Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Friday, January 02, 2015

"Israel Means Israel"


The following post is adapted from comments I made in a Facebook discussion, wherein I was interacting with a number of Dispensationalists.

Some Dispensationalists understand “Israel,” as presented in Scripture, as only ever having one strict meaning: a meaning entirely dependent on ethnic and biological identity. This "Israel means Israel" approach by Dispensationalists gives me deja vu of debating Arminians. Arminians-arguing against the doctrine of Particular Redemption-often repeatedly pound the point that: "Christ died for the world! He died for all! World means world! All means all! Everybody knows what those words mean!" And the Reformed apologist says: well, we have to derive the meaning from the text of Scripture itself, not pre-suppose what the words mean.

The Arminian would say, concerning the assertion that "world" and "all" aren't universal in the way they imagine, that Reformed theologians are making God out to be a liar or a con artist when He uses those terms.

The Dispensationalist claims that "Israel means Israel" and that to suppose that the term "Israel" may sometimes include those who are not ethnically Jewish is to present God as a liar or a con artist. 

God is not a liar or a con artist.

Romans 9:6 explains, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel."

Spiritually and covenantally, incorporation of believing Gentiles into covenantal Israel is presented in the New Testament, in the ingrafting language of Romans 11. Romans 11:26 and Galatians 6:16 refer to the Church as Israel. This becomes especially clear when one traces the arguments leading to these verses.

The Dispensationalist objects that these verses may be considered “ambiguous”. But where is the single verse that unambiguously states that God is one is essence, while three in person? Contextual reading and synthesis are always necessary. When we look for evidence of Christ's deity, we do not limit ourselves to verses that say the three words: "Jesus is God". Another way that we prove the point is by looking to verses that use titles for Christ that are only proper for God. In the case of the Church–in a sense, through union with Christ–being identified with Israel, we see that the Church is called by names that are only fitting for Israel. Exodus 19:6 tells Israel: "you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 1 Peter 2:9 tells the Church: "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." The Old Testament–in passages like Hosea 2, Isaiah 54, and Ezekiel 16–calls Israel the bride of the LORD. In the New Testament, we see the Church as the bride of Christ.

The LORD is not a bigamist.

In Galatians 6:16 it is clear what the Apostle is doing in the argument leading up to that verse (erasing the distinction between Jew and Gentile regarding God’s promises), and therefore clear what the phrase “Israel of God” means in that context. On the other hand, I do think that some Reformed writers tend to identify Israel as the Church without adequate attention paid to the necessary Christological step. Just as we are only–in any sense–sons of God through our union with the Son of God, we are only–in a certain sense–Israel through our union with the One in whom all of God's covenant promises are fulfilled.

Jesus is the true Israel. As the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology notes:

"Matthew makes this point dramatically in his opening chapters, first by applying the Exodus verse Hosea 11:1 to Jesus (Matt 2:15), and then by telling the story in a way that makes Jesus re-enact Israel's history: the Exodus from Egypt (2:19-20), the crossing of the Red Sea (3:13-17), the temptations in the desert (4:1-11), even the arrival at Mt. Sinai to receive the law (5:1-2). Perhaps most pointedly, it is Jesus on whom the Spirit descends (Matt 3:16), although the prophetic expectation was of an outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel (Isa 44:2-3; Eze 36:25-27). Where Israel had failed the temptations in the desert, Jesus now remains faithful to God. 
"Here, at last, is a Son in whom God is truly pleased (Matt 3:17). 'I have not come to abolish [the law and the prophets], but to fulfill [them]', he claims (Matt 5:17): part of the meaning of this must be that, in Jesus, we see at last Israel's true response of obedience, worship, and love. 
"John develops the same thought, but from a different angle: he presents Jesus as the temple, the focus of Israel's life, the place where sin is dealt with and prayer is truly offered and heard (John 2:19-22; 8:34-36; 16:23-24). Paul's approach to the same idea is to see Jesus as the seed of Abraham, the one who truly and supremely inherits the covenant promises given to Abraham (Gal 3:16, 19). Israel fell under the curse of the covenant (Gal 3:10, quoting Deut 27:26), but the promise of blessing is not made void, because Jesus stepped into the position of those 'born under the law' to 'redeem' them (Gal 4:4-5), and so the promises are realized in Him."

Having established that Jesus is the true Israel, the same principal applies as with other truths for those who are united to Christ. Jesus is God's Son; in Him, we are sons, seated with Him in the heavenlies. Jesus is the high priest; in Him, we are a kingdom of priests. Jesus is the temple; in Him, we are the temple (1 Cor 3:16). Jesus is the true seed of Abraham; in Him we–even those of us who are not biologically descended from Abraham–are Abraham's descendants.

Jeremiah 31:35-37 declares:

Thus says the Lord, 
Who gives the sun for light by day
 and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, 
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; 
the Lord of hosts is His name: 
“If this fixed order departs
 from before Me,” declares the Lord,
 “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
 from being a nation before Me forever.”

 God is faithful to His people: "the offspring of Israel.” That "the offspring of Israel" would include ingrafted Gentiles was definitely somewhat a mystery in the Old Covenant administration, but there were certainly pointers to this fact, even within the Old Testament. God tells Abraham, "all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you," Jesus' own family line includes four Gentile women (or women with Gentile connections) who become grafted in to the covenant line, and–in His ministry–Jesus points to OT examples of Gentile faith in order to rebuke ethnic Jews who believed that they could presume upon their heritage while rejecting Him.

The Dispensationalist often asserts that the non-dispensationalist is "painting God as a promise-breaker.” (I’ve personally had this charge leveled against me on more than one occasion.) But consider: what promise do Dispensationalists imagine that non-dispensationalists think God has broken?

If I said to you, ‘I'm going to give you twelve crisp one dollar bills next Sunday,' then–when next Sunday comes–I say, 'Forget twelve dollars; I'm giving you one hundred and forty-four thousand dollars! In fact, I'm giving everybody in your church one hundred and forty-four thousand dollars!' If I gave out that gift, no reasonable person would charge me with promise breaking. (You could imagine how ridiculous the objection would sound: 'Oh, no: you didn't give just me just twelve dollars; you're obviously untrustworthy!')

Similarly, if–in the storyline of Scripture itself–we see an escalation of God's promises by which all believing Jews AND believing Gentiles [those who reject Christ–whether ethnically Gentile or Jewish–can expect nothing but fiery judgment] receive the promises of the New Covenant in Christ, culminating in inheriting the new heavens and new earth, then no reasonable person will charge God with promise-breaking just because the promise turns out to be even better than what was previously [typologically: Heb 4:8-11] understood.

God's people–ALL of God's people–receive Christ Himself and every New Covenant blessing in Him. "[God] did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all: how will He not graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32) As Charles Spurgeon wrote: "As the Anointed Redeemer of Israel, Christ Jesus holds nothing distinct from His Church, but all that He has He holds for her."

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