Israel: Between Promises and Reality 3

Western-Wall-Jerusalem-Day-3

By David Zadok

Presented in Germany, October, 2015

 

Session 3: The Pattern of God in the New Testament

Introduction

So far we have surveyed the pattern of God dealing with Israel in general terms from the Old Testament. Now, we want to look at that pattern from the New Testament perspective. When we come to the New Testament, we have to agree with Augustine’s statement that “The New Testament lies concealed in the Old, the Old lies revealed in the New.”[1]  When we look at the Bible in its entirety we can comprehend Augustine’s saying since the New Testament clearly reveals the Old Testament and helps us to see its fulfillment, but also its fullness. And the Old could not stand by itself, despite the fact that Jewish people think so. There is too much in the Old Testament that is not clear because it is not fully revealed. In the Old we see things in shadow, but in the New we see the substance of who is the Christ. And of course the Old is concealed in the New, because the Old Testament can enhance our understanding and clarify it, since it is the foundation. In fact, there is no truth in the New Testament that does not have its root in the Old.

 

Of course, only in the Scriptures as a whole can we see the full plan of God. It describes the redemptive plan of God from creation to the cross and from the cross to consummation. And the cross is the climax of that history. Without it there is really no Christianity and no redemptive history. Relating to the saying of Augustine that was quoted earlier, we can see why we need both testaments in order to understand fully God’s plan. The two together help us to see the pattern and the ways in which God works in history and that can assist us to live our lives with a great hope. And that hope comes because the plan and purposes of God are eternal as Paul writes in Ephesians 3:11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because the purposes of God are eternal, and they do not change or collapse, it helps us to persevere, knowing that just as He promised and fulfilled those promises in the past, so will He also bring about all that has not yet been fulfilled. Let’s look at the pattern of God as is seen in the pages of the New Testament.

 

The Continuity

The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi, who sealed the pages of the Old Testament time wise, although as we know, the Hebrew order of the Bible puts the book of Chronicles at the end. Between Malachi and Matthew and the coming of John the Baptist, there were four hundred years that are called the silent years because the Lord did not speak and his words were not written. During these four centuries we have no prophet’s recorded words as part of the Canon of the Scriptures. And of course history did not stop moving during these years. In fact, much happened that prepared the way for the coming of John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness.

 

Matthew, the first gospel that we find in our New Testament writing with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begins his gospel with continuity, as he connects Jesus the Messiah with David and Abraham. Immediately Matthew describes in detail genealogy in three sets of fourteen, from Abraham to David, then from David to the Babylonian exile, and the last set of fourteen are from the exile to Christ.[2] David had an important role in the redemptive plan of God and in the covenant that God makes with him. In II Samuel we read how David had a desire to build a permanent home for the Lord who was “dwelling” in the tent of the meeting – the tabernacle, while David was living in a permanent home. After David shares his desire with Nathan the prophet, God reveals his plan for David and Solomon. He says that David will not build a house for him but his son, and that God will build a home for David and his descendants forever, an everlasting one (II Samuel 7: 1-16). This is one of the reasons why Matthew connects David to the Messiah. This is the first continuity that we find connecting the Messiah to the promises given to Abraham and David. Matthew helps us to see that Jesus, though born from the Holy Spirit, is from Jewish dynasty, the tribe of Judah, the seed of the woman. He brings us back to the promises not only given to Abraham, but also after the fall in Genesis 3:15. Only after establishing the foundation of Jesus’ lineage does Matthew go on to describe his birth and later on his life and ministry.

 

The Gospels and the Life of Christ  

The writers of the four gospels retell the story of the birth, life and ministry of Jesus. Each one of them writes it from a certain perspective, with a particular audience in mind. Of course, it is only Jesus and his story that gets four different versions, enabling us to comprehend in a better and more detailed way his life and work. In these stories we see the depth of enmity that we read about in Genesis 3:15. We see expressions of enmity and war already at his birth in the killing of innocent children by Herod who wanted to destroy the new born King of Israel. Like pharaoh, Herod also commanded all baby boys killed. And it continued with Satan testing Jesus in the wilderness after 40 days of fasting. Later, the religious leaders of Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees and others tried to destroy the seed of the woman before he could crush the head of the seed of the serpent.

