sermon: The Doctrine of Israel (Part Six): New Testament Teaching
Israel in the Gospels-Acts
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 22-Feb-20; Sermon #1530; 73 minutes
Ancient Israel habitually forsook God and His laws in favor of pagan religion, just as modern Israel has done today. Even after God miraculously and powerfully rescued Israel from Egyptian bondage, our forebears never detached themselves from pagan culture. Judah degenerated to a lower moral state than the rebellious Northern Kingdom (Israel); ultimately both Judah and Israel degenerated to a lower moral state than Sodom, becoming as evil as the pre-Flood civilization. Recently archeologists have discovered an intact pagan temple complex only four miles from Jerusalem. Physical Israel and Judah had become so committed to spiritual harlotry that God divorced His people. Because of His promises to the patriarchs, after divorcing Judah and Israel, He selectively and personally called some Israelites and Gentiles to form the Israel of God, Spiritual Israel. The Book of Matthew firmly ties Jesus to Old Testament prophecies and to the genealogy of Abraham and David. Those who follow Christ's rule are the true Israel, the true Prevailers, the Elect, and the Chosen, called by God to precede unfaithful physical Israel in the sanctification and salvation process. God always starts out small, beginning with His elect and from that point expanding His work to include Israel and the Gentiles, eventually all who ever lived. Because the Church, as a type of firstfruits, is under the New Covenant, God has in fact lodged His Saints between Himself and physical Israel, gradually making of its members priests (intercessors) between God and man.
As most of you are aware, I am going through a series on the doctrine of Israel, this is Part Six. As we begin, I want to summarize what we have covered over the last five sermons in the series because we have progressed to a point where this series is going to make a little bit of a shift because we have gone through the period of the Old Covenant pretty much, and are about to enter into the time of the New Covenant.
We began with the earliest beginnings of what later became Israel. The nation, we know, is founded on the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even Joseph, but to a lesser extent. What those patriarchs did, what they believed while interacting with God, set the course of the nation of Israel. It actually set the tone for all those descendants of Israel, both good and bad, as the Israelites tended to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers. They particularly tended to repeat the mistakes of Jacob, who became known as Israel, before he was converted. And maybe just in a physical way because the sons of Israel grew up, matured, before he became converted. So that is what they learned from their dad and they just ended up passing it down to their children.
And of course the Israelites also repeated the mistakes of Jacob's sons, the progenitors of the tribes of Israel. So you get the people of Judah doing a lot of Judahite things because that is what their father Judah did. And so these things get passed on. We see the peoples of Ephraim and Manasseh tend to be like Joseph and some of those same ways of doing things just go down generation to generation to generation and now 3,500 years later or more, they are still doing Joseph-like things, both good and bad.
Speaking of Joseph, Joseph brought Jacob and those brothers of his down to live in Egypt and after his death, the Israelites were put in bondage. After a few centuries they had largely forgotten the ways of God. They still knew that they had a God—there was a God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and so they cried out for Him to deliver them and He came through for them. He called Moses and redeemed His people, brought them out of Egypt, and He brought them specifically to Mount Sinai, where He gave them what we call the Old Covenant, along with the Ten Commandments and a great deal of other instruction.
But what the Old Covenant did is that it bound the children of Israel to His way. It bound them to His commandments. It bound them to His objectives, what He wanted to produce, and they agreed to it with blood. It was ratified. They said, "Okay, God, whatever you say, we will do." Just a rough translation, that is, a paraphrase, but it is pretty close. And so what He did through that covenant is, He said, "Okay, fine. We are going to do all these things. I'm going to dangle this carrot out in front of you. That's all my blessings. And then on the other hand, I'm going to also carry this stick in My other hand and that's the stick of curses. So, if you obey Me and if you are loyal to Me, you'll get the carrot, the blessings. But if you disobey Me, if you're disloyal to Me, then I'll whack you with the curses."
Very simple. A two year old understands this. It is not hard. You want candy or you want to go to your room, you want this or you want something bad. It is very understandable. (Not that you are supposed to bribe your kids with candy or whatever, but I am just saying they understand that principle of getting good things, good results for being obedient and getting bad things or bad results for being disobedient.) Even stupid Israelites can understand this.
So they came into the Promised Land and within a couple of generations, they began the cycle of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and divine deliverance. This happened again and again and again throughout the book of Judges. And actually this cycle lasted for a total of about 800 years. They would follow God for a time when He sent them a good leader, like Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Samuel, or maybe a good king like David or Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah or Josiah. They seem to rebound a little bit and do well under them. But once those good leaders or good kings were dead, Israel would turn to the gods of the Canaanites—and pretty quickly too. Those gods, most of them, were made of clay, wood, some kind of metal, whatever, they had kept them in the closet. When a good king came and everybody turned toward God, the true God, they put those gods away. And then when things turned they would get them back out. It is just the way they were.
As a matter of fact, I got an email from the guy who does the "Egypt leaving Israel" and that sort of thing, I cannot think of his name right now. But he sent an email that said, archaeologists have just recently found a full-fledged pagan temple and it actually is a whole complex. It lies just northwest of Jerusalem by about four miles. It is at a tell named Telamutzah and the archaeologists have figured out that it was in pretty much constant use through the whole history of the Southern Kingdom from Rehoboam all the way to Zedekiah. Four miles away from God's Temple, there was a full-fledged temple complex to pagan deities.
You would think that only four miles away the leaders in Jerusalem would be able to have some control over it and I am sure they did. They did not care, they did not do anything about it. Only men like Hezekiah and Josiah had the guts to go out and destroy places like that. And, evidently, this one would rebound very quickly and it was one of those high places that people kept coming back to.
Well anyway, Israel kept on this roller coaster ride of apostasy, oppression, repentance, deliverance until about 722 BC, when she had declined so far and strayed so far from God that He sent the Assyrians into the country, to Samaria specifically, to conquer the Northern Kingdom, and those who were not killed, he took captive. that is, the king of Assyria. They sent these captives into exile and that exile is still ongoing. Those Israelites never came back and in last sermon we found that Judah followed the exact same pattern.
She outdid Israel though. That was the big takeaway from the last sermon, that Judah was wicked beyond what Israel ever was. God testifies even that she was worse than Sodom. He said, "You have made your sisters, Israel and Sodom, righteous by your wickedness." By comparison, they looked righteous compared to Judah. The depth of Judah sins were so bad, so low, that those of the pre-Flood world were basically on a par with them to the point that the people of Judah, it says, "did not know right from wrong." They had gotten to the point where they had no concept of what was morally right and wrong, what was God-like and what was anti-God. So they ended up being anti-God, essentially.
We can see a similar decline happening in our nations today. They are going the same way as ancient Israel, the same way as ancient Judah.
So what was God to do? He had kicked out Israel, He had kicked out Judah, or was about to. He had sent prophets and good leaders to them and it says that He had warned them from dawn to dusk to repent. But they had continued to rebel. They performed the worst idolatrous practices all the way to the point of sacrificing their children to Molech. They had broken His Sabbaths, they had repudiated His covenant in every possible fashion. He had sent all the curses of the covenant upon them that we read in terms of Israel in Amos 4, that He had sent this one and that one and this other one and this one and this one and this one, and they still had not turned back to Him or even made the connection between the crisis they were going through and the fact that they were evil people.
So what was He to do when they would not turn back? When they were so set on being the way they were—sinful, evil, wicked, anti-God. What could He do? Let us start in the Scriptures with Jeremiah the third chapter. We will read verses 6-11. God tells us plainly what He could do. It was His only viable option at this point.
Jeremiah 3:6-11 The Lord said also to me [speaking to Jeremiah] in the days of Josiah the king [We see how far it has progressed. We only have about 40 years left before Judah is going to be conquered and exiled. God says,]: "Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, 'Return to Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense [or hypocrisy, insincerity]," says the Lord. Then the Lord said to me, "Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah."
So here we have the scripture telling us that God says His only option was to divorce her—to divorce Israel. And that is the essential effect of sending her away into exile, removing her from His sight. You might just want to jot down in your notes, II Kings 17:18-23 which is parallel to this in terms of its being said, just about the same time, Israel has been put away and it is Judah that is in the spotlight, and He includes Judah there in the divorce, just as this passage does, in a future sense. Because, remember, we are at the time of Josiah, there is still some time to go. But it is pretty clear from what God says through Jeremiah here, that Judah is going to go the same way that Israel was and He was going to have to take the same course of action. He was going to have to divorce Judah as well. It was Israel and Judah.
