Frequently asked questions
Who is Jesus?
This title ‘Who is Jesus?’ might immediately raise questions in people’s minds, such as: “don’t we already know who Jesus is?” After all, there is no other name that is so widely known throughout the entire world, than the name of Jesus. Furthermore, there is no other person, that has ever lived, that has been written about more than Jesus. Even Hollywood makes movies about Jesus on a regular basis. Everyone knows who Jesus is. But is knowledge the same us understanding? It is often proudly proclaimed that we are living in an age of explosive knowledge, and that we have all this knowledge at our fingertips. But is it possible that the more we know the less we understand?
We are living in a secular, post-Christian world, where knowledge about Jesus is not valued as it formerly was, and the knowledge that we once had about Jesus is being lost. In addition, the knowledge that we do have about Jesus, is being obfuscated, diminished, and mis-represented. Truly, the light is waning and the darkness is proliferating everywhere. This is nothing new, it has happened before, the prophet Hosea, lamented: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos.
Something similar to Hosea’s time is happening today. We are not only living in a post-Christian world we are living in an anti-Christian world, and this trend is accelerating. This means that the number of people willing to stand up for Jesus is diminishing. Those who are willing to preach the truth about Jesus are declining. Therefore, this book is for those who are still standing for Jesus – this book is for those who still love Jesus – and it is for those who are still willing to witness for Jesus. Hopefully, it will strengthen them, encourage them and edify them. So, let’s refresh what we already know about Jesus and hopefully learn something new, so that we will know more about who Jesus truly is, and we will have something to say about Jesus to a dying world.
One of the first things we need to know about Jesus, is that, there is a lot to know about him. Just consider one thing about him – his names and titles. These are a few of the names and titles that we find in the New Testament:
‘Messiah’ – ‘The Word’ – ‘Immanuel’ – ‘The Redeemer’ – ‘Lamb of God’ – ‘Second Adam’ – ‘Son of David’ – ‘High Priest’ – ‘King of Kings.’
All of these names and titles have something to say about Jesus, either about him personally or about his mission. These are all names and tittles that New Testament authors have applied to Jesus. Here are some more that Jesus applied to himself:
‘Light of the World’ – ‘Bread of Life’ – ‘Good Shepherd’ – ‘The Judge’ – ‘The True Vine’ – ‘The Door’ – ‘The Way’ – ‘The Truth’ – ‘The Life’ – ‘The Resurrection’ – ‘Lord and Master’ – ‘Alpha and Omega.’
And we not only find such a plethora of names and titles in the New Testament but we find them in the Old Testament too, such as these:
‘Wonderful’ – ‘Counsellor’ – ‘Mighty God’ – ‘Everlasting Father’ – ‘Prince of Peace’ – ‘Sun of Righteousness’ – ‘Suffering Servant’ – ‘Holy One.’
The Disciples of Christ, who knew him best, even they could not comprehend who Jesus really is. When Jesus stilled the water on Galilee their reaction was: “What manner of man is this!” The fact is, the truth about Jesus, is broad, deep, high and complex. And we cannot get much higher than understanding that Jesus is the Creator.
Jesus is the Creator
At the beginning of his gospel, the apostle John tells us that:
Paul tells us the same thing:
And again Paul wrote:
That doesn’t leave much out does it? For some Christians this comes as a surprise, that Jesus is the Creator. They say, “What about the Father. I thought the Father was the Creator?” Well, he was, the Father was not excluded in the act of creation. Paul reveals the Father’s role:
So we see the Father created, but he did it through Jesus. Once again, we see the same thing taught in Hebrews:
We have an interesting little piece of information here in this verse notice that the word world is plural not the singular. We could have an indication here that Jesus not only created this world but other worlds, in this universe that we live in – in other words, we might not be alone. Getting back to our main focus, what we are being told here in these verses is that the creation of the world was a joint project, even the Holy Spirit was involved. The creation story in Genesis tells us:
And we also have this verse from Genesis:
We are not given the specific dynamics between the members of the Godhead, when they created the world. But one thing is clear, Jesus did the actual creation. Look what we are told in Revelation about Jesus:
This is clear, Jesus is the origin, and author of creation. Jesus took the initiative, Jesus began the work of creation. Perhaps we could understand it this way: imagine the board of a corporation, and they plan a project together, then one member of the board is tasked with the actual implementation of the project. With the Bible verses that we have, we can conclude that Jesus was given the responsibility for the creation of the world.
Jesus the Creator and Jesus the Saviour
Let’s now look at why it is important to understand and believe that Jesus is the Creator. There are several important reasons why we should believe that Jesus is our Creator. Firstly, if Jesus is our Creator then this must mean that the Creator is also our Saviour. We will be looking at Jesus as our Saviour and Jesus becoming part of mankind in later chapters. But for now, it is an enormous thing to realise that in order to save us, the Creator would humble himself to the point of becoming a part of his own creation. Truly we are bought with a price, and we will probably never understand the full cost of the price. Why is it that the Creator is prepared to pay the price? It is because He is taking responsibility for what he created. The plan of salvation is the work of the Creator restoring or re-creating that which was lost. Let’s consider for a moment that which was lost:
Do you remember what Jesus said when he finished his work of creation?
But now it is not good. A breach has been made in the perfect work of creation, and the Creator is going to fix it, so that, it comes back to its original perfection. This necessitates a work of redemption for mankind, a plan of salvation – reparation of the breech. Therefore there must eventually be a physical restoration, and that has been promised:
And also a spiritual restoration. What did Jesus say must take place in order for us to be saved. This is the only time that he used the word ‘must’ in the context of salvation. Incidentally, what does the word ‘must’ mean? That which is essential, right! So what is it that is essential for our salvation, according to the Creator?
You must be born again.
And this is not referring to a simple intellectual acknowledgment of Christ and/or a simple belief in Christ. This is referring to a dynamic and powerful change in the believer’s life. It is spiritual regeneration and restoration from the depths of sin and degradation. And it is available now. Physical restoration is promised in the future, but spiritual restoration is promised now:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
So, the first important point to note about Jesus being the Creator, is the fact that, as the Creator, he has taken the responsibility to regenerate to repair and to restore, that which has gone wrong with his creation. Do not the parents take responsibility for what their children do? If a child causes damage to a third party, who pays? The parents, who created the child do! In the same way Jesus is paying the price to restore what he created.
A second important reason for recognising Jesus as the Creator is because, if it was acknowledged that Jesus is the Creator, then it would naturally follow that the whole world would be Christian. And if this most important truth was known it would naturally follow that there could be no place for false religion. How so? You may ask. Well think it through: if Jesus created everything, then everything else that claims for itself the attributes of divinity, such as omnipotence, then these claims must be false. And this is indeed the very argument that the Bible makes:
In other words, if there were other gods I would know, says the Lord, because I made everything and I did not make any gods ‘there is none else’ I am the only God. And therefore, if there are other so-called gods then mankind must have created these gods themselves. And mankind making their own gods is exactly what God accuses us of:
The Lord’s response to such nonsense is to question mankind’s sanity:
In other words, there is a lack of knowledge about these things. This reminds us of the prophet Hosea lamenting the same condition in his time – a lack of knowledge about God. And nothing has changed. We too, in this generation, suffer from a lack of knowledge about God and all things Biblical. On this point of knowledge about Himself, the Creator continues through Isaiah:
The Lord is saying here in these verses that creation has his fingerprints all over it. Creation comes with an inbuilt signature, a divine code if you will. In fact, the Bible tells us that this inbuilt signature is so obvious that we are without excuse for not seeing and understanding it:
Therefore, anything that poses another theory for our origins is foolishness:
Such foolishness has consequences, and psychiatrists have a name for it, they call it cognitive dissonance, which is a fancy term for refusing to believe the obvious.
One of the prominent principles that operates in God’s universe is that we reap what we sow (see Gal. 6:7), and this is what happens next, in the downward spiral from refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Creator, cognitive dissonance has consequences:
Please, just give these words their due weight – recognise what is being said here – God eventually gives up on those who refuse to acknowledge him as their Creator. And when God gives up on such, they lose their moral compass, and that is because they feel no restraint. If there is no Creator there is no one to be accountable too, so everything becomes relative and the fundamental principle of relative philosophy is, ‘if it feels good do it.’ But we are still not finished with the consequences:
So, now that we no longer acknowledge the Creation of God everything about God becomes a lie. Collectively, we, mankind, are living in a cognitive dissonance wasteland. A wilderness where reality becomes the lie and the lie becomes the truth. Of course the collective cognitive dissonance voice will howl with fury over such a statement, but we only have to look at the theory of evolution to know that collective cognitive dissonance is an unfortunate fact, and we will look at the theory of evolution in a moment. But first there is a third reason why it is important to believe that Jesus is the Creator. Jesus not only created this reality that we live in, he sustains it as well:
Jesus did not just create, set things in motion and then leave us to it. No, he is actively engaged in an ongoing maintenance programme. Jesus is the reason that the sun rises in the east every morning, that it sets in the west in the evening, and that the whole universe does not fly to pieces:
Jesus ‘upholds’ all things, the word uphold is in the continuous present tense, which means that this is something that Jesus does on a continual daily basis. He is actively and intimately engaged with what he created. Perhaps these words that Jesus spoke have a greater import than previously thought:
Just how intimate and personal is Jesus with us in this sustaining role?
Without Jesus we would simply die, cease to exist. This is why the Bible constantly speaks of him as being the source of life:
Our lives, our very existence, is totally dependent on Jesus – but wait, stop, some will be thinking already: “has not science refuted creation, isn’t creation just a myth?” Well, if we think that, maybe we should pay attention to some of the latest memos coming out of science. In this modern age of knowledge, scientists are looking into their microscopes and they are seeing the most intricate and exquisite design at the micro level. At the same time other scientists are looking through their telescopes at the macro level and they are seeing the same wonders – exquisite details – at extraordinary distances. At the present time science is focused on a mysterious problem, they don’t know what sustains or upholds the universe. And because they don’t understand it, they call it dark – dark matter and dark energy. Here are two comments from two different scientists:
To be precise, scientists believe that the universe is made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% normal matter. This means that they believe only 5% of the total matter in the universe is visible – 95% is invisible, unknown and not measurable. If scientists would only accept the facts and not be blinded by collective cognitive dissonance they would come to the same conclusions as Albert Einstein who courageously said:
Other scientists are finally catching up to Einstein, Robert Jastrow was an imminent scientist who worked for NASA. Robert Jastrow called himself an agnostic. But he was an honest agnostic – towards the end of all his scientific research he wrote:
And he also wrote:
Jastrow, also recognises the cognitive dissonance problem pervading modern science:
The scientific evidence, for Jastrow, points to a supernatural creation:
Dwell upon this for a moment, here is a scientist saying, that supernatural creation of Christ is now a proven scientific fact, according to this former NASA scientist. Remember what Einstein said: ‘The more I study science the more I believe in God’ and that is exactly what the Bible told us in Romans, the scientific evidence for creation is self-evident. Jastrow made one more important point in his Christianity Today interview:
In other words, science can actually prove a creation, but it can never discover how it happened. Another scientist Dr. Hugh Ross, agrees that science confirms the Bible and the creation and he also states that science repudiates all other explanations for our existence:
We can confidently believe in the Biblical account of creation and still be scientific, because science itself has proven that the universe came into existence supernaturally in a moment of time.
However, if there are prominent scientists questioning the so called scientific consensus on our origins, then a question about their colleagues naturally arises. And the question is this: if prominent scientists are quitting the anti-creation camp why are the majority of their colleagues still actively promoting evolution and denigrating creation? The answer to that question is because the theory of evolution is not about science at all it’s about politics and it always has been about politics and ideology. Evolution is all about promoting a philosophy and an agenda that is anti-scientific (even though it claims to be scientific) and anti-Christian. And we do not have to dig very deep to prove this, we only need to look at the book that is considered to be the beginning of the theory, by Charles Darwin. Let’s begin with a revealing quotation from an author who has studied ‘Origin of the Species:’
Jonathan Tennenbaum, goes on to prove that there is a political/ideological agenda behind the publication of this book, simply by looking at the subtitle of Darwin’s book:
Imagine if someone was to publish or present a theory today, about preserving the favoured races, we would never hear the end of it. Such a person would be hounded out of the hallowed halls of academia. It would simply not be permitted, to talk about favoured races, let alone publish books about it. We have forgotten what the original intention with evolution was. Let’s go one step further back, Darwin himself freely admitted that the inspiration for his theory came from someone else; Jonathan Tennenbaum reveals the source of Darwin’s theory:
So who was Thomas Malthus? Thomas Malthus is famous for just one thing, his essay on the principle of population, published in 1798. Malthus was the first to sound the alarm about the supposed dangers of over population. For example from his essay we get this quotation:
This is where the original idea that the world was soon going to be over-populated came from. Darwin’s theory added enough pseudo-science to the theory of over-population to justify the practice of what came to be known as eugenics. And what you may ask is eugenics? It is a philosophy made popular by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. The reason why we don’t know much about Eugenics, is because it is the scandal of the 20th century which no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. However, in the later part of the 19th century and the early 20th century eugenics was all the rage. At that time eugenics occupied the same place in the scientific community (and the world at large) that global warming or climate change does today. Eugenics was all about applying science to race purity. It was about scientific management of the population of the world. It was about limiting or eliminating unwanted racial features in humanity, and promoting ‘desirable’ racial features.
You do not have to think hard and long about how people could come to believe and promote such things. It is simply applied logic. If evolution is true – if progress is made by a process of natural selection – then let’s give the process a helping hand – we can be the managers and designers of our own destiny. If natural selection is true, we can do the selecting, we can create a super race of men. This madness was most prominent in Britain, the United States and Germany. And of course you have probably figured out by know that this is what led to the horrors of Nazi Germany. And this is why nobody talks about eugenics anymore. So let’s try to illustrate with an equation. Malthus proposed that the world was in danger of overpopulation and it needed to be controlled. Darwin, provided a theory as to how environmental factors resulted in human development. Galton put the two of them together to justify artificially altering the environmental factors to determine a desired outcome. The Nazis simply took the whole process to its logical conclusion. However, even though eugenics has been discredited, it has not disappeared – it is simply lying dormant in the shadows. Just as Nazism has not disappeared, the philosophy that inspired Nazism has not disappeared. Scientific endeavours based on evolution theory, are just as prevalent today, and even more so than the past. For example, modern scientific pursuits in the areas of cloning, genetically modified food, artificial intelligence and trans humanism are all dependent on the theory of evolution being true to justify their existence. So today, we not only have political and ideological reasons for the promotion of evolution we now have powerful commercial interests heavily invested in the continuation of the myth of evolution. Thus the whole world is caught up in a massive case of cognitive dissonance. This state of deception was prophesied a long time ago:
This is a perfect example of cognitive dissonance at work and it is applicable to the situation we have today. In the history of mankind we have never had so much education, and yet we have never been more foolish. Modern education has actively and purposely denied the creation of Christ and even punishes those who dare to challenge its propaganda which the Bible calls false science, Paul wrote to his understudy Timothy:
The theory of evolution is held out to all and sundry as this monolithic unassailable scientific certainty, when in actual fact it is a house of cards, and the house is beginning to tumble down. And it is tumbling down from within. And it is tumbling down from within because the scientists themselves, in the face of mounting evidence, cannot maintain the charade any longer. If we choose to follow the collective cognitive dissonance of society in general, we are in effect the authors of our own destruction. We are like an electrical appliance that reaches over and pulls the plug out of its socket, thus cutting off the source of its power and life. This is why the Bible says:
If we manage to escape the grip of collective cognitive dissonance we will acknowledge that true science reveals a creation and a Creator, and a Sustainer of that creation, and that is, who Jesus is.
Historically, the Christian Church has always understood that in Old Testament times the Israelites or the Jews constituted Israel, but that from the time of the crucifixion of Christ, the Christian Church constituted Israel. For hundreds of years the Christian Church taught that the Old Testament was the time of physical Israel and the New Testament was the time of Spiritual Israel.
Who is Israel?
