I apologize for a lengthy period of no posting. I know a number of you were looking forward to the conclusion of the series on LaRondelle, Israel and the Church. Distracted with many other things. With this posting, the series is now complete.
Old Testament Israel was made up of the literal descendants of Jacob in their twelve tribes settled in the promised land that was centered on the city of Jerusalem. So Israel in the Old Testament was identified in literal and local terms. Gentiles consisted of everyone outside Israel’s national and geographical boundaries. Those wishing to worship the God of Israel, therefore, would find Him at the temple in Jerusalem. But when the temple was destroyed and the descendants of Jacob were scattered to Babylon, God used those circumstances to open up the possibility of a broader definition of Israel.
According to the New Testament, a new Israel was established in the person of Jesus Christ. He came out of Egypt, passed through the waters, spent 40 days in the wilderness and called twelve disciples to form the “twelve tribes” of a new, spiritual Israel. He was Israel as Israel was intended to be. Just as His life, death and resurrection were modeled on the history and experience of Israel, so the experience of His disciples was to be modeled on Him and through Him on Old Testament Israel. So when the New Testament talks about the church it often does so in the language of Israel. The church, in the book of Revelation and throughout the New Testament, is modeled on the experience of Old Testament Israel. But this is not true in a direct sense. They are modeled on Israel because they are in relationship with the One who embraced the whole history and experience of Israel in Himself.
In contrast to Old Testament Israel, which was literal and local in nature, the new Israel (the church) is spiritual and worldwide, because it is grounded in relationship with Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. This Israel is made up of people from every nation, tribe, and language. They are found in every geographical corner of the world. And through the Holy Spirit, they have no need to go to Jerusalem, God is equally accessible from anywhere on earth. Likewise, opposition to Jesus and the church is spiritual and worldwide when it appears in Revelation. If one truly grasps the significance of this New Testament re-definition of Jew and Gentile, Israel and the nations, one’s reading of the Bible will never be the same.
Continuing our look at Hans LaRondelle’s understanding of Israel and the nations in the New Testament.
There is a memorable saying in the Old Testament: “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut 19:15). We have seen in the “light . . . to the Gentiles” theme how the promise to Abraham (Gen 12:3) and the charge to Israel (Exod 19:5-6) were seen in the New Testament as fulfilled in Christ (Luke 2:32), and through Him the church (Acts 13:46-47). Israel was re-defined in spiritual and worldwide terms. This is confirmed in the way the early church applied Psalm 2 to the crucifixion (Acts 4:24-28). Before closing this book, I want to further confirm this approach to biblical interpretation with two more examples as additional witnesses.
Let’s compare Revelation 1:7 with Zechariah 12. “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen” (Rev 1:7). Who is this talking about in Revelation? This is talking about Jesus, the one who brings the vision to John (Rev 1:1-6). So the verse is saying, “Look, he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him [Jesus].” When Jesus comes every eye, in other words, the whole world, will see Him. It is a universal coming. Everyone will see Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
The author of Revelation did not invent these words. He is alluding to a passage in his Bible, the Old Testament, Zechariah 12:10-12: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great. . . . The land will mourn, each clan by itself. . . .” In Zechariah 12 it is not Jesus speaking. Rather it is Yahweh who is speaking (Zech 12:1-9), it is Yahweh who comes, it is Yahweh who is to be pierced. In Zechariah it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who mourn. So the actions and reactions in Zechariah 12 are limited in a literal and local sense.
In Revelation 1:7, however, John takes this Old Testament Yahweh text and applies it to Jesus and the situation of the world at the Second Coming. It is Jesus who comes, it is Jesus who was pierced. This is a spiritual re-definition of what happens in Zechariah 12. Likewise, it is the tribes of the whole earth who mourn, not just the tribes around Jerusalem. So Revelation 1 takes the literal and local things of Zechariah in a spiritual and worldwide sense. Like Acts 4, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are no longer the good guys, they are now classed with the enemies of Israel. To read Zechariah without reference to Jesus’ re-definition of Israel would be to misunderstand the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Those in relationship with Jesus are Israel. Those in opposition to Jesus are classed with the enemies of Israel, such as Sodom, Egypt and Babylon (Rev 11:8; 14:8—this attitude is consistent with Deuteronomy 13:12-17). To take Old Testament end-time prophecies as applying to literal and local nations in the Middle East today is to ignore Jesus’ own Christ-centered, typological hermeneutic.
What Jesus did was to expand the definition of Israel to all who are in relationship with Him, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, see also Mark 7:27 and John 10:16; 12:20-24). The mission of Israel would now fall on the followers of Jesus, who would come “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). When Paul and Barnabas read God’s Old Testament promises to Israel, they read those promises typologically in Jesus Christ. So they could apply Isaiah 49 also to themselves. “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47, quoting Isaiah 49:6). As part of the new Israel in Christ, Paul and Barnabas applied Israel’s promises to their mission to the Gentiles. Since the church had taken up the mantle of Israel, all the promises of God to Israel now applied to the church, but in a spiritual, worldwide sense, as we will see.
