Israel's Advantage: Part 3
Jun 25, 2007
So far I have tried to present the benefits of being an Israelite. I have tried to show that those benefits are not directly related to the idea of salvation, while also showing that God has not totally neglected those ex-Israelites of the dispersion. The fact that Jesus' disciples were concerned about them in their NT writings reveals this.
At some point in Jesus' earthly ministry, He sent His disciples on a missionary journey to those "lost" Israelites. We read of this in Matt. 10:5-7,
" (5) These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, 'Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; (6) but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (7) And as you go, preach, saying, The Kingdom of heaven is at hand'."
It is usually assumed, of course, that Jesus was sending His disciples to the cities of Judea and Galilee only. But that view assumes that Jesus was calling Judea and Galilee "the house of Israel." It also assumes that "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" were only lost in a spiritual sense. That would be stretching the truth considerably. No, Jesus actually sent His disciples much further north outside the borders of their country.
Jesus was quoting from Ezekiel 34, which is an entire chapter devoted to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." In Ezekiel's day, the house of Israel had already been in captivity for a century in the territory controlled by Assyria. 2 Kings 17:6 says that they were deported to "Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes."
Ezekiel himself was a missionary to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Ez. 2:3). In Ez. 1:1 his book opens while he was "by the river Chebar [Habor] among the exiles," and he seems to have traveled back and forth between Judah in Jerusalem and Israel in Assyria. He was a contemporary with Jeremiah and Daniel. Jeremiah was primarily the prophet to Judah, Daniel was a prophet among the captives of Judah in Babylon, and Ezekiel was a prophet among the captives of Israel.
In Ezekiel 34, the prophet speaks of the house of Israel as "My flock" (34:6). He chides the shepherds for ruling the sheep with severity, while not caring for them properly. He says in verse 6,
"My flock wandered through all the mountains [i.e., "nations"] and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them."
The law in Deut. 22:1 and 2 tells us the law of lost sheep:
" (1) You shall not see your countryman's ox or his SHEEP straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. (2) And if your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him."
Ezekiel reveals that God's "sheep" in effect had wandered away and were now lost. He chides the leaders for not searching for God's lost sheep or for taking care of them until such time as He might come searching for them. Because the religious and political leaders failed in this responsibility, God declares in Ez. 34:11 and 16,
"For thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out'. . . . (16) I will seek the lost. . ."
So God tells us prophetically that because the leaders of the people refused to seek for His lost sheep, or to take care of them when they did find them, God Himself would come to seek out His lost sheep. He did so in the Person of Jesus Christ, who said in Matt. 15:24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Likewise, Jesus told a parable about the lost sheep and how He searched until He found it.
While the principle is certainly applicable to other people on a spiritual level, the surface meaning cannot be ignored, for He was fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel and the law of Moses.
As we saw in earlier studies, the lost sheep was also a picture of Joseph, the son of Jacob-Israel who was "lost" and presumed dead. Thus, even as God prophetically "found" Joseph and restored him to his family, so also has God sought out his descendants, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
History shows that the first step in the fulfillment of this prophecy was in the fact that Jesus died to save Israel--and all of mankind with them. Secondly, Jesus sent His disciples to them, not only before His crucifixion, but also afterward. Peter and James specifically wrote to them, and Paul visited them in Spain, Britain, and Switzerland in Acts 29.
This does not mean that God was unconcerned about the rest of the world. It simply means that most of the initial effort went into preaching the Gospel to the nations ("mountains") among which these lost sheep were wandering. It took many centuries for the Gospel to reach other parts of the world. This was the benefit of being from Judah and from the lost house of Israel.
Even so, this benefit only gave these "lost sheep" the opportunity to believe in Christ. It did not guarantee salvation to anyone apart from faith, except in the ultimate sense when God puts all things under His feet. Yet in that day there will be Israelites and non-Israelites alike who will bow the knee to Him, which they had never done in a previous life time.
In spite of God's priorities, the vast majority of the dispersed Israelites remained unbelievers. True believers have always been in the minority, even in later centuries when the Roman Church ruled supreme. There were many Christian religionists, who had placed their faith in the Church, but only a much smaller percentage were actually justified by faith in Christ.
After centuries had passed in which the Roman Church had dominated Europe, Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sending thousands of Greek-speaking refugees into Europe. They carried with them Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which soon gave the Latin-speaking Church world new light beyond the Latin Vulgate. At the same time the printing press came into use, and the Bible began to be printed in quantities for much less money.
Between these two developments, Europe was changed forever. Within a few generations the Protestant Reformation had taken root, and Rome's power began to decline. The Scriptures were printed and distributed everywhere, and men saw for themselves the discrepancy between Church traditions and Scripture itself. This was the next major fulfillment of Ezekiel 34, where God vowed to search for His sheep Himself, since the shepherds were not doing so.
At the same time, the New World was re-discovered in 1492, beginning the next major prophetic fulfillment of Ezekiel 34. As men studied biblical law, they contemplated how to establish a Christian community and ultimately a Christian nation. This finally bore fruit in North America in the late 1700's. History was forever changed when God separated "Joseph" from his brethren in Europe, according to Jacob's prophecy in Gen. 49:26.
Once again, God proved that He was working among the physical descendants of the ex-Israelites of the dispersion. The believers among them were inspired to bring the Gospel to the rest of the world, beginning the great Missionary Era in the 1800's. But because of further corruption, it only succeeded to a point. God is now preparing to take the next great step.
This is the third part of a series titled "Israel's Advantage." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones