James Patrick’s Blog

April 18, 2020

Twelve Theses of Good News about Israel

Haj Ibrahim Ahmad Abu el-Hawa, Jerusalem clan chief, at 'The Big Hug', 24-06-2013, by Sarah Schuman-Flash90 F130624SS004 (web)

Jesus the Messiah chose twelve disciples to send into the world with His good news of the coming kingdom.  The Twelve were all Jewish, and were sent only to the twelve tribes of Jacob, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But through them and their testimony, the good news is now spreading to the remotest nations of the earth.

The Twelve carried the message that the God of Israel has been faithful to His covenants by sending the promised Messiah to Israel.  He will therefore be faithful to all the rest of His promises.  Even in that first generation, they began to see God reconciling humanity through Messiah – Israel and the nations becoming brothers again in the one family of God.  Their message of good news cannot be told without Israel being at its heart.

As believers in Messiah Jesus, we come together from different countries, denominations and backgrounds to think again about the good news of God’s salvation plan.  In declaring what we believe to be true, we do not represent any one church or ministry.  It is our desire to speak as members of the Body of Messiah, in connection with the Church worldwide and through the ages.

We stand with the rest of our brothers and sisters and confess our faith in the words of the historic creeds.  We affirm the classic expressions of biblical doctrine and belief, as they were formulated in different centuries to guard against unbiblical teaching.  In the same spirit, we offer these twelve statements as both good news grounded in the clear teaching of Scripture, and also a message that calls for a response.

In today’s generation, we are conscious that it is difficult to hold fast to the word of life, when the pattern of the world around us tries to make us conform to its ideas.  The Bible is much less familiar to Christians than it used to be, in many of our countries.  There are those who reject its authority, even within the Church, and who gather to themselves teachers who say what they want to hear.  To those who do not share our utmost respect for the Bible as the revealed, inspired and unbreakable word of God, we have nothing to offer here.

However, to those who share our desire to search the Scriptures and come to Jesus the Messiah to receive life from Him, we present the heart of the good news, as we have come to understand it from God’s word.  There must be disagreements among believers until that longed-for day when we all reach unity of the faith and of knowledge of the Son of God.  We desire to speak the truth in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  So we welcome discussion about any of these twelve theses, that we might come to a more correct understanding of God’s plans.

Paul was not ashamed of the good news, which he felt obliged to speak “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16; Acts 13:46), as did Jesus himself (Matthew 15:24).  If the message we bring does not sound like good news to Israel, the Jewish people, then it raises the question whether it is in fact the authentic good news.  We also therefore respectfully submit to the Jewish people this good news that we proclaim among the Gentiles, in case we might be running in vain (Galatians 2:2).

“Teach me Your way, O LORD, and I will walk in Your truth.” (Psalm 86:11)


Twelve Theses of Good News about Israel

A FAMILY OF

  1. We believe that Israel, the Jewish people, is the unique firstborn nation, still chosen and gifted and called by the Creator God to bless all nations.
  2. We believe that all other nations should therefore love and bless Israel.
  3. We believe that God’s family of nations, the Church, will be complete when all nations have joined the commonwealth of Israel, adopted equally by trusting in Israel’s Messiah.

FAITH,

  1. We believe that all the covenants made by God after Noah belong to Israel. This includes the new covenant that was made to fulfil the covenant through Moses.
  2. We believe that Messiah Jesus was sent only to the house of Israel, to confirm all the covenant promises to Israel, and for the nations to glorify God for His mercy.
  3. We believe that Jesus is the legitimate King of the Jews, heir of the authority given to Shem by Noah, and therefore King of Kings. As King, He is uniquely able to pay for the sins of His people, whether Jew or Gentile, and to let them share in His inheritance.

LOVE

  1. We believe that in the mystery of God’s plan, Israel and the nations will each arrive at their promised fullness only together with one other, so all nations rejoice with Israel.
  2. We believe that because the kingdom of God is at hand, everyone must repent and trust in the good news. The nations must repent for rebellion against Israel and Israel’s God, and produce the fruit of repentance by speaking and acting with love for Israel.
  3. We believe that the restoration of Israel to authority in the land of their ancestors was prophesied by Jesus and will be followed by spiritual restoration. The nations therefore have a prophetic duty to help Israel return to the land.

AND HOPE.

  1. We believe that Messiah will return to Jerusalem, the city of the great king, together with the righteous overcomers in resurrection bodies. The kingdom will be restored to Israel at that time, and Messiah will reign through the Church over every land on earth.
  2. We believe that Messiah will judge all the nations according to how they have treated ‘the least of His brothers’, meaning the poor, Israel, and all who do the will of God.
  3. We believe that the spiritual restoration of Israel will bless the world with life from the dead. The Messiah appointed for Israel will restore all things as the prophets spoke, so that all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.

Twelve Theses, According To The Scriptures

Theses 1–3: God will reconcile the nations with Israel in His FAMILY, through Messiah.

  1.  Israel throughout the Scriptures means exclusively the physical descendants of Jacob, who was also called Israel (Genesis 35:10; Luke 1:33; Romans 11:26). Israel is the same as the Jewish people (Romans 1:16; 9:3-4; 10:12-13; 11:1).

God called Israel “My firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), although it was a younger nation than all the others (Genesis 10:1-32; 36:31).  The Creator of the universe also calls Himself “Creator of Israel” (Isaiah 45:18-19; 43:1, 15), because of its unique origins as a nation (Genesis 17:17-21; Deuteronomy 4:32-38).  God chose this younger nation to receive the inheritance usually given to a firstborn son, which includes gifts, authority and ability to bless the other siblings (Genesis 27:28-29).  Israel’s king is therefore also God’s “firstborn”, because he is highest of the kings of the earth (Psalm 89:27).

According to the free choice of God, Israel is still beloved for the sake of their ancestors (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), regardless of whether Israel has accepted the good news of Messiah Jesus (Romans 11:28).  This is because God has given them gifts and called them to a specific purpose, and He will not take back His choice of Israel (Romans 11:29).  God called Jacob and his descendants (the people of Israel) to bring His blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 28:14)

  1. God chose Abraham, and gave him a unique privilege that his son Isaac then passed on to his son Jacob/Israel: “Cursed be those who dishonour you, and blessed be those who bless you” (Genesis 12:3; 27:29). God later spoke the same words over the whole nation of Israel through the non-Israelite prophet Balaam (Numbers 24:9).

The reason that other nations should bless Israel rather than cursing Israel is given in the Law of Moses – “You shall not dishonour God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28).  If God has given to His firstborn nation Israel the authority to bless, other nations can receive God’s blessing by blessing Israel (Hebrews 7:6-7).

