The Goal of Religion
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Religion is man’s attempt, through his own efforts, to close the gap between himself and the transcended. In a sense, religion itself is evidence of a vague remembrance of a lost relationship. Therefore, we might conclude that the goal of all religion is to unite God and man, or what we might call the “at-oneness” of God and man. In religion man tries to bridge the chasm between himself and his God. The idea to bind back or to bind together is inherent in the root word from which we derive the word religion. Although the goal of religion is a worthwhile one, we will see that it is not achievable.
Mankind’s efforts to bind himself back to God have taken many forms throughout the history of the world. Usually these forms are nothing more than the projection of man’s wishes or a reflection of his own culture that he projects into heaven. In other words, man creates God in his own image.
Therefore, it is not surprising that most tribal gods resemble and validate the society they ruled over. They are nothing more than a reflection of the culture that created them. In fact, this is not like Western Christianity that has subverted the teachings of Jesus to justify its capitalistic system and the brutal wars it has fought to support it. Though man is and was self-deceived and often self-justified in creating these gods in his own image, he was not self-satisfied. There still remained a nagging awareness that there was something more than the dumb idols that he had created in his own image. There also remained this terrible sense of alienation that his tribal gods could not deal with. So there were a few men who began to seek the true God apart from religion.
Salvation Without Religion
The greatest example of this in Biblical history was the man named Abraham. Abraham did not seem to be an overly religious man, at least according to our standards. Yet he left his father’s home and his tribal gods to seek a new land and the true God. We are told he found God, or should we say, God found him outside of any organized religion. Not only did God find him outside of religion, but God also saved him outside and without any religion. We might say God saved him in the place where God put him, but that place was not organized religion. Though God has often used religious men to proclaim His will, when it comes to a paradigm, or model of faith and salvation, God used a non-religious Abraham. This is not to say that Abraham never practiced religion. For after God chose Abraham, we find him proclaiming his faith by making an altar to God. However, this simple proclamation of faith is a far cry from the cultic worship of organized religion.
From the story of Abraham, we come to understand that it was God’s intent from the beginning to save all men apart from religion, through a personal relationship with Him through faith. His goal was to have such an intimate relationship with His people that they would be called the friends of God. This was to be even as their father Abraham was called the friend of God (James 2:23). His method of achieving this was to create a new being or a new humanity that would relate to Him not through the mediation of religion, but directly, friend to friend. This was fulfilled when we see Jesus (God among us) calling His disciples friends (John 15:15).
God’s intent to create a new humanity or new being did not start with the coming of Christ. No, it actually began in eternity and took its first form with Adam. It was revealed in a fuller degree in the man Abraham and later revealed completely in His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12 ff).
Thus in the story of the exodus we see God bringing the family of Abraham, which by that time had become a nation, out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. Here they were to enter into a faith relationship with Him, the kind of relationship He had with their father Abraham. However, the people chose not to have a faith relationship with Him. Instead, they chose to have a mediated relationship with Him through the mediation of religion. Therefore, God gave them a religion, with the idea that the religion might mature them, or at least give them enough time to mature to the point where they could have a true faith relationship with Him in Christ (Gal. 3:25-27). He did this not because of anything He saw in them as a people, but because of the promises He had made with their father Abraham (Deut. 7:7-9). He also promised them that He would send someone in the future who would lead them into this faith relationship He had with their father Abraham (Deut. 18:17). We see this promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Christ.
There is Biblical evidence to show that God, at the time He was developing a relationship with Abraham, was also in a relationship with other men of faith. For example, there was at the time, Melchizedek, king of Salem, who is referred to as a priest of the Most High God. Later on there was Balaam, the prophet of Pethor, who was outside of the covenant, yet had a relationship with the true God. In this, we might gather that God never had an exclusive people. In fact, the nation of Israel was called to be a servant and a blessing as it mediated God’s presence to all of mankind. So how can anyone interpret his or her calling as condemnation for the rest of the world? From the very beginning, the nation of Israel was a symbol that God not only loved them, but also the world. Today the body of Christ has inherited this role of being the symbol of God’s love for man. Wherever Christians go in the world, they are to proclaim God’s love in word and deed. Thus they become living symbols of God’s love for all of mankind (John. 3:16).