Through this re-definition in Christ, two very important things happened to the meaning of Israel. First, Israel was no longer primarily defined as a civil, geographical entity. The followers of Jesus would come to include people from every nation, language, and tribe. Thus, Israel took on the spiritual tone that was intended for it from the beginning. It would now be made up of those who had a heart relationship with God in Jesus Christ. In Christ, Israel became a new community, with no ethnic limitations. The blessing that had now come to the Gentiles in Christ would go out to both Jew and Gentile from henceforth.
Second, institutional Israel was geographically centered around the temple in Jerusalem. No matter where a Jew might be displaced around the world, it was the goal to visit Jerusalem and the temple, if possible, three times a year. For Old Testament Israel, God’s Shekinah glory was housed in the temple. The emblems of God’s presence were localized in a specific geographic place. So national, institutional Israel was both ethnic and geographical in nature. By way of contrast, the new Israel was spiritual (grounded in a living relationship with the Jewish Messiah and unlimited in its ethnicity) and worldwide (Christ is equally available in any place through the Holy Spirit).
Jesus affirms the above in John, chapter 4. When the woman of Samaria sought to engage him in a discussion as to whether Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem was the right place to find God, Jesus responded, “. . . the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The worship of the new Israel is spiritual and worldwide (as God had always intended OT worship to be) because it is based on the truth that is in Jesus. Jesus Himself is the true Israel and all who are in relationship with Him (regardless of their ethnicity or location in this world) are also part of that true Israel.
This is confirmed also in Revelation 5:9-10: “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’”
The “kingdom and priests” of this text echos Exodus 19:5-6. But Israel in Revelation is no longer the literal descendants of Jacob being gathered into the promised land of Israel. Through the blood of the Lamb, God has gathered them out from every corner of the earth (anticipated in Isaiah 66:19-20). They are a spiritual kingdom, in relation to the Lamb. And they are a worldwide kingdom, drawn from every nation. Israel has been re-defined. In the hands of the New Testament writers, the literal and local things of Israel have become spiritual and worldwide.
The mission of Israel as a nation was laid out in a nutshell in Exodus 19:5-6: “‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” All the nations of the world belong to God, but God chose Israel to be “a kingdom of priests” to the other nations of the world. A priest is someone who stands between God and humanity, helping to make connections between the two. Israel was intended to be a “kingdom of priests” that would help restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden and re-unite the whole human family of God.
This pronouncement to Israel at Mount Sinai was consistent with God’s promise to Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). It was God’s intention that all the peoples of the earth would be brought back into God’s family through the witness and faithfulness of the descendants of Abraham. This promise to Abraham was a down payment on God’s promise to undo the consequences of the Fall (Gen 3:15). So the promise to Israel in Exodus 19 was part of a larger plan.
Israel as a nation, however, embraced its privileged position but did not live out the purpose of that privilege. So in one of the mysterious servant songs of Isaiah, God addresses both Israel (Isa 49:3) and the Messiah (Isa 49:5) as follows: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). The promise to Israel remained. It was not too late for Israel to achieve its purpose, but already the notion of “Israel” was beginning to be re-defined. Israel’s mission would now be assisted by Yahweh’s servant, who would “bring Jacob back to (God)” (Isa 49:5).
At the very beginning, after all, Israel was not yet a national entity, it was a spiritual concept, designated by the name God gave Jacob after his wrestling with the “angel”: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28). Israel’s mission was from the beginning a spiritual one, to restore lost humanity to God. But Israel as a nation largely failed in its mission (though there were some positive examples of mission success, such as Rahab, Ruth, the Queen of Sheba, Naaman, and Nebuchadnezzar II). So Isaiah 49 predicted that God’s Servant would intervene to restore Israel to its original mission.
When Simeon saw the baby Jesus in the temple, he was moved under inspiration (Luke 2:27) to repeat Isaiah 49, but in a way that pointed toward a re-definition of Israel. The messianic child would now play the role that Israel was intended to play. He would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The promise to Abraham and Israel would now be fulfilled through Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. He was a new Jacob, a faithful Israel, through whom God would bring light to the Gentiles and restore the human race to Himself.
The history, experience and mission of Israel would now be centered in the person of Jesus Christ. He would experience what Israel experienced, succeed where Israel failed, and reap the consequences of Israel’s failure. Jesus embraced His role as the new Israel by selecting, not eleven or thirteen, but exactly twelve disciples, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). Like the original Israel, Jesus came up out of Egypt (Matt 2:13-15; Hos 11:1-9), passed through the waters of baptism (Matthew 3 and Luke 3), spent 40 days in desert (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; Num 14:33-34; 32:13; Deut 2:7, etc.), and then gave the new Torah for a new Israel on a mountain (Matthew 5-7, note especially Matthew 5:1-2). His death and resurrection would truly be a new Exodus for a new Israel (Luke 9:30-31). But Jesus was not to play the role of a new Israel by Himself. Israel would be re-defined in relation to Him. To be continued. . . .