*I’ve been doing more personal studying of late, and wanted to get some thoughts written down and saved: those of my own and some ideas from a few others. I’m also praying about making some major changes concerning the blog. More about that later.
It’s interesting that God, under the old covenant, referred to Israel as the vine...
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard; I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. (Isaiah 5:3-7
“I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jer. 2:21)
“Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Ezek. 15:6)
“You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (Psalm. 80: 8,9)
And that Jesus proclaimed Himself as the TRUE VINE...
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15: 1-8)
It’s it’s of particular interest what God had to say about Israel and light…
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,..” (Isaiah 42:6)
And of Jesus being the TRUE LIGHT…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1: 1-9)
When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.’ (John 8:12)
Both these, vine and light, were terms spoken of concerning Israel (the nation/people) on numerous occasions in the old testament.
God’s purpose was that Israel be both, but specifically a light (a living testimony) to all nations:
Under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants the Jews had a God-given responsibility toward the nations. God had chosen father Abraham (Isa 51:2) and made a covenant with him for the blessing of all the nations of the earth (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). This promise became the basis for the covenantal relationship with the redeemed Israelites at Mount Sinai: “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6, NASB). “A kingdom of priests . . . among all the peoples”—thus did God consecrate Israel for service to bear a witness among the nations and to bring them to worship Him.
Repeatedly through the prophets the Lord reminded the nation of Israel of His purpose. In spite of this, Jonah as a prophet, and the people as a whole, were deaf to their covenantal responsibility (Isa 42:19). Nevertheless God kept on calling: “You are My witnesses, . . . and My servant whom I have chosen” (Isa 43:10). He foretold that He would pour out His Spirit on all mankind (Joel 2:28). God announced His coming to gather all nations in order to see His glory, and that He would send His remnant to distant nations which had not heard His fame to declare His glory among them (Isa 66:18-19). Zechariah (2:11) and Malachi (1:11) among the post-Exilic prophets continued to publish the Lord’s desire to make all the nations to be His people. – (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary)
Israel’s “Great Commission” included living as a “light to the Gentiles.” In a few instances – very few, unfortunately – we see examples of how this was meant to work. But more often, Israel failed to be a light to the Gentiles; indeed, Israel sometimes refused (as in the case of Jonah) to be a light to the Gentiles.
It was because of this that Jesus, the Messiah, came to fulfill what Israel failed to achieve.
How was Israel to be a light…how were the people to fulfill this Great Commission given them by God?
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country and your people. Leave your father’s family. Go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. You will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you. I will put a curse on anyone who calls down a curse on you. All nations on earth will be blessed because of you.” (Genesis 12: 1-3 emphasis mine)
God chose to bless Abraham and his descendants above every other nation, but it was not because they were so prominent, powerful, or pious. God chose to bless Abraham’s seed so that they might be a testimony to His grace and also be a channel of blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). All of God’s blessings were a gift of His grace; none of them were earned. And none of these blessings belonged exclusively to Israel. They were gracious gifts that were to be shared with others. This was a matter of stewardship rather than a matter of ownership. For example, God made it clear that the land of Canaan did not belong to Israel but to God:
“The land must not be sold without reclaim because the land belongs to me, for you are foreigners and residents with me” (Leviticus 25:23 emphasis mine).
God removed the Canaanites from the land because of their sin, and He would do the same to the Israelites if they defiled the land by committing the same sins.
God’s blessings were poured out on Abraham and his descendants so that they could be the instrument through which God blessed the world.
How was this blessing to come about? In what ways was the nation Israel to be a blessing to the Gentiles?
But first, let us look at a dangerous misconception: Confusing Canaanites and Gentiles.