Let us go back to Deuteronomy 24. This is the Deuteronomy passage I was thinking of before, which my eye caught, and I said before I realized I should have said Jeremiah. Here is God's law concerning divorce. We are just going to read the first verse.
Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, . . .
We do not need the rest of that. We just need to know what the action of the husband is here in terms of getting a divorce.
So we see a very simple process that takes place. He writes her a certificate of divorce and sends her out of his house. This is the exact same procedure that God followed. He followed His law in this. He found terrible uncleanness in her, in His wife Israel and then later Judah. So He wrote down His formal indictment of her sins. We find that in Scripture, it is all through there. This formal indictment of her sins in effect annuls or invalidates the covenant. If you want to just jot down Hebrews 8:8 and then also verse 13 of that same chapter, it shows you that the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete. And then He did the last thing that it says here in Deuteronomy 24:1, is that He expelled her from His house. So in terms of God, He expelled her from His land. That was the whole area that He "controlled." Obviously He controls the whole earth, but He ruled over the land of Israel. And when she became too wicked and He divorced her, He expelled her from that land. So that was essentially the divorce.
Now some people have said, God hates divorce, does he not? He is a loving God. Would He do that? Well, let us go to Malachi 2 and what we will find is that idea is pulled directly out of context.
Malachi 2:16 "For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the Lord of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."
We need to understand the background of what is going on here in Malachi 2. What we find is that divorce—even for God—is sometimes necessary. But what happened here in Malachi, the kind of divorce that He says He hates is the kind where men in a position of power deal treacherously with their wives that they married when they were younger—the wives of their youth—and now that the wife has gotten a little older, well, he decides, in his midlife crisis, that he is going to kick her to the curb and get another one. And so they went through this procedure that we saw in Deuteronomy 24:1, which was very easy. It did not actually have to be litigated at all like divorces do many times in our country. They would just write a certificate of divorce and send her away, not having found any uncleanness in her, but just for their convenience so that they could marry someone else.
That is the kind of divorce that God hates. Where there is treachery involved. There is not any real reason for the divorce except for someone wants to do something else. There is no uncleanness involved in the divorce. So these were not divorces that He is condemning in Malachi that were due to adultery, but deceitful divorces of convenience. That is what He hates.
Let us just back this up. Go one more book in the Bible further to Matthew the 19th chapter. We will read verses 3-9 and we will see the same God who talked about hating divorce in Malachi 2 is now on the scene in Judea as Jesus of Nazareth and He talks about divorce.
Matthew 19:3-9 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" [They were trying to get Him to make a mistake here. They thought He was a flaming liberal.] And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." [So He basically says, "no, not just for any reason."] They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command [Notice that word, he did not command. You will see that Jesus uses a better word in the next verse.] to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality [That is that uncleanness that is in Deuteronomy 24:1.], and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
Here we have the same God, Jesus of Nazareth, making sure they understood this law better. He says, you have to have an instance of sexual immorality. In the Greek it is pornaia, which is a very broad term about all kinds of sexual immorality. It could be before marriage, it could be after marriage, within the marriage. It could be homosexuality, it could be just adultery, whatever. It is a very broad sexual term. That is why back in Deuteronomy 24, the term uncleanness may be better, but we will leave that as it is. So we have uncleanness in Deuteronomy 24:1 and we have back in Jeremiah 3:6-11 when God was saying this is what Israel and Judah has done, He used the term adultery and He also used the term harlotry. Those were His reasons why He gave her a bill of divorce.
And like I said, on a spiritual level, these can cover a great deal of ground, but essentially what it is, is in the spiritual side, it was their idolatry. That is usually how it stacks up with adultery. One is the physical, one is the spiritual. They both are breaking of the covenant with another person, with another entity.
So God's divorce of Israel, which He had avoided doing for centuries—just think about that. He would have been justified to divorce Israel as early as the Golden Calf, which was just days after giving the law. He had avoided doing this for many, many years and had given them so much time—centuries, almost a whole millennium—to repent. But His divorce was warranted by her unrepentant wickedness and her disloyalty to Him. In Jeremiah 3:1, we will not read it, and also versus 12-14 of that same chapter, He goes so far as to say there that in His grace, He would have taken her back! He was willing to go that extra mile after all of her wickedness to take her back, even then. If only she would repent. If only she would cease her wickedness, her uncleanness. But of course that has never happened, not even to today. So the divorce remains in effect.
