James Patrick’s Blog

December 9, 2019

Britain, Brexit and Revival in Isaiah 23?

Times of political turmoil and transition have always made God’s people turn to the Scriptures for understanding.  Daniel is an instructive example of this (Daniel 9:2).  Around 538 BC, more than 65 years after his deportation to Babylon as a teenager among the first exiles of Judah, Daniel found himself living through unparalleled political turmoil.  Babylonian rule over the Judahite exiles came to a sudden end when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon.  Daniel naturally looked to the prophetic writings for insight, and saw in Jeremiah’s book that the exile would only last for 70 years.

Daniel praying towards Jerusalem

Jeremiah in turn, decades earlier, had been reflecting on those initial deportations to Babylon.  He knew that this was God’s judgement on his nation’s rebellion.  But he also knew that God would never abandon the people of Israel completely, despite their sin (Jeremiah 31:35-37).  So how long would the exile last?  His famous letter to the exiles limited it to just 70 years (Jeremiah 29:1-14).

How did Jeremiah know that?  Prophets typically receive revelation from the Holy Spirit when they are studying earlier Scriptures, as 2Peter 1:20-21 says.  But 70 years was not a meaningful period of time in Scripture, like 40 years for a (wilderness) generation, or 50 years (7×7+1) for a Jubilee.  Even in Psalm 90:10, human lives are only roughly 70 or 80 years.  Just one place in earlier prophecies spoke of 70 years, and this was the oracle of Isaiah chapter 23 against the trading empire of Tyre.

Jeremiah saw that God promised to restore even a Gentile nation after a set period of judgement, both physically and spiritually.  God would not treat His own nation more, or less, severely.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah applied this decree for Tyre to Judah also, even borrowing terminology from Isaiah such as God ‘visiting’ a nation.  Sure enough, God chose to confirm this prophetic re-application by Jeremiah.  Judah’s physical exile to Babylon lasted 70 years (circa 606 – 536 BC), and their spiritual exile likewise, with the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple (587 – 517 BC).

But what of Tyre itself?  Did Isaiah’s prophesied 70-year judgement happen?  No, not in Isaiah’s lifetime; the Assyrian empire exiled the northern kingdom of Israel, but could not prevent Tyre from prospering in trade.  No, not in Jeremiah’s lifetime, when the Babylonian empire exiled the southern kingdom of Judah, but Tyre survived a 13-year siege by Nebuchadnezzar.  Jeremiah’s contemporary in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel, then responded to Tyre’s gloating over the destruction of Jerusalem.  In chapters 26–28, Ezekiel changed Tyre’s judgement from 70 years to a death sentence, predicting a permanent levelling of the island city.  Finally, long after even Daniel’s lifetime, the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great besieged Tyre and utterly destroyed it, just as Ezekiel had prophesied.

So when did the forgetting and restoration of Tyre’s empire happen?  Did God just change His mind?  Had the Isaiah 23 prophecy been fully fulfilled when Jeremiah re-applied it to Judah?  Perhaps not. 1Peter 1:10-12 says that biblical prophets were aware that their prophecies sometimes referred not to their own generation but to one far in the future (Ezekiel 12:27).  Isaiah himself may have hinted at this, by separating Tyre’s oracle from the rest of his oracles against foreign nations (chapters 13–21), so that it now introduces the ‘Isaiah apocalypse’ of chapters 24–27, describing the end times.

There are four reasons to ask whether Isaiah 23 might actually apply to Britain in our own lifetime:

(1)  The original addressees of Isaiah 23 were the ‘ships of Tarshish’ (verses 1, 14).  These trading partners of Tyre are told to wail over the destruction of Tyre.  Who was Tarshish?  Solomon had sent ships there, far to the west, returning along the north African coast (1Kings 10:22).  Jonah had fled that way, away from Nineveh in the east.  Ezekiel 27:12 later tells us that the wealth of Tarshish was ‘silver, iron, tin and lead’.  The mineral-rich kingdom of Tartessos did exist in south-west Spain, but the tin it traded was not indigenous, coming instead by sea from Cornwall.  Britain had supplied tin for bronze-making to all of Europe for centuries, hence its prosperity during the Bronze Age.  As such, Britain would have traded using ‘ships of Tarshish’, and should take note of Tyre’s judgement.

(2)  The ‘ships of Tarshish’ addressed in Isaiah 23 are given a prophetic destiny elsewhere in Isaiah.  In Isaiah 60:9, the ships of Tarshish will come ‘first, to bring your sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them’.  The same picture, of Tarshish leading all nations in restoring exiled Israelites to their ancient homeland, is described in 66:18-21.  This cannot refer to the biblical exiles to Assyria and Babylon, which were east of Israel across the desert; ships were only needed after the Roman exile of 70 AD, which scattered Jews throughout Europe (Genesis 10:4).  Ever since the early 1600s, Christians in Britain (and the Netherlands) were explicitly striving to fulfil Isaiah 60:9.  Eventually, the 1917 Balfour Declaration by the British Empire made Britain the first nation to commit themselves to supporting Jewish aliyah back to the land.  Britain did fulfil the destiny of the ships of Tarshish.

Rule Britannia postcard

(3)  Britain has played an equivalent role to Tyre, in both its secular and spiritual prestige.  Both island nations became mighty despite their small size, because of their dominant maritime trade and many colonies.  Both consequently were appointed by God to become a vital international ally of a newly established Israelite polity or state.  Hiram of Tyre gave supplies for building the palaces of both David and Solomon, as well as Solomon’s Temple (2Samuel 5:11; 1Kings 5).  Britain was entrusted with a Mandate by the League of Nations in 1923 to prepare the Jewish people for self-government, leading up to the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

(4)  Britain is in the midst of equivalent judgement to that decreed against Tyre, both secular and spiritual.  By Isaiah’s time, Tyre had turned against Israel (Psalm 83:7; Joel 3:4-6; Amos 1:9-10).  Britain likewise forsook its obligations to the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.  Yet the sin Isaiah 23:8-9 identifies for judgement is Tyre’s pride, taking credit for being the ‘bestower of crowns’ through its economic power.  As a result, the God of Israel promised to ‘forget’ Tyre for 70 years, withholding His presence and blessing, until Tyre realised the true Source of any nation’s wealth and influence.  Britain’s pride has just as surely been broken over the past 70 years, most notably with the loss of India in 1947, and in 1972 it relinquished to the European Union (EEC) all rights to negotiate trade deals.  As for secular judgement, the largest empire in world history disintegrated through pride, when it stopped blessing the children of Israel (Genesis 12:3; Numbers 24:9).  In global trade, she has become a ‘forgotten prostitute’ who must now walk about the city playing her harp skilfully to try to be remembered, selling to any who will buy (Isaiah 23:16).

Likewise spiritually, after centuries of regularly ‘visiting’ Britain with His holy presence and convicting power and glory, the Lord seems to have ‘forgotten’ this land since the Hebridean Revival of 1949–52.  That last acknowledged British revival at the outer edge of Scotland started to fade from around April 1952 until mid-1953.  Our godly Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in February 1952 and was crowned in June 1953.  Remarkably, the only explanation that Isaiah 23:15 gives for the figure of ‘seventy years’ is that this is ‘like the days of one king’, meaning ‘the reign of one monarch’ (see Isaiah 1:1).  No king of Israel or Judah reigned longer than 55 years, nor do we know of ancient monarchs to whom this might refer.  Yet God willing, Queen Elizabeth will easily reach 70 years of reign in 2022.  By then, even with a transition period for Brexit, Britain will again be free to ‘ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth’ (Isaiah 23:17).

Yet according to the final verse of this chapter, the physical restoration will not come without a spiritual revival.  The profits of restored trade are not to be hoarded, but ‘set apart to the Lord’, providing food and distinguished clothing (Tyre was famous for costly purple dye) ‘for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord’ (23:18).  This must refer at least to the priests and inhabitants of Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:5-16; 66:18-21).  Spiritual revival will have a direct impact on economic ties with Israel, as is only fitting for a Gentile nation favoured by the Jewish King of kings (Romans 15:27).

For seventy years, a great revival has been repeatedly prophesied for Britain, by Smith Wigglesworth (1947), Jean Darnall (1967), Ginny Burgin (1997 – “Diana prophecy”), John Mulinde (1998), and others.  Frequently this is said to release a direct blessing across to the continent of Europe, and to the ends of the earth.  Yet true revival has never been seen without true repentance and persistent prayer.  Daniel reacted to Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy in precisely this way (Daniel 9).  With Tyre as a prophetic pattern for our prayers, let us also repent and plead for Britain, at the close of 70 years.

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First published in Israel & Christians Today newspaper, UK edition, 2nd Quarter – April 2019.

January 30, 2019

Prophecy of warning and blessing for Great Britain, 25 November 2018 (by Chris Wickland)

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 6:37 pm
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This prophetic word warns of the great shaking that will cause the separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to destroy manmade institutions including church denominations, and to restore the UK and its church to fulfil its destiny.

chris wickland

[Sunday evening sermon at Living Word Church, Lee-on-the-Solent – audio recording, titles added in transcript]

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Right, I am about to record what I am saying.  I feel that the Lord is wanting me to prophesy something.  You see, really I am a prophet in a pastor’s clothing, so that really is my primary function, and most of you will never really get to see that much, but there we go.

EU Council and Theresa May’s Brexit Deal

Something has happened today which is very significant for us as Britons.  The European treaty thing has gone through that they have agreed for their side of things on the Brexit deal and I don’t think God is very happy.  This is what I must declare.  I am just going to say it out loud.  You see, when prophets of old would speak, they would not even necessarily go to the nations they spoke to, but they spoke to them because they were releasing the word of the Lord, and word of the Lord will do what He will do.  Unfortunately, I have to say this over our government and over our country:

“MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.  God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.  You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.  Your kingdom is divided and has been given to another.”  [Daniel 5:25-28]

I just feel God is really not pleased with what has happened this week and what is about to happen.  I have had, over the years, many dreams, many visions for about twenty-odd years about what is about to come to this land.  And unfortunately, what has happened now has just triggered it, because God led this country to come out of something that He was not happy we were even in to start with.  People voted for that.  Not only did people vote for that, but He moved people by His Spirit to come out.  And yet people who think they are better and know more than the plans and purposes of God have tried to intervene and tried to stop what God has decreed must happen.  And because man has put his hatchet on the line, and because man has tried to sabotage the engine of what God was trying to do, God has unfortunately had to bring down the axe of his judgement, and unfortunately it is going to bring a separation from us from Europe, whether we like it or not.  But unfortunately, it is going to be costly and it is going to bring our nation to a place of humility.

Humbling Nation and Church

You see, God cannot heal our land until our land has been humbled.  “Unless my people humble themselves and pray… then I will not heal their land” [2Chronicles 7:14].  And this land must now come through a time of humbling.  This land must come to a place where it will call out to the Lord its God.

“It is a nation that is proud.  It is a nation that has become arrogant.  It is a nation that has thrown aside my laws and my precepts and thrown aside my Word and thrown aside my people, and thrown aside my church.  My church has forsaken my ways.  My church has forsaken my laws and my precepts and my holy Word.  They have moved to the left when they should have always been in my Kingdom.  They should have been teaching the Kingdom, but instead they taught the precepts and the doctrines and the philosophies of man.”

“And because of this, I must humble my church as well.  There are those that are following me, and they are following me with all their heart.  I don’t speak to them.  I speak to the church that takes my Word and brings mixture to it, and brings worldliness to it, and brings worldly philosophies and worldly ideologies to my Word.  No more!”

Humbling Government Institutions

“This country is going to humbled, and unfortunately the institutions which hold this country up are now going to have to topple.  The things that this country feels that it has sure foundations I am now going to take away”, says the Lord. “And I will tear away the veil of lasciviousness so this country will finally wake up and look up and see that I alone am God, and I will save all who call upon the name of the Lord.”

But if I feel God is saying, “Enough is enough.  They have had their time.  ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’  You have had your time.  You have had your chance.  You have had your warnings.  But you refused to listen, and you refused to relent, and you refused to repent.  And now, I do not want to do what I now have to do, but you chose this.  You chose to not follow me.  You chose to not follow the voice of the people.  You chose not to follow the leading of my people.  You chose not to follow the leading of my prophets.”

“And I am speaking now to the Government.  They have heard the voice of the prophets.  They have heard the prayers of the saints that have gone up for this land.  They know the petitions of my people, and they have ignored them.  And I tell you now, you will not ignore the voice of my prophets in this land anymore.  You will now come to a time of humility, and you will be humbled,” says the Lord.

“But I have plans for this nation.  Yes, she must be humbled, but I will bandage up her wounds.  I will take care of her, and I will raise her up, and I will look after her, and all of those that call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  And I will bring this country into the plans and purposes that I have for it.  And I have plans to prosper this country; I do not have plans to harm her.”