 

The gospel writers show us also how Jesus was born from the virgin Mary, but not from the seed of man, showing that Jesus was born without sin. And then in detail, they help us see why he is the promised Messiah and how in his life, ministry, death and resurrection he fulfilled all that was said about him in the Old Testament. He fulfills not some, but all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah. In the life of Jesus we see his compassion, love, and kindness for the people whom he came to save. We see how patiently and gently he teaches them truths about God that they should have known. He spends much time with the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees despite their sharp antagonism and opposition toward him.

 

He dealt kindly with the outcast, the sick, demon possessed and the poor. He healed those who were suffering, he fed the hungry and set free the prisoners, not the ones in jail, but prisoners to sin and Satan. In fact, Luke tells us the way that Jesus began his ministry in the synagogue. Immediately after the temptation by Satan in the wilderness, he goes to Nazareth, his city, and there in the presence of those in the synagogue, he reads this passage from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19). These words in many ways mark the summary of his ministry. And when Jesus said that today these words have been fulfilled before your eyes, they understood that he was claiming to be the Messiah. They were filled with wrath as they heard him and wanted to throw him down a cliff (Luke 4: 19 – 28). From that point on as Luke documents, we see how Jesus goes about to fulfil what he spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. He went about in the land of Israel, although it was under Roman rule and taught and preached the message of the gospel of Grace. He embraces the weak and the downcast, the sick and the prostitutes, the Jews and Samaritans, the honorable man like Nicodemus, and also the not so honorable Samaritan woman of John Chapter Four. He fed the hungry, cast out demons and delivered many from their misery. He indeed set the captives free, both from temporary captivity and the eternal one, both the physical and spiritual.

 

The message of Jesus was so clear that the apostles got it right – it took a while, but they finally understood. Paul, for example when he was defending himself before King Agrippa in Acts 26: 6-7, says to him And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Paul got it. He shared the hope in the promise of God given to the twelve tribes. And we share that hope in the same promise today.   

 

The Place of Israel – In the Time of Jesus

While we can see the same pattern in the New Testament as we have seen in the Old, there is an important issue that seems to break that pattern. We know that for the most part the Jewish people as a whole rejected the Messiah, and in fact, as the gospel was preached starting in Jerusalem and later in Judea and Samaria and the remotest parts of the world (Acts 1:8), it was embraced more and more by Gentiles than by the Jews. It was the Jewish apostle Paul who was sent to the Gentiles, and they were the ones who accepted and embraced it as their faith. So is God then not faithful to his promises and covenants to the Jewish people? Is there a break in the pattern, and the character of God?

 

That is the very issue I believe Apostle Paul tries to answer in Chapters Nine through Eleven of the Epistle to Romans. He begins Chapter Nine with amazing and yet difficult words to digest. To make sure that we take his words seriously he says the same thing three times and uses Christ and the Holy Spirit as his witness. He writes: I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit. And then he goes on to tells us that he could wish that he was accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers, his kinsmen according to the flesh. We can see why he began this amazing statement with a three-fold declaration. Paul, who has tasted the goodness of Christ and has seen the benefits of faith in the promised Messiah, was willing to give up all of that for the sake of his Israelite brothers and kinsmen. Paul’s love for them was such that he was willing to give up not just his life, but eternity. He was willing to forsake his own relationship with Christ, in order that his kinsmen, the Israelites, would come to believe in the Messiah.

 

I am not sure about you, but no matter how hard I try, I honestly cannot say the same thing Paul is saying. I have labored for the salvation of my Jewish people for almost three decades, and yet I cannot in good conscience say that I am willing to be cut off from Christ, for the salvation of my kinsmen. But Paul was able to say that, and the Holy Spirit was his witness. I believe that this is evidence of the fact that Paul saw there was a possibility, and we shall see more than a possibility, that Jewish people would come to faith in the Messiah. Otherwise, why would he give up his salvation, for something that is not real or would not happen? By beginning these three wonderful chapters about the faithfulness and sovereignty of God in regard to the salvation of all people and particularly Jewish people, Paul helps us to see not only a future for Israel, but more so that the pattern of God is not breakable and that his promises and covenants will be fulfilled, even though it is not seen at the time that Paul was writing the epistle to Romans.