Now we pass into the New Testament teaching on the doctrine of Israel, and in this sermon we are going to focus primarily on the things Jesus Himself said about this doctrine, about Israel. I was surprised when I was studying for this, how little is actually said in the gospels and Acts about Israel. In fact, the word Israel or Israelite, Israelites, whatever, is only mentioned 76 times in those five books, which I thought it would be more but I was surprised. Of course there is plenty about the Jews, you could add what is said about the Jews and that would make it a whole lot more common what He said about them. We will not be able to cover every one. None of you want to be in a page-turning marathon and cover all of those different mentions. But we are going to look at a few of the most important.
What we find is that Jesus of Nazareth, our God, is very forward looking. He spends the bulk of His words about Israel, not on old Israel, but on the new Israel. The new Israel under a New Covenant. That is what He was working toward. That is what He was excited about. That is what He was moving toward. So He had already divorced Israel and He was moving forward to His relationship with new Israel in the New Covenant.
In our Bibles, the book of Matthew opens the New Testament and we are here already. This was written by Jesus' disciple Levi, also known as Matthew, and he makes a point in his gospel of tying Jesus of Nazareth to the Old Testament prophecies and making sure that we understand, as the reader, that He is the Messiah, He is the King of Israel. And so that is his focus throughout all of these 28 chapters of Matthew. It is his overall theme. Let us just go back to Matthew 1, because we can see this right away that this is what he is getting at. What he does in chapter 1 is he opens up his gospel with a genealogy that goes to great lengths to link Jesus with Abraham and David.
Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
So he is trying to link him as strongly as possible, as soon as possible, with two of the great luminaries of the Old Testament—the greatest of the patriarchs and the greatest of the kings. And of course, the prophecies about Messiah flow from the fact that He is the son of Abraham and He is also a son of David. So he makes sure that—bang!—the first thing we see is that he is connecting Jesus with David and with Abraham. This pattern of connecting Him to the Old Testament as Messiah and as Israel's great coming King throughout the 28 chapters of Matthew. He just keeps hitting it from one direction or another.
Now I want to go here in Matthew 1 to verses 18-25. This is His birth passage, if you will. And this is very interesting for many reasons. But I want you to notice as we read this that nowhere in these eight verses do the words Israel, Judah, Israelite, Jew, or anything like that appear.
Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [Yeshua or Joshua], for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
We did not see any Israel, Jew, or any such term. The closest we get is in verse 21 where it says He will save His people from their sins. How many times have you read that and assumed that he meant Israel? It does not say Israel, it says "His people." What was the state of things during that time? He had divorced her already. "His people" does not have to include Israelites at all. It probably does, but it does not have to. In a New Testament context, which this is, His people actually identifies what we call "the elect" or "the called" of God. Those who believe in Him and accept Him as their personal Savior and who live by faith in Him. Those are His people. Those are ultimately the ones who are going to be His people.
Leave that there for a moment and let us go to Galatians 6:16. A memory verse for many of us.
Galatians 6:16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
This is the only place in the entire Bible where this phrase appears. Certainly the only time it is mentioned in the New Testament, that is, Israel of God. Paul is underscoring what is said there in Matthew the first chapter, verse 21.
Now, commentators, when they talk about this or write about this, cover several arguments about who Paul is talking about in this verse. But in the end, most of them say it only makes sense that what Paul is saying is that the Israel of God identifies those who walk according to this rule. Let us remember Paul was a Hebrew. He spoke Hebrew, he spoke in the poetic form of Hebrew where there is a lot of parallelism, where you will say one thing one way and you will say something else with a different twist, but it means the same thing as you just said. It helps to expand the idea of what is being talked about.
So what we have is that "as many as walk according to this rule" is the same thing as "the Israel of God." They are two parallel concepts. He is referring to only one group of people. Only those who walk according to this rule, meaning this standard, this way that has been set before us through the gospel of Jesus Christ and all His teaching, these people are the only ones who qualify (that hated term) to be called the Israel of God. They are the only ones that could be because they are the only ones that God is identifying Himself with anymore.
