The Church in Prophecy  

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia


Hebrew prophecy relates in almost equal proportions to the person and to the work of the Messias. This work was conceived as consisting of the establishment of a kingdom, in which he was to reign over a regenerated Israel. The prophetic writings describe for us with precision many of the characteristics which were to distinguish that kingdom. Christ during His ministry affirmed not only that the prophecies relating to the Messias were fulfilled in His own person, but also that the expected Messianic kingdom was none other than His Church. A consideration of the features of the kingdom as depicted by the Prophets must therefore greatly assist us in understanding Christ's intentions in the institution of the Church. Indeed many of the expressions employed by Him in relation to the society He was establishing are only intelligible in the Light of these prophecies and of the consequent expectations of the Jewish people. It will moreover appear that we have a weighty argument for the supernatural character of the Christian revelation in the precise fulfillment of the sacred oracles.

A characteristic feature of the Messianic kingdom, as predicted, is its universal extent. Not merely the twelve tribes, but the Gentiles are to yield allegiance to the Son of David. All kings are to serve and obey him; his dominion is to extend to the ends of the earth (Psalm 21:28 sq.; 2:7-12; 116:1; Zechariah 9:10). Another series of remarkable passages declares that the subject nations will possess the unity conferred by a common faith and a common worship -- a feature represented under the striking image of the concourse of all peoples and nations to worship at Jerusalem. "It shall come to pass in the last days (i.e. in the Messianic Era] . . . that many nations shall say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall go forth out of Sion, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem" (Micah 4:1-2; cf. Isaiah 2:2; Zechariah 8:3). This unity of worship is to be the fruit of a Divine revelation common to all the inhabitants of the earth (Zack., xiv, 8).

Corresponding to the triple office of the Messias as priest, prophet, and king, it will be noted that in relation to the kingdom the Sacred Writings lay stress on three points: (a) it is to be endowed with a new and peculiar sacrificial system; (b) it is to be the kingdom of truth possessed of a Divine revelation; (c) it is to be governed by an authority emanating from the Messias.

  • In regard to the first of these points, the priesthood of the Messias Himself is explicitly stated (Ps. cix, 4); while it is further taught that the worship which He is to inaugurate shall supersede the sacrifices of the Old Dispensation. This is implied, as the Apostle tells us, in the very title, "a priest after the order of Melchisedech"; and the same truth is contained in the prediction that a new priesthood is to be formed, drawn from other peoples besides the Israelites (Isaiah 66:18), and in the words of the Prophet Malachias which foretell the institution of a new sacrifice to be offered "from the rising of the sun even to the going down" (Malachi 1:11). The sacrifices offered by the priesthood of the Messianic kingdom are to endure as long as day and night shall last (Jeremiah 33:20).
  • The revelation of the Divine truth under the New Dispensation attested by Jeremias: "Behold the days shall come saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Juda . . . and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest" (Jeremiah 31:31, 34), while Zacharias assures us that in those days Jerusalem shall be known as the city of truth. (Zechariah 8:3).
  • The passages which foretell that the Kingdom will possess a peculiar principle of authority in the personal rule of the Messias are numerous (e.g. Psalms 2 and 71; Isaiah 9:6 sq.); but in relation to Christ's own words, it is of interest to observe that in some of these passages the prediction is expressed under the metaphor of a shepherd guiding and governing his flock (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24-28). It is noteworthy, moreover, that just as the prophecies in regard to the priestly office foretell the appointment of a priesthood subordinate to the Messias, so those which relate to the office of government indicate that the Messias will associate with Himself other "shepherds", and will exercise His authority over the nations through rulers delegated to govern in His name (Jeremiah 18:6; Psalm 44:17; cf. St. Augustine Enarr. in Psalm. 44:no. 32). Another feature of the kingdom is to be the sanctity of its members. The way to it is to be called "the holy way: the unclean shall not pass over it". The uncircumcised and unclean are not to enter into the renewed Jerusalem (Isaiah 35:8; 52:1).

The later uninspired apocalyptic literature of the Jews shows us how profoundly these predictions had influenced their national hopes, and explains for us the intense expectation among the populace described in the Gospel narratives. In these works as in the inspired prophecies the traits of the Messianic kingdom present two very different aspects. On the one hand, the Messias is a Davidic king who gathers together the dispersed of Israel, and establishes on this earth a kingdom of purity and sinlessness (Psalms of Solomon, xvii). The foreign foe is to be subdued (Assumpt. Moses, c. x) and the wicked are to be judged in the valley of the son of Hinnon (Enoch, xxv, xxvii, xc). On the other hand, the kingdom is described in eschatological characters. The Messias is pre-existent and Divine (Enoch, Simil., xlviii, 3); the kingdom He establishes is to be a heavenly kingdom inaugurated by a great world-catastrophe, which separates this world (aion outos), from the world to come (mellon). This catastrophe is to be accompanied by a judgment both of angels and of men (Jubilees, x, 8; v, 10; Assumpt. Moses, x, 1). The dead will rise (Ps. Solom., iii, 11) and all the members of the Messianic kingdom will become like to the Messias (Enoch, Simil., xc, 37). This twofold aspect of the Jewish hopes in regard to the coming Messias must be borne in mind, if Christ's use of the expression "Kingdom of God" is to be understood. Not infrequently, it is true; He employs it in an eschatological sense. But far more commonly He uses it of the kingdom set up on this earth -- of His Church. These are indeed, not two kingdoms, but one. The Kingdom of God to be established at the last day is the Church in her final triumph.