Israel, is that piece of dirt in the Middle East still central to God's plans? Many believe so. There are huge numbers of Christians who eagerly watch the Middle East news to foretell Christ's return. Numerous modern Christians feel that the ethnic Jews, as a special people, still hold the central role in God’s plans. Even more Christians believe the physical land of Israel is still significant in Biblical prophecy and history. Are these things so?
Understanding the rich Bible story of Israel's mission and how Jesus, Jewish Messiah, fulfilled and transformed Israel and her story through His death, resurrection and ascension. The first century changed the course of history forever. It is the central point of God's dealings with His creation. Christ, the true Jew and Israelite is now the central body to all of God's plans.
Israel's mission to the nations
God chose Israel to be His people, a holy nation of priests to Him (Exodus 19:6). Within the Old World her mission was to serve God in the land, be obedient to God’s Law and then take this Law to the surrounding nations. In Deuteronomy 4 the Israelites were to obey the commandments and statutes of God when entering the land; and they were to shine forth the greatness of God before the surrounding nations. This would drive the surrounding nations to enquire as to the greatness of Israel’s God (Deuteronomy 4:6-7). In Exodus 19:5-6 Moses is told that “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” The entire world belongs to God and the nation of Israel is to serve God through being a servant to the nations as a nation of priests.
This is seen more clearly in the dedication of the Temple. When Solomon dedicated the Temple the text is clear that this nation of priests were to serve the world by obedience to the Word/Law of God. Solomon blesses the Temple and states; “the Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us: that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers. And let these my words, wherewith I have made supplication before the Lord, be nigh unto the Lord our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else. Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day” (1 Kings 8:57-61). Israel, the servant of God, was to be obedient to the ways of her Master so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God. Israel’s mission was to the world. Her obedience was to flow out of hearts that were inclined to God. There is no indication that this obedience was what we call external and not internal. Her mission was the salvation of the world.
In 1 Kings 8:43 the text states; “hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.” The Temple was built for the Israelites to serve God and thus serve the surrounding nations. It was to direct all peoples to God.
Israel’s mission typologically revealed
The number seventy is symbolic in the Scriptures and it usually refers to nations (Genesis 10). Israel’s mission was to be priests to the nations (Exodus 19:6). “Her water would cause their trees to grow. This was signified to all men when Israel came out of Egypt, for ‘then they came to Elim, where they were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters’ (Ex. 15:27). Seventy is the number of the nations of the world (Gen. 10). Israel, at the Feast of Tabernacles, sacrificed seventy bulls for the nations of the world, a substitutionary atonement for them offered by the priestly nation on their behalf (Numbers 28:13-32; Haggai 2:1-9; Zechariah 14:16-21 ).” Further, the brazen sea of Solomon’s Temple rested upon the backs of 12 oxen (1 Kings 7:25, 44). In Biblical imagery the twelve oxen symbolise Israel and the sea, as it often does, represents the Gentile nations (e.g. 2 Samuel 22:4-5, Psalm 65:7-8 Isaiah 5:30, 17:12-13, 57:20, Jeremiah 6:23, Daniel 7:2-3; cf. Luke 21:25, Revelation 13:1, 11). Thus the priestly nation was to hold up, in worship, the other nations. She was to bring them to glorify God.
The evangelistic mission of Israel to the world was fulfilled in Christ the true Israelite, whose church is taking the Gospel to all the nations and thus bringing His rule (Psalm 2 and Matthew 28) to bare over all of life. As with many other Bible prophecies we find partial or initial fulfilments through the Old Testament. At Babel the nations were cut off and scattered but at Pentecost (Acts 2) they were regathered and the promise to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled. This promise, Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations (Genesis 17:5; 18:18), had been initially fulfilled:
- In Egypt where Israel (through Joseph in Genesis 45:8) converted Pharaoh (and presumably the nation)
- When Ninevah repented through Jonah’s message
- At the time Nebuchadnezzar repented via Daniel’s message.