Chapter One – The Problem
It was never taught in the Christian Church that the Jews were still the chosen people of God, until relatively recent times. Therefore the question naturally arises: is the new understanding correct? Has the Christian Church being teaching error all this time?
The purpose of this study (in eight parts) is to determine the following: are the Jews God’s chosen people today, or, is the Christian Church God’s chosen people today? Is Israel a physical entity in the world today, or, is it a spiritual entity? Do the prophecies refer to a physical restoration of Israel in Palestine? Or do the prophecies refer to a spiritual restoration of Israel followed by a physical restoration in the New Earth?
Understanding these issues and related issues is vital for not only correctly understanding the Bible, but also for understanding how the question who is Israel, impacts current affairs, the domestic politics in many nations and the relations between all the nations of the earth.
There is a short answer and a long answer to these questions. And because these questions are somewhat controversial but also vital questions, we need to exercise all the care we can. Therefore the long answer is the appropriate method to deal with this question who is Israel or who are God’s people today?
God’s Mission Statement
The long answer requires that we journey back in time to the assembling of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Here we need to ask another, and the question is this: what was God’s purpose for Israel? Or what was God trying to achieve by entering into a covenant relationship with Israel?
If one went into the main office of a company or a corporation, one would almost certainly see a mission statement on the wall. The purpose of the mission statement is to state what the role and purpose of the business is all about, what they are trying to achieve and/or how they are trying to achieve it etc. etc.
God has given us just such a mission statement about the role and purpose of Israel, and how he was going to achieve the goals set forth for Israel. God announces His mission statement just before He enters into the covenant relationship with Israel at Mt Sinai:
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Ex. 19: 5, 6.
If we carefully dissect this mission statement we can clearly see what the purpose of Israel was, and how it was to be achieved. Firstly, they were to be a kingdom of priests. Now, what is the purpose of a priest? Answer: the purpose of a priest is to teach others about God. So, the purpose of Israel, as a kingdom of priests was to teach the rest of the world about God.
Secondly, they were to be a holy nation. They were to be holy because God is holy: “…be holy because I am holy” (Lev.11:44). They were to be God’s representatives in the world therefore they had to reflect God accurately. The holy character of Israel would greatly facilitate their role as priests. The people of the world would have observed that there was something different about them, and they would have been attracted to them, and they would have wanted to be like them.
Thirdly, all of this was to be achieved because they kept the law – the holy nature of Israel was to be achieved by keeping the law. If we accept that the biblical definition of sin is the transgression of the law, then the keeping of the law must be the opposite of sin – holiness. Therefore, by the keeping of the law Israel would achieve what God desired of them – holiness.
So the question that naturally follows is this: Did Israel achieve what God desired of them? Did Israel fulfil their God given destiny? Or perhaps we could ask this question: Did Israel fulfil any of the plans that God had for his people? Or did Israel partially fulfil what God wanted? Or did they fail completely?
Hard Hearts and Stiff Necks
If we look at what happened at Mount Sinai, we see immediately that Israel did not get off to a good start. After the terms and conditions of the covenant were read to them they confidently exclaimed that they would keep them. They never considered that this would be a problem for them – they were confident in their own ability.
Just a few days later, after proclaiming their loyalty and allegiance to God, they were having a pagan style party, dancing around the golden calf and worshipping an idol. What was the problem here? Why did Israel fall so quickly and why did they fall so far? The answer is because they did not have proper insight into their spiritual condition or the nature of sin. Scripture tells us that:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer. 17:9.
The evidence before Israel, of God’s care and compassion was enormous. Freed from soul destroying slavery – miraculously feed with manna when hungry – miraculously provided with water when thirsty – plus many more miracles and evidences of God’s love. All of this was acknowledged for a fleeting moment and then it vanished, because the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. This is why we find God lamenting the condition of Israel in these terms:
O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! Deut. 5:29.
The Bible tells the same story in many different ways, therefore this problem with the heart is also expressed in another way, this time using another part of human anatomy – the neck. The Lord instructed Moses to say unto the people:
…thou art a stiffnecked people… the Lord said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people… Ex. 33:3, 5.
People with stiff necks are not able to turn to the left or the right – they can only go in one direction. But if Israel is going to fulfil its divine destiny then Israel will have to change. The neck will have to be turned – and the heart will have to be softened. The problem is, the sinful human heart is most reluctant to change. In addition the degree of change required is enormous – from a nation of slaves (which is a symbol of sinfulness) to a nation of holiness. But God kept reminding the Israelites that change was what He wanted:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. Deut. 10:16.
We can learn a lot from these words and the Israelites were supposed to learn a lot too. Here we see the concept of circumcision introduced in a symbolic or spiritual manner. The Israelites are being informed here, that something about their hearts needs to be cut. In other words, there is need of radicle heart surgery. There is need of change, of revival and reformation. And if this change takes place the stiff necked problem will also be solved. The people will be able to ‘turn’ – change direction, start afresh, and begin a new life, what the New Testament calls being ‘born again.’
But the hearts of the people were hard. The palmist tells us that, the reason why the generation of Israelites, that experienced the exodus from Egypt, never entered the Promised Land was because their hearts were hard:
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. Ps. 95:8-11.
The Israelite generation that left Egypt, could not enter the Promised Land because their hearts were hard. And because their hearts were hard, they did not have the faith required to enter the land. They were shut out because of their spiritual condition. The Israelite nation could not go in until all those with hard hearts perished in the wilderness.
However, just because the new generation successfully entered into the Promised Land that does not mean that the problem was solved. The history of the Israelites was one of apostasy followed by revival and reformation, and then apostasy again. There were times when the hard hearts softened and the stiff necks turned, but then the hearts would harden and the necks would stiffen again. Unfortunately there was more apostasy than revival and reformation.
The Remnant Understood
Nevertheless, there was always a small minority that understood what God wanted. During the great apostasy in Elijah’s time, Elijah thought he was the only one left. But God assured him that he had 7000 faithful who had not bowed the knee to Baal.
King David was another who understood. After realising his great sin in acquiring Bathsheba as his wife he wrote:
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Ps. 51:6-10.
And in the same Psalm David revealed that he understood what the true purpose of the animal sacrifices were:
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Ps. 51:16, 17.
David knew that the purpose of the rituals and ceremonies of the religion of the Israelites was to break open the hard heart and change the direction of people’s lives. The purpose of their religion was to produce the long desired holy nation.
Others also knew. The Book of Isaiah begins with the prophet lamenting the spiritual condition of the people. Isaiah points out that, the people were uselessly performing the rituals and ceremonies of their religion. The reason why their religious observance was useless was because, the purpose of the religious observance was not being realised. After pointing out the problem Isaiah then informs the people what their religion was supposed to achieve – what God really required of His people:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. Isa. 1:16-19.
God is not unreasonable. He specifically says I am able to be reasoned with. This is an open invitation from God to commune with Him. God is saying, if you are willing I will teach you how to open your heart, and when it is open I will cleanse it for you. This invitation with all its ramifications was open to all the Israelites in Old Testament times.
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah backed up Isaiah, when he said:
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:6-8.
Micah reiterates that the sacrifices are not what God really wanted. What God really wanted was “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” In other words, God wanted a change of heart. But Micah says something extremely interesting in relation to what God really wanted. He said, God has showed you, God has revealed to you, what is good and what God really required of his people. In other words, the people should have understood – which means that they were without excuse for not understanding.
In the New Testament the change of heart that God wants is called being ‘born again’ or the new birth. When Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that, man had to be born again, and Nicodemus’ reaction was to exclaim, “How can these things be?” Jesus said to him, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things” (Jn.3:9, 10). Jesus was reprimanding Nicodemus for being a leader of the people, but being ignorant of what God really wanted for his people. In other words, Jesus was saying to Nicodemus that he ought to know these things. And if Jesus said he ought to know, this must mean that it was possible to know.
However, in Old Testament times very few took up God’s invitation to reason together, therefore very few were taught ‘what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee.’
By the time of Jeremiah the people’s hearts were so hardened that God saw that the only solution was to put them back where he originally found them. God allowed them to go back into captivity because there was no other remedy:
Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand. 2 Chron. 36:14-17.
The reason the people had to go back into captivity was because the hard hearted/stiff necked problem was not solved. Jeremiah was the prophet sent to the people to explain why God was destroying what He had built, what the problem was, and what God required of his people:
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Jer. 4:4.
And Jeremiah added:
…all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart. Jer. 9:26.
The Israelites did not listen to Jeremiah, and God’s fury came forth like a fire and destroyed the nation. When the Israelites came back from their 70 year captivity in Babylon, they were now known as the Jews – and something was accomplished – they never apostatised in the direction of idolatry again. However, the hard hearted, stiff necked problem caused them to fall into another ditch, from which they never escaped.
Instead of blaming themselves for their apostasy they blamed the nations around them. They reasoned that, the Gentile nations had seduced them into idol worship. Therefore, in order to preserve themselves from idolatry they had to sever all contact with the idolatrous nations around them. They did this by introducing laws that forbad contact with Gentile people. They built a wall around themselves from which they would not go out, and the Gentiles were not allowed to go in.
But this was contrary to the role that God wanted Israel to fulfil. He wanted them to be the light of the world – the salt of the earth – the example that the people of the earth would aspire to. He wanted them to be the evangelists of the world, teaching all nations and preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah.
The divine destiny of Israel was to be a great and glorious one. Isaiah prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would become a place of worship for all the peoples of the earth. Isaiah also spoke of the Gentile nations flocking to Jerusalem and bringing their riches with them and depositing their wealth there, for the use of God’s work. Zechariah spoke about how easy the work of evangelism would be, because the righteous example of the Israelites would so impress the people of the world that, they would deliberately seek out the Israelites to teach them about God:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you. Zech. 8:20-23.
However the divine plan could not wait forever. Finally, God gave the Israelites 490 years to achieve the goal. We find this 490 year period of grace in the prophecies of Daniel:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Dan. 9:24.
Jesus knew about this 490 year prophecy because the same prophecy pointed forward to the beginning of His ministry. Therefore, when He was baptised and his ministry officially began the first thing He said was: “the time is fulfilled” (Mk. 1:15). Also when Peter thought 7 times was enough to forgive his brother Jesus corrected him and said that 70 times 7 was the correct number of times – 70 times 7 equals 490 (see Matt. 18:22). In other words, if God could give the nation of Israel 490 years of grace, then you too Peter, can forgive 490 times.
As the time for the arrival of the Messiah drew near, there was a palpable sense of urgency in the messages sent to Israel. In an effort to wake up the Israelites to the overwhelming crises soon to break upon them, John the Baptist used very strong language:
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin 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. Lu. 3:7, 8.
Not many preachers would call their congregation ‘vipers,’ but John is doing this to contrast the spiritual condition of the people with the goal that God has always desired for Israel. What is the opposite of vipers? Answer: ‘fruits worthy of repentance.’ It was a lack of ‘fruits worthy of repentance’ that, was causing the people to be vipers. In other words, they were acting like snakes. There was no change of heart in the lives of the people. Their hearts were still hard and their necks were still stiff, after hundreds and hundreds of years.
And this hard hearted/stiff necked condition of the people, all through their history, is confirmed by the very last prophet sent to Israel. It is said of Stephen that he was, “full of faith and power” and he “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Under the influence of the Holy Spirit Stephen was an irresistible advocate for the fact that the Jews had crucified their Messiah. In order to silence Stephen, the religious leaders accused Stephen of blasphemy. Stephen was arraigned before the highest court of the Jews, the Sanhedrin. When he was asked to defend himself, Stephen reviewed the history of Israel beginning with Abraham. However, when Stephen began to review the history about what happened at Sinai focusing on the disobedience that began there, he was not able to continue with the rebellious history of Israel. Stephen saw the rage that was rising in his audience. Both Stephen and his audience knew where this story has going to end – the disobedience and rebellion that began at Sinai was going to end with the disobedience and rebellion at the cross – the murder of their own Messiah. Stephen knew he was not going to be able to finish the story, so he changed tack and he got in the words that needed to be spoken. He wanted the assembled leaders of the Israelites to know why the disobedience and rebellion at Sinai led directly to the crucifixion of Christ. This is what Stephen said:
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Acts 7:51-53.
There is much to consider in these words of Stephen. Firstly please note that the stiff necked/hard hearted problem persisted from Sinai to the Cross. In other words, the stiff necked/hard hearted condition was the prevailing spiritual state of the Israelites throughout their entire history.
Secondly, we find in these words the definition of the stiff necked/hard hearted condition. It is defined as ‘resisting the Holy Spirit.’ So we need to acknowledge that, throughout the whole history of the Israelites, they were resisting the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, Stephen accuses them of being the descendants of those who murdered the prophets in the past. The prophets were sent to reprimand, exhort and encourage the people to get out of the stiff necked/hard hearted condition, but the truth of their words and the convicting power of the Spirit was stifled by murdering the messengers.
Fourthly, Stephen managed to enunciate his main point. Which was that, these present-day stiff necked and hard hearted Israelites are exactly the same as their fathers, because they too, have murdered the most important of all the prophets – their own Messiah.
And Stephen’s accusations proved to be true and accurate, because the enraged Israelites, ignoring due legal process, seize him, thrust him out of the city and stone him to death. Thus, perpetuating a pattern of behaviour, that persisted throughout the history of Israel.
Unfortunately, the Israelite venture as the solution to the world’s problems, failed at its beginning (Sinai) and it failed again at its end (Calvary). What would God do next, to ensure that the divine plan would be fulfilled?
God knows the end from the beginning therefore, He knew that Israel would ultimately fail. God knew that Israel would not achieve the divine plan announced at Sinai. But this does not mean that God wanted Israel to fail, or that He caused them to fail, or that He did not do enough for them to succeed. We often find God lamenting and mourning the spiritual condition of Israel, such as:
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes. Isa. 5:4.
Here we see God saying that He has done everything possible – He has exhausted every possible solution. And what was God looking working in His vineyard for? – What was he hoping to accomplish? Answer: simply that Israel would produce the right fruit – that Israel would have a change of heart.
And we hear Jesus lamenting over the same failed potential that God was trying to achieve with Israel:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Matt. 23:37.
God always had a solution to the stiff necked/ hard hearted condition. And the solution was always available, and it was always within reach, it was not something that was deliberately obscured by God. In this respect the spiritual condition of the Israelites was the same as the spiritual condition of the people today. The solution is well within reach of all. The problem is, in both cases – then and now – the people do not want the solution, or they believe they have no need of the solution.
The History of Israel Prophesied
Because God knows the end from the beginning, He laid down a lengthy prophecy about the history of the Israelites from the time at Sinai, to well after the second captivity, and the restoration. We find this prophecy in Deuteronomy chapters 28-31. After speaking about the future Babylonian captivity and the promise of restoration God gave the Israelites an additional promise:
And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. Deut. 30:6.
Please note what else this verse has to say. Please note why God is doing this? Why is God putting so much effort in? First he takes them out of captivity, and establishes them in the land, and then everything is destroyed, with huge loss of life, and back into captivity they go. Then they return and they have to rebuild. What is it all for? Answer: “That thou mayest live.” Is God limiting his hopes for his people to the fact that they might live in the land he promised them? No! He means that they might live eternally. But, living eternally is dependent, on them having their hearts circumcised.
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who were contemporaries of that generation that went into the Babylonian captivity, both repeated the promise given back in the days of Moses. First Jeremiah:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jer. 31:31-33.
This is the same covenant that was given to the Israelites at Sinai, with one crucial difference. At Sinai, the people said ‘we will do it.’ Here through Jeremiah the Lord says, “I will do it.” The covenants, and the terms and the conditions of the covenant, are the same. The only difference is how the goals of the covenant are going to be achieved/fulfilled. The same promise was given to the people through Ezekiel:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Eze. 36:26-28.
Once again, the emphasis is on ‘I’ not ‘we.’ At some point God is going to take the reins into his own hands and He is going to accomplish the divine plan that, He has been trying to work out with Israel.
