The Church and Israel

4159116430 Perhaps you have run into a Messianic Jew or a member of the Christian Zionist movement and have wondered how their views stack up against Scripture in able to better converse with them.  The following is a helpful essay by Dr. Michael Horton, writing from a Reformed and covenantal perspective, on how Christians should consider Israel in relationship to the church in New Testament times.

The center of the entire prophetic forecast is the State of Israel,” declares prophetic pontiff, Hal Lindsey. On May 14, 1948, Israel became a nation again and, writes Lindsey, “For this reason I am convinced that we are now in the unique time so clearly and precisely forecast by the Hebrew prophets. Thus, all the various prophecies will come to pass during this generation.”

The Dispensationalists have maintained that the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel regarding a future restoration of Israel are fulfilled in the recreation of that state in 1948. What about this? Is that what the prophets had in mind? A further question must then be asked: Are the promises God made to Abraham fulfilled in the Zionist movement or in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? But first things first: 1948.

Ezekiel prophesies, “I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name” (39:25). Daniel’s prophecies are delivered in 530 BC, just fifty-five years after Ezekiel’s and also point to a future restoration of a now destroyed nation of Israel. During Ezekiel’s ministry, the nation is dismantled and carried off into Babylonian captivity and both prophets are offering the people hope in the midst of tragedy. One hundred years later, the promises made through these two prophets are fulfilled as Nehemiah and Ezra are allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem with released exiles. The walls are rebuilt, God’s people return, and although they are an imperial satellite, Babylon’s rulers empty their own treasuries to assist in the rebuilding. This is all in line with the prediction that God will bring His people out of exile back to Jerusalem is finally fulfilled. A new temple is even built with the assistance of the Persian king.

All of this was fulfilled within a century of the prophecy. The temple was rebuilt, sacrifices were renewed, the city was rebuilt, and the exiles came home. So much for 1948.

Of course, there are predictions made, by Daniel, for instance, which require fulfillment beyond the return under Nehemiah. One example is the vision of the four kingdoms–Babylon and Medo-Persia (two empires which existed during Daniel’s own lifetime), and Greece (second century, BC) and Rome (first century, BC through first century AD). All of these world empires will collapse, two of which Daniel knew first-hand, while the latter two were fulfilled as late as the first century AD. These earthly empires would never outlast the empire of the coming One who will finally bring all of His scattered tribe (Jew and Gentile alike) home: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ez 34:23). It was just this prophecy which Jesus proclaimed Himself to be fulfilling in His self-designation as the Good Shepherd in John chapter ten. Thus, Ezekiel is not about Jewish Zionism in 1948, but about the return of the exiles in 440 BC and ultimately about Jesus Christ as the Son of David.

What about the destruction of the temple? Was it not predicted in the New Testament that there would be a final destruction of the temple and the city? Indeed, it was. “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when His disciples came up to Him to call His attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ He asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” This is often taken to refer to a fulfillment in our own lifetime, and yet, when the disciples wanted to know what the signs of this would be, He said, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death.” Doesn’t it sound like Jesus was preparing them for an immediate fulfillment? The fact is, this was fulfilled in AD 70, when the city was destroyed by the Romans, Jews and Christians were slaughtered and scattered, and the temple was destroyed to the extent that “not one stone” was “left on another.” The Roman emperor, proclaiming himself God, sat in the Holy of Holies, fulfilling the “abomination of desolation” predicted in Daniel. And if, after years of Dispensational teaching on the “abomination of desolation,” taking place during the tribulation, it is difficult to accept this interpretation, just look at our Lord’s own remark: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Would the original audience not have clearly understood Jesus to be preparing them for events which were right around the corner? “So when you see standing in the holy place…”

Therefore, the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel do not have to find their fulfillment in 1948 or in any other period which coincides with remarkable current events.

The second question, however, is of more central concern: Is the modern state of Israel and Zionism in general the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham? Classical Dispensationalism presents to programs of salvation, though recent revisions have toned down on the radical discontinuity. In classical Dispensationalism, God’s ultimate program involves the nation Israel. The Church is a “parenthesis” (Chafer), a sort of footnote or sidetrack in contrast to God’s main mission to save ethnic, national Israel.

