Saturday, 19 August 2017

All One in Him

As much as Paul didn't want Jewish Christians to think less of Gentiles, he also wanted to make sure Gentile Christians at Rome didn't think less of Jews. 

The tendency in other cities was probably more the other way - that Gentile Christians might ea
sily be led astray into feeling they needed to become proselytes to Judaism in order to really be up to standard. And to avoid that grave mistake, Paul was constantly writing letters to the churches in those cities, building-up the Gentiles' esteem, and confronting the Judaisers head-on.

But Rome may have had something else going on too. Yes Paul still made the point that Jews needn't demand that Gentiles become proselytes. But there may have also been a tendency at Rome for some Gentiles to kind of reverse the 'racism' if you call it that, this time towards the Jews. 

Claudius had not too long before expelled all Jews from the city. By the time Paul wrote, Jews must have filtered back into the city, and back into the church. In the meantime Gentile Christians would have gotten quite used to living-out their Christian life without being disturbed by the Judaism question at all. But now Paul also wanted to make sure they didn't go too far the other way by thinking God was over with saving Jews altogether.

The fact that the congregation at Rome might have been predominantly Gentile, didn't mean God wasn't saving Jewish people any more. He'd already saved many Jews, and was still saving more, Paul explained! Gentiles and Jews were mutually ministering to and benefiting each other spiritually. That's how it was always meant to be, actually - and God had left the door wide open to both Gentiles and Jews. 

That scenario was precisely what the Prophets had foreseen. It had been a bit of a mystery though - they never fully understood what it was all going to look like - but the Gospel explained it. 

The Gospel was to be first to the Jew, and also to the Greek - then Gentiles and Jews would continue getting saved together, in one body - with no ethnicity having the door closed on it, and no-one a second-rate member irrespective of whether or not he observed Jewish cultural markers. By explaining this, Paul hoped to achieve unity of thought in the congregation at Rome. Isn't that beautiful! 

So what Paul probably wasn't saying is anything like that God was blinding Jewish people just so He could save Gentiles and then one day when He's got enough Gentiles He won't focus on them anymore and then He'll finally stop blinding Jewish people and they'll all be saved like after the Second Coming or something. 

No, the text of Romans itself tells us what the issue was which Paul was addressing in the church at Rome - and Paul answered the question by explaining a timeless truth of the Gospel, a truth which he fully applied directly to their very own situation in the first century AD. 


And it's still the gospel-truth. No individual is excluded on the basis of race from the salvation-offer; and once saved no-one needs to start carrying-out modern-Judaisms. We are all one in Him, and complete in Him, JESUS.

Israel

In a bookstore today I saw copies of "The Jewish Bible" on display. I picked one up and opened it to Romans 11:25-27. I quite liked the translator's grasp of what Paul was saying.
"For, brothers, I want you to understand this truth which God formerly concealed but has now revealed, so that you won't imagine you know more than you actually do.
It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra'el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; and that it is in this way that all Isra'el will be saved. As the Tanakh says, "Out of Tziyon will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Ya'akov and this will be my covenant with them, . . . when I take away their sins."
Then I picked up "The New Testament for Everyone" - a translation by Tom Wright - and opened it to the same passage. And there was something I liked in verse 26. He puts part of it in inverted commas:
"That is how 'all Israel will be saved', as the Bible says..."
So, what they're both grasping Paul as saying to the Gentile church-members at Rome, was like this:
"God's promise to save Israel hasn't failed - lots of Jews have already experienced it! And those who haven't, still can - simply by turning from unbelief.
Just because many Gentiles are getting saved doesn't mean Jews have lost the opportunity to believe and be saved. In fact, God is using the Gentiles' experience of salvation to try to provoke that very response from Jews!
That whole outcome was a mystery in times past, but in fact it's precisely the way Israel's promised-salvation was always going to work out..."
Jews getting saved first, then the Gentiles, then more Gentiles and Jews continuing to get saved. And that's how it will be - and then the end will come. And then the end will come.
And then Paul quotes a couple of sample-verses about Israel's salvation, just to show God's goodwill towards Jews. (Verses which in fact had already been fulfilled and were continuing to see its outworking.)
It probably wasn't really a prediction of some complete change of program in future (like at the end of some 'Great Tribulation', or during some 'Millennium' after Christ's return. Rather Paul was likely just explaining the manner in which Israel's promises had been fulfilled, and how a Jew could still come to the party.
It was an appeal to Gentiles in first-century Rome to be tender-minded towards Jews, not to despise them. The goal was true unity in the church there, between Gentiles and Jews. Because God was still reaching out to Jews, just as He is to Gentiles.
That's the gospel!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Paul's Use of Terms

Paul said "What if the uncircumcision keeps the law". 

Wait! Circumcision was a commandment in the law! So how could uncircumcision 'keep' the law?

Obviously Paul saw another way of 'keeping' the law. 

He saw another 'law'. 

He saw another 'circumcision' - the true circumcision. 

See Paul's use of terms? See where he was going with all that? and his conclusion?

It mightn't quite be what some are thinking!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dominion? Dispensationalism? Cruciform!

Yes "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" Paul said.

And Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, Jesus said, or else His disciples would have fought in His defence.

The kingdom is still to come - and the picture Jesus painted of life before He comes included some grim themes.