Nations should bless Israel from an attitude of love, because God chose their ancestors, and this does not depend on whether they have accepted the good news of Messiah Jesus (Romans 11:28).  If both Jesus and Paul cried for the nation of Israel and wanted them to be comforted (Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 19:41-44; Romans 9:1-5), the nations who follow their teaching should also follow their example (1Corinthians 11:1).

  1. From one man, Noah, God has made every nation of mankind to settle over the entire surface of the earth, having determined their set times and the boundaries of where they would live (Acts 17:26; Genesis 10; Deuteronomy 32:8-9). All nations, including Israel, therefore truly belong to one human family.

However, all nations have rebelled against God, and He wants to bring them back into a right relationship with Him as children (Ephesians 2:19; Romans 3:9-23; Isaiah 49:5-6).  The word that the New Testament uses for God’s spiritually restored family of nations is the Church or Assembly (1Timothy 3:15; Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:21, 28; 1Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; see also Acts 19:32-41).  This picture word brought to mind all the tribes gathered together in the wilderness after being rescued from slavery (Acts 7:38).

The Church is a “mystery”, because it displays the wisdom of God that was hidden for a long time (Ephesians 3:8-10).  This “mystery” is that all nations are now invited to share with Israel the inheritance that God promises to His family (Ephesians 3:4-8).

Israel and the nations were kept separate and against each other during Old Testament times, but Jesus the Messiah of Israel removed the hostility between them by His death (Ephesians 2:11-16).  He preached peace to both sides, and reconciled them to each other by joining them as brothers into the same family of God (Ephesians 2:16-19).

Now, people from the nations, also called “Gentiles”, no longer need to be separate from Messiah, or kept out of the commonwealth of Israel, or strangers to the covenants of promise, or without hope, or without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).  Instead, the nations are brought near by Messiah, and can now join the commonwealth of Israel, sharing in benefits that still belong to Israel, without replacing or absorbing Israel.

The Church is therefore God’s creation of “one new humanity”, all the nations gathered around Israel (Ephesians 2:15).  Eventually, God’s redeemed family of nations will be complete (Romans 1:5; 15:20-21), when it includes a full number from Israel and also representatives from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 7:4-10; 5:9-10).  The Church will then rule and represent all nations before God (Revelation 5:10).

In the Church it does not matter whether one is Jew or Greek, cultured or uncultured, refugee or citizen, male or female (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).  Everyone is equally valued by God, because they are all adopted into God’s family in the same way (Romans 8:14-17; 9:4).  The way that people from both Israel and the nations can enter God’s family of faith is by trusting God to give them spiritual and physical life, because Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, was raised to life from the dead for them (Romans 4:13-24; 14:9).

Theses 4–6: God is FAITHful to His covenants so all people can put their FAITH in Him.

  1. The covenants and their promises belong to Israel, in the same way that the giving of the Law and the temple service belong to them (Romans 9:4). The covenants are formal agreements made between God and people, when God makes certain promises to them, and sometimes also requires them to obey certain instructions as well.

The covenant with Noah still applies to all humanity, because Noah is the ancestor of all humans alive today (Genesis 8:15–9:17; see Acts 15:19-20, 28-29).  This covenant was unconditional.

But the covenant with Abraham was passed on explicitly to his son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob, who was renamed Israel (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:4-8, 18-21; 17:7-14; 22:16-18; 26:3-5, 24; 27:28-29; 28:13-14; 35:10-12).  That means it applies only to the twelve tribes descended from Israel.  In this covenant, the only instruction that must be obeyed by Israel is that Israelite males must be circumcised (Genesis 17:9-14).  God has promised that the descendants of Israel will never cease to be a nation in His eyes (Isaiah 66:22; Jeremiah 31:35-37).

The covenant with Levi, Jacob’s third son (Malachi 2:4-8; see Deuteronomy 33:8-11), applies to those descended from Levi, and specifically to the priests descended from his great-grandson Aaron (Numbers 18:19; Exodus 6:16-20; Malachi 2:1-4).  Aaron’s grandson Phinehas also received from God a covenant of continuing high-priesthood that would apply to his descendants (Numbers 25:10-13).  God promised through Jeremiah that He will never break His covenant with the priesthood descended from Levi (Jeremiah 33:18-22), even though we now rely on a greater High Priest (Hebrews 7).

The covenant with David was that he would always have a descendant to reign on his throne over the house of Israel (2Samuel 7:11-16; 23:5; Psalm 89:19-37; 132:11-12; Jeremiah 33:14-26).  This covenant was also unconditional, even if David’s royal descendants did not follow God’s ways (1Kings 15:3-5; 2Chronicles 13:5).  When the angel Gabriel prophesied the birth of Jesus, he said that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 1:6-7; see Isaiah 9:6-7).  Therefore the covenant with David also belongs to house of Jacob, to Israel.

The covenant made with Israel through Moses is the only covenant that God said would be broken if people did not obey His instructions (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 9:15-17; Leviticus 26:3, 9, 15, 25).  The covenant of Moses specifically enabled Israel to live in God’s promised land (Joshua 23:16), so the exile of Israel from the land was evidence that the covenant of Moses had been broken (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Ezekiel 17:11-21).

At the time of the exile to Babylon, God promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”.  The new covenant would have its laws written in the hearts of Israel, dealing with sin as the laws of Moses could not (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Acts 13:38-39).  In this way it can fulfil the covenant through Moses (Hebrews 8:6-13; Matthew 5:17), because the purpose of this new covenant remains the same.  It enables the descendants of Israel to live in the land promised to them through Abraham (Leviticus 26:42, 44-45; Jeremiah 32:36-44).  So the new covenant also belongs to Israel.

  1. Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, became a servant to Israel to demonstrate the truthfulness of God, by confirming the promises given to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Romans 15:8). Jesus Himself explained to a non-Jewish woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).  He also told His twelve disciples to preach only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6, 23), and they continued to obey this command even after the Messiah ascended into heaven (Galatians 2:7-9).  As Peter explained to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed’.  For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:25-26)

However many promises God has made, in Messiah they are all confirmed.  Also through Messiah, God’s people glorify Him by declaring their agreement with His promises (2Corinthians 1:20; Galatians 3:22; Hebrews 6:11-20).  The Holy Spirit is also given by Messiah to His people as a deposit or down-payment, to guarantee that God will eventually fulfil all of His covenant promises of inheritance (2Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:12-14, 17-18).

All nations can now see that Israel’s Messiah has come to confirm all the covenant promises that God gave specifically to Israel (Acts 10:34-46; Psalm 18:48-50; 22:22-31).  If God has remained faithful to His promises to Israel, and overlooked their sins because of His mercy (Jeremiah 31:37), the nations can glorify God for His mercy (Romans 15:9).  The God who has shown mercy and faithfulness by keeping His promises to Israel, will also be merciful and faithful to promises that He makes with the nations (Ephesians 3:6; Matthew 28:18-20).  Yet God’s Light to the Nations is still the Glory of Israel (Luke 2:32).

