A Biblical Theology of Exile/Restoration in the OT Prophets

Just as Adam was exiled from Eden and promised restoration through the redemptive work of the promised Messiah (Gen. 3:15), so Israel served to typify judgment and salvation in their experience of exile and restoration from Babylon. What Israel experienced in the exile is nothing short of “covenant reversal.” God had called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. In the exile, He was returning His people from the place from which He called them. This becomes clear as we work our way through the message of the OT prophets. There are basic redemptive-historical structures to the experience of Israel–and the word and actions of God toward Israel–that, if we have eyes to see, will enable us to guard against taking the Messianic prophecies out their historical context for the sake of making their writings of some practical value to us today. Another mistake many make, in trying to make the message of the prophets practical to those living in the New Covenant era, is to try to draw out applications relevant to a God-and-country sort of approach to a theory of Christian America. While there is certainly a call for the nations to repent, this is an anachronistic reading of the prophets that limits the redemptive-historical intent of their message.

A richer approach would have us categorize the overarching message of the OT prophets of Israel (in its most distilled form) by suggesting that God promised and sent judgment on His covenant-breaking people and promised and provided restoration by His grace to them in order to point them, together with us, beyond the typical experience to the eternal reality. In his book The Christ of the Prophets, O. Palmer Robertson helpfully outlines three categories by which to understand the redemptive-historical placement of exile/restoration (i.e.  judgment/salvation) in the prophetic message. They are as follows:

(1) “Both the city of Jerusalem and the person of the Messiah play a major role in the restoration of the nation. The significance attached to the city and messiah is understandable in light of their distinctive place in the promises of the Davidic Covenant. The last covenant in the history of Israel centers around two promises: the maintenance of the city of Jerusalem and the continuation of the line of David. While nothing in Israel’s secular history since the time of the restoration fulfills these expectations, the coming of Jesus the Christ  and the establishment of his throne in the heavenly Jerusalem introduces the final stag that fulfills the expectations created by the predictions of the prophets.”

(2) “Israel’s exile and restoration have a significant impact on all the nations of the world. Both in judgment and in restoration, the nations have their future defined by reference to this one nation’s experience. As God’s own nation ultimately underwent righteous judgment, so all peoples will eventually undergo the Lord’s judgments. Even as Israel experienced restoration after exile, so all those who repent and call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

(3) “The history of Israel in exile and restoration becomes a basis for projection into the future. Just as recapitulation eschatology in terms of renewed experience of the exodus dominated the futuristic projections of prophets like Isaiah and Hosea, so also the experience of Israel’s exile and restoration provides the basis for prophetic prediction of the future. In this way, the prophetically typological nature of redemptive history under the Old Covenant receives reinforcement both at the beginning and the end of the chosen nations history. As exodus, wilderness wandering and conquest of the land embodied principles of God’s redemptive working, so also exile and restoration communicate truths regarding judgment and deliverance.”1

In short, When we come to understand that Jerusalem and the earthly kingdom were typical of the heavenly Jerusalem and the King of Kings, we will better understand the message of the prophets to us today. When we come to see that the exile and restoration of Israel served to typify the eternal judgment and eternal salvation of men on the last day, we better understand the message of the prophets to us today. Finally, when we come to recognize that the first major event in Israel’s history (the exodus), and the last major event in their history (the exile and restoration), were preparatory for, and paradigmatic of, the truth of judgment and deliverance as it centers on the death and resurrection or Jesus, we will more fully understand the message of the prophets for us today. He was “cut off (i.e. exiled) from the land of the living” (Is. 53:8) in His death, and then restored to life in His resurrection. Robertson sums up his observations when he notes:

The permeating character of the themes of exile and restoration throughout the ministry of Israel’s prophets may provide some guidelines for understanding the consummate fulfillment of prophecy in the present age. The fulfillment finds its focal point in the Person of Jesus Christ. As the suffering servant of the Lord, He has gone into the abyss of exile from the presence of God. He has also experienced restoration by his resurrection from the dead and ascension to the right hand of the Father. All who are untied to Him by faith have died with Him and been raised with Him.

At the same time the people of God await the final restoration that will come with the return of Jesus Christ. The blending of eschatological expectations in the prophets, with the imagery of restoration after exile, leads naturally to the uniting of these same theme under the expectations of the New Covenant. The rejuvenation of the world that will come with the final establishment of Messiah’s reign represents the consummation of expectations embedded in the prophetic predictions of restoration after exile.

The transferal of the values of exile and restoration into the new covenant era establishes the permanent worth of these prophetic predictions. The understanding of the sufferings and death of Christ are enriched by viewing them in terms of a theology of exile. The appreciation of his triumphant victory in resurrection and ascension is multiplied by perceiving it as restoration after divine judgment. He triumphed in His resurrection so as to lay the foundation for the restoration of all things, which will be accomplished at his glorious return.2

The exile of Adam from Eden was a foretaste of the eternal exile that all of the descendants of Adam will justly experience if they remain united to Adam and apart from the second Adam, Jesus Christ. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers have already experienced the judgment/salvation of God. The second Adam, establishes, by His own exile and restoration, the restoration of the Garden-Paradise that Adam forfeited in his disobedience. This is that upon which Israel’s exile-restoration is directing our focus (Joel 2, see esp. v. 3).

You can find the audio and video from “The Emmaus Sessions” lecture I gave at New Covenant last Tuesday here. The text was Isaiah 1; 40 and 53 and the title of the lecture, “Christ and the Exile/Restoration.”


1. O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Prophets (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004) pp. 500-501

IbidI., pp. 501-502

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