In other words, those who truly follow Christ's rule, His standards, His commandments, His way of life, if you will, are the true Israel. There is no other way around it. They are the ones who are the true prevailers with God. Remember, that is why Jacob's name got changed to Israel, because he was able to prevail with God at Peniel while he was wrestling with Him. That is when he was converted. Does that not give you a clue that those people can be called Israel because they have been converted, just like Jacob was at that point.
So the Israel of God are the elect that we have been talking about here, who make up God's true church. He is talking about the saints—saints of God, the Israel of God, the elect of God, the called of God, true church members, the converted. They are all the same people. And we can add another term to that from Matthew 1:21, His people. What Matthew does by using this term, even while connecting Jesus with Abraham and David and being Messiah, the King of Israel, he is indicating movement away from physical Israel toward spiritual Israel, toward the elect. He is saying that the Messiah is not just for physical Israel. As a matter of fact, He has a greater, more intense connection to spiritual Israel, His people.
If we would go back to Matthew 2:6, we would see that he makes another connection by quoting from Micah 5:2 and there he uses the phrase "My people Israel." That He will shepherd My people Israel. This indicates the proximity of this with chapter 1 and His people with no other adjectival descriptor there, it indicates this type/anti-type tension that we have in a lot of the prophecies where physical Israel is meant, but also spiritual Israel is meant. So there is a type and there is an anti-type and we can say truthfully that ultimately Jesus Christ will shepherd both of them. He will shepherd spiritual Israel and He will shepherd physical Israel. But once the New Covenant starts spiritual Israel comes first.
Let us go back to Matthew. We are going to read three passages back to back to back.
Matthew 15:22-24 And behold, a woman of Canaan [so she is a Gentile] came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." [They were getting a little frustrated.] But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Eventually because of her faith, He helped her. Let us leave this passage and go back a few chapters to Matthew 10. This is the chapter where the apostles are listed and they are sent out and given some instructions.
Matthew 10:5-7 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"
Matthew 10:23 "When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
Pretty straightforward, I think. He sent His disciples to the same people He was sent to, right? There would be some overflow into Gentile areas and they would be able to preach to them too. But first they were to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Alright, got that.
Let us go to Acts 1. They get their final few minutes with Jesus Christ. I want you to notice something here in this little vignette in verses 6-8. Now what was on their mind? Jesus has been arrested, He has been beaten, He has been crucified, He died, He was put in the tomb, He stayed there for three days and three nights, He was resurrected, He ascended to heaven. They saw Him, they talked with Him for forty days, and we are coming down here and what is on their mind?
Acts 1:6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
The disciples, the apostles, were stuck on physical Israel. Will you restore this to the nation of Israel so that, you know, they could beat the Romans or whatever, kick the Romans out.
Acts 1:7 [I think the first word here in Greek it is translated as "and." I think it should be "but." But that is just me.] And He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority."
He is basically telling them you got the timing wrong, you do not understand what you are asking here because it is not for now. What is for now?
Acts 1:8 "But when you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So He is saying, "Whoa there, guys. There is work that's got to be done here, but we are going to go about it the same way we've been doing it. You're going to speak in Jerusalem and Judea. You're going to go to the people of Israel that are here and then you'll go to Samaria and eventually you're going to be going to the whole world, but we will start here in Jerusalem and Judea."
What have we seen here in these three passages? These three passages inform us of the primary setting for God's work under the New Covenant. All three of them do. It will happen within and toward the people of Israel. People of physical Israel, the nations of Israel, you might say. They are still the people that God uses and works through because of what He says is in Amos 3:2: "You only of all the families of the earth have I known." He had done a wonderful work in at least giving them the law and giving them the tradition of God's way of life, even though they rejected it.
Some of that tradition still clings to them. Even today, we are the most "Christian" nation in the world. We have carried, that is, the Israelite people have carried Christianity from the Mediterranean, into the West, into the Americas, into the new world, and all over the world. We have got missionaries coming out of our ears and they are all over the world preaching what they preach—a vestige of the true gospel with a lot of other stuff mixed in. But He is saying here that He is going to use the same process under the New Covenant. We could say that Israel is the fertile ground for the seed of the Word, the ones who are best prepared by God's historic work to respond to Him, one way or the other.
So this is the way it works, this is the way it has been in history, this is the way it will work going forward. God sent His Son to them first, He sent them to physical Israel. That He went to His own and His own received Him not, John 1:11. He does the same thing as the Father. He and the Father are One, They work the same way. So when He got in charge of the church, which He has always has been, but when it was given to Him, He said, "Okay, I'm going to do the same thing that the Father did. I'm going to send My disciples to Israel, just like I was sent to Israel." So He sends His apostles, He sends His servants to the same people generally, and they generally receive the same results that He did. They usually get very few disciples—Jesus had 120 names by the end of His ministry—but they make an effective witness.
Did not Jesus make an effective witness? Why are we still talking about this Man 2,000 years later? Because He made a spectacular witness and the apostles came and made another spectacular witness and the true people of God have been making this witness all down through history. Small, few in number, not very strong, but they still do that. They receive a lot of persecution, they have a lot of doors shut in their faces, but this is the way the preaching of the gospel works.
Now we have seen, even as today, that some of that witness spills over into Gentile areas. We know Mr. Armstrong went all over this earth and that was good, he was allowed to do that, as we saw even Jesus Himself ministered to, healed, many Gentiles during His ministry and He prophesied here in Acts 1 that it would go to the end of the earth. But He always starts with Israel, that is His primary focus of the work, of the church, in preaching the gospel as a witness to anyone who would hear. But it goes first to Israel and then it goes out from there to all the nations.
This follows God's pattern in Scripture, same pattern that we see in the Millennial prophecies. He will first bring Israel back and begin converting her, and then as the nations come to the mountain of the Lord, it will spread from there. So He starts small with His elect and then all Israel and then the rest of the world. It is an ever-widening circle that will eventually encompass all humanity. I do not have any contempt for the "day of small things," as it says in Haggai. Start small and pretty soon things start getting bigger and bigger and bigger and before you know it, the whole earth has heard the gospel and had a chance to react to it.
Let us go back into Matthew, to the 19th chapter. We were here before but we are going to go to the end of the chapter now. This kind of follows on from this last point. The disciples are pushing Peter to the front and saying, "Hey, ask Him."
Matthew 19:27-28 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" [What are we going to get out of all this?] So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
This shows an easily neglected fact and I think sometimes we in the church do this neglect because we have been so conditioned to think about the physical nations of Israel. But that neglected fact is this: that Christ's representatives, the apostles of the church, sit in judgment or rulership over the tribes of Israel.
Now we know this, we see it in black and white, but do we really understand what it means more fully, more generally? What this does, what this says, and it must have been astounding to them if they really thought it through, but what this reveals is a kind of hierarchy of importance or closeness to God. With the New Covenant, since the New Covenant has been begun in the church, the church has been slotted in between God and Israel. Because the apostles are representative of the church of God, the elect, they are the ones that He called first, they are the foundation of this new nation that He is bringing into being. The people of Israel, the physical people of Israel are still important to God and we know that He has blessed Israel because of Abraham and his faithfulness.
So we kind of get a little bit of a misunderstanding about how important they are because hey, are we not the greatest nation on the earth? It kind of goes to our heads and we think, wow, these people are really important! But no, His faithful people, the elect, the church, the converted, however many different ways you want to say it, they have leapfrogged the physical people of Israel, to a far greater prominence and a greater purpose within God's purpose. Do not sell yourself short. When God looked down and said, I want you and you and you, He was doing something absolutely incredible. He was saying, "I've chosen you. I'm going to give you the Spirit. If you follow Me, if you live by faith, you go to the head of the class!"
All these physical people of Israel they are at the back of the line right now; the church right to the front. "They are the ones that are important to Me. They are the ones that get My attention. They are the ones that get the rewards." It is a wonderful and scary thing. But do not sell yourself short. God called you, He called you to rule. He called you to train to rule and He called you to train to rule those people that He had such a hard time with in the Old Testament. And you are the ones that are going to be behind them saying, "This is the way, walk in it, and you better get it right this time." Because you will have a rod of iron, as it were.
Let us go to Luke the first chapter. We are going to go to two passages here. Now, context is key here. When were these two passages said? Let me give you a clue: before Jesus' ministry. This means that the gospel has not been preached yet. So we get passages like this in the New Testament that can sometimes confuse us about these things.
Luke 1:26-33 Now in the six month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in [that might have been something], the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and He will be called the Son of the Highest [or the Most High]; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
Let us move on to verse 67. Now, we are talking about John the Baptist's father Zacharias.
Luke 1:67-75 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, and saying: "Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham [That is interesting. To not even talk about Sinai.]: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteous before Him all the days of our life."
Like I said, in context, both of these declarations are made before the New Covenant was made. So they are made in the language of the Old Covenant. That is the only way Mary would have understood. That is the only way Zacharias would have understood. And so these declarations are made as applying primarily to physical Israel. That is how it looks when we when read through it. So Gabriel speaking to Mary, and God inspiring Zacharias, couched these declarations in terms familiar to people who have not yet had the New Covenant preached to them through the gospel. He was speaking to them where they were, in terms they would understand.
There is nothing untrue in these statements, not at all. All of what is said in them about Israel will come to pass. But they leave out the intervening era of the church of God. They skipped right over that era. They go straight to the Millennium in some of these things, leaving out the whole 2,000 year period of the church because they could not understand that yet. So they leave out spiritual Israel, the Israel of God. What they were seeing at the time was Judah in its last gasp as God's people. But there was a great big void that had been caused through God's divorce of physical Israel. Now what God does is He fills that void with a called-out people who believe in Him and keep His commandments. He fills the void with what Revelation 9:7 calls the Lamb's wife.
We started this talking about Israel being divorced. She was God's wife. Now what happens in the New Testament is that He calls and chooses a new life, the Lamb's wife. And it says in Revelation 9:7 that this wife makes herself ready for the marriage and that is something that physical Israel never did. But Zacharias and Mary, they could not understand that at the time. So we have what we have here in Luke 1 with this great entity—the church of God—left out. That had to be filled in by the Son of God in His preaching of the gospel and then later the apostles.
Let us go back to Matthew 21. I hope I have time for this. This is one of the most important things. I just jabber away and end up hurting myself at the end of the sermon. We are going to read the whole Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers.
Matthew 21:33-45 "Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" They said to Him [those who are listening], "He will destroy those wicked men miserably and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers, who will render to him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking to them.
In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, Jesus explains through symbolism, the New Testament doctrine of Israel most thoroughly in one place. Let us make sure we get these symbols down.
A vineyard is a common symbol of the nation of Israel throughout Scripture, best known from Isaiah 5, where God plants a vineyard and He talks about it there. So the vineyard is Israel, He plants a hedge around it. A hedge is a symbol of both separation and security. When you put a hedge around something, it means that that is a particular entity in itself that separates it from other entities. And the hedge also can provide some sort of of defense. So God sanctified or separated Israel to Himself, that is part of the hedge, and He jealously guarded her as His own people. That is the protection side of it.
A tower. Remember he also built a tower. A tower most often represents both refuge and vigilance. People can flee into a fortification like a tower when under attack. And also, you put a watchman on top of that tower and he can see the enemy coming from far away. So it has to do with both being a refuge and having this idea of vigilance.
Between the tower and the hedge, what you see is that God provided Israel what she needed to produce fruit. They had the land, they had the hedge, they had the tower, everything was perfect and ready for her to produce fruit, even without the Holy Spirit. They could have produced at least some kind of loyalty and obedience to Him. And that would have counted.
The vinedressers are hired servants. They have the vineyard leased to them. Did you notice that they did not own it at all? It was just leased to them. They are hired servants. They are particularly leaders in the nation. And I want you to notice in verse 34 that they are differentiated from God's servants. Verse 34 tells us that he sent his servants to the vinedressers. They are different people, different entities here. So the vinedressers were not necessarily God's servants. They are hired servants. And we know how the Bible talks about hired servants.
The final symbol is the far country. The owner of the vineyard went to a far country, it says. A far country is very easily seen as a distant, remote place—someplace a long, long way away. Now in this case, it refers to the abode of God in heaven. But, though the parable says that the vineyard owner went to a foreign country, Jesus describes the action to the vineyard owner, the spiritual meaning is that the vineyard itself was far from God. Do you remember that in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal son went into a far country and there wasted his inheritance through sin? It is that same idea. The spiritual meaning is that a great gulf of sin caused God to withdraw from them, if you want to put it that way. Just mark down Isaiah 59:2, "Your sins have separated you from God." That is what the far distance, the far country symbolizes—that the vineyard and heaven were very far apart —in everything.