We believe that this position gravely misunderstands the plan of God and the clear teaching of the Scriptures. In so doing, it risks offering false hopes to modern Jews of a plan of redemption which, at least in temporal matters, does not require the mediation of the world’s only Savior. If you think this is a caricature of the position, just attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel in Washington, DC. I did that one year and I remember fundamentalist preachers and prophecy “experts” leading the Jewish-Christian gathering in prayer “to our common Father–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now, if another group of Christians down the street had a prayer service of Christians and Moslems or Christians and Hindus, it would be considered a basic denial of the uniqueness of Christ and His mediatorial work, but for these people, Jews evidently did not need the Gospel, for there was no reference to it even in passing. Not one prayer ended with the name of Christ.

The Apostle Paul would call this the Galatian heresy. “Understand that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture predicted that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:6-10). Thus, there are not two programs. Jews and Gentiles alike are “under a curse” and can only approach God and receive His promises by faith in Jesus Christ. To suggest that God is fulfilling promises to national Israel apart from Christ surely borders on heresy.

But God is not fulfilling promises to national Israel. The abomination that makes desolate in AD 70 did, in fact, make the temple desolate. While we rejoice with the persecuted Jews of the world in their homeland, there is no prophetic significance to the year 1948.

If we look very carefully at the promises made to Abraham (Gn 12:2-3), and the many warnings which follow throughout the Old Testament, the promise of the land is conditional upon Israel’s obedience. The promise of a final Promised Land and resting place, however, is by faith alone. Thus, the Old Testament patriarchs were not as interested in a plot of land as modern Dispensationalists. “By faith, Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country, for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised” (Heb 11:8-13). What? They didn’t receive the things promised? They were in the land, weren’t they? But the Bible says that this was not the ultimate promise. “They admitted they were strangers on earth [even in the promised land]. People who say such things who that they are looking for a country of their own.” But they had a country of their own! “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were looking for a better country–a heavenly one” (Heb 11:14-16).

So, you see, the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ and passed along to all those who belong to Christ by faith. Whether Jew or Gentile, all who are relying on the works of the law are still under a curse and apart from the Messiah there is no promise of anything but judgment.

“I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means!,” writes the Apostle Paul, citing his own conversion to Christ as a Jew. “So too, at this present time (not some future time) there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Rom 11:1,5). In this present age, God is grafting in with Israel branches from alien, Gentile trees and forming one single family in which “there is neither Jew nor Gentile….For all are one in Christ” (Gal 3:28).

If you are interested in reading further on confessional Reformed covenant theology, the following book by Revs. Zach Keele and Mike Brown is a very helpful introduction.  I have a number of copies for purchase.

Sacred Bond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For something more focused on end times theology from a Reformed and covenantal perspective, this book by Rev. Kim Riddlebarger is helpful as well.

Case for Amil

 

We are objects of God’s mercy

This is a sermon that was preached at Bellville Reformed Church this past Sunday evening.  For examples of other Reformed sermons and resources, please look here.

We are objects of God’s mercy

1 Peter 2:1-10

Have you ever arrived in a new place – like another part of your home city or country, or perhaps another country altogether – and you have thought to yourself: This is like a different world?  It looks and sounds and feels so foreign?  For many Christians, the Old Testament – or at least parts of it – can seem like a very different world.  The OT can seem so different from the NT and the ways in which God deals with his people today.  Throughout the ages, Christians have wrestled with how to relate the Old and New Testaments.  Some theologians have concluded that the God of the OT is one of judgment and wrath, while the God of the NT is one of mercy and love.  Others believe that Israel was saved through keeping God’s law in the OT, while Christians are saved by faith in Jesus in the NT.  These theologians see little continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  Because of perspectives like these, the OT is all too often outright neglected in the life and ministry of the church.  But is our world really so unlike that of OT Israel in the ultimate sense?

Let’s answer this question this evening by considering 1 Peter 2:1-10, with special emphasis given to vv 4-6 and 9-10.  One of the defining features of the letters of the Apostle Peter is that they were written to Christians who were predominantly Gentile in nature.  In other words, they were not ethnic Jews and physical descendents of Abraham.  This reality is important in a number of ways for our understanding of God’s message of salvation to us in our passage as well as the Peter’s letters in general.  I will give you two closely related reasons why.  First, Peter takes salvation truths about God’s OT people and their world, and applies them directly to Gentiles, who, for the longest time were considered strangers to God’s covenant promises.  In other words, Peter shows us the magnificent continuity between the OT and NT worlds.  But how does he do this?  This brings me to my second point.  The world of the OT and ours come together in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the OT.  [Die wereld van die Ou en Nuwe Testament kom saam in Jesus Christus, die beloofde Messias van die Ou Testament.]  Through the blood of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile, you and I, have escaped the wrath of God and become objects of his mercy.