The distinction between the Gentiles and the Canaanites is important. When the Israelites were about to possess the land of Canaan, God commanded His people to annihilate the Canaanites:
You will be blessed beyond all peoples; there will be no barrenness among you or your livestock. The Lord will protect you from all sickness, and you will not experience any of the terrible diseases that you knew in Egypt; instead he will inflict them on all those who hate you. You must destroy all the people whom the Lord your God is about to deliver over to you; you must not pity them or worship their gods, for that will be a snare to you (Deuteronomy 7:14-16,)
Later in the Book of Deuteronomy, God differentiated between the treatment of Gentiles in general and of the Canaanites in particular. God distinguished Gentiles from Canaanites in His instructions regarding Israel’s confrontation of those peoples and cities in possessing the land of Canaan. The Canaanites lived in nearby cities; the Gentiles lived at a distance:
When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves. If it does not accept terms of peace but makes war with you, then you are to lay siege to it. The Lord your God will deliver it over to you and you must kill every single male by the sword. However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city – all its plunder – you may take for yourselves as spoil. You may take from your enemies the plunder that the Lord your God has given you. This is how you are to deal with all those cities located far from you, those that do not belong to these nearby nations. As for the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing to survive. Instead you must utterly annihilate them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites – just as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they cannot teach you all the abhorrent ways they worship their gods, causing you to sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:10-18)
God did not order the annihilation of the Canaanites just because they were nearby, but because they were totally corrupt. The Canaanites were a people so thoroughly contaminated with sin that they had to be exterminated. They were like a member of the human body riddled with cancer; the only way to deal with it is to cut it out. Such was the case with the Canaanites. Their idolatry and sin had plunged them to the depths of depravity. They were a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah.
The problem was that the Jews became arrogant and self-righteous, despising all Gentiles as though they were Canaanites. They were eager to see all Gentiles perish, just as Jonah wanted the Ninevites destroyed. They opposed the extension of God’s grace to Gentiles. This same attitude persisted in New Testament times:
“We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners. . .” (Galatians 2:15)
This is not just the attitude of unbelieving Jews. This was deeply embedded in the hearts of some of the apostles, as we can see from Peter’s resistance to go to a Gentile’s home in Acts 10 and from the reaction of his fellow-apostles when he did go and preached the gospel to them.
As you read the Old Testament (also specific instances within the New Testament Gospels and Acts), it appears the Jews made little distinction between the highly corrupt Canaanites and Gentiles. The Jews seemed inclined to despise all Gentiles and to think of themselves alone as deserving God’s blessings. In this regard, the Jews had the same self-righteous arrogance as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:
Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘ God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, emphasis mine).
Perhaps the most bitter pill any Jew must swallow (to be saved) is to acknowledge he is an unworthy sinner, no more righteous and no more deserving of salvation than the Gentile heathen. Indeed, Paul’s words in Romans 2 declare unbelieving Jews even more deserving of God’s wrath because of their greater knowledge through the Old Testament Scriptures.
Read Paul’s words carefully below:
Some people do not know God’s law when they sin. They will not be judged by the law when they die. Others do know God’s law when they sin. They will be judged by the law. Hearing the law does not make a person right with God. People are considered to be right with God only when they obey the law. Those who aren’t Jews do not have the law. Sometimes they just naturally do what the law requires. They are a law for themselves. This is true even though they don’t have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. The way their minds judge them gives witness to that fact. Sometimes their thoughts find them guilty. At other times their thoughts find them not guilty. People will be judged on the day God appoints Jesus Christ to judge their secret thoughts. That’s part of my good news.
