James Patrick’s Blog

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.

September 17, 2009

Promised Land in the Gospels, part two [I&NC #7]

In the first post on Promised Land in the Gospels, we considered Jesus’ teaching about ongoing mission to Israel throughout this age, and His metaphor of the fig tree to describe Israel.  Here we focus on Jesus’ eschatological discourses, and on His condemnation of His generation to their final great exile to all nations that would finish just before their final restoration to their land.

Matthew 24:15-31; Luke 21:24 – The explanation of the ‘parable of the fig tree’ in the previous post is actually confirmed more explicitly by other teaching in the same so-called ‘eschatological discourse’ Jesus spoke while sitting with His four disciples opposite the Temple.  While this discourse is notorious for difficulties of interpretation, there are some points in it that would seem to be fairly clear.  Mark 13 does little more than summarise Matthew 24 with the inclusion of 10:17-18, but Luke 21 makes some more deliberate alterations, clarifying certain aspects of timing that Matthew had conflated when he grouped together all of Jesus’ eschatological teachings.

In Matthew 24:3 the disciples ask Jesus not only when the destruction of the Temple would happen, but also what would be the signs of His second coming.  The following teaching can therefore be interpreted as applying either to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 or to the Great Tribulation immediately preceding Jesus’ return, or to both.  Matthew seemed to associate the two events, but his main focus was clearly on what would happen immediately before Jesus’ return (as shown by the addition of other eschatological teaching after this discourse in 24:36–25:46).  The mention in 24:14 of the conclusion of mission to the Gentiles, after which “the end will come”, is followed by a warning to Jewish believers [cf. 24:20] living in Judea to flee when they see the prophesied desecration of the ‘holy place’.  This will be the start of “a great tribulation” unequalled since creation, and never to be exceeded again, and immediately after this tribulation there will be signs in the heavens and Jesus will return in glory.  This prophesied flight from Judaea is therefore unmistakeably situated within the days immediately preceding Jesus’ return at the end of the present age, in accordance with Zechariah 14:5.  The implication is obvious, therefore, that in those final days of the Great Tribulation there will again be Jewish believers in Judaea who have to flee from the desecration and persecution of the prophesied ‘man of lawlessness’ who has set up his throne in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Thes 2:1-12).

Luke, on the other hand, had in his research come to a clearer understanding of the distinction in Jesus’ prophecies between the imminent judgement on Jerusalem and Israel, and His more distant coming in glory, perhaps because he recognised through participation in Paul’s missionary journeys (e.g. Acts 20:1-6) that it would take longer than one generation for every nation to be reached with the gospel (cf. Mat 24:14).  He also recognised that Jesus had spoken clearly of the imminent judgement against Jerusalem using very similar language to his prophecies of the end of the age (cf. Mat 22:7; Luke 13:34-35; 17:22-25; 19:41-44; 23:28-30), which explains why Matthew had failed to differentiate them.  Luke therefore chose to separate the two prophecies about fleeing Jerusalem that Matthew had conflated, and recorded Jesus’ prophecy of the Great Tribulation flight [described above] earlier, in Luke 17:26-35.  That way the first century flight could be described in its proper setting in response to the disciples’ specific question about the destruction of the Temple, which did indeed come to pass shortly after the believers fled to Pella beyond the Jordan (Luke 21:7-24).  In 21:20‑24, therefore, Luke avoids speaking of this “great distress” of destruction and exile as never to be equalled again, because he knows that the Great Tribulation at the end of the age will be even worse.  Similarly, he leaves out what Matthew includes about the completion of mission to the Gentiles, because that will only happen at the end of the age.  Interestingly, though, in 21:24 Luke does show his clear understanding of the duration of this mission which he terms the “times of the Gentiles”, when he records Jesus’ prophecy that the exile of Israel and Gentile control of Jerusalem (“trampled under foot”) will surely finish before the end of the age that is summarised in 21:25-28.  The return of exiled Jews from captivity, and their recapture of Jerusalem from Gentile occupation, will coincide with that period of time, immediately preceding the signs in the heavens and return of Jesus, in which the gospel proclamation to all nations (“the times of the Gentiles”) reaches a completion.  Thus the situation described in Matthew 24, of Jewish believers again having to flee from Judaea during a time of tribulation, will be possible because the Jews will have returned to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem at the end of the age.