“But know this: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’  You have chosen to do it your way, and this night, the kingdom will be taken from you.”

Call to Watch and Pray

“But know this, my people, that my plans, my purposes, and the heart of the church praying for revival is now coming about.  But you need to hang on, and you need to hang on tight, because everything is going to be shaken, and all which can be shaken will be shaken.  And I will shake the hearts of man.  I will shake the institutions of man.  I will shake the churches of man.  I will shake everything, so that all that is left is pure and is holy and is righteous and gives glory to my name.”

“And this land will be called great again, not because of the greatness of man, but because of the greatness of my Spirit that sweeps this nation as this nation in humility says, ‘Sorry, Lord, we’re sorry; we repent, Lord.’  When this country, like it did once before in the Second World War, when they came to days of prayer and they humbled themselves and said, ‘God, we cannot do this, we need You to intervene!’, I intervened,” says the Lord.  “Those days will come again.  Those churches will be filled.  And again, my people will cry out, and the people of this land will cry out, and they will say, ‘Save us from what is happening!’  And I will hear their prayers, and I will bring my salvation,” says the Lord.  “Not just salvation of spirit, but salvation of your physical bodies.  I will save you from what is coming.”

“And the church at large, she is happy-go-lucky.  She sees the news, she sees the signs of the times, and she is blind to that which is right in front of her.  She is blind, and when this tidal wave comes, and it has now began, when this tidal wave hits this coast, she will go, ‘Well we never knew, we never saw this coming; God, why did you let this happen?’  And I say to you, church, I told you, I warned you.  You saw it in the papers, you saw it on the news.  You could not have been blind to it.  You knew it was coming.  Even if you didn’t listen to my prophets, you knew that it was coming.  But you chose to ignore it, you chose to brush it under the carpet.”

God’s Motivation

“And sadly, first, judgement must come to the house of the Lord [1Peter 4:17].  But I only judge that I may raise you up, that I may bless you, that I may help you to walk in the things that I have for you.  I am going to do great things in this land.  But I am sorry for what you are about to see come upon this nation.  I am sorry for what is about to happen to your government.  I am sorry about what is about to happen to the institutionalised church.  I am sorry about what is going to happen to your economic systems.”

“But I do this so that I may bring revival.  I do this that I may bring life to this dying country.  I do it that I may bring sanity to the insanity of this nation.  I do it that I may bring light to the darkness.  I do it that I may bring fruitfulness where there is barrenness.  Do not look with the eyes of man, and the eyes of mammon.  But look with the eyes of the Spirit, and see what I am about to do is a glorious thing and a great thing, for it will glorify me,” says the Lord.  “But it will humble man.”


No More Frivolity

So, in the light of, of that, one of the things that we need to do…  You see, I have been teaching on purpose for a while now about equipping the church about her walking in a place of faith, about walking in a place of intimacy in the things of God, about meditating on Scripture, about getting deeper and deeper into the things of God.  Because, if I had said two years ago what I know is coming, most people would run for the hills, most people would be frightened, most people would be terrified.  God doesn’t want His people in tumult and in terror.  He wants His people to be in a place of being stood on the foundation and rock solid.

And I am telling you now, everything is going to shake.  Yes, there will be some that will stumble, but you will get back up again.  But what is coming is going to shake us.  And this is why we cannot play around with this [tapping his Bible] any more.  We can’t do this anymore.  We can’t play around with the silliness of man any more.  We can’t do it.

And I tell you the truth, the day has now arrived where all of our nonsense is over.  Because you will look around and go, ‘But, but, but this,’ and ‘But that’.  It will mean nothing tomorrow.  It will mean nothing.  Because the only thing that matters is this [pointing to the pages of the Bible].  The only thing that matters is the kingdom of God.  The only thing that matters is that we are of a kingdom that cannot be shaken [Hebrews 12:28].  That is the only thing that matters.  It is the only thing.

‘What about my new hairdo?  Or what about my new car that I wanted to buy?  What about that mortgage I wanted to take out?  What about this, and what about that?’  Leave it!  Leave it!  Focus on the things of the kingdom.  Focus on the things of God.  Because unfortunately the time has now come.  And our days of frivolity, our days of just coasting in Christianity, our days of taking it easy and sunbathing in the glory of God is over.  It is over.

Holiness of the King

We are now coming into a new season, and it is a season of power.  But you see, when God pours out His power, there comes with it a season of responsibility.  I remember a pastor friend of mine.  He was around… he is still alive now, and he is in his 80s.  And he was, when he was a very young lad – so probably about fifteen, sixteen – his pastor had been in the Welsh Revival with Evan Roberts.  And so, he would ask him questions about the Welsh Revival.  And he said, “So, you know, what did you do all day?  I mean, how was it you were just stuck on the floor for hours?  What were you doing in there?”  Because back in those days they didn’t have smoke machines and lights and real awesome things going on, you know.  They just had a hymn, a thing, and that was it.  He said, “What did you do?”  He said, “Well, well really, when the holiness of God turned up,” he said, “you went to the floor, and you stayed there.  And you didn’t move.  You wouldn’t dare move.”

And you know, some of us are going, ‘Do I really want to see that in the church?  Do I really want to see that?’  I remember years ago, I said to God, “O Lord, send revival!  Send revival!”  And the Holy Spirit said to me so clearly, He said, “There will come a day when you will wish you had never prayed it.”  Because when you see the holiness of God, when you are in the presence of God in the flesh, the flesh in its current state cannot cope with the power and the presence of Almighty God.  When Isaiah was in the presence of God, he was like [bowing his head], “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!” And when the presence of God comes back to the church, it will be unendurable.  But it will be glorious!  Oh, it will be glorious.  And when you see the power of God moving…

And it is not dependent on a man’s name on a billboard.  It is not down to the great evangelist.  It is not down to Great So-and-so and Brother This and Sister That.  It is a time for our egos to be burned up.  It is a time to put that nonsense aside.  It is a time to put away all the ‘I want to be a great minister in the things of the kingdom of God, I want to have my name etched in the annals of history’.  Forget it!  Because we are not here for us.  But we are here to serve the purposes of the King.  That is all we are here for.  We are here to serve our glorious, mighty, mighty King.

Dream of Fire on the Coastlands

I remember one of the first dreams that God ever gave me was:

I was walking down the south coast, and I saw this big hurricane-type thing, tornado thing, coming in off the, out of the sea and onto the land.  And on the land were all these beach huts just arched around the south coast.  And this column of wind turned into a column of fire, and it just [clapping his hands together] smashed into all these beach huts.  And these beach huts were all the ministries and all the churches and all the institutions that were built in the name of Jesus but were actually built in the name and for the glory of man.  And [clapping his hands together] one by one by one, they were disintegrated and vaporised by the heat of God’s power and God’s glory.  And I ran for my life, and I could feel the searing heat of this fire burning across my face as I had to get away from it, as it was consuming everything that was not of God.  All those ministries that claim to be of God, all of those churches that claim to be of God, He just burned them all up – [clapping his hands together] bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.  And then eventually, there was this house made of stone, down the end of the shore, and the cloud of God’s glory came down and descended upon it.  And the house was disappeared in all of this fire.  But then the fire lifted, and I was taken inside this house.  And as I was inside the house – it looked like a building like this sort of size [gesturing to his own surroundings] – and all the walls were encrusted in gems and gold and silver, because God had purified His church.  And it was the glory of God that purified His church.  You see, every single piece of diamond, every crustation of semi-precious stones and precious stones in the wall, is His people, that were all purified and set on display by the power and the glory and the majesty of God.

Grace, Holiness and Unity

And God is coming back to town, and He wants His church back.  And He is taking the hands of man off that which belongs to Him.  He is taking the hands of man off that which is sacred, and that which is holy.  God is bringing holiness back to the church again.  The days of running into church like the Flappers from the ‘40s, where we are just like, ‘Haha, I am just going to be exuberant, and like this, and I am just going to say it, and I am transgender! And all these things!’  When they come into the presence of Almighty God they will fall to their knees, and cry out, ‘Woe is me, I am before a holy God!’  And God will change them, God will save them, God will set them free.  And the lies and the philosophies of man will be dealt with, with a punishing blow.

We serve a wonderful God.  Jesus loves us.  The message of grace we have had for the last twenty years is a powerful, beautiful message.  But everything comes in seasons.  And the season that we have to move into now, because of the severity of what we are coming into, is…  We will always be under God’s grace, but we are moving into a new season, a season of holiness.  It is not just about the holiness of God.  It is about our holiness.  It is about us being separated to God.  It is about us learning to love one another, and accept one another, and not judge one another.  That we do all things in the light of His glory, and in the light of the revelation of Christ, and not our ideas.  You see, when you behold the glory of God, when you behold the vision of Christ, when you behold God in such a way that you know Him like that, when you look at yourself and you look at others, everything that you are pales into insignificance compared to Him.  And therefore, you are in no place to judge another believer.  You are all in this together.

And you see, this is the irony, is this will be what will unite His church.  This is all prophetic.  You see, this church is a Methodist church.  But it won’t be soon.  There are Church of Englands out there, there are Pentecostal churches, there are charismatic churches out there, there are Baptist churches out there, but there won’t be soon.  There will just be ‘the Church’.  Because all of those things will be torn down.  The Methodist symbol will be ripped down.  The Church of England will be ripped down.  The Pentecostals, we’ll rip it all down, because we are all in this together, because we all worship and serve the same God.  And as a sign of the times, of the end of days, the prayer of John 17 will finally come to pass, when Jesus said, “I pray that my people will be one, even as We are one”.

And we will see a new Church rise up.  We will see, from the destruction of all that we hold dear around us, from the destruction of what even we thought was Christian, as it all falls to the ground and lies doomed in ashes, then we see that building where the glory of God came on it, and then raised.  We see this wonderful, wonderful, beautiful, purified Church in resplendent glory, sharing and shining with the glory that He has given to His Church.  Because Jesus says, “The glory, Lord, that You have given to me, I give to them”.  And we are going to be a glorious Church.

The Great Lurch

And this will be the thing that will make us one.  We will be one people.  There will be none of this – ‘Oh, it’s that church’, or ‘Oh I go this church,’ or ‘My church is better than your church’ – there will be none of that.  Because we will all have the same enemy, we will all have the same fears, we will all have the same problems, and we can only pull through this together.  And this will be a time, a great lurch, as this country breaks free from Europe.  Because God is going to do it whether we like it or not.  And unfortunately, the way it is going to be done is going to be costly to us.  But as our nation lurches to one side and everyone falls over, and things start to shake, as we get up and rise up again, we will realise that as Christians, we cannot afford to do things by ourselves.  The day of wanting to build a name for myself, or you know, be the next Kathryn Kuhlman, or whatever it is, are over.  There is no time for this anymore.  There is no time for celebrities anymore.  Everything that we know will be gone.  The pop idols, all of that, will be meaningless.  Nothing.  Gone.  The only thing that will be idolised in this country will be that which should be idolised, and that is the name of Jesus.  Only He will be idolised in these upcoming days.

It is going to be a glorious time, church.  It is going to be glorious.  But it is going to be difficult, because of the things that we put our trust in.  Even things that we don’t know we put our trust in.  God wants us to trust in Him with all of our hearts.  And He wants us to love Him with all of our mind, all of our spirit, all of our soul, and all of our energies.  God is not judging us tonight.  He is not judging His church.  But He is warning us.  But He is also encouraging us.  Good things are coming.  Really good things are coming.

But a time of great shaking has now begun on our nation.  And you see, God does not want His people walking around like headless chickens, going [squawking] ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!’  No, He wants His people to, when the world is going, ‘What is going on around here?’ – and I am telling you, everything will lurch.  You know, what I see in my mind’s eye is:  Everything lurches so hard and so quick.  Buildings are cracking and splitting and things are coming tumbling down, and people are running in panic, wondering what is going on.  The institutions of this land are now going to topple.  And everyone is going to wonder what on earth is going on.  And the only people that should have it together is going to be us.  They are going to look to us, and it is like it says in Isaiah.  It says, many people will come to the Jew and grab a hold of him and say, you know, ‘You have the ways of salvation; you know the way of salvation – tell me! show me!’  [Isaiah 2:3; 4:1; Zechariah 8:20-23]  And that is what is going to happen.  But if you and I are running around like headless chickens, like everybody else…

You can’t say you didn’t know this was coming.  You can’t say that you weren’t warned.  You cannot say it.  You cannot, in good conscience, in your heart of hearts, say, ‘Well, you know, I just, I never knew that was ever going to happen.  I just never thought it was going to happen in my lifetime.’  Because you know, deep down in here.  You’ve known it.  You’ve all in this room, everybody has known it.  And you knew that the clock was ticking away – tick, tick, tick.  Everybody in this room knew it.  You might not have realised it was going to be coming so quick.  But this has been a long time coming.  A long time coming.  And I believe God has been gracious to our nation by holding it off as long as He could.  But it is here now, and it is here to stay.

