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.
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. . . .
I apologize for a long period of silence on this blog. I have been involved in so many fresh writing and speaking project I just haven’t been able to dedicate time to one more thing that doesn’t have a deadline attached to it. With this blog today, I will share a summary of the revolutionary things I learned in Seminary from my favorite teacher, Hans LaRondelle (1973-1975, 1981-1987). His concept of Christ-Centered typological interpretation was like taking the blinders off in my reading of the Bible. Obscure prophetic texts suddenly made sense. There was a coherent unity to the Bible I had never seen before.
LaRondelle’s major contribution to my understanding had to do with the relationship between Israel and the church in New Testament interpretation. Many Christian scholars understanding that the unfulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament must be fulfilled in detail in the Middle East, exactly the way they are written up. This leads to conclusions related to what some call the Rapture theory. Larondelle pointed out that the writers of the New Testament did not read the Old Testament prophets in that way. Readers of Revelation should read the Old Testament the way the rest of the New Testament writers did. In this series of blogs, I will try to summary that perspective and its implications for my understanding of Revelation.
One of the great honors of my life was to have Dr. LaRondelle trust me enough to request from his death bed that I work with his final book manuscript and bring it to a conclusion. This was published electronically through the Logos software as The Bible Jesus Interpreted. It has since been updated and published in book form as Through Jesus’ Eyes (Safeliz, 2020). I will try to summarize the main insights of that book here.