Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Great Fulfilment

Last week I spent a glorious few days teaching on how to develop and use Bible overviews to leaders from 14 countries. It was humbling and instructive to hear the difficulties of standing for Christ in the Ukraine, the difficulties of knowing so few other believers in Italy, the challenges in nominal orthodox environments. And as for praying in all those languages - wow!

The thing that hit me most was that even senior leaders sometimes struggled with principles for applying the Old Testament. I have seen it in the UK too. I discovered a temptation to circumvent the single biggest Old Testament application principle which is that Jesus Christ is the New Covenant between Humankind and God, and that Jesus Christ is the New Israel of God.

The temptation is to take the Old Testament text and say either that the New Testament equivalent of national Israel is the Church, or that it is the current nation state in Palestine. And therefore to take whatever is written in the Old Testament about the people of God and apply it directly to one or other of those. But Old Testament and New Testament alike are clear: the Israel of God is Jesus Christ, God's King, God's only true obedient person, the true worshipper. When Jesus is called "Son of God" that is a job title (quite different from "God the Son"). And the job title means "King of Israel", the new, sinless, eternal King on David's throne.

My favourite Old Testament place to see this is in the Servant Songs of Isaiah 40-55. The character of the Servant of the Lord is introduced, who is God's answer to the sin of His people, His rescuer from judgement and the person who will end the Exile. Of the Servant we learn:

  • He is the chosen one of God (42:1)
  • He becomes the New Covenant with God (42:6). Unlike Moses who merely relayed a covenant, this servant is the covenant in himself, which is whay Jesus proclaims a new covenant in his blood
  • He will finally bring in God's promise to Abraham that the nations will be blessed, not just Israel (426)
  • He will accomplish the job by his word (49:2)
  • MOST CRUCIALLY he is named Israel! (49:3) and this isn't the nation because this new Israel is given the task of rescuing the nation of Israel (49:6-7)
In Is. 42 we discover there are two Servants: an old servant who fail due to sin and is plundered and looted and under God's judgement (v18-25), and a new Servant who perfectly acts in righteousness to rescue them (v1-9). By the end of Is.49 the titles of "Israel" and "Servant of the Lord" are taken from the nation and given to this rescuer.

No wonder then that at the start of all four Gospels we have John the Baptist identifying Himself in words from Isaiah 40 as the one who will prepare the way for this rescuer and King. No wonder the gospel writers are at such pains to point out how Jesus fulfils all the expectations of the Old Covenant. Have you ever seen how many fulfilments there are in John's gospel? In the fist 7 chapters alone Jesus is the fulfilment of:
  • Creation (1:1)
  • The Old Testament presence of God (1:14)
  • The promise of a rescuer (1:23)
  • The passover lamb (1:29)
  • Heaven (Jacob's ladder 1:51)
  • Ceremonial covenant stipulations (2:1-11)
  • The temple (2:13f)
  • The OT promises of the new covenant in the Spirit (ch3)
  • The place where God is worshipped (4:23)
  • The Sabbath (ch5)
  • The one who speaks with true authority form God (5:19f)
  • God's wilderness provision and parting of the Red Sea (Ch6)
It all builds up to Chapter 7 when the nation gathered at the feast of booths. On the greatest day of the feast when the priests led the people in an act of worship looking forward to the New Covenant in the Spirit Jesus announced publicly "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. As the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him", meaning the Holy Spirit (7:39).

So the great principle for Old Testament application is always "how does this part of the Old Testament apply to Christ?" He said it all points to him. He is the end of the plotline (Luke 24). Why then do we struggle to avoid the merely moralistic "people behaved like this in the OT so we should" (or shouldn't, depending on the example) (PS we can do this on the basis of 1 Cor. 10, but it isn't the first application we should make). Or the overly-simplistic "God commanded Old Testament nation-state Israel to do this, so he is commanding us to do this".