A Heart For Britain

And this whole country is going to be a new country.  And it is going to be built on the back of prayer.  This nation is not going to be built on the back of labourers, or the cleverness or the wisdom of man, or the economies of man.  This country will be built on the back of the prayers of the saints.  It will be a united church that will bring about this nation’s rising again.  It will be on the back of this church.  This nation… You see, God loves this nation.  People have a heart for Israel, and rightly so.  But people lack a heart for their own country, and for their own people.  And God would have you know that He has a heart for this country.  He has a love for this country.  He has given our nation history that you should be proud of, a heritage of spirituality that has lasted nearly thousands of years in this country.  You should be proud of it.  God has an agenda and a plan and a purpose for this seemingly small and insignificant country.  And God has not forgotten this country.  God has a plan for this country.  There have been many great prophecies over this country.  This country is significant to the affairs of Israel in the future.  God has a plan.

But God wants you to see this land as also as your promised land.  God wants you to see this land as your heritage, your fair and green and pleasant land.  He wants you to get a heart and a hunger for this nation again.  Don’t look at it for all the filth, but look at it for what she once was, and what she could be again.  Look at it with the eyes of the Spirit.  Look at it and go, ‘Lord, this is what we contend for in the Spirit!  This is what we yearn for!  This is what we cry out for!  This is what we pray for, Lord God, that You would make this ancient land thrum with the energy of Your Spirit again, Lord God, as the people are praying and the people are praising and the people are worshipping, and there are churches from the top of this land to the very bottom of this land, Lord God, where people are singing and crying out and praying to You, and the land is full of little fires, all over the place, so the whole country is like a burning torch at night, as this whole nation thrums with the very glory of God.’

“You might say, ‘This is a load of rubbish!’  Well, I would say to you,” says the Lord, “read your history.  Read your history.  I have done it before.  And it stands to reason, if I have done it before, I will do it again.  For I am unchanging,” says the Lord.  “I am the same yesterday, and I am the same today.  I am the Rock, and I changeth not.  If I did it two hundred years ago, I will do it again.  But I am going to do it in greater measure.  Why?  Because there is more at stake.  There are more people.  I am going to give my church such a heart for the souls of this nation, that I am going to birth a spirit of intercession on my people.  But it will be an unnatural spirit of intercession, unnatural for your human body, in that I will enable you to do things in the Spirit that your physical body would not allow you to do.  You will have endurance that the physical body could not endure.  This will be a supernatural empowering of my people to pray for this nation.”

God is going to do some outlandish and crazy things!  The things that He is about to do in this nation, what we are going to do, this is how it is going to be:  In twenty years’ time, we are going to look back and go, ‘Man, we were clueless.  We just had no idea.  We thought we were clever.  We knew nothing.  We knew nothing!  We had no idea that God could do the things that He does now.’  Our God is a good God.  Amen?  [“Amen!”]  He has got a plan.  He has got a hope for us.  Hallelujah.  Glory be to God.

Praise you, Jesus.  Lord, we praise you, Lord, that You have a heart for this nation, Lord God.  You love this nation, Jesus.  You love this green and pleasant land.  You love this place.  You love the heritage she has for You, Lord Jesus.  You love, Lord God, the fact that this nation had communities of people that just prayed and worshipped and adored You.  You love the fact that the whole of the nation came together in prayer, Lord God, from the evil might of the Germans, Lord God.  You came, Lord Jesus, and You delivered us.  You love this land, and we praise You for it, Jesus.  We give You all the praise, and we give You all the glory.  And we pray, O God, let us not be a fearful people, but let us be a triumphant, victorious, brave and strong people.”  O glory, glory, glory, glory, glory.

Muslims and Persecution

God would also say this:  “There will come a persecution, but I will not permit it to get out of hand.  You will get persecution, and it will come from the Muslims, but I will not let it get out of hand.  I will protect my people, because all that which is shaken will be shaken.  You see, as the church provokes my people Israel to jealousy, you will be provoking Muslims to jealousy.  You will be provoking them with the reality that your God is real and theirs is not, and they will hate you for it.  But I will turn many to come to know me.  For I am going to tell you this:  I am going to break the back of Islam in this country.  I am going to break its back, that it will be a weak, feeble religion.  But I am going to do glorious things through those people.  I am going to do glorious things through those people.  But also, church, this is going to be a difficult time, because public opinion is going to move away from the Muslims.  At the moment, everyone loves them.  But the time is coming when public opinion will despise them.  And you see, my church, you have got to be very careful, because you are not allowed to judge or despise anybody.  But you must love all of mankind, and you must help the Muslim, as much as you would help the Englishman, as much as you would help the Jew.  You must help them.  When times of difficulty arise, you must help them!  But in doing that, you may incur the wrath of your own country.  You have a choice: you either go with your country and incur my wrath, or you do the right thing and you may incur the wrath of your people.”

For the Joy Set Before Us…

“These are going to be difficult times, but they are going to be the best of times.  It is going to be known as the golden age of the Church, when the Church comes into her fulness.  You are going to see things…  Well, put it this way, there is no reference point to what you are coming into, no reference point at all.  You will look back at ancient revivals and you will not find what you are looking for, because there is no reference point.  What is coming is so far beyond anything you have experienced or anything you have ever touched, seen or read or known about, that the revivals of the past will not be your reference point.  You will be in the deep end, just as much as they were, but you won’t drown.”

Hallelujah.  So be encouraged.  Be blessed, and forewarned.  You are prepared.  You are God’s Bride.  He loves you.  He delights in you, and He loves you.  Guys, He loves us so much.  He knows that He has brought a heavy word to us.  But what is coming…  You see, Jesus set His face like flint.  He knew what was coming.  But He looked beyond that, because He knew the joys of what was soon to come after that.  And that is how we as the Church need to be – set our faces like flint at what is about to come, but look to the joy of what is over the top of that.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

_  _  _  _  _  _  _

June 7, 2011

Amos’ Message of Hope and the Council of Jerusalem

Apologies for the infrequency of posts recently.  Study continues unabated, and in due course I will have managed to integrate properly the wealth of things I am learning about the Old Testament, enough to be able to publish them in a coherent way.  This brief post began as an observation I made during tutorials on the book of Amos, with the link to Isaiah 16:5 referred to by James A. Meeks in his recent monograph The Gentile Mission in Old Testament Citations in Acts, which I was reviewing at the time.  I trust it will provide some further clarity on the vision of the prophets.

As I have been teaching through the book of Amos, I’ve had to deal with a number of scholarly assessments which conclude that the message of hope in chapter nine has been tacked on to the end by a later ‘redactor’ of the book.  Such a conclusion assumes that prophets typically just preach messages of judgement against their contemporaries (hope is thought to weaken the impact of such a warning).  Such scholars also often place the beginning of the message of hope at 9:11 with the mention of David’s booth, but it undoubtedly begins earlier.

Verse 7 of chapter 9 clearly parallels verse 12 with their mutual message of God’s personal care for other nations in addition to Israel, and in fact both focus specifically on the idea of the ‘remnant’.  The eyes of the LORD on the sinful kingdom in verse 8 would remind the reader of the oracles against the nations in chapters one and two, each of which is destroyed for their sin, but when God holds back from total destruction in the case of the house of Jacob (9:8), this parallels God’s mercy on other nations too.  For example, just as Israel was brought out of Egypt from the house of slavery and through the midst of judgement, so Aram is described as being brought up from Kir, whither they had been told they would be taken into exile in 1:5.  The Philistines did not just originate in Caphtor [Crete or Asia Minor], but Genesis 10:14 says they were descended from a separate group in the area of Caphtor, the Casluhim, and Jeremiah 47:4 says they are in fact the ‘remnant’ of the coastland of Caphtor.  This would fit with the idea that like Israel was brought out of Egypt, so the Philistines had been brought out of Caphtor as a remnant to be settled in their own land.  Amos 1:8 says that the remnant of the Philistines will perish, but like the further judgement even on the remnant of Judah remaining after exile (Isa. 6:13), so I think this means further judgement on [but not annihilation of] the Philistine remnant, as Zechariah 9:5-7 teaches too.

The idea of a remnant from Gentile nations, epitomised by the remnant of Edom [or ‘Adam’ if pronounced slightly differently, meaning ‘humanity’ as James correctly quotes/paraphrases in Acts 15:17], is actually a theme of many prophets.  Before Amos, Joel had summoned all nations against Jerusalem, where God would enter into judgement with them and destroy their assembled armies as He had recently in the valley of Jehoshaphat (2Chr 20).  Amos then combines this idea of judgement on international armies (and their leaders) with the deliverance of even Gentile nations who suffered under their oppression, an idea that goes right back to Abram (Gen 14) who defeated an international coalition led by the king of Elam and recovered not just the remnant of his own people (Lot) but also the remnant of Sodom.  Abram was told he would rule over and thus become a blessing to all nations, and though his great-grandson Joseph was the first to model this, the promise combined with ruling over the promised land got its first proper fulfilment under David, who defeated and ruled over all surrounding nations with justice, even incorporating foreign nationals in his own army (1Chr 11:38 [cf. 5:10], 39, 41, 46).  The greater Son of David, therefore, would similarly defeat all nations who gathered against Jerusalem, and also the ruler of their international coalition (the alternative Messiah/anti-Christ), and would deliver the remnant of all nations from his hand.

Amos has been prophesying judgement on the entire nation of Israel and Judah (cf. 3:1; 5:5 [Beersheba]; 6:1), with a special focus on the northern kingdom of Israel.  This message of judgement has hardly a glimmer of hope from beginning to end (only 3:12; 5:3, 4-6, 14-15, 24; 7:1-6) so without 9:7-15 his audience would be left with the impression that God is indiscriminate in His judgements – what about the poor and needy, the righteous who have been oppressed by their rulers; will they perish also?  9:9 says that unfortunately they will all alike be taken into exile in the nations, but like grain shaken in a sieve the chaff will be removed but the good grains will remain.  9:10 clarifies that it will be the sinners who will die by the sword, rather than the oppressed.  Then when the exiles return to their land they will live in the rebuilt cities and enjoy the fruit of their vineyards (9:14), which is evidently the vindication of those oppressed by the wicked back in 5:11.

More than just the remnant of Israel, though, God’s interest is in restoring the remnant of all nations (cf. Isa 49:5-7), just as He had brought judgement on all nations as well back in chapters one and two.  In this context, therefore, the rebuilding of the ‘fallen booth of David’ does not seem to correspond naturally to the rebuilding of the temple as such, partly because David did not build the temple for the ark in the first place.  Some suggest that this describes the tent he constructed to house the ark before the temple was built, which was presumably where he ‘sat before the LORD’ in 2Sam 7:18, but again, worship does not seem to be the primary focus of this passage in Amos.  The significance of this ‘fallen booth’ idea can actually be perceived in the way the prophet Isaiah interpreted it just a few decades after Amos.  Isaiah shares many of the interests of Amos, both as regards justice and as regards the nations.  He also goes into detail about the ruler of the international coalition who will oppress all nations, naming this Elamite/Median king ‘Cyrus’ (Isa 13:17; 21:2; 22:6; 41:1-7; 45:1-3; 45:22-46:2; etc.), and it is because of this worldwide oppression that the remnant of nations will turn for help and justice to God’s true anointed saviour, the Son of David.  This is a theme that comes up again and again throughout Isaiah’s oracles against the nations also, as anticipated in Isaiah 2:2-4: messengers come from Philistia to seek refuge in Zion (14:32), the remnant of Aram are like the glory of the sons of Israel (17:3), Ethiopians bring a gift of homage to Zion (18:7; cf. Amos 9:7); Egypt is given a Saviour and Champion to deliver them (19:20-22) and therefore worship the LORD along with Assyria (19:23-25), the inhabitants of Ashdod on the coast recognise that they have no hope for deliverance apart from God (20:6), Edomites call to God’s prophet for news of hope (21:11), the Arabian fugitives are met with bread and water (21:14), and the LORD will restore Tyre after seventy years of desolation so that her profit is brought to Him (23:15-18).  It is in the description of the Moabites, however, that the ‘booth of David’ idea appears: the outcasts of Moab flee to Zion, because there “A throne will even be established in lovingkindness, and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; moreover He will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness.” (16:5)

Just as Moses had met with the LORD in the tent of meeting, the Tabernacle, and there received divine judgements with which to adjudicate for the nation (Ex 18:15-26; 25:22; Lev 1:1; 24:12-13; Num 15:33-35; Deut 1:9-18; 17:8-13), so David too met with the LORD in his tent of meeting, and this would presumably be where he would have received wisdom with which to adjudicate as the ‘supreme court’ of his nation (anticipated in Deut 17:18-20; cf. 2Sam 12:6 [from Ex 22:1]; 14:4-20; 15:2-4).  The responsibility of the Son of David to act as judge for His [and other] nations is clear in Isaiah 9:6-7 and 11:1-10.  David had prayed in Psalm 72 (title can also be read as ‘For Solomon’ – see 72:20) that his son Solomon would continue to judge in righteousness, and indeed Solomon received divine wisdom to do this (1Kgs 3; 10:1-10), metaphorically (and literally) repairing the breach of the city of his father David and building up the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down through David’s sin (1Kgs 3:1; 9:15; 11:27; cf. Ps 51:18-19 and Amos 9:11).  The ‘fallen booth of David’, therefore, refers to the failure of Israel’s kings to make righteous judgements on behalf of the poor and needy, a failure Amos ultimately blamed on Jereboam II (Amos 7:9-11), and its restoration will therefore bring justice once again to the oppressed remnant of Israel, and in fact to those of all other nations also.  Through her King, Israel will ‘possess’ the remnants of all nations, because all nations will acknowledge the authority of Israel’s King, and the nations will call on the name of the LORD as Gentiles, bearing allegiance to His anointed King yet not needing to become Jewish to do so.

