SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
7. Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology: Part 7a,
Christ and Systematic Theology
From the things we have already said it is not difficult to see that by placing Jesus Christ at the center of Biblical Theology – a position advocated in these posts and called “Biblical Covenantalism” – it becomes natural to move on to formulating doctrines.
Many both within and without the evangelical tradition have written about the connection between Biblical and Systematic Theology. In fact, perhaps most scholars who are not evangelicals are less than confident that Systematic Theology is a viable exercise at all. The reason for this is their findings in Biblical Theology.
The first post stepped right into matters of Christology (unsurprisingly), Creation, and Ecclesiology. By the end of the second we were on firm Eschatological ground. In the third post I could write:
Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!
My contention in Part Two was that the other unconditional covenants were channeled through the New covenant, because the salvation realized under the New covenant ensures covenantal continuity into the kingdom era. Thus, both Soteriology and Providence were in view.
In Part Three: “The Covenant God Incarnate,” I of course dealt with the Incarnation. But I also referred to the interesting surmise of Meredith Kline that the pre-incarnate Christ was the antitype of the bodily form of Adam. Hence, we were dealing with Anthropology.
My discussion of Christ as the Logos in Part Four brought me round again to Creation and the doctrine of God. Included in this chapter was something about the connection of the Word as God with the Bible. I was writing concerning biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics), and so was in the realm of Bibliology. The hermeneutical question; tied as it is with the Person of Christ as Revealor and New covenant; with the Person of the Father as covenant-Maker; and with the Holy Spirit as the Author of Scripture and agent of eschatological new life, points inevitably to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the veracity of God.
In all this I was always on Eschatological ground, as every good Theology is. This led into the important theological issues to do with Israel and the Church, as well as the Nations, and their part in reflecting the Triunity of God (Part Five).
Then in Part Six we returned to the Cross and the offices of Christ. Finally, the Resurrection was viewed as “a glorious anachronism” which points us all to the fervent hope of His appearing and Kingdom.
Although this series could not go into much detail in connecting Biblical Theology to Systematic Theology, I truly hope that I have done enough here to arouse the interest of those who want the Lord Jesus Christ to be central to both disciplines, but who, like me, are not impressed by the pretensions of Covenant Theology, with its overwhelmingly inferential way of “Christotelic” formulations – stuffing Christ into texts where He doesn’t fit; and most Dispensational Theology, where Christ only pops His head in now and again under certain categories of the system.
Biblical Covenantalism brings Christ forward in both disciplines in two main ways. Firstly, by simply paying heed to what is plainly said about Him in the Bible. To recall something said in Part 4a:
I want to make sure that we have established a very strong connection in our minds between the Bible, the world, and the personal Savior who is our Lord. Just as the Bible is His, this world is His and we are His; and all these things exist, in the first place, for Him. He is the judge of all of His creation and He shall rule over all of the creation. This world is of Him, for Him, by Him, to Him. If we’re going to have a scriptural doctrine of the Creation it will bear some correlation to Jesus Christ. I don’t say we must “find Him in it,” only that we must relate it to Him.
The same applies then to the doctrine of the Revelation of God. Here the danger of abstraction becomes a very real one. The teaching about the Bible has got to be in accord with the worldview which springs from the Bible. And, as we hope we have begun to make clear, a world and life view that is a truly biblical one will have to be centered in the Person of Christ.
The Bible puts the Lord Jesus in the middle of everything!
In the second place, and this point calls for some reflection: Christ has been “set forth” (cf. Rom. 3:25) by the Father and exegetes Him (Jn. 1:18). Christ is witnessed to by the Spirit; so that to know the first and third Persons one must go through the second Person. What this yields, I believe, is a starting assumption of doing Systematic Theology first Christo-centrically. Many theologians have started Trinitarianly, and I am not decrying that. But the makeup of Scripture places the access to the Divine Trinity through Jesus Christ. He is the Designer, Creator, Sustainer, Archetype, Savior, Covenant Guarantor, Restorer, King and Judge over all Creation. The Father has willed it be so. The Spirit makes sure it is so. So the Lord Jesus is the means by which Biblical and Systematic Theology live in harmony. As Word and Covenant Jesus Christ puts all around Him in its proper place!
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology
Christ and Biblical Theology
As I bring this study to a close I want to do two things. First, I want to recap on where we’ve been, and to show how Biblical Covenantalism is extremely Christ-focused, but not through any forced theological predetermining or eisegesis. Christ fits within the Story of the Bible so naturally because of His function at the very core of it from beginning to end. One doesn’t have to go looking for Him in every verse, determined to see Him whether He is present or not. I am not advocating such a fallacious course of action. And we must guard ourselves from those who, with pretensions to piety, speak to us about finding Jesus in each verse of each Book of Scripture. Our imaginations were not given us to overlook the obvious while collecting a useless and confusing melange of types, allusions, and the like. These things we have often brought with us and our searching will inevitably be productive if we pretend to discover those things which we have spread so liberally. The truth is, Christ is not in every verse. Nor indeed is he to be found in very many chapters and verses. It is not impious to speak the truth. But the truth can sometimes sound impious to those with a manufactured piety.
These studies have sought to show that Christ’s Person and offices lie behind the Plan and Purposes of God, and that though there are many verses where He is absent, still He cannot be removed from any Act in the Story.
I started out in Colossians 1, There I aimed to show how Paul makes Jesus Christ preeminent, not by employing religious rhetoric, but by simply stating the reality of who Christ is: Creator, Upholder, Owner. Further, the future regeneration of the whole of creation depends on Christ. Thus far the Introduction. But although the apostle is writing of the church’s relation to its Head in Colossians 1, it would be a mistake to limit the fallout of his words to the Church alone. There is more to the Plan of God than the Church, and Christ’s relationship to the New Covenant in His blood proves this (Part 2). We saw that the covenant promises of the Old Testament are guaranteed literal fulfillment through their association with the Coming of Christ to reign on earth. The Second Coming is more important fulfillment-wise, than the First coming, crucial as that was. This is because covenant fulfillment centers in Jesus Himself, who encapsulates the New covenant upon which the other covenants rely. Since the covenants name this world as essential to their purposes, the roles of Christ as covenant guarantor and Christ as Second Adam combine in His earthly reign.
Here we encounter our main thesis (Part 3):
Our main thesis is that Christ will perform all this restorative and promissory work by the New Covenant, which in Him (Isa. 49:8) provides the requisite cleansing unto righteousness that obligates God to fulfill His covenants. This Christ-centered approach is what I call “Biblical Covenantalism.”
