Saturday, August 23, 2008

Check this out

Here is another fine post over at "The Vossed World" which is on my side bar:

The relationship between the "indicative" and the "imperative" is crucial to understanding how we are live our lives as Christians. The book recommendation looks very promising. I encourage you to spend some time at The Vossed World--very good stuff!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Between Two Worlds: New Biblical Theology Blog by Alexander, Bird, Dempster, and Hamilton

Between Two Worlds: New Biblical Theology Blog by Alexander, Bird, Dempster, and Hamilton

I usually just let people look at my side bar for other sites to visit, but I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about this new blog I also have it linked, of course. I am really looking forward to reading the material that these gentlemen will publish.

Also, as my friend Chad Knudson prepares to leave with his family for a new ministry opportunity, I wanted to remind you all of his blog as well. which you will also find is linked on my side bar. Chad has a lot of very fine articles on his site and I encourage everyone to bookmark it and read through his material.

Well...still working on Sunday's service--I'm cutting it close!

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Worship Leader"--I hate that term!

As I begin preparing again for my role as “worship leader” this week, I’m struck again by how much I don’t like that terminology—“worship leader”. This term seems to suggest that the preaching/teaching of the Word is not “worship”. We come to church and for the first 30 minutes or so (or much longer, depending on what church you go to) we “worship” and then…the sermon. I’m not going to begin a series on what I think worship is (I’ve already got two series’ started that I don’t post to as often as I’d like!); I’m just venting over this popular term that’s used to describe what I do two or three Sundays a month.

I really don’t have an alternative term to use at the moment. And even though I’m sure that what I do at our church may differ dramatically with what other “worship leaders” do at other churches (different styles, different emphasis, etc.), the use of the term in question still conveys a sense of (at least) two different things going on within any given church service. We certainly come to church to worship our God and Savior, but it almost seems as if when the “worship leader” is finished “leading the worship” and sits down…well…now we’re finished “worshipping”. But of course, we stay a little longer (sometimes a lot longer :-) because we’re still supposed to listen to what the preacher has to say.

I’m sure we don’t always consciously think this way, but I’ve seen it too often (not at my church, of course :-) where people seem to get a “rush” when “worshipping” through the music and then just “settle in”, so-to-speak, with a board expression on their face and in their body language as the preacher does his thing. But, on the other hand, I’ve also noticed times when people seem to just “grin and bear” with the “first part” of the service (usually the music, of course) in order to get to the good stuff of the second part of the service (usually the preaching). Sometimes I wonder if people understand that it is all worship. If our very lives are to be “worship”, then certainly everything we do in a church service is “worship”.

I can’t count the number of churches I’ve attended in the past where, no matter what time the service is scheduled to begin, people are walking in sometimes as much as 15 minutes late! Do they not like the “worship” part of the service? Or, on the other hand, people will be at church on time and participate in the “worship” and then just “tune out” in various ways when the “worship” is over and the preaching begins. Do they not like the “sermon” part of the service?

I think if we were to consciously start thinking about the whole service as “worship”, then we may begin to take each “part” of the service seriously and with the same eager anticipation. I don’t know how much the term “worship leader” contributes to this mind-set, but words and terms convey “ideas” and it is very easy for…well…umm…let me put it this way: it’s very easy for “not right” ideas to seep into our thinking and sometimes very difficult to recognize and then remove them. I’ve never thought about how I used to “worship” before I became a “worship leader”; but looking back I can see where I’ve created the artificial distinction within my own mind between the “worship” part of the service and the “sermon” part of the service. It can be a subtle distinction within a mind, but it can easily lead to a despising of the Word. When I see 45 minute long “worship” services and a 25 minute “sermon” tacked on at the end, well…you get my drift.

“Worship leader” is a term that I don’t like using for myself. But is there an alternative?

Ok…I’m finished “venting”. Time to prepare for “worship”! :-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hughes on Annihilationism

I had commented on a post at on “Annihilation”, that, while I don’t agree (yet) with the concept of annihilationism, I believe that there are some legitimately Biblical reasons to hold to such a position. I suggested Philip E. Hughes as an example of a Biblical scholar who believes that annihilationism is taught in the Scripture and that it is the only way to properly understand the contrasting principles of “life” and “death”. I only commented on this briefly over at Russ' blog because it occurred to me that a full post would do better justice to Hughes’ argument.