It is this principle, therefore, that James was referring to in the Council of Jerusalem; he recognised that Amos’ prophecy not only spoke of Gentiles called by the Lord’s name despite remaining Gentiles (as Simon Peter had reminded the council – Acts 15:7-11, 14) but also spoke of the Son of David judging justly on matters concerning the Gentiles through His people Israel (hence this Jewish council’s authority to pass judgement on what Gentiles must avoid without putting excessive burdens on them to trouble them – 15:19-20).  The reason for this particular judgement was that [the books of] Moses were taught weekly in every synagogue throughout the Roman empire (15:21), and the laws God had laid down for all humanity (prior to the giving of the Law of Moses for Israel uniquely) were therefore already known to all Gentile God-fearers who attended synagogue: abstaining from the pollutions of idols (mankind is the only authorised image and likeness of God – Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2); being faithful to one’s sole spouse (as God established at creation – Gen 2:18-24); and honouring God’s only condition concerning the consumption of meat after the Flood by removing all its blood (Gen 9:2-4).  The Law of Moses would only be recommended for Jewish believers in the land, its original intended audience (cf. Matt. 5:17-20; Acts 21:20-26).  Of course, the other aspect of this rebuilding of the fallen booth of David, the restoration of the Messiah’s authority over all Gentile nations, was working justice for the poor, a key value that both Jewish and Gentile missions of the Early Church shared explicitly (Gal 2:7-10).

February 7, 2011

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Filed under: Exegesis,Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 12:41 am
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Nobody doubts that momentous things are happening across the Muslim world at the moment.  Tunisia, Egypt, and many more nations have been or are being shaken, and one dictator after another is being forced out.  Many are fearful of what this means for the ‘plate tectonics’ of Middle East politics and hence the stability of the rest of the world.

One other factor in this, though, that few have considered, is what God is doing in His Church.  In April 2010, the popular Californian church leader Francis Chan announced to his successful congregation that he would be leaving to pioneer afresh somewhere.  Then just over a week ago, Terry Virgo, leader of the worldwide NewFrontiers family of churches, also announced to his home church in Brighton that he had been feeling stirred like Caleb in Joshua 14 to leave his comfortable situation there (despite his age!) and join a small pioneering church in southwest London.  I have no doubt these are only the tip of the iceberg – significant church leaders across the world are feeling ‘untied’ and called to go out and pioneer once again, leading those who respect their ministry to follow their example and pull up their tent pegs.  It is time to go!

My daily Bible reading today is from Luke 19:33-38, a passage referred to by Terry on his blog as having been of some significance in recognising God’s new call on his life.  This excerpt comes from Jesus’ final journey towards Jerusalem during His first appearance to Israel as their Messiah, nearly 2000 years ago.  He recognised from Scripture that Jerusalem must behold its king arriving not in glory on a warhorse but in humility on a donkey.  Rabbis since His day have similarly noticed that Messiah’s coming to the Jewish people would be on a donkey if they were an entirely wicked generation, but on the clouds of heaven if they were a righteous one (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 98a).  Oh for the day when ‘all Israel will be saved’! (Romans 11:25-32)

In this passage in Luke, the disciples have been sent to find a donkey on which no-one has ever ridden, which is the obvious interpretation of the extra specification in Zechariah 9:9 that the donkey must be a colt (compare also Matthew’s report that both the colt and its mother were brought to Jesus – proof that the colt had not yet been ridden).  Luke records that the ‘lords’ of the colt objected to the disciples untying it, as Jesus had anticipated, and they responded as instructed – “The Lord has need of it.”  It now had a new lord, and its old lords had no authority to resist.

This parallels the same situation, though travelling in the opposite direction, that we find during King David’s departure from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives in 2 Samuel 16.  At exactly the same place on that mountain where Jesus would later mount his donkey(s), the servant of King Saul’s grandson and heir Mephibosheth brought to David two saddled donkeys “for the king’s household to ride”.  Mephibosheth himself had remained in Jerusalem, and was reported to be anticipating that his ancestral right to the throne of Israel would now be acknowledged by the newly crowned upstart, David’s son Absalom.  Instead, the true king David decreed that all Mephibosheth’s existing possessions were to be stripped from him and given to his servant who had chosen to remain loyal to David.

This is precisely what the Lord and King Jesus is now doing, both in His Church and in the nations.  His return to Jerusalem is imminent, this time in devastating glory, and He is in need of a fitting mount on which to ride on victoriously for truth, meekness and righteousness.  Just before He ascended bodily into heaven, He gave specific instructions to all His followers from that point on, to take the news of His deliverance from sin and death, and soon-coming global kingdom, to every nation on earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8; cf. Matthew 24:14; Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-32).  Just weeks later, Peter explicitly called his own generation of Jews to turn to their revealed Messiah Jesus so that they might in turn bless “all the families of the earth” and so prepare for the “times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:17-26).  The writer to the Hebrews again appealed to the same generation of Jews, who would soon be exiled from their land in AD70, to metaphorically ‘dwell in tents in the land of promise’ (11:9), joyfully accepting the seizure of their property in the land as they had three decades earlier (10:32-39) because it was not yet time to inherit that land promised to them.  The age of ‘Sabbath rest’ for God’s people will only come when God’s work is finished (4:8-11), that work He decreed for humanity in Genesis 1:28, set the stage for in Genesis 10:1-11:9, and provided the solution for in Genesis 12:3.

God’s work is to ensure that every people group on the face of the earth has been presented with the good news of Jesus’ coming reign over all the earth, so that when He does come He will have representatives in every land who can reign with Him on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).  It is God’s patience that has prevented Him sending His Son back to earth for the last 2,000 years.  Peter made this clear in 2 Peter 3:9, where he writes that the day of the Lord’s return in glory and judgement will not happen until ‘all’ nations have come to repentance, which is also why he urges believers everywhere to ‘look for and hasten the coming of the day of God’.  There is one and only one reason that Jesus has not returned sooner – the last people group has not yet heard about Him.  The sooner we get out and tell them, the sooner He will return, because that is what He promised: “This good news of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

That means that there are people groups in which Jesus has not yet been experienced as lord, on which He has not yet ridden, so to speak.  The time has now come for His triumphal entry, and He has need of every nation.  Yet many nations are bound in service to other ‘lords’, and Jesus is now sending His disciples ahead to untie them and prepare them for His use.  Their present lords will object to their people being ‘untied’, but if like Mephibosheth they hope to hold on to the authority they think they deserve, all that they have will be stripped from them and given to those who acknowledge Jesus as the true King.  Islam has bound many nations and peoples with a tight cord, preventing them from hearing the wonderful news of salvation in Jesus and His soon coming kingdom.  The time is now upon us for this cord to be loosed, for dictators to topple, and for the good news to be spread far and wide.

This is where the changes in the Church come into play.  Jesus is stirring the hearts of His disciples, sending them ahead of Him to untie peoples and nations, to break new ground, like Paul “to preach the gospel not where Christ is already named, so as not to build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'” (Romans 15:20-21).  Whether a leader has been serving for sixteen years or forty-three years, if they are hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches they will be feeling an urge to pioneer once more.  They must model how to do this, because from now on the pace of mission will increase to a rate never before known on the earth, and churches must learn an entirely new dynamic of equipping and sending workers into new harvest fields.  There is no time to lose, and any leader who resists what the Spirit is speaking individually to their own hearts out of a desire to hold on to their own authority will eventually have it stripped from them just like Mephibosheth.  Jesus will not endure any leader who is competing with Him for the hearts of His people.

May God confirm the words of His servants, and may the kingdom of His Son come quickly on this earth.

October 27, 2009

Promised Land in the New Testament – summary [I&NC #14]

One of the possible ways of reading the numerous Old Testament prophecies about a Jewish return from exile is to see it all as having happened already in the return from exile in Babylon [see  the first post in this series].  Jesus arrived over five hundred years after that return, so His teaching and the teaching of His apostles, contained in the New Testament, should reveal to us whether or not they considered those prophecies of return to have already been fulfilled.  As will be clear below, they actually not only believed the nation of Israel to be still in a condition of spiritual ‘exile’ that denied them secure and permanent dwelling in the land, but they also knew that the Jewish people would again be cast into exile.  This exile to all nations (not just Assyria, or Babylon) would be a far greater exile than the first one, but even this one would eventually be finished.  To fulfil His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God would finally bring the Jewish people back to the land of promise very shortly before the return of Jesus.

1.  The conquest of the land under Joshua was not the ultimate fulfilment of the inheritance promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Paul clearly taught that the Law of Moses had actually made the Jewish people ‘slaves’ to sin, and as slaves rather than sons they were not permitted to inherit (Rom 7:1‑25; Gal 3:23–4:7; 4:21‑31).  Hebrews taught further that if Joshua had given the Israelites ‘rest’ in their land, David would hardly have written to a later generation warning them that rebellion would disqualify them from entering God’s ‘rest’ (Heb 4:1‑11).

2.  Even in Jesus’ generation the nation was considered to be in an ongoing condition of exile.

Jesus taught His people using parables in order to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah that the nation would “keep on hearing and will not understand… keep on seeing and will not perceive” (Mat 13:13‑15; cf. 11:5).  Isaiah was told that his prophetic task was to harden the eyes, ears and hearts of the Jewish nation until the fulfilment of the curse of exile (Isa 6:9‑13; cf. 32:1‑4; 34:16–35:6).

3.  Jesus decreed another greater exile on the Jewish nation, a final one that would complete God’s judgement against the sins of all previous generations of Israel.

In fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy to the Levites of his generation after the Babylonian Exile (Mal 3:1‑6), Jesus arrived four hundred years later as the appointed judge of the nation.  In response to their sin and hard-heartedness He delivered the verdict that the nation was unforgivable (Mat 12:31‑45; 23:1‑28).  To prove that they were more wicked than any previous generation, He would send them further messengers whom they would persecute, and therefore God would be justified in bringing on that generation the complete punishment for the sins of both them and all their fathers (Mat 23:29‑36; Luke 11:49‑51; cf. Isa 65:1‑7; Jer 16:10‑18; Rom 10:20-21).  When there is a complete judgement visited on the nation for all the blood of the prophets shed from the foundation of the world, there can never be another such punishment meted out again (Isa 51:17‑22).

4.  Evangelism amongst Jewish communities will not be completed until Jesus’ return.

Although seventy disciples were sent out in pairs to prepare for Jesus’ arrival in a town during His ministry (Luke 10:1‑17), Jesus also sent out the Twelve with a specific commission to the Jews (Luke 9:1‑10; Mat 10:11‑42), because they will be given authority over the twelve tribes of Israel when Jesus returns (Luke 22:28‑30).  Their commission, therefore, while similar to that of the seventy, concerned specifically Jewish communities (Mat 10:5‑6, 23), within and presumably beyond the land of Israel also.  They were told that this specific focus for preaching the Gospel would not finish “until the Son of Man comes”, a phrase Matthew linked closely to the Second Coming (24:3, 27‑44; 25:31‑46).  This was also explained as being the result of Jewish hard-heartedness and persecution in city after city of Israel, and Jesus’ intention was to clarify to His followers that the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in exile (cf. Eze 34:11‑16) would not all be ‘found’ until the time of His own return.