The Making of Religion
Though God had developed a faith relationship with a few men in recorded history, the majority of men continued to manufacture their gods and their religions. We moderns should not be too hard on ancient man. For the only difference between them and us is the number of gods we have created. They had their tribal gods, and we have our personal gods. They created their gods in the likeness of their culture, and we create ours in the likeness of the individual self. It could be a toss-up as to which is more primitive. They used their religions and gods to validate their culture, and we do the same. They used their religions to restrain and to justify their brutality, and we do the same. It seems from all of this, religion is both a blessing and a curse. The apostle Paul came to this conclusion and saw this paradox of religion when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25). God rescues us from the body-religious by judging it in Jesus as weak and unprofitable, nailing it to the cross with His Son, thus putting it to death (Heb. 7:18-19, Col 2:14).
The Paradox of Religion
The paradox of religion is by all human standards, it should work. Religion’s chief tool in binding man back to God is law, and we all know that law is good therefore religion should work. The truth is that law is good when it is used lawfully. It is here that religion fails, for it neglects to see that law is not the way for man to be at one with God, nor can man bind himself back to God through obedience to a law or through the practice of religious ritual (Gal. 3:21-22). Therefore, it is not lawful to use law (religion) as a mediator or a bridge between God and man. The lawful use and purpose of the law would be to view it as a schoolmaster or a tutor who was put over mankind until men had enough self-knowledge and God-knowledge to seek God through faith. When men become of age, they no longer need religion. The Scripture tells us that a man becomes of age when he realizes that he cannot approach God through religion, but must come through simple faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words, religion and its laws are not for the spiritually mature, but rather for those who are still spiritually immature and in need of external rules and regulations to control them. In the book of Colossians, Paul addresses the subject of religion and its rules. “Since you die with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch? These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).
Paul’s list of don’ts sounds a lot like many modern preachers of religion as they wail against the social sins of their congregations. To the spiritually immature, this appears to be God’s will, when in reality it reduces God to a tribal god. This tribal god is used to support one brand of morality and culture. This god is usually the kind that is chosen by and benefits the ruling class and the clergy. Preaching against social sins also show a profound misunderstanding of the nature and degree of the problem of sin.
The True Bridge to God
God intended the law (religion) to be used as a sign to point the way to the true bridge to God (Gal 2:19). It points to Christ who is the true bridge to God. In this, the law pointed to its own end or goal (Rom. 10:4). With this in mind, we might look at John the Baptist as the final embodiment of the law and prophets. He was the forerunner who was to point the way to the perfect revelation of God, which is Christ. In speaking about his mission he said, “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3). In this act of preparing the way for Jesus, John symbolized the law (religion) and its divine purpose of pointing man to Jesus. Unlike many modern Christians, John understood the temporal nature of his ministry and the law (religion). This can be seen in his statement, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, religion must decrease in order for Christ to increase.
In contrast to the law (religion), we might say that the true bridge to God is the way of grace (promise) and that the promise has been embodied in the man we call Jesus. The pinnacle of this promise is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For it is there that we see a preview of what God is going to do for and to all men on the final day. Therefore, in the Christ event we see judgment and promise. We see judgment on death and sin. Sin being death in the form of life is completely negated along with death. Moreover, in the resurrection we see God foreshadowing the fulfillment of all of His promises. In the resurrection of Christ, God is promising a life with Him that is beyond anything we can imagine (Eph. 3:11).
It is here that we see Jesus as the true end and fulfillment of all religion. If you remember, I said the goal of all religion was the oneness of God and man. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that God foreshadows the oneness He will have with His people in the final resurrection of the dead: a relationship that we now have by faith in our new place, which is in Christ, a faith that believes that whatever God did in His Son He will also do in all of His people. What did God do in His Son? He formed a new creature, a new kind of being—a being that never existed before Christ took on flesh. In the mighty acts of the incarnation and resurrection, God became man, and man became God. Thus in Jesus we have a God-man being (for a lack of a better term) who is the prototype of the new creation of God. In this new creation we see God and man coming together in the person of Jesus Christ and forming the new being. In the Christ event, God shares with man a preview of where He is taking humanity. So in Jesus Christ, we see the goal and destiny of the new humanity. Thus we see God’s eternal purpose of becoming one with humanity in and through the new being, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10, 3:11-2). He became like us, that we might become like Him (1 John 3:2, 1 Cor.15:49).