I will attempt to summarize Hughes’ position from his excellent book, “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ”. This is the best work I’ve ever read on The Doctrine of Man and Christology. I may do a review of this book in the future, since I think every Christian should read this monumental work. If you want to know who Man was created to be and how it is that Christ has brought Man to his destiny, then read this book—you’ll never look at yourself, the human race or Christ the same again!

After having read this book and with possibly only a few minor points of contention, it’s only his view on annihilationism that I (may) have any issue with—that’s one chapter (Chpt. 37; pgs. 398-407) out of thirty eight. But again, as I’ve already said, he makes a compelling argument and I believe his conclusions on the matter can be understood as legitimate and Biblical, though not necessarily fully persuasive…at least not to me…at least, not at this present time.

As I began introducing Hughes’ thought in my comment on Russ’ blog, I suggested that his primary foundation for annihilationism was that he believed the soul was not created immortal, that the Scripture doesn’t teach the innate immortality of the soul. He says that Man, as originally created, was potentially immortal and potentially mortal, as well as potentially sinless and potentially sinful. This is important because if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no necessary obligation for a person to exist eternally in either state of being—whether that of “life” or that of “death”. Of course as Creator, God can take immortality away just as easily as He can grant immortality; but if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no logical necessity of its existing forever. Because of this, there is no reason logically, or more importantly, Biblically, that “death” cannot mean literal death or annihilation. Biblically, for Hughes, death is the opposite of life without regard to an eternal existence, but with regard to eternal finality.

Just because Man was created with the potentiality of immortality and mortality, this doesn’t mean, according to Hughes, that Man was created “neutral”. Man was created in the image of God “which is the bond of his personal fellowship with his Maker”, thus placing “his existence quite positively within the sphere of godliness and life” (pg. 400). He goes on to say about Man as originally created, “His loving and grateful concurrence with the will of God, who is the source of his life and blessedness, would have endured the continuation of his existence in unclouded blessing as he conformed himself to that image in which he is constituted (to which he was created).” (Of course, since Man did fall, now the Spirit is the One who is doing the work of conforming His people to the image of Christ, the True Man, and it is in this way that Man is restored to his true humanity as “image-bearer”) Hughes continues by saying that it was because of Man’s rebellion against God that he “passed from a positive to a negative relationship and brought the curse upon himself.” He argues that death is the “sum of that curse” and is also “the evidence that man is not inherently immortal”—soul or body (pg. 400).

Most of the above was taken directly from my comment on Russ’ blog; and as I stated over there, I tend to agree with Hughes on the points made above. Now I'd like to further expand on Hughes' thoughts. His argument for annihilation comes from his chapter entitled, "Is the Soul Immortal?" (pg. 398-407). By referencing the "soul" in the title of chapter does not mean that he sees the Bible as teaching a hard partition between soul (spirit) and body. Though some believe that matter is inherently evil and therefore it is only the spirit which partakes of immortality, the Bible clearly teaches that our "humanness" is made up of "body" and "spirit". Human nature in its fullness, as evidenced by Christ as the True Man, is both "body" and "spirit"; and therefore, the immortality that is assured to the Christian (because he/she is "joined" to Christ) will be an eternality of restoration to his/her true humanity—body and soul.

The question of human nature and immortality is very important in Hughes argument. He doesn't deny that Christians will live forever and spend eternity in the presence of God our Savior. He just doesn't think that the unbeliever will spend an eternity "living" in torment. Because, as Hughes reasons, immortality is not innate to human beings, it must be granted to them by God. He says, "It is God who alone has immortality and thus who alone may properly be described as immortal" (1Tim. 6:15-17; Rom. 1:23). Hughes continues, "And it is for us to confess, as did the Apostle, that by virtue of God's purpose and grace 'our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel' (2Tim. 1:9-10). The immortality which was potentially ours at creation and was forfeited in the fall is now really ours in Christ, in whom we are created anew and brought to our true destiny."

Immortality, Hughes argues, is not innate to human nature; so only those who have been granted immortality will "live". Those who have not been granted immortality will continue in "death" until the end. Death is only swallowed up in Victory—in Christ; for those "outside" of Christ, death still reigns. Therefore, if one is not joined in union with Christ, he has not tasted this victory and, therefore, has not been granted immortality. This does not argue against an "intermediate state" in which unbelievers who have died physically will still survive in some sense until the resurrection and final judgment. Hughes is simply stating that the Bible, in distinguishing between the eternal categories of "life" and "death", grants immortality as a gift from God to the "victor"—to the one who ""(has) been baptized into Christ Jesus" and therefore is identified not only with the death of Christ (he has been "buried" with Christ), but also the life of Christ by sharing in His resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11).

Since the "sting of death" is sin (1Cor. 15:55-56), where there is no sin there is no death. Those outside of Christ do not share in His life because sin still reigns through their rebellion against God—they are still estranged from God and the "life" that He offers in Christ. But for those "in Christ" there is no condemnation: "By the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, they have been freed from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2) and have therefore been counted as the "victorious" ones who, though perishable will "put on the imperishable", and though mortal will "put on immortality" so that there is no victory for death—"Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor.51-58)!

Death and Life are the two key categories that must be dealt with in order to understand the Bible's meaning with reference to eternal things. Hughes recognizes that the Bible uses language that speak of "everlasting" and "eternal" realities; but he also recognizes the Biblical concepts of "death" and "life" as being diametrically opposed to each other. With regard to the idea of punishment, Hughes has no problem with the concept of "everlasting"; "But", he says, "…the ultimate contrast (as was also the original [contrast]) is between everlasting life and everlasting death, and this clearly shows that it is not simply synonyms (everlasting) but also antonyms (life and death) with which we have to reckon." For Hughes, the concept of death simply can't mean endless punishment because it is contrasted with life itself: "There is no more radical antithesis than that between life and death, for life is the absence of death, and death is the absence of life" (pg.403). The idea that eternal death is an endless existence without the power of dying is not meaningful in its own right, much less since the Bible depicts death as the opposite of life.

That many passages of Scripture seem to depict the idea of an eternity of punishment for wicked (various OT passages depicting judgment; Mark 9:48; Matt. 25:41; 2Thess. 1:9; Jude 7; Rev. 14:10-11; etc.) is undeniable. But since this "punishment" that is reserved for the wicked (as opposed to the righteous which are "in Christ") is associated with the principle of death (as opposed to life, which is the blessing of the righteous which are "in Christ"), there must be a change in the meaning of death to believe that the wicked will be "kept alive to suffer punishment without the power of dying." The eschatological perspective of the Bible is Life or Death—and Jesus Christ is the point of demarcation.

Hughes finishes his argument by making four points for consideration (pg. 405-406). I will simply quote these four points directly from his book and let you, the reader, make your own conclusions as to their merit.

First of all, because life and death are radically antithetical to each other, the qualifying adjective eternal and everlasting needs to be understood in a manner appropriate to each respectively. Everlasting life is existence that continues without end, and everlasting death is destruction without end, that is, destruction without recall, the destruction of obliteration. Both life and death hereafter will be everlasting in the sense that both will be irreversible: from that life there can be no relapse into death, and from that death there can be no return to life. The awful negation and the absolute finality of the second death are unmistakable conveyed by its description as "the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).

Secondly, immortality or deathlessness, as we have said, is not inherent in the constitution of man as a corporeal-spiritual creature, though, formed in the image of God, the potential was there. That potential, which was forfeited through sin, has been restored and actualized by Christ, the incarnate Son, who has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). Since inherent immortality is uniquely the possession and prerogative of God (1 Tim. 6:16), it will be by virtue of his grace and power that when Christ is manifested in glory our mortality, if we are then alive, will be superinvested with immortality and our corruption, if we are then in the grave, will be clothed with incorruption, so that death will at last be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-5). And thus at last we shall become truly and fully human as the destiny for which we were created becomes as everlasting reality in him who is the True Image and the True Life. At the same time those who have persisted in ungodliness will discover for themselves the dreadful truth of Christ's warning about fearing God, "who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