 

Here in the opening verses, he reminds us that all we have in terms of the New Testament and faith in the Messiah comes to us from God via the Jewish people, Paul’s kinsmen in the flesh. He puts in this way in verses four and five of Romans Nine: They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. First of all like Matthew, Paul connects the New Testament to the Old Testament and through the Jewish people who brought us the Messiah and everything else. And of course, it is a reminder of the fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham, that he and his descendants will be a blessing to the nations. There is no greater blessing to give to anyone, than the Messiah and his Word! And that is the blessing provided to the Gentiles. Secondly, Paul, by affirming this, justifies the need to ask the question about Israel and their unbelief. It seems to be very natural that the Israelites would be the first to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the world. But we know from the pages of the New Testament, including the Gospels that this was not the case. So the question comes to mind, “If all this came from them, then how is it that they rejected their own Messiah?” And to put the question sharper, “How can the Sovereign God be faithful, if they themselves rejected the Messiah, and would he not fulfill his promises to the Jewish people?” To answer these questions Paul uses three chapters! He was after all a Rabbi!

 

Paul starts by providing us with a solid basis for the Sovereignty of God. He uses  the example of Jacob and Esau, not only to show the election and predestination principle in God’s economy, but also to remind us that naturally Esau, as the older brother, should have been the heir, but God determined that it was Jacob, the younger. Later, Paul uses the example of the potter and the clay in verses 20 and 21 by asking, But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? We do not understand and cannot always comprehend why God does certain things in our lives and in the whole world. But here by using the example of Jacob and Esau and the potter and clay, we understand that it is his world and his doing. We don’t like to hear this, but we are the clay, the tools in God’s hand. By stating the election of God, Paul lays the foundation for Chapter 11, where he will argue that God has brought partial hardness upon Israel, so that the Gentiles will come in.

 

Paul is telling us that in that present time, God in his providence and full Sovereignty brought a partial hardening on Israel so that the gospel would go out to the Gentiles. Hypothetically, and humanly speaking, if we as the Jewish people had embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah, then most likely the gospel would have remained within the confined geographical and ethnical limitations of Jewish people. In other words, since it was rejected as a whole by the Jewish people, it started to spread to all parts of the world. This is why Paul uses the word mystery, μυστήριον, which in the New Testament refers to some truth that was hidden in the past, but is now revealed to us. Thankfully for us who live in this time of redemptive history, there is no mystery that is needed for life and salvation that has not been revealed to us in the pages of the New Testament. But God allowed rejection by the Jewish people, so that the gospel will go to the Gentiles. After all, Jesus is the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world – as John the Baptist declared in John 1:29. The gospel could not stay only within the Jewish people, but must be expanded. And this is the reason that God in his great wisdom, saw fit to allow that partial hardening come to us, so you, my dear gentile brothers and sisters could be grafted in. To put it in perspective, if we as the Jewish people would have embraced Jesus during the time of his coming, there is a good possibility that you would have not been sitting here today.

 

For this reason Paul clearly argues in the beginning of Chapter 11 that God has not rejected his people, and cannot reject them, even though they have rejected him. Here he brings us back to the pattern of God. The Jewish people were the covenant breakers the unfaithful ones, but God remained faithful and has not rejected them, although they rejected the Messiah. This is in conformity also to the Old Testament history of the people of Israel, as we saw it earlier. Back then, they kept rejecting God and followed the idols of the nations, and yet God remained faithful to them and did what he had to do to fulfil his promises. He sent us his Son, the savior of the world through the Jewish nation. Again, the same pattern!

 

While the Jewish nation as a whole rejected the Messiah, we know that the first followers of Jesus were Jewish people who not only followed him, but became his first disciples. They were the ones who took the gospel to other parts of the world and established the New Testament church with Paul being the spearhead of that mission to Gentiles. He and others were so successful in their mission that the church was filled with Gentiles. In Acts Chapter 15 we read about the first church council commenced to deal with that issue – what to do with all these Gentiles that all of a sudden believed not only in the God of Israel, but also the Jewish Messiah!

 

Paul uses his own example to prove that God has not rejected Israel because he himself is an Israelite, descendent of Abraham and from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1). And Paul was not the last one. Throughout the last 2000 years there have been many Jewish people who have believed in Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. There has always been a remnant from the Jewish people who followed the true Messiah.