5.  Gentile control over Jerusalem will come to an end when the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled.

Whereas Matthew recorded Jesus’ teachings about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and the Second Coming without differentiating them (Matthew 24:1–25:46; esp. 24:3), Luke recorded them separately, the Second Coming in 17:20‑37, and the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and exile in 21:5‑36.  Therefore Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and captivity and exile of the Jewish people (Luke 21:20‑24) has already happened and evidently continued until modern times.  Despite the obvious severity of the judgement Jesus decreed, He did explicitly declare that at a certain point Gentiles would no longer ‘trample under foot’ the city of Jerusalem (21:24; cf. Isa 63:17‑19), which must indicate that Jews will eventually regain control over Jerusalem.  The “times of the Gentiles” may be a reference to that period during which Gentiles control Jerusalem, but it would be better to understand it as the times in which Gentiles are the focus of God’s commission to His Church, which is suggested by the word “fulfilled”.  In the latter case, Jesus would be teaching that Jewish repossession of Jerusalem will coincide with the culmination of mission to the Gentiles.

6.  Israel’s national repentance will be prompted specifically by the reception of the gospel by all other nations.

Jesus taught that “the end will come” at the point when His witnesses have brought “this gospel of the kingdom” throughout “the whole inhabited earth” and “to all the nations” (Mat 24:14), which could be said to be the ‘fulfilment’ of the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).  He then instructed His witnesses to go from Jerusalem “even to the remotest part of the earth”, making “disciples of all the nations… even to the end of the age”, and in the context He was implying that only then would the kingdom be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6‑8; Mat 28:19‑20).  Paul explained this further, writing that Israel has been hardened temporarily “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”; then because of jealousy at the mercy shown to all nations, Israel would soften and “thus all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:11‑15, 25‑27, 30‑31).  Jesus indicated that this would be brought about particularly through the ministry of another prophet like Elijah at whose word the nation would turn back to God, ‘restoring all things’ (Mat 17:10‑11; cf. Mal 4:5‑6).  It is unlikely that this prophet is described in Revelation 11, where the two witnesses prophesy judgement against the nations, not salvation to Israel.  Although imagery is used from the ministries of Elijah and Moses, both prophets of judgement against unbelieving Gentiles and Jews, it is more likely that these two prophetic ‘olive branches’ are the Jewish and Gentile portions of the Church who are then resurrected as Jesus returns (Rev 11:4, 11‑13; cf. 13:7; Rom 11:17; Zec 3:8–4:6).

7.  Israel will be living in Judaea and Jerusalem when as a nation they welcome Jesus’ return as their Messiah.

Jesus regularly used the ‘fig tree’ as an image of the nation of Israel (represented by its leadership), to describe its fruitlessness (Luke 13:6‑9), its withering (Mark 11:12‑27), its destruction when dry (Luke 23:27‑31), and finally its softening and fresh leaves indicating His imminent return (Mat 24:32‑33).  ‘Sitting under one’s own fig tree’ was a common metaphor for being permanently at ‘rest’ in the land, particularly after exile (Mic 4:1‑4; Zec 3:8‑10; John 1:47‑51), so the images of softening and leaves coming out imply the beginnings of repentance and dwelling in the land respectively.  However Jesus also prophesied this explicitly:  In the ‘great tribulation’ immediately before His return, Jesus said that the believers living in Judaea would find travel on the Sabbath particularly difficult (Mat 24:15‑20, 29‑30).  Not only that, but He prophesied to ‘Jerusalem’ (both the city and symbol for the nation) at the very end of His public ministry that “from now on you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mat 23:39; cf. Luke 13:33-35).  Following the exile of the Jewish nation, the ‘desolation’ of Jerusalem’s ‘house’ (Mat 23:38; cf. Lev 26:31‑35; Isa 49:14‑21; 62:4), the nation would again see Jesus when as a nation they could welcome Him as their Messiah (cf. Mat 21:9).  In fact, for the sake of these ‘elect’, He will shorten the days of their ‘great tribulation’ (Mark 13:14‑20).  Peter also taught that national repentance was a condition for Jesus’ return (Acts 3:19‑21).

8.  Nevertheless, secure and permanent inheritance of the land for Israel will not be possible until Jesus returns, initiating the resurrection and restoration of all things.

Using a parable, Jesus taught His disciples that only on His return as King would He distribute territories within His kingdom to them in reward for faithful service (Luke 19:11‑28; cf. 22:28‑30).  When asked about the timing of the kingdom being restored to Israel, He acknowledged His Father’s plan to do this, but instructed His disciples to focus first on mission to all nations (Acts 1:6‑8).  Jews in the Early Church, including Barnabas, Stephen and the writer to the Hebrews, modelled and taught that in this age they must not expect to be able to hold on to their property within the land of Israel (Acts 4:32‑37; 7:4‑6; Heb 4:1‑11; 10:34).  Rather, they were to live by faith, whether they left their land to bring the good news of salvation inheritance to other nations also, or whether they chose to remain in their ‘promised land’ but live as if they were foreigners, ‘strangers and exiles’.  Choosing to return to other countries for the sake of security was not a valid option (Heb 11:15), but rather they needed to persevere by looking forward to their ‘better, permanent possession’ in that very land, in the form of a city and country being prepared by God and soon to be delivered from heaven (Heb 11:8‑16; Rev 21:10, 24‑27).  Paul associated the fulfilment of Israel’s promised gift of land with the salvation of all nations (Rom 9:4; 11:26‑29; cf. Zec 2:6-12).  He therefore recognised that Jewish and Gentile believers, as both natural and adopted ‘sons of God’, would inherit their apportioned lands at the same time, freeing all of creation from its slavery to corruption (Gal 3:23–4:8; Rom 4:11‑17; 8:14‑22).  This inheritance by every nation of lands bestowed from heaven by God is a large-scale fulfilment of what will happen at the same time on a small scale with each of us inheriting ‘heavenly’ resurrection bodies (Acts 17:26 with Deut 32:8‑9; Rom 8:18‑25; 1 Cor 15:42‑49; 2 Cor 5:1‑5). Thus ‘all things’ will be restored (Acts 3:21; Mat 17:11).

In summary of New Testament teaching, the promise of land inheritance made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and spoken about by the prophets has not yet ever been properly fulfilled.  This was because God chose to use the Law of Moses to harden the Israelites in their sin, making them unable with uncircumcised hearts to inherit as ‘sons of Abraham’.  Moses taught that God would personally atone for Israel, and reconcile them to Himself by making them jealous of His favour on the nations.  Jesus then came as the ‘seed of Abraham’ bringing blessing: fulfilling the powerless Law by becoming a curse for Israel, and dying to atone for the sin of Jew and Gentile alike, reversing the disobedience and death of Adam.  His resurrection is both the object of faith, by which all can be declared righteous, and the content of our hope.  Jesus declared the Jewish nation of His own generation to be unforgivable, decreeing that within a generation they would enter into an exile that would complete God’s punishment for all previous rejection of His messengers.  Witness to scattered Jews must continue, but their full repentance and inheritance would not happen before every nation on earth had also received the good news of salvation (resurrection, deliverance and inheritance).  At the end of the age God will begin restoring Israel to her land and softening her heart towards Him, using a prophet like Elijah, and even more importantly the jealousy provoked by seeing all nations accept her Messiah.  In the midst of the ‘great tribulation’ that follows the fulfilment of the times of the Gentiles, Jewish believers in the land will undergo persecution, but will be delivered by their returning King whom they will welcome as a whole nation.  The faithful from previous generations will return with Jesus, met by surviving believers joining them from the earth in a visible imitation of Jesus’ own ascension, and all will receive their resurrection bodies with Jesus.  After destroying the enemies of His people, Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth from Jerusalem.  Within this worldwide kingdom, the Twelve disciples will rule over Israel in their land, and Gentile believers will rule over every nation across the earth, each in its own territory as apportioned by Jesus [the new ‘Joshua’].  In this way all creation will be released into the glorious freedom of the ‘sons of God’.

October 20, 2009

Promised Land in Hebrews [I&NC #13]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 3:36 pm
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In this final exegetical post on the subject of the Promised Land in the New Testament, we will consider the book of Hebrews.  As we would expect, a book of the New Testament written specifically to Jewish believers does not neglect the subject of land inheritance.  However, as with all the other passages we have looked at in the Gospels, Acts, and Romans, the writer to the Hebrews situates the time of the inheritance in the future rather than the present.  There is a task of world evangelisation to finish before Jewish believers can finally receive the promise of the ultimate Sabbath rest in their land.  They must learn to live by faith as their ancestors did, welcoming the promise from a distance, because perfection will be attained only together with the full number of nations descended from Abraham by faith.

Hebrews 3:1–4:11 – After demonstrating that Jesus was not an ‘angel’ but flesh and blood like us (chapters 1–2), but before explaining three ways in which Jesus had made the Law obsolete (priesthood, Temple and sacrifices; chapters 5–10) the writer to the Hebrews first dealt with the question of the promised land.  He showed that trusting in Jesus is more reliable than trusting in Moses, who bore witness to future things (3:5), but whose generation died in the wilderness through unbelief.  Clearly Joshua’s generation had not fulfilled the prophetic promise of a permanent ‘rest’ in the promised land (4:8), because David and later prophets still spoke of a future time of restoration (4:7).  Furthermore, even in the present generation there was still ‘work’ to do (4:10), and the future ‘Sabbath rest’ for Jewish believers [as for those from every nation] was a promise that would only be inherited by trusting in Jesus [‘Joshua’ in Greek] ‘until the end’ (3:14; 4:3, 11).  Believers might still ‘today’ be disqualified from inheriting the promise through unbelief and disobedience (3:19–4:2), as had the generation of Moses who died in the wilderness even after being ‘saved’ from slavery.

Obviously the writer here is not saying that the promise of ‘rest’ has been withdrawn since the Mosaic Law has been abolished, nor even that it has been ‘spiritualised’.  On the contrary, the entrance into the land under Joshua is treated as the best example so far of a fulfilment of the promised ‘rest’, and if even Joshua’s inheritance of the land was not the fulfilment, how much less could Jewish believers in the mid-first century AD think that their generation was the final fulfilment.  The writer reminds his listeners that in earlier times they endured great persecution from fellow Jews, but “accepted joyfully the seizure of your property”.  The implication is that they should again be willing to give up their land in the present age, knowing that they will inherit “a better, lasting possession” (10:34‑35).  What makes the inheritance of land in the future ‘better’ is its permanence.

Hebrews 11:8-16 – Our writer has explained how Jesus has made the Mosaic sacrificial system obsolete, and furthermore how continued reliance on it is now actually evidence instead of unfaithfulness towards God’s new covenant, deserving of terrifying judgement.  He then returns to his earlier theme of future inheritance of the promised land, inheritance that is only ensured by faithful endurance in the present (10:32‑39; cf. 3:5–4:11).  This may involve accepting present seizure of property within the land of Israel, but we can be joyful in this because we have a greater birthright (12:16‑17), a permanent inheritance in the future.  With this, our writer recalls that the ages of creation were “prepared” by God’s promise, which made them without having to use pre-existent materials (11:3; cf. Isa 66:8).  What is more, not a single one among the righteous heroes of the past actually received their promised inheritance, because their ‘perfection’ will happen at the same time as ours (11:39‑40; cf. Luke 13:28‑29).  Instead they wandered homeless and persecuted, condemning the rest of the earth’s inhabitants by their faith, and looking forward to the resurrection (11:7, 13, 27, 35‑38).  In fact, such was their righteousness that this present world was not even a worthy inheritance for them (11:7, 16, 38).  The question is, then, what is the inheritance of which the faithful are worthy?

In 11:8‑16, our writer focuses attention on the physical territory in which Abraham wandered, the country in which his listeners were now living (cf. Acts 7:4).  If he had wanted, this would have been the ideal time to tell Jewish believers that the land was no longer important, that they should hope for a ‘different’ country, or perhaps ‘living in heaven for ever’.  However he says quite the opposite.  That territory is “the land of promise”, the place “he was to receive for an inheritance”.  If none of these people of God in this chapter have yet received what was promised (11:13, 39‑40), this means that Abraham will still receive this territory at some future point.  He then writes that Isaac and Jacob lived in tents also, as “fellow heirs of the same promise”, meaning that they too will receive this territory along with Abraham (cf. Luke 13:28).

What made their behaviour unusual was that they did not actually own any of the land in their own day (cf. Acts 7:5), choosing to live in it as if they were foreigners rather than heirs.  They “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the land”, and yet chose to remain there rather than return to the land from which they had left.  Clearly, they were wanting an inheritance, but they believed they were already in the right place.  Even so, it was not quite what they were looking for; they wanted a ‘better’ country, that is, a more permanent one (cf. 10:34), and they were prepared to wait right there until it was delivered (cf. Gen 26:1-6).  True to His word, God has been preparing a city for them, even a country, built not by their own hands but by God Himself (i.e. ‘heavenly’ – 11:10, 16; 12:22; 1 Cor 15:47‑53; 2 Cor 5:1‑4).

This is our own hope also, in every land on earth that we ourselves have been called to:  When we choose not to abandon the mission God has given us by returning to the country from which we left, it is because we are looking forward to God’s promised, prepared inheritance for us in the age to come – the very lands in which we presently live as strangers (cf. Gen 13:14-17).  On the other hand, we might choose to leave the land of our inheritance in order to help other nations receive their inheritance, just like the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh chose not to receive their own territories until the rest of the tribes had conquered theirs (Num 32:16-24).  They did not give up the hope of inheriting their land, but they postponed it for the sake of the rest of God’s people.  Heaven itself is not our inheritance; rather it is God’s workshop where He is preparing our earthly inheritance for us, “a better possession and a lasting one”.

In summary, therefore, we have seen how the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles all teach clearly that Israel will indeed permanently possess the territory promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the resurrection age to come.  This will happen after the Messiah returns, as a result of the whole nation of Israel being reconciled to their God when they see God’s mercy shown to the full number of Gentile nations.  Israel is not alone, therefore, in inheriting a promised land.  Paul saw that just as Adam’s sin affected all humanity and all creation, so Jesus’ obedience will bring restoration to all humanity and to every land on earth (cf. Acts 17:26), because by faith they too can become adopted ‘sons of God’ and the ‘seed of Abraham’.  The hope for every nation, and for every believer, is that as they move in faith to the place to which God has called them, God will grant them a permanent inheritance there in the time of resurrection and ‘restoration of all things’.  Thus ‘the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord’, for Jesus will be ‘the king of all the earth’, ruling from Mount Zion, the ‘city of the great king’ (Num 14:21; Psa 47; 48:1‑8; Mat 5:35; Rev 20:4‑9; 21:10, 22‑27).

The next post will offer a summary of the New Testament teaching concerning the promised land.

October 12, 2009

Promised Land in Romans, part two [I&NC #12]

The three chapters of Romans 9-11 deal with the biggest objection Gentile believers might have to his ‘gospel’ of first Jews and also Gentiles receiving the inheritance of salvation.  They explain why Paul can be so confident that his own nation will experience ‘salvation’, despite all present evidence to the contrary.  Within these chapters, the verses at the beginning and end of his explanation offer the clearest evidence of Paul’s conviction that the covenant of land remains in effect for Israel.

Romans 9:4 – So far Paul has presented thoroughly the gospel message that both Jews and Gentiles are equally slaves to sin, but to show His love God sent His Son to pay the penalty of death on behalf of both Gentile and Jew, so that both alike could put their trust solely in His resurrection and thereby receive the Spirit now and inherit ‘salvation’ in the age to come.  This promise of ‘salvation’ inheritance, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile, is undermined however by Israel’s apparent failure as a nation to confess their Messiah and so inherit their promises.  Paul’s solution to this problem is to demonstrate how God has purposely delayed the inheritance of Israel so that the spiritual descendants of Abraham might be first gathered from all nations, and only then will Israel, along with the elect of every nation, together inherit their promised lands.

Paul is very open about his ‘unceasing grief’ about the hardness of his own Jewish nation toward their Messiah, quite the opposite of those who presume unwisely that God has simply moved on to bigger things (11:25).  Although he is the Apostle to the Gentiles, he would prefer to be personally cast out from the Messiah’s people in order that they as a nation might receive their inheritance of salvation (9:3).  Not only is this what the Messiah Himself chose to do, but Paul is surely recalling the plea of Moses to this effect in Exodus 32:32 (cf. Deut 9:14).  Twice God gave Moses the option of allowing Him to destroy Israel completely and instead make a great nation of Moses himself, once when the people made the golden calf before they received the Ten Commandments (Exod 32:9‑10), and a second time when they refused to go in and possess their promised land (Num 14:11‑12; cf. Deut 9:13‑14, 22‑23).  In both cases, Moses appealed directly to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would multiply their descendants and allow them to inherit the promised land for ever (Exod 32:11-13; Num 14:15‑16; Deut 9:27‑29); if God didn’t do this, the nations would question God’s own power to fulfil His promises.  Such is again the situation in Paul’s time.

In response to the threat of destruction on Israel, therefore, Paul likewise appeals to God’s choice of the nation, listing a series of nine ‘advantages’ of the Jews (9:4‑5; cf. 3:1‑2).  Paul appears to have deliberately ordered this list according to the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery.  Thus he starts with their descent from ‘Israel’ (Exod 1:1‑7), followed by six specific gifts: their ‘adoption as sons’ (Exod 4:22‑26), the ‘glory’ (Exod 13:21‑22; 16:10; cf. 24:16‑18; Num 14:10), the ‘covenants’ (Exod 19:3‑6; 20:1–23:33; 24:3‑8), the ‘giving of the Law’ (Exod 24:1‑2, 12; 31:18; 34:1‑4, 27‑29), the [tabernacle] ‘service’ (Exod 25:1–31:11), and the ‘promises’ (Exod 32:13, 32:31–33:3, 12­‑17).  He then appeals, as Moses did within the section on promises, to ‘the fathers’ (Exod 32:13; 33:1), but takes it even further than Moses did, appealing to the Jewish descent of ‘the Messiah… who is over all” (cf. Exod 33:2, 12; 23:20‑23).  The precise order of these nine elements according to the book of Exodus, concluding with the very passage where Moses asks, like Paul here, that he be blotted out in place of the nation, is strong evidence of Paul’s meaning.  The ‘promises’ that were given to ‘the fathers’ are spoken of in this passage (Exod 32:13 etc.) specifically as the multiplication of Israel ‘as the stars of the heavens’ and their inheritance ‘for ever’ of ‘all this land of which I have spoken’.  The blessings on the nations are not referred to here, apart perhaps from the way the nations will doubt God’s love and power if He fails to fulfil His promises.

Therefore we have in Romans 9:4 a clear reference by Paul to God’s enduring covenant promises of multiplication of the Jewish nation ‘as the stars of the heavens’ and their eternal possession of the specific territory promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Sequence of Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11

Paul’s first argument against the idea that God’s promises have failed for Israel is that God is entirely at liberty to choose some and harden others.  Ever since Abraham, God has deliberately and consistently ordained that the most unlikely child will be the ‘seed’ of promise, independent of the actions of this chosen ‘seed’, simply to prove that it is all about God’s mercy rather than man’s effort (9:6-13).  Paul therefore has to address two objections to the idea that God has hardened the majority of the nation of Israel entirely of His own choice (9:14‑22; cf. Isa 64:6‑9).  The only reason he gives for this hardening is that God uses it to demonstrate His glory to those on whom He shows mercy, both Gentiles and the remnant of Jews (9:23‑29).

His second argument raises the question of why Israel who pursued righteousness according to the Law of Moses did not arrive at their goal.  His answer is that however zealous they were for God, they were trying to accomplish their own righteousness and so they stumbled over their own Messiah, who demanded that they put their trust solely in His resurrection (9:30–10:13).  Even the Law itself was meant to be observed by faith (9:32), because Moses himself wrote that the commands he was giving were not a matter of hard work; rather, people could only accomplish these commands by allowing the Lord their God to circumcise their hearts so they could love Him and live (Deut 30:6‑14).

His third argument concerns whether Israel has actually been told about this good news of the Messiah, as the Gentiles had.  His response was, ‘Of course!’  Many apostles had gone to Jerusalem and the Jews announcing the ‘good news’ that not only has redemption come for Israel, but the Gentiles can now also rejoice in the ‘salvation’ of the Jewish God (Isa 52:7‑10).  Gentiles have been told of God’s glory (Psa 19), and because they found the God they weren’t even seeking (Isa 65:1­‑2), He would use them to make His own people jealous, the very people who had made Him jealous by worshiping idols (Deut 32:16‑21).

His fourth argument applies the first argument more specifically to the present day; God has not completely rejected His people, because there is still a believing remnant [and by implication, there will always be such a remnant].  Paul himself is Jewish (11:1), and not only him, but as in Elijah’s time so at this time God has chosen thousands of Jews, entirely according to His own grace (11:2‑6).  As in the time of Moses, David, and Isaiah, God Himself had decreed a hardening over the majority of the Jewish nation, choosing a small selection to obtain righteousness (11:7-10).

Finally Paul comes to his fifth and greatest argument, that the nation has not stumbled so badly that they will not rise again (11:11-32).  Moses had prophesied that Gentiles would become believers precisely so that His own people might be made jealous and return to Him (Deut 32:21, 36, 43).  For this reason Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles, boasted to the Jews about Gentile conversion to try to make them jealous and perhaps save some of them (11:13‑14); he saw his own Gentile mission as a method of reaching out to Jews.  What Paul recognised was that God had enslaved Israel to sin in order to redeem Gentile sinners, and was now redeeming Gentile sinners in order to redeem Israel also; God has made all nations slaves to sin so that by His choice and power alone He can redeem them all (11:30‑32).  What is more, if God’s anger towards Israel was a blessing for all nations, His favour towards Israel will certainly bring even more blessing to all nations, in the form of “life from the dead” (11:12, 15).  Israel is promised not just ‘reconciliation’ when they return to their own God (11:24), but ‘life from the dead’ also – thus we can conclude that their national restoration will result in the return of Jesus and resurrection of all believers.

Romans 11:29 – Paul’s Gentile listeners were rebuked for being ‘arrogant’ towards the Jewish nation, whether believers or unbelievers (11:17‑18).  Gentiles must not forget that although they are now able to inherit the promises as adopted ‘sons of God’ and the ‘seed of Abraham’, the Jews are ‘sons of God’ and ‘seed of Abraham’ by birth, and will all the more naturally be restored to their own covenant promises (11:24).  The ‘mystery’ of the gospel  (11:25‑27; cf. 16:25‑26) is that Israel has been temporarily hardened to allow all nations to enter into the covenant also, but when the full number of nations are present, this will cause the whole nation of Israel to be ‘saved’, both from sin and into their inheritance.

Although Israel as a whole is presently far from God so that Gentiles can be saved, nevertheless, within the purposes of God the nation is still “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (11:28).  The reason for this is that God cannot and will not revoke either His gifts or His calling.  What are the gifts and calling of Israel?  The calling of Israel is to be a blessing to all nations, and the gifts are a multitude of faithful Jewish descendants and an eternal inheritance of their promised land [see discussion of 9:4 above].

I am convinced that Paul believed the promises to the Patriarchs of multiplication and territorial inheritance to have endured into the new covenant.  Although in writing to Gentiles he usually had no reason to defend the promise of land to the Jews, the letter to the Romans was a clear and important exception.  Even so, he certainly never claimed that Jewish believers such as himself had a claim to the promised land in this age, before every nation had received the good news.  Jews in the land, and probably even Jewish believers, did make such a claim, which was something even Jesus had to address (cf. Acts 1:6‑8).

If Paul were to write to a Jewish majority church, therefore, he would almost certainly have urged them to trust God for the future inheritance of the land rather than trusting the obsolete Temple system of Moses to qualify for inheritance in this age.  Enduring persecution from fellow Jews for rejecting the Temple was preferable to risking divine judgement for despising the Messiah’s greater sacrifice and priesthood, even if it meant the seizure of one’s family inheritance of land (Heb 10:34).  In every generation of Israel there had been the faithful remnant who had longed for the fulfilment of the promised inheritance, but had instead chosen suffering for the sake of the rest of God’s people.  God would certainly fulfil His promises, but not yet.  This is precisely the message written to the Hebrew believers in Israel probably just a few years after the letter to the Romans, as we shall see in the next post.

October 5, 2009

Promised Land in Romans, part one [I&NC #11]

The three chapters in Romans where Paul wrestles with the general unbelief of his own generation of Jews is actually a marvellous explanation of God’s sovereign purposes in this hardening.  Like the book of Acts, Paul recognises the Gentile mission as the reason why Israel has not yet inherited her covenant promises, but nevertheless he triumphantly reaffirms the certainty of fulfilment, because this fulfilment for Israel will itself signify the greater fulfilment of Christ’s inheritance of every nation for the Church.  In order to understand the flow of Paul’s argument, it is worth explaining briefly the situation that prompted the letter, and giving a summary of Paul’s reasoning up to the start of chapter 9:

Background to Romans

In the nine years since writing to the Galatians, Paul noticed that the massive growth of Gentile churches meant that the main theological question within churches comprised of both Jews and Gentiles had changed.  The decree of the Jerusalem Council confirmed that Gentile believers did not need to be circumcised (Acts 15:22‑31).  Instead, Jewish believers were quickly becoming a minority everywhere apart from the land of Israel, and as this religion became less recognisably Jewish, the question naturally arose whether Jews had any remaining significance at all in God’s purposes.  This question is still very common today.

