Monday, October 01, 2007

Jesus and the Future of Ethnic Israel

Israel → Jesus → Church → World
We have been surveying the various relationships between Jesus, Israel, and the Church. We have examined four key aspects of these relationships: descendents, temple, law, and land of Israel. Each of these key aspects has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, shared with the church, and are now spreading throughout the world.

Descendents → Jesus → Church → World
The true descendent of Abraham is Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). The church is related by faith to Jesus Christ and are now heirs of the promises to Abraham (Galatians 3:29). Our task is to now make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19).

Temple → Jesus → Church → World
The true temple of God is Jesus Christ (John 2:19). Because Christ dwells in us through the Spirit, the church is now the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). This temple is being spread to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Land → Jesus → Church → World

The promised land was given to Israel (Joshua 21:43-45), but they failed to possess it because of their unbelief. God has now given the promised land and the rest of the world to Jesus (Matthew 28:18) who is sharing it with the church (Psalm 72:8).

Law → Jesus → Church → World
The law was given to Israel, but they did not keep it by faith (Romans 9:31-32). The law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:4). The church is now under the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). We are to teach this law to all the nations (Matthew 28:20).

All that was promised to Israel has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, shared with the church, and universalized to encompass the entire world.

2Cor 1:20 (NKJV) For all the promises of God in Him {Jesus Christ} are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

Shadows vs. Reality
What was the purpose of the Israel, the temple, the land, and the law? These were “copies” and “shadows.”

Hebr 8:5 (NKJV) who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

The Old Covenant system with the tabernacle, the temple, and the animal sacrifices were copies and shadows of heaven. Now that Christ has come, he has fulfilled all of these things, so that there is no longer any use for them.

Hebr 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Old Covenant system was “becoming obsolete” and “growing old” and was “ready to vanish away.” This was accomplished in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed. With the destruction of the temple, the Old Covenant system has become obsolete.

The Old Covenant pointed towards Jesus Christ. Now we are in the New Covenant, God will not return to the Old Covenant system. That would be turning his back on Jesus Christ.

There is no going back to any of the unique characteristics of the Old Covenant:

· There will never again be a significance for an ethnic Israelite nation.

· There will never again be a literal temple of stone where God dwells.

· There will never again be a holy land.

· There will never again be an animal sacrifice securing forgiveness and atonement.

What about the OT Promises?
There are hundreds of OT promises regarding the nation of Israel, the temple, the land, and the law. What happens to these? Are they going to be fulfilled?

Yes, all the promises of God will be fulfilled. They are not all fulfilled at the same time and in the same way. Just as many were surprised at how prophecy was fulfilled at Jesus’ first coming, so we will likely be surprised at how prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming. Thus, we need to be careful in assuming we have it all figured out.

Here are five suggestions for how the promises might be fulfilled.

1) Some Promises Were Conditional and Unfulfilled
Some Old Covenant promises were conditioned upon Israel’s faith. Since Israel lacked faith, the timeframe of fulfillment has passed. These promises will go unfulfilled, but this is not due to a failure on God’s part.

Remember, also, that conditions are not always stated or recorded in the text. Many times, repentance and faith are implicitly connected to a promise (e.g., the preaching of Jonah).

2) Some Promises Were Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
Some Old Covenant promises were fulfilled in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is especially true of the ascension, which is often overlooked. Many of the promises such as 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 2, and Psalm 110, were fulfilled in the ascension of Jesus Christ.

3) Some Promises Were Fulfilled in the Early Church
Some Old Covenant promises were fulfilled in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts.

Pentecost is another event that is often disconnected from the OT, yet this was the rebirth of Israel, the reunion of Judah and Israel. The early church was the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David, fulfilling Amos 9:11, as James says:

Acts 15:14 (NKJV) “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
15 “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
16 ‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’

4) Some Promises Are Fulfilled by the Church in History
Some Old Covenant promises are fulfilled by the church on earth in history up until the second coming of Christ. The church is the New Jerusalem and as such, she will fulfill many of the promises that ethnic Jews thought they were going to fulfill.

5) Some Promises Will Be Fulfilled by the Church in Eternity
Some Old Covenant promises are fulfilled in eternity by all believers from all ages. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, all of God’s people will live together in harmony. This will be the final fulfillment of some of the promises.

Thus, in eternity, we will be able to look back and say that all of the promises were fulfilled, either in Christ or his church, in history or in eternity. This gives us a Christ-centered expectation in how we look at the fulfillment of prophecy. All is fulfilled in Christ and his church.

The Future for Ethnic Israel/Jews
If all of the Old Covenant promises are fulfilled in Christ and his church, then is there a future for ethnic Israel? Yes!

Past Salvation of Ethnic Israel
In Romans 9-11, Paul defends the righteousness of God. Some are questioning the righteousness and the faithfulness of God because many ethnic Jews are perishing even after the coming of their Messiah. If God is faithful, how can he allow this?

Paul begins by saying that this is not God’s fault:

Roma 9:6 (NKJV) But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,

God has not failed nor has God’s word has not failed. God never promised to save all of ethnic Israel.