Thirdly, the everlasting existence side by side, so to speak, of heaven and hell would seem to be incompatible with the purpose and effect of the redemption achieved by Christ's coming. Sin with its consequences of suffering and death is foreign to the design of God's creation. The renewal of creation demands the elimination of sin and suffering and death. Accordingly, we are assured that Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26; 1 John 3:5), that through his appearing death has been abolished (2 Tim. 1:10), and that in the new heaven and the new earth, that is, in the whole realm of the renewed order of creation, there will be no more weeping or suffering, "and death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4). The conception of the endlessness of the suffering of torment and of the endurance of "living" death in hell stands in contradiction to this teaching. It leaves a part of creation which, unrenewed, everlastingly exists in alienation from the new heaven and the new earth. It means that suffering and death will never be totally abolished from the scene. The inescapable logic of this position was accepted, with shocking candor, by Augustine, who affirmed that "after the resurrection, when the final, universal judgment has been completed, there will be two kingdoms, each with its own distinct boundaries, the one Christ's, the other the devil's (though he would in no way enjoy his rule because he would be consigned the same fate as the wicked—comment, GGM), the one consisting of good, the other of bad" (Enchiridion, 111). To this it must be objected that with the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God's reconciliation to Himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col.1:20; to this GGM adds, Eph. 1:10), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death. Where all is light there can be no darkness; for "the night shall be no more" (Rev. 22:5). When Christ fills all in all and God is everything to everyone (Eph. 1:23; 1 Cor. 15:28), how is it conceivable that there can be a section or realm of creation that does not belong to this fullness and by its very presence contradicts it? The establishment of God's everlasting kingdom of peace and righteousness will see the setting free of the whole created order from its bondage to decay as it participates in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).

Fourthly, the glorious appearing of Christ will herald the death of death. By his cross and resurrection Christ has already made the conquest of death, so that for the believer the fear and sting of death have been removed (Heb. 2:14f.; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), the passage from death to life is a present reality (John 5:24), and the resurrection power of Jesus is already at work within him, no matter how severely he may be afflicted and incommoded outwardly (2 Cor. 4:11, 16). We do not yet see everything in subjection to the Son (Heb. 2:8); but nothing is more sure than that every hostile rule and authority and power will finally be destroyed, including death itself. Hence the assurance that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Without the abolition of death the triumph of life and immortality cannot be complete (2 Tim. 1:10). This is the significance of the second death: it will be the abolition not only of sin and the devil and his followers but also of death itself as, in the final judgment, not only will Death and Hades give up their dead for condemnation but Death and Hades themselves will be thrown with them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-15). Hence the clear promise that "death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4).

Hughes concludes by challenging the contention that "if the death sentence pronounced at the final judgment against the unregenerate meant their annihilation the wicked would be getting off lightly and would be encouraged to regard the consequence of their sin without fear." The Biblical testimony is that the ultimate "day of the Lord" will be "terror for the ungodly, who will then be confronted with the truth of God's being which they had unrighteously suppressed and experience the divine wrath which previously they had derided." The truth of Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" will be experienced "first hand" by those who have not come to Christ by faith. Revelation 6:15-17 is a reality that the unregenerate will experience; so the idea of their "getting off lightly" if their final outcome is annihilation is easily dispensed with. The unregenerate will at last be given eyes to see the truth of the glory of our Lord and His Kingdom, but they will forever be excluded from it. They will come to know the blessedness of union with Christ and the removal of the curse of estrangement, but they will never get to experience it. They will get a glimpse of the "transcendental joy and bliss of the saints as in the light eternal they glorify their resplendent Redeemer, to whose likeness they are now fully and forever conformed", only to be "plunged into the abyss of irreversible destruction, (which) will cause the unregenerate of mankind the bitterest anguish of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. In vain will they have pleaded, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' (Matt. 25:11f; cf. 7:21-23). Too late will they then wish they had lived and believed differently." Their destiny is the "abyss of obliteration" which is the "destruction of the second death" (pg. 406-407).

Hughes finishes with this statement: "Thus God's creation will be purged of all falsity and defilement, and the ancient promise will be fulfilled that 'the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind as the multitude of the redeemed are glad and rejoice forever in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth" (Is. 65:17f.; Rev. 21:1-4).

