WHY DIDN’T JESUS BRING
IN THE MESSIANIC AGE?
If Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t He usher in the Messianic Age of peace? Neither the return
of the Jews from Babylon nor the coming of Jesus brought the perfect society of justice with the end to evil, injustice, and
warfare as the prophets had predicted.
Just what were those predictions that have stoked the dreams of humanity for centuries? Here are some of
the pictures painted by the prophets:
God would fulfill His promise to Israel and Judah that “a righteous Branch” from David
would “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Judah would be saved and Jerusalem would dwell
securely (Jeremiah 33:14-16). A child would be born, called “Mighty God, Prince of Peace,” who would
take the government upon His shoulders, bringing in unending peace, with justice and righteousness for evermore (Isaiah
9:6-7; 11:4). The house of the Lord would be established in Jerusalem “and all the nations shall flow to it”
to receive the law and the word of the LORD. As He judged the nations,
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isa. 2:3-4).
Under Messiah’s rule
the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them....
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9).
A simple reading of Second Isaiah suggests that the prophecies of restoration would be fulfilled at the time
when the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon in 536 BCE. But according to Jewish scholar E. Rivkin:
These prophetic dreams were rudely shattered by the economic, political, and social reality following upon
the Babylonian exile and Judean restoration. Although Cyrus was hailed by the Second Isaiah as Yahweh’s anointed
(45:1), the restoration which his decree made possible bore little resemblance to the serene end-of-days so alluringly pictured
by the prophets. Instead, there were bitter struggles for power between priests and Davidites. ...Where righteousness was to
have flourished, corruption abounded; where justice was to have reigned, there was exploitation; and where an ideal king was
to have mounted the throne, the monarchy itself was being effectively undermined.
When Jesus came, He failed to usher in the Messianic Age. This failure is perhaps the most serious
objection raised by Jews to His claims. Also, the Jewish temple, far from becoming “a house of prayer for all
peoples,” with all the nations flowing to it to learn God’s ways, was demolished by the Romans in 70 CE
and has never been rebuilt.
Interestingly, the New Testament repeatedly states that Jesus’ mission was indeed to introduce the
Messianic Age of peace. According to Luke’s gospel, the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she
would bear a son, “the Son of the Most High,” to whom God would give the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33; cf. Isa. 9:6-7).
The aged priest Zechariah announced that God had raised up a deliverer for His people “that
we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.” God was at last fulfilling the oath
which He swore to Abraham (Luke 1:68-75). Zechariah went on to declare the mission of his son, John (“the
Baptist”), that he was to be the prophet of the Most High, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and
in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (vv. 76-79).
When Jesus was born the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace,
good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, AV). Jesus was to usher in an era of peace. The aged saint, Simeon, took the
infant Jesus in his arms and announced he had seen God’s salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
The time was ripe for the Messianic Age, the era of peace, of the universal knowledge of God, of salvation
and redemption, of the everlasting reign of righteousness.
When Jesus began His ministry He went into His hometown synagogue at Nazareth and announced that
He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Luke 4:18-19, NIV, cited from Isa. 61:1-2 and 42:7).
But immediately He ran into stiff opposition. His fellow-citizens shoved Him out of the synagogue and
attempted to cast Him headlong down a precipice (Luke 4:28-30) -- an ominous beginning to His mission. Throughout His
ministry He faced bitter resistance. The clergy questioned His right to forgive sins (5:21) and to fellowship with sinners (5:30).
They accused Him of performing exorcisms through the power of demons (11:15-16). One of their most serious charges
was: “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:1) -- a beautiful statement of His mission.
Because of the negative response to His labors, Jesus was forced to acknowledge: “I came not to
send peace, but a sword,” even to set family members against each other as some accepted and others rejected His
claims (Matthew 10:34-35). When He made His climactic “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, the jubilant
crowds chanted: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father
David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10). Their praises reflected His original intent to reign on
David’s throne. But Jesus shattered the dream of peace:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had
only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you
when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash
you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not
recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44, NIV).