Death, Resurrection, and Atonement
In much of traditional Christian theology, the atonement of Christ is said to have taken place on the cross through His death. However, I believe that this view of the atonement is too narrow. It does not give to the resurrection of Christ the importance it rightly deserves. I believe it is the entire Christ event that makes up the atonement. This would include the incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and in a sense, even His second coming. In a very real sense, Jesus Himself is the atonement. Each of the events in His life makes up a part of the whole story of how God has made man at-one with Himself through His Son. To use only the metaphors of death, sacrifice, and law to understand the atonement is too limited and tends to fragment the gospel. This limitation destroys its unity and causes the neglect of some aspects and undue emphasis on others.
I also propose that the idea of atonement is a prophetic metaphor that prefigures what will happen to all believers in the resurrection. In fact, it already has begun to happen in the new humanity. For Jesus, as the head of this new humanity, now stands in the presence of God as the one new and complete man who represents the entire race of men. The new humanity is being created in Him and in His likeness. In this one perfect and complete God-man, figuratively stands all of the new humanity in an at-one relationship with God. So we see that it was the resurrection that sealed the atonement and becomes a promise and a foreshadowing of the future resurrection and at-oneness with God. In this, Jesus is the first one of the new humanity to enter into the heavens to experience an at-one relationship with the Father. In solidary with Him, we now experience that relationship through faith (Eph. 2:4-6).
Moreover, in Jesus the final resurrection has already begun and because of our faith-union with Him, our resurrection is therefore guaranteed (Rom. 6:1-11). It is on this promise, the apostle Paul bases his argument in his letter to the Corinthians that it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we see the beginning of the general resurrection: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12-13). Paul can argue like this because he saw the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the end-time resurrection. For Paul to deny the general resurrection is to deny the resurrection of Christ Himself. If this is the case, how can a Christian believe in the doctrine of reincarnation? Christians believe in resurrection.
Paul adds further strength to this idea when, in the same chapter, he refers to Christ as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor.15:20). The word firstfruits in this expression is our particular concern. There, with few exceptions, firstfruits have a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the firstfruits offerings of grain, wine, cattle and the like, appointed by Moses. The point of these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but as representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth. They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Firstfruits express the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. It is particularly this aspect that gives these sacrifices their significance.
“These ideas of representation and organic unity, apart from the specifically cultic connotations of the Septuagint usage, find expression in the use of firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20. The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority; rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse, it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events, but as two episodes of the same event. At the same time, however, he clearly maintains a temporal distinction between them. Then (v.23) makes this apparent.” (Resurrection and Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)
Resurrection, the Goal of all Religion
In light of the above, we might say that the goal of religion and all of life is resurrection. Not just the resurrection of any man, but of God’s one and only Son. Here, it is important for us to understand that the expression “one and only Son” and “only begotten Son” are used in the Scripture mainly to denote uniqueness and authority and not order of origin. Jesus is the unique Son of God because he is one of a kind. He is the prototype of the new creation or new humanity that has been in the plan of God since the beginning of time. In Scripture we see the ongoing history of God’s creative acts as He is creating this new humanity. All of God’s mighty acts were parts of a single and progressive creative act that finds its completion in Christ.
Much of man’s emptiness and his corresponding need for religion comes from his vague consciousness of being incomplete, and much of his sense of alienation is a longing to be made whole or complete. This alienation is heightened when men try to bring themselves to completion without God. No man will find completion in anything outside of God’s plan. God’s plan for completing man is man’s bodily resurrection in the likeness of Jesus. You might say that much of human anxiety comes from the fact that mankind is only partially created as he progressively moves to his completion in the resurrection (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore, believers should look suspiciously on any teaching or movement that promises completeness or liberation before the Parousia (second coming). We miss the mark when we try to find fulfillment or completeness in anything in this life; this includes religion, even the Christian religion. In fact, religion is one of the easiest ways to miss the mark, for it gives its practitioners a false sense of completeness. No one will find completeness and wholeness until God is finished with him. He is not finished with believers until their bodies are resurrected in the likeness of God’s Son (Rom. 8:22-30).