The incarnation does more than just make it possible to “kill” the Second Person of the Trinity. It highlights the importance of creation to God, especially God’s image-bearer. Simply put, if there were no incarnation there could be no resurrection. If no resurrection, then no hope would remain for us, and God’s telos in making the world would have fallen into nothingness.
Part Four now displays the worldview implications of all this. He is the measure of all things. But He is also the way of seeing all things correctly. The last two posts in Part Four try to tie together the outside world as created and upheld and redeemed by Christ with the actual hermeneutics of Christ as found in the Gospels; the one confirming the other. This sets us up for Part Five where the teleological and eschatological goals of creation and redemption take on a triadic appearance in the coming Kingdom. This is in line with covenant expectations too. The triadic peoples of God image the Trinitarian God whose stamp appears on everything.
In Part Six I rehearsed the Cross and Resurrection work of Jesus to remind us that all our value and all our hope is in Christ.
Thus, Christ is ubiquitous, even if He is not in every verse of Scripture. Big things as well as small things find there anchor in His Person and covenant work. And it is this fact of the pervasiveness of Christ in a Biblical Theology built mainly upon the covenants of Scripture that lends ‘Biblical Covenantalism’ its coherence and its power. These two things, as we shall show, make it natural to go from biblical Theology into a Christ-centered Systematic Theology.
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of All Things: Part 6a
Jesus is supremely an eschatological Figure. By “eschatological” I have in mind a broad definition including God’s Plan in Christ, not just a message about End Times. Eschatology is bound to teleology and should therefore be studied progressively.
The resurrection, although it occurred in our space/time, does not “belong” in this history, but in our future history. It signals the future. The glorified body of the man Christ Jesus awaits the time when the Lord returns and brings to pass the “regeneration.” This regeneration will see the 12 Apostles seated on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The need for judgment in the regenerated kingdom is seen in many OT places, like Isaiah 11 and Micah 4. The regeneration cannot be the New Heavens and Earth, because no judging is required in that perfect kingdom.
The Logic of Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not really belong in this age. In an important sense, it is an anachronism. When the atheist assures us that people do not rise from the dead we have to agree with him – at least in general. Of course, if they assert it like some scientific law we will beg to differ. Jesus is risen! But what a strange declaration. Amid the countless human beings who have come and gone upon the stage of history only One has had His physical Body resurrected. This singular event; which occurred very many years before we were born, is the anchor of our Christian hope. Without it, as Paul says it, “we are of all people the most pitiable.” Contrary to some points of view, the uniqueness of an event does not invalidate its credibility. In the strictest sense, every event, or, if that is too much to contemplate, very many events, are unique, just because they often include things which are not repeated in similar events. Just so, as there is only one Savior of the world, and all restoration hope is tied to Him, one would not expect another to be resurrected independently of his resurrection or, indeed, His timetable. The Christian Story is predicated upon such a simple logic.
But the resurrection does not merely fit nicely inside the Christian Story as a necessary article of faith; it actually fits within a necessary world and life view. I might say it is pivotal to any accurate world and life view. This is not at all to say that the resurrection is recognized for what it is in the world, any more than Christ Himself is accorded the recognition which is His due. It is just to say that the explanatory value of the Empty Tomb, at the level of the Big Questions of Life is immense.
This earth is cursed and will stay cursed. God’s curse on the material realm cannot be ameliorated. Notwithstanding, the resurrection of Christ does counter its affects. Resurrection is from death. It follows from this that the resurrection only makes sense in a cursed world. Its necessity and powerful counter-influence are only needed in this world. No resurrection is necessary in the New Creation. While it is true that the resurrected body must go into the New Creation, the New Heavens and Earth are maximally physical, as well as maximally spiritual. Thus, God doesn’t need a reason to create another pure physical realm to replace the present cursed one other than the fact that He has to do away with what He had cursed.
Could God make a new material realm by fiat and create glorified bodies for the saved souls of the saints in conjunction with that creative work without the requirement of resurrection? Conceivably yes, but then there could be no place for the resurrection. The logic of Resurrection requires a state of physical imperfection which is renovated or restored by dint of its connection to resurrection.
Some systems of eschatology treat this present material realm as a mere transportation system for the bodies of the elect. Or, more pointedly still, it is treated as a stage for the outplaying of history with no primary importance to God other than to deliver the elect into heaven. After that it is to be cast off and destroyed. Hence, in amillennialism particularly, wherein the planet serves in a reductionistic sense only as a mere carrier, the Christian worldview is impacted in the area of the purposes of this present earth.
A Glorious Anachronism
It could also be shown that any proper acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Christ brings with it a corresponding acceptance of and exalting in His bodily resurrection in heavenly glory. And it is just this fact which makes the resurrection a sort of anachronism.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners because He Himself is without sin. Moreover, to no other man could Divine attributes be spoken about. It is these attributes of full deity which qualified Jesus to bring sinful mankind to God. But bringing mankind to God must include God’s original intention for man and woman. Nothing can be left out. Human beings were created to combine spiritual and physical qualities in a unique combination, and in so doing, to reflect the spiritual and material realms of creation within the image they had been given. But the material was cursed, and death has wrought its dismal effects upon our physical frames until they can be remade.
As I write this I look out at a great many various changing shades of green – in the leaves and the grass and the surrounding hills. But for all its splendor I look at bearers of the curse with which God struck the ground for Adam’s sake. Created from that earth, his body was doomed to fall back into it, until the time the material creation was ready to be restored. That event would itself be triggered by the physical glorification of the Church when the savior came for it near the end of this “present evil age.” But the transformation of believing humanity and the repristination of our environment does not have its source in a mere decision to act from the Throne of Glory. It finds its source in the historical fact of the empty tomb and the declaration “He is not here, but is risen!” And because He is risen we shall rise and this earth shall be pervaded with peace and its languishing beauty, so rarely glimpsed as its Creator wanted it to be experienced, shall come through under the hand of the King who reigns from Jerusalem. Read more »
Steve Hays thinks I am unprincipled. Well, he makes charges like that a lot. It’s a tactic. While I grant I may miss something here and there, I do not deliberately decide to skew people’s points – and I do not think any fair minded reader would claim I did.
4. A Metaphorical Bible
My main argument relies upon the weight of the wording of the biblical covenants. I call Steve’s interpretations prophetic bromide because they instantly wash away the meaning of words in those covenants, and associate contexts. In Steve’s vision theology Ezekiel’s temple structure (he was in it remember) is not a temple; the Levites are not Levites; the Zadokite/Levite distinctions and prescriptions are unreal; the “law of the temple” which must be done is not what it says it is; the new moon offering isn’t an actual new moon offering; the prince’s sin offering and other sin offerings aren’t; the river is not a river, and the medicinal trees aren’t for medicine and they aren’t trees; the tribes and their allocations in a regenerated land aren’t real either. It’s all emblematic Steve tells us. One gigantic “placeholder” or vehicle for the conveyance of a few truths about Christ and the Church! I’ve termed such an opinion Verbal Overkill because writing materials were expensive prior to a few hundred years ago and nine detailed chapters of script information which could have been communicated in half a page is a waste of time and paper. A huge over-the-top circumlocution (e.g. P. Fairbairn believed the entire vision could be summed up by John 17:21-23) – if Amillennialism is right.
Before some indignant person complains about what I’m saying about God let me assure them that I am not saying that about God. I don’t believe God is given to communicating in this way. Well meaning objections in the way of “God can do anything He likes” miss the point and misrepresent the biblical God. God cannot do anything He likes if that involves a contradiction in His character. God’s Word is the only access humans have to His character. Link
But things do not stop there. For all the passages from the Prophets which I cited will likewise be made metaphorical and symbolic. God’s oaths in Jer. 31:35-37 and Jer 33:15-26 mean what exactly? Certainly not what they appear to mean. And if such apparently unambiguous oaths, which bespeak covenant blessing for Israel by appeals to things like “the fixed order of the moon”, don’t mean what they appear to mean, on what basis do you make the Gospel mean what it appears to mean? We know the New Jerusalem has no need of the moon, so Jeremiah cannot be referring to that. Unless, of course, the troublesome details in Rev. 21 are emptied of significance. Steve will say that the Jewish readers understood it all as symbolical genre, even though there is not a shred of evidence from the Bible or elsewhere that they did. Rather, as I have shown, their combined testimony (and I have only given a selection) supports a temple after the Second Advent before the creation of the New Heavens and Earth. To stop this being seen, the genre card is played with alarming frequency in some theological circles.
Zechariah 14, which I have treated, is supposedly another extended metaphor, as is Isaiah 11 etc. In the NT, Revelation 20 is also metaphorical: Satan is bound and imprisoned but is free to pursue Christians; beheaded martyrs who are resurrected are in actual fact sinners becoming Christians; Christ’s thousand year reign is not a thousand years but is the Church age. In Revelation 7 the 144,000 men from the tribes of Israel are a symbolic number from all nations. It goes on and on. Without wishing to be rude, I can respect a man who is honest enough to tell me he is reinterpreting the data through the NT, or that he is “spiritualizing” or “transforming” the apparent meaning of these texts. I can respectfully disagree with Graeme Goldsworthy who says,
earlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.” – According to Plan, 123.
Likewise, Greg Beale comes right out with it:
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” – A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 (my emphasis)
Germane to Ezekiel’s temple Iain Duguid asks,
Should we therefore look to a future millennial temple in which to see these provisions of heightened sanctity fulfilled? I don’t think so. Rather, we should do what it seems to me the New Testament does and see how the goal of Ezekiel’s temple finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. – Ezekiel (NIVAC), 481.
At least these men admit to what they are doing. Steve won’t join them but pins his hopes on the hypothesis that the exiles (meaning those hearing Ezekiel) and the returnees interpreted the vision as an emblem; although I don’t see how they could know about the Church!
In my exchanges with Steve Hays I have referenced many prophetic passages ( in the OT). I have also responded to the relatively few which Steve has cited. He says,
i) Let’s cut the dead wood. I truly wish he would deal with the texts I cited but he will not. He prefers to chop wood in a different forest.
The question at issue is whether Ezk 40ff. is referring to a physical endtime temple.
Well, the first question is whether Ezekiel’s temple ought to be interpreted literally. After that is decided one must look for a place to fit ones interpretation.
Dispensationalists think many prophecies about Israel were not fulfilled during the first advent of Christ.
He is right. Speaking only for myself, it is my contention that it is a huge mistake to seek for complete fulfillments of Messianic prophecies mainly at the first advent. Such a maneuver inevitably beckons for non-literal symbolic interpretations of many covenant passages. Many crucial Messianic texts like Gen 49:8; Num. 24:17; Isa. 9:6-7, 11:1-10; and Mic. 5:2 report more on events at or after the Second Coming than the First Coming. Even Genesis 3:15, with the crushing of the serpent’s head, stresses the Second Advent and after (Paul clearly didn’t think Satan’s head was crushed at Calvary – Rom. 16:20). See also this
Therefore, they cast about for some place to stick these outstanding prophecies. And they settle on Rev 20:4-6. They use three verses in Rev 20 as an empty container to stuff full of outstanding prophecies about Israel.
Good rhetoric, but quite untrue. In my case for a New covenant temple I appealed only to the OT. Revelation 20 says Christ will reign upon earth for a thousand years, so I fit the OT predictions in there. Amils like Steve try to stuff the entire church age in there of course. But they have to spiritualize (i.e. treat as non-literal) the thousand years.
iii) The obvious problem with Henebury’s appeal to Zechariah is that, in context, Zechariah is referring to the Second Temple.
Not in chapter 14 he isn’t. I have shown why (cf. Isa. 2:2-3; Zech. 8:3, 20-23; 14:16f.).
The temple built by Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-10). Same thing with Haggai (2:2-4).
A person may grant that the temple in chapter 4 is the second temple. But I didn’t cite chapter 4. It’s obvious to me that Steve is ignoring the details of the passages I did cite.
Ezekiel’s vision is both predictive and prescriptive. Not only is this prophetic, but God is commanding Jews to build a temple according to this blueprint.
He does not command them to build Ezekiel’s temple. That is one of Block’s arguments for saying it is not literal. BTW, Steve previously denied it was a blueprint.
With irony Hays writes,
However, postexilic Jews were not supposed to build this temple. Jews are supposed to delay construction of this temple. Appearances notwithstanding, Jews would be disobeying God’s command to build the temple by building the temple. You see, Ezekiel really meant for Jews to postpone construction of this temple, even though he doesn’t say that.
I don’t really follow here. The Jews are never told to build it. The Lord will build it (cf.Zech. 6:12-13). I know he’s using irony to get a point across, which is okay with me, but there is no command to build this temple. That is because it cannot be built until after Zech. 14:4. Do we find a temple standing after Zech. 14:4? Indeed we do, and God Himself is in it (Zech. 14; cf. Ezek. 43).
Steve writes with more irony:
This is the actual order of events:
a) Zerubbabel is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. Ezra is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. That would wreak havoc with God’s eschatological timetable.