  1. After the Flood, Noah blessed his son Shem with authority over his brothers, and therefore over all humanity (Genesis 9:26-27). Shem’s inheritance was then traced down to Abraham, who also inherited Shem’s authority over Canaan and the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:10–12:7; see 9:25-26; 10:15-19).  Abraham passed on his inheritance to Isaac, who passed it on to Jacob, who passed it on to all the tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:1-27).  As a result, Israel as a nation has firstborn authority to bless all other nations.

Among the twelve sons of Israel, Judah received the promise of authority over his brothers and also over all nations (Genesis 49:10).  From the tribe of Judah, God raised up David to rule all the tribes of Israel (Psalm 78:68-72).  God also made a covenant with David that the true king of Israel would always be one of his descendants (Jeremiah 33:17-26).  David’s descendants reigned in Jerusalem until the exile of Zedekiah to Babylon (2Kings 25:7), but even after the exile when kingship was not restored, careful note was taken of the legitimate line of inheritance from David (1Chronicles 3:17-24).

Genealogies preserved in Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38 both show Joseph the husband of Mary to be the legitimate heir of David, since tribal inheritance is always passed down through the male line (see Numbers 27 and 36).  Joseph claimed Mary’s son Jesus as his legitimate firstborn son (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-33, 68-69; 2:4-7), making Jesus of Nazareth the direct descendant of David according to the flesh (Acts 13:22-23; Romans 1:3).  Jesus was therefore proclaimed as the King of the Jews throughout His life, and He accepted this title (Matthew 2:2; John 1:49; 6:15; 7:41-42; 12:12-15; Luke 23:2-3; John 18:33–19:22).

The Bible teaches the principle that people die for their own sins (Exodus 32:33; Ezekiel 18:4) and that God will not kill the innocent or let the guilty go unpunished (Exodus 23:7; 34:7).  However, it is also acceptable for a parent to take responsibility for the wrong actions of his children.  Jacob claimed responsibility for Simeon and Levi’s violent behaviour although he punished them for it, and he expected to suffer personally for what they had done (Genesis 34:25-30; 48:21-22; 49:5-7; Joshua 24:32; see Job 1:5).  In the same way, a king is permitted to pay for the sins of his people, even when he himself is innocent (1Samuel 14:32-35, 38-41; 26:19; 2Samuel 14:5-11).

From David onwards, Israel had learned that the sins of a king result in judgement upon his whole nation, even including exile (2Samuel 21:1; 24:17; 2Kings 10:28-31; 17:21-23; 21:1-15; 23:25-27).  The prophet Isaiah recognised, therefore, that the righteousness of Israel’s coming king will result in reward for his whole nation, even including restoration from exile (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-10; 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 52:13–54:3; 59:15–60:9; 61:1-4).  The nation of a righteous king is permitted to share in His inheritance and divine reward.

Because Israel has legitimate authority over all nations before God, the King of the Jews is rightfully the King of Kings, “highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).  So when Jesus of Nazareth was killed for being the King of the Jews (John 19:19-22), He paid for the debts of both his own people Israel and for those from all nations who acknowledge Him as their king also (Colossians 2:13-15).  Since He was raised from the dead for being righteous, He also shares His reward with all who accept His reign (Romans 4:25–5:21).

Theses 7–9: Nations who LOVE God will show LOVE for Israel by helping them to return.

  1. God has a plan for the heavens and the earth, and before He founded the world He chose to bring everything together at the right time under the authority of Messiah (Ephesians 1:3-14). Parts of the plan about Messiah were hidden in earlier generations, but the mystery was revealed to God’s prophets and apostles, including Paul (Ephesians 3:1-10).  One part of the mystery was why most of Israel did not accept Messiah Jesus as their promised king when He first came (Romans 11:25; 1Corinthians 2:6-10).

The long discussion by Paul in Romans 9–11 explains why God’s covenant promise to Israel has not failed, even though it was the other nations rather than Israel who had accepted the good news that belongs to Israel.  Paul understood, from Deuteronomy 32:21 and the prophet Isaiah and other Scriptures, that God had always planned for Israel to be hardened in part towards the good news.  The purpose of this was that the good news would be offered to other nations also through the Messiah’s messengers (Isaiah 49:5-7; 52:15), messengers who were from Israel (Acts 1:6-8; 10:36-43; 13:47).

But God’s plan was always to bring the good news back to Israel through the nations (Isaiah 42:10-12; 52:7-10; 60:6), making Israel jealous for its own new covenant relationship with God that the nations have already experienced (Romans 10:19; 11:11-14).  All Israel will be saved as God has promised (Romans 11:26-27; Jeremiah 31:1, 34; Revelation 7:4-8), but it will not happen until the fullness of the nations has come in (Romans 11:25; Zechariah 2:11-12; Revelation 7:9-10).  Jesus prophesied similarly that Jerusalem would only be restored to Jewish authority when “the times of the nations are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

The nations experienced disobedience first, and then mercy from God through the loving communication of good news from Israel.  Now Israel has also experienced disobedience, and then mercy from God through the loving communication of good news from the nations (Romans 11:28-32).  Only together, Israel and the nations will be made perfect as God has planned (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 11:40).  Then those who sow and those who reap will together rejoice in the harvest (John 4:36), and all nations will rejoice with Israel (Romans 15:10; Psalm 66; 67; 117).

  1. The message proclaimed by both John the Baptist and Jesus was to repent and trust in the good news because the kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). Jesus said that He has come for those who recognise their need for repentance, and to them He shows the way to inherit God’s promised kingdom (Luke 5:31-32; 7:47; Matthew 21:31-32).  For Israel and also for the nations, repentance must happen before God has mercy and pours out natural and Spiritual blessings (Joel 2:12-32; Acts 3:19-20).  For that reason, preaching repentance is part of the good news that we proclaim.

Jesus also taught His disciples the prophecies of Scripture “that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in the name of Messiah to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  Nations, cities and congregations must also repent, not just individuals (Matthew 11:20-24; 13:41; 18:5-10).  Repentance is appropriate not just for collective actions that we have done recently, but also for what our ancestors have done (Psalm 106:6; Nehemiah 1:5-11; 9:26-37; Daniel 9:4-19).

Words and actions by the nations against Israel are often expressions of hatred and rebellion against the God who chose Israel as His treasured people (Exodus 5:1-9; 2Kings 18:28–19:37; Joel 3:1-8; Psalm 83; see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 26:18-19).  God has revealed that nations who serve Him will therefore humble themselves before Israel also (Micah 7:12-17; Isaiah 14:1-2; 45:14-25; 60:10-14; Jeremiah 12:14-17).

