Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 20. Redeeming Israel – Jesus
Gal 4:4,5 when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Mt 1:21 you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
A Waiting People: We move on a little over four hundred years in the life of Israel and, as I have pondered many times before, it is quite possible that many in Israel had given up any expectation that God would come and speak as in the centuries before through prophets. One Christian scholar has suggested that there were then, at least six characteristics of the world that had come about, in what we tend to call the Middle East, that made that time one of the best times, if not the best time, to enable the Gospel to be carried around the world. Was this what was behind Paul’s “when the set time had fully come”?
Voices to the Nation: And then came John the Baptist and crowds flocked to him to hear an ‘in your face’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 3:2) Then, a little while later, Jesus came with the same message but accompanied it with amazing healings and miracles. It was indeed a new day. Some, when they saw his miracles, aware that their prophetic history spoke of a coming Messiah, a deliverer, wanted to make him their king (see Jn 6:15), and when he entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, that must have surely been in the minds of many. Of course as our Matthew verse above shows, Joseph had been told that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” but perhaps only the “save his people” bit stayed in people’s memories. And yet it had been a word from God.
Redeeming Israel? How would Jesus save his people from their sins? By dying on the Cross for them. No more and no less. The same way as any other people. The Cross is there for every sinner, whatever background, whatever nationality, whatever colour. Because there is often so much romanticism attached to Israel today, we need to emphasize this. Don’t confuse individual salvation with the fact of God using Israel, as a people, as a light to the nations – and we’ll see more of this later. If there is one thing these latter studies have shown is that Israel were not and are not a demonstration of a wonderful, righteous and holy people; in fact, exactly the opposite. But this is not meant to be character assassination of Israel for I have said more than once, that they simply demonstrate what the whole world is like – sinners in need of a redeemer.
People or a Nation? This distinction between individuals and a people becomes even more clear in their response to Jesus and, subsequently, to the Christian faith. All Jesus’ initial followers were Jews. The vast majority of the early church were Jews, and yet when you observe Paul’s travels, it was the Jews who persecuted him, and it was only in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, that the church fully relocated, and Israel ceased to be the central hub for the new faith and the Gentile emphasis came to the fore. History tells the story: individuals, Jews and Gentiles around the world, accepted the new faith but ‘as a people’ there was still what the apostle Paul called a blindness over his people, ‘as a people’ (Rom 11:25)
But yet more: Judaism failed to accept their Messiah and the consequence is graphically told in John’s prophetic picture in Revelation 12:5,6 “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” The woman can be none other than the nation of Israel and the child is obviously Jesus. Note what happens to the nation – it flees into the wilderness, into the world, to a role or place designed for them by God. But note how long – 1260 days or three and a half years. Seven is the number of perfection, a perfect length of time in God’s economy, and so half of that says, a period of time set by God, but which is only PART of His time for this part of His economy, i.e. there is more to come! And thus for nearly two thousand years, ‘Israel’ were ‘hidden’ by God in the world. Near the end of that time designed by God, the enemy sought to thwart the purposes of God through what we now call the Holocaust and millions of Jews died, but that very action provoked a rising up to give Israel their land again, and in the middle of the twentieth century ‘Israel’ became visible again.
Observe the elect: And here we move into prophetic mystery again. Let’s recap some of the things the apostle Paul taught in Romans. Are they rejected by God because of failing to receive their Messiah? “By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:1-5) i.e. the nation may have rejected Jesus but there are many individual believers, part of ‘the elect’.
Observe the Hardening: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:25-27) i.e. although they hardened themselves against Jesus and his ministry, nevertheless it was through them that he came, and he came to save them from their sins, as we saw above, as individually, one by one, they believe. Many have not of course, but is that the end of Israel? Clearly not.
All Saved? In the verses above we have this phrase: “in this way all Israel will be saved” and many who I have referred to as having romanticized views of all this, see this as meaning that every single Jew in existence will be saved. Now think about this rationally and you see that this cannot possibly be, unless God moves in sovereign reviving power and makes every Jews believe by the power of His incredible presence being made manifest in their midst at some time – which could be. There IS a special place for them on God’s heart as Paul said: “they are loved on account of the patriarchs,” i.e. Abram etc. were chosen by God to reveal Him to the world. Nothing has changed in that respect. In their struggles with their embryonic faith, learning to believe, they earned the Lord’s special love. It is that love that allows them to continue as a visible people, but unless God does move in that sovereign revival power (and past ‘revivals’ where that has been seen, never meant that every single person in an area became a believer) then there will always be (as revelation shows later in the book) some who will reject Jesus, and thus to talk about them receiving salvation would be a mockery.
How can we resolve this conundrum? May I suggest the following: the Lord’s redeeming work that we have been observing through all these studies, never forces people to believe but it does mean that He is working there all the time to encourage good response, even sometimes using disciplinary judgments. Allowing – and indeed enabling – Israel to continue to exist as a nation, simply means that in His love, grace and mercy, the Lord allows this ‘God-society’ to exist so that His name at least is constantly there in the background, acting as a catalyst-reminder to all people in that community that they are potentially at least, the genuine ‘people of God’.
The value of the ‘God-Society’: This brings us back to why Israel were preserved after the Exile. As we considered briefly above, it was into this society that John the Baptist came and then Jesus came and ministered. I have called it a ‘God-society’ because everything about their history and then present culture had a God element about it. They were what they were because they had history with God. They were a people in the midst of which existed a Temple where God was supposed to reside. They still had the Law of Moses which showed them what they were to do with that Temple, and that also involved a number of special periods of celebrating and it was all God-directional, i.e. pointing towards Him. Now we have seen how that became institutional or unreal, a mere formality without reality so much of the time, yet there were times and there were individuals where the light did shine out to the rest of the world. The existence of this ‘God-society’ then and today, keeps the thought of God in the forefront and by that means, the Lord can draw people to Himself. Paul seems to suggest that there will yet come a time where the reality that we have been talking about will grow in many, by a combination of world events and the working of the Holy Spirit, and salvation will come to many more Jews than ever seen before. God’s plan of redemption for Israel has not finished.