Suppose you call yourself a Jew. You trust in the law. You brag that you are close to God. You know what God wants. You agree with what is best because the law teaches you. You are sure you can lead people who are blind. You are sure you are a light for those who are in the dark. You claim to be able to teach foolish people. You can even teach babies. You think that in the law you have all knowledge and truth. You teach others. But you don’t teach yourself! You preach against stealing. But you steal! You say that people should not commit adultery. But you commit adultery! You hate statues of gods. But you rob temples! You brag about the law. But when you break it, you rob God of his honor! It is written, “Those who aren’t Jews say evil things against God’s name because of you.” (*Isaiah 52:5; *Ezekiel 36:22). Circumcision has value if you obey the law. But if you break the law, it is just as if you hadn’t been circumcised. Sometimes those who aren’t circumcised do what the law requires. Won’t God accept them as if they had been circumcised? Many are not circumcised physically, but they obey the law. They will prove that you are guilty. You are breaking the law, even though you have the written law and are circumcised. A man is not a Jew if he is a Jew only on the outside. And circumcision is more than just something done to the outside of a man’s body. (Romans 2: 12-29)
How different Paul’s attitude is after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus! No longer is there the pride and arrogance confessed in Philippians 3:1-6. Now, Paul humbly views his conversion as that of an unworthy sinner, saved by grace alone:
I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
Paul did not see himself as chosen for salvation because he was a devout Jew, but because he was the example of one who was the “chief of sinners,” completely unworthy of salvation. God saved him to show that even the likes of one like him could be saved. Thus, no one should feel beyond the reach of God’s grace. Paul is a trophy, not of self-righteous works, but of divine grace.
We must therefore be careful to distinguish between the Canaanites, who were to be completely annihilated, and Gentiles in general, to whom Israel was to be a blessing.
*Returning to how Israel was to be a light and blessing
In the law of Moses, God made provision for foreigners who embraced Israel’s faith to worship with the Israelites. So even before the Israelites left Egypt, God gave instructions for how a foreigner could participate in the observance of the Passover:
“When a foreigner lives with you and wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised, and then he may approach and observe it, and he will be like one who is born in the land – but no uncircumcised person may eat of it. The same law will apply to the person who is native-born and to the foreigner who lives among you” (Exodus 12:48-49)
A foreigner who wanted to participate in the celebration of Passover had to be circumcised, indicating that he had entered into a covenant relation with Israel’s God.
It is important to distinguish God’s “inclusiveness” here from the “inclusiveness” of some churches today. Some seek to draw unbelievers to church by inviting them to participate in their worship and ministry. I fear this gives the unbeliever a sense of participation which may give a false assurance of salvation. God provided a way for Gentiles to enter into Israel’s worship, but this participation required Gentiles to fully embrace by faith the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the one true God, the Creator of all things, God alone. One could not participate in Israel’s worship without first having embraced Israel’s faith in God.
It is not surprising that God also permitted foreigners (Gentiles) to participate in the celebration of other Jewish holidays, such as the Feast of Booths:
Then Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carry the ark of the Lord’s covenant, and to all Israel’s elders. He commanded them: “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the cancellation of debts, at the Feast of Temporary Shelters, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place he chooses, you must read this law before them within their hearing. Gather the people – men, women, and children, as well as the resident foreigners in your villages – so they may hear and thus learn about and fear the Lord God and carefully obey all the words of this law. Then their children, who have not known this law, will also hear about and learn to fear the Lord your God for as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:9-13, emphasis mine).
In this case, foreigners were invited to gather together with the Israelites so they could hear the reading of the law, and thus learn to know, fear, and serve the Lord.
Contact with the people of God resulted in the faith of some Gentiles.For example, it would seem that some of the Egyptians believed and entered into God’s blessings with the Israelites. At the time of the exodus, we know some Egyptians accompanied them to the Promised Land.
It is also very significant that the temple, when finally built, was built to facilitate the prayers and worship of both Israelites and Gentiles. It was to be a place that facilitated the prayers and worship of the Israelites. But in addition, it was to be a place of prayer for the Gentiles where they also could worship God.