John the Baptist and Paul rightly taught that those who have truly repented will produce the fruit of repentance in their actions (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8-14; Acts 26:20).  Those who acted in ignorance, when they are instructed, respond with sorrow and earnest actions to make amends for the wrongdoing (2Corinthians 7:8-11; 1Timothy 1:12-17).  Nations who have sinned against Israel must therefore turn around and start to speak and act with love for Israel (Romans 11:17-20; 13:8-10; 14:10-12; 15:5-12, 26-27).

  1. Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies, and the Jewish people led captive into all the nations, beginning a time when Jerusalem would “be trampled under foot by the nations” (Luke 21:20-24). This happened in AD70, within the lifetime of those who heard Him.  But Jesus also said that non-Jewish authority over Jerusalem would last “until the times of the nations are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).  Whatever He meant by this phrase, it is clear that He prophesied the end of non-Jewish authority over Jerusalem.  He then spoke about “signs” of the coming return of Messiah (Luke 21:25-28), to connect restored authority over Jerusalem by Israel with the end of this age (compare Matthew 23:34-39; 24:14-20).

Jesus said that He would return when Jerusalem’s inhabitants can welcome Him in the traditional Jewish way, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:39).  This speaks of spiritual restoration before Messiah returns.  The prophet Ezekiel stated explicitly that the new covenant promises will be fulfilled for Israel only after God has brought them back “into your own land”.  This will prove to the nations that God is faithful to His covenant even when His people Israel have not earned His favour (Ezekiel 36:16-32).  Israel’s physical return to the land will be followed by spiritual restoration.

Out of a loving desire for Israel’s promised spiritual restoration in their land, the nations should help Israel to return to the land.  Nations should both hear and declare the promise of God that “He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock” (Jeremiah 31:10).  Jesus identified Himself as this shepherd (John 10:14-16), and promised to gather the scattered sheep of Israel from among the nations (see John 7:31-36; Acts 15:21; James 1:1), and also to add sheep from other nations to His flock (Isaiah 56:6-8; 49:5-13).  Isaiah prophesied that Israel’s King Messiah would be a signal for the nations (Isaiah 11:10-12), so that the nations then bring the sons and daughters of Israel back to Jerusalem (Isaiah 49:22-23; 14:1-2; 60:1-14).

Theses 10–12: Our living HOPE is for Israel’s king to return to judge and restore creation.

  1. Zechariah prophesied that Messiah will come to the Mount of Olives with all the holy ones to fight for Jerusalem, where he will become king over all nations (Zechariah 14:1-5, 9; Revelation 19:8, 11-16). So when Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives into the clouds, angels told His disciples that He will return again just as He left (Acts 1:9-12; see Daniel 7:13-14, 27).  This is why Jesus called Jerusalem “the city of the great king” (Matthew 5:35), which means the imperial capital city.  The Bible uses “great king” to mean an emperor ruling over other kings (Psalm 47; 48:2; Isaiah 36:4; Malachi 1:8-14).

Just before He ascended, Jesus explained to His disciples that God the Father has fixed a certain time when the kingdom will be restored to Israel (Acts 1:3, 6-7; Micah 4:8).  When His messengers have told all the nations about God’s appointed king, even to the remotest part of the earth, then that time will arrive (Acts 1:8; Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Luke 21:24).  Israel’s own king will return to rule all nations from Jerusalem (Luke 19:11-28; Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:20-23; 14:16-19; Acts 3:20-21).

But the victorious inheritance of King Messiah will be shared by “the holy ones” (Daniel 7:14, 18, 22, 27).  Israel will be ruled by the twelve Jewish leaders whom Jesus chose (Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 22:28-30).  Messiah will reign also over all other nations through His servants from those nations who are found worthy and appointed by God as rulers (Psalm 2:6-12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:9-10; Matthew 20:20-28; 1Corinthians 6:2-3; Ephesians 4:8, 10-12 + Psalm 68:18, 29-32).  In this way, the Church which is the nations joined to Israel, will receive authority from Messiah over every land on earth (Genesis 1:26-28; 9:1; Psalm 72; Amos 9:7, 11-12; Acts 17:26; Ephesians 1:20-23; 3:10).

Some of those worthy to reign with Messiah already died in previous generations (Luke 13:28-30; 20:34-36; 21:12-19; Hebrews 11:39-40).  They will be given new resurrection bodies like that of Messiah Jesus, when He returns at the last trumpet blast (Isaiah 27:13; Daniel 11:33; 12:2-3; Matthew 24:30-31; 1Corinthians 15:47-54; Revelation 20:4-6).  Other righteous overcomers who are still alive on that day will then also rise up with resurrection bodies to join Messiah in the clouds as He returns (1Thessalonians 4:13-17; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).  The hope of eternal life for those who follow Jesus is therefore not being disembodied in heaven, but reigning in life on earth with Him (2Corinthians 4:16–5:5; Romans 5:17; Matthew 19:27-30).

  1. Messiah will return not only as king, but as judge of all humanity (John 5:19-30; Acts 10:42; 17:30-31; 2Timothy 4:1). Jesus gave a plain teaching (not a parable) about His future role as judge in Matthew 25:31-46.  First, He taught that He will sit on His glorious throne (Matthew 25:31), which will be the throne of His father David in Jerusalem (Matthew 5:35; Luke 1:32-33).  All the nations will then be gathered before Him, and He will judge between them as if He were a shepherd separating sheep from goats (Matthew 25:32; Ezekiel 34:11-24).  They will be judged both as individuals from among the nations, and as whole nations (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41-42; 16:27; 24:7, 9, 14).

Those judged as righteous will inherit Messiah’s eternal kingdom throughout every land on earth (Matthew 25:34-40).  Those judged as wicked and cursed will have to leave the earth to share the place of eternal punishment prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41-46).  The reason for being declared righteous is that “whatever you did to one of these brothers of mine, the least, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

There are three correct ways of interpreting “the least of Jesus’ brothers”.  First, in Matthew 12:50, Jesus pointed to His disciples and said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother”.  Jesus’ brothers are therefore those who follow God in the way that Jesus taught, from both Israel and the nations.  Second, the description of what is done to Jesus’ brothers makes it clear that they lack food, drink, shelter, clothing, health, or freedom.  This obviously includes anyone who is poor or deprived, “the least of these” as Jesus calls them (Matthew 25:45).

Third, when Jesus speaks about His brothers, He must be speaking also about Israel as His natural relatives, just as Paul does in Romans 9:3-5.  Jesus was not ashamed to call Israel His brothers (Hebrews 2:10-12, 16; Psalm 22:22-23; John 4:22).  He probably had in mind Jeremiah 50:33-34, which applies a verse about the poor in Proverbs 23:10-12 directly to Israel who are oppressed by enemy nations.  Messiah is Israel’s Redeemer, advocate and shepherd (see Jeremiah 50:17-19; Job 19:25), so nations who do not treat Israel kindly for the sake of Messiah will be judged by Him and punished (Psalm 94:1-7).