But let's not fail to consider in what sense there has already come (in Messiah, and in the Gospel, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in the experience and commission of the church) a fulfilment of the promised and prophesied kingdom-hope.

As believers in Jesus, we do experience the nearness of the Kingdom, among us, in us perhaps, we are pressin
g into it, we are receiving it, and we are in a sense already in it - in some very real and new way that wasn't the case prior to the New Testament, aren't we?

The Gospel is the Gospel 'of the kingdom' - so it's a much better kingom-program than what they already had under the Old Covenant, isn't it.

There wasn't any point where the message changed from being the Gospel of the kingdom to becoming the Gospel of something else.

The Apostles did seem to tell the story of Jesus precisly as the climax and fulfilling of the story of Israel, and of Abraham, inclusive of their kingdom-hope.

(Daniel did after all say something about Messiah coming on the scene within a set timeframe; and something about the Kingdom being set up in the days of a fourth regime, which arguably could have been the Roman empire, or not?)

So even though this present age is always going to be cross-shaped, for us believers, while waiting for the Second Coming and Kingdom - still it's not the case that the Kingdom-scheme has been delayed altogether, and that the Gospel and the church is really just some separate scheme unrelated to 'kingdom', until such a time as God decides to finally begin the kingdom-plan, is it?

If the Gospel is in some sense related to the Kingdom (like a proclamation of it, or 'inauguration' of it, or some such thing, even though we still await its 'consummation'), then in the consummation (once Christ returns) the Kingdom must look more like the Gospel sheme of things than say the old Judaistic scheme of things (with its temple and Levitical sacrifices and pilgrimages and feasts and all that), right?

It means the pathway into the Kingdom isn't modern Judaisms, but only via the King - Messiah, Jesus.

And we (even Jews) have to be prepared before He comes - or it'll be too late.

In the mean time, until the Kingdom comes in ultimacy, we're experiencing it in some real, new and powerful way - but it's cruciform.

For "it is given to us not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for Him".

Monday, 7 August 2017

Roman Jewish Unity

Romans 9-11 isn't to be understood in a vacuum, like a rugby ball having suddenly landed on a tennis court mid-game - it's a continuation of the flow of where Paul was going in his Epistle. And we don't really end up at where he was going until, at the earliest, chapters 14 and 15!

When you consider it in that light, you realise chapter 9 to 11 is not about 'TULIP'; and it's not about some future Jewish/Levitical Dispensation.

Rather the goal was the unity of the Gentile/Jewish congregation at Rome.

And with that goal in mind Paul clarifies some objections or misnotions about the scheme of the gospel which might have otherwise hampered that unity.

"I See Another Law"

I think Paul had this concept that it was possible for a person to be compliant with Divine 'law', without the person necessarily having to go the route of Moses' Law - i.e., without needing to become a proselyte to Judaism.

For example, Paul mentioned that the law was written on the Gentiles' hearts even though they didn't have Moses' Law. It wasn't a law which included all the outward requirements of Moses' Law - but it was Divine law nonetheless.

And he said that if Gentiles who didn't have Moses' Law, nevertheless by nature kept the law - then they were actually better than a Jew who had the written Law but didn't keep it. 

Paul had this concept that a Gentile, without necessarily carrying-out all of the Jewish cultural markers of Moses' Law, could in some very real and valid sense be 'keeping the law'. 

He mentioned "the uncircumcision" keeping the law. Wait a minute! - circumcision was a requirement of the law - so how could 'uncircumcision' be thought of as 'keeping the law'! Paul was seeing something here. 

But before we get to that, Paul went on to say that even Jews who were blameless in their Law still struggled with sin in the flesh, in the mind of their flesh. He used his own experience as an illustration of that. The Law wasn't able to make him fully, deeply compliant with the Divine nature like he knew he ought to be. 

So now He brings us to the point. We all needed Jesus. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death! But get this: he called it 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus'. The law? I thought he just said we're free from the Law! Yes we are free from the Law, but not altogether without 'law'.

He said that if we walk in the Spirit, we won't fulfil the lusts of the flesh; and the fruit of the spirit is a lifestyle against which there is no law. Walking in love 'fulfils the law' he said. He is 'under the law to Christ'. 

So Paul saw that in Christ Jesus, and through the Spirit, the Gentiles became compliant with Divine law - without needing to go the route of becoming Jewish proselytes and adopting all the Jewish cultural markers; and also, Jews who had the Law but realised their inner deficiency despite having the Law, were able to truly be made partakers of the Divine nature, not through the Law, but by being born of the Spirit. Through an inner circumcision which was by faith in Jesus Christ, both Gentiles and Jews were made truly compliant with Divine 'law' - and were empowered to truly walk in compliance with it.

What that looks like is universally understood by all true believers in Jesus to mean the fruit of the Spirit, love. There are really only two points which some have a different conscience about: diet and days. And those two things are the very two things which Paul singled out for discussion, and basically concluded "live and let live". It wasn't to become divisive.

The Apostles' Story

To detach the 'church' from the Israel-focus of early Acts, and from the four gospels, and from Israel's OT hope, is to tell a different story of the Gospel to the glad story the Apostles were telling.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Quote Bernie Wade

Bishop Bernie L Wade Amen. It would be shocking to some how many preachers believe there is a different Gospel for Jewish people.

The Canons and What the Early Church Believed

USS Ronald Reagan - Port of Brisbane, July 2017
I drove through the bush in an undeveloped spot across the river, then walked along sand in low-tide along the riverbank, 'til I was directly opposite it, and took that picture. I stayed in company of the view, for nearly an hour - taking it in - reflecting on all the history that's associated with the object that was in front of my eyes. I haven't done too detailed a study of the historicity of Christianity and of its canon - because I knew that if I did, it would only lead me to what I already know! Lol. But I do often feel that many people who are prejudiced against Christianity, seem to apply an unequal criteria to the study of the historicity of Christianity than they do to most anything else in history. The thing about an historical hypothesis is that it isn't repeatable, like other scientific hypotheses might be. So balance of probabilities, based on available evidences, is a big part of the discipline - even with regard to secular history. I get the impression, after the little bit of reading I've done over the years, and talking to a Professor etc., that we have all of the types of 'evidences' that we can reasonably expect to find, if the basic story about Jesus really happened. That still mightn't go all the way to proving it did happen. But we've got about as good as we can get - for anything in history, of that nature, of that era. In fact, I think the available evidences we have for the story of Jesus are more numerous than we have for anyone else in history in his category in that era. And yet many critics of Christianity readily accept the historicity of some of those other characters and what they allegedly said and did - despite even fewer available evidences - but they don't accept the basic story of Jesus even with more available evidences. I think that shows prejudice. And my Christian worldview interprets that prejudice as being spiritually driven, not purely academic. I'm not defending nor denying the doctrine of the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture in the Original Tongues, in this Chat. But after what little study I've done, and talking to Professors etc. I'm satisfied (based on the available evidences, and the balance of probabilities), that the general belief of the early Church was that: Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood man; that God did miracles through Him; that He was crucified, buried and rose again on the third day; that He was Lord and Christ; that His message was for all nations; and that He's coming again. From almost the very beginning there were people from among their own ranks who diverged from some of that. And wrote their views. And it was also largely recognised, from early on, among the churches, what was standard belief and what and who was divergent from that. I just don't see the balance of probabilities (and the available evidences) leaning in favour of the Gnostic Gospels, for example - which had such a different message to the message of all of the books which made it into the 'canon'. I can see that even amongst those who accepted what I think was the general view of things, there was some variation in what books they accepted as canonical. But as far as I'm aware, the issue was not, in any of those books in question, about the generally accepted story of Jesus. So I feel as reasonably satisfied as I think we can be about anything of this nature of that era: that the main canons which we have today pretty-well reflect what the early Church believed. Whether or not we personalise that, and confess Jesus is Lord, and believe in our own heart that God raised Him from the dead, is of course a step further. And might require that we're drawn or taught in our hearts, directly by the Spirit. One thing I can say though is that the rapid acceptance of Christianity across Europe, at a time when Christianity was persecuted, when there was no economic advantage to becoming Christian, hardly compares with the spread of say Islam, at the point of the sword. Especially considering Christianity was based on stories many of which could have been falsified, at its inception, and on location, by the very people who were being preached to. Unlike the Koran which was entirely subjective to the writer's claim, and didn't include anything much that was falsifiable by its original readers. So again, I think the early canons - each of them, despite their slight differences - pretty much reflected the early Church's main story. Their criteria was quite scientific - even though they came to different conclusions about a small number of books. Whereas the divergent groups weren't at all scientific - about anything much.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Don't Forget the 'No More Gaps'

Like nailing a sheet of board to a wall, but not using No More Gaps to make the join seamless - many have nailed some points of the Gospel okay, but miss how the Gospel itself seamlessly completes the story of Israel and of Abraham.

So they understand that the Gospel is about Gentiles experiencing salvation; they pray for healing; they're seeing people getting baptised with the Holy Spirit - but they don't quite grasp how all of that fulfils the very story of Israel (and the Law) and of Abraham (and the Promise).

Consequently, although they're thoroughly enjoying the Gospel-work they're doing, there's a part of their mind that still sees everything 'Israel' as something separate. Like maybe God does have some separate way to salvation for Jews. Or like maybe their story is yet to be completed - like during some future Jewish 'Millennium' or something. Judaism too is probably still legitimate, both now and in future.

When all along this board which they've sheeted to the wall, really was meant to be seen to join seamlessly to the sheet before it. It all fits together a whole lot better and looks far more beautiful then - like it was always meant to be.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the natural apex of the story of Israel and of Abraham.


Monday, 31 July 2017

Right Dividing the Word

When we identify Old Covenant (Levitical) themes in Old Testament Prophecy as already-fulfilled, that doesn't reduce Bible Prophecy to a mere history-book. Because there are themes in Bible-Prophecy which are still-future - like the Second Coming.

But reading fulfilled-prophecy has value, because the fact that it's been fulfilled makes it the charter of the church. The fact that it's fulfilled, is the Articles of Association of the church. The church is built on the historical fact of fulfilled prophecy.

The prophecy - and the fact that it's been fulfilled - locates us. It tells us what's been set up for us, by virtue of the fulfilment of the prophecy in history.

Identifying a prophecy as fulfilled - rather than turning it into lifeless pages, is the very reason why the pages breath life for us today. We're on this side of the benefit, not still waiting for it!

