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.
A second example. Let’s look at a specific Old Testament geographical term which is used in in Revelation 16:12: “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.” Should we interpret the river Euphrates literally or geographically? Or does it have a spiritual, worldwide meaning like Revelation 1:7? We are not left to guess. The meaning of the Euphrates River in Revelation 16 is provided in Revelation 17. This becomes evident when we look at 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters. . . .’”
Notice two things about this text. First, one of the bowl-angels of chapter 16 has come to explain something, and, second, that something has to do with “many waters.” So which of the seven bowl angels is this? Which of the seven bowls have anything to do with water? There are three possible candidates; the second bowl (Rev 16:3– falls on the sea), the third (16:4-7– rivers and springs), and the sixth (16:12– Euphrates River). Which of these three bowl-angels is the angel of Revelation 17? The answer is clarified in verse 5: “This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev 17:5). Babylon was an ancient city located on the Euphrates River. So when you talk about a woman who sits on many waters (17:1) and whose name is Babylon (17:5), there is no question exactly what the waters of Revelation 17:1 are, they are the Euphrates River, which is also described as “many waters” in Jeremiah 51:13. The angel who comes to John in Revelation 17 is the sixth bowl angel. He has come to explain something about the Euphrates River.
What the angel has come to explain is found in Revelation 17:15: “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” What are these “waters you saw?” They are the waters of Rev 17:1, the waters of the Euphrates River. What does the Euphrates River represent? It represents “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” The Euphrates River is a symbol of many nations– the political, secular, and economic powers of this world. In the Old Testament, the Euphrates River was a literal and local river. But in the book of Revelation it is a symbol of a world-wide spiritual, concept, those people in the world who oppose Jesus Christ, not primarily on religious grounds, but as a threat to their political, secular and economic goals. In re-defining the Israel of the Old Testament, Jesus also re-defined how God looks at the earthly “enemy.” Differences between nations that have no impact on the larger issues in the cosmic conflict are of little or no importance to Bible prophecy. What counts is how people relate to Jesus Christ.
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.
The implications of these two shifts (from ethnic to spiritual and localized to worldwide) in the definition of Israel are profound. If Israel is defined by relationship with the Jewish Messiah rather than one’s ethnic or geographical location, national, institutional Israel can now be classed with the Gentiles in terms of God’s original purpose. And Gentiles who follow Jesus are grafted in to Israel’s original mission in Christ (Rom 11:17-24). Hans LaRondelle brought the clearest evidence for these shifts to my attention in a class more than forty years ago.
LaRondelle’s demonstration of the above began in the book of Joel. In the latter part of Joel 2, the author moves from his present situation to the far future (Joel 2:28 – 3:21). “In those days” (Joel 3:1), God would pour out His prophetic Spirit on men and women of every age (Joel 2:28-29). There would be heavenly signs (2:30-31) and God would bring deliverance to the remnant in Jerusalem (2:32). The deliverance would be needed because the nations (same Hebrew word as Gentiles) would proclaim war against Jerusalem and gather in the valley nearby for a final attack (3:9-12). In the context of Joel, God’s people are described in ethnic (Joel 3:16-17) and geographical (Joel 2:32; 3:12, 16, 20-21) terms and the deliverance is at a specific location on earth (Joel 2:32). Here, and in other places in the Old Testament (Psalm 2:1-9; Ezek 39:1-8, 21-29; Dan 11:40-45; Zech 12:1-3; 14:1-3), the end-time battle is between the people of Israel/Judah and the Gentiles, and it occurs in literal Jerusalem and/or the surrounding hills.
It was with stunned surprise that I experienced what happened next. LaRondelle turned to Acts, chapter 4. That chapter tells the story of how Peter and John were imprisoned for healing a man and then preaching in the temple (Acts 3:1-26; 4:1-22). When the apostles were released, their fellow followers of Jesus rejoiced and lifted their voices in prayer, quoting one of these Old Testament battle texts (Psalm 2:1-2). “Why do the nations [Gentiles] rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One” (Acts 4:25-26).