Unfortunately, none of this was achieved in Old Testament times. The last Old Testament prophet, sent to Israel, was Malachi. Malachi finds the people in a deplorable spiritual state. Malachi points out their wrongdoing and they reply ‘we don’t understand what you’re talking about – were not doing anything wrong – and we are not going to change.’ They think everything is right between themselves and God – when everything is wrong. There is no greater deception.
But God’s plans can never be thwarted. God’s plans can be delayed but they will eventually come to pass. And the apostle Paul tells us when the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel were fulfilled. Paul quotes directly from Jeremiah in the Book of Hebrews. The Book of Hebrews is about the great changes that took place with the coming of the Messiah. The Book is about the better and greater things that took place when the new covenant took the place of the old covenant:
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. Heb. 8:6.
Jesus introduces a better ministry, and a better covenant established upon better promises. Who made the promises in the old covenant? The people did! Who made the promises in the new covenant? God did! This is why the ministry and covenant established by Jesus in the New Testament is better and greater. Having established the superiority of the new covenant, Paul’s next point is to reveal why the old covenant was inferior:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them… Heb. 8:6.
Please note that the problem identified in this verse is the people not the covenant. There was nothing wrong with the covenant. The fault was with the people’s promise to keep the covenant. This is why the new covenant is a better covenant. It is better because it is established upon a better promise – the promise of God – He will do it – He will accomplish the goals of the covenant.
Having established that the problem was with the people, Paul now presents the solution, by quoting the prophecy of Jeremiah in its entirety:
For finding fault with them he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. Heb. 8:6-10.
The New Covenant Established
So the question we naturally need to ask at this point is this: When did this new covenant go into effect? Answer: it went into effect at the cross. What did Jesus say at the Last Supper, just before his crucifixion?
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matt. 26:26-28.
The ‘New Testament’ is the same as the ‘New Covenant’ (some Bible translations say New Covenant instead of New Testament). Jesus gave his life for the forgiveness of sins, but also for the establishing of the New Covenant. When the Old Testament was ratified, it was ratified by blood – Moses sprinkled blood on the people (see Ex. 24:7, 8). In like manner the New Testament (New Covenant) was ratified by blood. Jesus said, “this is my blood of the new testament.”
And what would be achieved when the New Covenant went into effect at the cross? Just before His crucifixion Jesus said:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. Jn. 12:31.
Cast out of what or where? Two places: cast out of heaven (see Rev. 12:10, 11). But also out of people’s hearts. How does what happened at the cross cast Satan out of people’s hearts? Jesus knew that it was the end of Satan’s kingdom when he offered Himself. Jesus knew that the cross would break open the human heart and begin the healing, the revival and reformation, and the restoration of humanity. He saw it all, because just before his death He said:
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Jn. 12:32.
Hard Hearts Broken at the Cross
If Jesus is lifted up, if he is crucified, he will draw all people to him. The cross is the greatest evidence there is, that God truly loves us. It is the greatest evidence that he is willing to do everything possible to save us, and this is the place where God breaks our hearts. He breaks our hearts with love. Do you remember how the people were afraid of God at Sinai, and they broke the covenant immediately? This is because fear does not work – fear does not work in God’s kingdom, fear does not crack open hard hearts and turn stiff necks. The only way that hard hearts, encrusted with sin can be opened is with love. We are supposed to look at what happened at Calvary and our hearts are supposed to be overwhelmed by the love of God. When we realise that the Creator himself died for his own creation – this ought to rattle every nerve in our being and shake us out of our spiritual death.
In fact, standing at the foot of the cross, is the only place where we can have our hard hearts broken and our stiff necks turned. If we cannot be converted at the cross, it will not happen anywhere and it will not happen ever. This is why the greatest evangelist that ever was, said:
I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor. 2:2.
Paul knew from experience that, the greatest way to attract and convert people, was to tell the story of Jesus and Him crucified. It was this wonderful evidence of God’s love that drew people, and opened their hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit. We are told:
The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Heb. 4:12.
In other words, the word of God cuts deeply into the hard hearts of people. God also says this about his word:
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. Isa. 55:11.
According to this verse, God’s word is like a sword cutting open hard hearts and always having an effect upon those who hear it. There are two possible outcomes from the effect of the word felt in the heart. Either the recipient of the word will have his heart softened or he will have it hardened. Jesus dealt with this process in the Parable of the Sower. It all depends on what type of soil the seed falls on. If it falls on the stoney ground (stoney hearts) the seed will be rejected and the heart will grow even harder. If the seed falls on the good ground (softened hearts) it will sprout and the heart will soften even more. In other words, when the truth about Jesus and him crucified is preached (or read about), it cuts open people’s hearts.
Hard Hearts Broken when the Gospel is Preached
Look what happened at Pentecost when the first Christian sermon was preached, when the truth about Jesus was preached. What was the effect upon the people?
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in the heart… Acts 2:37.
The preaching of Jesus and him crucified, had a dramatic effect upon the hearts of the people, their hearts began to open, and Holy Spirit was now able to come in. And when the Holy Spirit came in they were instantly ready to change, to have their stiff necks turned. Their response to being pricked in the heart was:
Men and brethren, what shall we do? Acts 1:37.
Their changed attitude automatically led to changed behaviour, they wanted to know what they should do next. They were not only willing to change, they were anxious to change. The fruit that God has been waiting for so long is finally coming forth.
We are also told that when Peter and John were called to account by the Jewish leaders, for preaching about Jesus, they boldly proclaimed:
We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.
After courageously standing for Jesus, at the risk of their lives, the disciples then preach the truth about Jesus to those who murdered Him. And when they hear the Word of Truth they too, have the same experience as the other Israelites did at Pentecost, they felt the cutting influence of the Truth:
…when they heard this the leaders were cut in their hearts. Acts 5:33.
Here was a great opportunity for the religious leaders to repent and admit their mistake, the Holy Spirit was knocking on their hearts, pleading with them to open their hearts, and be saved. But once more they resisted, and by resisting they hardened their hearts even more, evidenced by the fact that they began plotting to kill these bold followers of Jesus.
The same thing happened when Stephen preached his last sermon, the reason why they were so murderously angry was because they were being pricked in their hearts:
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on them with their teeth. Acts 7:54.
The anger they exhibited against him is a typical result of resistance to the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit wields the sword of the word, and drives it into the heart, people can only resist if they become angry.
In 19th Century England there was a preacher of renown called Charles Spurgeon. He was such a famous preacher that he attracted a following of young men all wanting to learn how to preach like him. Spurgeon would send these young men to preach in local churches on Sundays, then on Monday morning he would hold a debrief session with them. For the newcomers, the de-brief would always go something like this:
Question: “Did you have a good time?”
Answer: “Oh yes, it went really well and it was very pleasant.”
Question: “How many people did you convert?”
Nonplussed answer: “Oh, I don’t think we converted anyone, at least no one said anything about that to us.”
Question: “Well if you did not convert anyone, how many people did you make angry.”
Nonplussed answer: “Oh no! We didn’t make anyone angry.”
Spurgeon’s conclusion and point: “Well then you are not doing your job. You either convert them or you make them angry.”
Charles Spurgeon knew the power of God’s word. When the Truth is preached it either cuts open the human heart (because it is accompanied by all of Heaven’s power and influence – the Holy Spirit and the holy angels). Or it will make people angry, because anger is the only way the human heart can resist the power of Heaven. Do you remember what Stephen said to the leaders of Israel? “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did so do ye” (Acts 7:51). It was resisting the Holy Spirit that turned the leaders of Israel into angry murderers – it was resisting the Holy Spirit that turned their fathers into angry murderers too.
Saul becomes Paul
Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, was standing there that day, assisting the enraged leaders of Israel by holding their coats, whilst they stoned Stephen to death. But even as he was watching that awful spectacle, he too, was experiencing the sword piercing his heart. However, like the angry leaders, he too, was resisting the Holy Spirit. We know this because when he had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus said to him:
…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 9:5.
Jesus knew that Saul’s heart was being pricked, he just needed a little push to have his heart broken and Saul became Paul, a totally changed man.
We all feel the working of the Holy Spirit, we all feel the Holy Spirit pricking and cutting into our hearts. It is our choice whether to resist or to yield, if we resist our hearts become harder still, if we yield we will never be the same again – we will change. Things that we formerly saw through a glass darkly suddenly come into focus, things that we formerly misunderstood are clarified, our preconceptions give way to truth and truth engenders righteousness which means doing right. This is how Jesus puts the law within our hearts and it is the cross that enables this to happen.
The Law finally written in the Heart
Paul’s evangelist efforts provide us with a good example, of what Jesus was able to achieve after the cross. When Paul (as Saul) wanted to go to Damascus to persecute the Christians there he first went to the religious leaders in Jerusalem to ask them for letters of authority, to authorise his role as persecutor in chief. Therefore, it is ironic that after he became an evangelist for Jesus that he would be accused of not having letters of authority, to do what he was doing. Paul’s answer to this accusation is revealing. Paul believes the changed hearts of the members of the Corinthian Church is all the authority he needs. The following is a paraphrased version of 2 Cor. 3:1-3.
Why do I need to defend myself about this? I don’t need letters of recommendation from people who believe they have the authority to issue them. You are our letters of recommendation and your changed lives are all the evidence we need. These kinds of letters can be read by anyone, no matter who they are. You are living letters written by the Spirit of God, not letters carved in stone, but written in fleshly human hearts.
Paul is deliberately making a contrast between the law written on stone tablets at Mt. Sinai, and the law written on softened hearts of flesh after the cross. He is intimating that before the cross the law could only be written on stone, reflecting the spiritual state of the people’s stoney hearts. But now in this era of better and greater things, the era that we are living in, the law is now in the people’s hearts.
The great goal initiated at Sinai has now been achieved. The Divine Plan can now go forward. God’s Kingdom is now established on a better and greater foundation. But this Divine accomplishment was not realised through the nation of Israel (as originally intended). It was/is being accomplished through the Christian Church.
Physical Israel becomes Spiritual Israel
After a 400 year silence, from the time of Malachi, the first thing the Israelites heard from God was:
O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin 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. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matt. 3:7-9.
There is much to take cognizance of here. Firstly, the generation that John the Baptist and Jesus preached to, were according to inspiration, akin to vipers. They were like snakes – and we know who the snake is a symbol of.
Secondly, the reason why they were like snakes was because there was no ‘fruit’ in their lives. The notion of fruit and fruit trees and vineyards is the most commonly used illustration in the Bible for the changed heart that God has always desired. Often God likens his kingdom to a vineyard or a fruit-bearing tree, but this is all symbolism for that long desired plan stated at Sinai – the desire for a holy nation of priests. But the fruit is not being produced. John the Baptist, in this passage of Scripture, is condemning the generation about to witness the arrival of the Messiah of being devoid of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Thirdly, that generation of Israelites were confident that they had no need to change anything because, they were already saved. They believed that their salvation was assured because of their literal descent from Abraham. But John exposes the fallacy of this argument. John says that a literal connection to Abraham is no guarantee of salvation. What assures salvation is fruit – the change of heart – being born again.
Fourthly, John’s message contains a warning. He says there is ‘wrath to come.’ And he adds that the axe is already positioning itself to cut down the tree. That tree is the physical nation of Israel. Whether it will be cut down or not will depend on whether Israel responds or not to the coming of the Messiah. Either way from the time that John the Baptist began to preach, Israel only had 4 years left to decide whether it would produce the ‘fruit’ that Heaven desired.
Jesus Continues the Last Warning
Jesus often used the same symbolism as John the Baptist, to tell the same story. In the ‘Parable of the Barren Fig Tree’ Jesus said;
A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. Lu. 13:6-9.
How many years of grace does the tree have? Answer: four years. Remember John started his ministry by saying the axe was ready to chop the tree down. How long was John’s ministry, before Jesus took over? Answer: six months. How long was Jesus’s ministry? Answer: three and a half years – making a total of four years.
One morning, just a few days before His crucifixion, as Jesus was entering Jerusalem, He noticed a fig tree and He searched it for figs to eat (see Matt. 21:18-20). It was the season for figs and the fig tree presented itself as a great source of delicious fruit, because it was resplendent in foliage indicating that it was fruitful. But Jesus found no fruit on the tree. The tree was advertising itself as a fruitful tree, but it was barren. In other words, it was acting falsely – it was pretending to something that it was not. It was a symbol of the spiritual state of Israel, and in the fulfilment of the parable of the barren fig tree, Jesus cursed it, and it died.
On the same day, as the fig tree was dying, Jesus told the chief priests and elders of Israel the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (see Matt. 21:33-46). A summary of the parable states the following:
God the Father established a land flowing with milk and honey and leased it out to the nation of Israel. But the nation of Israel occupied the vineyard without observing the terms and conditions of the covenant they had made with God. For example, when the time came for them to produce the fruit that God expected, they refused His reasonable requests. So God sent his representatives to remind the nation of Israel of the terms and conditions and promises that they had made. But the people refused to listen and they became so angry that they murdered God’s representatives. Eventually God sent His Son, reasoning that the people would recognise him and His authority, but they murdered Him too, thinking that by so doing, they could keep the vineyard for themselves.
At the end of the parable Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of Israel a question. Jesus wanted to know what the Israelites themselves thought should happen to the unfaithful husbandmen. He wanted to know what the legitimate ruler should do with these usurpers. The Israelites condemned themselves when they answered:
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. Matt.21:41.
Although many Christians fail to understand or accept what Jesus is saying here in this parable, the Israelites eventually understood, because Jesus told them plainly:
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. Matt. 21:43.
They were so enraged, at His words, they wanted to seize Him, because, “they perceived that he spake of them” (Matt. 21:45). Jesus however was not daunted at all and He immediately proceeded to tell them another parable, containing yet again, the same message, that the kingdom would be taken away from them and given to a nation that would produce the fruits – the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son (see Matt.22:1-14).
The wrath that John the Baptist spoke about came in AD70 when the Romans destroyed the Temple, the City of Jerusalem and the nation of the Israelites. But the rejection of the nation as the chosen people of God took place at the crucifixion of Christ. It was in the courtyard of Pilate, the Roman governor, that all the warnings, all the parables and prophecies came to a terrible fulfilment.
The Israelites withdraw from the Covenant
The Israelites were presented with choices: Jesus or Barabbas – they chose Barabbas. When asked to choose between Jesus or Caesar – they chose Caesar – “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn. 19:14, 15). When Pilate said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man” (Matt. 27:24). Their response was to emphatically take the full guilt for Christ’s death upon themselves with some truly fearful words: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt.27:25).
In practice it was not God who withdrew from the covenant, it was the Israelites. Thus, in choosing an earthly, pagan king to rule over them, the Israelites withdrew themselves from the theocracy of heaven, and they ratified their choice by blood – crucifying the Lord of Heaven and earth.
This rejection of the Jews, as the chosen people of God – as the favoured nation of God, was final and eternal. Henceforth, one of the main focuses of the New Testament is to explain the rejection of physical Israel and the establishing of spiritual Israel. At this point in history Israel was in transition. It was transitioning from the law written on stone to the law written in the heart.
The Literal Kingdom transitions to the Spiritual Kingdom
We get a glimpse of this transition already when John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.” And stop trusting in your connection to Abraham for your salvation. John is stating that a change is coming, a change is required. The change is from a literal understanding of salvation to a spiritual understanding – in other words, its graduation time. For too long, God’s kingdom has been stuck at the kindergarten level – it’s time to graduate to the next level. The kingdom is going from first gear, skipping over second, gear and straight into third gear.
We get another glimpse of the changes afoot in the Sermon on the Mount. It is on this occasion that Jesus lifts the law off the tablets of stone and begins the procedure of putting it into people’s hearts. Jesus explains that the true thrust of the law is not in the literal realm but in the spiritual realm. On this occasion Jesus is explaining how as individuals we ought to relate to the law. He explains that the law is not something we ought to do because we have to – the law is something we ought to do because we want to. The difference is as different as night is different too day – it is as different as stone is to flesh. The difference is one of motivation. We keep the law on stone because of fear. We keep the law written in the heart because of love.
