A Time to Favor Zion
The Apocalypse of Psalm 102 is a bit different from these other psalms that I have been indulging in. The revelation shines forth in the middle of the psalm, but the first and last parts are centered around the psalmist’s life struggles. There are three main sections to Psalm 102.
Verses 1-11 ~ The despair of mortality.
Verses 12-22 ~ The future apocalypse of Zion.
Verses 23-28 ~ Present hope because of the future.
The psalmist begins amidst a Hezekiah-type, near-death experience, see Isaiah 38:9-20. Apparently the psalmist is quite sick and may die. He despairs of his life. It could be from a great sorrow, mental distress, or emotional affliction which is eating away at his physical life as well. It is quite clear that the psalmist is contemplating his mortality.
From this low point, the psalmist turns his attention to God who endures forever. In the midst of his mortality, he is reminded of the immortality of the LORD. From his point of view, he sees a revelation of God and what God will do in the future which gives him hope in the present. A couple of precursors are that He knows of Jerusalem, Zion, and foreign nations in relation to Zion. Let’s pick up the text in the apocalypse section. I’m using ESV here.
12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
15 Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
16 For the Lord builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
17 he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer.
The psalmist sees the LORD as enthroned forever. But even though the LORD is already enthroned, at some future point in time, the LORD will arise, appear in glory, and build (or rebuild) Zion because He has pity on her. This point in time to favor Zion can be viewed as foreordained, vs. 13. This point in time can also be viewed as being sparked by the prayer of the destitute, vs. 17. The word translated destitute means stripped bare like the desert. These destitute that have offered this prayer (which God favorably regards) have been stripped bare of everything. This is that remnant which we see so often in prophetic apocalypse.
Sometime in the future, an Israelite remnant will go through a horrendous time. They will become truly destitute, stripped bare. In the midst of this time, they will cry out to God. God will hear their prayer, appear in glory, rebuild Zion, and it will all occur at the time that He has already appointed. In conjunction with God showing favor to Zion, other nations will fear the name of the LORD. All the kings of the earth will fear His glory. As God focuses His attention on Zion, the entire earth responds.
18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
22 when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
Here we see how God looked down from heaven to hear the groaning of the prisoners just before He appeared in glory. God intervenes in the affairs of men to set free those who were on death row. They are set free so that they may declare the name of the LORD. Notice how the psalmist gives the reason for this revelation. This revelation is being written down so that the generation to come, the people yet to be created may praise the LORD. This tells us that when the LORD appears in glory, at that time there will be a newly created people. It is this newly created people which is described in verse 22 as well. It is a people of all kingdoms gathering together to worship the LORD.
What is uncanny is for eschatology students to read about the kingdoms of the earth being gathered together in a positive light. We see throughout scripture that there was predicted a time when the nations would be confederate against Messiah, Psalm 2. The early church was not surprised that they experienced resistance against the gospel since they were proclaiming the very Messiah they knew the world would reject, Acts 4:22-28. We tend to focus on the battle of Armageddon as the climax of the kingdoms of this world gathering together against the Messiah, Revelation 16:12-16. Yet here in Psalm 102 are kingdoms gathering together to worship the LORD. It is a glimpse into the kingdom of God here on earth. But it will only happen after the LORD appears in glory and rebuilds Zion.
We must briefly put ourselves in the original context in order to find out when Zion will be rebuilt. Since Zion was in its glory days at the writing of this psalm, what did the psalmist mean by God arising and rebuilding Zion? The psalmist must have seen forward in time to a Zion which needing rebuilding. When Daniel uttered his prayer in Daniel 9 at the end of the 70 years captivity, Zion needed rebuilding then. When Daniel asked God to let His anger and fury turn away from Jerusalem and the holy mountain, he was speaking of Zion, Daniel 9:16. When he asked God to cause His face to shine upon the sanctuary which was currently lying desolate, he was praying about Mount Zion, Daniel 9:17. God’s response through the vision of 70 weeks is God’s prophecy to when Zion would be rebuilt as stated here in Psalm 102.
So the rebuilding of Jerusalem during the days of Cyrus was not the fulfillment of Psalm 102. Those who did rebuild Jerusalem during the days of Cyrus could do so with a future hope that one day this would be the city to which God would show ultimate favor. The time when Zion will be rebuilt (and all nations worship the LORD) will occur after the LORD Jesus appears in glory and after Daniel’s 70th week has expired. It is after the glorious appearing of Messiah that the kingdoms will gather together for the purpose of worshiping the God of Israel. When Jesus comes, He does not do away with governments, He transforms them by taking authority over them, Revelation 11:15.
23 He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
24 O my God, I say, take me not away
in the midst of my days-”
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!
Here the psalmist turns back to his plight of mortality by pleading with the God of the future. Because God will endure throughout all generations, even into the kingdom come, He certainly has the authority to intervene and stop a simple sickness which will cut short the life of a middle aged man. Surely God is sovereign over the affairs of mankind.
25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.
There is some difficulty with this last passage for me. Is the psalmist trying to say that these events of a new heaven and new earth are connected with the rebuilding of Zion when the LORD appears in glory? Or are they two separate series of events? We see with certainty that God is the one who originally established the earth and heaven that now exist. We see also that they will wear out like a coat that someone uses constantly. When the time comes, God will exchange the worn out heaven and earth for new ones. Even though these things will happen, God remains unchanged. While the years of heaven and earth are limited, God’s years are unlimited. Since God’s years are unlimited, we can see that those who serve this eternal God will also be established before Him securely for all eternity. Even those who are the children of His servants will continually be established before Him.
It would seem simpler to believe that the psalmist saw the rebuilding of Zion, the appearance of the LORD in glory, and the transformed nations who now revere God; as existing in this new heaven and new earth. But we also have examples in scripture where it was thought that two events would occur together only to find out that they are separated by some unforeseen chasm of time. I would not be opposed to someone who thought that at the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom, we have a renewed heaven and earth, and after the great white throne judgement we have the establishment of this brand new heaven and earth as prophesied by the psalmist.
So there we have the Apocalypse of the Time of Favor for Zion.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman