James Patrick’s Blog

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’.

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September 5, 2009

The Law of Moses completely abolished [I&NC #4]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 7:29 pm
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New Testament writers clearly recognised that Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic covenant with all its regulations.  The death of Jesus paid in full the fines of the ‘old covenant’ and also served as the sacrifice needed to confirm the ‘new covenant’, as promised by Moses and all the prophets after him.  The old covenant which had been fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant had therefore become obsolete, and the destruction of the temple in AD70 demonstrated its abolishment.  This did not, however, include abolishment of the promise of land which had been given to Abraham and his physical descendants six centuries before the covenant through Moses.

Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus rejected accusations that He was intending to abolish the Law or the Prophets; He declared instead that He had come to fulfil and accomplish everything in the Law.  The equivalent would be if a fiancé was accused of trying to end his engagement, when actually he planned to fulfil it by marrying his betrothed; once the wedding happens, the engagement relationship is done away with.  Jesus didn’t break a single command of the Law of Moses, nor did He teach that any of the commandments be broken; rather, He accomplished the purpose for which it had been given, and was therefore authorised to establish a new law of the Spirit.  Throughout Matthew’s Gospel we find ‘fulfilment’ quotations, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures throughout His ministry (cf. 1:22-23; 4:12-16; 8:17; 21:4-5; 26:54-56; etc.).

Luke 22:20 – Just before His death, Jesus explained His coming death as establishing “the new covenant in my blood”.

Hebrews 8:1-13 – The whole book of Hebrews was written to urge Jewish believers to put their trust in Jesus for their future inheritance of promises, rather than in the Mosaic covenant for the present.  This is because Jesus has completely fulfilled and therefore abolished that covenant of Moses.  In this passage the writer expressly says that the establishment of a “new” covenant makes the first covenant “obsolete”.  That means the regulations (laws) of the first are also done away with:

(1)   Hebrews 4:14–5:10; 6:19–8:6 – The writer to the Hebrews carefully demonstrates how the Levitical priesthood, connected to the Mosaic Law, was weak and useless and has been set aside because now Jesus is our permanent high priest, according to an eternal priestly order.

(2)  Hebrews 8:1-5; 9:1-28 – The writer to the Hebrews here shows that the earthly sanctuary with its sacred objects and vessels of ministry, instituted through Moses, has also been superseded by Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly was just a pattern.

(3)  Hebrews 10:1-18 – The writer to the Hebrews explains that the third element of the Mosaic Law, the sacrificial system, has also been done away with once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus’ own physical body.  10:19-21 then summarises these three parts of the abolished Law.

Hebrews 3:1–4:11 – Before considering the above three ways in which the Law had been abolished, the writer to the Hebrews first dealt with the question of the promised land.  He showed that trusting in Jesus for inheriting the land is more reliable than trusting in Moses, because Moses bore witness to future things (3:5) and then died with his generation in the wilderness because of their unbelief and disobedience.  However, Joshua’s generation had clearly not fulfilled Moses’ prophecy 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 throughout the world (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 ‘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).

Obviously the writer here is not saying that the promise of ‘rest’ has been withdrawn now that 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 most plausible possible fulfilment of that promised ‘rest’ so far in the history of Israel;  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 (a proposal Jesus denied / postponed in Acts 1:6).  The true ‘Joshua’ (same name as ‘Jesus’ in Hebrew) was the promised One who would come at the end of the age to conquer the promised lands of all nations including Israel, and then assign to each nation their territory (Rev 2:26-27; cf. Psa 2:7-9).

The complete abolishment of the Mosaic Law in this era of the new covenant is further reinforced when we consider what the New Testament says about two further aspects of it – kashrut and festivals:

(4)  Mark 7:14-23 – In verse 19, Mark introduces an editorial comment of explanation into his account of Jesus’ teaching on washing of hands, noting that by this teaching Jesus “declared all foods clean”.  Such a wholesale abolishment of all the commandments about purity and kosher food from the Mosaic Law was evidently not immediately understood by the disciples.  Years later Peter was shocked that Jesus would instruct him to eat non-kosher animals (Acts 10:10‑16), and he appears to have initially interpreted the vision as purely metaphorical (Acts 10:28).  Some time later, he could still be persuaded by fellow Jews that the strict Jewish dietary laws must be followed even by believers (Gal 2:11‑13).  Nevertheless, these laws too had been abolished along with the entire ‘old covenant’ of Moses (Col 2:16‑23), and Paul was convinced that no food is inherently ‘unclean’ (Rom 14:14, 20; 1 Tim 4:1‑5).  Even so, he would be willing to eat only vegetables if it would protect a weak fellow believer from doing what he considered sinful (Rom 14:2, 15‑21).

(5)  Romans 14:5-6 – Paul similarly taught that the special commemorative feasts, or ‘Sabbaths’, instituted by Moses in the Law, were now a matter of personal conviction and no longer commanded for God’s people.  Festivals, beginnings of the month (‘new moon’), and Sabbath days (cf. Exod 34:18-27; Lev 23:1–26:2; Num 28:1–29:40) are described along with the rest of the laws of Moses as “a shadow of what is to come; but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:16-17).  Although Paul himself still chose to celebrate some feasts (Acts 20:6, 16), he and others interpreted the Jewish festivals as fulfilled by Jesus:
e.g. Passover – 1 Cor 5:7-8 (cf. Luke 22:15-16)
Firstfruits – 1 Cor 15:20
Trumpets or Jubilee – 1 Thes 4:16 (cf. Lev 23:24; 25:9; Mat 24:31)
Atonement – Heb 13:11-13.
Of course, when Jesus returns, He is perfectly at liberty to institute festivals that are associated with dwelling permanently in our lands, the first of which will be the ‘marriage feast of the Lamb’ (Rev 19:7-9).  In the present age, however, believers do not have an obligation to treat certain days as more holy than others, which includes even the weekly Sabbath.  Observing it is not wrong, but neither is it necessary, as Romans 14:5-6 clearly teaches.

More explanation will be given in later posts for which particular parts of the five books of Moses count as the ‘Mosaic covenant’ that was abolished, with clear demonstration of what Moses said about the reasons for this coming fulfilment and the introduction of the new covenant that would supersede it.

August 26, 2009

Interpretation of Old Testament prophecy [Israel & New Covenant #1]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 7:37 pm
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Peter declared that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20).  The standard view in the Church today is probably precisely the opposite – ‘every prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation’.  Nowhere is this more true than in discussions on the subject of the place of Israel today.  Political, religious and historical factors converge in a huge storm of controversy, and at the centre is the question of prophecy.

Christians know that God predicts the future, because the whole New Testament insists that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were entirely the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (Mat 26:56; Acts 2:23; Rom 1:1-4; 1 Cor 15:1-4; Heb 1:1-2; etc.).  Jesus believed that all the Old Testament Scriptures were about Him (John 5:37‑47), and after His resurrection He met with His disciples and opened their minds to understand how the Scriptures spoke about Him (Luke 24:25‑27, 44‑47).  This was the good news they proclaimed with such wisdom and authority that the Jewish leaders recognised they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:10‑13; 6:9‑10), and they also taught this message to Jews throughout the known world (Gal 2:7‑9).  Paul received the same insight into the ‘mystery’ of the gospel purely by personal revelation from Jesus; he was not taught it by the disciples, but they recognised that it had truly been given to him by Jesus in order for him to take this message also to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15–2:10; Eph 3:2‑11).

Since that time, the understanding has been almost entirely lost, of how the Old Testament Scriptures themselves “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Messiah Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).  New Testament writers frequently mention aspects of the interpretation of the Old Testament shown to them by Jesus, but without their bigger picture we are left trying to piece together just a handful of the most important jigsaw pieces.  Neither educated nor uneducated believers are now able to interpret the entire vision of the gospel through the Old Testament (Isa 29:11‑12; 42:18‑21); all of us who are waiting for the Second Coming have fallen asleep to the prophecies we hold (Mat 25:1‑13; cf. 5:14‑18; 1 Sam 3:1‑4, 21).  However we can be encouraged that in the days just before Jesus returns to restore all things, “the deaf will hear words of a book, and … the eyes of the blind will see” (Isa 29:17‑18; 43:8‑10; cf. Dan 12:1‑4).

There is no doubt that the Old Testament speaks a huge amount about Jewish people returning from exile to the land promised to Abraham.  However Christians interpret these prophecies in many different ways: (1) they were all fulfilled in the return from Babylon around 500BC; (2) they are being fulfilled today in the return of Jews to the modern state of Israel; (3) they will be fulfilled at some point in the future; (4) they are fulfilled metaphorically / spiritually by the Church; or (5) they will not be fulfilled because God is doing something else now.  Sometimes people apply a combination of these approaches to different prophecies, but ultimately it is all seen as a matter of one’s own interpretation.

One thing Christians do agree on, however, is that any interpretations must be consistent with the New Testament writings; there are verses suggesting that parts of the Old Testament are now ‘obsolete’ (Heb 8:13), and as no-one is really sure which parts are obsolete, it is safer to stick closely to the New Testament.  On the issue of the modern state of Israel, then, one of the most controversial questions is whether the promises of land apply to Jews today.  A common position taken by Christians is that the New Testament does not reaffirm the promise of land found in the Old Testament, and therefore we must assume it is no longer in effect since Jesus ‘fulfilled’ everything.

My intention in this next series of posts is to address this question of prophecy, particularly as it relates to Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) in the time of the new covenant.  I will look at to whom exactly the promise of land was made, what parts of the Old Testament were actually made obsolete by the new covenant, what the New Testament does not say about the promise of land being revoked, what the New Testament does say about the land covenant in detail (Gospels, Acts, Romans, Hebrews), what this teaching means practically for Jews, Palestinians and believers in the land of Israel today, and then how Moses and all the prophets teach exactly the same understanding of Messiah and His return as it relates to the Jewish people and the promised land.  I urge you as you read to examine the Scriptures for yourself to see whether these things are actually so (cf. Acts 17:11‑12).  May the Holy Spirit give us understanding as we consider the wonderful mystery of the gospel.

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