Jesus introduced the Spiritual Kingdom on a daily basis throughout his ministry. He very rarely ever spoke literally to the people. It is recorded that when he spoke to the people he used parables: “And he spake many things unto them in parables…” (Matt. 13:3) – “…and without a parable spake he not unto them” (Matt. 13:34). Parables are spiritual stories they are not meant to be understood literally.
But Jesus did not just speak spiritually in parables almost everything he said was spoken in spiritual terms. For example, he said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:3, 7). He also said without this new birth one, “Cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus also explained in spiritual terms how this new birth occurs:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Jn. 3:8.
In other words, the new birth is a process of being reborn by the Spirit of God. This is something that the New Testament speaks often about – the necessity of being reborn by the Spirit – the necessity of being led by the Spirit – the necessity of being changed by the Spirit – changed into the image of Christ. This is an internal process. It requires the lifting of the law off the tablets of stone and placing it in the hearts of the people. This is why Jesus almost always finished everything he said with these words, “Let him who has ears to hear let him hear.” Which means: he that is led by the Holy Spirit will understand my words.
This is why Jesus spoke spiritually. He was introducing the people to the Spirit. He was preparing the way for the transition from the physical to the spiritual. The physical presence and ministry of God on the earth, was about to transition into a spiritual presence and a spiritual ministry on earth.
Up to this point the presence of God and the ministry of God was a literal one. The presence of God was a literal one (the Shekinah glory) in a literal temple. The ministry was performed by a literal priesthood, performing literal rituals and ceremonies. All of this was encapsulated in a literal nation, with literal borders, a literal capital city and a literal king. But Jesus said it is better that I go away. In other words, the literal presence was going to leave. And Jesus said that the literal presence would be replaced with the spiritual presence. The kingdom of God is now directed on earth by the Spirit therefore, we need to connect ourselves to the Spirit.
This is why when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God should come (their concept was the establishment of a sovereign nation of Israel, without the Romans i.e. a literal nation). Jesus replied:
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Lu. 17:20, 21,
Please note that Jesus said that the Kingdom is not something that can be seen – neither is it located somewhere. In other words it is not literal. Then he tells us where it can be found – it is within us. In other words, it is in our hearts. It is spiritual, not literal. He then goes on to further explain that in the future people would be longing to experience His literal presence, to be able to be with Him and see Him. But Jesus said that, that would not happen until his Second Coming. In other words, the Literal Kingdom would not return until He Himself literally returned. In the meantime, we need to recognise and accept that we live in a Spiritual Kingdom under the auspices of the Holy Spirit.
We have an excellent example of the transition from the literal kingdom to the spiritual kingdom, from what occurred during the Jerusalem Council, as recorded in Acts 15. The apostles were discussing the implications of including the Gentiles in the early Christian Church. After Paul and Simeon (Peter) gave their reports, James the leading apostle at Jerusalem, announced that the coming in of the Gentiles was the fulfilment of the prophecy in Amos 9:11:
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Acts 15:13-17.
Subsequently, a letter was sent to the Gentile Churches announcing the decision in Jerusalem. The letter contained the following:
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us… Acts 15:28.
In other words, this was a decision made under the direction of the Holy Spirit. And what did the Holy Spirit announce? Answer: that the correct understanding of the re-building of the temple was the building up of the Church. What was previously understood to be literal is now properly understood to be spiritual. That the Church is now the temple, albeit a spiritual one, now becomes a recurring New Testament theme. Paul refers to it twice in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 1 Cor. 6:19.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes extensively about the Gentiles coming in to join the Jews in the one true church. He summarizes by saying:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph. 2:19-22.
And Peter also uses the same analogy when he writes to the Church at large, informing all Christians that each and every one of us, is a living stone in the temple of God:
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 2:5.
Notice how Peter calls the Church ‘a spiritual house’ where ‘spiritual sacrifices’ are made. Peter is clearly contrasting what was formerly understood to be literal with what is now understood to be spiritual. It naturally follows that if the Christian Church is now the temple of God then the Christian Church must also be the nation (or kingdom) of God. And this is indeed the conclusion that Peter also comes to:
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 marvellous 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. 1 Pet. 2:9, 10.
Thus, what was desired in a time long passed (at Sinai) has finally come to pass. Here is that holy nation of priests that God has wanted so long to have. Physical Israel (or the first Israel) failed to achieve the goal. But God’s plans are never thwarted. What was not possible with physical Israel God has now achieved with spiritual Israel.
This transfer from physical to spiritual Israel still leaves many questions unanswered. Answering those questions is one reason why the New Testament was written.
God’s Mercy for Literal Israel
Although the Jews voluntarily withdrew themselves from God’s favour at the cross, and they were rejected as God’s chosen nation/people, the mercy of God still lingered for a period of three and a half years. In His mercy, God wanted to give every member of the literal kingdom, a chance to understand the climatic events ending in the crucifixion of Christ. For three and a half years the disciples proclaimed the gospel almost exclusively to the Jews in Judea, and in that time a remnant was called out from amongst the Jews. This remnant became the nucleus of the new Christian Church. At the end of the three and a half years, the Jews killed the first Christian martyr. Stephen, “full of faith and power” (Acts 6:8), was stoned to death, because “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10).
Immediately after the stoning of Stephen, the Scripture says that: “Saul made havoc of the Church” (Acts 8:3). The disciples in Jerusalem were scattered, and the record goes on to say that Philip went down to Samaria. The focus of the book of Acts from this point on is on the calling of the Gentiles. With Paul the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) moving rapidly to the centre of the stage.
Saul becomes Paul
Saul the persecutor of the Christians witnessed the death of Stephen, and he approved of it. Shortly afterwards, Saul was on his way to Damascus, to destroy the Christians there, when the Lord appeared to him. At this time, Saul the Pharisee, became Paul the Apostle, and from this point on the Gospel to the Gentiles went with power over the whole world. The period of mercy for literal Israel is now over, and the prophecy made by Isaiah about the Gentiles was about to be fulfilled:
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by [calling upon] my name. Isa. 65:1, cf. Hosea 1:10; 2:23.
How are we saved?
Because the Jews had rejected Christ, they could not remain neutral towards the new faith. They became persistent persecutors towards those who accepted Christianity. And even those Jews, who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, did not understand that they were now supposed to worship spiritually and not literally.
The transition from Judaism to Christianity is the subject matter of much of the New Testament. There were not only issues arising between the Jews and Christians, there were equally serious issues between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. These issues are fundamentally all the same, at their core they are all about the question, ‘How are we saved?’ The Jews were not happy with God’s appointed method of salvation:
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10:3.
We can only be saved in God’s appointed manner. We cannot make up our own way of salvation and confidently expect to be saved. The religious market place is full of ‘pick and mix’ options and everyone is free to pick the things that appeal to them and mix them together and create their own system of salvation. But Jesus said, only “he that doeth the will of my father” (Matt. 7:21.), will enter heaven. We can only be saved by discovering the will of the Father. The Jews were never able to fully discover the will of the Father because their hearts were continually hard and their necks were stiff. They therefore created their own version of righteousness that suited their hard hearted condition. For hundreds of years God endeavoured to heal their hearts and correct their false understandings. Finally, he sent his own Son to reason with them, but they misrepresented His words, calumniated His character and finally murdered them. What else could God do in his vineyard in order to bring about the fruit that he desired? He could do nothing more. All He could do is reject those who refused His authority, His mercy and His love, and let out His vineyard to new husbandmen.
The Transition from Judaism to Christianity
If one was to ask a Jewish person, “What is the most anti-Semitic book of all?” It is very likely he would answer, “the New Testament” – to the surprise of most Christians. The animosity between Jew and Christian has a very long history going back to the very beginning of the transition from Judaism to Christianity.
We must remember that Paul wrote: “As concerning the gospel they (the Jews) are enemies…” (Rom. 11:28). Paul is not just writing about the Jews being unbelievers, he is writing about the Jews being active hands on, boots and all, opponents of the Gospel. Paul is writing about his experience with the Jews. Where ever Paul went and whenever he preached, Paul had to fight the Jews for every convert to Christianity.
Whenever Paul went to a city, for the first time, it was his custom to go to the Jews first and present the Gospel to them. The usual reaction was to soften the hearts of some and harden the hearts of the others. Paul would then turn to the Gentiles. The stiff necked hard hearted ones would then go into action and do all they could to disrupt Paul’s evangelising efforts – including trying to kill him.
After Saul became Paul, on the road to Damascus, he instantly wanted to tell the world about Jesus. After he received his sight back, “straightaway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). The reaction of the Jews at Damascus was: “After that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him” (Acts 9:23). Paul had to flee by being lowered over the wall in a basket.
Antioch in Pisidia
Paul preached a great sermon in the synagogue in the city of Antioch in Pisidia. Some Gentiles, who heard Paul, encouraged him to preach to the Gentiles the following Sabbath. By the time a week had gone by the whole city had heard about Paul and the majority wanted to hear him:
The next Sabbath almost the entire city gathered together to hear the Word of God [concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God]. Acts 13:44. The Amplified Bible.
The Jews in the city, who originally heard Paul, were not at all happy. They were about to fulfil the role that Paul had described in Romans 11 – that the Jews would become jealous of the grace and mercy God was showing towards the Gentiles.
…through their (the Jews) fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Rom. 11:11.
Paul writes that this jealous reaction is what prompts the Jews in Antioch (Pisidia) to actively work against the Gospel:
But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Acts 13:45.
Paul goes on to tell us how the Jews managed to stymie and strangle the Gospel in Antioch. They did it by appealing to the ruling class in the city to use their influence against Paul:
But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. Acts 13:50.
Here we see the Jews fulfilling the role that Paul said they would assume. They are envious of the success of the Gospel. And the opposition stirred up by the Jews forced Paul and Barnabas to move on to his next destination, Iconium.
And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. Acts 14:1, 2.
The opposition stirred up again by the Jews resulted in assaults and stoning of the believers so Paul and Barnabas moved on to Lystra.
In Lystra the people were so impressed with Paul and Barnabas that they thought the gods had come to visit them. They were so excited they wanted to sacrifice animals in their honour. However the joyful reception quickly changed because of Jewish intervention:
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Acts 14:19.
The Jews were not just anxious to drive Paul and Barnabas out of their own cities but they wanted to make sure they were not welcome anywhere. So, here we see Jews from Antioch and Iconium following Paul and Barnabas to a Gentile city, where they have been rapturously received, and there they turn the praise and joy into murder. They convince the inhabitants of Lystra to stone Paul to death. But Paul survives and he and Barnabas move on to Derbe.
The Jews thought they had killed Paul at Lystra. Therefore, Paul was free to move around for some time, and after preaching unmolested at Derbe, he actually retraced his steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. But not to preach, rather he kept a low profile by concentrating on “confirming the souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22).
This was the normal pattern of Paul’s evangelistic efforts (and of most of the apostles and disciples) – the Jews worked actively against them taking every opportunity to oppose, and even kill the preachers of the Gospel. Truly Paul was correct when he wrote: “As concerning the Gospel they are enemies…” Rom. 11:28.
The Party of the Concision – the Judaizers
As dangerous as the Jews where to the furtherance of the Gospel, there was an even more dangerous Jewish faction working against the Gospel and against Paul. The Jews who stirred up the Gentiles and the rulers of cities against the Gospel and against Paul were Jews outside the Church. The most dangerous Jews were a special faction or party of Jews inside the Church. These Jews were known as ‘the party of the concision’ – generally known today as the Judaizers.
Any transition period is fraught with problems and misunderstandings. It is natural for the ‘old guard’ to fight to preserve traditions, customs and beliefs that, they hold sacred and sacrosanct, during any period of change. On the other hand the advocates of reform are impatient and will not tolerate delay and restrictive practices. They generally appear irreverent, disloyal, and revolutionary to the conservative element. The confusion and strife is further exacerbated because the reformers often argue among themselves, over what needs to be retained and what needs to be abolished.
When institutions, nations or religions go through such periods, it is a time of struggle and strife – there is anger and harsh words, and often bloodshed. The transition from Judaism to Christianity was no exception. The big question at this time, for Jewish Christians was: what do we take with us from Judaism into Christianity, and what is it that we leave behind? What needs to be retained and what needs to be abolished?
The New Testament was written during this transition period. And the whole New Testament is permeated with issues arising from this struggle. In fact, much of the New Testament was written as a direct response to this problem. Almost the entire contents of the letter to the Hebrews, the letter to the Galatians, and letter to the Romans are devoted to this problem and related issues. Unless one is aware of this fact, it is very easy to misunderstand some critical points in the New Testament.
There was a great deal of confusion in the early church about what constituted a true follower of Christ. For example, there was much confusion about the status of the Gentiles. The first believers were all Jews, and they shared in the common prejudices of their fellow Jews concerning the Gentiles.
The Jews knew that throughout their history they had often fallen into idolatry. When they returned from the Babylonian captivity they were largely cured of that particular temptation. However, in order to preserve themselves from all temptation, they built a wall around themselves and refused to have contact with the Gentile nations surrounding them. Therefore, it came as a major surprise to the Jews, that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, could have mercy on the Gentiles, and offer them the same salvation, as He offered to them.
This exclusive attitude that the Jews had, in the time of Christ, was naturally a great hindrance to the spreading of the Gospel, and God dealt with it quickly (see Acts chapters 10, 11). However, such ingrained attitudes are not easy to change, and the exclusive attitude persisted, even on the part of many of the Christian Jews. However, even though this exclusive attitude was a serious problem it was not the most important problem. The real problem was: that these same Jews believed that in order to become a Christian, one first had to become a Jew. And for these advocates of Judo/Christianity, the most important part of becoming a Jew was circumcision.
The Apostle Peter was the first to suffer from the Judaizer’s disapproval. They were astounded that Peter did not observe the proper Jewish protocols for associating with the Gentiles. They accused Peter of acting familiar with them: “Saying thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them” (Acts 11:3). In his defence Peter told them about the vision he had just had in Joppa. He told them about the sheet full of unclean animals, and when he objected about the instructions to eat them, God said to him:
What God has cleansed and pronounced clean, do not you defile and profane by regarding or calling it common or unhallowed or unclean. Acts 11:9. Amplified Bible.
Peter was then instructed to go to Caesarea where he witnessed the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles, “as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). When the Jewish believers in Jerusalem heard Peter’s report they rejoiced, and “they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
The Law on Stone verses the Law in the Heart
However, in spite of the fact that these Jewish believers appeared to accept the leading of God, there were others who did not. The Jewish believers who did not accept the unconditional entry of the Gentiles were the Judaizers. These Judaizers were very influential, and ultimately Peter proved too weak to stand up against them – it was left to Paul to do battle against them – and he had to do it virtually alone.
This battle was not just one of circumcision it touched on far deeper issues. It was fundamentally a battle over how we are saved. It was an issue over the relationship between Law and Grace. Paul’s position was that we are saved by grace, ‘without the law’ – “therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:21, 28). The Judaizers maintained that the ceremonial law was still to be observed, as well as the moral. Even after approximately 30 years, since the crucifixion, the Jews in Jerusalem understood little of the concept of grace. James and the other church leaders in Jerusalem, described the Jerusalem believers as: “all being zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). To Paul this was the ultimate in error and he fought tenaciously against it. Thus the lines were drawn and the battle commenced – and it is still going on today.
During the course of the battle, Paul wrote some rather strong statements about the keeping of the law as a means towards salvation. This has led many people [and churches] to construe, that Paul was advocating that the law was now abolished. In reality, Paul was addressing the Judaizer’s enthusiasm for keeping the law written on stone as a means to salvation – it really does help to understand whom Paul was aiming his arrows at, when he wrote about the relationship between law and grace.