God came to His people in the person of Jesus as the prophets had predicted, but they did not recognize
Him. Their opposition intensified until they plotted His death and pushed through His condemnation and execution by the
Romans. Forty years later Jerusalem endured the horrors of siege and devastation as predicted not only by Jesus, but by
Moses in the covenant curses (Deuteronomy 28:49-52) and by the prophet Daniel (Dan. 9:26).
How shall we evaluate the Jewish leaders’ treatment of Jesus? They should not be faulted for a
healthy skepticism toward claims to divine authority. Gullibility is never a virtue. Yet we must ask, Did Jesus bear the marks
of a true prophet or was He a deceiver? Were His teachings of divine origin or was He teaching error? What were the
motives of the Jewish leaders for opposing Him? Were they jealous of His popularity? Even if He were an imposter, were
they justified in the brutality of their treatment of Him?
We must ask the question, what if Jesus really was the one who He claimed to be -- the Son of God?
What if their opposition was a continuation of the practice of persecuting the prophets, as Jesus charged (Matthew
23:29-32)? What if they brought on their own heads the covenant curses? If so, how could Jesus have introduced the
Messianic Age of peace? How could He do the work He intended to do when His own people rejected Him? John, one
of Jesus’ disciples, described His reception as follows:
He came to his own home, and his own people received him not (John 1:10-11, RSV).
Could it be that the opposition of the Jewish leaders restricted the work that Jesus wanted to do, that
it actually prevented the dawning of the age of peace? According to Isaiah peace was contingent on obedience to
O that you had hearkened to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea....
[But] there is no peace, says the LORD, unto the wicked (Isa. 48:18, 22).
Actually, Isaiah foresaw that the Servant of the LORD, the Anointed One, would be rejected by His own
people and that His work would appear to fail. The Servant laments: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my
strength for nought.” He further states, “Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the
eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength” (49:4-5, AV). Even if Israel failed, the Servant would still be
glorified. He is also called the one “whom man despiseth,...whom the nation abhorreth”
(v. 7). The Servant’s mission would be hindered by the rejection of His
own people. Isaiah also predicted that the Servant would be beaten, despised and rejected, oppressed, afflicted, and unjustly
condemned to death (Isa. 50:6; 53:3, 7-9). But God assures His Servant that “Kings shall see and arise, princes also
shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose you” (49:7). In
spite of opposition, His mission would ultimately succeed.
Isaiah, in fact, lays out two scenarios -- the glorious reign of the Davidic Messiah, and the rejection of the
Servant Messiah. In this case prophecy takes on the nature of the covenant, which also lays
out two possible scenarios for the future. The Sinai Covenant describes blessings if God’s people obey Him, and
curses if they disobey (see Leviticus 26). The blessings would consist of abundant harvests, peace, security, victory over all
aggressors, and best of all, God’s abiding presence with them (vv. 3-13). On the other hand, disobedience to the
covenant would result in calamity, drought, crop failures, plundering by enemies, sword, famine, and plague. The land would
be devastated and its people killed or carried away captive into foreign countries (vv. 14-39). To inject hope into this
horrifying picture, God promised that if His captive people would repent of their sins, He would remember His covenant with
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He would once again be their God (vv. 40-46).
Shortly before his death, Moses renewed the covenant with Israel, repeating the covenant blessings and
cursings in even stronger language (see Deut. 28). If they would be God’s holy people, He would make them fruitful
with children, animals, and crops. They would lend to many nations and not borrow; they would be the head and not the tail;
they would be a model of greatness before the nations (vv. 1-14). The curses appear even more horrifying than before. In
addition to poverty, drought, famine, blight, insect plagues, defeat by enemies, and abduction into slavery, there is a prophecy
of aggression by a powerful nation which would destroy the countryside and besiege the cities until starvation would lead
parents to eat their own children. Their numbers would be reduced from a great multitude to a few people. They would then
be scattered among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, where they would live in daily fear for their lives.
They would offer themselves as slaves, and no one would buy them (vv. 15-68). The description of siege and starvation
“by a nation of stern countenance” accurately predicts the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem by the
Romans in 70 CE. This must be regarded as a fulfillment of the covenant curses.
Throughout Israel’s checkered history the covenant blessings were fulfilled during short periods
of prosperity; but apostasy brought long periods of oppression, culminating in captivity to Assyria and Babylon. (The future
outlined in the covenant curses is so accurate that cricical scholars believe it was not written by Moses but by Ezra long after
the events predicted.)
The covenant demonstrates clearly that God gives human beings the power of choice. Before he died,
Moses challenged his people:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing
and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live (Deut. 30:19).
When God entrusts human beings with the power to determine the future, He rarely gets what He wants.
The future becomes quite fluid, with God working out His will around and through and in spite of the decisions made by
humans. The book of Isaiah reflects this fluidity, shifting from blessings to cursings, outpourings of love to excoriations,
visions of glory to lamentations of woe.
Given the perversity of human nature, how does God ever get what He wants? Do human beings have the
ability to prevent His promises from being fulfilled? What about the promises that He swore to fulfill? He declares that the
word that goes forth from His mouth shall not return empty but shall accomplish that which He wills (Isa. 55:11).
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you... (54:10).
God’s promise to David was unequivocal, unchangeable:
My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
I will establish his line for ever
and his throne as the days of the heavens (Psalm 89:28-29).
Yet the Psalmist complained that God had not fulfilled His promises (vv. 38-45), and for the last 2500
years the throne of David has been empty. Jesus, the Son of David, failed to rule from David’s throne and usher in
the age of peace and justice.
Do God's promises fail? No, but they can be delayed by human failure. Leslie Weatherhead, in a booklet called The Will of God describes
three aspects to God’s purposes: 1. the original will of God -- His ideal plan for humanity; 2. the circumstantial
will of God -- the adaptation of God’s plan within changed circumstances; and 3. the ultimate will of God --
God’s final realization of His purposes (p. 20).
God’s Plan A for Israel was that she should be a light to the world, a model of justice and
prosperity that would draw the world to a knowledge of the true God. But all too often Israel chose to follow the
surrounding nations in idolatry, injustice, and oppression. So God initiated Plan B: suffering. He withdrew His blessing and
protection, and let the pagan nations oppress Israel, stripping them of their crops, their wealth, and their joy in life. He even
let them be carried captive into foreign lands. In their misery they turned to the Lord, humbled themselves, asked for
forgiveness. This made possible God’s Plan C, that the faithful, by their witness in the midst of adversity, would
carry the knowledge of God to the pagan world, high and low. For example, Daniel and other faithful Jews brought the
knowledge of God to the sovereigns of two world empires. In the midst of adversity Israel became a light to the world. God’s
will was accomplished. (His ultimate will, that all the world be flooded with the knowledge of the Lord, awaits final
How did God’s will operate in the life of Jesus? It is clear that Jesus intended to usher in a
kingdom of righteousness and peace, based on principles of love, mercy, and justice. Had God’s people welcomed
Him He would have sat on David’s throne and begun a reign centered in Jerusalem, spreading out to all the nations.
