Friday, December 19, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Romans 11 is full of future promise for the Jews. How then does preterism say that the Jewish Age ended at 70 A.D. and that the destruction of Jerusalem marks a time unlike any since the world began nor ever will be?

This is essay #6 in this series. To start at the beginning click here.

Paul continues, in Romans 11, to both proclaim faith based righteousness, God's sovereign choice, and his Jew and Gentile theme. Note how he advances each theme in these next verses:

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, 

"God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day." 

And David says, 

"Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever." 

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! (Romans 11:7-12)

Who does Paul mean by "those who were chosen" and "the rest were hardened?" The context of hardening is the Jews and so the choosing must be among the Jews also. The hardening of the Jews was not a new problem. Moses and David both bemoaned it. Both prophesied that it would happen. But Moses also prophesied that the hardening would not be permanent:

So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 

If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. “The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 

Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6)

Can you see how Moses prophecy lines up with Paul's hope, "Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!" This is also why the Zionist movement, which began in the 1800's, might be a significant move of God in our day. Have the Jews not been scattered across the globe? Have they not been hit with the curses by their disobedience according to the Law of Moses?

The Jews have not fallen, they have stumbled. Salvation has gone to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous so that they will return to the Lord their God. When preterism says that the Age of the Jews has ended, it seems to be saying that the Jews did stumble so as to fall. There is no longer a national salvation for them. The Great Tribulation was "Great" because the blessings and promises were yanked from them and given to the Gentile Church. As I continue in Romans 11, you will see that Paul warns the Gentiles not to think this way.

Monday: Branches

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Has the Jewish Age ended? As I read Paul's words in Romans 9 - 11, I have to conclude that the answer is, "No."

This is essay #6 in this series. To start at the beginning click here.

Here is how Paul begins chapter 11:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! 

For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? "Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." 

But what is the divine response to him? "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 

In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. (Romans 11:1-5)

As I read this, the Lord has not rejected His  people. Paul makes it clear that he is speaking of physical descent here for he says, "I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." He underscores being physically a Jew by invoking 3 physical lines of descent. So, "has God rejected His people?" Has the Jewish Age ended? "May it never be."

Paul looks back at another time when much of Israel was in apostasy. Elijah witnessed a great falling away to the point where he thought that he was alone. But God told him that there was a remnant that carried on. Even though many had killed the prophets, God had not abandoned His people. God had chosen a remnant. By extension, even though many had been involved in the death of the Son, God had not abandoned His people, but had preserved a remnant. Paul looks at the divine response to Elijah and claims that it is the same response that God has for the current situation.

Paul continue to connect his argument to the foundation that he laid in Romans 9. God had said, "I have kept for myself" and Paul concludes that the remnant is "according to God's gracious choice."

Is it that Paul does not realize the because they have now killed the Son and not the servants, that we should draw a distinction? What are we to make of this parable?

And He began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time . At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 

"The owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.' 

"But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, 'This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.' So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 

What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others." 

When they heard it, they said, "May it never be!" 

But Jesus looked at them and said, " What then is this that is written : 'The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone'?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." (Luke 20:9-18)

The issue, I would surmise, is the identity of the vine growers. Are they the Jews or their leaders? Is it the Jews as a class or those Jews who reject only? I would say that Paul's words, and I have not finished with all that he has yet to say, prohibits understanding Jesus' parable as saying that God gives His vineyard to the Gentiles. Both Jesus and Paul talk of the stone that the builder's rejected. Jesus leaves the nature of the stone ambiguous, but Paul identifies the stone as righteousness by faith rather than Law.

Tomorrow, I will continue.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Paul continues is discourse on the state of the Jews in his day. Using the Law, he now shows how salvation has always been by faith;

This is essay #6 in this series. To start at the beginning click here.

So Paul writes:

For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 

But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: �Do not say in your heart, �Who will ascend into heaven?� (that is, to bring Christ down), or �Who will descend into the abyss?� (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).� But what does it say? �The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart��that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 

For the Scripture says, �Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.� For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for �Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.� (Romans 10:5-13)

Paul quotes from the Law of Moses:

�For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 

It is not in heaven, that you should say, �Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?� 

Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, �Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?� 

But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Jesus did not inaugurate righteousness by faith. Hebrews tells us, for example, that by faith Abel offered the better offering. Genesis tells us that "Abram believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." It is certainly not correct to say that these words in Deuteronomy had no application before Jesus' death and resurrection. Now the Old Covenant saints did not have Jesus and His resurrection as an historical marker to look upon, but they had the Name of Yahweh. As Genesis 4:26 says, "... Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD." With the coming of Jesus, we must now acknowledge that He is the LORD, i.e. Yahweh. With Him, we have the final Word, the incarnate Word. By Him, we also have the Holy Spirit whose fruit instills the righteousness of God from within.

When we focus on the commandments rather than faith as the means by which we become righteous--and surely we must acknowledge that Christians have been no strangers to legalism--, we insist that we can be righteous by obedience. This is a mistake, because the Law really only effectively defines sin, which is not the same as righteousness. The Law can tell me that I have sinned, it cannot pronounce me righteous. It can tell me that I have committed murder, but it cannot tell me when I have loved my neighbor. It will tell me that I have tithed, but does not tell me how much more generous I can be.

