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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 4

Israel

God’s original promise to Abraham included two things I would particularly like to note. The first, “I will make of thee a great nation,” seemingly focuses on his physical descendants who would take their place among earthly nations. The second greatly enlarges that focus: “...and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Where do these great promises fit into God’s overall plan? Is God primarily interested in the Jews or in all peoples? What is the place of the Jews in God’s plan?

In time, the Israelites, after centuries of slavery in Egypt, were miraculously brought by God back to Palestine where they were established as a nation. It is beyond question that they were singled out from among all nations to have a special relationship with God. Deut. 4:7, 32-37, 7:6-10.

Moses, whom God anointed and charged with the responsibility of bringing the Israelites from Egyptian bondage to the very gateway of Canaan, made it clear that this special relationship with God was both a blessing and a curse. They had access to the word of God, a great blessing ... provided they walked in obedience to that word. If not, they would be cursed. Deuteronomy, chapters 27 and 28.

It is very evident to any honest student of scripture that the history of the nation of Israel was overwhelmingly one of apostasy, unspeakable wickedness, rebellion, and judgment. Here and there a leader would arise and there would be a measure of righteousness and blessing but such was the exception and not the rule.

By the time Jesus came on the scene conditions were as prophesied by Isaiah (60:2): “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people....” Those who sat in Moses’ seat ... Jesus called them “serpents” (Matt. 23:33) and children of the devil (John 8:44) ... had fashioned for themselves a religion of convenience, blending elements of Moses’ law and their own traditional interpretations with their aspirations for earthly glory.

They believed themselves righteous in God’s eyes through the practice of their religion and looked for the fulfillment of their dreams of a great earthly kingdom in which they would be exalted above the nations. Strange to say, great numbers of religious people today have embraced the millennial dream of apostate Judaism and this belief shapes their ideas of what is to come.

Thankfully, the history of the Israelites is not all black! Never, in their darkest hour, were they without a righteous remnant who walked in the faith of their father, Abraham. God is the One Who faithfully preserved that remnant, encouraging them in the midst of suffocating darkness with the promise of what was to come. Rom. 11:4. Isaiah 54:11-17.

If we are to understand in any measure what the place of Israel was in God’s plan we need to see it through the eyes of the inspired writers of the New Testament. They had a perspective that was lacking up to that time. There was a clarity and breadth of revelation concerning God’s plan much greater than there had been before. Eph. 3:5, I Peter 1:10-12.

Israel and the Promises

Many today struggle to reconcile the promises of God with the spiritual condition in general among the Jews of Jesus’ day. Paul struggled with the same question! He had grown up as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, practicing their religion with intense zeal. Then he had come face to face with Jesus Christ in a blinding revelation and his spiritual eyes had been opened to Who Christ was.

He thought of his former brethren with anguished heart, wondering how they could be so blind in light of God’s promises of old. All of this pours forth from his pen beginning in Romans 9. It is evident that, as he considered these questions, no doubt with much agonizing prayer, the Lord began to teach him.

The biggest key to this question is set forth in Rom. 9:6-8. In essence God showed Paul that just because there were large numbers of people descended from Abraham who were called Israelites didn’t mean that they were all His children. In fact, most weren’t. This harmonizes perfectly with the words of Jesus in John 8:44, spoken to Israelites, “Ye are of your father the devil....” Let me pose a question: Are the devil’s children heirs of God’s promises?

Paul suddenly understood the difference between those who were begotten of Abraham’s flesh and those who were begotten of his faith. The latter were but a remnant out of the whole and it was them alone that God promised to save. Rom. 9:27. Remember the words of John the Baptist to the Jewish religious leaders who came to his baptism: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Matt. 3:9.

In John 8:39 Jesus said to the same kinds of people, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” Obviously Jesus didn’t consider them to be Abraham’s children though they were, indeed, his physical descendants! (These things are discussed in much greater detail in other writings and I would encourage the interested reader to obtain these for prayerful consideration.)

God’s Chosen People

When I was growing up there was a teaching I often heard about the Jews that was pretty much unquestioned. It was almost like, “The sky is blue,” and, “The grass is green,” and “The Jews are God’s chosen people.” This belief was considered to be just about that obvious! What about it?

It will no doubt shock some people but it needs to be said. As stated, that doctrine is utterly false! It conveys the idea that now ... today ... God favors Jews over Gentiles just because they are Jews. Does God make such a difference? Today? Read what Paul said in Rom. 10:12, part of the same passage that began in chapter 9, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”

Of course, for many centuries the Jews were God’s chosen people. He favored them above all other nations. The prophets were sent to them. They had access to God and salvation. Other nations in general were left in darkness ... and also not held responsible for truth they didn’t have (Acts 17:30).

