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?
d. The Nations Coming to Israel’s Light
We have seen that Revelation 21 has those inhabiting New Jerusalem (whom we have equated with the Church), but it also mentions,
the nations [that] shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. 25 And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; 26 and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it – Rev. 21:24-26
Clearly, unless one is prepared, under the guise of so-called “apocalyptic literature,” to deny what this text affirms, there will be distinguishable nations in the New Heavens and New Earth (otherwise, why believe in those things either?). These “nations” comprise the third eschatological grouping. Israel will be among them on the New Earth (and before that in the Millennial Kingdom), but will be separate from them too. This statement cannot be proved from Revelation 21, but it can be shown to be so from other biblical texts.
Isaiah 11:1-10, which occurs when “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth” (v.4. cf. Rev.12:5), that is, at His second coming and reign (Psa. 2:9; Rev. 2:27; 19:15), when creation is restored (Isa. 11:6-9. cf. Hos. 2:18; Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 8:18-23) indicates that at that time the nations will be gathered to the Lord. Zechariah 8:22 declares there will come a time when,
many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.
This is to occur precisely in connection with Gentiles wishing to follow redeemed Israel in worship of the true God (Zech. 8:23). The timing is when,
I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth – Zech. 8:3
The verses which close the Book of Zechariah, which come after the Lord’s return (14:4), tell the same story (Zech. 14:9, 16f.). Zephaniah 3:9-20 tell the same story. What these passages have in common is that they are set within the context of Christ’s second advent and kingdom reign. When the everlasting nature of Israel’s covenants are considered (e.g. Psa. 105:10; Num. 25:13; Jer. 32:37-41; Ezek. 37:26), and placed in the context of the New Creation of Revelation 21, the resultant picture is inevitable: there will be three peoples of God: Israel, the Church, and the Nations. But as these passages also make clear, there will be fellowship among them; a triad of peoples reflecting the persons of the Trinity – a real Brotherhood of Man. And no wonder, doesn’t mankind made to image God?
More next time..