I find it most interesting to observe the way Solomon prayed, when dedicating the temple:
“ Foreigners, who do not belong to your people Israel, will come from a distant land because of your reputation. When they hear about your great reputation and your ability to accomplish mighty deeds, they will come and direct their prayers toward this temple. Then listen from your heavenly dwelling place and answer all the prayers of the foreigners. Then all the nations of the earth will acknowledge your reputation, obey you like your people Israel do, and recognize that this temple I built belongs to you” ( 1 Kings 8:41-43, emphasis mine)
The Old Testament prophets (also) spoke of the coming of Messiah as a source of blessing for the world, and not just for Jews alone:
No foreigner who becomes a follower of the Lord should say, ‘The Lord will certainly exclude me from his people.’ The eunuch should not say, ‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’” For this is what the Lord says: “For the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths and choose what pleases me and are faithful to my covenant, I will set up within my temple and my walls a monument that will be better than sons and daughters. I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain. As for foreigners who become followers of the Lord and serve him, who love the name of the Lord and want to be his servants – all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it, and who are faithful to my covenant – I will bring them to my holy mountain; I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray” ( Isaiah 56:3-7, emphasis mine)
No wonder our Lord was so disturbed by the way the temple was being misused in His time – misused in such a way as to exclude Gentiles:
Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!” (Matthew 21:12-13)
The prophets actually had much to say about the salvation of Gentiles through the coming of Messiah:
“I hate their deeds and thoughts! So I am coming to gather all the nations and ethnic groups; they will come and witness my splendor. I will perform a mighty act among them and then send some of those who remain to the nations – to Tarshish, Pul, Lud (known for its archers), Tubal, Javan, and to the distant coastlands that have not heard about me or seen my splendor. They will tell the nations of my splendor. They will bring back all your countrymen from all the nations as an offering to the Lord. They will bring them on horses, in chariots, in wagons, on mules, and on camels to my holy hill Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the Israelites bring offerings to the Lord’s temple in ritually pure containers. And I will choose some of them as priests and Levites,” says the Lord. “For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain. From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me,” says the Lord ( Isaiah 66:18-23, emphasis mine)
“This is how you will divide this land for yourselves among the tribes of Israel. You must allot it as an inheritance among yourselves and for the foreigners who reside among you, who have fathered sons among you. You must treat them as native-born among the people of Israel; they will be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the foreigner resides, there you will give him his inheritance,” declares the sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 47:21-23, emphasis mine)
The Jews Were to Be a Light to the Gentiles
From the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) onward, the nation Israel was to be a source of light and blessing to the Gentiles. The clearest definition is found in Isaiah 58:
No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the Lord’s splendor will be your rear guard. Then you will call out, and the Lord will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully. You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday. The Lord will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions. He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water. Your perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations. You will be called, ‘The one who repairs broken walls, the one who makes the streets inhabitable again’” (Isaiah 58:6-12, emphasis mine)
Sadly, Israel’s “fasting” was like her other ritualistic observances – an offense to God. This was because the heart of true religion was missing. From the first chapter of Isaiah, we learn that while Israel continued to perform their religious rituals, they also practiced violence and failed to defend the orphans or care for the widows. True fasting was not intended to be a temporary period of self-denial (to be quickly replaced by unbridled self-indulgence); true fasting was to be a true manifestation of love for God and love for one’s neighbor. True fasting was to seek the liberation of those in bondage. I believe such “bondage” would include oppression by men as well as bondage to sin.
True fasting was not just denying oneself food for a time; it was going without bread so that it could be given to someone in need of it. It was to deny oneself the purchase of another outfit to cram into a crowded closet so that it could be given to someone whose closet was empty. The Sabbath too was a kind of fast. On the Sabbath, one was to set aside the pursuit of personal pleasure to have time to delight in the Lord. Caring for the poor and the oppressed is not just an Old Testament obligation:
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27)
The Law Facilitated Israel’s Light Bearing
First of all, the Old Testament law included foreigners among those to whom the Israelites were to show charity.
“‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God’” ( Leviticus 23:22, emphasis mine)
In Leviticus 19, the Israelites were not only instructed to love their fellow-Israelites:
“You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” ( Leviticus 19:18, emphasis mine).
But we also read in Leviticus 19, the Israelites were commanded to love their “foreign” neighbors as themselves:
When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33-34, emphasis mine)
The law also assured foreigners the same legal standing as the Israelite:
There will be one regulation for you, whether a foreigner or a native citizen, for I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 24:22 emphasis mine)
I furthermore admonished your judges at that time that they should pay attention to issues among your fellow citizens and judge fairly, whether between one citizen and another or a citizen and a resident foreigner. They must not discriminate in judgment, but hear the lowly and the great alike. Nor should they be intimidated by human beings, for judgment belongs to God. If the matter being adjudicated is too difficult for them, they should bring it before me for a hearing (Deuteronomy 1:16-17, emphasis mine)
If Israel had lived in obedience to God’s instructions they would have indeed “been a great light” unto the nations. And in doing so He promised to bless them greatly. An obedient people would mean a prosperous land. In the law, God commanded the Israelites to set aside some of their abundance to minister to the needs of the poor, including the Gentiles (foreigners) who were poor. But would Gentiles be safe and secure in the land of Israel, or would they be oppressed and victimized, as immigrants?
Israel should have been the place of prosperity, generosity, and safety to which all Gentiles gravitated. This did not (obviously) happen. But, there are a number of examples of individuals who “came” to know and serve God: There was Rahab, the harlot, who believed that God was with the Israelites. She joined herself with Israel rather than with her own people and was saved (physically and spiritually). Ruth too came to faith in the God of Israel, and thus attached herself to Naomi and her people. And then there was Naaman, the leper, who was also the commander of the Syrian army. He came seeking to purchase a cure for his leprosy, and he left as a believer in the God of Israel.
The point is, God set Abraham and his offspring apart for blessing so that they could be a blessing to the nations. God did not set Israel apart merely to save the Jews and send the rest to hell. He set Israel apart to be blessed and in turn to become a channel of blessing to the nations. Thus, the salvation of Gentiles like Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, and a number of other Gentiles was not meant to be viewed as the exception but the norm–the intended purpose of God. Drawing Gentiles to Israel and to faith was supposed to be the rule rather than the exception. God did not call Israel into existence to be a “reservoir”of all God’s blessings, to store up for themselves and then share sparingly with others at their discretion. Israel was to be a “river” whereby God’s blessings would pass through the people to others. But greater still, they were to be a ‘light’ unto the nations: A light which drew ALL people to the One True God. In this regard, they failed.
We know by reading the word’s of many of the OT prophets that the people were warned time and again by God. Some of these prophets were killed for proclaiming God’s word’s of warning to the people;
Zechariah was stoned in the porch of the Temple by order of King Joash, because the Prophet had denounced the people for their unfaithfulness (2 Chrn 24:20-22) Isaiah the prophet was killed by being sawn in two. Hebrews 11:37 (“sawn asunder”) is commonly thought to refer to him. The reason given is that he prophesied the fall of Jerusalem, for the wickedness of the people, calling it “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Unnumbered unnamed prophets of the Lord were put to death by Jezebel, in the time of Elijah (1 Kgs 18:4, 13; 19:14). She wanted to wipe out the worship of the Lord, and replace it with the worship of Baal. And John the Baptist, beheaded by Herod for publicly accusing him of adultery, is often considered to be the last of the Old Testament prophets (Mtt 14:1-12) EWTN
Which leads to Jesus’ parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.
Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (*Psalm 118)
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (emphasis mine)
The closing verse makes it clear the religious leaders knew who Jesus’ was referring to, and exactly what he was saying,
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (verses 33-46 emphasis mine)
Many believe, in his parable of the Tenants, Jesus was drawing heavily upon Isaiah 5;
“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it upand cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepressas well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:1-7)
The point is, the Kingdom was taken away; not immediately for we know the early Church was comprised of Jewish believers alone. So what does this mean? I’ve thought long and hard about this, and prayed asking God for further insight. What I believe is that (obviously) the Kingdom was not totally and immediately taken away from the people Israel; for as I pointed out the early Church was made up of Jewish believers. And, through-out the last 2000 years (on up until today) Jews are still coming to Christ. But this is what I see: after this point (Matthew 21) Israel (the Nation and it’s unbelieving people) are no longer seen by God as his “chosen”. Jesus was proclaiming they had forfeited that beloved title and all that was connected to it, for their failure to accept him as the long awaited Messiah, and for their failure to be a light unto the Nations.
