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 16, 2015

"All Israel:" An Additional Witness


Re-reading through some sections from Continuity and Discontinuity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988) earlier this evening, I came across the following quote from Marten H. Woudstra. Woudstra was closely associated with the production of the original New International Version of the Bible. For this reason, if you Google Woudstra’s name, you will find numerous attacks against him by KJV-only advocates, who charge him with theological liberalism [and worse], but–doing further research into his life (through on-line articles from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [Woudstra was a president of ETS]), I believe that there is no reason to give credence to these attacks. [Also: all of the contributors to Crossway’s Continuity and Discontinuity seem to have been theological conservatives.]
            At the time that he wrote “Israel and the Church: A Case for Continuity” for Continuity and Discontinuity, Woudstra taught at Calvin Theological Seminary. Woudstra interpreted “all Israel” Romans 11:26 in the same manner as the theologian for which his school was named. Woudstra wrote:

The quote from Isaiah 59 which follows in Rom 11:26 refers to a deliverer who shall come out of Zion. He it is who takes away Israel’s sin. This deliverer has already come when Paul writes these words. The taking away of sins has been accomplished by Christ, and this for both Gentiles and Jews. As the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in and “until” this time is finished, so, in this manner, “all Israel” will be saved. In this manner the twofold OT emphasis upon particularism and universalism will have merged. There will be one body of the redeemed, Christ’s flock, known to him by name and distinguished from those who are not his sheep. This body of Christ will exclude those who are not truly Christ’s own; yet it will also call all men to repentance. The saving of “all Israel” is still going on, for the fullness of the Gentiles is also still being brought in. But at all events some of the Jews who are now hardened in part will be grafted into the one olive tree. They will not form a separate program or a separate entity next to the church.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"All Israel"


Studying through Romans a few years ago, I came to the following conclusion concerning Romans 11:26a (“and in this way all Israel will be saved”); namely, that “in this way” is referring to the entire proceeding outline of redemptive history among Jews and Gentiles (wherein a “partial hardening” comes upon [ethnic] Israel, Gentiles are “grafted in” to the covenant line, and–once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”– Jews–having been provoked to holy jealousy by God’s work among the Gentiles–trust in Christ and are grafted in again). Therefore “all Israel” refers to believing Jews and Gentiles (to use the Apostle’s analogy: both the wild and natural branches grafted into the one olive tree). I was surprised to find that basically nobody agrees with my interpretation of the text. Not G.K. Beale, not Dr. Tom Schreiner (under who I was privileged to study Romans), not John Murray: all of these scholars–and many more!–take “all Israel” as referring to ethnic Israelites. Taking this view, however, they have to explain that “all” does not mean “all” but only all the elect ethnic Israelites. Which–in this case–may make one wonder why the Apostle bothered to write “all” at all! On my view, all is needed in the text because it qualifies “Israel,” so that the reader is meant to understand that “in this way” all of God’s chosen people–from Jews to Gentiles and finally to Jews again–will be saved.
Obviously, it’s rather disconcerting to find yourself virtually alone in an understanding of the text. And to find myself in disagreement with so many trusted teachers certainly made me re-examine the Scripture. But–looking at the passage again and again–I became convinced that I was viewing the argument in Romans correctly. Also–it turns out–I’m not quite alone in my interpretation of Romans 11:26a. See there is this one guy
In his Romans Commentary, regarding Romans 11:26a, John Calvin writes: 


Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, — “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.

This is precisely how I had come to see the text! So, when it comes to Romans 11:26a, I am a Calvinist. (I have no idea how Arminius interpreted this text.)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jeffrey D. Johnson: "the church does not replace Israel"


In the following selection from The Kingdom of God: A Baptist Expression of Biblical and Covenant Theology, Jeffrey D. Johnson explains why Reformed Theology-at least in its Reformed Baptist expression-should not be considered "replacement theology."

It is not as if God changed His mind about who were to receive the promised inheritance. From the beginning, the inheritance was reserved only for a select few who had been chosen by God. To illustrate this, Paul turned to the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, who were both the natural-born, circumcised grandchildren of Abraham. Yet according to Paul, the inheritance was not intended for all of Abraham’s physical seed. Rather, it was intended only for those whom God had chosen beforehand:

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:9-13).

