James Patrick’s Blog

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.

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October 20, 2009

Promised Land in Hebrews [I&NC #13]

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

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

Obviously the writer here is not saying that the promise of ‘rest’ has been withdrawn since the Mosaic Law has been abolished, nor even that it has been ‘spiritualised’.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 12, 2009

Promised Land in the Gospels, part one [I&NC #6]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 8:07 pm
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Contrary to popular opinion, the New Testament frequently assumes that the land covenant is still in effect.  Here we start with the Gospels (in 3 posts), moving on after that to Acts (2 posts) and the epistles (3 posts).

To begin with, we would expect that a divine promise of territory given to the ethnic descendants of Israel be spoken of most often in passages addressed to the Jewish people.  The letters of Paul to the Gentile churches are therefore the least likely place to find mention of this land covenant, as are the writings of John who was based in Ephesus in modern-day Turkey.  Peter’s first letter was written to believers living in the northern parts of Turkey, though his second letter to unspecified recipients does refer to the “holy mountain” where Jesus was transfigured.

On the other hand, Jesus was teaching Jews within the land of Israel, much of Acts takes place in that land, and Hebrews is also written to Jewish believers there. It is not surprising, then, that the majority of passages referring to the land covenant are found in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts and Hebrews.  Paul’s letter to the Romans is highly unusual in that although it is written to Gentiles, Paul sees it necessary in his extended discussion of the gospel message to specifically address the problem of the unbelieving Jewish nation in Romans 9–11.  We therefore find clear references to the promised land in Romans also.

Even so, we would not expect to have many references to the promise of land for the Jewish nation in the New Testament, for the simple reason that Jesus had unmistakeably prophesied destruction and exile for the nation within a single generation [see below].  Even though most of the Old Testament prophets do mention future restoration in passing within long oracles of judgement, warnings of imminent destruction in Jesus’ day would be even less likely to convince a rebellious generation if they were qualified by frequent reaffirmation of the promise of eternal security in the land.

With that in mind, let us turn to the passages about the land covenant in the New Testament:

(A)  Promised Land in the Gospels

In the Gospels Jesus never explicitly reissues the covenant promise of land; He would not do so to His own rebellious generation, nor could He grant the land to His followers before the age of restoration of all things.  Yet He often assumes a Jewish presence in the land of Israel at the end of the present age just before His return, and then a secure Jewish authority over that land following His return.  Here we deal with the first two of six representative passages taken from the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Matthew 10:5-6, 23 – Jesus explicitly instructed His twelve disciples to identify themselves with His own mission to the Jewish nation specifically, which was in line with their calling to rule over their own nation in the age to come [see third Gospel post below on Mat 19].  Evidently they understood this mission to be a permanent one even after Jesus ascended, as implied by both Galatians 2:7‑9 and the role of both Peter and Paul in the establishment of church communities in Corinth and in Rome (1 Cor 1:12; Rom 15:20-22; 1 Pet 5:13).  The disciples were told, “Truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes”.  When seen in the context of 10:17-22 this prophecy cannot be understood to refer merely to making preparations in advance for Jesus’ earthly ministry in those cities, as was the task of the seventy sent out in Luke 10:1 (cf. Luke 9:1-6).  For Matthew, the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ was an unmistakeable reference to the second coming (cf. Mat 24:3, 23–25:46).

This indicates, therefore, that Jesus recognised the ongoing need for mission to Jewish cities and communities from the time of His own ministry right up until His final return, and one might even argue that the ‘cities of Israel’ refers to Jewish communities within the territorial land of Israel throughout that time (cf. Mat 10:5-6).  The case could be made that this passage influenced Paul’s own practice in his missionary journeys through Gentile lands of ‘going [first] to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, ‘shaking off the dust’, and ‘fleeing to the next city’ (cf. Acts 13:42-51).  Even so, ‘cities of Israel’ when compared with ‘city of the Samaritans’ in 10:5 would suggest towns under Jewish authority, or at least Jewish-majority towns, and the prohibition against travelling into Gentile areas in 10:5 may indicate that the territory of Israel as defined in the first century is in view in 10:23.

