Israel and the Nations--Part 4
Mar 31, 2009
In the centuries following Adam's fall, the nations rebelled against God and usurped His creation for their own use. God then called one man, Abraham, intending to work through him to re-establish His Kingdom in the earth. God likes to work with the few to save the many.
It was never God's intent to save just one man and His descendants, but that these few would be a blessing to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). This blessing was defined as causing people to repent (change of thinking), so that they would be turned from their wicked ways (Acts 3:25, 26) and come to recognize Jesus Christ as the rightful Heir of the earth.
The few were "chosen" or "elected" with a special calling to bring God's blessings to the rest of the nations.
God then gave them a government at Sinai, complete with laws that would promote righteousness, justice, stability, and brotherly love among the people. These were universal laws which would bless all nations that might adopt them. But the law itself could not make men righteous. The law could only establish a standard of right and wrong, sin and righteousness. The weakness was man himself, whose flesh was always at enmity with God. And imperfect men would, for a time, administer the law to other imperfect people.
Under Moses and David, the administrators were as righteous as they come, but even during their administrations we see their own problems as well as revolts among the people. Moses had his Korah rebellion, and David his Absalom revolt. Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and David committed adultery with Bathsheba.
The nation of Israel was "chosen" to be a light--not a slavemaster--to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; Luke 2:32). They were to be the example of a righteous nation. But the Israelites did not fulfill their calling, but ended up following the example of the other nations with idolatry and rebellion. Israel openly revolted and set up golden calves. Judah revolted covertly and pretended to follow God by the hypocritical practice of rituals in the temple in Jerusalem without a genuine heart change. Jeremiah 3:11 concludes,
"Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah."
It was necessary that the Old Covenant should fail to achieve its stated goal of bringing righteousness, in order to establish a New Covenant. The Old Covenant put the responsibility upon man and his own ability (works) to come into perfection. But mortal man proved to be incapable of this, because, as Paul says, after Adam sinned, death (mortality) was passed upon all men, on which all sin (Rom. 5:12, literal transl.). Something better was required to bring us to perfection.
It was in the mercy of God that the Old Covenant focused largely on a small corner of the earth called Canaan or Palestine. The Old Covenant method of salvation was doomed to failure from the start, and so God limited its influence to a few. The rest of humanity remained in God's witness protection program. But with the establishment of the New Covenant, prophesied by both Moses and Jeremiah, the gospel broke free of its geographical constraints.
In fact, it was because of persecution in Jerusalem that the Christians were scattered abroad. God used it to force them out of their limited scope and exclusive world view. No longer was He to be a local and tribal deity as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was now to be "the God of the whole earth" (Isaiah 54:5), taking His rightful place as the Creator of all.
When the disciples were scattered abroad, God had already prepared the way before them. Israel had been deported by the Assyrians (745-721 B.C.) to the area around the Caspian Sea. By the time the disciples were scattered, Assyria had long fallen into ruin, and Parthia was now the superpower of the east, ruling from the border of the Roman Empire all the way to India. Many of Parthia's citizens were actually ex-Israelites of the dispersion. In fact, Parthia means "exiles" and may have gotten its name from the exiles of Israel.
There was also a Jewish dispersion, since Jews had settled in many of the Roman and Greek cities. Many had also remained in Babylon. After 70 A.D. this Jewish dispersion was greatly increased by the war. But this is not to be confused with the Israelite dispersion which had occurred nearly 800 years earlier.
The Christian dispersion, brought about by Jewish persecution, served to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. It spread through Greece, Rome, Spain, Britain, and it also went east into Parthia and all the way to India. Among the new converts were ex-Israelites of the dispersion, who had lost their name Israel by this time. God saw to it, however, that the gospel was preached among those exiles, along with all others.
Whether one was an ex-Israelite or not, there was only one way to come under the New Covenant. It was by faith in Jesus Christ, understanding that He was the only Sacrifice for sin that could satisfy the demands of the law. The law demanded a perfect life to be presented to God, and Jesus Christ fulfilled that demand. By faith, we all become His body and are able to participate in that presentation to God, as if we were perfect. By faith, God looks not on our own personal unrighteous state, but sees only the righteousness of Christ. Legally, then, we are considered perfect as if His righteousness were our own.
This simple gospel was the "good news" available to all men equally and impartially. The New Covenant was made with Israel and Judah (Heb. 8:10), but like the Old Covenant, anyone could become a citizen of Israel and Judah by faith. In fact, an ex-Israelite of the dispersion had to come into the New Covenant in the same manner as anyone else. He could not claim genealogy as a substitute for faith in Christ.
Likewise, a Jew (i.e., Judean) could not claim genealogy in place of faith in Christ. The playing field was level, and the law was impartial. Faith was required of everyone equally. The disciples under the New Covenant began to rebuild the new nation of Israel, with Jesus Christ as its King. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the teaching about how to be a citizen of that Kingdom.
More than that, once people have become citizens by faith, they begin to learn how to be obedient to the King. That means learning the laws of the Kingdom, so that we understand the will of God and how He views sin and righteousness. On an individual basis, it means being led by the Spirit, because the general principles of the law must be applied properly to each individual's life and calling.
As the gospel spreads, and His Kingdom grows, it will inevitably involve claiming land itself. Since God is the Creator of all, He owns all things. His Kingdom was defined in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." His Kingdom includes all that He created--both heaven and earth. Therefore, the completion of the divine plan must include the earth, or as Paul says, "all things under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:27).
Meanwhile, all who are citizens of Israel are "chosen" and called to build His Kingdom. There is a higher calling of rulership (authority) for those who go beyond citizenship. Citizenship comes through Passover; priesthood through Pentecost; and rulership through Tabernacles. But in each case, the reward fits the relationship with Jesus Christ. Genealogy is not a qualification at any level. This was the great lesson that astonished Peter when he discovered that the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) was given also to "every nation" and that God was impartial in His blessings (Acts 10:34, 35).
This is the final part of a series titled "Israel and the Nations." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones