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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Of Israel and the Church

A recent inquirer asked:

My mother is a Christian woman who has been wounded severely by church scandal in the past. She has since stopped attending church for fear of being hurt again, and because "there are no simple Bible-preaching churches around here now". When I invite her to our OPC church, she snaps, "How can you believe that the church has taken Israel's place? The Bible doesn't teach that!!" I believe that the only part of my mother's faith that she holds onto still is the Zionistic, premillennial prophecy views that I formerly held before I came to see the truth of the Reformed view in the Bible. Every time I try to talk to her about it, it ends up in fruitless bickering. I pray for my mother, but I want to know how to explain to her more clearly the biblical basis for our views on Israel concerning the Zionist movement and end time prophecies. Big question, I know, but anything you can give me would be helpful. Thank you.

It is indeed "a big question," deserving a big answer, but I shall try to answer briefly and hopefully helpfully.

Let us focus on the epistle to the Ephesians 2 as a biblical foundation for an answer. I am quoting the King James Version just in case Mother may have an appreciation for it, but other reliable translations could be used also.

Ephesians 2
1And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
11Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

As Bible believers, let us find some common ground by simply letting the biblical text be our guide.

Ephesians is written by the apostle Paul to the saints (who are at Ephesus), that is, to Gentile believers.

As fellow believers, who once were dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), those to whom Paul writes have been "quickened", that is, made alive "together with Christ" (2:5). They have been "raised up with Him" (2:6) and "made to sit", that is, they are "seated with Him in the heavenly places" (2:6). Notice that these verbs all indicate completed action ('made alive', 'raised up', and 'seated'). The salvation that Jesus has secured for His people has a heavenly dimension.

By grace they have been saved through faith (2:8).

Chapter 2, verse 11, confirms that Paul writes to Gentiles. As such, Paul tells them that "in time past" (2:11) or "formerly" they were at that time "without Christ" (2:12) and "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (2:12).

But verses 13 to 22, clearly and emphatically, teach that now, however, the wall of separation and hostility has been removed by Christ and in Christ and that Jews and Gentiles alike have been brought near to God and to one another "in one body" (2:16) so that both now have access to God the Father "by one Spirit" (2:18). Together they are "fellowcitizens" in God's house and kingdom, being built together "unto an holy temple in the Lord" (2:21), built together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Himself as the cornerstone through whom they are being "fitly framed together" (2:21).

The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of the body. In the church Jews and Gentiles are joined together with a heavenly hope of being "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (2:23).

It is important to remember that Israel was "the church in the wilderness" in the Old Testament (See Acts 7:38) and the good news in the New Testament that is being fulfilled is "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14). The Lord promised Abraham to be God to him and to his seed after him, and in the working of grace in Christ, Abraham has become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).

As God dwelt in the midst of the Old Testament Israel as expressed through the types and shadows of the tabernacle and the temple, in these latter days He came to dwell among us in Christ (Immanuel--God with us). When Christ ascended to heaven, He promised to send another Comforter and to abide with us always. So it is that now God is with us and dwells in and among us in the Spirit in the church, the whole church, comprised of Jews and Gentiles, as fellow Christians and as fellow saints, forever. As an apostle, it was given to Paul to understand the things revealed in Christ, things "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Ephesians 3:5-6). Ephesians is exceedingly clear. Jews and Gentiles have been joined together in Christ. Together they have been saved by Christ, the Messiah. Together they have been shown that theirs is a heavenly hope. In the resurrection they shall always be together with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:17). Therefore, those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

It is truly amazing that Paul, himself a Jew, should be sent to the Gentiles to preach the good news. As a zealous Jew, he once persecuted the church unto death, but by God's grace he was transformed into an apostle (Ephesians 4:11). for the building of the church, given by Christ "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12).

The church is "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). The people of God's choosing includes both Jews and Gentiles.

May God bless you richly, as I hope this is a helpful starting place for interaction with Mother. I would be happy to follow up and to interact further if you would like.

Yours in Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA

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