However, expecting Messiah to judge the nations with justice is good news.  The nations look forward to this with hope and gladness (Psalm 67:3-5), because a righteous judge will make sure that righteousness and peace can flourish for everyone (Psalm 72).

  1. Creation itself is groaning and suffering, waiting eagerly to see the sons of God revealed, because then it too will be set free from slavery to decay and death (Romans 8:18-25). Jesus used the term “sons of God” for those who are worthy to be resurrected with Him when He returns (Luke 20:34-36).  Paul similarly said that “sons of God” are those who have been adopted into God’s family through the Holy Spirit, and now wait for their inheritance (Romans 8:14-17).

Inheritance will only come for Israel and all nations together (Thesis Seven).  This is why Paul later asks “if Israel’s rejection results in reconciliation for the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).  After talking about creation in chapter 8, “life from the dead” here points to the hope of not only spiritual but physical transformation, both for human bodies and for creation.  So we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel (Romans 8:26-27; Psalm 122:6-9; Luke 2:25, 38).

Peter preached hope to the men of Israel gathered in the temple:  When Israel repents and returns, God will send Jesus, the Messiah appointed for Israel.  He must remain in heaven until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke about from ancient times through the prophets (Acts 3:19-21).  Jesus connected this restoration of all things with a future coming of a prophet like Elijah (Matthew 17:11), who will restore the hearts of fathers to children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:5-6; see Luke 1:16-17).  Through Israel’s restoration, human relationships and righteousness will be restored.  But God will also make a new covenant of peace between humanity and the animals and plants they were told to care for (Hosea 2:18-23; Ezekiel 34:24-30; Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25; see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15, 19-20; 3:14-19; 9:2-5).

Israel’s final inheritance in their land, through the new covenant, is connected with a repeated promise for the whole earth.  When Israel first refused to enter their land, God agreed to forgive them.  In the certain hope of their eventual inheritance, He promised “as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:21).  This is connected with the Messiah’s righteous judgement and reign over all nations (Psalm 72:19; Habakkuk 2:14) and with the restoration of creation itself to life without death (Isaiah 11:9).


(c) 2019 James Earle Patrick

You are welcome to copy and redistribute these ‘Twelve Theses of Good News about Israel’ in any medium or format, either as just the brief summary points or in its full form with Bible references, provided that (i) it remains free of charge, (ii) appropriate credit is given to the author, and (iii) no changes are made to the title or text itself, except with permission from the author.  These theses are offered primarily for discussion and refinement among those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible for belief and practice, seeking unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Messiah (Ephesians 4:1-3, 12-16).

With thanks to C4I <http://www.c4israel.org/twelve-theses/> for permission to develop and refine these theses.

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.

April 21, 2010

How genealogies reveal the purpose of Chronicles

Genealogies are very important for revealing the purpose of texts in traditional societies, and in Chronicles this is particularly the case as they are drawn mostly from records not preserved elsewhere (unlike many of the narratives), and are therefore more obviously distinctive to Chronicler’s purpose.  Genealogies reveal lines of descent and inheritance of authority over one’s brothers, and the last person in the genealogy is usually the one about whom it is written (for example, Phinehas in Exodus 6 – cf. Numbers 25).  In this post we will look first at the message of the genealogical section, then at the narrative section, and finally draw these together with an explanation of the purpose of the book as a whole.

Genealogies

1Chr 1 introduces the following genealogies by gleaning from Genesis all the relevant passages that show Israel’s inheritance from Adam.  Then 1Chr 2-7 lists the genealogies of the tribes of Israel in order to establish which tribe has rightful authority over the others.  Judah is first (the leader is from him – 5:2) [2:3-4:23].  Simeon is listed next to show that his territory is mostly outside Judah’s now, at least since the time of David [4:24-43].  The two-and-a-half tribes (Reuben, Gad, 1/2 Manasseh) do not have the birthright despite Reuben being firstborn, because they were idolatrous and have been exiled up to the present [ch 5].  Levi is described in two halves, the first [6:1-53] designed to show that the distinction between the Aaronic high priesthood and the three Levitical divisions was actually officially recognised by David himself (note that the line of Zadokite high priests extends no further than the exile [6:15], unlike the line of Davidic heirs [3:17-24]), and the second to establish Levitical claim to certain cities in the land during this resettlement after exile [6:54-81].  Then the remaining tribes are listed (apart from Zebulun and Dan, who had perhaps not returned from exile?) – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim and Asher [ch 7].  Note that Ephraim’s inheritance of Joseph’s birthright is traced no further than Joshua [7:27], although evidently leaders of the Joseph tribes felt it their duty to live in the capitol even after the Return [9:3], in apparently very small numbers.

1Chr 8  then rehearses the genealogy of Benjamin again, this time mentioning their claim on the leadership of Israel (Ehud [8:6], Saul [8:33]), but also especially their claim over Jerusalem [8:28, 32], the city on the border of Judah and Benjamin.  Apparently Benjamin was insisting too on sharing territorial rights over the capitol along with Judah and Joseph [9:3-9] in the years following the return.  1Chr 9:2-34 considers on the other hand the justification for Levitical rights over Jerusalem, not only of priests but even of Levitical gatekeepers, and to support this, appeal is made to the appointments of Samuel and David [9:22] and the records of Nehemiah [Neh 11:3-19].  1Chr 9:35-44 is then a shortened recapitulation of Saul’s genealogy, as an introduction to the brief summary of his failed reign in chapter 10, apparently to reinforce the Davidic claim to leadership in Jerusalem.

Narratives

After the crowning of David, the first event described is the capture of Jerusalem [11:4-9], followed by an extended list of all the warriors of every tribe in Israel who supported David’s claim to the leadership [11:10-12:40], and who also agreed with David’s plans to re-establish worship of the LORD in Jerusalem [13:1-17:27].  This was done despite opposition from Israel’s enemies [14:8-17; 18:1-20:8] and despite even David’s own fallibility, shown by his sin in taking the census [21:1-22:1].  David himself established the Levitical responsibilities and priestly/Levitical divisions at the same time as establishing secular authorities over the kingdom [26:29-27:34], and he himself was entirely responsible for the plans and resources of the Temple even though Solomon built it [chs 22-29].  The message here is that the true son of David will fulfil all that was in David’s heart for the Temple and for priestly/Levitical worship in Jerusalem.