Thus we have in Matthew 10 evidence of, at very least, an ongoing mission to the unbelieving nation of Israel that will not be concluded before Jesus Himself returns to the land.  It is possible that the ‘cities of Israel’ in which mission must be undertaken actually refers to Jewish communities remaining within the traditional territory of Israel throughout the time between Jesus’ ascension and His return, providing possible evidence of an unbroken land covenant underlying this preservation.

Matthew 24:32-35 – Luke 21:29-32 seems to be a generalisation of Matthew’s version of this teaching, by drawing the parable from all trees and not just the ‘fig tree’.  However I would argue Luke himself was aware that Jesus had not just chosen the fig tree at random for this illustration, because other sayings preserved only by Luke reinforce the significance of the fig tree.  In the Old Testament, the fig tree was used to represent the nation of Israel (Hos 9:10, 13, 16–10:2; Hab 3:16-18).  More importantly, though, the shelter it provided was a metaphor for the permanent and secure dwelling of the nation within its land, ultimately connected with return from exile (1 Kgs 4:25; Jer 8:8-15; Mic 4:4; Zec 3:8-10; cf. Song of Songs 2:10-13; John 1:47-51 with Gen 28:12-15).  Jesus made ample use of this metaphor in his teaching, for example in Luke 13:6-9, where He warned the nation that He had been looking for fruit on the ‘fig tree’ for three years, and it would be given only one more year before being ‘cut down’ (cf. Luke 3:7‑9).

In Mark 11:12-14, 20-23, Mark clarifies and adds detail to the conflated story in Matthew 21:18-22 where Jesus curses a fig tree overlooking Jerusalem for having no fruit on it.  The fact that it was not the season for figs made no difference to Jesus’ acted parable, and when the disciples commented on the immediate withering of the fig tree, Jesus turned the application over to His disciples – forty years later they would similarly command ‘this mountain’ (i.e. the Temple Mount they were walking towards) to be taken up and cast into the ‘sea’ (i.e. the nations – cf. Mat 13:47; Rev 17:15).  The withering of the fig tree symbolised the hardening and coming exile of the nation.  This makes best sense also of Jesus’ prophecy to the women weeping over Him as He approached Calvary (Luke 23:27-31), that presently the nation was still ‘green’ with leaves, but within a generation it would be ‘dry’ and experience judgement.

In the light of Jesus’ metaphor of Israel as a fruitless fig tree, withered at Jesus’ command, the ‘parable of the fig tree’ in Matthew 24:32-35 takes on a much greater significance.  When the dry fig tree becomes tender again and begins to put forth its leaves, that is, when the nation of Israel softens towards God and begins once more to show signs of secure dwelling within the land, believers will know that Jesus’ return is imminent.

[Matthew’s addition of Jesus’ saying about “this generation” that will not pass away before these things take place (24:34-35) appears to apply to the parable of the fig tree, but in fact Jesus spoke the saying to conclude his discourse to the four disciples specifically about the AD70 destruction of the Temple; the parable and the saying were juxtaposed because Matthew did not differentiate between prophecies about the two judgements.  Luke understood the saying (see next post), and because he also recognised that Matthew’s attached fig tree parable must point to the ‘end of the age’, he had to deliberately generalise the parable (“and all the trees”; “the kingdom of God is near”) in order to include the whole saying properly within that specific discourse about the sooner judgement (21:29-33) .  Similar adjustments are introduced by Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27 to clarify a potentially confusing juxtaposition of sayings in Matthew 16:27‑28.]

Jesus therefore used the ‘fig tree’ as one of his favourite images 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.

Although some may argue that the parable of the fig tree is open to any interpretation simply because it is a parable, this interpretation corresponds precisely to the entirely literal prophecies Jesus gave about the Jewish nation at the end of this age [see next two posts].  Thus we may treat the parable of the fig tree as evidence of a promised reversal of the judgement of exile spoken by Jesus over the Jewish nation in His own generation; the only reasonable explanation for such a return from exile to the land of Israel is the fulfilment of God’s land covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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.