What made Jacob different from Esau was not his birthright or his works, but divine election. Prior to the birth of these twin boys, there was a prophecy that proclaimed, “The older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). This prophecy proved that God is the One who determines who will receive the inheritance.
In the same way, prior to the gospel breaking through to the Gentiles, there was an Old Testament prophecy that predicted this event: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Rom 9:25; cf. Hos 2:23). “And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hos 1:10). In addition, Paul went on to explain that the Old Testament made it clear that only a small number of the physical seed of Abraham would be saved: “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved’” (Rom 9:27). Thus, the first reason why the majority of physical Israel were rejecting the kingdom was that the promises were exclusively given to God’s elect people, who consisted of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

….

[As seen in Romans 15], the church does not replace Israel. Rather, believing Gentiles are grafted into the same tree with believing Jews. That is, Gentiles do not enjoy a different inheritance but share in the same inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his seed. As Paul specifically indicates later in the chapter, “the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings” (Rom 15:27).

A couple of qualifications that I would add to the above:
  • Johnson writes, "the promises were exclusively given to God’s elect people, who consisted of Abraham’s spiritual seed." I would say that the promises are primarily secured by God's elect Man, Jesus Christ, who was fully qualified as the fulfillment of Abraham's seed in both the physical and spiritual sense. These promises, first enjoyed by the elect from Abraham's physical seed [for the most part], were expanded through Christ to all the elect: Abraham's spiritual seed from both Jews and Gentiles. I believe-based on some other passages in his book-that Johnson would agree with this.
  • Johnson writes of "a select few." I believe, based on passages like Daniel 2:35, Matthew 13:32, and Revelation 7:9 that-in the final analysis-the group of the elect will not be few, but innumerable, demonstrating the richness of God's grace in Christ.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

John Owen: "The house of Israel and the house of Judah"


The following selection is from John Owen’s Exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13, as found in Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ [I’ve made some slight changes to the formatting]. This section is focused on Hebrews 8:8, which contains a quote from Jeremiah 31:31, “Finding fault with them He says, ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the LORD, ‘And I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’” Following the [admittedly lengthy] quote from Owen, I’ll give a few personal thoughts. 

The Persons with Whom this Covenant [i.e. the New Covenant] Were Made

The persons with whom this covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Long before the giving of this promise, that people were divided into two parts. The one of them, in way of distinction from the other, retained the name of Israel. These were the ten tribes, which fell off from the house of David, under the conduct of Ephraim; by reason of which fact they are often also in the Prophets called by that name. The other, consisting of the tribe properly so called, with that of Benjamin and the greater part of Levi; took the name of Judah; and with them both the promise and the church remained in a peculiar manner. But although they all originally sprang from Abraham, who received the promise and sign of circumcision for them all, and because they were all equally in their forefather brought into the bond of the old covenant, they are here mentioned distinctly, that none of the seed of Abraham might be excluded from the tender of the covenant. To the whole seed of Abraham according to the flesh it was that the terms and grace of this covenant were first to be offered. So Peter tells them, in his first sermon, that “the promise was to them and their children” who were then present, that is, the house of Judah; and “to all who were afar off,” that is, the house of Israel in their dispersions (Acts 2:39). So again he expresses the order of the dispensation of this covenant with respect to the promise made to Abraham, Acts 3:25-26:

“You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed will all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’ To you first, God–having raised his Son Jesus–sent him to bless you” (namely, in the preaching of the gospel).

So our apostle, in his sermon spoken to them, affirmed that “it was necessary that the word should be first spoken to them” (Acts 13:46). And this was all the privilege that was now left to them; for the partition-wall was now broken down, and all obstacles against the Gentiles taken out of the way. To that end this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered in two ways: [1.] as that people who were the whole entire posterity of Abraham; [2.] as they were typical, spiritually symbolic of the whole church of God. Because of this fact alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given to the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them.

            In the first sense, God made this covenant with them [i.e. ethnic Israelites], and this on various accounts:

1.     Because he in through whom alone it was to be established and made effectual was to be brought forth among them of the seed of Abraham, as the apostle Peter plainly declares (Acts 3:25).
2.     Because all things that belonged to the ratification of it were to be transacted among them.
3.     Because, in the outward dispensation of it, the terms and grace of it were first in the counsel of God to be tendered to them.
4.     Because by them, by the ministry of men of their posterity, the dispensation of it was to be carried to all nations, as they were to be blessed in the seed of Abraham, which was done by the apostles and other disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. So the law of the Redeemer went forth from Zion. By this means “the covenant was affirmed with many” of them “for one week” before the calling of the Gentiles (Dan 9:27). And because these things belonged equally to them all, mention is made distinctly of “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” For the house of Judah was, at the time of the giving of the promise, in the sole possession of all the privileges of the old covenant; Israel having cut off themselves by their revolt from the house of David (being cast out also, for their sins, among the heathen). But God, to declare that the covenant he designed had no respect to those carnal privileges which were then in possession of Judah alone, but only to the promise made to Abraham, he equals all his seed with respect to the mercy of the covenant.