Ezekiel is shown a very detailed and huge temple which cannot be constructed on the present Mt. Zion. The setting of this temple will be paradisical (ch. 48). In the service of the temple only Zadokites are allowed to serve before the Lord (ch. 43). There is no veil over the Holy of Holies, and no high priest either. The glory-cloud resides in this temple (ch.43), whereas it did not come into Zerubbabal’s. Zerubbabel possibly would not have expected this absence (although Israel were ruled over by foreign powers in his day, whereas Ezekiel’s temple is built at a time when God again gives sovereignty back to Israel. Prophets predict both near and far off events.
b) Before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, the Second Temple must be built.
c) Then Herod must remodel Zerubbabel’s temple.
d) Then the Second Temple must be razed by the Romans in 70 AD.
e) Then the Jews must undergo a second exile when the Romans banish them from Palestine after the Bar Kochba revolt.
Right. And Israel was renamed “Palestine” by Hadrian at that time.
f) Then, after the second temple is destroyed, but before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, a third, Tribulation temple must be built, just before the Parousia, which the Antichrist will desecrate (Dan 9:27; 12:11; 2 Thes 2:4; Rev 11:1-2; 13:14-15). Cf. L. Cooper, Ezekiel (B&H 1994), 354; R. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Moody 1995), 81-82.
That seems to be what those passages necessitate, providing they too are not made to symbolize something else.
g) Then, when Jesus returns, the stop-work order will be rescinded [there wasn’t one issued in the first place], and builders who have no historical connection with Ezekiel’s contemporaries or the Jewish returnees in 6C BC, will finally erect Ezekiel’s temple, after two unspecified temples have come and gone. And that’s taking Ezk 40-48 at “face value.”
We’re not told how this temple is built. It is presented to Ezekiel as completed. Ezekiel isn’t about any other temples but Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s. But, for the rest of it, Hays has about got it. If I can be permitted a little irony of my own, all he has to do now is believe what he reads.
As for his reference to 1948, he needs to argue that with Hal Lindsey, not me. I do not teach that as a fulfillment of the OT.
The fact that Zerubbabel and Nehemiah made no attempt to build Ezekiel’s temple is good reason to think they didn’t interpret his vision literally.
Amils think it is.
So Henebury must interpret Ezekiel’s temple in light of Revelation
I interpret Ezekiel’s temple by reading Ezekiel. Then I look for compatible OT covenant equivalents. I said that Rev.20 is the only place I can fit the OT new covenant material.
Perhaps Henebury is alluding to John Walton. [I wasn't] However, scholars like Desi Alexander and Gregory Beale document their position from Scripture.
I am very familiar with Beale and what he does with Scripture. He’s an impressive scholar, but I find his interpretation via allusion impossible. Beale believes the NT “transforms” the meaning of the OT.
The entire vision (40-48) is emblematic.
Saying it doesn’t mean it is. Talking about the supposed qualities of word pictures and poetry (which is easily discerned even in translation) doesn’t mean it is. I could say the vision was “semi-proto-apocalyptic rhetoric” and wax eloquent about the properties of that “genre”, but I wouldn’t be proving that Ezekiel 40-48 was, in fact, that genre. Steve claims to have presented evidence for his view. I cannot find it. Just assertions. In fact I find Hays’s approach quite similar to the Roman Catholic view (e.g. P. Grelot). Anyway, not seeing his evidence may be my fault. If so, perhaps some reader will tell me where it is.
He quotes Jn. 1:14 and says “Christ embodies what the Temple signifies.” The verse says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I take that to mean the Divine One who was with God in the creation became human and lived with humans. Steve infers it means the temple symbolism has become human and been realized. I rate his interpretation as loaded with outside assumptions. (In my RoA it warrants a C4 rating at least).
Yet, according to Henebury, when Christ returns, Ezekiel’s temple will coexist with Christ in Jerusalem. What’s the point of a temple when Christ himself returns to tabernacle with his people forever (Rev 21:22)? A temple is just a placeholder. [proof?] Once Christ returns, any temple would instantly outlived its purpose. [proof? Perhaps he has not fully understood the significance of God’s temple?] Indeed, the fact that we’ve had no temple for 2000 years already underscores the spiritual irrelevance of the temple at this juncture in redemptive history.
God is dealing with the Church, which is mainly Gentile. Paul tells us,
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom 11:25-29)
Steve’s paragraph is a good sample of the deductive theology of covenant theologians. They know what the verses say but they don’t believe what they say. They believe their true meaning must fit within their covenant of grace (which itself is found nowhere in Scripture). The main reason for their going figurative so much of the time is that their theology throws up objections which overrule the plain-sense of Scripture, forcing them to find “spiritual” meanings which fit their system better.
This two part post will be my final interaction with Steve Hays. It will complete what I think needs to be said and will leave him to continue in the way he is accustomed to. I begin with a little preamble. In his latest salvo Steve quotes me as saying:
On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.
Then he quips:
Why does Henebury react this way? He said that if amils are right, then God is guilty of prevarication. I inferred from his statement that he doesn’t think God is trustworthy if amils are right. Isn’t that a logical inference? Why does he object when I measure him by his own yardstick? Is that a mature reaction?
Let me put my quote back into its original context and leave the reader to decide if Steve is trying to properly represent his opponent:
I actually said this:
Steve Hays continues to slam my character: Henebury really is a bigot you know. He has “consistent intellectual deficiencies.” Henebury has all kinds of flaws, ethical, intellectual, perceptual. It has now come to my notice that apparently “Henebury never misses an opportunity to be dishonest.”
Steve doesn’t know me, but he thinks he’s sized me up and I’m no good. On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation. Where is the fruit of the Spirit? Well, to his own Master he stands or falls. My duty is to stick to the argument.
Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual…
In reply I said: True, but Ezekiel 40-48 is not a parable. Neither is it “apocalyptic,” nor poetry.
Yet in his “response” he declares:
And Henebury now admits that’s “true.” So, given that admission, he can’t simply quote verses about temple dimensions, materials, rituals, &c., to prove his overall interpretation, for how we interpret the significance of the paraphernalia depends on the genre.
What did I say was “true”? That interpretation depends on genre? Or did I simply agree that what individual elements of parables signify is distinct from whether the story is fictitious or factual?
Compare Steve’s representations with the real ones and come to a conclusion. Even if you are unconvinced by my arguments I hope you would see the problem. Nuff said!
Steve persists in his persistent use of personal slight and ad hominem argumentation while subtly deviating from the point. I shall ignore most of this in what follows. If some readers think I’m deserving of the opprobrium heaped upon me that it between them and God. A quick search on Google will produce many complaints about Steve Hays from Christians both Reformed and non-Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Atheists. As I said, to his own master he stands or falls. I consider most of Steve’s arguments to be paltry and lacking any substance. I’m afraid he advances his viewpoint mainly by bald assertion. Others are free to arrive at the opposite conclusion.