Instead we have to ask "How does this or that stipulation or example under the Old Covenant, relate to our New Covenant, Jesus Christ. And subsequently to all those who are in him." If we don't we will always be tempted to teach law not grace, works not faith, behaviour rather than life in the Spirit, regulation rather than freedom. The antidote to all these is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

7 comments:

  1. Sorry to sound churlish, but where is the clear NT teaching that Jesus Christ (or the church) is "the New Israel of God"? See here and here

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  2. Having reread, perhaps I need to nuance my thoughts a bit. You write:

    "I have seen it in the UK too. I discovered a temptation to circumvent the single biggest Old Testament application principle which is that Jesus Christ is the New Covenant between Humankind and God, and that Jesus Christ is the New Israel of God.

    The temptation is to take the Old Testament text and say either that the New Testament equivalent of national Israel is the Church, or that it is the current nation state in Palestine. And therefore to take whatever is written in the Old Testament about the people of God and apply it directly to one or other of those. But Old Testament and New Testament alike are clear: the Israel of God is Jesus Christ, God's King, God's only true obedient person, the true worshipper. When Jesus is called "Son of God" that is a job title (quite different from "God the Son"). And the job title means "King of Israel", the new, sinless, eternal King on David's throne."

    I agree that it is wrong to apply OT prophecies EXCLUSIVELY either to national Israel or to the church; though, where OT prophecies concerning Israel are applied to the Gentile Christians/ the church, this needs to be done through the lens of Romans 11 & Eph. 2-3 (i.e. Gentile Christians share in God's promises to Israel as they are grafted in). I would further say that the OT model of Israel has a type of fulfilment that has found expression in the church. Jesus is also a type of Israel and literal Israel itself is also Israel. They do not all exclusively claim the fulfilment and cancel each other out. My problem with referring either to Jesus or the church as "New" Israel is that it implies God has finished with "Old" Israel (just as I only get a "new" car when my "old" one stops working)... which is definitely not the case.

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  3. Haivng checked out your blog, James, I think we might have to agree to disagree here (not having the liberty of time to enage at any depth I am afraid). But I would encourage you to search the New Testament for the fact that Jesus is:

    * the davidic king
    * the greater prophet promised by Moses
    * the final priest who offers his own blood, obsoleting the sacrifices
    * the place people now meet God
    * the Yahweh of Isaiah 6 (see John 12)
    * the only mediator
    * the recipient of the pormise to Abraham
    * the only obeyer of the Law of Moses
    * the second Adam
    * The perfect rest of God
    * the covenant with God
    * the reality of which Moses was only shadow
    * the fulfilment of the promise to bless the nations

    Oh, I could go on, but you probably know it anyway. Worship him! And take seriously the writer to teh Hebrews when he says that the former command (ie the MOsaic Law) is "set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near God"..."This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant." Heb 7

    Oh, and Heb 8 says explicitly that Christ's ministry is much more excellent than the old ministry of Moses and priestsbecause he mediates a better covenant that is established on better promises, thereby making the Old Covenant obsolete Heb 8:13

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  4. Hi Marcus,
    I'm not disputing anything you write about Jesus. I do worship him; and I do not base my beliefs on the Mosaic covenant. What I am disputing is the inference that "Old" Israel is now therefore obsolete. You might not have time to blog, but I'm guessing you have time to read, in which case I'd encourage you to read Barry Horner's brilliant book, "Future Israel: Why Christian anti-Judaism must be challenged", available in two formats here and here. If you're pushed for time, hone in on chapters 4, 6 and 7.

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  5. I don't think people who believe Jesus is the ultimate Israelite embrace anti-Judaism. Some ministers in the U.S. seem to focus more on natural Israel than Jesus.

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  6. Hi Bobby,
    Horner carefully explains his title in his intro, what he's getting at is a theological position that nullifies Jewish national identity and aspirations. Horner is however rightly critical of those who focus on physical Israel at the expense of evangelism. The problem in the UK (it seems to me) is the polar opposite of that in the US: an assumption that present-day Israel has NO theological validity whatsoever, and a (in my view concomitant) lack of interest in Jewish evangelism. But why not read HOrner's book for yourself?

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  7. Oh, and Marcus - were you aware that Spurgeon, M'Cheyne, Ryle, Simeon, Wilberforce and John Owen all had a high view of the Jewish people and believed in both their spiritual and territorial restoration? Would you ever suggest that they were somehow deficient in their worship of Jesus or were locked into the Old Covenant?

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