That was God’s original plan. But His own people frustrated His purpose. Listen to Jesus’ cry of
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often
would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your
house [the second temple] is forsaken and desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
So Jesus had to abandon His original plan and adapt to changing circumstances (Plan B). But His enemies
could not frustrate the divine plan. His crucifixion, by which His enemies intended to rid the world of Him and His influence,
became the means of saving the world! Jesus introduced the Kingdom of God, not as a temporal kingdom, but as a spiritual
one. Instead of an earthly rule, He brought in a heavenly one (Luke 17:20-21). By means of His resurrection from the dead
and ascension to heaven, He now reigns not from David’s throne, but from the throne of the universe where He
sits at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3). Today His spiritual kingdom is spreading over the world in spite of severe
opposition. But God’s plan extends further. Jesus promised that He would come again in power and glory to
conquer His enemies, destroy all evil, and reign forever on David’s throne (Matt. 24:30; 13:40-43; Revelation 22:3,
16). What He might have accomplished at His first coming He has reserved for His second coming. It is at the second
coming that Jesus will set up an everlasting reign of peace and justice that will extend to the ends of the earth.
Do human beings have power to alter God’s plans? Yes. Can they nullify His ultimate purposes?
Never. Human choice delays God’s plan, but cannot frustrate it indefinitely. God has Plan A, Plan B, Plan C all the
way to Plan Z if necessary to work around human choices. But His ultimate purpose will be fulfilled. Some day the vision of
the prophets will be fulfilled: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the
sea” (Isa. 11:9). That will be when “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of
His Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
1 S.v. “Messiah, Jewish,” The Interpreter’s
Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume (Nashville, Abingdon, 1976).
2 Though the servant in Isaiah 49 is called “Israel,” we
apply this passage to the Righteous Servant. This is because he has a mission to Israel, “to raise up the tribes of
Israel” and “restore the preserved of Israel” (v. 6), “to establish the land, to apportion the
desolate heritages” and release the prisoners (v. 9). He is the ideal Israel, sent to be the Savior of Israel.
J. Alec Motyer observes that in chapters 49-55 the nation is no longer called Israel, since it lost the right
to that name following the contention in 48:1. Instead it is called Zion, while the name Israel has passed to
the Servant (Isaiah: an Introduction and Commentary, [Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-varsity Press, 1999], pp.
310-311). J. Ridderbos sees a unity between the Servant of the LORD and Israel. “The suffering of Israel in exile is
transferred here to the Servant of the Lord. This transference is based on the unity existing between Him and Israel (49:3).
The result is that the suffering that Israel -- the godly part of the nation -- undergoes at the hands of the world empire and the
ungodly members of their own nation, is concentrated in Him. Thus He is the personification of the suffering nation of Israel,
insofar as they suffer for the Lord's sake.” On verse 7, promising the exaltation of the servant, Ridderbos continues:
“The content of the oracle addressed to Him, then, is the promise of His exaltation and at the same time that of the
suffering nation He represents” (Isaiah, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985], pp. 438-9. E. J. Young concurs
with the unity between the Servant Messiah and his people (The Book of Isaiah, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1972), Vol. 3, pp. 270-271).
3 Is it correct to identify the Servant with the Messiah? Isa. 11:1-5, recognized
by Jews and Christians as Messianic, describes Him as having the Spirit of God and bringing justice to the earth. The Servant
in 42:1 & 4, also is endowed with the Spirit and establishes justice in the earth. Isa. 61:1-3 parallels the Servant passages and
is widely recognized as a reference to the Servant. He has the Spirit and is “anointed” -- (the word for
Messiah). He proclaims the “day of vengeance,” just as the Messiah smites the earth with the rod of
his mouth (11:4). The work of Messiah and the Servant are so parallel that they must be regarded as identical.
4 For other examples of choice, see Joshua’s dramatic conclusion to
the renewal of the covenant: “Choose you this day whom you will serve....but as for me and my house, we will serve
the LORD!” (Joshua 24:14-15), and Elijah’s challenge to idolatrous Israel: “How long will you go
limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
5 In this seminal pamphlet (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1944) written in the
midst of the horrors of World War II, this English clergyman explains how God works through human evil.
6 See the book of Daniel, chapters 1 to 6.
7 For a detailed discussion of the nature of conditional prophecy, see the
article, “The Role of Israel in Old Testament Prophecy” in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible
Commentary, F. D. Nichol, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977), Vol. 4, pp.