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see in capsulated form the entire history of God’s creative acts and eternal purpose. All of God’s dealing with mankind is summed up in Jesus. We might say that Jesus was God’s epitome of His creative history. Therefore, we find Jesus being referred to as the new Adam, the new Israel, the new creation, the new exodus, new Torah, etc. All of these things point to the final and complete creative act of God, which is Jesus Christ raised from the dead. This helps us to understand why such emphasis is placed on the death and resurrection of Christ. These two events are viewed in Scripture as two parts of one event and mark the coming together and completion of God’s plan for a new humanity that has been truly created in His image.The death and resurrection marked the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in creating the new being (Eph. 3:11).
The mystery of the new being is that His body is made of many members (Eph. 3:6). Hence, we see in the death of Christ, the death of the old humanity, and in His resurrection, the creation of the new humanity. In fact, the whole thrust of Romans chapter six is that if you are really a part of this new humanity, your life will reflect it. In this chapter, Paul points to Christian baptism as a sign, promise, and a seal on God’s part that one has been united with Christ and will share in His resurrection. On man’s part it is a sign, promise, and seal that
one has entered into solidarity with Jesus and His people. Our baptism into Christ is a proclamation that we have entered the history of the one representative man, sharing not only in His history and suffering (cross), but also His future (Gal. 3:26-27). In the Christ event, the history of God and the story of man merge into one story and one history, forming one new creation, a new creation where there is no need for religion (mediator) for God is present in the person of His Son (Rev. 21:1-4, 22-27).
We have seen that the goal of all religion is the oneness of God and man. We have also seen that only Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that goal, for it is in Him that man is bound back to God in an eternal oneness. If this is the case, the Christ event marked the death or end of all religion (Rom. 10:4). As it did two thousand years ago, the death and resurrection of Christ still demands a radical way of looking at all things anew. In fact, it brings into question many aspects of the very religion that now wears the name of the crucified one. At the very least, it demands that we reflect anew on the meaning of the Christ event. For a generation, which is so close to the coming of its Lord, does not the resurrection of Christ demand that we see Him at the door at all times? Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Death and Dying
Today people are so afraid and terrified of death that they refuse to talk about it or even think about it. To them, as it was for Job of the Old Testament, death is the king of terror’s. We often play language games to try to soften it by changing the word from death, to expiring or passing. The atheist expires, the Christian passes.
No matter how you look at it death is a gateway, either into a new state of being, or non-being. These are the only two possibilities. For the believer it is a gateway into a new state of being, which allows them to live in a state of hope. To the atheist or the materialist it is a gateway into non-being. It is simply nonexistence as a living conscious being. It is a return to the dust of the earth. However, we know from science that nothing just stops existing. Matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change. The big question is, does consciousness go on? The materialist says no, for to him there can be no consciousness apart from the physical brain. But if we asked the question what is consciousness, we come up with the answer that consciousness, in the end, is information and information can exist without the brain. What about radio and television waves? You could say they are information and once formed they will continue forever.
Dying is not death, it is the process by which we enter our new state of being or existence. There is usually some pain associated with this process of dying as with birth. In fact, we begin to die the day we begin to live. Life and death seem to travel together on our journey through this life. It sometimes appears on the surface that death is the goal of life, but then for the Christian there is Jesus.
When it comes to the pain that is often associated with dying, the good news is that Gods grace has given us medication to lessen the physical pain. There should be no severe pain in the dying process for most. Unbelievers may say that man created the medication. No, God made it, man discovered it and developed it. However, if for some reason we must experience a painful death, fear not. The Holy Spirit will help you to endure it and as you endure it, look past it to the joy that is before you, even as our Lord did.
In our culture aging and death is looked upon as a disease that medical science is supposed to cure, or as an enemy that is trying to kill us and must be destroyed. This struggle against aging and death comes from mans rebellion against nature and the God of nature. Humanity seems to be in rebellion against all the limits of God including death. Man will not accept death for he views it as the ultimate limit placed on man by God. Therefore, as in the story of the fall, he is still trying to storm the gates of heaven to seize eternal life. Yet at the gate, he stills finds the angel with the flaming sword, saying you cannot enter. All this comes from man’s rebellion and his refusal to except his own mortality and his fallen state. Once a person excepts that this is a fallen world and that Christ is the way out, death simply becomes the way out. A way out into a better existence, a way out that we need not fear. It simply becomes the next step towards eternity.