The timeline on which Bible Prophecy was fulfilled, gives us a historical basis for our claim about Jesus. According to Prophecy, certain things had to be fulfilled in Israel first, and then Messiah would come in that setting. By identifying that those things indeed happened in Israel first, and that those things were realities in Israel at the time of Jesus, we can demonstrate that Jesus was on-time to be Israel's Messiah. But if we instead relegate those details in Prophecy to the future, it implies Jesus was too early in history to be Messiah. It would also wrongly imply the necessity of Judaism in future.

All of the Bible still speaks - but it needs to be rightly divided. Anything God promised - and did - for Israel in the past, is a pretty good indication of the goodwill He still has towards them - and also towards all nations, since He is now grafting Gentiles in to Israel's promises, through the Gospel. But some details are meant to stay in the past, especially Levitical, Old Covenant details - they're history.

That takes nothing away from us - rather, it tells the story of how, and proves, that we are now on a higher and better platform!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Get This

To the Apostles, the mission of Jesus wasn't just to start the Church - but to continue and to complete the story of Israel and of Abraham, and in so doing create the Church. 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Romans 11

Have you ever read Romans through in a single sitting? Romans 11 wasn't written like a separate label to tie to a pole and let it swing there - it's part of the flow of the whole Book. Romans is going somewhere. 

As his Epistle progresses, Paul addresses specific issues along the way. He tells us what those questions are. Part of Romans 11 was an appeal to Roman believers not to think more lowly of Jews than they should: not to think Jews probably didn't have the opportunity any more to get saved; not to despise Jewish church-members because of their conscientiousness about sabbaths and diets, etc. All of that was an especially Roman tendency, exacerbated when Claudius expelled all Jews from the city (which the books of Acts mentions).

So Paul's reponse, always aiming for unity between Gentile and Jew in the Church, is to explain that God hadn't closed the door to Jews - many Jews had been saved, and any who hadn't still could - Paul himself was an example of that happening. In fact God was using the Gentiles' experience of salvation to provoke Jews to jealousy, to become what they were always intended to be. 

Paul explained that that outcome had been a mystery in OT times. But that was the very outcome which fulfilled Israel's promised salvation. Quoting two OT verses, which had in fact already seen their fulfilment, and still were - or else no-one has ever yet been saved!

And "so all Israel shall be saved", he concluded. Not," and then..." But, "and so..." Manner, not sequence. Paul wasn't saying what will happen next after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in - or else he'd have said "And then...". He was explaining the scheme that existed. "And so..." In this manner. What he was most likely meaning is that the scenario he'd just described, even though it's an outcome that had been a bit of a mystery up until now, is the very scheme by which all Israel must be saved: God hasn't closed the door to them.

But even if Paul meant there's going to come a time of nationwide responsiveness in Israel, it can only be on the platform of the Gospel, not on the old scheme of Judaism - and not 'after' the Second Coming! And a future 'Millennium' (if that's what Revelation means) can't be a Judaistic one. Spiritualising the significance of sacrifices in Prophecy from atonement offerings to 'memorial' offerings like some claim, is to depart from literalism. Thus the Dispensational model of the Millennium unravels by the very literalism on which it claims to be constructed, doesn't it? Or at least, the idea should probably be put in the non-fundamental truth category, the inessential doctrine category - not something we demand a thorough understanding of and agreement with as a condition for not jeopardising one's credentials and severely affecting one's standing in the fellowship? 

What Paul Was Doing

When Paul spoke about predestination and election, in Romans, he wasn't sitting at the table with Calvinists when they debated Arminians in the 16th century - he was using the terms in a polemical way against the ideas of the Judaizers, and in an assuring way to the Church - and all as a basis for his appeal to unity in the Church across the Gentile/Jew 'barrier'. 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Twitter

Did I Tweet 55 times today??
Each one exulting in the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge and mercy of God! 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Joint-Heirs of the Kingdom

The main thing I'm asserting about Old Testament Prophecy, is that God isn't planning any regression back to Levitical worship - not for anyone, anywhere, ever. To me, that's New Testament theology 1.0.1

And of course, Jesus is Israel's prophesied Messiah. (Orthodox Jews argue about that point, but believers in Jesus don't.)

Those two truths might not easily answer every question about Bible Prophecy, but it does eliminate a lot of out-there ideas about the future. When we re-read Old Testament prophecies in light of those two truths, it means we can divide certain themes in the prophecies into their right time in history: either the past, present or maybe the future. So that helps unpack a lot of it quite well. 

A main problem with the idea that God has a people outside of His bride; and that people will be admitted into the Kingdom of God who weren't saved; and that some of them can get saved once they've already seen the Kingdom (especially if they're Jews), is that that idea is not in the Bible - not in the Epistles, Gospels, not even in the Old Testament. The whole Bible always warned of the importance of being prepared in advance of His coming.

The nature of a parable is that not every detail in it is meant to establish a doctrine. Unlike prophetic visions, in which every symbol has a meaning. Parables are not visions. Most of Jesus' parables were told to drive home some simple points. Some details were there to reinforce a single point, not to make a point of their own.

Like the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. The detail that the judge happened to be unjust, was not meant to make a point that God is somehow unjust. It just reinforced the point that persistent prayer can really win-out in the end - if towards an unjust judge, how much more towards our just God. 

A simple point of the parables of the kingdom, is that only those who are prepared in advance of Messiah's coming will be able to see it and enter it. 
And far from Jews having some special concession in that regard, the parables were first of all warnings to Jews. 