1. The Prophetic Setting of Ezekiel 40-48
One of the problems of dealing with Hays is that while he lumps me in with the general run of dispensationalists he will not permit me to cite his fellow covenant theologians against him; especially when they admit to reinterpreting the OT with the NT, or to spiritualizing the text. See Here. On a side note, if Daniel Block believes Paul spiritualized the OT it’s a safe bet he believes in following suit!
Steve avoids dealing with the following point I made because he says the passages cited are too generic:
He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary. In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37. It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too. Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.
He wants me to do some exegesis of these passages and I shall oblige him without expecting reciprocation. Owing to the nature of blog posts my comments must be concise. Still, I apologize for the length but a fair bit of this is necessary quotations from Scripture.
I am going to go into all the covenantal issues in all this in the future, but the following study should suffice for now: Balaam’s prophecy will start us off (please read the passages!):
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’” (Num 25:10 -13)
There is no need to go into minute exegesis of this passage to see that God freely enters into an eternal covenant with Phinehas and his descendents – who happen to include Zadokites! Psalm 106:30-31 recounts:
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, And the plague was stopped. 31 And that was accounted to him for righteousness To all generations forevermore.
If this is true; that is, if God meant what He said in the covenant (and covenants have to mean what they say), then whether or not we can figure out the whys and wherefores, there has to be a Levitical priesthood and temple forever in fulfillment of this covenant. This is stressed further by Jeremiah in Jer. 33:
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 ‘In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.’ 17 “For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.’” (Jer 33:14-18)
Notice the role of the Branch (i.e. Christ). He “executes” or “does” righteousness on the land (eretz). This agrees with Isaiah 2:2-4 (set “in the last days”). Micah is very similar (Mic. 4:1-7, where we are told that God “will reign over [the Remnant] in Mount Zion from now on [the last days – v.1] and forever.”).
The righteous rule of Messiah is seen in Isaiah 11. Verses 5 and 6 declare:
with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, [Comp. Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 19:15] And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
The righteous reign of Messiah is seen in statements like Isa. 26:9; 51:3-5; 62:1-5. The paradisaical conditions described in Isa. 62:1-5 involve the whole creation, as Hosea 2:16f. and Isaiah 11:6-8 make perfectly clear (Cf. Rom. 8:18-23). Hosea 2:18-19 say,
In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. 19 “And I will betroth you [i.e. Israel] to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion.
So in Ezekiel 37:25-28 we read of God setting up His sanctuary under these fulfillment conditions:
And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. 26 “And I will make a covenant of peace with them [Cf. Num. 25:12 above]; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 “And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.
Please do not miss the heavy covenantal emphasis of that prophecy. The sanctuary is the temple. But which temple? Zerubbabel’s? Did God make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees? Did His Glory return to the Second Temple? No. The temple being referred to is the one in Ezek. 40ff., which IS in paradisiacal conditions (ch. 47), when God shall dwell with Israel forever (43:7).
We may add to this the prediction from Malachi 3:2-3, which speaks of a purified priesthood in what appears to be (contra Steve Hays) a Second Advent context (Mal. 3:1 does refer to the First Advent):
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 “And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.
If all this is not enough we find Zechariah predicting a temple which will be built by the Branch (Messiah) when He combines the offices of priest and king in Himself when He rules upon His throne (Zech. 6:12-13). And what do we find at the end of the Book? We find, as I have said many times, a Day when the Lord comes to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11 anyone?), when the topography of the land is drastically altered (Zech. 14:4), following which “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (Zec 14:8), “Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zec 14:11), and the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King – who therefore must be Divine – (14:16-17), and sacrifices will be offered at the Lord’s house (14:20-21).
As these predictions are predicated on what we now know is the Second Coming, clearly they are in the future and their realization should not be searched for in the past. The conditions under which all this will be done are New covenant conditions (Cf. Zech. 12:9-13:1):
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 “And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezek. 36:25-28)
This distinctive new covenant language comes from the Pentateuch. For example, Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
Amillennialists might want to turn all of these passages into metaphors (and they do), but they make perfect sense as they stand. There is no mess. We don’t have all the information, but we have enough. Once amils try to tackle the specifics of these passages, that’s when the train wrecks. So, for the most part, they don’t even try. They just read their interpretations of the NT into them. Steve says he doesn’t. He stands quite alone.
Howbeit, it is imperative when dealing with these prophecies that the covenantal stipulations which God obligates Himself to fulfill are not breezed over. I have my presuppositions, which Steve has been given. They do not produce the mess Steve asserts they do. Steve will not give his.
2. Did the Post-Exilic Community Expect to Build Ezekiel’s Temple?
I have already given reasons why the returning exiles would not have thought to take up the task of constructing Ezekiel’s temple. These include the obvious fact of the sheer size of the structure, together with the geographical requirements involved. Then the clear differences between the Mosaic institutions and Ezekiel’s vision. Finally, the fact that these chapters are prophetic and look to the time when God’s covenants with Israel will be realized under New Covenant conditions: conditions which have not yet been met, but which shall be met “after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:24-27).
If, as Steve Hays says, the people in exile enjoyed better access to God than when they were in the land, why rebuild any temple? Hays answers, it is because they were under the Law. But were not the exiles under the Law? If they were and God was more accessible to them during those times, it follows that rebuilding the temple would again distance them from God. This makes no sense at all. But were not Israel under God’s judgment during the exile? Deuteronomy 29:14-28 leaves this impression. Chapters 29:19 and 30:1 speak of exile as a “curse.” Leviticus 26:36 hardly depicts the future exiles having confident access to the Lord. 2 Kings 24:20 describes the Lord’s attitude towards Israel as “He cast them out from His presence.” Jeremiah is blunt: “The Lord has rejected His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary.” (Lam 2:7). Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of the All Things
Grace has to be present where God is present in His covenants. Because the “Seed” of Genesis 3:15 would endure a crushed heel (at the Cross), and will eventually inflict a deathblow upon the serpent, grace rests upon all of human history after the Fall until this world is presented to the Father prior to the New Creation. Grace carries the world through.
Grace did not first emerge at the Cross, but it was procured at the Cross. Calvary is the source of all the hope for the world. It represents the reason why THIS fallen world still exists. The Cross was seen from the beginning. God knew that the humans He made to reflect His own image would seek to do that image to death in His Son. Jesus would have been murdered in any era and by any people. Men would ever have done it willingly, without any push from the outside, so that they could remake themselves after their own image.