For the Christian, death is like departing on a journey from one place to another with a stop in between. Let me explain, the Christian faith teaches that we reside in the body, but we are more than a body. There is the inner man of the heart. Both the apostles, Paul and Peter, refer to our body as a tent that we dwell in. The apostle John also speaks of Jesus, as dwelling among us in the tabernacle or tent.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
2 Peter 1:13-15
“I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (literally in the Greek; tabernacle or tented among us), and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The problem with understanding death begins with a miss-understanding of the nature of man. Man is body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and death is the separation of the spirit and soul of man from his body. It is the Spirit that gives life and when the spirit departs, the body dies. When the spirit departs it goes back to the God that gave it, or does it?
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer said, “I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust, all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclésiastes 3:18-22)
I don’t believe, that Solomon was saying that he did not believe that the spirit of man continues after death. He was simply saying there was no evidence. He was not certain. The Hebrews believed in an afterlife but it was vague and fuzzy. Of course, the human mind thinks in pictures and to grasp something of the afterlife, which is based on our present experience, we must use a picture of a places, made up of other places or parts of places, that we have seen. That afterlife place for the Hebrews was given the name of Sheol, or literally the place of the unseen. It was in Hebrew thinking a dark and foreboding place. This idea corresponds to Hades in the New Testament, which appears to be a waiting place for the final judgment and yet it does seem to foreshadow the eternal state of a person, i.e. they have a knowledge of their final destiny.
However, in the New Testament it is still a fuzzy and vague place. The most we know about it is seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This vagueness is probably due to the fact that it is only viewed as a temporary stop on the way to eternity. One thing about the place of the unseen it does change in the New Testament. In the New Testament the righteous are in a state of bliss while the evil are in a place of torment. This separation could have grown out of the belief that the righteous can never be separated from God and if God is with them somehow they cannot be in a place of evil or darkness (Rom 8:28-39).
The next step into eternity will be the great wakeup call of the trumpet of God and the voice of the archangel announcing the end of time and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time all of the dead in Hades will be resurrected with new immortal bodies. Those who are still alive at his coming will be transformed and given new spiritual bodies. Then all men will stand before the great white throne and be judged by what they did in their former bodies.
The resurrection and the judgment of God, mark God’s final word on sin and death. Both are destroyed in the eternal lake of fire, which is a symbol of finality.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
Securing the Future
We live in very uncertain times. So how in the world can we secure our future? I don’t have all of the answers to getting a hold on the future, but I do know that there is one thing which you’ve got to get a handle on before you can get a hold on the future. That is death. The reason for this is that death robs all men of a future. Consequently, some men get a handle on the future by accepting their fate. In essence, they accept that they have no future in the face of death.
That may seem brave but only if it’s true and only if it’s the only alternative, otherwise it’s foolishness. Others (the majority) simply deny their death by refusing to think or talk about it. I personally believe that there is another alternative. It’s called hope. You see hope is faith reaching into the future and pulling it into the present.
For faith to work you’ve got to make sure that when you send your faith out into the future that it finds something big enough to overcome death or a place where death cannot go. When you do this you must be sure that the thing it brings back is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death. In order to do this your faith must find something or someone who in themselves has overcome death. You see I have heard from a lot of men who have made promises about securing the future and yet they themselves had no future. To secure the future we need to have hope and faith in one that has himself secured the future.
Let me share with you a vision of the future that you might explore. It’s worked for me and millions of others. This vision of the future is a vision of a man. Like all visions it is filled with symbolism so put on your thinking hat. Here it is “I (the apostle John) turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-18).”
If you have not guessed yet, this is a vision of the resurrected Christ. When a person has placed their hope in the resurrected one they need not be afraid of death or anything else for someone else has secured the future for them. If the Book of Revelation teaches anything, it teaches that the future belongs to Jesus. God bore witness to this by raising him from the dead. He was dead and behold He is alive forever and ever. The gates of death and Hades can never shut in those who believe in the one who holds the keys to those gates. LD
“All Israel Will Be Saved”
An Exegesis of Romans 11: 25-32
By Ronald M. Muetzel
On Christmas Day of 1978 I had the joy of baptizing a 13 year old Jewish girl. On Good Friday of 1979 I baptized her brother and mother. Another brother was baptized in early 1981. At present all four of these descendants of Abraham are believing, worshipping and communing members of our Christian congregation.