In Psalm 2 the enemies of Israel’s king were Gentiles (Psa 2:1, 8—Hebrew: goyim) and they were attacking from outside Jerusalem (Psa 2:6). The Israel over which the Lord’s anointed rules is understood in literal, geographical terms in Psalm 2:2. While the deliverance the apostles had just experienced also happened in Jerusalem (Acts 4:27), they no longer understand the Israel of Psalm 2 in national or geographical terms. And there is an additional, even more surprising element: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (Acts 4:27). The “raging Gentiles” now include the leaders of national Israel (“the people of Israel”) who gave Jesus up to be crucified. The leadership of Israel, located in Jerusalem, are now classed with the Gentiles because of their opposition to Jesus. A new boundary has been drawn between Israel and the Gentiles, and that boundary is determined in relationship with Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Those in relationship with Jesus, anywhere in the world, are part of the new Israel that He has established. Those who reject Jesus, who reject His spiritual definition of Israel, are now classed with the Gentiles of Bible prophecy, regardless of their ethnicity or location. This has profound implications for the interpretation of prophecy.
Before moving on, I want to make one thing clear. Classing institutional Israel with the Gentiles is not a rejection of the Jewish people as such or even the value of Judaism as a religious tradition. Paul is clear on this in Romans 11:1-2 (ESV): “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” Judaism as a religion still bears witness to a glorious history of God’s mighty acts, the sacredness of the Sabbath, God’s gracious purposes in the Law, and the benefits of obedience to the one God. But Israel’s unique mission to the nations has been taken up by Judaism’s spiritual descendants, the church. Many Jews, who have grasped the power of Jesus’ vision for Israel, have joined in that mission over the centuries and, in Paul’s view, will play an increasing role in that mission as things move toward the End (Romans 11:11-16, 25-32).
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.
It is plain in the Bible that Jesus did not come to start a new religion. The mission of Jesus Christ was “first for the Jew” (Romans 1:16 and Mark 7:27). His mission was to “bring Jacob back to (God) and gather Israel to himself” (Isa 49:5). Or in the words of Simeon, He came “for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32). His first mission was to restore Israel to its role as a “light . . . to the Gentiles” (Isa 49:6; Luke 2:32), a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:5-6), and a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 12:3). As the new Israel, He called twelve disciples (Matt 10:1-4), but He also called seventy (Luke 10:1), the number of nations in the world after the Flood (Genesis 10). From the beginning, His mission was also with an eye to the Gentiles.
But the question that was not settled at the beginning was this: “Would national, institutional Israel; the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, priests and scribes; embrace the Messiah and His spiritual vision for a restored Israel?” Jesus’ intention to include them is clear in His choice of twelve disciples and in His lament over Jerusalem (Matt 23:37—“How often I have longed to gather your children together. . .”). Even in Paul’s day it was still clear that “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Rom 11:1-2). But early on in Jesus’ ministry, the leaders of national Israel “rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luke 7:30) and instead plotted with the civil authorities how they might destroy Him and His mission (Mark 3:6).
If the leaders of institutional Israel had embraced the Messiah and His spiritual vision for them, they could have been the means through which a restored Israel would become a “light
. . . to the Gentiles” and a “kingdom of priests”, as God had always intended (see also Jeremiah 31:31-34). After all, His re-definition of Israel was not something new, it was a restoration of the original mission of Israel. But the leaders of institutional Israel rejected Jesus and His spiritual mission. From now on, Israel would no longer be defined in relation to its institutional leadership, but in terms of relationship with Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. In rejecting a relationship with Jesus, national Israel rejected a role for itself in His restoration of the original mission of Israel. The disciples of Jesus, as a remnant of original Israel, would now take up the role that national Israel had refused to do (Matt 18:29-30; 21:43).