In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of two (namely, Jews and Gentiles) with whom the covenant is really made and established, and to whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made will as really have the law of God written in their hearts–and their sins pardoned–according to the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing to his name.

John Owen
The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it to them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue of it, and in whose hearts the law of God is written, which are the express promises of it. And it was with respect to those of this sort among that people that the covenant was promised to be made with them. (See Romans 9:27-33; 11:7.) But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it. And in respect to that did the privilege of the carnal seed of Abraham lie.
Those who are first and most advanced as to outward privileges are oftentimes last and least advantaged by the grace and mercy of them. Thus was it with these two houses of Israel and Judah. They had the privilege and pre-eminence above all nations of the world as to the first tender and all the benefits of the outward dispensation of the covenant; yet, “though the number of them was as the sand of the sea, a remnant only was saved.” They came behind the nations of the world as to the grace of it; and this by reason of their unbelief, and the abuse of the privileges granted to them. Let not those, therefore, who now enjoy the greatest privileges be high-minded, but fear.


I believe that the above exposition is true to Scripture and is pure gold. However, I believe that it could be improved in one important respect. Owen writes of “Israel and Judah” referring to ethnic Israelites and to “the whole church of elect believers.” In his discussion of ethnic Israelites, he mentions Christ in passing as the seed of Abraham. I believe that it would be far better to devote an entire paragraph [another “sense” in which “Israel and Judah” is intended] to discussing Christ as the unique fulfillment of “Israel and Judah” before transitioning from ethnic Israel to “the whole church of elect believers.”

In passing, I should note Owen’s use of Acts 2:39. In another setting, I’ve cited that verse as a proof for Gentile inclusion into covenant promises. A Dispensationalist brother challenged me on this, noting that Peter’s mention of “those who were afar off” could not refer to Gentiles, since Peter was later surprised by Gentile inclusion into the Church, as recorded in Acts 10-11. Though I argued the point at the time–and still believe that this verse is part of a thematic trend in Acts, pointing toward greater inclusion in the covenant promises–Owen’s understanding of the text [that Acts 2:39 is primarily expressing “the order of the dispensation” of the covenant promises: with ethnic Israelites–even those scattered abroad–being the first beneficiaries] is certainly correct. 

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

"Israel's Fruition"


The following is from Paul R. Williamson, Sealed With An Oath: Covenant is God’s Unfolding Promise (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 190-192.
 
“[T]he emphasis in Romans 9-11 is surely on the fact that God’s covenant promises vis-à-vis Israel will indeed be fulfilled, but only in the genuine heirs of the covenant(s): Abraham’s spiritual descendants (whether Jew or Gentile; cf. Eph 2:11-12). Thus, Paul highlights the fact that–although ethnic Israel enjoyed some tremendous spiritual privileges (Rom 9:4-5)–God had never promised that all Abraham’s physical posterity would inherit the covenant promises (Rom 9:6-13). Rather, through Jesus, God has done exactly what he promised Abraham (Gen 12:3) and later reiterated through the prophets: namely, extending blessing to all the nations of the earth. Thus, Romans 9-11 graphically reinforces the point that Paul made earlier in this epistle (cf. Rom 4:16-19)–that the gospel is the means by which the covenant promise made to Abraham is realized–Abraham’s ‘fatherhood of many nations’ and multitudinous descendants relates to the extension (beyond ethnic Israel) of the people of God.

“However, Paul is also at pains to stress in Romans 9-11 that the extension of the people of God to include Gentiles did not negate or abrogate the fulfillment of the covenant promises in relation to ethnic Israelites. Unfortunately, this important caveat has been implicitly denied in many supercessionist readings of Scripture, which suggest that Israel has been entirely replaced by the church as the people of God. As Horton has recently argued (2006:131-132), rather than seeing the church as simply replacing Israel, it is more in keeping with Scripture to see the church ‘as Israel’s fruition’. Thus understood, the church is the continuation and extension of Israel as the people of God, encompassing both elect Jews and elect Gentiles who, together, make up ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal 6:16). Therefore, biological descendants of Abraham were in no way disadvantaged under the new covenant, as some of Paul’s protagonists were apparently suggesting (cf. Rom 11:13-22). Rather, they (like the Gentiles) could respond positively to the gospel message–
….
“Hence the covenant promises had been inherited not by Israel in an exclusively ethnic or biological sense, but by all Abraham’s true descendants: those united to Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ.