I hope that the reader will take Hughes' argument seriously. There is a lot here to think about and, as much as it may seem to the contrary, I didn't quote everything in this chapter! :-) I think Hughes' argument needs to be carefully examined (in its entirety) before being dismissed out-of-hand. I encourage the reader to find and purchase this book and read it carefully. Even if one doesn't end up agreeing with him on this issue, the other thirty-seven chapters are well worth the time invested in reading them. If you want to know what the destiny of Man is, then read this book--from beginning to end.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sacred Space-Introductory Comments (again and expanded)

When I last left off my Sacred Space series (a whopping single post in), I said that I planned on tracking the Biblical concept Sacred Space as it develops through redemptive history, finally finding its fulfillment in the Shalomic state of the New Creation in Christ. I will follow the Biblical storyline from Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation with the recovery of Sacred Space as the over-arching theme of the Scripture. We will see that the “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)” and the “summing up of all things in Christ” are phrases or ideas that convey the same principle—the restoration of all things in perfect and intimate communion with or relation to God—and so they both speak to the issue of Sacred Space and its recovery in Christ.

The basic idea of Sacred Space is that of God’s “dwelling place”. This is most acutely evident in the physical Temple, the “house of the Lord”. The testimony of the Scripture is that God had placed His name in the Temple (as with the Tabernacle that foreshadowed it) and it is here, above the mercy seat between the wings of the cherubim that God met with His image-bearers, albeit through a “mediator” (which we’ll get to in due time). As the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Temple, the Shekinah glory of the presence of God filled the Temple to signify that God is dwelling with His people.

Of course, God is never confined to a single, particular location; the heavens themselves can’t contain Him. The earth is the Lord’s, and all that it contains; Heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool. We can’t even conceive of a “house” big enough for God to dwell in, to rest in; so we know that the Temple idea is prophetic—it speaks of a greater reality to come. Through the Temple idea, God is telling us something about His purpose, about what He is going to accomplish. Sacred Space was only typologically fulfilled in the Temple—the Temple speaks of a greater reality to come so that when the physical Temple has served its purpose, it will not need to be rebuilt in the future.

But the Tabernacle/Temple itself was not only prophetic and typological, it spoke of and was to be fulfilled in Christ, but it also testified of a greater reality that was behind it. In other words, because the Temple was based on and proceeded forth from the mind of God, the Temple “idea” as the “dwelling place of God” where God and His people commune together, is the product of a reality that preceded its earthly expression. This reality is understood as the Cosmic manifestation of Sacred Space as seen in and typified by the Creation Account. It is this Cosmic reality of Sacred Space that has been recovered (or better, fulfilled) in Jesus Christ. The Temple, as God’s dwelling place (or “house”), speaks retroactively of the universal Sacred Space that was typified in the beginning, in the Garden, but it also speaks prophetically of a final consummation of Sacred Space in the person of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Sacred Space, as mentioned before, is not speaking of any particular geographical location; though in the course of redemptive history, particular typological manifestations of Sacred Space prophesied of its consummate fulfillment to come. Sacred Space, as God’s “dwelling place”, is sometimes referred to as Heaven. But “Heaven” is not a geographical location; and besides, as we already know, God is omnipresent—He’s everywhere all the time. Sacred Space is the realm in which God is present in relation to His creation. It’s not where God is, but it’s how God is with respect to His creation. It’s really the “place” of relationship, of intimacy between God and His creation, focused primarily in Man as “image-bearer”, but then flowing out from Man to the entire created order, which we see clearly in the creation account.

I’ve spent a little bit of time introducing the Temple motif because it will be a key element in our travel from Sacred Space lost to Sacred Space recovered in Christ. For what I consider to be the best exposition of the Temple and its meaning, I recommend G.K. Beale’s book, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.” This is another quality addition to the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by D.A Carson. Another great book, and my favorite in the series (so far, with Beale’s a close second) is, “Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible” by Stephen G. Dempster. Anyway, I highly recommend Beale’s book; it’s a fascinating read. Also, I found this blog post that does a fine job summarizing the idea of Sacred Space and “temple” as it pertains to the Ancient Near East as well as Israel using Beale’s book as a reference I recommend reading this post for some background on the Temple motif. The author of this post, following Beale and others, shows us that the concept of Sacred Space is not only Biblical, but that it is universally “human”. We all have an idea of “communion” with God, however we may define Him, and we understand that to know and to interact with “God” at some level, deity must dwell with us (or us with it). Humanity perceives its need: this is where I will begin next time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