The issue was most noticeable in the church in Rome, because Jewish disputes about the Messiah had led to the Emperor Claudius expelling all Jews in AD49 (cf. Acts 18:2), leaving an entirely Gentile church there.  Although Jewish believers did begin to return over the next few years (cf. Rom 16:2-4), the church there had changed unalterably, and tensions were introduced.  Jews boasted about their superior knowledge of God’s righteous Law, insisting on being teachers (1:17–3:20; 12:3), but Gentile believers criticised Jews for their weak faith when they continued to believe that eating certain foods or failing to observe Sabbath laws was sinful (14:1–15:4).

Paul wanted to visit Rome to teach into these tensions, but first he had to carry the gifts of the Gentile churches to their poorer brothers in Jerusalem (15:22-29).  He knew that this issue would only become more of a problem the longer he left it, but also that Rome, being the centre of wisdom and culture (1:14‑15), could positively affect the rest of the Gentile mission if they understood the truth (1:8‑13; 16:19).  He already knew a number of the Roman believers personally, both Jews and Gentiles, and he knew that there were some on whom he could rely to explain his arguments in more detail (Priscilla and Aquila – 16:3‑15; cf. Acts 18:2‑3, 26).  Therefore he decided to use his authority and well-known successes as the Apostle to the Gentiles to write boldly to the church in Rome and explain in detail the theological ‘mystery’ of Jews and Gentiles within God’s purposes (15:15‑19; 16:25‑26).

Paul knew that understanding this ‘good news’ was the solution to the unity problems; it would help the Gentiles to give due respect to God’s choice of the Jews first (1:16; 2:9‑10; 3:1‑2; 15:8‑9; cf. 11:16; Eph 1:12‑13; Jas 1:18; Rev 14:1‑5), but also help the Jews to stop boasting in the obsolete Law of Moses and walk in the freedom of the Spirit.  But how could Paul defend the ‘good news’ that God is able to bring ‘salvation’ first to the Jews (1:16), when the nation of Israel had obviously rejected their promised Messiah?  Perhaps He had passed over the Jews now that He had bigger plans; perhaps His commitment to them had failed (3:1‑4; 9:6; 11:1)?  Paul had no choice, therefore, but to tackle head on the question of God’s purposes for Israel as a nation.  If God couldn’t even reconcile His own Jewish nation to Himself, and so fulfil His promises of a permanent land inheritance, Paul could hardly presume to teach other nations about their glorious hope of inheriting the rest of the world in the Messiah (4:13; 8:18‑25).

Brief summary of Paul’s reasoning in Romans

What follows is a summary of the ‘mystery’ as Paul explained it to the church in Rome.  Israel’s inheritance of the promises made to Jacob is at the foundation of Paul’s entire argument:

The God of Jacob promised His people an eternal inheritance, but the holy Law He gave them through Moses before they entered the promised land instead made them slaves to sin just like the Gentiles, unable to inherit as ‘sons’.  God’s own Son therefore came as a Jew, so that by His obedient death He could legally free Israel from the Law’s power, dying in place of both Jews and Gentiles to pay for their sin.  Jesus was then resurrected, so that both Jew and Gentile alike could trust in God’s ability to raise the dead, and thus become righteous ‘sons of God’ just like Abraham, able to inherit his promised ‘blessing for all nations’.  The life of the Spirit that Jesus received began to spread, first to the Jews, and then, because of the temporary hardness of Israel, to nation after nation.  Eventually this life will ‘overwhelmingly conquer’ the death that Adam brought to all humanity and all creation.  Provoked by the mercy shown to all nations, Israel will finally return to God, bringing life from the dead and thereby inheriting her promises alongside every other nation, right across the earth.  For this reason, in the Church we should live out the ‘obedience of faith’, avoiding sin by the power of the Spirit, and showing love to others who are different from us, because this will demonstrate to worldly authorities and unbelievers the truth of God’s promises in Christ of harmony and ‘salvation’ for all nations together in the resurrection age to come.

Flow of Paul’s argument in Romans 1-8

Paul begins his argument by demonstrating to Gentiles that the Law of Moses is self-evidently accurate in its assessment of what is bad, and therefore comes from the Creator God (1:18‑32).  Gentiles are hypocrites, judging others for sins they commit themselves (2:1‑8, 14‑16), as Jews do also (2:17–3:20), meaning that Jews and Gentiles are equally sinners before God (2:9-13; 3:23).  The good news, however, is that God has displayed in Jesus’ death and resurrection a way of being right before God that does not depend on Law but rather on trust (1:17; 3:21‑22, 24‑30).

This doesn’t mean, however, that there is no longer any ‘law’ by which we must live (3:31).  Instead the ‘law’ we have to follow is the command to trust that God can do what He has promised and raise the dead (3:27; 4:3‑5, 22­‑25).  The Jews’ own ethnic father Abraham proved that being in right relationship with God did not actually depend on following Law, but rather on believing that God could raise the dead (4:1‑25), something Gentiles can now do as well as Jews.  Being right with God means Gentiles can share the Jewish hope of future resurrection inheritance, and the deposit of the Holy Spirit helps us make it through present tribulations while we wait (5:1‑11).  In fact, to prove His love for Gentiles and intention to include them in the Jewish hope of ‘salvation’, the Messiah died for them before they even knew about Him, while they were still ‘sinners’ (cf. Gal 2:15).

God’s plan to ‘reconcile’ every nation to Himself, using Gentiles themselves to spread the good news of life to others (5:11), was actually just like the way death had initially spread to all humans starting with one man, in fact, with just one action (5:12-19).  But compared with Adam’s sin, Jesus’ obedience accomplished even more, overcoming even the punishments that started to accumulate for Jews when Moses brought in the Law (5:13‑14, 20‑21; cf. 2:12; 3:25; Acts 17:30).  If His grace is powerful enough to atone for breaking the Laws of Moses, that still doesn’t mean Jews are free to keep breaking it (6:1-14; cf. 3:8, 31), because belonging to Messiah means recognising that His crucifixion was a payment for Jews breaking the Law, and we Jews are now made alive with Him in this new age of laws on our hearts (cf. Gal 2:19-20; 3:13; Heb 10:19-26; Isa 59:12-21; Jer 31:31-34).  Equally, Gentiles who were never under ‘Law’ in the first place, are also not free to presume on His death-defeating grace (6:15-23), because they used to be obedient slaves to sin but now have a new master, One who can give them far better promises than the ‘wages’ of death they used to get.

Paul then realised that the Gentile illustration of slavery to sin could be linked to the Jewish illustration of sharing in the curse-bearing death of Messiah which did away with the former age of habitual Law-breaking.  Therefore he turns back to his Jewish listeners (7:1), who knew well the illustration of the nation being ‘married’ to her God (e.g. Isa 54:1-8).  The Law of Moses had actually bound her to the husband of Sin, producing the offspring (‘fruit’) of death; the only way she could become married to Messiah would be for the old marriage covenant (Law) to be ended through her own death (sharing the shameful curse of a crucified Messiah in baptism), freeing her then to wed her Messiah (7:1-6).  The marriage Law wasn’t what produced death, but it was the husband Sin who used the Law to produce deadly offspring.  Therefore the nation of Israel (habitually unfaithful even beforehand) had been given in marriage by God to her chosen husband Sin, but God wed them using a holy covenant of Law.  This resulted in the situation where the nation realised she desperately desired another husband in order to produce righteousness, but having been married to Sin she was ‘sold in slavery’ to this husband because of the Law (7:7-25).  Even the individual Jew under the Law [or Christian without a true experience of grace] can testify to this desire for freedom from Sin and joining to Messiah.

That is why there is no longer any condemnation for the Jewish believer who does not obey the Mosaic Law – the new marriage covenant ‘Law’ of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jer 31:31‑34), in whom we are now ‘married’ to the Messiah, is evidence that we are no longer in our former marriage, bound by the Law of Moses to Sin and its offspring Death.  The holy Law could not change the Jewish nation’s uncircumcised, fleshly heart, by enslaving her to Sin and showing her the results of her rebellion.  Instead God’s own Son entered that marriage by becoming Jewish in the ‘likeness’ of that fleshly nation that was bound to Sin (8:3; cf. 1:3; 15:8; Gal 4:4‑5), and because He obeyed the different Law of the Spirit even to the point of crucifixion, the fleshly Law of Moses condemned Him (as an ‘adulterer’ breaking Israel’s marriage covenant with Sin – cf. Num 5:19-28) using the curse against ‘anyone who is hung on a tree’ (Gal 3:13).  As the representative head of the Jewish nation (i.e. the Davidic Messiah) He Himself suffered the holy Law’s curse on behalf of the whole nation (Gal 3:10, 13) and suffered the ‘exile’ of death as a penalty (cf. Heb 13:12-14).  However, although He was a Jew according to the flesh, He had never consummated Israel’s marriage with Sin to produce Death despite being faultless according to that covenant, and when He was still punished for breaking the covenant, He condemned Sin as the false husband, and His own representative death ended the old marriage covenant of the Law of Moses joining Israel to Sin (8:1-3).

The nation of Israel can therefore be faithful to her holy marriage ‘Law’, not the Law of Moses with Sin but the Law of the Spirit with her Messiah, and produce life.  Marriage ‘faithfulness’ (i.e. righteousness) is now found not through the Law of Moses, obeying Sin because of fleshly uncircumcision of heart, but rather through the Law of the Spirit, obeying Messiah because His Spirit has circumcised our heart and we are no longer ‘in the flesh’ (8:4‑10).  Believers, not unbelieving Jews, are those who truly observe the new ‘Law’ that has been given to Israel in Messiah (cf. Gal 5:13-26; 6:15-16).  We must therefore live according to the commands of the Spirit, who will ultimately cause us to inherit resurrection life as the true ‘sons of God’ and heirs of God, unlike unbelieving Jews (8:11‑14; cf. Gal 3:24‑26; 4:1‑2, 4‑5, 29‑30).  Not only are Jews truly ‘sons of God’ if they are led by the Spirit, but also Gentiles who were ‘slaves’ can be adopted as ‘sons of God’ and ‘co-heirs’, if they are led by the Spirit (8:14‑15; cf. Gal 3:26-29; 4:3, 5-8; 5:1-6).

Having returned now to his earlier focus on what ‘salvation’ means – the resurrection life that Gentiles and Jews will both inherit (cf. 5:2-10), Paul expands on this hope of inheritance.  The coming ‘restoration of all things’ will happen at the time we are all alike ‘adopted’ as fully mature heirs of God and receive resurrection (8:23; cf. Gal 4:1‑2), and it will include all of creation, not just our own physical bodies.  In the meantime we must rely on the Spirit to endure our temporary present persecution, being confident that no persecution can prevent us from eventually receiving “all things” as our inheritance (8:17‑39).

Paul quotes here from Psalm 44, a psalm which recalls how ‘in the days of old’ God Himself ‘planted’ Israel in her land without her help.  Now, though, He has apparently rejected His people, scattering them into exile so that the Gentiles mock and revile them.  The psalmist protests that the righteous within Israel have not turned away from God, but calls on Him to redeem the nation for His own sake.  Evidently Paul is conscious of His own nation’s wickedness and imminent judgement, even though there is a suffering righteous remnant who have accepted their Messiah’s new covenant.  In the face of Israel’s hardness of heart, however, Paul is for some reason still able to rejoice (8:37) in hope that God will again redeem Israel and plant them in the land of their inheritance, for His own sake, at that time when the rest of creation too is freed from slavery to corruption and all the ‘sons of God’ are revealed in glory.

The next three chapters of Romans, therefore, explain why Paul can be so confident that his own nation will experience ‘salvation’, despite all present evidence to the contrary.  Within these chapters, the verses at the beginning and end of his explanation offer the clearest evidence of Paul’s conviction that the covenant of land remains in effect for Israel.

October 2, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part two [I&NC #10]

Acts 7:2-53 – Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom might appear to some readers to be a vain attempt by a condemned man to delay the inevitable and prove that he was actually a good Jew who knew his Bible stories.  By no means!  In this sermon Stephen was expertly retelling the story of God’s people to religious leaders accustomed to putting themselves in the shoes of their ancestors.  By recounting certain features of their history rather than others, he was making a series of uncomfortable theological points, getting his hearers so increasingly riled that they finally covered their ears and shouted to drown him out, and stoned him into silence.  Perhaps it was the points made in this sermon that Paul [Saul] couldn’t get out of his head (Acts 7:58–8:3) as he sought to purge the land from the followers of this false prophet Jesus, one who taught that the Temple and the commands of Moses were to be done away with (Acts 6:11-14; cf. Deut 13:1‑15).  Here we will ‘listen’ to Stephen’s speech through the ears of first century Jews, by applying each story to ‘our’ own time:

7:2-8 is the story of the father of the ‘circumcision’ (the Jewish nation), Abraham “our father”, who was directed by God to move to “this country in which you are now living”.  However, despite the promise of this land as “a possession, and to his descendants after him”, ‘our father’ was given “not even a foot of ground”.  The first implication is therefore that although ‘we’ also, like our father, are living in our promised land, we will be given ‘not even a foot of ground’ to inherit, perhaps not for hundreds of years yet.  The second, subsidiary implication is that there will indeed be judgement on “whatever nation to which they will be in bondage”, after which the nation will be brought back in to worship God in their promised land.  This assurance of eventual vindication against the Greeks and Romans would hardly, however, make up for the clear warning that ‘our’ nation will soon become “aliens in a foreign land … enslaved and mistreated for [hundreds of] years”.