One thing I’ve noticed is throughout the new testament you never see the Jewish people (again) referred to as chosen. Those in the new testament who are now called chosen are of those who follow Jesus;
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2: 9-10 emphasis mine)
As shown by the scriptures quoted earlier in this post concerning the foreigner (Gentiles), ethnicity never was to be ‘the’ criteria which granted citizenship into God’s Kingdom–God never intended the Kingdom to be “exclusive to the Jews”, not in the manner in which Israel believed it to be. Though we still see this belief in the new testament;
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit inkeeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise upchildren for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.(Luke 3:7-9
Where Israel failed to be a light to the Nations, Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection, succeeded.
Note the similarities between Israel (the old testament Nation) and True Israel, Jesus Christ, pointed out in Matthew’s Gospel.
- In the Old Testament, a young man named Joseph had dreams and went into Egypt to preserve his family alive (Genesis 45:5). In the New Testament we find another Joseph, who likewise had dreams and then went to Egypt to preserve his family (Matthew 2:13).
- When the young nation of Israel came out of Egypt, God called that nation “my son” in Exodus 4:22. When the baby Jesus came out of Egypt, God said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Matthew 2:15.
- When Israel left Egypt, the people went through the Red Sea. The apostle Paul says they were “baptized unto Moses … in the sea.” 1 Corinthians 10:2. Jesus was also baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” and immediately afterward God proclaimed Him, “my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:15-17).
- After the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness” for 40 days (Matthew 4:1, 2).
- At the end of their 40-year wilderness wandering, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. At the end of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, He resisted Satan’s temptations by quoting three Scriptures-all from Deuteronomy.
- In Psalm 80:8, God calls Israel a “vine” that He brought “out of Egypt.” Yet Jesus later declared, “I am the true vine.” John 15:1.
- In the Old Testament, the name “Israel” first applied to one man, to Jacob. It represented Jacob’s spiritual victory over sin. Even so, in the beginning of the New Testament we discover that Jesus Christ is the new Israel who came “out of Egypt.” He is the one victorious Man who overcame all sin – A New Nation
Remember that the name “Israel” not only referred to Jacob, but also to his descendants, who became Israel. The same principle is seen in the New Testament.
- For example, the Lord had told the ancient Israelites, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Exodus 19:6. In the New Testament, Peter applies these exact words to the church: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” 1 Peter 2:9.
- Likewise, right after Paul’s statement in Galatians chapter 3 about Jesus being “the seed,” he then told his Gentile converts [a Gentile is any person who is not of the Jewish faith], “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. Thus in the New Testament, the name Israel not only applies to Jesus Christ, but also to those who are born in Christ-His church. In other words, all true Christians are now God’s spiritual Israel.
- The New Testament refers to two Israels. One group is composed of literal Israelites “according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3, 4). The other is “spiritual Israel,” composed of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Romans 9:6. That is, not all are part of God’s spiritual Israel who are of the literal nation of Israel. Paul continued, “That is, They which are the children of the flesh [physical descendants of Abraham], these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Romans 9:8. The children of the flesh are only natural descendants of Abraham, but the children of the promise are counted as the true seed.
Today any person-Jew or Gentile-can become a part of this spiritual nation of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ.
Where Old Testament Israel had failed; Jesus succeeded: Thus Jesus Christ IS the NEW ISRAEL (Grace Fellowship)
Contributing to this post:
Grace Fellowship Church
Israel and the Church: Who are God’s Chosen People
Israel’s Relationship to the World by Robert L. Deffinbaugh