Jesus' warning that unless a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, was a warning to a Jewish ruler. 

A problem with making a doctrine out of the fourth cup of some Jewish ceremony, is that the Bible says nothing about any fourth cup. If Jews have such a custom, it didn't originate in the Torah, because the Torah didn't even mention it. So we can't very well establish a doctrine on something the Bible doesn't even say.

As for God's covenant faithfulness to Israel, the Apostles didn't teach that God had made the Church the object of His faithfulness instead of ever faithfully carrying out His promise to Israel; nor did they teach that God had delayed performing His faithfulness to Israel until some future time and that the Gospel is something else which doesn't really have much to do with it. No, they proclaimed that the Gospel 'is' God's covenant faithfulness to Israel. Jesus indeed is Israel's promised Messiah. They explained that the Gospel is the very manner in which Prophecy and Promise was always going to see its fulfilment. 

Certainly there are themes in Bible Prophecy which are still future. The Apostles said so themselves: like the Second Coming. But the whole purpose of Messiah's first coming, was to prepare the Jews for that day, and also all nations. 

So any plans God has for modern Israelis, can only be with full regard to the fact that He has already performed His covenant faithfulness to them, in the Person of His Son Messiah. To require anything else would be regression, not progress. Regressing to a system which could only disqualify them.

The Gospel didn't lower Israel to the same low-level of the Gentiles - rather, it raised Israel up to a higher level than their previous covenant could - and then it invited Gentiles up onto the same platform. 

In other words the covenant faithfulness which God had demonstrated to Israel, is now a blessing which even Gentiles get to be part of.

That didn't take anything away from Israel. It lifted them up - and then offered a hand up to Gentiles as well. 

Now together we await what's left to be fulfilled of Prophecy - which is His coming and Kingdom, of which we all are coheirs.

That's the Gospel.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Covenant Blinkers

By strict Covenant Theology, I mean certain people in the Reformed tradition who are so strictly into Covenant Theology that if you ask them the following question, they can't or won't answer:

"Which Old Testament Bible verse is the best verse you know which meant Messiah would minister in the land of Israel".

(As opposed to any random place, like Spain for example.)

It stumps them. The reason they can't or won't answer it, is because as soon as they do, it would mean they're committing that most loathsome of all mistakes in their strict view: assigning an identity to 'Israel' (or related names) other than a strictly spiritual, covenantal (non geographical, physical, or ethnic) meaning. They won't do it. 

And that means they lose the interaction between prophecy and physical facts of history, as examples of the faithfulness of God, and as cases for the Messiahship of Jesus, and as a basis for our Christian faith.

Ask the same question of Dispensationalists, and if they aren't taken aback by why anyone would ask such an obvious question, your screen will light up within seconds with any number of Scriptural examples. 

Dispensationalists are correct in seeing that some details in Old Testament prophecy required a literal, physical, geographical and ethnic fulfilment in Israel. Some strict Reformed Covenant Theology adherents miss that point, or think it's not important, or can't admit it. 

Unfortunately though many Dispensationalists can't see or don't want to see that many other prophecies about Israel have also had their fulfilment and don't require a future fulfilment. Prophecies like the rebuilding of their Temple after captivity, and the reinstatement of Levitical sacrifices which occurred then. 

Covenant Theology is right that there was a group within Israel who have become the true Israel, for spiritual reasons. And they're right that Gentiles later became part of that same group, also for spiritual reasons. But some miss the importance that that had to come about in Israel first, among Israelis first, in order to fulfil Covenant. 

(The Church couldn't have started in Ethiopia first, for example. Or even in Galilee. Jesus was adamant that the disciples must go to Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the Father.)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Something to Laugh About

Seeing that Abraham's larger Promise (which mainly was about the Messiah, and Messiah's program) was always going to, and did, embrace all the world (into the church, which is His body) not only Israel (Jacob's descendants), it was therefore not necessary for Gentile believers in Jesus to put on the Jews' cultural markers. Things like circumcision, the dietary laws, sabbaths and feast-days. The Jewish label. They didn't need to become proselytes to Judaism. Jesus was everything - they were made completely complete in Him. 

That is what Abraham foresaw! The promise spoken before Israel was even born, before the Law was ever given. All nations just BLEST - in Him - in JESUS! Regardless of ethnicity, and without the deeds of the Law. No wonder the prospect of it inspired Abraham and Sarah to name their firstborn son Isaac (meaning, he shall laugh)! 

Tom Wright

Tom Wright tells the story of God, with Enid Blyton type delight!

Abraham's Story Was Always Going to Go Somewhere

Abraham's story was a story that was always going to go somewhere.
To where - to Israel?
Well yes, but - from the beginning it was always going to be about "all nations of the earth". That was promised before Israel was even born!
The promise centred on the Seed, singular - which was Messiah. A couple of generations down the line, Israel did become the custodians of that promise (and in the meantime were given a Law). So when the promised Seed came, the good news was proclaimed to the Jew first alright, but also to the Greek and to all the world.
Abraham's fatherhood was from the beginning always going to extend to becoming the father of many nations.
Abraham's promised land-inheritance was from the beginning always going to make him "heir of the world". Including of the world to come, with its heavenly characteristics.
The number of his children like the stars of heaven!
All this, through his promised Seed. What a lovely promise spoken to a man who was at first childless!
Abraham saw in advance the justification of the heathen through faith, Paul explained. God had preached the Gospel in advance to Abraham.
Abraham foresaw beyond Jacob's descendants, wider than Canaan land - to all families of the earth, the world. Abraham revelled in what would be procured to Abraham after that Seed would come, which is JESUS.
Therefore the good news - the Gospel - of Jesus Christ - the Messiah - and the Messianic body - the church - 'is' the very story of Abraham, fully unfurled. It's not just something else inserted temporarily while we wait for God to resume Abraham's and Israel's story at some time in the future.
The river was always going to overflow its banks like this, and flood the whole plain. And once it did, the river became indistinguishable within the floodwaters. Not because the river lost anything to the flood, but because the river had become the flood, and watered the whole earth - like it was always going to.
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad," Jesus said.

Abraham's Story Was Bigger than we Thought

The fact that the Apostles might at first have not clearly understood their mission to Gentiles, didn't change the fact that Abraham's story (and hence, Israel's story) was a story which from its beginning was always going to go somewhere - not just to Israel (who hadn't even been born yet when the promise was given): the promise was from the beginning going to be about "all nations"! 

So, the Church, the Gospel, isn't just some other story inserted in the interim while we wait for God to get back to continuing His real story with Judaism. No, the Church 'is' the very story of Abraham unfurled - because the centre of the promise was the Seed, which is Christ - and the Church is the Messianic body, in which there was neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free. Since Israel had become the custodians of Abraham's promise, once the Seed came this good news was proclaimed to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

So Abraham's story was like a river that was always meant to overflow its banks and flood the whole land - and once that happened the river became indistinguishable within the flooded plain. Not because the river is now inferior to the flood, but because the river has become a flood.


Or like a dam's spillway, athough its construction included channels in which the water could at first flow, it was also from the outset designed with preparations for the event that the sheer volume of water would overflow those channels - and when that's happening, the channels are all but invisible and useless - the water inside the channels is all but indistinguishable from what's outside - it's now just one wide torrent of water flowing!

We in Messiah Embody the Abrahamic Hope

God was in Christ, come to do what He'd promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - set them free. And He does it by the cross.

"That we might become the righteousness of God in Christ," means that the Church embodies God's performed-faithfulness to His promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Christ is "made unto us wisdom..." That means Christ through the Gospel has revealed the mystery that was kept hidden. He's unlocked the true meaning of Old Testament prophecy. And He did it by Himself - because He didn't just bring wisdom, He is wisdom. God's wisdom. The manifold wisdom of God - because God revealed His plan in stages. From Abraham, through Israel and the Law, to the Church, God's story was going somewhere. The Gospel is the fellowship of the mystery.

And in being made unto us wisdom, Christ was also made unto us "righteousness" (because that righteousness which was imputed to Abraham by faith before he was circumcised, has been imputed to us who walk in the footsteps of the faith of our father Abraham, by which we have been made his children, fulfilling God's promise [covenant] to him); and "sanctification and redemption".

"Because of Jesus the Messiah, the worldview has shifted dramatically. From one point of view, the story has been fulfilled - from another point of view, the symbols have been relativised. It is the same story - the story of how the one God is fulfilling His promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and doing so for the benefit of the whole world - that's where the story was going. But precisely because it is now for the benefit of the whole world, it cannot be defined in terms of the ethnic symbols of second-Temple Judaism" - Tom Wright.

"The Torah is both fulfilled, and in its very fulfilment, set aside" - Tom Wright.

Those who confess with their mouth, Jesus is Lord - and who believe in their heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead (similarly to how the Law was meant to be very nigh Israel, in their heart and in their mouth) - discover that their very existence as a body of people, fulfils the Torah in the very way which God intended the Torah would ultimately be fulfilled. And all of the things in the Torah which God intended should continue to be lived-out, are lived-out by them, through the power of the guiding Spirit of Messiah within them.

"...just to be itself in Christ, is the standing power" (- Tom Wright) of the Church to the powers that be.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Gospel Fulfilled, not Replaced, Israel's Promises

The Gospel actually was a very Jewish thing.
I don't mean that the Gospel was something which required everyone to adopt the ancient Jewish cultural labels, such as the ancient Jewish feasts, food laws, circumcision, sabbaths, sacrifices and all that - the Gospel didn't say that at all: it said the opposite.
What I mean is that the Gospel was proclaimed not as something other than the fulfilment of Israel's promises, but as precisely that.
That's what John the Baptist said; and it's what Jesus said - so it's how the Apostles understood it too. God had fulfilled His promises for Israel: they were eyewitnesses.
The first people who believed it - that is, the 'church' - were all Jews.
Then, after Jews had been enjoying it first, they (Jewish believers) then spread the blessing to Gentiles, and it went to all nations.
So, the Church, which was Jewish, came to include former Gentiles, who then became part of the body of Messiah, Who of course was Jewish - but without the Gentiles needing to become proselytes to Judaism.
And there you have the good news!
"...the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL PEOPLE. For unto you is born this day in the CITY OF DAVID a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10,11).

Reading Old Testament Prophecy

Old Testament prophecies often contained a jumble of themes: some of which applied directly to the immediate audience, some of which the Apostles said were fulfilled in their time, and some of which might be about the future still. Sometimes written in straight prose - other times written in the apocalytptic genre with visions and symbols. 

Not even the prophets themselves thoroughly understood what it all meant, or who it was all about, when it would all happen, or why. 

How to decipher it then? 

Answer: in the light of the New Testament! 

Jesus opened the eyes of the disciples' understanding, after His resurrection. He expounded the whole Old Testament to them. Their hearts burned within them! What He shared with them then became the foundation of the Apostles' doctrine: the Gospel. 

We can find their understanding of it, in their sermons in Acts, and in their plain teaching in their Epistles - which explains and applies all that Jesus said, and applies the Old Testament for us. 

New Testament teaching is the framework within which we are to "rightly divide" the Scripture (Old Testament). 

So, if the New Testament shows that something had already happened (like Israel's regathering, and the rebuilding of their Temple and the reinstatement of Levitical worship, after the captivity), it had.

If the New Testament said that something was being fulfilled in front of their eyes (like Messiah's birth, ministry, and His salvation and the inauguration of His kingdom), it was. 

If it teaches that some things are therefore now in the past (such as anything related to the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices), it is. 

If they said something is still to happen (like the Second Coming and the culmination of Messiah's Kingdom), it is. 

When they explained the manner in which Old Testament prophecy was really seeing it's outworking, then that's how we're to understand the Old Testament prophecies, etc.

When we re-read the Old Testament prophecies in this light, some of the difficult passages and questions seem to fall into place a little better. Not that it's all easy. 

But one thing we find, is that God's program - for everyone - really is all about JESUS.

Understanding Micah

Old Testament prophecies sometimes contained a jumble of themes, some of which seemed to apply directly to their immediate audience, other things the Apostles took as applying to their own time, other things which even the Apostles spoke of as still-future - sometimes written in straight prose, other times written in the apocalyptic genre with visions and symbols. How are we to sort it all out? In the light of New Testament truth! Consider the Book of Micah, for example. Micah was a prophet who ministered in Judah prior to Israel and Judah going into captivity. We notice certain themes in his text, like:
  • Israel going into captivity;
  • promises of restoration;
  • Gentiles becoming involved;
  • a ruler coming from the little town of Bethlehem;
  • saving - but also ultimately judging
So far a lot of that is sounding really grandiose! But then we find it also mentions things like this:

  • a man's foes shall be they of his own household

And that doesn't paint such a grandiose picture. So what's really happening, we wonder.

On top of that, although much of the language seems to be intended quite literally, we also notice that at least some of the language seems to be employing word-pictures for effect.
Now, taken on its own, it wouldn't have been easy for Micah's immediate audience to conclude exactly what it all meant, who it was about, or when it was all going to happen. Obviously part of it was meant for them - but all of it? Those were the kinds of questions even the prophets themselves were asking. So how are we to "rightly divide" it all? Well, we know from elsewhere in the Old Testament that the Jews did indeed end up going into captivity, as Micah had said; and we know they were afterwards restored, also as Micah said; and their Temple, which Micah mentioned, was also rebuilt afterwards. Then, we turn to the New Testament, and what else do we find. We find that Peter, Stephen, and Paul in their sermons in Acts, regarded the promises concerning Israel's restoration to their land, and the rebuilding of their Temple, etc. as already-fulfilled, just like the Old Testament had mentioned that it had been. And we find that Jews, proselytes and Gentiles were indeed flowing annually into Jerusalem to the house of the Lord on the mountain of the Lord (multitudes on the day of Pentecost, and the like of the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book of Isaiah) to keep the Feasts. That sounds a bit like what Micah was describing. We find that the Apostles labelled their day as "the last days", a term Micah also used. And yet there were other themes in Micah which the Jews of New Testament times regarded as not-yet fulfilled. Like, they were still expecting the 'ruler' which Micah mentioned, to come and to be born in Bethlehem. But we notice that the Apostles were claiming that He had come, and was born in Bethlehem, and that it was actually Jesus. We notice the Apostles proclaiming that this Jesus was the king of Israel, language used by Micah. But we find that not all the Jews believed their claim. It puts them in some hot water. But we see Jesus said something that sounds a lot like something Micah said: that a man's foes would be those of his own household. So maybe that was to be expected. We find that even Messiah's own foes were those of his own household - the Jews themselves! Micah is all starting to make a lot more sense now! Jesus really was Micah's ruler Who was to come, even though many of His own people didn't receive him. Then we notice in the New Testament that the Apostles still spoke about some future things, like the final judgment and visible coming of the Kingdom. And that completes the picture portrayed by Micah. Now we've "rightly divided" Micah - into things past, present and future. How? By reading it in the light of the New Testament - New Testament history and theology - by understanding it within the framework which the Apostles derived from their understanding of the Old Testament - by taking note of the way they applied the words and deeds and history of Messiah (as recorded in the four Gospels), as they proclaimed it in their sermons (in Acts) and taught it plainly (in their Epistles). The New Testament interpretation of Old Testament prophecy! When we do that, we find it's all about JESUS.