“Significantly, the inheritance of the latter appears to include even the territorial promise, albeit in a cosmic sense (Rom 4:13; cf. Matt 5:5). Thus understood, the promise of land, while including the territory of Canaan, ultimately encompasses much more: namely, the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ anticipated by the prophets (Rom 8:17-25; cf. 2 Pet 3:13).

“In any case, Paul’s discussion of covenant in Romans serves primarily to bolster confidence in God’s faithfulness to his ancient promises and the fulfillment of these in an Israel that, while not encompassing every biological descendant of Abraham, certainly incorporates all ethnic Israelites who, whether in the present or in the future, turn from their unbelief, and thus, along with their Gentile brothers, enter into the promised inheritance.”

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Monday, January 05, 2015

The New Israel: Christ and His Church

The following is from Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 232-234.

“Jesus is the David, the culmination of Israel’s history, who will bring about an end to the exile. Yet his birth also brings light to the Gentiles; a star is seen rising in the east (Matt 2:2), which means the crushing of the enemy’s head (Num 24:17). Thus, when Jesus begins his ministry, he–as the new Adam and new Israel–succeeds where the old Adam and old Israel failed (Matt 4:1-11). Hence he recapitulates in his life the history of Adam and Israel. He triumphs over the satanic enemy and announces the kingdom of God, a domain that includes geography and which will one day encompass the entire earth. And this is the emphasis at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, in which a suffering Davidic Messiah has been exalted and given authority over not just an Israelite kingdom but the globe. He commands his subjects to go into this domain and disciple all nations (Matt 28:18-20; cf. Dan 7:13-14).

….
“Paul’s commentary on this narrative storyline [found in the Gospels and Acts] is that the burgeoning church composed of all nations is a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and the entire world is theirs for an inheritance, not just one country (Rom 4:13). Sinai was powerless to save in a positive way, but presses the need for a Savior who can redeem from the curse of the law. Jesus is the obedient Son who is sentenced to hang on a tree for the disobedient (Gal 3:10-14; cf. Deut 21:18-23). The new Israel, comprising all nations and peoples, emerges and continues the final conquest of the serpent (Gal 3:28-29; Rom 16:20).”

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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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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Israel

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


If God has a people during the Old Testament dispensation that He calls the Church (Acts 7:38), and if He calls the Church the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), then–though proper covenantal distinctions need to be made–there is a biblical basis for calling the church "Israel" in a meaningful sense (showing the unity of God's elect people, all partaking in salvation bought by the blood of Christ, as His chosen bride). This is not eisegesis.

The saints are the body of Christ. He does not have two bodies. The saints are the bride of Christ. He is not a bigamist.

The Reformed view is that God fulfills His covenant promises to Israel in Jesus–the One who is both physically and spiritually qualified to receive His promises–and that ongoing fulfillment of the New Covenant promises takes place within the Church. Dispensationalists will sometimes object that if we do not believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled in ethnic Israel en masse (on the basis of their ethnicity), then we are presenting God as a liar. God did not lie to Israel. This is what Romans 9 is explaining: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." The Arminian who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God as unjust toward the non-elect has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:14ff. The Dispensationalist who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God's promise as broken has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:6ff. God is not unjust nor is He a liar. It is NOT by ethnicity that one lives and receives the promises of God, but in relation to faith we are united to Christ, in whom ALL of God's promises are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

In fulfilling His promises to Israel in Christ and in the body of Christ (united to Him by faith), God broke no covenant with Israel. "[I]t is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom 9:8). The Pharisees thought that they had Abraham as their father: they thought to benefit from God's blessings due to their ethnicity. Christ corrected them, saying that they were of their father the devil (John 8). Those who are called the offspring of the devil can in no way presume upon the promises of God, whatever their biological pedigree.

From God’s dealings with Abraham onward, we see a focusing of His covenantal activity. It is not all of Abraham’s children who receive the promises concerning Abraham’s descendants; it is only Isaac’s line who are the chosen inheritors. Israel, as narrowed down from other descendants of Isaac (through Esau), are inheritors of the promise. But even within Israel there is a narrowing (through the line of Judah, to David and his descendants), which–under the New Covenant administration–finds tremendous expansion.

