James Patrick’s Blog

September 22, 2009

Promised Land in the Gospels, part three [I&NC #8]

Having looked at Jesus’ prophecies of the coming exile of Israel and her return at the end of the age, we now turn to consider His prophecies about the beginning of the next age, when Israel is dwelling permanently and securely in her land.

Luke 13:23-30 – Luke 13 is a chapter which speaks much about the judgement on Israel and her future restoration, but in this passage there is a closer focus on what ‘salvation’ really means.  Just before our passage, in Luke 13:18-21, Jesus told two parables about the ‘kingdom of God’, but readers today are often deaf to the resonances of Israel’s promised physical territory for Jesus’ Jewish audience (cf. ‘the kingdom’ in Acts 1:6, for which see below).  Before rejecting and spiritualising this common term, we must allow it to space to speak to the subject of the land covenant and see how Jesus addressed the expectations of His own nation.  For example, describing it as the ‘kingdom of God’ [or ‘kingdom of heaven’ in Matthew 13:31-33; for explanation of the ‘heavenly’ origin of the promised land, see discussion of Galatians 4:26 above] rather than the ‘kingdom of Israel’ was deliberate, because God will be Israel’s king in the restoration, and the territory belongs to Him and is granted by Him.  It is highly instructive to read Jesus’ ‘kingdom’ teachings as being addressed to the national anticipation of inheriting territory in the age of restoration.

Both parables are included here before our passage to describe the period leading up to the restoration of the land to Israel.  The believing ‘remnant’ of the Jewish nation is taken and ‘thrown’ into the world, God’s garden, or ‘hidden’ in a vast quantity of flour, but it grows to leaven the whole world, or becomes a ‘tree’ planted in the land of Israel (Eze 17:22-24) grown large enough for the ‘birds of the air’, that is, Gentiles, to nest in it (cf. Dan 4:10‑12, 20‑22, 26).  The background of this image in both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Ezekiel’s vision was probably meant to be recognised by Jesus’ hearers, and similarities of both with Isaiah 6:11‑13 would imply that despite exile, the Messianic ‘shoot’ (Mat 2:23) from the cut down stump would grow during exile and ultimately be planted back in the land.

In a suitable response to these parables, someone then asks Jesus, “Are there just a few who are being saved?”  Jesus responded appropriately by understanding ‘salvation’ as the age of restoration to come, as Paul and others clearly do also (cf. Rom 5:9-11; 1 Cor 15:51-57; 1 Thes 1:10; 1 Pet 1:3-13).  Jesus warns that unbelievers, even if they are Jews who shared food with Jesus and heard Him teach in their streets, will not be welcomed by Him into His kingdom.  In the following chapter Luke records more teaching about this common Jewish expectation of eating meals in the ‘kingdom of God’, the ‘resurrection of the righteous’ (14:14-17; cf. 16:8‑9).  Here the warning is that the Jewish nation that has been invited will not taste any of the blessings of the coming resurrection kingdom because they were so focused on their own personal inheritance of land that they ignored and insulted the host who was inviting them (14:16-24).

However back in 13:28-29, Jesus gives even more clarity to where this ‘feast’ will happen at the beginning of the age to come (cf. Luke 22:14-18; 22:28-30; Rev 3:20; 19:6-9).  ‘Reclining [at the table] in the kingdom of God’ will for many require travelling first “from east and west and from north and south” to where one finds “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God”.  Those who travel from the four corners of the world are probably Gentiles, rather than dispersed Jews (Mat 8:5-13; Gen 28:14; Psa 107:1-3; Isa 60:10-22), and they come to where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are, the land of Israel “in the midst of the earth” (Isa 19:24-25), in fulfilment of the covenant promises to these Patriarchs of both land and blessing on the nations (Gen 28:13-15; 12:1-3; 17:4-8; 26:3-5; Lev 26:40-45).

