Rejection and Consequences


34 Probation Closed for Israel as a Nation

by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Matthew 27:24, 25

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit originated the everlasting covenant of God before the creation of this world. The covenant existed in the mind of God from times eternal. God announced the covenant to Adam and Eve after they sinned. From the beginning of history, the covenant has formed the basis for God’s interaction with human beings and His promises to them.

Jesus Christ confirmed the covenant on the cross that people might receive eternal life by faith. It reaches its completion with the close of probation and a series of climactic events. These will conclude with an end-time judgment and the descent of the New Jerusalem to the new earth, cleansed of the last vestiges of sin.

Throughout history, a crucial issue has always been whether human beings would consent to the work of grace in their life and whether they would accept the gift of the new covenant law written in their heart. When people receive God’s pardon and salvation, God has His angel write their names in the Lamb’s book of life. There is no further probation after a person dies. Just before Jesus returns, probation will close for all living human beings, whether righteous or rebellious.


The Chosen People

One can see the “remnant” of God’s chosen people from the beginning of human history. From the time that Cain killed Abel, the distinction between the people of God and the people of the world has been manifest. The people of God came through the lineage of Seth and Noah. As the population sank into apostasy after the flood, God found Abram, a man whom He could bless because He saw him as a man who would “command his children and his household after him” (Gen. 18:19). Abram obeyed God in faith, influencing his descendants for many generations.

God called Abram to leave Ur and go to Canaan. Genesis describes his departure from Ur to Haran with his father Terah, his nephew Lot (son of Haran who had died in Ur), and his wife Sarai (Gen. 11:31). They remained in Haran until Terah died. Then Abram and his company continued on to Canaan. God presented His covenant-the everlasting covenant-to Abraham seven times. That covenant promised redemption from sin, eternal life, and restoration of all that was lost at Eden. It is through the covenant that people’s lives are changed and that they are made fit for eternity. Additionally, God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, a multitude of descendants, and His personal presence with Abraham and with his descendants in perpetuity (Gen. 17:7). His descendents included Isaac, Jacob, Moses (Exod. 3:16, 17), and the nation of Israel. When God gave the covenant at Sinai, He promised to make of Israel a “peculiar treasure, “| a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exod. 19:5, 6).1

That the nation of Israel became God’s chosen or covenant people has been a focal point in Jewish thinking for centuries. The Bible emphasizes this concept frequently-in positive terms when the people are obedient and in negative terms when they are disobedient.2


Israel’s Special Talents and Blessings

Because of His plan for Israel as a nation, God gave them unique gifts. One of these was that He entrusted them with the “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12). His making Israel a “kingdom of priests” was a mandate to represent God to other people and to evangelize the world (Exod. 19:6; Ps. 102:15; Isa. 43:10-12; Ezek. 36:23). Israel was to represent to the world God’s excellence in every aspect of life (Deut. 28:13). This explains why Jesus would say, -| salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). The Jews were not the originators or source of salvation; they were merely the conduit through whom the knowledge of salvation would flow.

God gave the covenant in terms of enduring promises. The will and purposes of God cannot be broken, but they can be modified and delayed by people’s decisions. To emphasize this point, God called forth from Mt. Gerizim the blessings they would receive if they obeyed and kept the covenant, and He called forth from Mt. Ebal the curses they would receive if they should rebel or fall into idolatry.3

The covenants that God gave to Phinehas (Num. 25:7-13), David (2 Sam. 23:1), and Solomon (2 Sam. 7:11-16; 1 Kings 9:4-7; 11:11), He announced in positive terms. God also promised them blessings or curses, dependent on their obedience to His will. These conditions played out in subsequent history when repeated apostasy resulted in Israel’s and then Judah’s captivity.


Jesus’ Rejection

When Jesus came to this earth, He came on time and to the right place (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 2:5). At the very time prophesied (Dan. 9:25-27), John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan. As Jesus came up out of the water, His heavenly Father acclaimed Him “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17), and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, anointing Him as the Messiah (Acts 10:38).

During Jesus’ ministry, the Jewish leaders asked Him for a sign. Jesus told them to look at His works of healing and His casting out of devils. Despite this miraculous evidence of who He was, they refused to believe Him. Many witnessed or heard how that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after Lazarus had been in the grave four days. Yet, despite this public display of miraculous power, the Jewish leaders still refused to believe and actively sought Jesus’ arrest and execution.