I. Two testaments, one people

The first ten verses of 1 Peter 2 are filled with direct and indirect references to the OT and the identity of God’s chosen people, Israel.  Peter uses these references to describe who we are as NT Christians.  You will notice how naturally and seamlessly Peter applies OT Jewish truths to NT Gentiles, but not without reference to Messiah, that is Jesus, the cornerstone of the church.  So, let’s consider some of the ways in which our identity as Christians is shaped by the world of the OT, and God’s salvation promises and acts we find there.

Brothers and sisters, here Peter gives us spiritual nourishment for our souls without which we will perish.  Let us heed Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 2.2 to long for “pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.”  No infant can live without milk, so likewise no Christian can live without the Word of the Lord.  So, if you have like the Psalmist (in Psalm 34.8), “tasted that the Lord is good”, then seek after more of his grace this morning as he speaks to us.  Let us consider who God has made us to be in Jesus so that our faith may be strengthened.

In 1 Peter 2.4-6, Peter tells his readers – tells us – that like “living stones” we are being “built up as a spiritual house” of which Jesus is the foundation or cornerstone.  In other words, Peter uses the imagery of the OT temple – where God met with his people – to describe our union with God.  Remember, Jesus is the one prophesied of in the OT as the fulfillment of the physical temple.  Jesus is the one of whom the Psalmist spoke of and Peter picks up on in Psalm 118.22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  While rejected and ultimately crucified by men, Jesus is nevertheless “in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2.4).  Therefore, if you have faith in Jesus this morning, you too are chosen and precious in the sight of God; you have entered into God’s house through the doorway of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has united us to Jesus, and thereby sanctified us, to make us “holy priests” so that we can offer up “spiritual sacrifices” to God.

In the OT, God met with Israel in the temple, where only the high priest could enter the most holy place, and only after all sorts of cleansing rituals.  In the OT, the priests offered up the sacrifice of goats and bulls to atone for the sins of the people.  But with the coming of Jesus, things have changed.  Things are much better.  Peter tells us that through Jesus we have all become stones in God’s temple (v5).  We have all been made holy priests who can now enter boldly into God’s presence, into the inner sanctuary – through Christ.  And because Jesus offered up the sacrifice of himself once and for all for our sins, we now offer up sacrifices of praise to God out of thanksgiving.

Brothers and sisters, the good news to us this evening that is born out of and builds upon the world of the OT; the spiritual nourishment for our souls, which is a bottomless-banquet; is that if you believe in Christ this morning “you will not be put to shame” (v6).  For the one that Isaiah prophesied of in Isaiah 28:16, and Peter quotes in his letter, has washed away our sins and has given us the certain hope of eternal life.  And this is true despite the accusations of the law, and what the world might say and how it treats us.  Although we are sinners and guilty of breaking God’s law, our nakedness and shame has nevertheless been dealt with by Jesus.  Jesus took our shame and gave us his perfect righteousness.  Now, by faith in Jesus, we stand justified in the sight of God, never again to be condemned for our wicked deeds. [Deur die geloof in Jesus Christus staan ons regverdig voor God.Although the world ridicules us for our faith and our stand against idolatry and immorality; although, like Israel in exile, the world oppresses us; although the world would like to shame us, humiliate us and disgrace us – our sufferings in this life will not result in shame and condemnation before God.  For we have been vindicated before the world in Jesus.  We will most certainly reign with him in final victory over sin, death and hell.  Beloved, consider who God has made you in Christ by his Holy Spirit.  Consider the even greater clarity and confidence we have of our salvation than the OT Saints.

Two Testaments, one people, in Christ

Have you – like the Psalmist and a countless number of OT Israelites – tasted of the goodness of the Lord, which has become even sweeter since the coming of Christ?  Do you believe in Lord Jesus and do you know the forgiveness of sins?  Or do you continue to reject the Son of Man like those who crucified Jesus and put him to death?

Friends, let us not forget the flip side of God’s promise of salvation.  The sobering reality is that for those who reject Jesus, he is: “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2.8).  In other words, to reject Jesus – the incarnate Word and the cornerstone of God’s kingdom – is not without consequence.  It results in spiritual death and condemnation.