Act and Galatians
Paul usually had something positive to say in his letters to the churches, but not so the Galatian Church. The Corinthians were also doing many things wrong, even to the point of committing immoral acts that the heathen would not countenance, but Paul still called the Corinthian believers ‘the saints of God.’ Paul had no such words of comfort for the Galatians. They received nothing but scathing rebuke from Paul’s hand. What made the difference? What sin did the Galatians commit that was even more grievous than the Corinthians? The answer is: even though the sins of the Corinthians were serious, they could still obtain forgiveness for them, if they repented. The case of the Galatians is more serious, because they had forsaken the pure Gospel that Paul had taught them, and had gone over ‘unto another gospel’ (Gal.1:6, 7). The Corinthian Church was suffering from sinful behaviour – the Galatian Church was suffering from heresy. The Galatians had succumbed to the teachings of the Judaizers.
That Paul considers this a major threat is obvious from the language he uses. Twice he says that the proponents of this ‘other gospel’ be accursed if they preach it (Gal.1:8, 9). He is amazed that the Galatians could believe it, and he believes they have become bewitched, and he rebukes them for being so foolish (see Gal.1:6; 3:1).
The epistle to the Galatians was written to save the Galatian Church from the fatal delusion that keeping the law written on stone would save them. In chapter one, Paul first establishes his credentials. His point is that, he was taught the true Gospel directly by Jesus, not by man. However, after fourteen years working in Gentile lands Paul is instructed to go up to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles and leaders there. [Chapter 2 of Galatians should be read together with chapter 15 of Acts]. They are dealing with the same problems and are referring to the same events in Antioch and Jerusalem]. Acts 15 begins thus:
And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren [in Antioch], and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. Acts 15:1.
The record says that Paul and Barnabas, “had no small dissension and disputation with them.” It was then decided to take this question to the brethren in Jerusalem. This meeting in Jerusalem was a crucial one for the future direction of the church. The debate was over the status of the Gentiles and the principles of salvation. Specifically over the question: did the Gentiles have to keep the ceremonial law in order to be saved? The meeting did not begin well:
There rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed (the Judaizers), saying, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. Acts 15:5.
The account in Acts informs us that this resulted in “much disputing.” Simeon (Peter) then intervenes and repeats his vision and his experiences at Joppa and Caesarea. Once again the indisputable evidence of God’s leading sways the meeting. The leader of the Church in Jerusalem, James, announces the decision:
My sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled and from blood. Acts 15:19, 20.
In would appear from this decision that here was a clear and conclusive victory for Paul and the Gentiles, and one would expect that decision made by the council in Jerusalem would have put an end to the matter – but it did not. It seemed rather to have intensified the conflict, and the writings of Paul testify that he encountered this problem wherever he went. The judgement in Jerusalem, went in favour of the Gentiles, but said nothing about the obligations of the Jewish Christians. Therefore, the Jewish Christians continued to be confused about what religious practices were required and what were not. Not only were they confused but in addition, many of them were still determined to enforce their beliefs on all the followers of Jesus, whether they were Jewish or Gentile. In fact, the Judaizers were firmly entrenched at Jerusalem (see Acts 21:20), the headquarters of the work, as subsequent events at Antioch soon proved.
The believers at Antioch rejoiced at the news from Jerusalem, and Peter came down to confirm the decision. But then some of the Judaizers also arrived from Jerusalem, and the record says that they came from James – in other words, they were the most influential church leader’s colleagues. Peter obviously knew that these people had power and influence in Jerusalem, because he began to ‘dissemble’ [back track] and “other Jews dissembled likewise with him” (Gal.2:12, 13). Peter had at first associated with his fellow believers at Antioch, but when the Judaizers arrived he “withdrew and separated himself – fearing them that were of the circumcision” (v.12). For his pains, Paul publicly rebuked Peter. Thus, in spite of the decision made in Jerusalem, the issue was not settled and the battle continued.
Approximately nine years later Paul was in Jerusalem again, and far from getting better the problem seems to have gotten worse. After again giving a report to James and the elders of the Church about the progress of the work among the Gentiles, the elders praised God for Paul’s success and they then told Paul about the situation among the Jewish believers:
And they said to [Paul], You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and all of them are enthusiastic upholders of the [Mosaic] Law. Now they have been informed about you that you continually teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn back from and forsake Moses, advising them not to circumcise their children or pay any attention to the observance of the [Mosaic] customs. Acts 21:20, 21. The Amplified Bible.
As a result of this attitude among the converted Jews, Paul acceded to the ‘advice’ of his brethren in Jerusalem and he observed some of the Jewish rituals in the temple. Thus there was intense pressure put upon the ‘apostle of grace’ to placate his critics, and prove to them that he did not oppose the law of Moses (see Acts 21:22-26). At first it might seem odd that Paul would do such a thing, but by not doing it, it would mean that he would violate another principle that he lived by. Paul was very concerned that no stumbling blocks be put in the way of people’s salvation. Therefore, one of the principles that he lived by was:
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. 1 Cor. 9:19-23.
This is why Pail acquiesced to the suggestion that he perform certain Jewish rituals, in order that the Gospel that he preached would have more effect upon his listeners. Nevertheless, the whole incident is a fair indication that the problem was far from over.
Returning to the letter to the Galatians – after recounting his experience at the first congress in Jerusalem and the subsequent events that followed at Antioch, to his Galatian readers, Paul then launches into a theological discussion, about why salvation by grace is far superior to the impossibility of being saved by the works of the law. He then suggests a course of action that, would dramatically illustrate the point he is making: “I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Gal.5:12).
The Greek word ‘to cut off’ is apokopto. This is translated elsewhere in the Bible as, “to dismember oneself”- “to mutilate oneself” (Mk.9:43; Jn.18:10), “to castrate oneself” – “to make oneself a eunuch” – [as in the Greek translation of Deut.23:1]. Paul is saying that he wishes the Judaizers, who exalt so much the benefits of circumcision, would go all the way and castrate themselves.
In saying this Paul is not trying to be cynical or vindictive. The Galatians were familiar with the practice of castration for religious reasons. The city of Pessinus, in central Galatia, was the seat of the cult and worship of Cybele, the nature goddess of ancient Anatolia. It was the custom of men devoting their lives to the worship and service of Cybele to make themselves eunuchs.
The point Paul is making here, is that, if circumcision can secure a measure of virtue, one should be able to obtain even more by castration! Paul simply means that the Judaizers might as well do as he suggests, because it is a logical conclusion if one is trusting in cutting the flesh. In so doing the Judaizers would appear for what they really were – fanatics!
The primary purpose of the letter to the Galatians is to refute the claims of the Judaizers and to uphold the great Gospel truth that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and not through the works of the law. Paul concludes his arguments by reminding his readers of the essentials:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumsion, but a new creature. Gal.6:15.
So far we have seen the Judaizers influence in Galatia, Antioch and Jerusalem. But their activities were not confined to these areas. Paul encountered them everywhere, and just like the unbelieving Jews these Judaizers followed Paul around undermining Paul’s efforts and promoting their own agenda. Paul obviously felt compelled to counteract their influence because he mentions them in almost every letter he wrote.
Broaching this issue with the Corinthians Paul wrote:
Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 1 Cor. 7:18, 19.
The Amplified Bible translates v.19 thus:
Circumcision is nothing and counts for nothing, neither does uncircumcision, but [what counts is] keeping the law of God.
The Amplified Bible merely makes Paul’s point, that much clearer, and the point is a most significant one. Circumcision to the Jews was a sign, or a symbol, of the covenant relationship between them and God. It was undertaken as a commitment, as a promise, to keep the law – all the law – the Jews did not distinguish between the ceremonial law and the moral law (see Gal.5:3). However, Paul, being the master theologian that he was, obviously does make a distinction. He first says uncircumcision means nothing and then he says, what really counts, is keeping the commandments of God. This must have been a real puzzle to the Jewish mind. But the problem is resolved if one remembers the distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law. Paul is simply stating as he so often does, that the ceremonial law has been abolished, but that the moral law remained and had to be obeyed.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the situation has not become better but worse. Paul’s level of concern resembles that expressed in the letter to the Galatians. In chapter 11, Paul shows himself again jealous for the purity of the Gospel. He expresses the same sentiments that he expressed towards the ‘foolish Galatians’ – and for the same reasons. The Corinthians were not immune to the influence of the Judaizers. Paul wrote that they were listening to ‘another Jesus preached’ and ‘another gospel.’ Paul feels once again that he has to prove his authority and establish his office as an apostle. It also appears that these false preachers had been accusing Paul of being an opportunist, only interested in getting money out of God’s people (cf. 11:13-18). Paul calls such preachers ‘false apostles, deceitful workers’ masquerading as, ‘ministers of righteousness.’ And he admonishes the Corinthians for allowing men to “bring you into bondage” (v.20). Does Paul mean the bondage of the ceremonial law? Yes he does! Because he clearly identifies these deceitful workers as the Judaizers:
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more. 2 Cor. 11:22, 23.
The letter to the Philippians was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. He was nearing the end of his life, and his struggle with the Judaizers had not abated at all – if anything it had become more intense and bitterer. Paul uses some very strong language indeed, in his attempt to warn the Philippians about the Judaizers:
Look out for those dogs [Judaizers, legalists], look out for those mischief-makers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. Phil. 3:2. The Amplified Bible.
Literally the Greek says ‘look out for the dogs.’ The use of the definite article points to a definite group of people. In Paul’s time dogs were mostly without masters, and wandered in the streets and fields. They were accounted unclean (see Lev.11:2-7), and to call someone a dog was a strong expression of contempt. Paul is holding up the Judaizers insistence on circumcision to derision. But there is also a deeper meaning. Paul’s point is that their attempts to mutilate the flesh, is also a mutilation of the true Gospel.
Paul then reiterates a point he made in Rom. 2:25-29, that true circumcision is of the heart, cutting out sin and not having ‘confidence in the flesh.’ He then launches into a lengthy description of his own life as a Judaizer only to conclude that it was all useless and worthless, reckoned only as ‘dung.’ Paul was willing to give it all up that he might “win Christ” (Phil. 3:3-8). Paul was able to make the transition from Judaism to Christianity. A significant proportion of the Jews were not able to understand, or accept the necessary changes.
One of Paul’s concerns in his letter to Titus is for “sound doctrine” (1:9). Then he explains why:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision… Titus 1:10.
Here, Paul clearly identifies the group that is troubling him the most – the Judaizers. He instructs Titus that this group must be opposed in no uncertain terms:
Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s (money’s) sake…. Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth…They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate (disloyal, rebellious). Titus 1:11, 14, 16. (cf. 1 Tim.1:3-11).
The issue of transition from Judaism to Christianity not only permeates the New Testament, a solid case could be made for the fact that this issue dominates the New Testament. There are two other letters that deal very extensively with the transition from Judaism to Christianity one is the letter to the Hebrews where the whole thrust of the letter is about the transition from the literal Jewish religion to the better and greater spiritual religion. The other letter is the Book of Romans which could just as well be entitled ‘the Letter to the Jews.’
The Letter to the Jews
When most people, who are well versed in the Letter to the Romans, are asked, what the subject matter of the letter is, they usually reply justification by faith or righteousness by faith. When asked what the key verse in Romans is, the usual reply is: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). However, if we ask another, deeper question: Why is the Letter to the Romans about righteousness by faith? – We find that this question usually goes unanswered.
Who is Paul addressing in this Letter?
It is always useful when analysing a letter, or any document, to know who the letter is addressed to. In this case Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is ostensibly addressed to the Romans, but who constituted the first Christian Church in Rome? The early church was very much a Jewish affair, and initially it was looked upon as just another sect inside Judaism (see Acts 24:5; 28:22). The Jewish Christians had all the leadership roles, and the membership was predominately Jewish. And of course Rome was no exception – when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans he knew he was writing almost exclusively to Jewish coverts to Christianity. This is why Paul, in the beginning of his letter says:
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. Rom. 1:13.
Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles) says that he regrets that he has been unable to visit the believers in Rome yet, and the reason he is regretful is because he wants to see some ‘fruit’ (coverts) from among the Gentiles. In other words, up to this point, there have been no converts (or very little) from the Gentiles at Rome.
When Paul begins his letter he addresses “the called of Jesus Christ” those “called to be saints” (Rom. 1:6, 7), in the second person. When he first mentions the Gentiles he refers to them in the third person (see 1:19 – 2:16). In other words, grammatically, Paul is speaking about the Gentiles, not to the Gentiles. The structure of Paul’s letter reveals that, he is aware that the congregation in Rome is almost exclusively Jewish. When Paul finally returns to the second person this is what he writes:
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law… Rom. 1:17.
These citizens of Rome “the called of Jesus Christ” are also called Jews and they ‘restest in the law” – only the Jews rest in the law. Elsewhere in this same letter Paul says to his readers that they “know the law” (Rom. 7:1). Only the Jews “know the law.” There can be no doubt that Paul is writing to the Jews and this is why the letter to the Romans, could be well served, with a subtitle – ‘The letter to the Jews.’
The Jews do not understand Righteousness by Faith
Therefore, yes, Paul is writing to the Roman Christians, but these Christians at Rome are almost exclusively Jews. Therefore, this is the reason why Paul writes about righteousness by faith, because it is the Jews who do not understand righteousness by faith. The key verse of this letter is not “the just shall live by faith” it should be:
For they [the Jews] being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10:3.
It was the Jews who were confused about salvation. They believed they were saved by their connection to Abraham and keeping the law. This is why Paul labours in this letter, with long lengthy arguments, contrasting law and grace. This is why he draws on Israelite/Jewish history as illustrations to prove his points, because he is writing to Jews – Jews who will be impressed by evidence from their own past, such as, even the revered Abraham being justified by faith/righteousness (see Rom. 4:1-5).
The reason why Paul begins this letter with a detailed argument for grace and righteousness by faith, is because, he is preparing the way for what he wants to say later in the letter. Paul is writing this letter to the Jews to explain why God has rejected the nation of Israel and the Jews, as His chosen people. Paul begins with grace and righteousness by faith, because it is these things that have caused the Jews to fail and be rejected. The lack of these things in their lives is simply another way of saying, that they did not allow their necks to be turned, or their hearts to be opened and allow the Holy Spirit to come in and teach them true righteousness.
We will also see that these Jews are a stumbling block to the success of the Gospel. Paul wants to see some fruit among the Gentiles in Rome, because up to the point of writing the letter, there have been no conversions of the Gentiles (or very little). And one of the main reasons why there is no fruit is because the Jewish Christians in receipt of this letter are one of the main reasons why there is no fruit. Their understanding of the Gospel is a stumbling block to the success of the Gospel. They need to be instructed about what constitutes true righteousness, they need to understand the changed status of the Jews, and they need to recognize that God’s grace is now extended to the Gentiles. When these things are understood, there will be fruit among the Gentiles. This is the purpose of the letter – to help Jews understand, so that both Jews and Gentiles can be saved.
The Letter to the Jews
Paul starts getting into the issues by pointing out that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). Then he launches into a lengthy description of the terrible things that people do when they reject this faith (Rom. 1:18-32). He then begins to reprove his readers, because Paul is convinced that those who profess to belong to God can do the same evil things, by deceiving themselves with excuses:
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. Rom. 2:1.
This must have been disturbing news for these Jews – fancy being accused of doing the same things as the Gentiles – and there is more to come. Paul then takes the opposite tack and says that some Gentiles are even accepted by God, because they “do by nature the things contained in the law” (Rom. 2:14). Imagine that! Gentiles keeping the law! But there is even worse to come. Paul now moves in for the kill. These self-righteous Jews pride themselves on their perfect law keeping and they love to preach it to others. Paul totally deflates them by saying:
And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Rom. 2:19-25.
Later Paul would add, “there is none righteous, no, not one”…. “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10; 23). But, what Paul has said so far is certainly sufficient to get the attention of these Jews. Paul is telling them that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of the example the Jews were setting. This is why there is no fruit among the Gentiles. Paul accuses these Jews who pride themselves on keeping the law, of being law-breakers themselves. If this accusation that they themselves were law breakers did not stir them up, Paul’s notion that, the Gentiles would actually judge them, instead of the other way around surely would:
And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? Rom. 2:27.
Now that Paul has their total attention, he concludes his argument, so far, and proceeds to make his main point, in this section of the letter:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Rom. 2:28, 29.