The time came when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph. As He looked over the city, knowing that Jerusalem would be destroyed, He wept and declared:

For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19:43, 44)

Jesus warned the Jewish leaders about the results of what they were doing. He told them a parable about a householder who planted a vineyard and rented it out to husbandmen. When the householder sent servants to collect the rent, the husbandmen beat up and killed the servants and eventually even killed the owner’s son. When Jesus asked His hearers what the householder would do to these husbandmen, they responded,

“He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus answered, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:41, 43).

Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and pronounced woes upon them. With tears, He addressed the city,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23:37, 38).

Jesus, in unequivocal language, warned the Jewish leaders that they would be rejected. Nonetheless, the early Christian church was largely Jewish. It was Jews who believed on Jesus by the thousands and strongly supported the church. These were the “remnant of Israel” of that day. On the other hand, the chosen leaders of Israel, as well as the Jews who rejected Jesus, opposed Jesus and His followers at every turn. An understanding of these two classes is essential in order to avoid making false interpretations in theology.


Replacement Theology and Israel’s Close of Probation

Replacement theology refers to a close of probation for the Jewish nation. The term covers a number of different views that range from outright anti-Semitism from non-Jews to the bitter opposition of non-believing Jews. Between these extremes are moderate views in which well-meaning, Bible believing people attempt to understand the truth as revealed in the Bible. Here is a general definition of Replacement theology:

Replacement theology is the teaching that the Christian church has replaced national Israel regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God. Therefore, many of the promises that God made to Israel must be spiritualized. For example, when it speaks of Israel being restored to the land, this really means that the Christian church will be blessed. Also, covenants made with Israel are fulfilled in the Christian church so, for example,

1. The Jewish people are no longer God’s chosen people. Instead, the Christian church now makes up God’s chosen people.
2. In the New Testament after Pentecost, the term “Israel” refers to the church.
3. Anticipating Jesus sacrifice by faith is replaced by looking back by faith to the Cross.
4. Actual circumcision is replaced by a circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29).4

It is difficult to see replacement theology as a theology at all, for it is a reaction to the persistent actions and attitudes of the Jewish leaders. Whereas the core of the new Christian church, the remnant, were believing sons and daughters of Israel. The work of God has always been to support and encourage His true believing remnant. In the history of Israel, it was always the faithful remnant who worshiped God in truth.

Where was the remnant when the Jews brought Jesus to trial and conviction? Most of the disciples had fled and were in hiding. Yet, John and several of the women, including Jesus’ mother, stayed by the cross, sorrowing. Simon of Cyrene was drafted by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross, though he would not become a believer until after the event. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, at some personal risk, petitioned Pilate for the body of Jesus, to give Him a decent burial. Many of the common people, who were friends of Jesus, were at the Temple, looking for Him and asking embarrassing questions. Thus, the remnant were scattered and perplexed on that preparation day, but relief would come on “the third day”!

Fifty days after the Passover, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the praying disciples with power to witness, and the church grew explosively. The early church quickly reached an estimated 20,000 believers, yet they were still a small, persecuted remnant in Jerusalem. Who, now, were the true Israel? Who were the people specially loved and cared for by God? They were the disciples of Jesus and the new converts. These were the true Israel of God.


Who are True “Jews” Today?

Paul’s statements in Romans 2 help answer the question of who is a true Jew: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28, 29).

The Jewish leaders, as representatives of the nation, had rejected their Messiah. Time would show that the unthinking, unbelieving majority of the people supported these leaders. Their 490-year probation would end, and the covenant would pass to a believing remnant.

Remarkably, the believing remnant were, at first, all Jews! In replacing literal Israel, the covenant did not pass over to the Gentiles, but to believing Jews! Read carefully Romans chapters 9 to 11. Paul speaks of “a remnant according to the election of grace,” declaring that “the election hath obtained” what Israel looked for--salvation (Rom. 11:5, 7). It is true that the unbelief of the nation broke Jewish branches off the olive tree, allowing for the “wild branches” of the Gentiles to be grafted into the trunk (Rom. 11:17). Yet, the trunk of the tree is still Israel--the chosen covenant people of God.

Paul’s statement in Galatians makes the point clearer, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:7, 29). People of all nations, who believe in Christ, are now under the covenant of Abraham! Jesus came to break down all the walls of separation. Christ’s church, based on the true message of God to Israel, is Christ’s bride. Christ welcomes into the church all races, including the Jews. Yet, God still has a special regard for the people whom He first called (Rom. 11:25).


The Chosen Nation Rejected

God gave Israel 490 years after the restoration from captivity to fulfill their divine purpose (Dan. 9:24). During this time, they were to put away sin and prepare to receive their Messiah. The Jews had learned to avoid worship of images, but their concept of the covenant was not much better than idolatry. They forgot their Messiah and looked to the keeping of the law, the performance of rituals and sacrifices, and their relation to Abraham as the basis for their assurance of salvation.

Throughout Jesus’ mission to planet earth, He was met with opposition at every step. It began when the leaders in Jerusalem ignored the news of His birth. During His popular ministry, spies followed Him constantly, seeking to find something for which they could indict Him. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the nation rejected Him, put Him on trial, and had Him crucified. Yet, Jesus rose again on the third day and gave the church a commission to go into all the world and make disciples.

For three and a half years after His death and resurrection, the disciples preached, healed, and taught in Jerusalem. When one of these, Stephen, gained an audience with the Sanhedrin and presented the Christ of prophecy, they became enraged, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death. This event marked the exact ending point of the 490-year probation. The Jewish nation had finally and irrevocably rejected their Messiah, who was their only hope.


The Rise of the Remnant

God’s people have been separate from the world ever since Eden. Very quickly, God’s people became a minority, described as a “remnant.” Even within Israel and Judah, this was true. What a tragedy! At Sinai, after Moses interrupted the heathen festival at the base of the mountain, he asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Immediately all the sons of Levi stood by him, but they were just one tribe out of twelve!

When twelve spies searched out the land, only Caleb and Joshua urged the people to have faith in God and proceed to take the land-only two out of the twelve-and the people almost stoned them to death (Num. 14:10)! When Gideon called for volunteers from Israel to fight the enemy, only 300 showed courage and determination to drive out the Midianites. Each of these groups were the “remnant” in their day.

Other examples could be listed. Sometimes the remnant was just one person, as with Samson, David, and others. On Mt. Carmel, Elijah discredited the prophets of Baal and then slew them all. When Jezebel threatened him, he fled to Mt. Horeb, complaining that he was the only one who still believed in the Lord. God responded that He had 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:8, 9, 18). Elijah was not alone, but visible people of faith have a big influence.

The history of Judah is instructive. Under good kings, the people rallied to true worship. When a good king was followed by a bad one, there was almost universal apostasy into idolatry, showing where the people’s true interest was. Yet, the story of Daniel and his three companions reveals the existence of a small, believing remnant even in those desperate times.

When Jesus came to this earth, there was a believing remnant who quickly followed Him and believed in Him. These formed the core of the Christian church after Jesus’ resurrection. Among these were the shepherds, Simeon and Anna in the Temple, Zacharias and his family, Jesus’ immediate family and relatives, the chosen twelve disciples minus one, the pious women who supported Him, and at least 500 others.

Revelation speaks of an end-time remnant church, which will again be a small group compared to world population (Rev. 12:17).


Endnotes

1. God gave the Abrahamic covenant to Moses and to Israel just before the exodus was to begin (Exod. 2:24; 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5, 30, 31; 6:3, 6-8), and then He affirmed it once they were free (Exod. 19:4-6).

2. The concept of a chosen people of God is found in the following passages: God chose Abraham to be the father of the covenant people (Gen. 17). God said: “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exod. 6:7). Balaam said: “The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9). Moses said: “The LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself “ (Deut. 7:6); “He chose their seed after them [the fathers], even you above all people” (Deut. 10:15); “You are a holy people to the Lord your God Out of all the people on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession” (Deut. 14:2, NIV). David said: “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure” (Ps. 135:4).

3. The blessings for obedience are enumerated in Deuteronomy 7:1-26; 8:1-10; 11:10-15; and 28:1-14. The curses for apostasy are enumerated in Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68; and 29:18-29.

4. Matt Slick, “What is replacement theology?” available at http://carm.org/questions-replacement-theology, accessed 3/7/13.