We read in Matthew 21:43-45, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.”
This is an issue debated among the theologians, who are usually divided into either of two interpretations. One view, favored especially by dispensationalists, is that the kingdom was only removed from the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and not from the Jewish people as a whole (who still, therefore, retain it in principle). A competing popular view, especially found in Reformed theology, is that the Jewish nation as a whole was set aside in God’s purposes, to be permanently replaced by a non-Israel Spiritual Church composed of “Gentiles.”
Is either view correct? What is the true answer? Undoubtedly the best solution is to see how Christ’s prophecy was actually fulfilled in history. When and how was the prediction completed? Christ gave the clue when he said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) A generation in prophecy is a forty year period, which was approximately the average lifespan during these early times. Christ’s crucifixion and death for sin took place on the eve of Passover in 33 A.D. Exactly forty years later, what took place? The Roman conquest of Judea, which began in 70 A.D. with the fall of the Jerusalem temple, was completed when the last stand of the Jews took place at Masada. Jewish historians tell us that just before dawn on the eve of Passover in 73 A.D., the last remaining Jewish soldiers committed suicide by drinking poison, just as the Roman soldiers broke through to take their stronghold. It was therefore forty years to the very hour after the crucifixion of Christ that the conquest of Judea was finally completed by the Roman army. You can read more about this amazing and perfect fulfillment of prophecy in the book, “The Story of Celto-Saxon Israel,” available from our migrations.info book website.
Image of Romans conquering Jews
It is therefore manifest that it was not just the removal of the Jewish leaders or religious representatives that constituted the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 21:43-44, but it involved the conquest and removal of the entire Jewish nation. The famous Jewish historian of the period, Flavius Josephus, related the sad details concerning the Roman conquest: an estimated one-and-a-half million Jews were slaughtered, with most of the remaining Jewish citizens taken into Roman slavery and scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Palestine became a virtually uninhabited wasteland, a complete and far-reaching fulfillment to Christ’s prophetic warning to the whole Jewish nation.
We see a similar pattern in Old Testament history. When the Israelites sinned in the wilderness because of the false report of the men sent to spy out the land, there was a double punishment: God put the false spies to death, and the entire generation that sinned was consigned to grow old and die in the wilderness without ever inheriting the Promised Land.
We read in Numbers 14:34-37, “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die. And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land, Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.”
Note that this wilderness punishment was concluded over a period of “forty years,” or one generation. As a New Testament parallel, the Jewish leaders who rejected Christ had their death sentence concluded at the hands of the Romans in one generation also, exactly forty years (to the day!) In addition, the nation of Judah as a whole was consigned to not inherit (have “taken” from them) the kingdom of God. You can appreciate that the Promised Land of the Old Covenant prefigured the Kingdom of God of the New Covenant (both of which, by the way, are literal, physical territories, not just spiritual entities). It should be clear, despite the insistence of our dispensationalist friends, that it was not just the “leaders” of the Jewish nation who suffered the fulfillment of the punishment in Matthew 21!
You may now be asking, who did Christ give the Kingdom to? We read the answer in our Savior’s own words in Matthew 21:43, “The kingdom of God [will be] given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” The key words in this verse are “nation” and “fruits.” The word, nation, in our English text is a translation of the Greek, “ethnos,” which is the source of our word, “ethnic.” Yes, the kingdom would be given to a people who were the relatives (or “ethnic relations”) of the Kingdom of Judah. Throughout the Old Testament, the close relatives of the two-tribe House of Judah were the ten tribes of the House of Israel, called Ephraim by the prophets (Isa. 11:13; Jer. 31:9; Ezk. 37:16, 19; Hos. 11:12; 14:8; Obad. 1:19; Zech 9:13; etc.), after their early forefather, the son of the Patriarch Joseph.
The word, “fruits,” in this verse is also a prophetic reference to Ephraim, the House of Israel, for the Hebrew word for fruitfulness” or “double fruitfulness” is “Ephraim!” In this one verse, Christ therefore provided us with a double witness to the fact that the ten tribes of the House of Israel would inherit the Kingdom of God. This is altogether fitting, and an actual prophetic fulfillment of Scripture, because Ephraim’s father, Joseph, was in fact destined to be the birthright inheritor of Israel’s covenant promises.
We read about this in First Chronicles 5:1-2. “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s.)” The ten tribes of the House of Israel were called “Ephraim” to signify that they were the inheritors of the birthright given to Joseph.
There remains but one more question to answer on this subject: Who are these covenant descendants of Joseph-Ephraim, the ten tribes of the House of Israel, in our world today? Again, Christ gave us the answer: The nation(s) who are, and have been, “bringing forth the fruits” of the Kingdom. Who is doing the work that the covenant inheritors of Israel’s promises were destined to do? What people, for example, are doing the missionary gospel work of carrying the Word of the Lord to the ends of the earth? (Isa. 49:6) Is it only a wonderful pure coincidence that the nations of Europe have been known for many centuries by the name of “Christendom,” or “Christ’s Kingdom?” Indeed, perhaps it is not such a coincidence after all!