The New Covenant (a covenant made directly "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah") is applied directly to the Church, as seen in our use of the New Covenant [=New Testament, 1 Cor 11:25 KJV] Scriptures and in our partaking of the Lord's Supper, the wine of which represents the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20). All believers–not only ethnic Jews, nor any ethnic Jews apart from faith–benefit from the work of Christ on the basis of the divinely-established New Covenant. God ONLY grants the New Covenant blessings to those ethnic Israelites who trust in Christ, and He extends all of these blessings to believing Gentiles.

The New Covenant, secured in Christ, applies directly to both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Some Dispensationalists claim that to see the New Covenant as fulfilled within the Church is to cancel out the original intent of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant, which (they say) would have only been understood by the original readers as applying to ethnic Israelites. But non-dispensationalists are NOT canceling out the original intent. The original intent is to focus attention on the seed of the woman, who is further revealed to be the seed of Abraham, who is further revealed to be the descendant of David. The original intent is to show how all the nations in Him will be blessed. The original intent is to show that those who break God's covenant will receive the curses of the covenant, and that those who keep God's covenant will receive the blessings of the covenant. The original intent is to show how we have all violated God's Law, written on the conscience, and then on tablets of stone. The original intent is to show that we all–Jews and Gentiles–are in need of a Savior: that we all need a sacrifice, that we all need a high priest. The original intent is to show that the people of God are made His people in connection with FAITH.

The Old Testament is characterized by mystery, types, and shadows, which are more fully and more clearly understood after the redemptive work of Christ is accomplished in history. As Nehemiah Coxe noted, "the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new." If the New Testament tells us that the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4), then it was Christ. If the New Testament tells us that the seed was Christ (Gal 3:16), then it was Christ. If the New Testament us that all those who belong to Christ are Abraham's offspring (Gal 3:29), then we do not get to define Abraham's offspring merely in reference to biology. (The New Testament also records Jesus telling some of Abraham's biological offspring, who had rejected Him, that they were NOT Abraham's children, but children of the devil, John 8:39-44.) If the New Testament applies the New Covenant blessings to all believers, then we do not get to define the recipients of the New Covenant merely in terms of biology. All those who trust in Christ are beneficiaries of the New Covenant blessings in Him. Those who do not trust in Christ–whatever their biological heritage–do not benefit from these New Covenant blessings. Those who reject the good news of the kingdom cannot presume upon their biological heritage, imagining that–on that basis–God is obligated to grant them His blessings (Matt 3:9). Both Jews who reject Christ and unbelieving Gentiles are condemned. Both believing Gentiles and Jews who accept Christ receive the blessings of the New Covenant. Neither of these realities makes God a liar. Neither of these realities–clearly proclaimed in Scripture–undermines the right exegesis of Scripture.

Scripture provides the context for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, where the types, shadows, patterns, and prophecies made to Israel terminate in Him and are then expanded to all of those who have been united to Him by faith. This is why there is now "neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." We cannot, in light of that and similar passages, continue to think that inheritance of the promises is a matter of biology. The Bible says that every believer, whether Semite or non-Semite, is a descendant of Abraham.

Obviously, even under the New Covenant administration, some national distinctions remain (Paul can write intelligibly of "my kinsmen according to the flesh"), but these distinctions are superceded by the spiritual unity that we have in Christ, so that Paul writes of current spiritual privileges: "there is neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." On the other hand, John calls unbelievers in general "Gentiles" in a passage that does not have cultural distinctions in view (3 Jn 1:7).

There was one who was the true seed of Abraham, the true Branch from David. One who was fully qualified: physically and spiritually qualified–in ways that certainly should have been understandable to anyone receiving the Scriptures–to be the Messiah. Rightfully, His were the blessings of the covenant. He shed His blood–the blood of the covenant–for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). United to Him, commemorating His sacrifice when we take the cup, which is the New Covenant in His blood (1 Cor 11:25), believers become recipients of the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Jesus Is the True Israel

The following two paragraphs are from Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 111.

 “When Jesus is a child, Joseph and Mary take him to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s persecution. Matthew comments: ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet, out of Egypt I called my son’ (Matt 2:15). Some commentators suggest that this is an unprincipled use of Old Testament prophecy. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1, which is not a messianic promise referring to an individual. The original context makes it very clear that it refers to the exodus of the nation of Israel. But Matthew is neither naive nor unprincipled. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is deliberately identifying Jesus with Israel. But Jesus is different. He too is tempted, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, but–unlike them–He does not fall (Matt 4:1-11).

“He then calls his first disciples. His choice of twelve is no coincidence; it is a deliberate statement. He is calling together a new Israel, with twelve disciples as a foundation, rather than twelve tribes (4:18-22). The old Israel rejects Jesus and will, in turn, be rejected by God. Jesus says, ‘…the kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a people who will produce its fruit’ (Matt 21:43). He foretells the destruction of Jerusalem as the awful expression of that judgment (Luke 19:43-44). It is carried out by the Romans in AD 70. From now on the true Israel is not focused on the land of Palestine and does not consist of those who are physically descended from Abraham. It rather consists of his spiritual descendants: those, both Jew and Gentile, who follow his example and place their trust in God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus: ‘…the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only those who are of the law [i.e. Jews] but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all’ (Rom 4:16).”

Monday, December 22, 2014

"An Homily or Sermon Concerning the Nativity and Birth of Our Saviour Jesus Christ"

The following text is from the Second Book of Homilies of the Church of England, published in 1571. The author of the sermon is John Jewel, who was a disciple of Peter Martyr Vermigli. My Sunday school teacher, Tim Scott, had our class read from this sermon a couple of weeks ago at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. The following words are definitely a clear expression of the common Reformed Protestant [=biblical] understanding of Man's fallen condition and God's provision of a Savior.

John Jewel
Among all creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none, as Scripture beareth witness, to be compared almost in any point unto Man; who, as well in body and in soul, exceeded all other no less than the sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God; he was indued with all kind of heavenly gifts; he had no spot of uncleanness in him; he was sound and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly; his reason was uncorrupt; his understanding was pure and good; his will was obedient and godly; he was made altogether like unto God in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short, in all kind of perfection. When he was thus created and made, Almighty God, in a token of His great love towards him, chose out a special place of the earth for him, namely, Paradise; where he lived in all tranquility and pleasure, having great abundance of worldly goods, and lacking nothing that he might justly require or desire to have. For, as it is said, "God made him lord and ruler over all the works of his hands, that he should have under his feet all sheep and oxen, all beasts of the field, all fowls of the air, all fishes of the sea" (Psa 8:6-8), and use them always at his own pleasure, according as he should have need...

But, as the common nature of all men is in time of prosperity and wealth to forget not only themselves but also God, even so did the first man Adam: who, having but one commandment at God's hand, namely, that he should not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and ill, did not-withstanding most unmindfully (or rather most willfully) break it, in forgetting the strait charge of his Maker, and giving ear to the crafty suggestion of that wicked serpent, the devil. Whereby it came to pass that, as before he was blessed, so now he was accursed; as before he was loved, so now he was abhorred; as before he was most beautiful and precious, so now he was most vile and wretched, in the sight of his Lord and Maker... insomuch that now he seemed to be nothing else but a lump of sin, and therefore by the just judgment of God was condemned to everlasting death.

This so great and miserable a plague, if it had rested on Adam, who first offended, it had been so much the easier, and might the better have been borne. But it fell not only on him, but also on his posterity and children forever; so that the whole brood of Adam's flesh should sustain the selfsame fall and punishment which their forefather by his offense most justly had deserved. St. Paul in the fifth chapter to the Romans saith, "By the offense of only Adam the fault came upon all men to condemnation, and by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom 5:18-19). By which words we are taught that, as in Adam all men universally sinned, so in Adam all men universally received the reward of sin, that is to say, became mortal and subject unto death, having in themselves nothing but everlasting damnation of both body and soul. "They became," as David saith, "Corrupt and abominable; they went all out of the way; there was none that did good, no not one" (Psa 14:1,3). O what a miserable and woful state was this, that the sin of one man should destroy and condemn all men, that nothing in all the world might be looked for but only pangs of death and pangs of Hell! Had it been any marvel if mankind had been utterly driven to desperation, being thus fallen from life to death, from salvation to destruction, from Heaven to Hell?

But behold the great goodness and tender mercy of God in this behalf. Albeit Man's wickedness and sinful behavior was such that it deserved not in any part to be forgiven, yet-to the intent he might not be clean destitute of all hope and comfort in time to come-He ordained a new covenant, and made a sure promise thereof; namely, that He would send a Messiah or Mediator into the world, which should make intercession, and put himself as a stay between both parties, to pacify the wrath and indignation conceived against sin, and to deliver Man out of the miserable curse and cursed misery whereinto he was fallen headlong by disobeying the will and commandment of his only Lord and Maker. This covenant and promise was first made unto Adam himself immediately after his Fall, as we read in the third of Genesis, what God said to the serpent on this wise: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; he shall break thine head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).

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