7:9-35 continues with the story “as the time of the promise was approaching” for fulfilment of the covenant of land for the descendants of Abraham.  First of all, ‘our fathers’ “became jealous of Joseph and sold him”, but “God was with him”, not only rescuing him from all his afflictions, but making him governor over the nations.  In a similar way, Moses, who was “lovely to God”, a “man of power in words and deeds” who was “approaching the age of forty”, was still “disowned” by his own brothers who objected to the idea that God might make him “a ruler and judge over us”.  Nevertheless, God “has sent” this same disowned wonder-worker to be “both a ruler and a deliverer” for his oppressed people.  The third implication is unmistakeable – this was a time when the Jewish people were expectantly looking for the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecies and the arrival of the Messiah (Dan 9:24-25), the One who would restore Jewish authority over the land.  However, despite being beloved of God and powerful in words and deeds, Jesus was disowned by His brothers who were jealous of the authority God had given Him to be their ruler and deliverer.  Even so, God delivered Him from all His afflictions and made Him ruler over both His own people and the nations.

7:36-40 focuses in on the reaction of the Israelite nation to their deliverer Moses while he was among them, as the time approached for the covenant of promised land to be fulfilled.  Moses performed “wonders and signs” not only at the beginning of his ministry but throughout the time of their journey through the wilderness, as a pattern for the “prophet like me” he foresaw whom God would raise up “from your brethren”.  Moses was not only among the congregation in the wilderness, but also received revelation directly from God through the ‘angel of the Lord’ who travelled with ‘our fathers’; thus he received not just the written laws recorded in the books of the Pentateuch, but also “living oracles to pass on to you”.  Even so, “our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him” and in their hearts chose slavery and idolatry instead, particularly after he was no longer visibly among them.  The fourth implication is a powerful denunciation of the way the Jewish nation had treated Jesus during His ministry and even afterwards, despite their expectation of an imminent fulfilment of the Messianic age.  Although Jesus proved Himself to be the ‘prophet like Moses’ with both His miracles and His remarkable ‘living oracles’, explaining and superseding the written Law of Moses, even so ‘you’ were disobedient to the voice of God revealed through Him.  ‘You’ denounced Him as your deliverer, and in your hearts instead you chose slavery (to the Roman authorities) and idolatry (of the Temple system), and all the more now that Jesus is no longer visible among you.

7:41-50 shifts attention onto the significance of the sanctuary and later Temple in God’s purposes for Israel.  In the days of Israel’s rebellion against Moses, they chose to make sacrifices to “the works of their hands” in which they rejoiced.  In response, God turned away from them also, and “delivered them up to serve the host of heaven”, because the sacrificial worship they made in the tabernacle was in reality made not to God but to the images that they themselves had made.  As a result, God promised to send the nation into exile in Babylon.  ‘Our fathers’ did actually bring that tabernacle with them into the land, but when David who had “found favour in God’s sight” asked if he could find a permanent “dwelling place for the house of Jacob”, God’s response was to deny any need for either a Temple or a permanent physical location for His presence (cf. 2 Sam 7:6‑7).  His son Solomon did build the Temple, but God repeated through later prophets His continued rejection of a need for Temple and holy place.  The fifth implication explains why Stephen was accused of speaking against “this holy place”, just as the fourth implication touched on how Jesus’ ‘living oracles’ superseded the Law of Moses and “the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:11-14).  More important than the sanctuary itself is the object of the nation’s worship, and just like ‘your fathers’, in your rebellion against God you are actually making sacrifices not to Him but to the glorious ‘works of your hands’, the impressive Temple full of your own self-honouring adornments in which you rejoice (cf. Luke 21:5-6).  God has no special attachment either to this building or to this place when it is not honouring Him, and He will remove you, like your fathers, into exile from the land.

In 7:51-53 Stephen has finished his retelling of Israel’s history and made his points loud and clear, and now in conclusion he makes explicit what had been implied, and condemns his hearers in language as vehement as any of the Old Testament prophets.  The reference to his hearers receiving “the law as ordained by angels” but not keeping it (7:53) may be a straightforward accusation of not observing the Law of Moses, which was traditionally said to have been delivered to Moses via angels, but it is also possible that the reference is equally an accusation of disobedience against the ‘living oracles’ that Jesus Himself brought to the people (7:38).  It appears that the Early Church recognised that the ‘angel of the Lord’, who interacted with Moses and led Israel through the wilderness (Exod 3:2‑6, 13‑17; 13:21; 14:19; 23:20‑23; 24:9-11; 33:1-3, 12-20; Isa 63:8-14; Heb 1:4–2:9; Jude :5; cf. 1 Cor 10:4; Rev 14:14‑16), was Jesus Himself in a pre-incarnate form.

In this sermon He had effectively accused the Jewish leaders of rejecting their appointed deliverer despite God’s vindication of Him, ignoring His miracles and ‘living oracles’ that superseded those of Moses, and worshiping the works of their hands rather than the God in whose Temple they trusted.  As a result God had decided they would be taken into exile and be mistreated in foreign lands for hundreds of years, not inheriting even a foot of ground in the land that God had promised to give to Abraham and to his descendants after him.  God did not need a building or physical location in which to dwell, and neither did He have to fulfil His covenant promise of land with that particular generation that rejected His Servant (cf. 7:45).  Stephen’s speech clearly teaches the covenant of land made with Abraham and his physical descendants, and despite prophesying judgement and exile on his own generation, he also implies an eventual return of the nation from exile to “serve me in this place” (7:7).

September 27, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part one [I&NC #9]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 9:13 pm
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It is interesting to note that the whole book of Acts, describing the Jewish mission to the Gentiles, is started by setting it in the context of the timing of God’s promised restoration of Israel’s possession of her land under her anointed King.  This restoration is referred to again in Peter’s second sermon in Jerusalem, which also mentions the mission to the Gentiles.  Finally, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin picks up on Jesus’ prophesied judgement on the nation but sets this within the context of the eventual inheritance of the land [we will deal with this speech in the next post].

Acts 1:6-11 – Having looked at the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27 above, the disciples’ question to Jesus in Acts 1:6 makes a lot more sense.  Often it is assumed that the disciples are still foolishly fixated on defeating the Romans and recapturing their territory, and Jesus has to turn their eyes away from themselves once again.  This is far from the truth.  On Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem approximately seven weeks earlier, He had responded to their assumptions that the ‘kingdom of God’ (the territory of Israel in their understanding) would appear immediately, by surprisingly reinforcing their ideas of judgement on enemies and territorial rewards, but simply postponing these until after His return.  Then at their final Passover meal together He promised them twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30).  At the same meal He made it clear He was going somewhere that they could not follow, but He would return and gather the disciples again to live in His presence.  He explained that if He went away to His Father, He could then send the Holy Spirit who would bring them permanent joy and authority (John 14:3; 16:7‑11, 16­‑29).  He then spoke in His prayer about accomplishing His assigned task, being given all authority, and “now” coming to the Father, all of which would have later reinforced to them the idea that Jesus’ death was the prophesied ‘going away’ to the Father (John 17:1-5, 11-13, 24; cf. Luke 23:43‑46).

Therefore when Jesus returned from death after three days, He had to try as best He could to clarify that this return wasn’t the one He had been talking about; “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)  But then He met the disciples and told them to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ He was breathing on them (20:22).  Later He spoke to Peter in Galilee about someone else clothing him and bringing him where he did not wish to go, which Peter may have initially interpreted as being ‘clothed’ with authority and returning to rule in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 15:22; Zec 3:1-7), for which he certainly felt unworthy and even unwilling (John 21:3, 15-18).  He therefore suggested John for primary leadership of the Eleven (20:21, cf. 20:15-17 and Luke 22:32), but Jesus said that He might well choose for John to ‘remain’ (in Galilee?) until He ‘came’ (back again from Jerusalem?); regardless of where John was assigned, Peter had to follow Him.  Clearly that conversation was reinterpreted subsequently more than once, but it is at least plausible that the disciples were quite confused about what exactly Jesus planned to do now that He had ‘returned’.

After spending some time in Galilee with the disciples (John 21; Matthew 28:10, 16‑20), Jesus returned with them to Jerusalem, and probably at that point, significantly during a meal (Acts 1:4; cf. Luke 22:28-30), He told them to stay here in Jerusalem from now on until they received the Holy Spirit “not many days from now”, something that He had said would happen after He had returned to the Father (John 14:25‑28; 16:7).  As they were probably unaware Jesus would be leaving for good within a couple of days, the most natural interpretation of His promise would be that having ‘gone away’ in death and sorrow (John 16:19-22) to His Father, He had now returned in fullness of joy, and once the Holy Spirit was received in a few days’ time it would surely be the fulfilment of His great kingdom established here in Jerusalem.  “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’”  Very good question.

In response, Jesus did not pick up on the issue of the kingdom being restored to Israel, which He acknowledged was an epoch that the Father had fixed by His own authority for a certain time (Acts 1:7).  Instead, He answered what they were really asking, that is, the question of timing, which had been puzzling them ever since supper in Jerusalem six weeks earlier.  His reply was that they would not be given precise timings (even as Jesus Himself had not been given them – Mat 24:36), but all that they had to know was that after receiving the Holy Spirit they would be sent out from Jerusalem to testify about Jesus “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Clearly, the time of them inheriting their kingdom and ruling from Jerusalem was not for now; they had a mission to accomplish first, and only when “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).  The rest of the book of Acts is therefore the beginnings of that mission to the ends of the earth, or at least as far as Rome, the centre of the ‘inhabited earth’; as Paul recognised, from Rome one would surely be able to reach even the furthest parts of the known world (Rom 15:20‑24; cf. Acts 28:23‑31).

Acts 1:6-8 is therefore both the most explicit recorded affirmation by Jesus of the future fulfilment of the Father’s promise of a territorial ‘kingdom’ for Israel, and also an equally clear clarification that the inheritance of this kingdom would only happen after the testimony about Jesus had reached the ‘remotest part of the earth’.

Acts 3:12-26 – In Peter’s second recorded sermon in Jerusalem, within weeks of Jesus’ ascension, we can sense his anticipation and impatience for the return of Jesus and the fulfilment of promised inheritance.  However here we also note a further element of the Early Church’s understanding about the end of this age.  Jesus had clearly declared to Jerusalem that they would not see Him again until as a nation they turned back to Him in repentance and welcomed His return with ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mat 23:37‑39).  It appears that the twelve apostles initially expected this national repentance to happen within their generation, ushering in the return of Jesus (Mat 24:32‑35), but they had not given due weight to Israel’s hardness of heart and Jesus’ promise of certain judgement and exile, nor to the size of the task they had been given in first reaching the ends of the earth.  Perhaps they saw the national repentance as the best means of expanding the task force to reach the ends of the earth, and this is indeed suggested in this sermon of Peter’s.

Peter used the ‘perfect health’ of the healed beggar as an ideal example of what will be possible for the nation as a whole if they put their trust in the name of Jesus, the one glorified by the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  If the people as a whole repented and returned, their sins could be wiped away, ‘times of refreshing’ would come from God (presumably the empowering of the Holy Spirit for mission to the ends of the earth), and ultimately God would send the Messiah Jesus back to His people.  Peter now recognised from the prophets how Jesus would have to remain in heaven “until the times of restoration of all things about which God spoke”.  This reference to the words of the prophets would undoubtedly have included the permanent inheritance of their land, about which almost every prophet spoke.  Peter does warn that there would be judgement against those who refused to listen to the message of Jesus, but then encouraged the people that the days they themselves were living in had been announced ever since Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 2:10).

Finally Peter explicitly cites the covenant that God made with the Patriarchs, emphasising that his (Jewish) hearers were the heirs of that covenant and the promises made through the prophets, and therefore for the Jewish nation first (before all other nations), God had sent His Servant Jesus to turn them from wickedness and make them a blessing to every nation on earth.  Although by this early stage Peter has not thought through the pragmatic and theological implications of Jewish mission to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:28‑29; Gal 2:11‑14), his passionate, hope-filled emphasis on this mission, even while preaching to his own countrymen within his own promised land, is an example for all believers in their respective nations.  It is clearly possible to believe unreservedly in the certain future restoration of a nation’s territorial inheritance, according to God’s covenant promise, and still be enthusiastically committed to gospel mission to every nation.  The fact that the former cannot happen before the latter is completed will no doubt motivate the believer to go to the nations!

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