The best explanation for the return of the Jewish nation to the land of Israel at the end of the age, shortly before the return of Jesus, is that the land covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob remains in effect, and is approaching its complete fulfilment when Jesus returns.

Matthew 23:29-39 – Jesus grieved regularly over the hard-heartedness of Jerusalem, which epitomised what history showed from the time of Abel – that unregenerate people, even those of the chosen nation, always reject those who testify to the truth.  As Stephen preached [see coming 2nd post on Acts], both Joseph and Moses were rejected by their brethren despite being saviours, and Moses was assured by God that the people would continue to be rebellious after his death, bringing on themselves the judgement of exile (Deut 31:16-29).  Throughout the history of Israel in the land, the nation rebelled time and again after the death of righteous leaders (cf. Jdg 2:6-23), murdering prophets sent to them even within the temple itself (2 Chr 24:15-22), and in each case the judgement was oppression within their own land and exile from it.  Jeremiah the prophet, at the end of the Israelite monarchy, appealed to the people to circumcise their hearts and listen to God’s words, but exile was unavoidable (Jer 4:1-27).

According to prophecy, a remnant later returned from Babylon, and some wondered if this was the final permanent restoration that Moses and the prophets had foreseen.  Haggai knew, however, that still to come was a shaking of all nations who would then come and fill God’s temple with glory, establishing lasting peace (Hag 2:6-9).  Zechariah similarly prophesied that many nations would join themselves to the Lord and become His people, and only then would He “inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zec 2:6-13).  Malachi observed that the priests in the restored Temple were still rebelling against the Mosaic covenant that defined their role within God’s people, and warned them that corrupting that covenant would still bring on them the curse of exile (Mal 2:1-8).  However, as the final prophet in Israel for 400 years, he gave the nation an assurance that God would at least permit this ‘second Temple’ to remain until the time of the coming Messiah, the ‘messenger of the covenant’ who would test the priesthood intensely and bring on evildoers the severe judgement of exile, leaving ‘neither root nor branch’ (Mal 3:1–4:1).  Before the Messiah’s judgement, there would be a forerunner prophet, one like Elijah, who would give the nation a chance to repent, or else the land would be struck with the curse of exile (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6).

True to His word, God sent John the Baptist, a prophet like Elijah (Luke 1:16-17; Mat 17:10-13), to announce the coming of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus very clearly prophesied in Matthew 17:10-11 that there will be another forerunner prophet like Elijah sent at the end of the age to the Jewish nation, at whose words the nation will turn back to God in repentance ready to welcome their returning Messiah and the ‘restoration of all things’ (cf. Acts 3:21).  The first time ‘Elijah’ came to turn the hearts of fathers and children to each other, his prophesied rejection resulted in the land being struck with the curse of exile (cf. Mal 4:5-6); the second time the forerunner prophet will appear, at the end of the age, his message of reconciliation will be received by the whole nation, opening up the heavens again in a national and worldwide revival (James 5:17-18; cf. “all flesh” in Acts 2:17-21).  Because the Jewish nation have become counted among the ‘elect’, the Lord Himself will cut short the days of their oppression and vindicate His people (Mat 24:21-22; Mark 13:19‑20).

Fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy, Jesus indeed tested the priesthood intensely.  However the priest-led nation of His day had not changed their rebellious hearts, and knowing that they would do to Him what they had done to John, Jesus proclaimed His terrible verdict more than once over the leaders and thus the nation as a whole (Luke 11:39‑52; 13:32-35; Mat 23:1-39).  He set His face towards Jerusalem for the final journey of His ministry, knowing He too must be rejected there by the entire gathered leadership of that generation of Israel (cf. Mat 27:25).  Their blasphemy against His ministry, despite recognising it to be in the power of the prophesied Holy Spirit of the new covenant, was a sin that could no more be forgiven or atoned for – exile was now unavoidable (Mat 12:22‑45).

