The Inadequacy of the Term “Restoration of Israel”

In treatments of New Testament theology, the term “restoration of Israel” is commonly employed in order to explain the purpose of Jesus’ mission. This paper argues that this term is misleading. True, Jesus’ mission centered around the nation of Israel and its institutions. For example, the twelve disciples correspond to the twelve tribes, the Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal, Jesus promised to rebuild the temple, he affirmed the law of Israel, and he is portrayed as a high priest. However, restoration means to bring something back to its former condition, which Jesus did not do, prompting the question of whether his mission was a failure. Very few scholars dare to ask this question. Dale Allison is a notable exception.

To account for the New Testament understanding of Jesus’ mission, a different concept is required. While Jesus operated within the institutions of Israel, he did not restore them; he revolutionized them and transformed them and brought them to their divinely intended fulfillment. With his call of the twelve disciples, he redefined Israeli identity. It was no longer a matter of biological descent, but of commitment to him. The Lord’s Supper reoriented the understanding of God’s redemption. It was no longer understood as deliverance from slavery, but as deliverance from sin, through the sacrifice of Jesus. Through his resurrection and call of disciples, he redefined divine presence. It was no longer a matter of physical space, but it was communicated through the person of Jesus. Jesus’ affirmation of the law does not entail an affirmation of a societal order. Instead, Jesus’ ethical teaching, for example in the Sermon on the Mount, transcends what it would be possible to legislate in any society and points to a more perfect fulfillment of God’s will. When he is portrayed as a high priest in the Letter to the Hebrews, this priest is specifically contrasted with the Levitical high priest, as Jesus’ priesthood is eternal and therefore able to accomplish what the Levitical priesthood never could: procure reconciliation with God. As the institutions of Israel, according to the New Testament testimony, did not accomplish this purpose, Jesus’ mission is best described as the transformation of Israel, rather than its restoration.

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