The question is, was this special relationship with God permanent or was it temporary, to fulfill a purpose in God’s larger plan? Is God primarily interested in favoring and saving Jews or in bringing many sons to glory from every nation under heaven? Everything in the scripture makes it plain to me that that special relationship ended when the church was launched. Matt. 21:42-43 says, “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”

In I Peter 2:9-10 we read, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” This was written to the Jewish remnant who had been called out of religious darkness (I Peter 1:18), and had become the people of God! Think about that! Think about each thing that was said in those two verses! Even though they had been Jews before coming to Christ, in God’s eyes they had not been His people! It was only when they were willing to leave the traditions of their fathers and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ that they became God’s people. The true church is the holy nation to which Jesus referred.

The Gentiles

Another related false idea that I have often heard conveyed by religious teachers is the notion that, whereas the law and the old covenant were a “Jewish thing” the church is a “Gentile thing.” That is absolutely false! The true blood-bought church of Jesus Christ, ... as opposed to much religion that merely uses His Name ... as the earthly expression of His kingdom, transcends every earthly distinction. Gal. 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This was written by Paul ... a Jew ... to Gentile believers!

In its beginning the church was composed entirely of members of the Jewish remnant. It was all Jewish for a time! God was faithful to that believing remnant. It was time to proclaim the kingdom for which they had waited so long. His sheep heard his voice (John 10:27). This is why Paul said that the gospel was to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Everywhere he went He was led by God’s Spirit to first seek out the Jews in that place and to give them an opportunity to respond to the gospel.

But God’s plan was a lot bigger than Israel. Jesus said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” John 10:16. Verse 26 makes it plain that those He was addressing, though Jews, were not his sheep.

The Old Testament prophets in many places spoke about the time when God would reach out to the Gentiles. (Isaiah 40:1-5, 42:1-4, 43:5-6, 45:22, 49:6, 49:13-23, 52:7-10, 54:1-3, 56:6-8, chapter 60, 62:1-2, 66:19, for example!) And so the young church began to reach out beyond those who were Jews, first to the Samaritans, and then to Cornelius and his household.

The truth is that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, occupy exactly the same place of need before God. We all come to God the same way ... through the blood of Christ. The kingdom that has come into being through Christ is open to all who call upon Him. No one is favored over another just because he is from one nationality or another. That middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was forever broken down. Eph. 2:13-16. It will never be rebuilt!

That is why I said earlier that God has only one plan, a plan that has unfolded ever since the Garden of Eden. He has only one people, true believers of all ages. There is an unbroken line of believers that extends from Abraham to this present day. In the beginning that line was mostly Jewish but never exclusively so. Rahab the harlot and her family were from Jericho; Ruth was a Moabitess and became a physical ancestor of Jesus; Naaman was a Syrian; Uriah was a Hittite. It would not surprise me to find Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in heaven, considering his confession after God’s dealings with him. Dan. 4:34-37. Wherever God’s people came into contact with other nations there were those who came to faith in the God of Israel.

Did God’s turning away from natural unbelieving Israel mean that He has stopped being interested in Jews? Of course not! His love has continued to reach out to Jew and Gentile alike over the centuries to bring forth a people for His Name. There is no difference!

Anti-Semitism

I want to be absolutely clear about one thing: let no one who happens to read this, who is prejudiced against Jews or anti-Semitic in any way, dare to twist my words to find comfort for your position. You need to repent before God. The true spirit of Christ is best exemplified by Jesus Himself Who wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) and Who, when He was dying, prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. Both judgment and mercy belong to God. He sees into every heart ... including yours.

So why did God single out Israel for so many centuries? I would not presume to suggest that I could even begin to fully answer such a question but I believe that several things are clear. In part, God dealt with them that He might begin anew to reveal Himself to mankind. In spite of the general condition of Israel many other nations became acquainted with His words and deeds through contact with His people. As we said above, some of these were even brought to faith.

Preparation

One word that comes to mind when I think of the Old Testament is “preparation.” Everything God did in those days pointed forward to Christ. If the true church is God’s holy temple and Christ is the foundation, perhaps what went before could be characterized as the “excavation.” Just as a building needs a good foundation, so does the foundation require that the building site be properly dug out and prepared. One rather obvious example of that work of preparation is the ministry of John the Baptist who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. Isaiah 40:1-5, Mark 1:1-8.

One aspect of preparation concerned the people who would form the nucleus of the church. Paul said, “...the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Gal. 3:24. The job of a schoolmaster is to teach. God’s design was to have a people prepared to receive Christ when the time came.

A few were gathered during the earthly ministry of Jesus but the general ingathering began on the day of Pentecost. It was God’s sovereign work of preparation that made possible the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” Isaiah 66:8. God’s holy nation (I Peter 2:9-10) burst forth in life and power on that one day. A major reason for the vigorous growth of the young church was that it was harvest time among the Jews. Seeds planted and nurtured long before sprang to life when the gospel rains fell.