But why was Jesus crucified? Why not thrust through or shot? To ask this is not the same thing as asking why He died. Aside from the obvious need for the blood of Christ to be shed, I am not in any position to give a complete answer to that question. But surely these facts are involved in any which could be provided:
- Crucifixion was humiliating
- Crucifixion was denigrating
- Crucifixion was open and public
- Crucifixion was lingering
- Crucifixion bore all the appearance of the most abject defeat.
I could add to this that in handing over their Messiah to be killed by Gentiles, the Jewish leaders were representatives of all that fallen mankind had become. Instead of showing themselves to be God’s sanctified people, they proved that they belonged to the same ungodly “world” they outwardly despised. Think about their hypocrisy; they would feign worship God right after murdering His Son (Jn. 18:28). The Cross of Christ epitomizes human history. Being lifted up in humiliation (Jn. 12:32; cf. 3:14), becoming a spectacle to be scoffed at by men and demons, His suffering nevertheless covered the sins of humanity. Crucifixion lifted its victims up between earth and sky as curses (Gal. 3:13). But the blood shed there (better, offered up there) fits believers for the kingdom of glory to come.
The depth of sin which crucified Christ has not passed us by. We are all children of the Fall. We must take the Fall that seriously. This is what makes Calvary our only refuge. If sinners are to be finally saved it must be through the travail and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Because salvation is centered on Christ (Acts 4:12; cf. Gen. 3:15), and because the world was made for Him and is upheld by Him (Col. 1:16-17), it comes as no surprise to read that He has special rights concerning this world’s future.
In Revelation 5 we read,
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (Rev 5:1-5)
No one is found worthy, not even among the exalted sinless beings in heaven, to open the seven sealed scroll. Only the Lamb, Jesus Christ is finally found to be worthy of the task. Why?
“Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)
I bypass the question of whom the 24 elders represent (they might represent the Church). My main interest is with two truths found within these verses. Firstly, Revelation 5:1-5 make Christ the only One in creation who is qualified to open the seals of the Book. The Book is filled with calamity for the earth-dwellers, and is best seen as a prophetic overview of the time from the revealing of the antichrist till the second advent (read ch.6 and study Tony Garland’s exegesis of the chapter). None of these judgments happen until the Lamb opens the seals. Thus, their occurrence is contingent upon Christ’s timing. It is Christ who controls this history.
In the second place verses 9-10 record praise for redemption wrought by the Lamb, but they also speak of what Christ has “made them” to be in the future kingdom on earth. Therefore these kingdom blessings are tied to the redemption mediated by Christ along with the blessing of salvation. This brings up two further considerations. In the first place we must recall that the blood of Christ is New Covenant blood. So we must repeat emphatically: all redeemed sinners are saved by New covenant blood! Secondly, the mediation we have spoken of relates to His priestly office.
It is clear enough that the priestly office of Christ was inaugurated at the Cross (Heb.9:11-12) and continues with His intercessory work on behalf of the saints (Heb.4:14-16; 7:25). But Messiah is a king-priest (cf. Zech. 6:12-13), just as His precursor (Heb.7:1). The two functions can be seen in Psalm 110:1 and 4. It is very important to pay attention to the occasion when these two roles will be assumed. The NT makes it quite clear that Jesus is now functioning as our High Priest.
But Isaiah 49:8 says,
Thus says the LORD, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages – Isaiah 49:8
This is a New Covenant passage. But notice how Christ’s covenant function includes restoration of the land. As He is, like Melchizedek, a Priest-King who combines both roles, we must ask whether the two functions are coterminous. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
A Summary of the One People in Three Concept
A triad is a group of three. As used by theologians like John Frame it refers to the three-in-oneness of an entity. In Appendix A of his The Doctrine of God, Frame lists many examples, some of the most obvious being:
1. Length, width, height
2. Beginning, middle, end
3. I, you, he
4. Faith, hope, love
5. The world, the flesh and the devil
6. Thought, word, deed
7. Liquid, solid, gas
8. Past, present, future
9. Husband, wife, child
10. Melody, harmony, rhythm
Some of the more interesting ones have to do with Speech-Acts: locution, illocution, perlocution; Ethical perspectives: teleological deontological, existential; and Divine disclosure: revelation, inspiration, illumination. Frame himself has become known for his triad of “Lordship Attributes”: Control, authority and presence; as well as his viewing of things from situational, normative, and existential perspectives. These are all Three-in-one and One-in-three. They reflect the world as it is in both its material and immaterial aspects. All I am calling attention to in this section of the series highlighting the central place of Jesus Christ in Scripture is that it should not seem surprising to anyone that those made in His image would compose a triad of peoples.
I have explained that the Father’s particular connection with Israel and the Son’s particular relation to the Church is set forth quite plainly in the Bible. I can find no similar teaching concerning the relation of the Nations to the Holy Spirit, but since in the age to come “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9), it is feasible at least that a special Spirit – Nations relationship will be revealed in the future. If not, the silence cannot be used as an argument against the Father – Israel relation (Isa. 54:5), or the Christ – Church relation (Eph. 5:25, 29).
Saying all this does not mean that the Father does not bear a loving relationship with the Church, nor that the Son does not bear a loving communion with Israel. We are not forced by any of this to regard the Divine affections as split between competing parties. The Trinity loves and blesses all His elect. The unique relations which at least two of the Divine Persons have toward Israel and the Church respectively should perhaps be seen as expressions of the unique attributes of each hypostasis: paternity, sonship, procession in an extra-trinitarian movement.
The covenantal relation of both groups to Christ is a fundamental fact of salvation and hope. Christ is “set forth” by the Father and the Spirit to bring humanity to the Godhead, and I am suggesting that this will be done with Israel, the Church, and the gathered Nations enjoying special (though not exclusive) relationships with Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively.
Be that as it may, let us not miss the main point. The Bible reveals that three people-groups from human history will be present in the eschaton. This is assured by the covenants which God has made and shall make with these parties; covenants which He has placed Himself under obligation to fulfill. And God will certainly fulfill His own covenant word in accordance with His truthful and unchanging character. The means by which this three-in-one scheme will be achieved is through the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Israel’s Messiah, the Church’s Head, and the Nations’ Light (another triad).
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Let me start Part 5c by repeating my main thesis:
My main thesis is that Christ will perform all this restorative and promissory work by the New Covenant, which in Him (Isa. 49:8) provides the requisite cleansing unto righteousness that obligates God to fulfill His covenants. This Christ-centered approach is what I call “Biblical Covenantalism.”