I recall the time when the mother described the process by which she became a Christian. It seems she was quite impressed to see that a Christian friend had a “sparkle” on her face when she talked about Jesus Christ. The Jewish woman wanted that “sparkle” for her life too. Now she has it through faith in Israel’s Christ. Now she is one of Paul’s own people “made envious by the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12-14) and “grafted into the olive tree” (Romans 11:23). Her children are also among the people of Israel “who have now received mercy” (Romans 11:31).
For me the experience with this family has served to remove Paul’s teaching concerning Israel, as found in Romans 9 – 11, from the realm of abstract theology and to incorporate it into the life and ministry of Christ’s Church. The things of which Paul wrote are taking place in the Church today.
We give our attention, then, to the eleventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, verses 25-32: 25 Οὐ γὰρ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο, ἵνα μὴ ἦτε [παρ’] ἑαυτοῖς φρόνιμοι, ὅτι πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους τῷ Ἰσραὴλ γέγονεν ἄχρις οὗ τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν εἰσέλθῃ 26 καὶ οὕτως πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ σωθήσεται, καθὼς γέγραπται, Ἥξει ἐκ Σιὼν ὁ ῥυόμενος, ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβ. 27 καὶ αὕτη αὐτοῖς ἡ παρ’ ἐμοῦ διαθήκη, ὅταν ἀφέλωμαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν. 28 κατὰ μὲν τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐχθροὶ δι’ ὑμᾶς, κατὰ δὲ τὴν ἐκλογὴν ἀγαπητοὶ διὰ τοὺς πατέρας· 29 ἀμεταμέλητα γὰρ τὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ θεοῦ. 30 ὥσπερ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ποτε ἠπειθήσατε τῷ θεῷ, νῦν δὲ ἠλεήθητε τῇ τούτων ἀπειθείᾳ, 31 οὕτως καὶ οὗτοι νῦν ἠπείθησαν τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει, ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ [νῦν] ἐλεηθῶσιν. 32 συνέκλεισεν γὰρ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς πάντας εἰς ἀπείθειαν, ἵνα τοὺς πάντας ἐλεήσῃ.
The Greek text itself presents no particular difficulties. There are no strange forms or disputed word meanings, nothing that has any real effect on the translation. The variant readings are generally agreed to belong in the text.
The closest thing to a dispute over word meaning has to do with καὶ οὗτως in verse 26. The Living Bible paraphrase renders: “And then all Israel will be saved.” Legitimate translations don’t even attempt to introduce a time concept into the οὗτως. It is only the interpreters who expect a first stage conversion of Gentiles to be followed by a second stage, mass conversion of all Jews that would like to see a time concept in this word. The word itself does not permit it. οὗτως means “so” or “thus” in the sense of “in this manner.”
It is already apparent that the real issue in these verses is not the meaning of the Greek words; the issue is the interpretation of these words. For this reason, we will be content to use a very acceptable translation of the Greek from the New International Version of the Bible and the paper will concern itself primarily with the matters of interpretation.
The verses under study appear near the end of Paul’s dissertation on the question of Israel’s place in the kingdom of God. After these verses all that remains to be said is a beautiful doxology to the “wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33).
The ninth through eleventh chapters of Romans, of course, provide the most complete and extensive treatment of the Jewish/Gentile issue as it faced and perplexed the early Christian Church. Verses 25-32 must be understood in the context of these chapters. This is not to say that chapters nine through eleven are the only part of Scripture to treat the Jewish/Gentile issue. The frequency with which this issue keeps popping up in all the New Testament literature is evidence of the extent to which this matter troubled the churches—especially the churches established by Jewish apostles in Gentile lands with a mixed fellowship of Jewish and Gentile believers. Already in chapters two and three of this letter to the Romans Paul made it clear that Jews and Gentiles are alike (no difference) both as to sin and as to justification. The letter to the Galatians rejected any imposition of old covenant Jewishness on either Jews or Gentiles. The entire first half of the letter to the Ephesians had as its purpose to demonstrate that there is no longer a “dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14); all are “one in Christ” (Ephesians 3:6); all are fully “blessed” in Him (Ephesians 1:3). Even the book of Revelation, with its gates on which “were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” (Revelation 21:12) and its foundation stones on which “were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14), adds its own peculiar comments to the Jewish/Gentile issue. The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, as every reader quickly learns, are fraught with the conflict between Jew and Gentile, as well as the resolution of that conflict. Our study will attempt to shine the light of these and other scriptures on the assigned verses in order to make our understanding as clear as possible.