September 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 3:1–4:11 – Before considering the above three ways in which the Law had been abolished, the writer to the Hebrews first dealt with the question of the promised land.  He showed that trusting in Jesus for inheriting the land is more reliable than trusting in Moses, because Moses bore witness to future things (3:5) and then died with his generation in the wilderness because of their unbelief and disobedience.  However, Joshua’s generation had clearly not fulfilled Moses’ prophecy of a permanent ‘rest’ in the promised land (4:8), because David and later prophets still spoke of a future time of restoration (4:7).  Furthermore, even in the present generation there was still ‘work’ to do throughout the world (4:10), and the future ‘Sabbath rest’ for Jewish believers [as for those from every nation] was a promise that would only be inherited by trusting in Jesus ‘until the end’ (3:14; 4:3, 11).  Believers might still ‘today’ be disqualified from inheriting the promise through unbelief and disobedience (3:19–4:2).

Obviously the writer here is not saying that the promise of ‘rest’ has been withdrawn now that the Mosaic Law has been abolished, nor even that it has been ‘spiritualised’.  On the contrary, the entrance into the land under Joshua is treated as the most plausible possible fulfilment of that promised ‘rest’ so far in the history of Israel;  if even Joshua’s inheritance of the land was not the fulfilment, how much less could Jewish believers in the mid-first century AD think that their generation was the final fulfilment (a proposal Jesus denied / postponed in Acts 1:6).  The true ‘Joshua’ (same name as ‘Jesus’ in Hebrew) was the promised One who would come at the end of the age to conquer the promised lands of all nations including Israel, and then assign to each nation their territory (Rev 2:26-27; cf. Psa 2:7-9).

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2009

Heirs of Abraham’s promise of land [Israel & New Covenant #2]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 10:29 pm
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The ‘eternal’ land covenant made with Abraham was reissued to Isaac, to Jacob/Israel, to the patriarchs of the twelve tribes in Egypt, and to their ethnic descendants whom God promises will never be permanently rejected.  The promise of land, therefore, is a cheque made payable specifically to the ethnically Jewish people, whether or not this particular generation is permitted to cash it in.

Genesis 15:6-21 – As a reward for his faith, Abram was promised the land of the Amorites as a permanent possession, confirmed by God through a highly unusual covenant ceremony in which God promised it unilaterally, without any conditional requirements for Abram.  The closest parallel is Jeremiah 34:17-20 where passing between the carcasses is a self-curse if the covenant should be broken.  Effectively God is saying that if the descendants of Abram are denied their promised land, God Himself will be slaughtered to atone for His broken covenant.

Genesis 26:2-5 – When Isaac trusted God and in obedience did not leave the land of promise in a time of famine, God reaffirmed the land covenant of his father with him also.

Genesis 35:9-12 – When God officially changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he reaffirmed with him the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac of both descendants and land.

Genesis 50:24-25 – Joseph reminded his brothers that God would surely bring the children of Jacob / Israel up out of Egypt and bring them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 – God explicitly warned Israel not to assume that they deserved His gift of the land of Canaan; He drove out the other nations for their wickedness, and He granted the land to Israel despite their stubborn rebellion, to confirm His promise to the Patriarchs.

Deuteronomy 11:21–12:1 – At the beginning and end of this passage God clarified that his promise of land to the Patriarchs and their descendants (Israel) will endure “as long as the heavens remain above the earth”, and “as long as you live on the earth”.  This was despite his warning that if they broke the commandments He was giving them, they themselves would perish quickly from the good land being given them.

Deuteronomy 30:1-5 – The endurance of the promise beyond exile from the land is made explicit here, where God promised that when the people return to their God, He would bring them back to possess the land which their fathers possessed, and multiply them even more than their fathers.

Jeremiah 29:10-14; 30:3 – At the start of the Babylonian exile, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles promising that after seventy years God would fulfil His promise to bring them back to the land from whence they were sent into exile.  30:3 makes it explicit that this promise is the gift of the land to their forefathers.

Jeremiah 31:1-14, 35-40 – After declaring to the distant nations that He would again gather His scattered flock Israel, ransoming them and returning them to their land, God declared that only if the laws of physics are overturned, or the universe is measured, will Israel cease to be a nation before God for all their sin (cf. Jer 33:19-26).

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