I have gotten as far as showing that there is a solid case, given the promises of God vouchsafed to the nation Israel (especially in the OT), and to the Church (exclusively in the NT), together with the separate “betrothals” of Israel to God the Father (e.g. Isa. 54:5), and the Church to the Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:31), to distinguish between them in the eschaton. I see no reason to paper over these distinctions for the sake of some forced union. The passages I have called attention to are as authoritative as anything else in the Word of God and must not be ignored simply because they make people uncomfortable. Attempting to force together biblical texts which point to a plurality of redeemed people-groups and make them refer to one group for the sake of perceived theological tidiness always results in the debasement of “uncooperative” texts. Either this or else a plain avoidance of them. As David Allen wrote recently, “There is a difference between union and unity. Two cats with their tails tied together have union. They sure don’t have unity!” I believe Christ brings covenantal unity but in plurality.
If the Bible, which is one Book, declares that God will save and restore Israel nationally (and it certainly does), after which time Israel will act as a magnet attracting the nations (cf. Isa. 2:2-4; Ezek. 37:20-28; Zech. 8:22-23; 14:16-19), and this turn of events is yet to occur, then that teaching must find a place within a person’s theology. A man who will not make peace with the passages we have adduced, but who instead enters into a kind of skirmish with them, is not placing himself under their authority. I am not saying counter-arguments cannot be brought forward. If they can be then they should. But when clear declarations of Scripture are passed over because they do not square with a certain theological preference, we cannot say that there is a true commitment to the whole counsel of God.
a. Before Israel
There was a lot of time which passed and a multitude of people who were saved before the call of Abraham. Prior to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the twelve tribes there was no “chosen people” whom God singled out for His own (Psa. 114:7; 1 Ki. 8:48, 53; Isa. 2:3; 43:1, 21). Sinners were saved but they were not within Israel. This hardly requires any proof. Since these saints were not part of Israel (which was not yet in existence), which people-group will they be in at the close of history?
Job was probably contemporary with Isaac and Jacob, and he certainly entertained hope of a resurrected life (Job 19:25-27). Was he an Israelite without knowing it? Is it not more likely that he joins those like Noah and Melchizedek within another set of saved humanity?
b. Before the Church
We have shown that the Church was not in existence until after the Resurrection of Jesus (e.g. Eph. 1:20-22; 4:7-12). We cannot therefore avail ourselves of the rather too convenient remedy of placing the saints of all ages into the Body of Christ. This answer can have absolutely no warrant unless someone can demonstrate how this can be (see the last post). Nobody yet has; although many unsatisfactory arguments have been used to try to accomplish it. If the Church is not in the Old Testament and there are people outside of Israel who were saved (before or during the era of the Abrahamic and the Mosaic Covenant), they can neither be in Israel or in the Church.
c. After the Church
We realize that there is no salvation outside the Body of Christ (Eph. 2:20-22), but we must also realize that the Body of Christ hasn’t always been here. nor will it be here after it has been removed once “the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” In fact, Paul’s argument in Romans 11:11-30 is of great importance here. I reproduce it with some notations:
I say then, they did not stumble [cf. Rom. 9:32-33] so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles [the world is "the Gentiles", who we have said are the main peoples to comprise the Church], how much more will their fulfillment be! [there is to be a future "fulfillment" for Israel]13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. [Paul is aware that only some Israelites will be saved now] 15 For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? [Though Israel has been "rejected" they will be "accepted," which fits Hosea 2] 16 And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. [this begins the Olive Tree metaphor, which is so often misunderstood] 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, [since Israel are the branches broken off, the "root" cannot BE Israel] 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. [whatever the root is, it is firstly Israel's root] 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches [Israel], neither will He spare you. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.[which may perhaps allude to the future apostasy in 2 Thess. 2:3?] 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. [how can Israel be grafted into Israel?] 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree,[probably the world system] and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? [the question to be answered, then, is, "what is the olive tree?"] 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel [the natural branches] until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; [Israel must wait for this "until," which awaits the "fulness of the Gentiles"] 26 and thus all Israel [the nation, see 11:1-3] will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, [Jerusalem; more precisely, the city of David - 1 Kings 8:1] He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” [again showing the nation is in view] 27 “And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” [this is the New Covenant since that is the covenant which takes away sins] 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. [When God gifts a people and makes covenant promises He will ensure the gifts get to those to whom they were given, and the covenants will be fulfilled in precisely the way He made them. IT IS THESE COVENANT PROMISES WHICH ARE THE OLIVE TREE - Rom. 9:4-5; 11:26-27].
Israel will receive its covenanted gifts through first receiving salvation via the New Covenant (11:26-27). The Church will receive those covenant blessings meant for it (Gal. 3), again through the New Covenant. But is there a third people group?
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Christ and the Triadic People of God: Part 5a
Due to Christ’s central role as the Redeemer, and owing to the fact that His redeeming blood is wholly “the blood of the New Covenant” (Heb. 12:24), all who will ever be redeemed – whether they live before or after the Cross – will be redeemed under the terms of the New Covenant. As I have been at pains to emphasize, Christ is Himself the New Covenant!
Saying that He is the New Covenant does not mean that it is all Christ is. He is far more than that. But as pertains to the salvation of sinners, I have stressed Jesus’ unavoidable role. And unless someone can show that Christ’s blood is only partly the blood of the New Covenant (with part left over to apply elsewhere?), we must conclude that all redemption is, in the end, New Covenant redemption.
This does not mean that all the redeemed are incorporated within the Christian Church however (nor indeed within Israel). Such a teaching is alien to Scripture and is sustained only by inferring doctrine in spite of Scripture.
In the previous article in this series I said that in the end, at the consummation of history, there will be one humanity reflected in three differentiated peoples of God: Israel, the Church, and the Nations. We are now ready to look at the second of these groups – the Church.
The Church is a New Testament Institution
First of all we must dismiss this view, held by many pious men throughout history, that the Church is in the OT. No New Covenant was made in the OT. The NT records the making of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). This is why Jesus spoke of the Church as future in Matt. 16:18 (Jn.7:39). The Christian Church is the Body of Christ and is inescapably joined to the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 2:12; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 14:9). Thus, it was quite literally impossible for the Church to exist prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul writes,
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. – Rom. 7:4
The Great Commission could not be given until “all power” was given to the Risen Christ (Matt. 28:18f.). The preaching in the Book of Acts relies on the resurrection (Acts 2:14, 24; 4:2; 10:40; 13:22-23; 15:6-11; 17:18, etc.). Paul’s admonitions to holiness in Romans 6 are predicated on our vital connection to the resurrection. Moreover, the Church is built upon Christ (1 Cor. 3:11. Cf. Rom. 10:9), and “the apostles and [NT] prophets” (Eph. 2:20). If the Church is a New Covenant community (as it is in 2 Cor. 3), it stands to reason that it could not be in existence before the New Covenant was made.