The account of Solomon brackets his building and dedication of the Temple (including the priests and Levites at their posts [2Chr 5:12-14; 7:1-11; 8:14-15]) with an emphasis on his wisdom [chs 1; 8-9] and the wealth and fame that followed the Temple building.  The warning to Solomon in 2Chr 7:12-22 is effectively a warning to all of Solomon’s heirs that failure to worship the LORD properly at the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually result in exile and the destruction of the Temple.  The following history of the Divided Monarchy [chs 10-36] describes the successes and failures of the various Davidic kings consistently as a direct consequence of their attitude and behaviour towards prescribed worship of the LORD at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It particularly emphasises those times when all the tribes assembled, even from the northern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem (e.g. Rehoboam [11:13-17], Asa [15:8-15], Hezekiah [chs 29-31], Josiah [chs 34-35]; cf. also Jehoshaphat [17:7-9; 19:4-11; 20:4-28] and Jehoiada / Joash [23:1-24:14]).  Even the sins of Manasseh were forgiven because of his renewed piety and devotion to true worship in Jerusalem [ch 33].

Explanation

Significantly, the beginning genealogy of Judah appears to be focused on defending the Davidic claim (of Elioenai and his seven sons [3:24]) over against others who were claiming authority over Judah and Jerusalem through descent from Perez’s firstborn son Hezron.  We would not have expected there to be a need in post-exilic Yehud [Judah] to defend the claim of the David to authority over Judah, let alone Israel, but the fact that his claim is defended has implications for our interpretation of subsequent narratives.  The Chronicler includes much material not found elsewhere about the links between David and the Temple, and many have suggested that he invented them simply to reinforce the importance of the Temple by appealing to David’s authority.  If in fact David’s claim was also not uncontestable, however, it is more likely that this material was drawn from actual records that would not be disputed; in a sense, the claims of both David and the Temple are being defended, so the historical evidence for their connection is meant to be mutually reinforcing.

Looking at the genealogy of Judah, the focus of the claim to leadership of this tribe is on the first of Judah’s twin sons, Perez, who in fact received the rights of the firstborn because his mother was Tamar, the wife of Judah’s firstborn son Er [Gen 38], and therefore Judah had effectively ‘raised up seed’ for his deceased firstborn [Deut 25:5-10].  The sons of Chelubai/Caleb, Perez’s third son, are traced to various towns and regions of Judah, and the only individuals highlighted are from ancient history (e.g. Hur and Bezalel [2:20], Othniel and Caleb son of Jephunneh [4:13, 15]).  The firstborn son of Perez, Jerahmeel, is traced through a second wife, several sons who had no sons of their own, and worst of all through an Egyptian servant who married into the family – all this seems to be deliberately disproving any claim that Elishama [2:41] might have made to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah.  (This Elishama is probably the same as the ‘royal’ grandfather of Ishmael who murdered Gedaliah at the time of Jeremiah and then fled to Ammon, and whose descendants probably returned from there to Jerusalem after the exile.)  Therefore David’s claim stands, even though he was descended from Perez’s second son Ram, because David’s ancestor Nahshon had been ‘leader of the sons of Judah’ under Moses [2:10].

Evidently the book of Chronicles is contributing to a debate in his time about who had the right to live in Jerusalem, the capitol of the restored community of Israel after the exile, and especially about which tribe and clan could claim the authority over their brothers.  The Davidic claim was obviously under attack from various sides (Elishamites, Benjamites, Ephraimites), most probably because there was no immediate likelihood of a restoration to kingship under Persian rule, and people must have been questioning whether the tribes should revert to traditional tribal inheritance based on the rights of the firstborn instead.  Jerusalem was evidently seen as the capitol, but David’s claim to have conquered it was opposed by the Benjamite claim to have been apportioned it as tribal inheritance by Joshua [Jos 18:28; cf. Jdg 1:5-8, 21; Jos 15:63].  The approach of the Chronicler was therefore to allow for Benjamite claims to live in it, but nevertheless to reinforce the Davidic claim to the throne that had been acknowledged by all the tribes, and therefore the right of Judahites also to live in the capitol.

Furthermore, the Chronicler not only defended the Davidic claim to the leadership of the tribes (if not to the birthright [5:2]), but then also tied this leadership as tightly as possible to the responsibility for leading the tribes in correct worship of the LORD in the Jerusalem temple according to the Law and the regulations of Samuel and David especially.  In fact, the suggestion was made in the accounts of Manasseh and others that if the Davidic leader repented and humbled himself by honouring the LORD’s temple, He would restore them from exile and deliver them from their enemies, and thus establish their kingship over the tribes of Israel.

Thus the purpose of Chronicles is to reinforce temple-focused Davidic messianism.  Working out how many generations had passed between the return from Exile under Zerubbabel and the Davidic claimant at the time this book was written (Elioenai [1Chr 3:19-24]) gives us a probable date of around 400BC, a generation or so after the last of Nehemiah’s reforms [cf. Neh 13:6-7].

March 22, 2010

Context of 1-3 John (Winds of Doctrine #9)

Tradition records that Paul was executed in Rome by Nero, just as he anticipated in his second letter to Timothy, and we can assume that Timothy did travel to Rome to see Paul, leaving Tychicus with Prisca and Aquila in Ephesus to teach the church.  Timothy would have raised up new elders to replace those who had left, ‘faithful men able to teach others’ (1Tim 3:1‑7; 2Tim 2:2).  A church that had been through such an upheaval, though, might be expected to be particularly alert to both false teaching and immorality, being experienced in enduring persecution and persevering with a siege-like mentality (Rev 2:1‑7).  In 1 Timothy 2:7, Paul seems to be contrasting his own true call as a herald and apostle with the ‘lying’ of others who called themselves apostles.  After his death, then, the Ephesian church would have been very wary of receiving anyone else who called himself an ‘apostle’ (Rev 2:2), and would therefore have found it almost impossible to accept genuine apostolic oversight from anyone apart from a co-worker of Paul.  We do not know whether Tychicus stayed for long in Ephesus, or whether Timothy or Titus were able to return to support Prisca and Aquila.

It is into just this situation that the three epistles of John seem to have been written.  According to tradition, John son of Zebedee ended up in Ephesus at some point after Paul’s death and Timothy’s departure, apparently working hard to re-establish this church in their ‘first love’ that they had lost through the experience of apostasy in the mid-60’s AD (cf. Rev 2:4).  Who better than the ‘beloved disciple’ to teach this large and influential church about love and unity?  The book of Revelation begins with letters to the seven churches, which in one sense function as John’s divine ‘letter of commendation’ to the churches in Asia Minor.  The false teachers addressed in these letters are also Jewish (Rev 2:9; 3:9), known as the ‘Nicolaitans’ (Rev 2:6, 15), and the book anticipates a time of renewed persecution coming on the whole world (Rev 1:9; 2:10, 13; 3:10; 6:9‑11; 7:14; 12:11).  The description of the nation of Israel being taken into exile in ‘the wilderness’ (Rev 12:1‑2, 5‑6, 13‑16) probably describes the consequences of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, although the description of the nations trampling the temple in Jerusalem for three-and-a-half years (Rev 11:2‑3, 8 ) may suggest that the book was written very shortly after that destruction.  There is still the very clear understanding that the gospel must be preached to every nation before Jesus’ return (Rev 1:7; 7:9‑10; 10:7; 14:6), but this is seen as imminent (cf. John 21:20‑23).

