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!


preacherman said...

Interesting post.
I really enjoyed reading.
Keep up the great work.
May God give you a blessed week!

thekingpin68 said...

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”,

That is a primary divine purpose in presenting Scripture. Leading the elect to Christ and therefore glorifying himself.

Journaling For Growth

The link is still not working, from my perspective. The blog is linked, but it is missing the rest of the information the other links have present. Only the name appears.

I also cannot get onto Jim's page with the link.

Sorry man.

Thanks for the comment, and I replied.


Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Preacherman. I look forward to visiting your site when I have some time this afternoon. It's very encouraging to read/hear the thoughts of other believers. Whether we end up agreeing on some particular point or not, as the Spirit moves in our hearts through the mutual ministry of the people of God, He will continue to conform us into the image of Christ. The Body causes the growth of the Body through the mutual ministry of Spirit in us, one to another (Eph. 4:1-16).

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"Journaling For Growth..."

I can't seem to find the problem. I've tried to remove and then relink, but only the name doesn't open up.

I've e-mailed Jim to see if he might know what the problem is. Thanks again, Russ, for letting me know.

satire and theology said...

Journaling For Growth, the link is working! Hooray.;)

Is not Blogger fun?!;)

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Yea...I was beginning to get pretty aggravated over this. I'm glad it's finally up and running!