingdom are certainly not what Jesus meant. Nor would Jesus have been understood if he tried to present a Kingdom which was based on the “Golden Rule” alone. There are far too many political and social issues which have to be dismissed if Jesus was just telling us to be nice to each other. What is more, why kill someone who was encouraging us to love one another? What harm could Jesus have done if that was all he really taught? No, there is something more in the teaching of Jesus, something which was a challenge to the worldview of the people who heard him teach and watched him “act out” the Kingdom of God.

Wright is certainly correct when he states that Jesus was offering a critique of his contemporaries from within, “his summons was not to abandon Judaism and try something else, but to be the true, returned-from-exile people of the one true God” (Challenge of Jesus, 52). Jesus is presenting himself as the voice of Isaiah 40-55 – calling his people out of exile to meet their messiah and to enjoy a renewed relationship with their God.

A major question to be resolved is “did Jesus think he was going to come back after the ascension?” If he did, what did he image he would be doing “when the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all his angels with him” (Matt 25:31)?  If Jesus intended apocalyptic elements in his preaching of the Kingdom of God at the end of his life, perhaps there were there when he appeared in Galilee, announcing that the Kingdom of God was near.

I think there is room at the exegetical table for pre-millennialists.