"Israel" and Christ--a brief excursion

I was going to just respond to a comment left on The Sermon on the Mount-2 posting, but as I got going, as I tend to do when I write or talk, I just kept going and going and…:-) This is just a relatively quick and a very incomplete explanation of how and why I understand the Scripture to identify Jesus Christ as the true “Israel”. This is by no means a thorough “Christology”, but hopefully it will help clarify what I mean when I say that (in my opinion) the NT writers see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel. In Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the King/Messiah, I believe he also presents Jesus as the true Israel. I will continue this line of thinking in part three of my Sermon on the Mount series as I look at Matthew’s account of three episodes of Jesus’ “recapitulation” of Israel. I believe that the Scripture teaches that the nation itself (as with all the Scripture—as Jesus says Himself) is prophetic. I believe that typology (not allegory!) is the main mode of prophecy in the Scripture and that all the Scripture, OT and NT, finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ.

As I stated previously, I believe that God has a singular purpose in redemptive history and that His purpose is the “summing up of all things in Christ”, or the Recovery of Sacred Space in Christ (which I will return to eventually, I promise!). I believe that the OT is the record of God’s promise regarding His purpose and that the NT is the record of God’s fulfillment of His purpose. I believe that the entirety of the Scripture, OT and NT, are unified in its message concerning the Person and Work of Christ.

I will probably spend some time in the future posting on this idea of Christ as the fulfillment of Israel, to flesh it out more in detail. I can’t possibly deal with all that I believe the Scripture teaches about this in one post (or one comment, as this was supposed to be :-). Much more can and should be said, but for the time being, I hope this sheds more light on my previous claims in The Sermon on the Mount-2.

My response was going something like this…

Thanks for the comment. I’m sure I’m not nearly as clear when communicating my thoughts as I think I am. Of course, everything is very clear in my own mind—at least to me!:-) But isn’t that the case with all of us? What’s clear and incontrovertible to me in my own mind doesn’t necessarily mean that it will come out that way in communication. Unless we can have a Vulcan Mind Meld (or something like that), true and precise communication is always going to be lacking to some degree or other. Unless our minds are one and the same mind, I cannot communicate exactly what I’m thinking. I should be able to do it adequately, of course, thereby preserving the legitimacy of communication; but exact correspondence from one mind to another is simply impossible for us “creatures”. That’s why it’s sometimes so difficult for people to understand one another. Of course, maybe you do understand me just fine (adequately) and simply disagree with me. That’s cool…I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me. I could be wrong (gasp! Did I just say that?). I’ve changed my mind before, so I have no delusions that I’ve got things all figured out. But let me try to quickly clarify what I mean when I say that I believe that Scripture teaches that Jesus is the true “Israel”.

I agree with you completely that “…the true Israel are the ones who follow (Jesus), and who are called the Children of God.” I believe that you correctly understand Paul when he says that those who belong to Christ are “the true circumcision” (Phil 3). Paul is clear that a true Jew (a true child of God) is one who has been circumcised of heart (Rom. 2:17-29), with a circumcision “…made without hands…by the circumcision of Christ” (Col.2:8-17). It is this “circumcision”, not the circumcision of the flesh, that determines “sonship” to God because the issue, as Paul says, is a “New Creation” (Gal. 5:6, 6:15-16).

…then, as I began to write and write and write, this “response” began to resemble a post; so I decided to “post” it in the hopes that other readers might benefit from a little clarification also. Again…this is not all that the Scripture says concerning this issue; but as a quick clarification of what I was saying in the post, I think this will help people see where I’m coming from. And again, if people disagree with me, that’s fine—as long as they understand what I’m trying to say :-) I continue, Paul (as with the rest of the NT writers) understands that the true Israel (the true people of God) are those who have undergone the true circumcision and are therefore the true “children of Abraham”. But this is only true of those who are “in Christ”, who is preeminently the “true” Seed of Abraham. The “gospel” that was preached to Abraham “beforehand” (as Paul says it) was that “all the nations shall be blessed in you”—this is the Abrahamic Covenant. We know that the first-level fulfillment of this prophecy was the institution of Israel (the “seed” of Abraham) as God’s “chosen son”. Israel was to be the “light” to the nations whereby people from every tongue, tribe and nation would come to know God as their own father. This was accomplished through the circumcision of the flesh which identified all proselytes with Israel, God’s “son”. A person must have been joined to “Israel” to enjoy the covenant blessings of being God’s “son”. There’s no question that in the OT Israel was considered to be the people of God; we also know that everyone who joined himself to Israel (through circumcision) was also considered to be a part of the people of God. Proselytes were “grafted in”, so-to-speak, and enjoyed all the privileges of “covenant sonship”. This is only one fairly strait-forward way in which Israel was prophetic and typological as a first-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