All this means that those saved before the inauguration of the Church, both among the Nations and in ancient Israel, are separate from the Church. Israel was (cf. Hos. 2:2; Jer. 3:8) and shall be (Hos. 2:19) married to Yahweh – whom we equate in most instances with God the Father. The Church shall be married to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25, 32; Rev. 19:6-9). We cannot entertain a theology which has these OT saints in some suspended animation until Jesus has died and risen, and then joined to the NT Body of Christ. Though we insist that their salvation was firmly grounded in the foreseen merits of the Cross, that is not the same thing as declaring them all within the sphere of the Church. There is no necessity forced upon us by Scripture to include the saints of all the ages within the Church.
The Church is Intentionally Gentile
Another thing which is often overlooked but which ought to be thought about, is the frank truth that the Church, although it has its seeds in Jewish soil (Acts 1-7), is intentionally predominantly Gentile in constitution. The Apostolic teaching is that the Church’s design is to bring the Gentiles into relationship with God. This can be viewed along at least two related lines:
- The Jews rejected Christ and are judicially blinded to this very day (Rom. 11:8-10, 25, 28).
- We are awaiting “the fulness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:25). Once this period has concluded God will once again turn to Israel – the natural branches (one of the worst exegetical foul-ups is to equate the Olive Tree with its branches!).
Although any Jew who today repents and receives Jesus as Savior is incorporated into the Church (Eph. 2:12-16), Paul teaches that God will yet deal again with the nation of Israel, “the natural branches.”
What is the Church?
It is, at its core, a called together population of redeemed peoples, Jew and Gentile, but mostly Gentile, permanently indwelt by the Spirit, and betrothed to the Risen Christ. Because this conception is unknown within the pages of the Old Testament, the Church as “the Body of Christ” is called “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” (Col 1:26). It is not, contrary to some, that the concept of the Church was known by OT saints but not realized until the New Testament era. That blatantly contradicts Paul’s statement in Colossians 1. Rather, the idea of the Church was “hidden in God” (Eph. 3:9); it was a secret (musterion) that no one but God knew about until God disclosed it.
Everyone understands that the OT is filled with promises of salvation for the Gentile nations. It is the presence of these promises which smooth out the transition between the Testaments and explain the “lack of surprise” at the church’s existence in the Apostolic writings. But this turning to the Gentiles because of the neglect of Messiah by Israel is no more foreseeable from an OT perspective than a huge time gap between the first and second advents was foreseeable. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Christ and the Triadic People of God
As the One by whom and for whom everything was created, and who holds it all together for Himself, Jesus’ place in the middle of the Biblical Worldview should be obvious. As well, He is the Word – the organizing and rational principle in the world – a personal principle (rationality is a product of personality). So Christ is the “Hermeneutic” to God’s world. He is the right way of seeing the world, or, I might say that He is the high mountain from which God’s creatures correctly see and understand their lives (Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, but his vantage point was off. Satan didn’t see the world through Christ’s eyes).
But Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14), and so unites the immaterial and material realms together in Himself. That is what His work is!
God made this world with humans in mind. He will restore it with us in mind. But the restoration will be gradual. First He must die and be raised in glory (Lk. 24:26), having instituted the New Covenant in His blood and made it with the Church (1 Cor. 11:23-26). At His second advent He will make it with the nation of Israel (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-28), and then with the Nations. Through the New Covenant, which is inseparable from the Person and Work of Jesus Himself, the covenant promises of God will finally find their literal fulfillment. In this Jesus draws the two Testaments together.
I shall say more about this further on. But this brings us to the hope promised to “the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). I want to show how Christ’s role in history necessitates His interaction with humanity, though distinctly organized into three distinct people groups in the consummation. Thus, one humanity will be represented by three humanities – a triadic three-in-one that reflects the Creator eternally.
I shall explore this relationship one by one beginning with Israel.
Jesus and Israel
God’s promises to the people of Israel – the literal descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are about as strong and clear and unequivocal as anything that God has spoken to non-Israelites in the Church. I have documented this elsewhere (e.g. here). But I may say in brief that God’s covenant with the Patriarchs was confirmed and re-affirmed by covenant oaths by which God bound His Name to their eventual fulfillment (e.g. Ezek. 36:22-24; Dan. 9:18-19). These covenant promises to Israel, in which the land is so conspicuous (Gen. 15; Psa. 105:6-11), cannot undergo transformation or eventuate in unexpected and equivocal fulfillment without God impugning His own character. God does not use false balances. He will not require others to stick to “the words of the covenant” (Jer. 34:18), while exempting Himself from the same obligation. That is why Israel has hope. That is also why we have hope (1 Thess. 5:24).
The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendents contained temporal conditions in regard to occupation of the land and eschatological blessing (e.g. Lev. 26), but the core ingredients of the promises were unilateral and binding upon God alone. This is why I have made so much of Jeremiah 33:14-26 in my writing. The Royal grant to Israel was never a grant to a shadow of the Church but to a separate called out entity, and God through Messiah must fulfill it. As one non-evangelical scholar has put it,
Then covenant is initiated by the suzerain who is obligated, not the vassal. The covenant is initiated by the suzerain, and is unconditional in the sense that no demands are imposed upon Abraham.”- David Noel Freedman, Divine Commitment and Human Obligation, Vol. 1: Ancient Israelite History and Religion, 173.
Therein lies another important teaching of Jesus in Mathew 22:32:
But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
The Patriarchs today are living witnesses to God’s covenant promises to them now and in the future. In his day Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced (Jn. 8:56). He knew the Redeemer would come, and He knew that that would someday mean full covenant blessing through Him. That blessing happens when “Shiloh” comes and claims the king’s scepter (Gen. 49:10. cf. Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:6-10; Zech. 6:12-13; 8:3; 14:9). The Apostle places this occurrence at the second coming of Christ when He makes the New Covenant with the Remnant of Israel (Rom. 11:25-27 – Paul cites two Isaianic New Covenant passages). Thus, the redemption of all peoples has been achieved at Calvary. This is in all cases a New Covenant redemption or it is not a redemption at all. The application of the merits of Christ’s sacrifice to the nation of Israel is a second coming event, occurring after the “days of vengeance” of Isa. 61:2b, at which time the outstanding covenant promises of peace, safety, prosperity and land inheritance will come to fruition, which is why so many times in the OT Israel’s salvation is seen in terms of ethnic and geographical/agricultural blessing as well as spiritual salvation (e.g. Deut. 4:29-31; 30:5-6; Isa. 11:1-10; Hos. 2:16-20). Read more »