Verses 35-39 then encapsulates God's history with Israel. We see that these vinedressers, the leadership of the nation of Israel, persecuted the prophets. They imprisoned them, they beat them, they stoned them, they killed them. And then when God sent His Son, they conspired to kill Him too. It had not happened yet when He made the parable, but it happened not very long thereafter.
So Jesus, in verse 40, asks this question, "What can these wicked vinedressers [the corrupt leadership of the nation] expect from the vineyard owner?" That is, God. If they have treated God, His servants, His Son in this way, what can they expect from Him? And His audience answers very correctly that "He will destroy them miserably," it says, and that happened, and give His vineyard to faithful vinedressers. And what is it that He says about those faithful vinedressers? They will render to Him the fruits in their seasons. They will be the vinedressers that He wanted in the first place. The ones that obey Him, the ones that are loyal to Him, the ones that grow and produce fruit.
Verse 43 makes it very plain. It says, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God [the nation of Israel was God's Kingdom back in the Old Covenant times], will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." There is going to be a transfer of ownership there from Israel to the elect to the church.
Verse 44 is a statement of judgment and punishment that says there, "Whoever falls on the stone will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." I think the easiest way to explain this is that this from an actual Jewish source. The Jewish Midrash Esther 3:6, where there is a similar proverb. "If a stone falls on a pot, woe to the pot. If a pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot. Either way, woe to the pot." The lesson here, the charge to them (actually, it turns out to be an ultimatum), is that He is telling the Jewish leaders here, it is an ultimatum to submit to the Son, the chief cornerstone, which He talks about in verse 42, or face destruction. It is a simple binary choice, choose the Son or choose destruction. Sounds like Psalm 2.
Now a faint hope may appear in the couplet's first half. That is, "whoever falls on the stone will be broken." There is a faint hope there because one who falls on the stone and is broken may be able to be healed, but if the stone falls on him in judgment, he will be annihilated. Now this is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the formal end of the Old Covenant. I do not have time to go through it, but Matthew 23:29 through the end of the chapter, is Jesus' warning there.
You might want to just write down Acts 13:14-48. This just shows how the apostles use that scriptural principle that we went over, that you go first to Israel and then you spread out from there. This is one of Paul's instances where he went into a place, he preached, he told the Jews about Jesus Christ, they rejected him and his preaching, and so he went to the Gentiles. That is how it worked there in the first century.
Acts 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
That is the vital caveat about the elect of God. Paul calls this same thing, the election of grace. He does that in Romans 11:5. And it is very similar to Jesus' statement in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me except the Father who sent Me draws him," and then He will give them eternal life. Rather than do as He did before with physical Israel, God, with spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, is selecting specific individuals, rather than whole nations, to do His work and to bring them to eternal life. No one could believe unless chosen by God and that is something we really need to understand.
So, the members of the church, spiritual Israel, were handpicked to have a relationship of growth, all the way to glory with God Himself. Because God knows that this individual working relationship with a person is the only way that He can build saving faith in that person. It is the only way that they will be able to live God's way as physical human beings. Israel's history proves that a mass calling and membership among God's people by birth and circumcision does not work. The end result was wickedness. Of course, they did not have access to the Holy Spirit. But He allowed nearly a millennium of history to pass to prove this point—that it must be one-on-one with God.
Let us close in John 1.
John 1:43-47 The following day Jesus went to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And Nathaniel said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"
Jesus here gives Nathaniel a compliment, saying he is a rare Israelite, indeed, because he was not deceitful. Now, what we can do, we can view this comment of Jesus as a cutting evaluation of the Israelite character. In effect, He is saying, "In My many centuries-long dealing with Israel, I found I could hardly trust any of them." And now in this little vignette here in John 1, He was just beginning to call a few Israelites that He could trust. The Twelve, and one of them He could not trust. And they, He said, would be the part of the foundation of a holy nation, as Peter puts it in I Peter 2:9-10. He says of them there in verse 9, "Who once were not a people, but are now the people of God." They are the Israel of God.
Next time we will let the apostle Paul put all of this together for us in his doctoral argument on Israel, beginning in Romans 9.