How different it might have been without that preparation. When Paul went into the synagogue of some new city he could simply take the Jews’ own scriptures and preach Christ. Contrast that with his sermon among the heathen of Athens on Mars Hill. Everything about the gospel was new and strange to them. Acts 17:22-31.

Of course, most of those who lived under the old covenant died long before Christ came. Of these Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” “Perfect” means “complete.” What God did through the old covenant was part of a whole, the beginning of something that He would complete through the new.

Old Testament saints are among those referred to as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Hebrews 12:23. Although the law could never make them complete, Christ did! Hebrews 7:19. He finished the job the law started. No Jew was ever saved through the law! It was the blood of Christ and not the blood of bulls and goats that made salvation possible ... for them and also for us! Heb. 10:4. I believe they are an active part of God’s kingdom, a great company of believers redeemed over the many centuries of preparation. Their salvation is part of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

The whole theme of the book of Hebrews concerns the superiority of the new covenant and of the work of Christ over the old. The old covenant of laws is presented as something instituted temporarily until that which is permanent came. Hebrews 10:1-17. The law was a mere shadow of what was to come. What Christ did is forever ... and the kingdom He has established has nothing to do with earthly distinctions!

The Ministry of the Prophets

Paul speaks of the church as being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, further showing the unity of God’s kingdom throughout the ages. I believe that the role of the prophets in all of this is both amazing and little understood. I Peter 1:10-12 tells us that their ministry was to US and that they themselves didn’t understand much of what they prophesied.

Most people equate “prophecy” with “prediction” as though God was merely trying to convince men to believe in Him by telling about things before they happened. There is much more to it than that! “Prophesying” was simply a word that meant “speaking the Word of God by divine inspiration.” This could only be done by those God sovereignly chose. Others who tried to “prophesy” were called “false prophets.” II Peter 1:21-2:1.

The Word of God is, by its nature, creative. Think for a moment about the first creation. How, for example, did “light” come to be? The scripture says simply, “And God said, Let there by light, and there was light.” Gen. 1:3. What, then, caused light to appear? Did God merely command someone to flip a great switch somewhere? Of course not! Everything necessary for light to appear was contained in the very words themselves. God’s Word is full of life and power. Heb. 4:12. What He says happens. It cannot do otherwise. When Jesus said to the corpse of Lazarus, “Come forth,” he came forth! John 11:43-44.

Consider the call of young Jeremiah to be a prophet. He was given an amazing commission: “Behold I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10. However was he to carry out such a commission? Was he to raise a great army? No! He was to be armed with the greatest force in the universe: the Word of God! How could mere armies stand before the same force that created heaven and earth?

The Word of God that brought forth the first creation was actually spoken by His Son. Hebrews 1:2, Colossians 1:12-19. The kingdom of God ruled over by Christ is in the process of bringing forth the new creation that will forever replace the present corrupted one.

In many places in the New Testament you will find reference to such and such happening that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled. Is this mere prediction? Did the prophets just foretell? No! The ministry of the prophets was much more than prediction of things to come: it actually caused them to happen! Chosen men, laboring under great persecution over many centuries, were literally used of God to speak into existence the very realities of the kingdom that began to unfold with the ministry of Christ. By the time Jesus came on the scene everything had already been set into motion. He had but to work in cooperation with His Father to see the effects of words uttered centuries before come to pass.

Guided Missiles

One crude illustration of the Word of God is the guided missile. Speaking the Word of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is like firing a missile and the explosion when it hits its target is like the result. Remember what Isaiah said in 55:10-11: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” What does God do when He wants to “accomplish” something? He speaks!

Now, there are smaller short range missiles whose effects are fairly immediate. The one firing the missile can watch as it streaks to its target. Often the Word of God is like that, but not always. Sometimes it is more like a long range missile. The missile is launched out of sight and designed to land far away in another part of the world. Sometimes one missile can even carry multiple warheads so that a single missile launch can hit several targets thousands of miles away. In such cases those handling the launch can only do their part and trust the guidance system. The end result happens far away and out of sight.

Much Old Testament prophecy is like those long range missiles. Inspired words, often little understood by their speakers, were nonetheless “launched” by faith. The God Who inspired them guided those “missiles” unerringly to their intended targets in the ministries of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the kingdom that has followed. God used the prophets to handle the launches; He has used His servants throughout this present age in connection with the impacts ... the fulfillments ... of their words. Thus are believers from every age absolutely workers together in the unfolding of God’s great plan. The prophets are just as much a part of the work of the gospel as are they who preach it.