Present Salvation of Ethnic Israel
Furthermore, God is presently saving some of ethnic Israel.

Roma 11:1 (NKJV) I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

Paul is an example. He is an ethnic Jew, and God has saved him. In fact, there were many ethnic Jews in the early church. God continues to save ethnic Jews throughout the history of the church.

Nevertheless, many ethnic Jews are not saved. This is because Israel has been hardened. They have stumbled and fallen. Israel’s fall has brought salvation to the Gentiles.

Future Salvation of Ethnic Israel
However, look at what God’s purpose is in bringing salvation to the Gentiles:

Roma 11:11 (NKJV) I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

God is saving Gentiles so that ethnic Israel will be provoked to jealousy. Paul describes this further:

Roma 11:12 (NKJV) Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

Notice that Paul speaks of the future of ethnic Jews. They will experience a “fullness.”

The Olive Tree

Paul uses the metaphor of the olive tree:

Roma 11:17 (NKJV) And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,

Ethnic Israel was broken off of the olive tree. Gentiles were grafted in. Yet, Paul expects ethnic Israel to be grafted in again.

Roma 11:24 (NKJV) For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Paul elaborates on the future of ethnic Jews.

Roma 11:25 (NKJV) For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Paul indicates that ethnic Israel’s blindness is temporary. His expectation seems to be that when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, then God will deal with ethnic Israel.

All Israel Will Be Saved
Paul then builds to his great conclusion:

Roma 11:26 (NKJV) And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Who is “all Israel”?
Some notable theologians, including Calvin, have argued that “all Israel” does not refer to ethnic Israel, but to the church. However, this goes against the entire context of Romans 9-11. “All Israel” must refer to ethnic Israel.

When will they be saved?
This could be fulfilled either gradually or cataclysmically.

1) “All Israel Will Be Saved” could refer to God’s plan to gradually save some ethnic Jews throughout the history of the church. Thus, at the end of time, God can say, “All Israel was saved. I did not lose one of my people.”

2) “All Israel Will Be Saved” could refer to God’s plan to save all ethnic Jews that are alive just before the second coming. Thus, there is a point in time when God will save a massive number of Jews.

Neither view is conclusive, and since this regards the future fulfillment of a prophecy, we don’t need to be dogmatic. God may surprise us.

Nevertheless, notice that Paul is speaking of the salvation of ethnic Israel. This means that they will become part of the church. They will be part of the living temple of God. They will be co-heirs with us of the world. They will be under the law of Christ and in the New Covenant.
However, saved ethnic Israel does not and will not have a special status in the kingdom of God. Romans 11 says nothing about a return to the types and shadows of the Old Covenant. Ephesians 2-3 state that God has united Jew and Gentile in Christ.

Ephe 2:14 (NASB) For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,

Therefore, the final salvation of ethnic Israel is just that: salvation. In no way do we expect a return to an ethnic Jewish kingdom in the Middle East.

Israel Today
So, what is unbelieving ethnic Israel’s status for today?

Roma 11:28 (NKJV) Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.

They are enemies of the gospel in that they persecuted the early church. Yet, there will always be ethnic Israelites who become believers. Some ethnic Jews are elect. We don’t who they are. We must share the gospel with them. God will move the elect ones by jealousy to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Thinking about the salvation of ethnic Jews brings Paul to his knees in praise of God.

Roma 11:33 (NKJV) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
35 “Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

This has to be the purpose of all of our studying. If we develop a smug attitude about understanding any truth in the Bible, then we are in sin. We understand nothing. The beginning and end of all of our studies should be for the glory of God, for the praise of God. The goal of all theology is doxology.

If our study of the Bible leads us to pride, to critical spirits, to judgmental hearts, or to boastful words, then we have utterly failed.

If at the end of this study, your thought is, “How stupid of anyone for not understanding this!” then you’ve reached a deadly conclusion. You’re in sin, and you need to repent.

We should remember Paul’s plea for humility:

1Cor 4:6 (NKJV) that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.
7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

If we understand anything, it is because of God’s grace to us. There is no room for pride or boasting.

As we think about God’s plan for the salvation of ethnic Jews, we should be driven to praise God. The goal of all theology is doxology.

Roma 11:33 (NASB) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?
35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?
36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.


Matthew 5:8 said...

Praising the Lord today for leading me to your blog.

As one who believed they were a dispensationalist for over 25 years, and was led to really dig deeper into this form of theology, and found it to be something all-together different then what i believed, your posts/blog is a breath of fresh air. (boy, that was a long sentence!lol)

My own journey into researching dispensationalism came about because i began to notice it wasn't Christ centered.

anyway, i look forward to reading through your posts...

God bless...

Aaron said...

The more I read, the more I realize what a joyless, artificial and unbiblical system dispensationalism is. I came out of dispensationalism not too long ago. I've been studying CT for about a year now (on my own, and now through my undergrad studies). Covenant Theology utterly sweeps us into the Christ-centered drama of redemptive history, leaving one breathless, humbled and thirsting for more.

Soli Deo Gloria.