Matthew 19:28-29 – As is his custom, Matthew has here apparently grouped together two teachings that Luke recognises were spoken on two different occasions (Luke 18:28‑30; 22:28‑30).  However Matthew recognises that there is a general principle of being rewarded in kind in the age to come for what we leave in this present age in order to follow Jesus, but also that this general principle will be fulfilled specifically for the twelve Jewish disciples and the Jewish nation in the age to come.  Matthew’s ‘inheritance’ of eternal, undisturbed ‘living’ in houses and farms is identified as being in ‘the age to come’ in Mark 10:29-30 and Luke 18:28-30, because although we might receive ‘one hundred times as much’ in this age, we still will not get to inherit it permanently yet.  However, “in the regeneration”, which is when Jesus is sitting on His glorious throne (clearly understood literally a few verses later in 20:20-23), each follower of Jesus will receive their promised inheritance in the worldwide heaven-built ‘kingdom of God’ (19:23-28).  We sacrifice present fulfilment and inheritance “for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:29).

Within this general inheritance for all those who are ‘saved’ from every nation, each inheriting their promised lands, Jesus has promised that the twelve disciples who followed Him and “stood by me in my trials” (Luke 22:28; cf. Mat 20:21-23) will be granted a ‘kingdom’ of their own, made up of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The reason Jesus can assign territories to specific followers is because His Father granted Him the whole earth as His kingdom (Luke 22:29; Psa 2:8-12; Exod 19:5-6; Deut 10:11-15), although the status of His followers within His kingdom is determined by His Father alone (Mat 20:23).

The actual distribution of the territories of the earth by Jesus at His coming (like His namesake ‘Joshua’ – Jos 13:6‑7; 14:1‑2; 21:1‑3, 43‑45; Heb 4:8‑9) was described in a parable by Jesus in Jericho (Luke 19:11‑27).  Luke says that because Jesus’ followers “supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately”, Jesus told them a story that they could easily interpret.  If we hear it from their perspective, it is remarkable that Jesus in no way tried to ‘spiritualise’ their assumptions about territory and destruction of enemies; rather, He deliberately reinforced these ideas.  Jesus describes Himself as a nobleman, promised a kingdom but rejected by some of ‘His’ citizens whom He will personally execute upon His return.  This nobleman does not get given the kingdom straight away, but has to travel to a distant country and receive His authority before He returns.  In the meantime, His servants are each given the equivalent of three months’ wages and told to get on with business while He is away.  Jesus was clearly warning His followers that He would be away for some time, but His return would be the time of apportioning territory within His kingdom on the basis of each servant’s diligence.  Although the precise amounts and proportions of rewards are part of the story alone, we must still recognise here the principle of Jesus’ followers inheriting physical territory in the ‘kingdom of God’ that will eventually ‘appear’ at His return.

With that principle in mind, we return to Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30.  Jesus first clarifies to the disciples that their ‘kingdom’ is just a portion within His own kingdom (Luke 22:30).  However He also speaks of the twelve disciples being allowed to “eat and drink at My table”.  Typically in biblical times the king’s ‘table’ was where He Himself ate in His capitol city, and to certain highly favoured officials and territorial leaders He would give the privilege of dining in the same room as himself (2 Sam 9:7-13; 19:31-40; 1 Kgs 2:7; 2 Kgs 25:29‑30; cf. Mark 6:21‑26).  Here Jesus is informing the twelve disciples that not only will they sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, but they will also live in the same place as Him and dine in His presence.  This only makes sense if they are ruling over Israel from Jesus’ own capitol city, Jerusalem (cf. Mat 5:35; 23:39; Rev 20:9 with 21:22-27 and Psa 87:2).  Thus we again have evidence of the literal fulfilment of Israel dwelling permanently in their promised land, but under the authority of the twelve disciples of Jesus who are local rulers in Jerusalem, a city that is also Jesus’ capitol city for governing His wider ‘kingdom’ of the whole earth.


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