A Parallel

Ever since Abraham, God has faithfully saved a remnant of Abraham’s natural children as He promised. He did so during the days in which He suffered the apostasy of the nation of Israel and He has continued to do so down to this present day. However, His dealings with the nation as a whole in many ways paralleled what happened in the old world.

For many centuries God made Himself known to Israel. He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to warn them of the consequences of continued rebellion and to offer them hope if they would turn to Him with their whole hearts. The reward of the prophets was persecution and murder. Finally God sent His Son and they crucified Him. Once again, God’s Spirit would not forever strive with men. Light walked in leads to salvation. Light rejected leads ultimately to reprobation and death. Reprobation is a state in which God no longer deals with or draws someone to Christ. No one can be saved unless God draws him. John 6:44. It came time for Him to abandon the nation to the darkness it had chosen. Once again, God’s judgment clock started ticking. Israel was in “sudden death overtime.”

Listen to the language of John the Baptist, addressed to the religious leaders: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Matt. 3:7. Note the reference to “the wrath to come.” It was stated as a simple fact. It was not something that might happen but could be avoided if they repented. A terrible judgment lay ahead for them, fixed on God’s calendar. Every day was one day closer to a terrible end for them.

A few verses later John referred to Christ: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matt. 3:12. What was he talking about? Do you think John was talking about literally harvesting a wheat field? Of course not! He was talking about the two kinds of people that made up Israel. The “wheat” represented the true remnant, His sheep, the spiritual children of Abraham among them. The “chaff” represented all the rest. The ministry of Christ signaled a time of harvest in Israel, a great and final separation between believers and unbelievers.

Matthew 23 is devoted to the words of Jesus denouncing the scribes and Pharisees and pronouncing judgment upon them. Verse 38 expresses God’s abandonment of them: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

In Matt. 21:33-44 Jesus portrayed the history and the fate of the Pharisees in a parable. In this parable a householder plants a vineyard and then leaves its care to others called husbandmen. Over time he sends many servants and finally his son to them and all are mistreated and killed. Jesus asked the Pharisees what the householder would do to the husbandmen when he came. They, not recognizing what he was talking about said, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” Out of their own mouths!

Jesus responded in verses 42-44: “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”

The same truth is expressed in Matt. 22:1-7. Here we have a parable about a king (God) who invited certain people (Israelites) to a wedding for his son (Jesus). But when the time came, not only were they not interested, they actually murdered those who were sent to tell them. Verse 7 says, “But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth, and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”

The Judgment of Israel

In Luke 19:41-44 Jesus wept over Jerusalem and foretold exactly what was coming in the way of judgment: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”

This was fulfilled perfectly approximately 40 years later when the Roman army led by Titus laid siege to Jerusalem, trapping 3 million Jews inside. After a time of unspeakable suffering and death the city was indeed so completely destroyed that not one stone was left upon another. Paul spoke of this terrible judgment when he said of them, “...the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” I Thess. 2:16.

An Opportunity

All during this sudden death overtime there was an opportunity given to escape the coming judgment as was the case in Noah’s day. However, the opportunity was not to the nation ... it was too late for that ... but to individuals. Notice the language of Peter on the day of Pentecost: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Acts 2:40. The generation itself could not escape, but anyone who heard and embraced the gospel could!

Throughout the intervening years until judgment actually came there remained a faithful church at Jerusalem bearing testimony to the gospel. As time went on some believers left Jerusalem and those remaining behind lived under persecution and poverty. They watched as their spiritual leader, James, was brutally murdered in the temple courtyard. Paul was touched with their plight and took up collections among the Gentile churches for “the poor saints of Jerusalem” ... referring to their poverty.

I often hear or read the words of someone who quotes and tries to apply II Chronicles 7:14 to modern day America. Anyone who questions this is subject to being labeled “unspiritual” or “unbelieving.” Is the Bible something we can just take and apply as we please? Or do we perhaps need the Author?!

Let me ask you a question. Where in the words of John the Baptist, or of Jesus, or of any of the apostles is there any suggestion that Israel’s “wrath to come” could be avoided? II Chronicles 7:14 was originally given to Israel! I wonder why none of the above preached it! Not one! Were they ignorant? or unspiritual? What do you think? It was no more in order for them to offer Israel a hope of escaping judgment than it would have been for Noah to have offered the old world a hope of avoiding the flood. That’s how serious it was. That’s how late an hour it was for Israel. It was sudden death overtime.

The only people in Jerusalem who avoided the terrible Roman siege were the small band of beleaguered Christians. God was faithful to warn them when it was time to leave. At that point Jerusalem was left with no witness and no hope although in their blindness they did not realize it. They were probably glad to see the Christians go!

Once again we see an era end with a general judgment and the salvation of a remnant. What about our day? Will history repeat itself? Where are we on God’s calendar?

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