There were many other examples of “saved/converted” Gentiles, who were fulfilments of Israel’s mission in the Old Testament; (1) Melchizedek was a priest and king of God Most High; and Jesus’ priesthood is after his order (Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 5). He could not have been a priest serving nobody! To be a priest meant that there were people to minister to. (2) Jethro was a Midian priest of Yahweh, who blessed (Exodus 4) and advised Moses (Exodus 3, 18). Again, a priest must have people to serve and minister too. Jethro’s people were certainly not Israelites! (3) Job, was a righteous man from Uz (Job 1), he was a patriarchal chieftain/priest. (4) Esther was influential in the conversion of the Persian King Ahasuerus and spreading the knowledge of God (and His Law) across the Persian Empire (Esther 8).
The picture of things in the Old Testament is that many Gentiles were “converted” and were ministered to by non-Israelite priests. These converts were not required to be circumcised, unless they wished to partake of Passover (Exodus 12:43-44). They lived apart from the land of Israel and none the less still worshipped Yahweh. The major imagery of the Old World is the land and thus agrarian examples are used as illustrations. This shifts in the New World. In the pages of the New Testament the imagery is transformed to the sea and associated fishing type examples are used. Babel’s curse begins to be reversed at Pentecost and the priestly nation is diversified into every nation.
New Israel, same mission
Western Christendom has progressively become “very individualistic in nature.” In this framework the Gospel is limited to the centrality of individual salvation. Everything is about me and my salvation; or me and my relationship with Jesus. God can be pictured as the cosmic, jolly, white-bearded, fat Santa handing out gifts per the whims of his subjects. An overemphasis on individual relationship with God leads towards a mindset of man centeredness. This is not the picture painted by Scripture. Rather, God is the Gospel and He has brought about a cosmic salvation. All of creation was and is being won back to God in Christ (Colossians 1:15-20). All of creation revolves around God, who is redeeming the world (Genesis 3:15, John 3:16-17, Colossians 1:15-20). With the death, resurrection and ascension of the Second Adam God has reconciled the whole world back to Himself; and He is working this out in history through the church (the body of Christ).
The Hebrews/Israelites/Jews were the special priestly people/nation of God in the Old Testament, the centre of the world, closest to God and they were to take the Scriptures out to the nations (Ezekiel 5:5, 38:12, 1 Kings 8:43). Ethnic Israel failed by, covenantally rejecting God. Over and over again Israel played the spiritual harlot. She continued to commit spiritual adultery with the nations she was to be a light unto. Finally, Christ came, was rejected by the Jews and crucified. However, Jesus forgave the Jews for rejecting, persecuting and crucifying Him (Luke 23:34). In the book of Acts the Jews receive a second “chance,” to repent and accept their Messiah and enter His body, the church. God demands two or three witnesses to seal a case and thus the second witness of the Holy Spirit is sent to the Jews (first) in the book of Acts. However, throughout Acts the Jews continue to persecute Jesus by attaching His bride/body - the church. The Romans, in general protect the church, but the Jews reject the second witness and thus blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Thus in A.D. 70 Jesus returns in the Roman armies and vindicates Himself through taking the Kingdom from the ethnic Jews (Matthew 21:43), old Israel, and giving it to the new Israel (the church).
When Jesus came, died, resurrected and ascended, He created a new Israel (Galatians 3:27-29), a new priestly nation (Revelation 5:10) with a new High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-5:10). This new, transformed Israel was commissioned to go out and disciple the nations (Matthew 28:18-20) in the Word of God. The new nation/Israel was/is the church, the unified (Jew/Gentile) body of Christ; and therefore ethnic Israel was no longer the special, priestly people of God. All Jews/Israelites must now enter the kingdom of God through faith in Christ. The ceremonial (law) boundary markers dividing Israel from the other nations were torn down in Christ (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11) to ensure that there was no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, all in Christ are equally as close to God. In the first century the church was established as the unified (John 17:20) people of God. In context of this, the first century church issues largely revolved around the demand of the Judaizers/agitators for Christians to re-establish the boundary marker Mosaic Ceremonial Laws to become ethnic Jews. Paul sought unity in the body of Christ, apart from Judaism, for the church to disciple the nations of the world (Galatians 3:8, cf. Genesis 1:26, Matthew 28:18-20) in the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:9).
Jesus is the new Israel. All of the world belongs to Him. Every square inch of the earth is now holy land and under His dominion. Christ's body is commissioned to herald the crucified, resurrected and enthroned King Jesus to all the lands. Mother Kirk is to destroy all pretensions against the rulership of Jesus and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Onward Christian soldiers.