But Paul (especially, but in agreement with all NT writers, I believe) understands that all things find their fulfillment in Christ. He (as with the rest of the NT writers) understands Jesus’ words to the men on the road to Emmaus as declaring that all the Scripture is prophetic and finds its terminus point in Christ. It’s in this way that all of God’s promises are true (“yeah” and “amen”) in Christ.

The idea that “Israel” is prophetic because it is typological is found all throughout the OT (as I will attempt to prove in subsequent posts on this subject), but the prophet Isaiah explicitly identifies the singular Servant of God not only as “Israel”, but also as the “covenant of the people” (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-13; cf. Ex. 24:8, Isa. 52:15, Matt. 26:28, and really the whole book of Hebrews). Christ, as the fulfillment of Israel, is this Servant and He is the covenant to/of the people; and it’s in Him (and only in Him) that a person—any person—can have access to the Father. The Abrahamic covenant (and all subsequent covenants) is fulfilled in the “New Covenant” in Christ. Circumcision in the flesh (as a Jewish identity-marker) means nothing to God—it’s the “New Creation” (in Christ) that determines sonship (Gal. 6:15-16). There is “no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised (in the flesh), barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” The Servant, who is the True Israel and True “Son” of God, is also the “covenant” of fulfillment so that all those and only those who are joined to Christ are now the covenant “people of God”.

In dealing with the principle of “Israel”, Paul explains that the true people of God are those who have been joined to the true Son of God who is also the true Seed of Abraham (Galatians). The principle of God hasn’t changed: Abraham’s “seed” (Israel) was to be a light to the nations so that when a person identifies with Israel by uniting with “Israel” (as God’s chosen “son”) through circumcision, he would become a member of “Israel” and a citizen of the Kingdom and, thereby, enjoy the covenant blessings of God as his Father. Israel, however, failed to be God’s covenant son, as expressed over and over again in the Scripture. A new Israel was needed (read especially, Isaiah); and this must be so because “Israel” was simply the first-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant—it was typological and spoke of Abraham’s true Seed to come. Paul sees “Israel” as having it’s fulfillment in Jesus as the true Seed of Abraham who, therefore, is the true Israel and the True Light to the nations.

In fulfillment, it’s only by being joined to Christ through the circumcision made without hands that a person becomes a “covenant child” of God. We who have been “born again” or “born by the Spirit” have had our eyes opened to see the truth (we’ve come to the Light, who is “Israel”) and have become “new creations”, united to the true “Israel”, the true “covenant Son”; therefore we are called the people of God, the Children of God. We can rightly be considered the true Israel because, and only because, we’ve been joined to the True Israel by God’s grace through faith in Him. The Kingdom has come in Christ because it’s in His person that the True Israel and the King of “Israel” has come!

Again, much more can (and should) be said concerning this. As I said above, I’ll probably take some time in the future to post a series on this subject. My point in bringing this up with regard to The Sermon on the Mount, however, is simply to show that Matthew is presenting Jesus as the promised One that has fulfilled the OT Scripture in Himself. It’s not so much that Jesus fulfills the Scripture by what He does (which is undeniable, of course) as much as who He is! I don’t believe that we can understand the OT properly without understanding that its purpose culminates in the Person and Work of Christ. And I don’t believe that we can fully understand the NT properly without seeing it as the fulfillment of the OT. And since this is how the NT writers understood their OT Scriptures, then we must read the OT the same way. If we don’t, then I believe we can be guilty of the same thing that Jesus rebuked his generation for—we can miss (at least the fullness of) Christ!