Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Same Story, Different Endings

"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" Mal. 4:6 (emphasis mine).

The last verse of the Old Testament ends on an ominous note. It's as if we're given an ultimatum. Not so in the Tanach, the Jewish Old Testament which ends very differently. Second Chronicles is the last book in the Tanach and its last verse contains an invitation to come and rebuild the Temple.

"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: Hashem, God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is there among you of His people - may Hashem His God be with him, and let him go up!" 2 Chron. 36:23.

Similar to the end of Revelation, the Jewish Old Testament ends with a call to return to God and with words of hope - not gloom and doom. Interesting. What's particularly fascinating is that God gave Cyrus, a Gentile king, the mandate to rebuild the Temple, not the Jewish religious elite. From the Bible we know that only a small portion of the exiles elected to leave Babylon to join the reconstruction program.

As a result of their rebellion against Babylonian rule, the Jews saw their capital Jerusalem completely dismantled. Every building was leveled. Those returning faced harsh living conditions. There was no protective wall, and the only housing and businesses standing were those rebuilt and occupied by those left in the land after the exile. Still, for those who came back it was the fulfillment of  a cherished dream, "Next year in Jerusalem."

This scenario is a beautiful type and shadow of Christ's coming. Although Herod's magnificent temple was in place and Judaism was recognized by Rome things were a far cry from God's original intent. Most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant, the physical manifestation of the presences of God was missing. Without it, the temple was just an empty shell.

However, God showed up - in person - and spent most of His time outside the temple proper and none of it in the Holy of Holies. He was too busy roaming out among the people, both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus proceeded to dismantle the old way of relating to God and replaced it with something new and better. Once again, the King put out a call for volunteers to come and join a building program.

I marvel at the difference of the two Old Testament endings. To me, Christianity's version echoes the too familiar "conversion by threat" similar to Islam's "conversion by the sword." The Jewish translation closes with an invitation to a co-operative effort between Jews and Gentiles to rebuild God's house. I like their's better.

How about you? Which ending, from an evangelistic standpoint, would be more inviting? Which end do you think more accurately reflects God's heart toward mankind? Which of the two are you more comfortable with?

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