In other words, Paul is telling the Jews to forget their literalist attitude of trusting in the outward performance of rules and regulations, but concentrate on internalizing the law, as implanted by the Holy Spirit in the heart/mind. It is time to stop practicing a literal religion and start practicing a spiritual one.
Paul of course, was not only a master theologian he was also a master psychologist. Having brought his readers down, he now builds them up: “What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there in circumcision?” (Rom. 3:1). Paul answers these rhetorical questions by assuring the Jews that they have inherited a precious legacy – because the Word of God was committed into their care. However, after stripping away their self-righteousness, and comforting them somewhat, he now begins to explain to his readers what true righteousness is, as opposed to the false. This section of the letter covers six chapters, from three to eight. Paul’s argument is very simple: it is not the law that makes us righteous – it is trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul asks his Jewish readers:
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? Rom. 4:9.
Paul answers his own question and points out that both Jew and Gentile believers are united in Abraham, because Abraham was made righteous with God, through faith, before he was circumcised. Therefore, “Abraham… is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). Abraham becomes the spiritual father of both Jew and Gentile. All who choose to exercise the same faith that Abraham had, become the spiritual children of Abraham, whether they are Jew or Gentile. In making this argument with Abraham, who is so revered by the Jews, Paul has cleverly tied the Jews and Gentiles together. He is preparing the way for further evidence that both Jew and Gentile were now brothers and sisters in Christ, in one Church.
For our purposes, it is not necessary to examine all the content of chapters three to eight. These chapters are dealing with the role of righteousness by faith in the science of salvation, and contrasted with false understanding, such as righteousness by works. This is a crucial part of Paul’s argument, but it is also just an intermediatory stage, on the way to Paul’s goal – the rejection of the Jews.
The Rejection of the Jews
Leaving his readers thoroughly persuaded that we are all heirs of salvation through faith in Christ, and that we can have regeneration in our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul is now able to take up the subject of the status of the Jews. He devotes three chapters to the subject (chapters nine to eleven), and indeed, it is fair to say that much of what Paul has already addressed in the letter is to prepare the ground for this controversial subject – controversial then, for the early Church, and even more controversial today.
What Paul concerns himself with, from chapter nine, through to eleven is this: Why is it, that the Jews, God’s chosen people, have so largely rejected the Gospel? If the Gospel brings sure salvation to God’s elect, why are His chosen people Israel, not found among the heirs of this salvation? If the good news of salvation is the fulfilment of the promises made to Israel, then surely it should meet with the approval of those for whom it was especially intended? But instead, it has stirred most of them up, to bitter opposition.
Paul has been preparing the way, for his discussion of this difficult and delicate question, by stressing the fact that, though the Gospel is for both Jew and Gentile, it is for the Jew first (see Rom. 1:16, 2:10). But he has also emphasized that God is no respecter of persons (see Rom. 2:11) and that the Jews especially have been guilty of sin (see Rom. 2:17-29). He has devoted a whole chapter to proving that the Gospel of salvation by faith is taught in, and well supported by the Old Testament (see chap. 4). In the beginning of chapter three, he even began to consider the problem (the current status of the Jews) directly, but his full discussion of the question has been reserved for chapters nine, ten and eleven. An outline of the three chapters is as follows:
9:1-3 Paul first affirms his love and sorrow for his own people.
9:6-13 He then declares that the cause of their rejection is not the failure of God’s promises to them.
9:14-29 Is there any injustice on the part of God in this matter?
9:30-10:21 The fault lies in their rejection of righteousness which is of faith.
11:1-10 But Paul does not describe their condition as hopeless. He goes on to speak of salvation of ‘a remnant.’
11:11-22 The Gentiles join the Jewish remnant.
11:33-36 All of which is evidence of the wisdom and glory of God.
Paul begins this discussion with a deep concern for his fellow Jews:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Rom. 9:1-3.
Here we see that Paul is sorrowing because so few of his kinsmen have accepted Jesus as their Saviour. Notice how he distinguishes these people, from another group of Israelites that he is about to mention – these Israelites, these Jews, these descendants of Abraham are according to the ‘flesh.’ In other words, they do not possess, and they do not profess the same faith as Abraham. They are only his fleshly descendants, not his spiritual descendants.
Paul writes two verses about how these fleshly Jews had been blessed by God, then he continues:
Not as though the Word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Rom. 9:6.
What is Paul saying here? He is saying: don’t think for a moment that just because the Jews have rejected Christ, that God’s revealed purpose has failed. Just because the present ‘so called Israelites’ have rejected Christ that does not necessarily mean that God’s promises to the fathers of the original Israelites have failed. Paul is saying, I want you to understand that those who were born Jews are not necessarily true Israelites at all. In other words, literal Israelites are not necessarily, true Israelites. And why are they not true Israelites? Because, Paul continues:
They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Rom. 9:8.
We need to note Paul’s very clear statement, ‘the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.’ This statement is just as relevant today as it was in the days when Paul wrote it. The Jew living today, who claims the blessing of God, because of his fleshly descent from Abraham, is just another sinner in need of Jesus. Even though he is a Jew he has no special privileges. All mankind can only be saved in God’s appointed manner:
For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12.
These people who are not the children of God, are contrasted with a group of people who are the children of God. The people who are the children of God, are called, ‘the children of the promise.’ What is this promise?
This is the word of promise, at this time will I come and Sarah shall have a son. Rom. 9:9.
In Romans 9:8, Paul is quoting from Genesis 18:10, 14. This promised son is referring to the long awaited Isaac. What was so important about Isaac? If we go back to Genesis we will see that God promised Abraham that he would have a son, but the son never seemed to come. Abraham and Sarah grew older and older, and they began to reason that God must need some help, so they resorted to the devices of men, and procured Ishmael, according to the ‘flesh’ through Hagar, Sarah’s maid. God allowed all this to happen, and He simply said, No! This is not the son – Sarah will have a son.
Finally, in their old age Sarah and Abraham had a son, according to the promise – God’s promise. The arrival of Isaac, in Sarah and Abraham’s old age made him a miracle child. And God said to Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen.21:12). That is, the descendants of Isaac would be the true children of God and not the descendants of Ishmael!
Is it therefore the seed (descendants) of Abraham that are important here? No! it is the seed (descendants) of Isaac that are the true Israel of God:
They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Rom. 9:8.
Ishmael’s descendants are thus excluded, (this does not mean that they cannot be saved). Thus, the true descendants are according to the promise (God’s works), as opposed to the descendants of the flesh (Abraham’s works).
What is the point that Paul is trying to make here? Paul is using the story of Isaac’s birth as an illustration. If it had not been for the divine promise and the intervention of God, Isaac would not have been born. This is consistent with the New Testament principle of being born again. Just as Isaac was a miracle child, because of the intervention of God, in like manner, we too, are miracle children being born again because of the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Because it took God’s intervention to procure the miracle child, Paul continues to deduce the principle that a mere connection with the Jewish race ‘according to the flesh’ does not necessarily imply a share in the promise any more than it did in the days of Isaac and Ishmael.
In verses 10-13, Paul gives a still clearer illustration of the same principle. It might be objected that the election of Isaac and the rejection of Ishmael are easily understood on the basis that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, whereas Hagar was but a bondwoman. But the choice of Jacob over Esau could not be explained this way, for their origins were identical. The twins had for their father Isaac, one of the patriarchs of the chosen people. Esau was the first-born of the two, but it was Jacob who was chosen to be the progenitor of the nation through which God planned to fulfil His divine plan:
And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. Rom. 9:10-13.
By mentioning, yet again, another illustration from Jewish history, Paul is emphasizing again to the Jews the vital fact, that mere works and mere physical membership in the chosen nation do not bind or oblige God, to bless with favour and privilege. It was necessary for Paul to emphasize this point strongly because the Jews had misunderstood and abused their covenant relationship with God. By referring to the history of the patriarchs Paul shows that God’s choice of spiritual Israel, in view of the failure of the Jews (literal Israel0 to fulfil the divine purpose, is fully consistent with His past dealings. God is not being untrue or unfair to any. In calling upon the Christian church to accomplish His purposes for the world, God is following the same principle He originally employed when He selected the Israelites and rejected the Edomites (Esau’s descendants) and when he chose Isaac and not Ishmael.
In both illustrations employed by Paul there is a first born and a second born. Esau and Ishmael were the first-born but the inheritance did not go to them. In both cases the rights of the first-born were overridden by a higher purpose. Paul’s point is that the same thing has happened in the transition from the Jewish Church to the Christian Church. The first-born church – the Israelite/Jewish Church, has lost the ‘birth right’ to the second-born Church – the Christian Church.
The Letter to the Jews
After Paul says that God chose the second-born Jacob, over the first born Esau, this naturally raises a question. Is God being arbitrary? Is God being unfair? Therefore, Paul feels the necessity to digress somewhat to answer this question (from Rom. 9:14). But the digression is only apparent as we shall see. This question, about God being fair or not, leads to other questions which are relevant to our pursuit of the question who is Israel?
Pre-destination verses Free Will
Some have studied this section of the Bible and concluded that God pre-destines some to salvation and others to damnation. However, this forces the Bible to contradict itself, and impugns the love of God. The Scriptures testify that God wishes all to be saved:
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Eze. 33:11.
… (God) will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim. 2:4.
… (God is) not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet. 3:9.
Salvation is offered freely to all. But not all accept the Gospel invitation. Salvation is not forced upon us, against our will. If we choose to oppose and resist God’s purpose, we can and most do so. Divine foreknowledge, in no way excludes human liberty. Nowhere does Paul or any other Bible writer, suggest that God has predestined certain people to be saved and certain others to be lost, regardless of their own choice in the matter.
Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?
Oh, but what about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, someone might ask, doesn’t the Bible say that God did that? Yes it does! But the same Bible also speaks of Pharaoh hardening his own heart (see Ex. 7:13-11:10). In answering these objections it must first be pointed out, that in the Bible, God often gets the blame for what He does not prevent – just as He does today. God does not intervene in all situations – that would violate another firmly established Biblical principle – “we reap what we sow” (Gal. 6:7). It would also violate the principle of free will, which must operate in God’s government otherwise God’s love could only extend to the manufacturing of robots, not creatures that could love Him in return.
However, creating such creatures involved risk – the risk of disobedience and sin. The command not to eat of the Tree of Life carried with it the unspoken right, the choice, to break the commandment. God did not intervene to prevent Adam and Eve from exercising their free will. If God had intervened He could also have stopped His only begotten Son from dying on the Cross. The fact that, God allowed Adam and Eve to disobey, guaranteed that Christ would suffer a terrible death. This demonstrates that free will and the right to choose, is the foundation principle to the governance of His universe.
Similarly, God did not prevent the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and therefore, in a sense, one could say that God was responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The process works like this: – just as God sends the rain and the sunshine on both the righteous and the wicked, it is we, who determine, to what use, we put His blessings. God sends the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to work on everyone’s heart and just as the sun will melt wax and yet harden clay, so too, does the action of the Spirit melt some hearts and harden others. The action of the Spirit does not cause the hardening, it is the condition of the material worked upon that, determines the outcome.
When the Holy Spirit ‘speaks’ to the ‘heart’ of an individual, that individual must steel or harden his own heart if he chooses to resist the Spirit’s prompting. Each time the Spirit is rejected, so is the heart that much more hardened, making it harder and harder for that heart to be reached. Because the attitude adopted is a ‘hard’ attitude, the heart is hardened. This was the experience of Pharaoh. In one sense it is possible to speak of God hardening his heart because God was actively trying to break through to him. But Pharaoh chose not to respond, so ultimately he was responsible for hardening his own heart. It is only in this sense that we can speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, or anyone else’s heart.
Did God Harden the Hearts of the Jews?
The reason why Paul needs to discuss these issues is because the same hardening of the heart that happened to Pharaoh also happened to the Jews. But just as God was not responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, He was also not responsible for the hardening of the Jews hearts. The majority of the Jews chose out of their own free will to reject Christ:
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Jn.1:11.
So, this is the next point that Paul wants to deal with. Why did this happen? Why did the majority of the Jews reject their Saviour? Paul begins his explanation by expressing his anguish for the lost state of his physical brethren:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Rom. 10:1, 2.
Please note that Paul reiterates what he said previously, that he is grieving over the lost state of his physical brethren. He says his desire is that they might be saved – which must mean that they are not saved. Paul then explains why they are not saved. They are not saved because they established their own system of righteousness:
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10:3.
And this is exactly what Jesus accused them of; giving up God’s appointed salvation, for their own concocted ideas of salvation, when He said:
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? Matt. 15:3.
Jesus also explained what the consequences are when man abandons the will of God for his own ‘user friendly religion.’ He quoted what God said to Isaiah because this was a problem that started hundreds of years before the arrival of Christ:
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matt. 15:7-9.
We can only be saved in God’s appointed manner. We cannot go into the religious market place and pick and mix our own religion, choosing only those things that we are comfortable with. We have to conform to all those things that come with a ‘thus saith the Lord’ – anything else is human hubris, arrogance and delusion. Jesus made this very clear when he said:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matt. 7:21.
The Jews were never able to learn what the will of God was because they never allowed their necks to be turned or their hearts to be opened, so that, the Holy Spirit could come in and teach them the will of God. When they demonstrated that they would not change with the crucifixion of their Messiah and the stoning of the first Christian martyr (Stephen) that is when they were rejected as the chosen instrument of the divine plan. Henceforth God would turn to the Gentiles to fulfil the plan.
When Paul began his ministry, he began one of his first sermons thus: “Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” Acts 13:16. He concluded this sermon by saying:
It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. Acts 13:46, 47.
The Jewish Remnant
But someone will say, “doesn’t the Bible say that God did not cast away His people?” And the reference given is Rom. 11:1. However, this question is a product of confusion over what constitutes the remnant, which is mentioned in the same context. Paul’s first reference to a remnant occurs in chapter 9. He quotes the prophet Isaiah:
Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. Rom. 9:27.
Here we see that it was prophesied that the great majority of the nation of Israel would be lost, only a remnant, [the remaining piece – a small part of the whole] would be saved. What then is the remnant? And who is it that constitutes this remnant. Paul leaves us in no doubt. He begins his discussion of the remnant by saying:
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Rom. 11:1,2.
Paul is thus firmly including himself in this remnant, and then he goes on to explain what this remnant is by quoting the experience of Elijah. Elijah lived during a time of great apostasy, and he thought he was the only true believer left. But God assured him that:
I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Rom. 11:4.
Paul then makes his point that, the thing that happened in Elijah’s time has happened again. Namely, after a prolonged period of apostasy only a remnant of the Jewish nation has survived in a saved spiritual condition.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Rom. 11:5.
Paul further explains that although Israel failed, God’s election did not fail. In other words, what Paul is advocating, is the fact that, the Jewish believers in Christ separated themselves from the main body. It is this small group of believers that constitute the remnant. The rest were blinded. This is why Paul says that God has not cast away His people, because this remnant of Jewish believers was elected to constitute the nucleus of the new Christian Church. And this is why Paul includes himself, so emphatically in this group. The remnant was composed of literal Jews, who chose at this time, to join the newly established Christian Church of God. Paul definitely teaches that the rest of the original/physical Israelites were cast away. Later in this discourse, he says that the fall of the Jews means that God has opened the door for the Gentiles:
For if the casting away of them (the literal/unbelieving Jews) be the reconciling of the world… Rom. 11:15.
This is exactly the fulfilment of yet another parable that Jesus told, the Parable of the Marriage of the Kings Son. Where the original citizens of the kingdom were invited to celebrate the wedding but they refuse to go, so the King ordered his servants to go out and invite new citizens to come. (see Matt. 22:1-14).
Salvation for the Jews
However, all is not lost for the Jews – although the Jews have been rejected, as the chosen representatives of God that does not mean that they cannot be saved as individuals. Paul uses the same illustration of the tree that has been cut down, that John the Baptist and Jesus used to describe the Jewish nation. By the time of Paul’s writing the tree has already been cut down. But there is always a stump remaining in the ground after a tree is cut down. In this case the stump represents the remnant – the Jews that had ‘ears to hear’ and recognised Jesus as their Messiah. The branches that were cut off represent the stiff necked, hard hearted Jews who did not have ‘ears to hear’ and rejected Jesus as their Messiah.