It will help to keep in mind a distinction between the Gospels (Acts) and the Epistles as they treat the Jewish/Gentile issue. During the ministry of Jesus Christ and the early mission thrust of the apostles there was a need to encourage Jewish disciples to make disciples of Gentiles from all nations. However, as more and more Gentiles entered the kingdom and saw people of the Jewish race despise their own Christ, these Gentile disciples had to be encouraged not to shut the doors of the kingdom on all Jews. Paul’s purpose in Romans nine through eleven was undoubtedly that all Christians imitate the example of his “unceasing anguish” for “those of his own race” (Romans 9: 2-3).
Though the assigned verses run only from 25-32, I am of the opinion that they form a unit with verses 17-24. Here Paul repeats himself three times with the result that the sections of 17-24, 25-27 and 28-32 are remarkably parallel. Each contains a warning against Gentile pride or exclusiveness. Each connects Israel’s failure to believe with the Gentile opportunity to believe. Each presents a seeming contradiction with regard to Israel—that Israel is both “cut off, hardened, disobedient” and at the same time “grafted in, saved, recipient of mercy.” Verses 25-32, then, are not a progression on from verse 24. They constitute, rather, a double repetition of the point Paul already made in verses 17-24.
verse 25 —“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.”
Paul’s introductory remark about ignorance is one which he made at least three other times in his letters—First Corinthians 10:1; 12:1; First Thessalonians 4:13. When Paul said, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” it is evident that Paul was anxious to share some spiritual insight which would keep his readers from acting wrongly. In the other usages ignorance allowed to continue might have resulted in: “hearts set on evil things” (First Corinthians 10:6); misuse of “spiritual gifts” (First Corinthians 12:1) or grieving as though we “have no hope” (First Thessalonians 4:13). In this usage, too, Paul wanted to remove ignorance and thereby prevent wrongdoing.
Among the Romans the possible ignorance on the part of the “brothers” related to a specific “mystery.” Paul’s “brothers” would seem to have been the Gentile believers in Rome. For one thing, Paul had singled them out in verse 13 of this chapter. Also, the Roman congregation had become predominantly Gentile. Finally, Paul was about to clarify a peculiarly Gentile ignorance by sharing this “mystery” with them. It should be said, however, that Jewish believers in Rome who would read this letter were not meant to be excluded from brotherhood with Paul. If anything, they were doubly Paul’s “brothers.”
The “mystery;” what was it? Not something beyond understanding. Not something to be kept secret or mysterious. Rather, it was a truth that had been revealed by God. Paul delighted to be used by God to reveal His mysteries. The Gospel itself was such a mystery (Ephesians 6:19). The Christ and Church marriage, the twinkling-of-an-eye-resurrection change, the supremacy of Christ were other mysteries. However, the “mystery” of which Paul spoke most often was this “that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ” (Ephesians 3:6). At times Paul revealed this mystery in such a way as to invite “near” the Gentiles who had once been “far away” (Ephesians 2:11-12; Romans 16:25-26). In our verse Paul revealed the same mystery with a somewhat different purpose: that the Gentile believers not “become conceited” and pridefully withhold the Gospel from Jewish people.
Martin Franzmann’s description of the ‘mystery” is worth repeating:
“Christ is the disclosure of the mystery of God, the revelation of His long counsels of salvation that worked in strange and secret ways for long ages, all through the dark and inconspicuous history of His little people Israel. In Christ that mystery has been disclosed; God’s plan now works on the stage of universal history, from Jerusalem to Rome, and will work . . . to the ends of the earth. All nations now shall know the God who hid Himself so long in Israel.1
Paul’s presentation of the mystery in verse 25 is nothing other than an expansion of and application of the Jewish/Gentile mystery. Paul says: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part…” πώρωσις is a term that has already been used in verse 7 of chapter 11. It indicates, to use Lenski’s terms, “judicial, punitive, final petrification, the result of self-hardening.”2 It was not and is not a hardening that could be softened or reversed. Caiaphas typified just this hardening so often evident among some of the people of Israel. Luther described those of Israel who set themselves against Christ as “stock-stein-eisen-teufel hart” (stock-stone-iron-devil hard).