If Revelation was written in the early 70’s AD, shortly after John was released from imprisonment on Patmos (Rev 1:9), this would explain why the letters to the seven Asian churches do not give the impression that John was very familiar to them.  2 John, which is put after 1 John presumably because of its brevity, makes most sense if it was actually the first letter he sent to the church in Ephesus after writing Revelation.  He writes as ‘the elder’, which makes sense in light of the Ephesians’ wariness of the title ‘apostle’ (Rev 2:2), and is writing from another congregation known to those in Ephesus (2John 1:1, 13), though he doesn’t appear to have a personal connection with his recipients.  He has evidently heard of the faithfulness of some in the congregation who have resisted false teaching (1:4), and he mentions the love that both he and all the churches have for them (1:1), and urges them to remain on their guard against false teachers (1:7‑11).  However, his main reason for writing is to urge them to love each other (1:5‑6), which was the primary accusation against them in Revelation 2:4‑5, and is the only specific detail that John seems to know about the Ephesians apart from their survival through heresy (1:4; cf. Rev 2:2-3, 6).  It is understandable why John would feel it important to try to establish a personal connection with this bruised church after Jesus’ stern warning to them, and so rather than writing a long letter, he tells the church that he has many things to write to them but he would rather come soon and speak with them face to face (2John 1:12).  Unlike the book of Revelation, which he wrote out himself and which therefore is fairly poor Hebraic Greek, he would have used the help of an amanuensis, or professional scribe, to help him craft a letter in good (but simple) Greek for the educated church of Ephesus.

John’s brief introduction letter to the Ephesian church would have been delivered by one of his co-workers to Ephesus, but on his co-worker’s return he would have been made aware of the many problems in the church in much more detail.  It seems that some in Ephesus who had heard John’s brief letter were questioning what right John had to be writing to them, not even knowing them.  As a result, he composed a much more thorough elaboration of his original message to them (e.g. 1John 2:7‑8), which was also a defence of his own authority to give them instruction (1John 1:1‑4), and an explanation of why he was writing to them (1John 2:12‑14, 21, 26‑27; 5:13).  By the time he wrote his third letter perhaps a couple of years later, this time to the elder Gaius (presumably one of the elders of the Ephesian church), he was personally known to many in the church (3John 1:15), and could refer to them as ‘my children’ (3John 1:4).  Presumably he had therefore managed to travel to Ephesus himself in order to meet the church and reinforce the message of love he was writing about (2John 1:12), before returning to his ‘home’ congregation.  Unlike earlier letters, however, 3 John was not written to the whole church of Ephesus but rather to one of its elders, Gaius.  The reason for this is apparently that when John had written another letter to the church (one that has not been preserved), those who returned from delivering it reported to him that although Gaius had received them warmly, the lead elder of Ephesus, Diotrephes, had refused to allow John’s letter to be read out to the gathered church.  As a result, John sent a short letter to Gaius, delivered by Demetrius, in which he is basically warning Diotrephes that he will be returning shortly and will sort him out.  Apparently this did indeed happen, because tradition records that John ended up moving to Ephesus permanently, and lived there to the end of his life around the turn of the second century.

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’.

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.

September 8, 2009

Refuting NT arguments against ‘promised land’ [I&NC #5]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 10:33 pm
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There are some teachers who think that the Early Church no longer believed in a promised land for the children of Israel (i.e. Jews).  They cite various different New Testament verses to show this, but in each case this is not the best understanding of the passage:

Matthew 21:43 – “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit of it.”  The image of a ‘vineyard’ in this parable typically refers in the Old Testament to the Jewish people themselves rather than their land (cf. Psa 80:8-11; Isa 5:1-7).  In line with this, Matthew (21:45), Mark (11:27) and Luke (20:19) all specify that Jesus intended the tenants to represent the leadership of the chief priests and elders / scribes / Pharisees rather than the whole Jewish people.

John 4:21 – “An hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”  This passage is teaching that in this new age of God’s dealings with mankind, worship is not restricted to a specific geographical location such as Jerusalem, and particularly not for Samaritans and other ‘foreign’ nations (John 4:22, Mat 10:5-6, Luke 17:15‑18).  This does apply to Jews also, because the Holy Spirit (4:24) is present everywhere, and because His ‘temple’ is now the Church (Mark 14:58; 1 Cor 3:9-17).  That does not mean, however, that Jerusalem will also lose its various other functions, specifically as the geographical capitol for Jewish people, and the earthly dwelling place of the coming Messiah.  Jesus spoke of a future time, long after the imminent capture of the city by the Gentiles, when Jerusalem will again be under Jewish sovereignty, and calls it ‘the city of the Great King’ (Luke 21:24; Mat 5:35).

John 18:33-38 – “My kingdom is not from this world.”  Jesus had been charged with claiming authority as the ‘King of the Jews’, and when He asked if this was Pilate’s own opinion, Pilate said he could not possibly decide on that because he wasn’t Jewish.  The real issue for Pilate, therefore, was finding out the source of Jesus’ authority, and in his view, authority came from those who followed you.  This is why he could not understand why Jesus’ own nation through the chief priests had handed him over to the Roman authorities.  Jesus then explained that His kingly authority came from God, not from the allegiance of the ethnic Jewish nation, and His subjects were rather those who had an allegiance to the Truth.  This meant that Pilate himself must also choose to submit to Jesus as king, but instead he side-stepped the underlying question of Jesus’ authority, the issue that was clearly behind the accusation of the Jewish leaders.  Jesus’ statement, therefore, is by no means a rejection of His claim over territory on earth; precisely the opposite.  Jesus is claiming to have supreme authority, not only over the Jewish nation who were rejecting Him, but even over the Roman empire.

Acts 2:45; 4:32-37 – “All who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet.”  Jewish believers selling real estate in the ‘promised land’ is certainly significant, because Ezekiel 48:14 teaches that Levites (such as Barnabas – Acts 4:36-37) must not sell land that belongs to them in the eschatological era.  Nevertheless, as Hebrews 10:34 and 11:8-16 demonstrate (see below), the Early Church clearly understood that the era of inheritance (cf. Acts 1:6-8) would not arrive until mission to all nations had been fulfilled (cf. Mat 24:14), so until that time Jewish believers could view themselves as exiles even within their own promised land, as had the Patriarchs.