Paul says that, because the branches have been cut off, then this means that the Gentiles ‘like a wild olive tree’ can be grafted in:
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree. Rom. 11:17.
Because Paul is now speaking about the Gentiles he switches to speaking directly to the Gentiles in the second person – “and thou being a wild olive tree.”
Paul says that God is doing this (putting Jew and Gentile into one ‘tree’) so that He can actually save the Jews too. God is bringing the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God, so that, the Jews might be provoked to jealously. And that they might seek to be grafted in again. And Paul says, that God will allow this because it is the Jews natural home:
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? Rom. 11:23, 24.
Yes, the Jews can be grafted in again, but please notice the condition: “if they abide not still in unbelief.” In other words, the condition of belonging to God’s Kingdom (the olive tree), is belief in Jesus. This condition applies to both Jew and Gentile. The Jews do not get some sort of free pass because they are the descendants of Abraham or they inherit the promises made to the patriarchs. The condition of entry is and always will be acknowledging Jesus as one’s personal Saviour. There are no exceptions to this rule. Therefore if there are Jews living today who ‘remain in unbelief’ they cannot be a part of the Kingdom of God.
Paul continues his argument by stating that the unbelieving Jews have been “blinded.” And they remain that way “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – which means all who can be saved have been saved. This is why the next thing that Paul says is:
And so all Israel shall be saved… Rom. 11:26.
The modern day exponents of the futurist [dispensational] school of interpretation find in “all Israel” the greatest evidence for their fraudulent theology. They believe “all Israel” refers to the conversion of the Jewish nation at the end of time. Is this what Paul is teaching? What does he mean by ‘all?’ Paul has already expressed his anguish over the situation of the Jews (see Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1; 11:14). He is obviously distressed because the Jews are his family “my kinsmen according to the flesh.” But Paul has spent his entire time preaching and writing to prove that he has “kinsmen according to the Spirit” as well. Regarding the kinsmen according to the flesh, he has already expressed his hope that ‘SOME of them’ (Rom. 11:14) might be saved. Paul’s hopes are limited to SOME not all. It is evident from this, that he believed that many would reject all efforts to save them, and that accordingly he never envisioned the conversion of the entire nation.
When this Scripture is properly understood it can be immediately recognized as a logical conclusion to Paul’s argument. It is perfectly consistent with what has gone before. Here the little word ‘so’ is important. It helps us understand who “all Israel” is. The word ‘so’ in the Greek is ‘houtos’ – it means, ‘in this way – ‘in this manner.’ In other words, in the manner just described “all Israel” will be saved. Therefore, “all Israel” is referring to the tree mentioned just previously, where the Gentiles have been grafted into the stump and where Jews “who abide not in unbelief” have also been grafted in. And thus when the grafting process is complete and all who can be saved are saved “all Israel” will be saved. “All Israel” is therefore not referring to some future mass conversion of the Jews as some prophetic propositions have it.
Who are the Elect?
But does not Paul write that the Jews are the elect, because of the love that God has for their fathers? The verse in question is this one:
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes. Rom. 11:28.
In this verse Paul first says that the Jews are the enemies of the Gospel. Are we then supposed to believe that enemies of the Gospel are to be included in the elect? The key to understanding what Paul is saying here is in understanding the Biblical definition of the elect. Peter provides us with a good definition of who the elect are, when he wrote to the Christian Church at large:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 1 Pet. 1:1, 2.
According to Peter’s definition, the elect are those who are being sanctified, by the Spirit and the blood of Christ, in order to obey Christ. This cannot possibly include those Jews who “abide still in unbelief.” So, what does Paul mean when he says, “but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes?” He is simply saying that the Jews are still loved by God because He loved their fathers, and that he wants to see them among the elect.
Paul has already mentioned, that a Deliverer would come and “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). This is an obvious reference to Jesus. The reference to Jacob is obviously a reference to the descendants of Jacob. Further, it is stated that, this promised deliverance will take away their sins (see Rom. 11:27). When is it that one’s sins are forgiven? The answer is when one receives Jesus as his personal Saviour. The next question is: How do these Jews, the ones beloved for the sake of their fathers, enter into this saving relationship? How do these Jews enter into a saving relationship with God? How does the Deliverer turn away their sins? Answer: by Christians bringing them the good news of the Gospel. Notice that they are not saved because they are loved, they are loved and then they are saved. In other words, God still loves the Jews and He is working to save them. But the same conditions apply to their salvation as to anyone else. Somebody has to introduce them to the Gospel, and they have to accept it.
Paul goes on to explain how this happens. He says that the Gentiles used to be disobedient, but now, they have obtained mercy because of the Jews disobedience. Likewise, the Jews can also obtain mercy because of the mercy shown to the Gentiles. This logic is in keeping with what Paul said before that the Jews might find Jesus because the Gentiles have found him (see Rom. 11:1, 14). What this means is that the roles are now reversed. God’s intention was that Israelites/Jews would be so blessed that the Gentiles would seek to be likewise blessed. Paul is arguing here in Romans that the roles are now reversed. It is now the Gentiles who are going to be blessed (because of their obedience) and it is now the Jews who would come seeking the blessings. The Amplified Bible explains it this way:
Just as you were once disobedient and rebellious towards God but now have obtained [His] mercy, through their disobedience, so they also now are being disobedient [when you are receiving mercy], that they in turn may one day, through the mercy that you are enjoying, also receive mercy [that they may share the mercy which has been shown to you – through you as messengers of the Gospel to them]. Rom. 11:30, 31. Amplified Bible.
Paul finishes by saying that this is a “mystery” (Rom. 11:33). In other words, it will not be clearly understood until it is fulfilled.
Israel and New Testament Interpretation
The enemy’s tactics to defeat the emerging Christian Church was to strangle it in its cradle. The instruments the enemy used to strangle the Church initially were the Jews and the Judaizers. The enemy’s tactics were so successful that Paul had an Elijah experience, where he was virtually standing alone against the Judaizers influence in the Church. In addition, there was constant Jewish harassment and persecution from outside of the Church. As a result of this pressure Paul obviously felt compelled to write some strong statements that can easily be misunderstood by readers living 2000 years later, and they have had a profound effect on interpreting the New Testament.
What was ‘Nailed to the Cross?’
Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church reveals one of these misunderstood passages of Scripture – misunderstood because many readers do not understand that Paul is counteracting the influence of the Judaizers. Paul begins his attack on the Judaizers by warning the Colossians thus:
And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. Col. 2:4.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Col. 2:8.
How do we know that Paul is referring to the Judaizers in these verses? We know Paul is warning the Colossians about the Judaizers because Paul proceeds to instruct the Colossians about the true meaning of circumcision:
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Col. 2:10, 11.
It is the Judaizers who were so concerned about circumcision. But Paul does not dwell any longer on the circumcision issue, in this instance, he wants to deal with another Judaizer issue which was plaguing the Church:
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. Col. 2:13, 14.
Those who believe that the Ten Commandments have been abolished use verse 14 to teach that the Ten Commandments have been ‘nailed to the cross.’ But this is not what Paul is referring to at all. Paul is tackling the Judaizers second obsession (after circumcision). Paul is now addressing the Judaizers insistence that the Jewish ceremonial law needed to be observed by all new converts, including the Gentiles.
That, Paul is referring to the ceremonial law is, evident for several reasons. Firstly, he does not use the word law at all. Rather what was nailed to the cross Paul calls ‘the handwriting of ordinances.’
The Greek word for ‘handwriting’ is cheirographon and means: ‘a document written by hand.’ There is only one such document of ordinances, written by hand, in the Bible and that is the ceremonial law written by Moses:
And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book… That Moses commanded the Levites… saying, take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God… Deut. 31:24-26.
Notice how there is a clear distinction between the ceremonial law and the Ten Commandments. God wrote the Ten Commandments with his own finger on stone. Moses wrote the ceremonial law, by hand, in a book. The Ten Commandments were placed in the Ark of the Covenant, directly under the mercy seat, indicating the two chief principles of God’s government – law and mercy or grace. The ceremonial law was placed in the side of the Ark, indicating an inferior and temporary status.
It is indeed a peculiar thing that, many believe, the only part of Scripture written on stone, by God Himself, is now abolished. It is also important to realise that this notion that the Ten Commandments have been abolished is something that historically the Christian Church never taught. It is only in recent time that this doctrine has become popular.
We can further prove that Paul is referring to the ceremonial law because he calls ‘the handwriting’ that was nailed to the cross ‘ordinances.’ The Ten Commandments are never described as ordinances, but the ceremonial law is. For example when God gave instructions about the keeping of the Passover, He constantly called His instructions ordinances:
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial… ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever… And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread… observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever… And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever… This is the ordinance of the Passover. Ex. 12:13, 14, 17, 24, 43.
Other instructions concerning the ceremonial law are also described as ordinances. (For example, see Num. 9:12-14).
An ordinance is a term describing rules and regulations of local and limited application. An example would be a city ordinance, applicable locally and limited to a specific jurisdiction, and not applicable in neighbouring jurisdictions. Ordinances are also subject to change as circumstances change. For example, as cities grow they require parking ordinances to govern the limited space in cities, whereas small rural towns often have no parking ordinances at all. But the Ten Commandments are described as ‘laws.’ Laws are by definition universal and perpetual. An example would be laws of nature such as ‘the law of gravity.’ They cannot be abolished just as reality itself cannot be abolished.
The same irrevocable concept applies to moral law (which is what the Ten Commandments are). Moral law derives its authority from God Himself. Moral law is a reflection of the moral character of God Himself (this is why God wrote the Ten Commandments Himself). Therefore, in order to abolish the moral law (the Ten Commandments), one would have to abolish God Himself – this is why the Ten Commandments are irrevocable, permanent and perpetual – described by James as being the ‘perfect law of liberty’ and ‘the royal law’ (James 1:25; 2:8).
We can further prove that Paul is referring to the ceremonial law in Col. 1:14, because, Paul states, that it is this law, “that was against us, which was contrary to us.” The Greek word for contrary is ‘hupenantios’ and its meaning is ‘adversary.’ Now, which handwriting or document or law was the ‘adversary’ of the people of God? We find the answer in Deuteronomy:
And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book… That Moses commanded the Levites… saying, take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death? Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. Deut. 31:24-29.
Notice how Moses associates the necessity of a law that is a witness against them with the stiff necked condition of the Israelites – and how Moses defines stiff-necked as being the same as rebellion. Therefore the people needed an ‘adversary’ or ‘witness’ to testify against them when they rebelled. They needed to be notified when they were in a rebellious condition. It was the ceremonial law that was the measuring stick of the covenant. It was the ceremonial law that would judge, as to whether, the Israelites would keep the terms and conditions, of the covenant or not. The ‘adversary’ is used in the sense of a defendant appearing in court, for an offence, and the ceremonial law being a witness against him. There is no doubt that this is what Paul is referring to in Col. 2:14, when he wrote about the law ‘that was against us, which was contrary to us.’
Once we understand that Col 2:13, 14 are referring to the ceremonial law the meaning of the next two verses becomes very obvious:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Col. 2:16, 17.
Many have erroneously concluded that we can now eat and drink whatever we like and that the Seventh-day Sabbath has been abolished on the basis of these two verses. That, this is not the case is, obvious for the following reasons: the things that are abolished here are qualified and defined by the sentence ‘which are a shadow of things to come.’ Therefore, the meat and drink offerings mentioned here are the ones that pointed forward to Christ’s sacrifice and ministry. (See Lev. 23:13, 18, 37; Num. 6:15; ch.15, 28). The ceremonial meat and drink offerings clearly belong to the category of pointing to Christ. Paul is not giving the Colossians permission to eat and drink whatever they want. What he is saying is that Christians are no longer obligated to carry out the requirements of the ceremonial law. These meat and drink offerings have met their fulfilment in Christ.
Likewise the type of sabbath under consideration is identified by the sentence ‘which are a shadow of things to come.’ The weekly Sabbath is a memorial of an event at the beginning of earth’s history. (See Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Hence, the ‘sabbath days,’ that Paul declares to be shadows pointing to Christ cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath designated by the fourth commandment. However, there is another type of sabbath that belonged to the category of ordinance and they were part of the ceremonial law written by the hand of Moses.
These ‘shadowy sabbaths’ are described in Leviticus. They fell on certain set days of the month – a different day of the week each year – as opposed to the regular seventh day Sabbath, always occurring on Saturday. Note how the ‘shadowy sabbaths’ are distinguished from the weekly Sabbath:
These are the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice drink offerings, everything upon his day, beside the Sabbaths of the Lord… Lev. 23:24-27.
In other words, a clear distinction is made between two different Sabbaths. One set of sabbaths are called “holy convocations” with rituals including drink offerings and meat offerings. These holy convocation/Sabbaths are “beside the Sabbaths of the Lord” indicating another set of Sabbaths, which are the seventh-day Sabbaths.
Thus, we see there is a clear distinction made, between the one type of sabbath that was destined to pass away and another type of Sabbath that was destined to last forever. The weekly Sabbath is an eternal memorial of creation. The ceremonial sabbaths being prophetic pictures of the role and mission of Christ, were abolished when they were fulfilled at the cross.
The ‘phrase which are a shadow’ is the key to the correct understanding of Col. 2:16. All the items the apostle lists in v.16 are ‘shadows’, or types, symbolizing the reality that is Christ. A shadow has no substance – it is cast by something substantial. (Compare the use of the word ‘shadow’ in Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1). The Jewish ceremonies were shadows cast by heavenly realities. Christ’s life, ministry, and kingdom are the reality – the portrayal of which, in the ceremonial law was only the shadow.
On this passage the well-known Presbyterian commentator, Albert Barnes, states the following:
There is no evidence from this passage that he (Paul) would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind… He had his eye on the great number of days which were observed by the Hebrews as festivals, as a part of their ceremonial and typical law, and not to the moral law, or the ten commandments. No part of the moral law – no one of the ten commandments could be spoken of as “a shadow of good things to come.” These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal application.
In contrast with the shadow, Jesus is the fullness of reality, this is why Paul wrote “but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). It is to Christ that every type points, and in Him that every symbol reaches its fulfilment. Jesus himself said:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Matt. 5:17.
In these verses Paul has completely removed the ground from beneath the feet of the Judaizers. They advocated a return to Judaic ceremonial requirements. The Apostle meets their arguments by asserting that the shadows have served their function now that Christ, the reality has come. In all this argument Paul is in no way minimizing the claims of the Ten Commandments or of the seventh-day Sabbath.
Ephesians Corroborates Colossians
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians corroborates what we have already found in Colossians. When Paul was writing about how the Gentiles were now accepted into the nation of Israel he also tells us that this was accomplished by abolishing the ceremonial law:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace. Eph. 2:13-15.
Notice how Paul, yet again, describes the ceremonial law in terms of ordinances – rules and regulations of limited application. It was the ceremonial law what made a Jew a Jew not he Ten Commandments. It was the ceremonial law that pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah – not the Ten Commandments. The Jews were supposed to keep the ceremonial law as a ‘witness’ to the nations of the world that the Messiah was coming. Once the Messiah had arrived the role of the ceremonial law was over. Now that the Messiah had come the ceremonial law was now a hindrance to the further progress of God’s Kingdom. When the ceremonial law was in place it created ‘enmity’ between Jew and Gentile (because of Jewish exclusiveness). Paul describes it here in Ephesians as a ‘wall of partition’ separating the two people leading to enmity. But now that the Messiah has come, He has ‘broken down’ the ‘wall of partition’ in His ‘flesh’ (by His sacrifice). By His sacrifice, Jesus ‘hath made both one’ – Jesus has made ‘of twain one new man’ – by the abolishing of the ceremonial law. In other words, there is no longer Jew or Greek – there is only the ‘one new man’ – thus ‘making peace’ in the church. As Paul said in Galatians:
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. Gal. 3:28.