 

And I am standing here today before you as an Israelite, Jewish from both parents, born in Israel, a proof that God has not rejected his people. And more so, I am glad to report to you that we are starting to see a real change towards the gospel among the people in Israel. People are more open to the gospel, and there is somewhat less antagonism towards us as Jewish Christians. Our congregation and HaGefen publishing are involved, like many other churches and organizations in Israel, in evangelistic work and campaigns. Just at HaGefen alone in the last few years, we have printed more than 200,000 copies of various evangelistic books. About a month ago we had three new people who were baptized in our church, Grace and Truth congregation, and two more have requested to be baptized. Three days ago I visited two others who started to come to our church about a month ago and were converted. Now these conversions are not happening every day and everywhere. There is not a revival yet, but it is a refreshing time as we see more and more Jewish people coming to faith. I hope to talk more about this   in my last lecture.

 

The Place of Israel – Future

There is yet an unfulfilled future for the people of Israel, as Paul tells us in Romans 11. While there has been a past and a present for Israel, there is also a future for the people of Israel, in regards to the plan of Salvation for the world. It is because God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable (11:29) that Paul could confidently say that all Israel will be saved (11:26). For Paul this is the mystery that God would allow a partial hardening to come to Israel, so that the gospel would reach to the Gentiles and once the full number, whatever it may mean, has come in, then all Israel will be saved. This understanding is in line with the pattern of promises and faithfulness of God. Those who hold to the replacement theology, argue that by the word Israel Paul does not mean ethnic Israel, but the Gentile Christians. However this breaks the long and strong chain in which we have seen the faithfulness of God, despite the unfaithfulness of people of Israel.

 

I believe that the fulfilment of all Israel becoming saved, will not happen in one day, as if we will wake up and read in the media that the nation of Israel has become Christian, but rather it will happen slowly and surely as it is happening today, one soul at a time.

 

But there is something else here in these three chapters. I believe Paul is giving us hope and confidence in God’s promises to us now and today. Because, If God will not be faithful to his promises to Israel, then what guarantee do we have today under the New Covenant that he will keep his promises to us, in the church today? We have briefly spoken about the shortcomings of the people of Israel in the Old and New Testament (namely the rejection of Jesus), but if we look at the “performance” of the church in the last 2000 years, and particularly in these days, we have to admit that they have also failed miserably. But again it is not about our performance, but God’s faithfulness. We have seen that his faithfulness is independent of us.  And because of this and the fact that God will remain faithful to his promises, leads me to believe that ethnic Israel will be saved, and I can say this with great confidence.

 

This is the great plan of salvation for the world that God has worked out from before the foundation of the world and has perfectly executed through his Son. I think that as Paul was dictating these words and as the plan of God’s salvation for the whole world became clear in his mind, he ended the three chapters with the great doxology in verses 33-36: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. AmenThere is no other response as we see the great plan of God, but only a great doxology, a praise and Hallelujah to the all wise God!   

 

Conclusion

The New Testament is the direct continuation of what was revealed in the Old Testament. We see the continuity of the same pattern that was seen in the Old, namely the faithfulness of God, and the unfaithfulness of people. Jesus the Messiah, was the direct descendent of Abraham and David and the fulfillment of all the promises in the Old Testament.

 

But the people of Israel as a nation rejected their Messiah. However, we should not be so surprised by that rejection or by God’s reaction because first of all, it is in line with the reaction of God to the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It is always God who is faithful, not the people, not Israel and certainly not the church today. People have acted consistently with our Jewish history – just as our forefathers rejected the Word of God, so also now the people reject again the Word, the Son of God.

 

But there is a second and more important reason. We have seen Paul laying down God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Israel’s rejection had a purpose. It was for the sake of Gentiles, for many of you! Jesus did come primarily for the house of Israel. The Scriptures emphasize and reiterate the initial priority of the Jewish mission. Jesus even used very strong words when speaking with the Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon. When she begged him to have mercy on her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus replied in Matt 15:24-27: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ’Lord, help me.’ And He answered, It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ’Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. There was no doubt about his priority or for what purpose and for whom the Father had sent him. The disciples understood this clearly, as is evident when Peter, in his sermon in Solomon’s Portico, says in Acts 3:25-26: You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up His servant, sent Him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. Peter recognized that the Servant of the Lord was sent first to the house of Israel to bless them and to turn them from their wickedness. This shows that while Jesus came first and foremost for the house of Israel because of God’s promise to them, he came also for the Gentiles, like this Canaanite woman, the Samaritan woman, Cornelius and many other Gentiles.

 

Such is our great, all wise God reaching out to us who do not deserve it.

 

[1] Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch 2.73

[2]  Matthew 1:17.

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