But for those of faith, Peter gives these magnificent words of life and assurance in vv 9-10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Beloved, consider with me again the wonder of God’s promise of salvation to us Gentiles.  Remember that according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2.12, we were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  But this has changed, has it not?  Notice Peter’s description of the unity that we now share with God’s OT people.  Consider how God has widened the scope of his grace now to include both Jew and Gentile, you and I.  Notice how we now share in the fulfillment of God’s promises to OT Israel, how we share in the fulfillment of Israel’s experience as God’s chosen people.  And how has all this been made possible?  Through Jesus!

We share in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses, and therefore OT Israel, stretching all the way back to Exodus 19.4-5.  Back then, the Lord addressed Moses with these words: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  In the Ancient world, God delivered the physical descendents of Abraham from slavery in the great Exodus event from Egypt and made Israel his chosen people.  Now, in NT times, and according to Peter, we too have become part of the ultimate spiritual realities symbolized back then in the first Exodus.  We are Abraham’s spiritual descendents and God’s “chosen race” through the second and final Exodus accomplished by Jesus at the cross.  The good news of the gospel is that regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, we can all become part of God’s family; we are all one in Christ.  If you have faith this evening, know that God chose you before the foundations of the world to be part of a new and redeemed humanity, through the sacrifice of Jesus applied to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  [In Christus het ons deel in die beloftes van die Ou Testament.]

Peter also tells us that like OT Israel we are a “royal priesthood”.  Here again, it is through Jesus Christ and God’s Holy Spirit that we have been sanctified and made holy so that we can enter into God’s presence and offer him our sacrifices of praise.  Our identity and destiny is the fulfillment of Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt and deliverance into the Promised Land.  In the OT, Israel served King Yahweh in Canaan as a nation of priests.  Today, we serve as priests in God’s spiritual kingdom that is already ours, but has not yet come in all its fullness.  Like OT Israel, we have been set apart from all the peoples on earth to be part of God’s “holy nation”: one that is not defined by ethnicity, race, politics or geography, but by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus.  Just as God made Israel his prized possession from among all he nations of the world, we too are called “God’s special possession”.  In the OT, God’s people consisted mainly of ethnic Jews, but today we comprise a people that have been drawn from every, tongue, tribe and nation as a trophy for God’s glory.

Brothers and sisters, let me ask you once more: Do you see the magnificent continuity between the Old and New Testaments?  Do you see how we share in the same dramatic story of God’s redeeming acts that stretch all the way back to the early chapters of Genesis?  Peter has shown us that there are two testaments in the Bible, but only one people of God.  Israel is not replaced in the New Testament by another people, but rather Israel is enlarged to include us.  We, the church, are the Israel of God.  This is the first point I have been making this evening.  The second is that in order for this to be true – two Testaments, one people – God had to send Jesus.  Why?  Because of our sin and the idolatry of mankind.

In closing, I would like to bring the problem of sin into sharper focus, because it helps magnify the wonder of Peter’s in verse 10.  In order for us to appreciate the wonder of the gospel and our new identity in Christ, we must grasp the awful predicament that all of humanity is in on account of sin.  No one is able to cleanse himself and make himself holy before God.  Think back to OT Israel.  God promised them a long and prosperous life in the Promised Land – which was like heaven on earth – if they obeyed God’s law.  But, they failed didn’t they?  God ended up divorcing and disowning Israel as a people and sending them into exile for their disobedience.  The book of Hosea is one place where the unfaithfulness of Israel is graphically portrayed.  Israel is described as the prostitute, Gomer, who had gone after foreign lovers.  Israel is also likened to Gomer’s children of whoredom, whom God calls “Not my people” and “No Mercy”… And yet, exile and separation was not the end of the story for adulterous Israel.  For we read in Hosea 2.23 of God’s promise: “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not my People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Notice how this is the same storyline of redemption that Peter picks up on in 1 Peter 2:10.  Once again, we find that we are no different from Israel.  We too are lawbreakers caught up in this world of sin.  And yet, the good news of the gospel is that like the remnant of Israel we have become participants in another world – the age to come – through Jesus Christ.  Once we were not a people, “but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Thanks be to God for his promise made to Abraham that cuts through two testaments and two peoples, and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  As recipients of God’s grace and mercy, let us therefore live as strangers and exiles in this world with a certain hope of future salvation.  Let us fight against sin because we are dead to sin and this world.  Let us go forth with thankfulness, knowing that we have been cleansed and justified in Jesus.  Let us go forth proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Amen!

Simon Jooste

Evening service, Bellville Reformed Church, September 30, 2012