Paul’s concern for Unity in the Church
There are many passages of Scripture that can be understood much better if one looks at them through the same lenses that Paul was using in his battle against the Judaizers. One such passage of Scripture is:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. Rom. 14:1-6.
After Paul has put the Jews and Gentiles together in ‘one tree’ (one Church) in Romans chapter 11, what would be a major concern that Paul would have? Two peoples who were formerly enemies now in the same church – what would Paul be concerned about? Yes, naturally, Paul would be concerned about unity, about the two very different peoples getting on together. Therefore, in Romans 14, Paul chooses two issues one that the Gentiles are very concerned about and one that the Judaizers are concerned about. The Gentile issue is about food sacrificed to idols and the Judaizers issue is about their insistence that Jewish holy days should still be observed. In both cases Paul calls both issues “doubtful disputations.” In other words, Paul says those who are weak in faith should be received (into the church) but do not argue with them over the issues that cause them to have weak faith.
The Gentile Issue
The Gentile nations were idolaters. In their societies it was customary for them to dedicate all their food to their gods especially the meat (considered to be the best food because, it was the most expensive). This posed a problem for Gentile converts because many of them believed they could not eat it (especially the meat). Therefore, some Gentile converts only ate ‘herbs’ (vegetables). Paul discusses this problem in more detail in 1 Corinthians chapter 8. There, he concludes that the Gentile who only eats vegetables is the ‘weaker brother’ because his faith does not extend to understanding that idols have no power in the world, and neither do the so-called gods they represent. Therefore, Paul’s point is that these ‘weaker brothers’ should be tolerated, but it is not worth arguing with them about it.
The Jewish Issue
After dealing with the Gentile Christian’s concerns about food sacrificed to idols, Paul then switches to Jewish Christian concerns about the ceremonial law – in this case specifically about Jewish holy days (of which there were many in the Jewish religion and most of them were called sabbaths). Paul points out that there were many different opinions about the observance (or non-observance) of these holy days. Paul’s solution to these ‘doubtful disputations’ is to allow everyone the freedom to make up their own minds about these issues – “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” In so doing, Paul is saying that these are non-consequential matters – which means, they are not necessary for salvation.
However, many have surmised from this passage of Scripture that is does not matter which days are kept or not kept. Therefore, the seventh-day Sabbath is no longer binding or necessary to be kept as a part of God’s will for His people. But this understanding is a superficial reading of the Scripture. Once the background story is understood – that Paul was constantly battling the influence of the Judaizers, then this passage of Scripture (and many others) are easily understood.
Israel and Prophecy
There are many prophetic passages of Scripture in the Bible. Many of these prophecies are about Israel. And many of these prophecies about Israel remain unfulfilled – or appear to be unfulfilled. Therefore, it often happens that, when people read these prophetic passages, pertaining to Israel, and realising they have been unfulfilled, they then expect and look for these prophesies to be fulfilled in the future. But who is Israel? Who will be the beneficiary of the promises and prophecies? Is it the literal nation of Israel – the nation that exists today, in the Middle East, bearing the name of Israel? Or is it spiritual Israel – the nation that exists worldwide bearing the name of Christian?
To answer these questions we need to ask another question. And the question is this: Are there conditions to God’s promises and prophecies? Or are God’s promises and prophecies totally unconditional? The best answer is found in the Book of Jeremiah:
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Jer. 18:5-10.
In this passage we first hear God claiming the right to do whatever He likes with Israel. Then we hear God informing us why He has the right to do whatever He likes with Israel. The basis of His dealing with nations is dependent on whether they do the will of God or not. If the nations obey Him, He will bless them. If they disobey Him, God will allow evil to befall them. God is clearly informing us here that, He is a conditionalist. In other words, all the promises and prophecies in the Bible are conditional. And what are they conditional upon? Answer: obedience.
When we read Scripture, we need to pay attention to the little word ‘if’. When the word if is used, it introduces a conditional clause. And the conditional clause is used to introduce a conditional sentence. And the conditional sentence is used to introduce a conditional statement. And the conditional statement is used to introduce a conditional promise or prophecy or agreement or contract or covenant. Gods’ promises/covenants are therefore, conditional – conditional on the terms of the promises/covenants being fulfilled. The terms of the promises/covenants are always compliance or obedience. For example, God, through Isaiah, has told us the same thing He said through Jeremiah:
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. Isa. 1:19, 20.
Please notice the little word ‘if.’ Parents often use the same conditional promises when they are dealing with their children. Such as: “if you do your homework properly, we’ll go out for ice cream tomorrow.” Unfortunately, the children never hear that little word ‘if.’ They never do their homework properly, but still expect the ice cream. The same lack of ‘ears to hear’ prevailed with God’s people – they never heard the little word ‘if’ but still expected the blessings. And the same principle applies to those who read Scripture, they read about the promises and prophecies, and never pay attention to the little word ‘if’ – so they wrongly conclude that the promises and prophecies still apply to the same people.
A classic example, of God’s conditional principle at work, is recorded in the story of Jonah. Jonah was tasked with going to Nineveh to warn the people that, God was going to destroy the city. But Jonah proved to be one of the greatest evangelists of all time, because the whole city heeded the warning and they repented. Therefore, because the Ninevites had ‘ears to hear’ and obeyed the message sent by God through Jonah – God then changed His mind and did not destroy the city.
Therefore, what we can conclude so far is that, just because God made promises and prophecies to physical Israel, it does not necessarily follow that physical Israel will inherit the promises and prophecies. We have already discovered that physical Israel disobeyed God much more than they obeyed Him. This rebellious attitude culminated in the crucifixion of their Messiah. This crime against Christ was the end of the road. The Israelites/Jews had reached the ultimate destination on a long road of rebellion. They were now going to suffer the consequences of their actions. One of the principles that operates in God’s universe is, “you reap what you sow” (Gal. 6:7). And Israel reaped what it sowed – it was rejected as the chosen nation of God.
Therefore, the promises and prophecies are now the inheritance of spiritual Israel. This is what Paul was referring to when he emphasised the point that the first born sons Ishmael and Esau did not gain the inheritance (as normally they should have), but that the second born sons, Isaac and Jacob, gained the inheritance. In this regard God is teaching us the same lesson that He taught Peter:
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34.
God is sovereign. He is not beholden to anyone, and He is not dependent on anyone. He is the potter and the whole of His creation, including mankind, is the clay:
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? Rom. 9:20-24.
The modern idea that the Jews are still the people of God and that unfilled Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled by them, owes its origins to one man, John Nelson Darby (founder of the Plymouth Brethren). Darby introduced new ideas into Christianity that had never been heard of before. These ideas are collectively known as dispensationalism and the Plymouth Brethren openly claim ownership of it, and the doctrines derived from it:
A number of doctrines that are now widely held within evangelical circles were first discovered by the Brethren (post 1830 AD or were promoted and propagated by the Brethren. In no particular order these include: pre-tribulational rapture, dispensationalism. Source: Plymouth Brethren: Theological contributions of the Brethren: FAQ #16)
The basic premise of Darby and Brethren doctrine is that the Kingdom (which belonged to the Jews) and the Church (which belonged to the Christians) were two separate entities with two separate histories or programs. They are separate because:
1. God was caught by surprise when the Jews rejected Christ. God was not expecting the Jews to reject Christ
2. Therefore, God had to come up with a new program to compensate for the Jews rejection of Christ. The new programme was the Christian Church.
3. Whilst the Christian Church is on earth the program of the Jews is suspended.
4. However, the Jewish program will be re-activated after the Christian Church has been raptured secretly to Heaven.
5. The Kingdom (the Jews) will remain on earth until the Second Coming, during which time the remaining unfilled Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled to them.
Darby was a great evangelist for dispensationalism and it has become wildly popular around the world, but especially in America, through the publication of the Scofield Bible (which is a Bible full of footnotes supporting dispensationalism).
Many critics of dispensationalism point out that these ideas are a very radicle departure from traditional Christian doctrine. If these ideas are true, the critics wonder why the Holy Spirit only revealed then to one man, in the period 1830 – 1840. Why did the Holy Spirit conceal such important information for 1800 years? The following is a sampling of such criticism:
Until brought to the fore through the writings and preaching and teaching of a distinguished ex-clergyman, Mr J. N. Darby, in the early part of the last century, it [rapture theology] is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon through a period of sixteen hundred years [230-1830 AD]. Harry Ironside, The Mysteries of God, 1908.
About 1830 a new school arose within the fold of Premillennialism that sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all premillennialist as established results, and to institute in their place a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before. The school I refer to is that of ‘The Brethren’ or ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ founded by J. N. Darby. Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, page 18.
Now, be it remembered, that prior to that date (1830s), no hint of any approach to such belief can be found in any Christian literature from Polycarp down…. Surely, a doctrine that finds no exponent or advocate in the whole history and literature of Christendom, for eighteen hundred years after the founding of the Church – a doctrine that was never taught by a Father or Doctor of the Church in the past – that has no standard Commentator or Professor of the Greek language in any Theological School until the middle of the Nineteenth century, to give it approval, and that is without a friend, even to mention its name amongst the orthodox teachers or the heretical sects of Christendom – such a fatherless and motherless doctrine, when it rises to the front, demanding universal acceptance, ought to undergo careful scrutiny before it is admitted and tabulated as part of ‘the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About The Lord’s Return, page 72-73).
Where did this fatherless and motherless doctrine come from? F. F. Bruce the foremost Brethren Bible scholar tells us that it was ‘plucked out of the air:’
Where did he [Darby] get it? The reviewer’s answer would be that it was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy. F. F. Bruce, Book Review of ‘The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin’ in The Evangelical Quarterly, (Vol. XLVII, No. 1).
Yes, the origins of dispensationalism are unbelievable and they are also un-Biblical. It is clearly un-Biblical to claim that God was surprised that the Jews rejected Jesus. They are talking about the God who knows everything about the future, even in reverse, from the end to the beginning:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Isa. 46:9, 10.
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Acts 15:18.
The concept of two separated peoples, one in a kingdom the other in a church is also un-Biblical. There is only one Kingdom and it is inhabited by Christians:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. Col. 1:13.
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father… I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ… Rev. 1:6, 9.
[The purpose is] that through the church the complicated, many-sided wisdom of God in all its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities (principalities and powers) in the heavenly sphere. Eph. 3:10. Amplified Bible.
The Christian Church is now the Kingdom of God, and it is through the Church, that God has now chosen to (as is his right) to demonstrate His wisdom to the universe. There is no mention of some additional entity such as a kingdom of the Jews waiting in the wings to re-emerge as God’s chosen people once more.
The New Physical Nation of Israel
However, a re-emerged kingdom of Jews is, exactly what the dispensationalists believe they have found, in the recently established nation, bearing the name of Israel, in Palestine. Dispensationalism received a huge boost in popularity when Zionism managed to create the new nation of the Jews in 1948. This achievement was touted as a great fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and the many prophecies predicting the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon (which were all fulfilled 2500 years ago), were fraudulently presented as applying to the Zionist project in Palestine.
Dispensationalism was even further boosted in 1967. During the 1948/49 war with the Arabs, the Zionists failed to capture East Jerusalem. But in the 1967 war they managed to capture the whole city including the site where the Jewish Temple once stood. This was heralded as a mighty fulfilment of a prophecy found in the Gospel of Luke.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Lu. 21:24.
There is no question that, when the context of Lu. 21:24 is examined, it is easily recognized that this verse is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70AD. Therefore, from 70AD onwards Jerusalem will be trodden down ‘until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’ – but who according to the New Testament is a Gentile?
Spiritual Kingdom Definitions
Just as we have already discovered that the New Testament definition of the temple is now referring to Christians, each one being a living stone in the Spiritual Temple (see Acts 15:1-16; 1 Cor. 3:15; 6:19, 20; Eph. 2:21, 22; 1 Pet. 2:5). And just as the New Testament definition of the temple has changed, so too, in the Spiritual Kingdom, other definitions also change.
We have also already seen that a true Israelite in no longer ‘according to the flesh’ – but a true Israelite is according ‘to the promise’ (see Rom. 9:1-13). In other words a true Israelite is a Christian.
We have also already discovered that a true Jew is not ‘outward’ (physically circumcised) – but a true Jew is ‘inward’ (spiritually circumcised) [see Rom. 2:28, 29). In other words a true Jew is one who has been ‘born again’ (having ones heart ‘circumcised’ is the same as being born again – or having ones heart, broken open by the Holy Spirit). A true Jew is, therefore, a Christian.
In the same way other things are re-defined by the Holy Spirit. For example, what is true New Testament circumcision?
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Col. 2:10, 11.
Here we are told that true circumcision is spiritual circumcision. True circumcision is having sin cut out of our hearts/minds/lives.
In the same way the term ‘gentile’ has been re-defined by the Holy Spirit:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. Eph. 2;11, 12.
Paul is referring to Christians “being in time past Gentiles in the flesh” and at that time they were outside the commonwealth of Israel. And what is it that kept them out of Israel? The reason given is because “at that time ye were without Christ.” Therefore, a New Testament Gentile is anyone “without Christ.”
Therefore, with our new understanding, of how the Holy Spirit takes things formerly understood to be literal, and turns them into spiritual things, we can now understand that Jerusalem will be trodden down of by those who are “without Christ.” Therefore, when the Zionists completed the capture of Jerusalem in 1967, they were just another conquering power, in a long line of conquering powers, “without Christ.” In other words, they were just another non- Christian occupier of Jerusalem, of many others that have done so in the past. And if a new literal temple is ever built there on the site of the old, it will not be God who builds it. This is because the current Zionist regime that, occupies the former literal land of the Israelites, is an illegitimate regime, and the most religious of all the Jews agree, and they reject the current state of Israel, and they actually want to see it dismantled.
Israel rejected by Jews
Not all Jews are Zionists. In fact the most devout of all the Jews – the Hasidim, totally reject the modern state of Israel. In fact, the Hasidim actively agitate for the peaceful dismemberment of the state of Israel, and that all Jews should leave Palestine. They actually hold large public protests around the world, against the state of Israel. These protests can be viewed on the internet, but they are never reported in the main stream media.
The reason why the Hasidim are so vehemently opposed to the modern state of Israel is because they say that, man created the state of Israel, not God. Therefore, according to the Hasidim, Israel is not a blessing to the Jewish people, but an abomination – and it is certainly not a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And of course they are right. The Zionists created Israel, not for religious reasons they created it for political reasons – to be a safe haven for Jews.
For hundreds of years the Jews would solemnly say, every Passover, “next year in Jerusalem.” But the Zionist Jews became tired of saying this every year and decided they would no longer wait for God to return them, but that they would do it themselves. This is well known to the Hasidim and that is why they oppose the Zionists and the state of Israel. It is also well known to others:
Until 1800 the centuries had gone by in passive waiting for supernatural intervention. The prayer “Next year in Jerusalem” had marked the passing of each year since 70 A.D. like the dripping of water on a stone. But now it began to dawn on first one and then another that only their own hands on their bootstraps would pull Israel out of exile. “The Jewish people must be their own Messiah,” wrote the historian Heinrich Graetz in 1864. Many forces were at work in the nineteenth century to produce this revolutionary idea. Bible and Sword, Barbara Tuchman, Phoenix Press, London, 1984, p. 225.
The ‘forces at work’ to achieve the Jewish dream coalesced into the political/religious ideology known as Zionism. Unfortunately, there is also such a thing as Christian Zionism. These are Christians who believe in dispensationalism and who also believe it is their God-given duty to support the modern state of Israel. They believe they need to support the state of Israel because, it is of God, and it is a fulfilment of prophecy and that most of the last day events will occur there. What they do not realise is that the Jewish Zionists call the Christian Zionists ‘useful idiots.’ This is because the Zionist know the truth. They know how the modern State of Israel came into being. So do the Hasidim. They both know that God had nothing to do with it – they both know that it is not a fulfilment of prophecy. Only the dispensational/Zionist Christians believe these things. No wonder that after Jesus was asked, what it would be like at the end of the world, He replied, “take heed that no man deceive you” (Matt. 24:4).