Monday, December 22, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Romans 11 describes the relationship of Gentiles to Jews in regards to the Gospel. Let's see if it helps or hurts the preterist's claim that the Jewish Age has ended.

This is another essay in a series exploring the relationship of Jews, Gentiles, and the Gospel. To start at the beginning click here.

Paul now turns his words directly to the Gentile Christians in Rome. So much of Romans is directed to Jewish and Gentile believers, but now he has a message just to the Gentiles.

Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. (Romans 11:12-16)

How can one read the end of the Jewish Age in these words of Paul? 

  • There is acknowledgment of their failure immediately followed by a promise of their fulfillment. Not only that, but the fulfillment of the Gospel among the Jews will bring greater riches for the world.
  • Paul is an apostle to the Gentiles, but if by that ministry he is able to move some of his countrymen, i.e. fellow Jews, to jealousy and salvation, Paul has magnified his ministry.
  • Paul compares their future acceptance of the Gospel as nothing less than life from the dead.
  • The Jews are holy, chosen by God as a distinct group of people on the earth. They provided the leaven that is now working in the lump of the Gentile nations. Since the first piece of dough is holy, so is the whole lump.
  • The entire gospel grows from the root of the old covenants and centuries of carrying and discussing knowledge of God and His ways. They are holy and therefore branches getting their nourishment from the root are also holy.

There is not a hint that the Great Tribulation, which lies ahead, would be made great and awful, because the Jews lost their station with God. Such a doctrine emerges from a pride of station that Paul commands that we Gentiles not take on. Here is what he says:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 

You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:17-24)

We Gentiles are not a natural fit into the Holy Root of the Old Covenant, but by faith God is able to graft us in "contrary to nature" by our faith. But Paul goes on to say that a Jew who comes to faith is more easily grafted into the root than a Gentile. His culture helps him. The promises to his forefathers help him.

May I be so bold as to suggest that preterism, in fact, says, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Paul labels this attitude as conceit and rather warns we Gentiles to be doubly cautious. We are much more easily removed from the tree than the Jews.

Before I continue, a personal story is appropriate here. I grew up attending a good conservative Presbyterian church. I learned about the Lord's upper and how Jesus broke bread and offered wine to institute this sacrament. When I was 18, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic church. I learned from them also that Jesus broke bread and offered wine to institute the sacrament of His death. When I was 19, I left Christianity altogether to search for better truths. At 20, I came back having had a genuine faith experience with the risen Jesus. Since then, I have attended Baptist churches, Bible churches, Presbyterian churches, and so forth. They all teach that Jesus broke bread and offered wine to institute the Lord's Supper. 

Oh yes, He did at the Last Supper and that was during Passover. Nobody made any connection with the Passover itself. That was an incidental detail. In the early 1980's, I was channel surfing--the hard way with a dial on the TV--and landed on a program describing the Passover Meal. It was presented by a Messianic Jew named Zola Levitt. There I learned that part of the Jewish Passover took unleavened bread and broke it as part of the celebration. I experienced and epiphany. Jesus did not institute something new with the Lord's Supper. No. He claimed something old and told His disciples that it had been about Him all along. From that day, I have made it a point to understand Judaism and its relationship to the Gospel and the New Testament. 

Passover was not incidental to the Lord's Supper. Passover was the root of the Lord's Supper. Knowing the root makes a difference. 

But now to continue. Paul strongly predicts a time when the Jews will come to faith:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 

The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins. 

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 

For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. (Romans 11:25-32)

Paul quotes from Isaiah:

"A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob," declares the Lord. "As for Me, this is My covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring," says the Lord, "from now and forever." (Isaiah 59:20-21)

Therefore through this Jacob's iniquity will be forgiven; And this will be the full price of the pardoning of his sin: When he makes all the altar stones like pulverized chalk stones; When Asherim and incense altars will not stand. (Isaiah 27:9)

Paul informs us, indirectly, that when Isaiah refers to Jacob, in these verses, he meant Jacob. Jacob is not code for the Church.

"The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." But the preterist position concerning Israel is that they were revoked. Although there are parables which suggest the preterist position, they are more than contradicted by direct statements and parables from Paul. Furthermore, Paul, at this very point in his argument explodes into praise:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

No longer is Paul bemoaning the lack of faith of his countrymen. Rather the thought of the glory of their future salvation has filled him with hope and praise. We must let his emotional outburst underscore his message.

Tuesday: The times of the Gentiles

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