Jesus’ parable about his generation in Matthew 12:43-45 must be back-translated into Aramaic from Greek to be properly understood, because the word adamah can mean ‘the man’ in Aramaicised Hebrew or ‘land’ in biblical Hebrew.  Here Jesus is speaking of how the ‘unclean spirit’ of the Jewish nation [contrast ‘demon’ in 12:22-28] went out of their ‘land’ into exile in Babylon (‘waterless places seeking rest’).  However when it returned to its own land, it brought with it seven spirits more wicked than itself, and became worse even than the generation that had been exiled to Babylon.  ‘Seven spirits’ is an allusion to the seven wicked nations that God drove out before Israel under Joshua, leaving the land ‘unoccupied, swept and put in order’ (see Jos 24:11-13).  [Credit for this observation goes to Arkan Zaki.]  God Himself had come down to see if the prophets’ reports of wickedness were true, just as in the time of Abraham (Gen 18:20-21).  He saw that they were indeed worse than the generation that had been sent into exile in Babylon, so there would be no forgiveness for this generation even if they were to ask for it.

Not only that, but God had hardened that generation of the Jewish nation [forty years is God’s view of a ‘generation’ – Num 14:26‑35; 32:13‑15; Jdg 2:7‑19; 3:11, 30] so severely that the many Messiah-believing prophets and apostles and scribes He would send to the nation in the following four decades of God’s patience (Rom 9:18-22) would also be persecuted; such was God’s intention, that this generation would fully match every previous ungodly generation of their fathers (Mat 23:32).  In this way God could justly condemn that generation of Jews for “the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world” (Luke 11:50-51), and pour out His uttermost wrath on the rebellion of His people (1 Thes 2:16).  The exile that would result would be the most complete exile of their national history, and the destruction the Jewish people would experience among the nations would be paying her ‘double’ for both her own sins and the sins of previous generations (Isa 65:1‑7; Jer 16:18; Isa 40:2; cf. Rom 10:20-21).  They would drink from the cup of God’s anger, and drain it to its dregs, but when the Jewish nation had not even one person among them to stand up and be their leader, He would declare to them, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand … the cup of my anger; you will never drink it again” (Isa 51:17-22) – something that could not be said after the first return from exile in Babylon (cf. Isa 11:10-12).

God had promised that He would not destroy all of them (Isa 65:8-10; Jer 31:35‑37), but would leave a remnant in all the countries where He banished them.  This remnant would have to be persuaded to return to their land, first by ‘fishermen’ and then by ‘hunters’ (Jer 16:14-18), but the time would surely come when Jerusalem would no longer be trampled under foot by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24).  Even in His verdict of the uttermost wrath upon Jerusalem and the nation, Jesus still spoke of hope – there would be a time after the desolation of the land, when Jerusalem would “see” her Messiah returning and once more say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus is first recorded prophesying this on His way to Jerusalem from Galilee (Luke 13:31-35), but even while the crowds shouted out these words as He approached the city (Luke 19:37-38), He wept over it again because they ‘did not recognise’ who it was who came to them; “the things which make for peace… have been hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-44).  Matthew therefore records Jesus saying this once more to conclude His last public appearance to the nation in Jerusalem, when He passed His final verdict of judgement on the Jewish leaders – “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).

Although Jesus declared judgement over Jerusalem as representative of the Jewish nation [‘Jerusalem’ is only ever used as a metonym for the Jewish nation when they are dwelling in their land; cf. Isa 49:8-22], he also promised that she will see her Messiah return and welcome Him, and it is implied that this will happen after the nation is restored from exile (“your house is being left to you desolate … until” – Mat 23:38-39; cf. Dan 9:16-19).  Both the prophecy that ‘Jerusalem’ will welcome Her returning Messiah, and the conclusion of exile implied by the reversal of Jerusalem’s inability to see her Messiah (cf. Isa 54:4-8), indicate that Israel will again settle in her land.  The best explanation for this is that the eternal land covenant made with Abraham and the descendants of Jacob will be fulfilled at the end of this age.

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