Israel: at the centre of God's purposes
As the return of Christ draws ever-nearer, the increasing focus will be on what God calls ‘My land’ and the city that bears His Name. Paul sent Gentile believers a warning not to be smug, arrogant, proud, ignorant, boastful, unbelieving or conceited regarding the Jews. He says the same to us today.
written to Gentile believers in the 1st century and the 21st Century
"I am talking to you Gentiles..."
the Apostle Paul (Rom 11:13a)
AS we get ever-closer to the return of Christ the purposes of God will increasingly focus on what He calls ‘My land’ and the city that bears His Name. Paul sent Gentile believers a warning from the pages of Scripture not to be smug, arrogant, proud, ignorant, boastful, unbelieving or conceited: the apostle would say that same to us today lest ‘you also will be cut off.’
What we are increasingly seeing in our complicated world is a spirit – a demonic spirit – of anti-Semitism (Note 1). And there is a great danger that it will infect the church of our day.
Leaving aside the problem that the world is bringing on itself (Joel 3:2), two thousand years ago Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome in order to address and counter a big issue in their midst. God’s word says the same thing to believers today. Whilst the letter contains teaching on major doctinal themes, the primary purpose was to address the prospect of a dangerous split. Unfortunately much modern teaching relegates the heart of Paul's message to that of an unrelated digression by the apostle.
The letter to believers in Rome was written (57AD) to address a major problem in that city; and it was written to all believers there – Gentiles and Jews (Rom 1:7).
Some years earlier Jewish converts had been expelled from the city (c49AD) by the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). Subsequent to that expulsion they were permitted to return (Rom 16:3) when Nero came into power (AD54). However in the period between the expulsion and the return of the Jews, the Gentile believers had become rather elitist and anti-Jewish.
Paul saw the very real danger of a split in the body of the Christ and wrote to all the believers in Rome (Rom 1:7) to address this issue.
In the early chapters he instructs both groups about their common standing as sinners saved by grace (Rom 2:12; 3:9). Gentile believers are warned not to exploit their salvation to cover Godless living (Ch. 6) and the Jews cannot to depend on observing the law for their salvation (Ch. 7).
In the latter chapters of his letter – the longest he ever wrote – Paul gives the Jewish and Gentile believers some practical instruction regarding some of the matters which were causing dissent between the two groups (cf Rom 14:3,5) finishing his letter with some general greetings.
The core message
However the core of Paul’s message is contained in Chapters nine to eleven. And these chapters are not – as some commentators suggest – some kind of parenthesis whereby the apostle soars off on a personal tangent: these chapters are the kernel, not some kind of unimportant distraction. They cover the standing of Israel from the ancient past, through Paul's day and ours, and into the future. In Chapter nine the apostle covers the Jew’s history; Chapter ten refers to the time pertaining when the letter was written; and Chapter eleven refers to the future for the Jewish people. (See Israel: Past, Present and Future.)
It is this eleventh chapter Paul speaks powerfully into our present age and poses a particular challenge to Gentile followers of Jesus Christ with respect to how they should behave to the Jewish people generally, and to unbelieving Jews particularly. He urges Gentile believers to avoid the traps of complacency, arrogance, pride, ignorance, conceit and unbelief.
God ‘s blessing; or the alternative?
God said in His word concerning the Jews: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples of earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3).
Concerning the word ‘curse’ the translators have used the one English word to cover two different words in the Hebrew.
The first mention of curse is a very strong word (‘arar’) which means ‘bitterly curse’ and speaks of ‘judgment’. The second use is the Hebrew word ‘qalal’ which means to criticise or to belittle. Accordingly the verse could be translated (i.e. God speaking to the Jews): “I will bring judgment on those who speak badly of you.” Of course the unbelieving world is not likely to know God’s heart, but He has revealed it to those who trust in His Word.
Are we aligned with His plan?
As the time of Christ’s return draws ever closer, so will the activity of God’s arch-enemy seek to frustrate the Almighty’s purposes. Just as Satan was behind the crucifixion of Christ, he is also active behind the scenes of all that we see happening in the Middle East – in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back to capital city of Israel (Acts 1:11); the country which God calls ‘My land’ (Ezek 36:5).
Jesus is not returning to London, Paris, Tokyo, New York or Rome. The Saviour of the world is returning to Jerusalem – the city in which God has set His name (1 Kings 9:3; Ezra 6:12). Just as he left, Jesus is to returning to that Holy city, and 'his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east (Zech 14:4). This is not allegorical (as some teachers would have us believe), it is literal: the prophet even defines the exact spot on the map – 'before Jerusalem to the east'.
It is in this context that the nations will be united (cf the United Nations, the Quartet, the EU, Islam) against the Jewish people and the land (Zech 12:3; Zech 14:2). However, God will have his way and bring down those who oppose His divine plans (Joel 3:2; Zech 12:3; 14:2). The Almighty is Sovereign and unchanging in His purposes.
So the question that God is putting to every believer is,"Whose side are you and I on?"
Let us be very careful lest we end up putting more store in media headlines than in the inspired, inerrant and unchanging Word of God. He is 'watching over His Word to perform it' and He would surely have His children orientate themselves around His plans and purposes.
The prophet Zechariah declared (declares) God's word (Zech 1:15): "I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease [the word connotes haughtiness]: for I was but a little displeased [with the Jews], and they [the nations] helped forward the [Jew's] affliction."
The Christian church has enough shameful anti-Semitism in its history: let's not become part of that in our day. The Lord will deal with His people: it is not the task of the Gentile nations of their own volition to do that for Him.
Israel and the Middle East in prophecy
Bishop J C Ryle commenting on the church and the Jews
Israel: past, present and future (Christians Together - Winter 2000/1)
The Word of God
Romans 11:13--25 (NIV)
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
1. The actions of the Israeli government are no worse, and often better, than those of any other nation surrounded by hostile neighbours bent on its destruction. The Israelis will get some things wrong: who doesn't? But there is a universal system of double-standards applied when the actions of Israel are being judged. A civilian casualty in Afghanistan is a tragic mistake; in Gaza it is described as a war crime.
2. The present crisis relating to the boarding of a supply vessel by the Israeli army is a well-rehearsed process: provoke Israel to action; generate a global outrage when the Israeli government responds; launch an attack on Israel aided by world opinion.
3. The background to this incident is the continual smuggling of arms by Hamas into Gaza. The event, which could have very serious repercussions for the region and beyond, related to a refusal by the ship's operators to dock peacefully and allow the vessel's cargo to be unloaded under supervision.