Tuesday, December 2, 2014

THE SEARCH FOR THE TEN LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL (8)

(Please scroll down to read parts 1-7)

CHILDREN OF PROMISE

It is with these three covenants of God (previous post) as a backdrop that we look at the promises of a restored Israel.  The covenants are important to this subject because they show us the direction toward which God is working in the restoration.  What is it that we see?

First, from the very beginning with Abraham, we see that God intended to bless not only him, but that through Abraham “all the families of the earth [would] be blessed” (Genesis 12:1). The Jewish people were meant to act as the means through which God would bring His blessings to every nation or race of people.  This is at least part of the meaning of God’s statement to the sons of Israel in Exodus 19:6: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

How did God mean to bring about this blessing to all of the families of the earth?  Was it that the nations needed to have a “second hand relationship” with God, and only come to God through the mediators of the Jewish people?  Or should those of the nations who sought a relationship with God become proselytes, thereby making themselves Jewish in order to come under the blessings of God? 

A Chosen Race

We know now that it was neither of these options, for the Apostle Peter lifts the following Scripture out of the context of the Old Testament and applies them directly to the church: 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:9-10 NAS). 

The words that Peter uses in these verses are phrases that were originally spoken to the Old Testament Jews, but here we see Peter unapologetically transpose these Old Testament promises to apply them to the New Testament church. Even in Peter's day, the church consisted more of converted Gentiles than it did converted Jews. All throughout history, the Jews had considered themselves apart from the nations around them and as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession.” How could Peter now apply this to a new group of people that mainly consisted of Gentiles?

It is here where we begin to see the difficulty in this case in adhering strictly to a literal hermeneutic in the Old Testament and then trying to carry that same hermeneutic over into the New Testament.  If one were to make the claim that God’s Old Testament promises to the Jewish people must be fulfilled only in the direct blood line of the Jews, then there is a difficulty in knowing how to interpret the words of Peter.

The Apostle Paul also spoke in some terms never before heard. Actually, considering the religious climate of the day, his words must have seemed scandalous: 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:27-29 NAS). 

Furthermore, building on a line of reasoning and showing God’s means of election, Paul demonstrates that “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8 NAS). 

No Distinctions of Eternal Significance

In fact, throughout the Epistles of the New Testament, when we look at the church and consider it from a spiritual perspective, it is difficult to see any distinction between the Jewish and the non-Jewish believers in Christ.  There remains, of course, the every-day and common distinctions between the two that any ethnically diverse society would have.  But in spite of these, Paul says this: 

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him (Romans 10:12 NAS). 

Were there then no distinctions at all in the New Testament times between the believing Jews and the Gentile Christians?  We know that there were indeed distinctions.  Paul, despite the words that he wrote to the Romans (as well as to others), also spoke openly of his Jewish heritage and the fact that he was a descendant from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1).  Also, in his missionary journeys, Paul customarily went first to the synagogues, stating that it was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to the Jews first (Acts 13:46).

It is understandable that in the New Testament church there would also be this distinction among the believers, just as there is in any multi-ethnic church even today.  But we should also notice what Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:28-29 NAS). 

It would be absurd to assert that Paul was saying in this verse that, in Christ, absolutely all distinctions had magically disappeared as if there were no longer such a thing as differences in economical status, or even in the gender of the sexes.  It was obvious to see that, in every-day life, these distinctions remained.  Even was it so between Jew and Greek.

But, when it comes to being heirs to the Old Testament promises to Abraham, all distinctions do disappear, as if by magic.  It is not magic, of course, but that we have become heirs according to promise.

To quote again the words of Paul, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29), and “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8 NAS). 

An Enlarged Inheritance

And what is promised to Abraham’s descendants, the heir according to promise? Much indeed. Paul wrote to this same Roman church, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13).

Almost as a side note, Paul mentions in this verse that the inheritance includes a Promised Land far beyond the Palestine of Abraham’s day and even far beyond the portion of the world known to Abraham as was told him at the time of the sealing of the covenant. Paul tells us that the heirs of Abraham, heirs according to promise, would eventually inherit the world.

This thought is astonishing enough, but it is even greater than it first seems. Paul is not only talking about the “world” as in the whole earth, but the word is kosmos, meaning the whole created order! Again we see that God has expanded His promises to His children. Certainly, it has always been his intention, but like Abraham and like David, as our understanding of the extent of creation has grown, God has shown us further the extent of His promises.
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The next post will be the final one of this rather lengthy series. For all of those who have stuck with me this far, thank you. Also, thanks for the good comments that some of you have emailed to me.
We will conclude next time with some final thoughts on God's Remnant People that He is preserving

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