Paul continues:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, �How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!� 

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, �Lord, who has believed our report?� So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. 

But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; �Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.� 

But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, �I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, By a nation without understanding will I anger you.� And Isaiah is very bold and says, �I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.� 

But as for Israel He says, �All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.� (Romans 10:14-21)

So not all Jews have heeded the good news, but they have heard. But largely, in Paul's day, they did not respond in faith like the Gentiles of Paul's day. But Paul suggests, by the Scriptures that he quotes, that His people through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have always tended to be disobedient and obstinate. He also suggests that the Lord would use the nations, that is the Gentiles, to make the Jews jealous. And with that transition, we will move into Romans 11, wherein we will see how Jews and Gentiles are related.

Thursday: Chapter 11

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

I do not have much time today to write. So I am inviting you to read one of my papers that relates to yesterday's topic. Please visit Jeremiah -- The New Covenant. There you will see what is truly distinctive about the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31. It will also give you some more background for the next section of Paul's logic. It will also smooth out some potential misunderstandings some might have about yesterday's post. It has a fuller description of the relationship between Law and righteousness.

Till tomorrow.

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Monday, December 15, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

The main motivation of this series is to demonstrate that God's plan for the Jews is alive and well. The blessings of Abraham have not shifted exclusively to the Church, as judgment for rejecting their Messiah. To be sure some Jews rejected Jesus, but it was the Gentiles who miscarried justice and killed Him. Some, but not all, Jews rejected Jesus. Some, but not all Gentiles have accepted Him. If first century Jewish leadership resisted the Gospel, did the Roman citizens do any better?

This is essay #4 in this series. To start at the beginning click here.

Preterism has a few variations. But a common thread seems to be that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was the "coming of the Lord" in wrath against the Jews because they had called for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads and the heads of their children. This doctrine has been a justification for anti-Semitic activities within Christendom, including the holocaust, which Hitler carried out in the name of Christianity.

This despite the fact that at the end of this section, Romans 9-11, Paul writes:

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. (Romans 11:28-29)

The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. This is good news for the Jews, and it is good news for us. At the end of Romans 11, Paul connects the election doctrine in Romans 9 and proclaims that God's choice of the Jews flows from His promises and choice of their forefathers. As we will see, God has a plan for the salvation of the Jews. Our unconditional salvation is as assured as the promises that God made to His people. Besides His blood is on all of us. We sinned--He died. Only those who saw the wonders and His power and heard his teaching, but ascribed it to the devil had committed the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-30).

But let me get back on track and continue my analysis of Paul's words. Here is the opening of Romans 10:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4)

There is not a hint here from Paul, that the Jewish problem is one of rejecting their Messiah. It is rather that they will not recognize the role of faith in achieving the righteousness that comes from God. They have sought to establish their own righteousness based on obedience to Law. Here was the Jewish approach:

  • They divided the Law into two parts. The first part was the written Law of Moses, which we have in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The second part was the Oral Law, which consisted of stories and arguments that explained and further qualified the written Law. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews gradually committed the Oral Law to writing. This is called the Talmud.
  • One of the purposes of the Oral Law was to define a stricter standard to provide a protective hedge around the inner Law. Thus there arose, for example, the notion of a Sabbath's day journey. You could walk so far without violating the injunction against working on the Sabbath. Take one more step and you are in violation.
  • By focusing so much on the legal aspects of the Law, the Jews missed that aspect of righteousness having to do with love and mercy. So you had a synagogue leader who asked his congregation to come for healing after the Sabbath: not recognizing that the Sabbath and healing should be joined.

There is an important ambiguity in Paul's phrase, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." The Greek word, translated "end" is telos. This is the Greek word from which we get the word Teleology, which is the process by which we discern God in the universe by its order. The sentence could also be translated, "Christ is the goal of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Here Paul would be speaking not of the termination of the Law, but the end goal of sanctification as faith operates on the believer. Neither Jesus nor Paul called for the end of the written Law:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Paul, in his letters, sometimes appealed to the Law. In the example, below, Paul appeals to the Law of Moses as the foundation for those who make a living from the Gospel.

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? (1 Corinthians 9:8-11)

The problem comes when a Jew or Gentile defines their righteousness in legal terms: obedience = righteousness. The problem is that it does not go far enough. Especially when measured against the telos or goal of becoming like Jesus: the end of the race.

  • When is a thief not a thief? It is not when he is not stealing. That is a thief out of work. As Ephesians 4:28 says, "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." When a persons now labors to give to others, he is no longer a thief.
  • When is an adulterer not an adulterer? Not when is at home with his wife, because his thoughts are often with the next encounter. When a man drops his mistress and devotes himself to loving his wife as Christ loved the church, then he is no longer the adulterer.

And so Paul will continue defining the salvation that many Jews have failed to see. We will follow along. I believe that Paul takes the time that he does here, because he knows that some Jews will read this section and see the sense of it. His desire is for the salvation of his people.

Tuesday: Neither in Sky nor Sea

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