How to Understand Old Testament Prophecy

The thing about Old Testament prophecy, was that no-one who read it was able to fully understand what to make of it all - not even the prophets themselves - until after Jesus' resurrection. Even the disciples, who'd been raised on the Old Testament, and despite spending three years with Messiah Himself, didn't understand that Messiah had to die - until after His resurrection. Until then, no-one seemed to fully understand that there was to be two comings of Messiah, not one. No-one seemed to fully grasp how the Gentiles would come to be included along with the Jews as the people of God. Many didn't grasp what it would mean that there would be a "remnant" of Jews who would experience God's promises. They didn't have a clear understanding of what the "new covenant" would look like, or how it would come to be made, or what impact it would have on their then-current covenant. It was only after Jesus' resurrection that anyone started to be able to piece Old Testament prophecy together the way it's meant to be. Even John the Baptist, although Jesus said he was the greatest of the prophets, at one point had to ask, "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another". So even the greatest prophet's understanding left him unsure. Jesus of course, was the only One who adequately grasped Old Testament Prophecy. After His resurrection, He opened the eyes of His disciples' understanding, and He expounded all things in the entire Old Testament concerning Himself. Their hearts burned within them! What He shared with them then became the basis of the whole New Testament - the foundation of the Apostles' doctrine. The Gospel. So put it this way: the only way for us to correctly understand and apply the Old Testament, is to do so in the light of New Testament teaching. That teaching is based on the words and deeds and history of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, proclaimed in the sermons in Acts, and taught plainly in the Epistles. Otherwise, if we approach Old Testament prophecy on its own, without using New Testament teaching to piece it all together, we'd be approaching the text blindly, in a way. We'd be approaching it no smarter than they were in Old Testament times. No smarter than the disciples were during their three years with Messiah before the eyes of their understanding were opened after His resurrection. Yet that's precisely what many Christians today seem to be doing: approaching Old Testament prophecy, reading the text on its own, trying to deduce what might be going to happen where and when and to whom and why - without due regard for what the New Testament already explained about the same themes! Paul said Scripture (the Old Testament) must be "rightly divided". The first thing that means is that Scripture does need to be "divided". One way it needs to be divided, is between past, present and future. But many don't divide it up - rather, they tend to want to lump it all together and place it all in one timeframe, usually in the future. The second thing that means, is that it needs to be divided "rightly". That means it can be divided wrongly! So how can we divide it rightly? By heeding what the Apostles said about it all, of course! There's no more authoritative and reliable way - since the Apostles sourced their understanding of it from Jesus Messiah Himself.

Quote About "Fulfilment Theology"

By D.M.
I think that "replacement theology" is a misnomer and an unfortunate term ... the "Church" has not replaced the nation of Israel as the heir of the promises. Instead, I like the term "fulfilment theology". All the promises are fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, in Christ and the new covenant. It is that the promises of the OT were always for the TRUE children of Abraham, "those who through faith and patience inherit the promises". Being a true Jew is a matter of the heart, "a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter."

Not all physical children of Abraham were his spiritual seed - Isaac and Ismael case in point - and only the spiritual seed are the "children of promise" and will inherit all the promises. "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel". 

So, ethnic Jews and Gentiles who are the spiritual children of Abraham form one organic body in Christ, are fellow citizens of the household of faith (Heb 3) and are the "Israel of God" Gal 6:16. Gentiles who believe "are no longer strangers and aliens" but "are fellow citizens" (Eph 2). So that, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. 

Paul asks the question" "I ask, then, has God rejected his people [ethnic Jews]? By no means!" Why? Paul, himself, was a Jew (Rom 11:1). The early church in Acts was made up entirely of ethnic Jews, and so Paul says, "So too at the present time there is a [Jewish] remnant, chosen by grace" (Rom 11:5) - TRUE Jews by faith.

All of God's people, individuals (not nations), called out of every nation, tongue and tribe, will inherit all the promises in the new heavens and earth by virtue of being in Christ by faith, and hence, being the children of Abraham. Thus "all the promises are Yea and Amen in Christ".

Such is "fulfilment" (as opposed to "replacement") "theology" in bare outline.

Consistent with the Great Commission, we surely need to be praying for revival among all ethnic groups, Jews, Arabs, Chinese. And, I look for a time when ethnic Jews repent in great numbers and join the company of the elect and redeemed.

Not all physical children of Abraham were his spiritual seed - Isaac and Ismael case in point - and only the spiritual seed are the "children of promise" and will inherit all the promises. "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel". 

So, ethnic Jews and Gentiles who are the spiritual children of Abraham form one organic body in Christ, are fellow citizens of the household of faith (Heb 3) and are the "Israel of God" Gal 6:16. Gentiles who believe "are no longer strangers and aliens" but "are fellow citizens" (Eph 2). So that, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. 

Paul asks the question" "I ask, then, has God rejected his people [ethnic Jews]? By no means!" Why? Paul, himself, was a Jew (Rom 11:1). The early church in Acts was made up entirely of ethnic Jews, and so Paul says, "So too at the present time there is a [Jewish] remnant, chosen by grace" (Rom 11:5) - TRUE Jews by faith.

All of God's people, individuals (not nations), called out of every nation, tongue and tribe, will inherit all the promises in the new heavens and earth by virtue of being in Christ by faith, and hence, being the children of Abraham. Thus "all the promises are Yea and Amen in Christ".

Such is "fulfilment" (as opposed to "replacement") "theology" in bare outline.

Consistent with the Great Commission, we surely need to be praying for revival among all ethnic groups, Jews, Arabs, Chinese. And, I look for a time when ethnic Jews repent in great numbers and join the company of the elect and redeemed.