Romans 4:13 – “The promise to Abraham or to his seed that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law.”  Here Paul evidently sees the promise to Abraham of the land of the Amorites as having been expanded to encompass the whole world.  Some therefore argue that the promise of a particular land is no longer in effect, but this is clearly not the intention.  Abraham is similarly called the “father of many nations” in 4:16-17, but this in no way prevents him from being the ethnic ancestor of the Jewish nation also.  John 11:50-52 similarly describes Jesus’ death for the nation of Israel, but at the same time also for the elect from all nations.  The key to understanding this ‘inheritance of the world’ is the mention of ‘seed’, elsewhere understood to be a direct reference to the Messiah (Gal 3:16).  The prophets are agreed that it is through the Davidic Messiah that the Abrahamic promise of blessing to the nations, and even ‘fathering’ of many nations by faith, will be fulfilled (e.g. Psa 2:6-8; 110; Isa 49:5-7; 51:1-5; Mic 4:1-4; Zec 14:16‑19).  Jesus therefore came first to the Jewish people as their promised king, ethnically the ‘seed of Abraham’, and so became the ‘heir of the world’ by unlocking Abraham’s covenant blessings for every nation through allegiance to Himself (Rom 15:8-12).  By trusting that God truly brought to life the promised Son, every nation (Jew and Gentile alike) can imitate Abraham’s righteousness and become his ‘seed’ also (Rom 4:16‑25).  Only in this way will they, like the future redeemed nation of Israel (the ‘Israel of God’), receive their own portion of the whole world which has become Christ’s inheritance (cf. Zec 8:10-13, 20-23; Eph 1:9-14; 2:11-22).

Hebrews 8:13–10:1 – This passage is the source of the common idea that the nation of Israel, or perhaps even the whole Old Testament, is ‘only a shadow’ of the Church and the present Kingdom of God.  Apart from being a woefully ignorant dismissal of the richness of God’s promises, such an idea ignores the evident concern of this passage with the Mosaic covenant alone.  Its regulations for sacrifices, tabernacle and priesthood are indeed ‘only a shadow’ of the new covenant realities.  However, the new covenant was designed to improve on the old covenant precisely as a more effective way for God to permanently fulfil His unconditional promise of land, part of the world-changing covenant with Abraham (Gen 15:7-21).  In fact, Galatians 3:15-21 makes it clear that the laws of Moses that were appended 430 years later to the covenant with Abraham were only temporary, and cannot possibly invalidate the established promises.

Hebrews 11:8-16 – The physical ‘land of promise’ that Abraham “was to receive for an inheritance” was understood by him to have a ‘heavenly’ origin, that is, something he could not attempt to build for himself now.  He declared himself an ‘exile’ on the earth despite living in the land he and his descendants would inherit, because the land was not yet his; God was still making it ready for him.  This is our own hope also, in every land on earth that we ourselves have been called to; when we choose not to return to the country from which we left, it is because we are looking forward to God’s promised, prepared inheritance for us – the very lands in which we presently live as strangers (cf. Gen 13:14-17) – in the age to come.  Some of us will choose to leave the lands of our inheritance temporarily in order to help other nations receive theirs, like the two and a half tribes crossing the River Jordan with Joshua (Num 32:16-32), but whether we stay or go, our permanent rest in the land of our inheritance will be granted by Jesus only when He returns from heaven.

Galatians 4:26 / Hebrews 12:22 / Revelation 21:2, 10 – The ‘new’ / ‘heavenly’ / ‘from above’ Jerusalem is a further development of the idea found throughout the Old Testament that earthly institutions are temporary representations of ‘heavenly’ realities.  This applies particularly to the tabernacle (Exodus 25:40), the temple (2 Chronicles 28:11-19), and Jerusalem itself, whose greater ‘heavenly’ manifestation was called ‘Zion’ by David (e.g. Psalms 48, 87, 110, 125, 132) – that is, the promised city of God’s dwelling (see references below).  This does not necessarily mean, though, that ‘heavenly’ means either ‘non-physical’ or ‘located in heaven’.  James 3:13-17 uses the same idea of ‘from above’ as opposed to ‘earthly’ to speak of the source of wisdom, rather than its location, as is also the case with the ‘new Jerusalem’ in Revelation 21.  Like the resurrection bodies we will receive in exchange for our present mortal ones in order to live eternally on the new earth, the ‘heavenly’ Jerusalem will be the future physical manifestation of the present worldly city, originating with God rather than being built by men (Heb 11:10, 16; 1 Cor 15:44‑49; 2 Cor 5:1‑2; cf. Acts 26:19; Heb 3:1; 6:4‑5).  When Hebrews speaks of the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ we have already come to, this is not the walls and buildings yet to be made, but rather the “general assembly and church of the firstborn”, “righteous spirits made perfect”, equivalent to the “great cloud of witnesses” of 12:1.  That is, we have joined the growing company of citizens of that physical city “which is to come” (Heb 13:12-14; cf. 10:34; Php 3:20-21).  It is worth noting that in New Testament times, the occupants of Philippi and certain other cities were officially treated as ‘citizens of Rome’ even if they didn’t actually live there; in the same way, regardless of where we will actually live in the age to come, we will be considered ‘citizens of Jerusalem’.

Of course, these verses do profoundly undermine undue confidence in God’s special love for the modern-day city of Jerusalem, something the prophets also had to work hard at (cf. Jer 7:1‑15; 8:19; 26).  While it is undoubtedly the ‘place where He has caused His name to dwell’ (Gen 14:18-20; 22:1-14; Deut 12:4-27; 1 Sam 17:54; Jer 7:12-14; Psa 78:60-69; 132; 1 Kgs 8:27-30; Isa 62; Neh 1:9; Eze 43:1-9; 48:35; Mat 5:34-35; Rev 3:12), He has never been afraid to bring desolation on the earthly city in judgement for sin.  He allows it to be rebuilt time and again, but in these verses He promises that He will ultimately build for Himself an enduring city in that very place for the honour of His Son (Heb 11:10, 16).

Perhaps an even more significant argument against the cancellation of the land promise is what the apostle Paul does not say.  With his passion for Gentiles from every nation sharing in the inheritance of Abraham, he still takes no opportunity to declare the Jewish claim on the promised land void because of unbelief, whether in heated passages written against the Judaisers (e.g. Gal 4:21-31; Col 2:8–3:11), or in passages mentioning both believing Jews outside the land and unbelievers within it (e.g. Rom 15:30–16:11; 1 Thes 2:14-16).  He knew that the nation could finally now inherit their land permanently by turning to their Messiah, but he also knew that Jesus had returned to heaven in order to equip His people with the Holy Spirit to go to all nations first (Acts 1:6‑11).  He recognised that the temporary hardening of hearts among the Jewish people, which disqualified that generation from inheriting, was actually God’s way of encouraging Jewish believers to go and help other nations to inherit also (Rom 9–11).  Even so, he did not treat the Jews as just like any other nation (Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-5; Php 3:4-7), but rather they were in a sense ‘firstborn’ among many brethren nations (Eph 1:11‑14; cf. Jas 1:1, 18).  Eventually every nation would receive their own part of the Messiah’s worldwide inheritance, but only when all were ready to inherit.

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