While ἀπὸμέρους qualifies the πώρωσις, it does not limit the “hardening” as to degree as though the hardening wasn’t real hardening. Nor does it limit the hardening as to time as though the hardening was only temporary. It limits the hardening as to number. Not all the people of Israel are hardened. Paul himself is an exception. A number is not assigned to the “in part”. We don’t know the number of those who will constitute Israel’s hardening. Nor do we know how many in Israel will be stones softened by God and made into true “children of Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
How long will this hardening on the part of some in Israel continue? “Until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” Jesus provided all the commentary needed to understand this πλήρωμα of the Gentiles. He said, “This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). The end will bring down the curtain on preaching of the Gospel as well as opportunity to believe the Gospel. Until then three things will continue to happen: 1) There will be
1 Martin H. Franzmann, Concordia Commentary – Romans, Concordia, St. Louis, 1968, page 282. 2 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1936, page 719.
Gentiles coming into the kingdom of God; 2) Some in Israel will harden themselves against their Christ; 3) Others in Israel will embrace their Christ and say of Him, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39).
This mystery had to be revealed lest Gentiles withhold the Gospel from Jewish people on the false assumption that the Christ would be rejected. This mystery must be revealed (preached) among us for the same reason. C.F.W. Walther says well:
“True though it be that the Jews have crucified and rejected their own Messiah, still, according to the mystery unfolded by the Apostle, Jews shall be converted as long as Gentiles are converted. Not only will the door of grace remain open till the end, but there shall always be a number of both who actually enter the Kingdom of God.”3
Francis Pieper offers this encouragement:
“We are assured by Scripture that the door of grace stands open no less for the Jews than for the Gentiles and that God has dispersed the Jews among the Gentiles not to exclude them from salvation, but by the testimony and example of the believing Christians to incite them to believe that in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the world has come. Only if this knowledge lives in us will we take the right attitude toward Israel.4
verse 26 —“And so 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.”
In This We Believe our synod makes the confession: “We likewise reject as unscriptural any hopes that the Jews will all be converted in those final days, . . .”5
This represents as much a minority position as other of our statements on doctrine. I was amazed at the number of commentators who expect a general conversion of the Jewish people and base their expectations on this verse. Of course, I expected that Hal Lindsey and others who represent Dallas Theological Seminary would date and forecast a conversion of all Jews—dead and alive. I did not expect that they could appeal to Augustine for support. Why, Augustine even speculated that Elijah and Enoch would be the preachers scheduled to lead the Great Jewish Evangelism Crusade.
I expected to find that fundamentalists, literalists and fanaticists would be on the side of a mass conversion of the Jews. It was a mild surprise to discover that the more level-headed among them, who reject the hype, the date-setting, the daily-news-in-prophecy, still hold to the teaching of a special Jewish conversion. Samuel Allen Creed authored a “Christianity Today” article against “Hotline Prophecy;” yet he insists: “To be sure, we find in Romans 9 that God has not finished with the Jews and still has something in store for them.”6
Consider that John Calvin interpreted the “Israel” of verse 26 to be spiritual Israel and it’s surprising that Reformed commentators, with a few exceptions, teach a conversion of physical Israel. Charles Hodge asserts that Reformation era scholars resorted to the interpretation of a spiritual Israel in reaction against “the
3 C.F.W. Walther quoted by Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, Concordia, St. Louis, 1953, page 533. 4 Ibid. 5 This We Believe, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, 1967, page 24. 6 Samuel Creed, “Hot-line Prophecy,” Christianity Today, December 11, 1981, page 28.
extravagancies of the Millenarians.”7 He defends his view that verse 26 predicts “a great and general conversion of the Jewish people” as the view “generally received in every age of the church.” Hodge may well be right that his is the “generally received” view.
When Martin Luther lectured on Romans in 1517, he indicated that the Jewish people would “return in their own time.”8 Later writings of Luther reveal a total rejection of the “general conversion” view. Since the Reformation any number of Lutheran commentators have reverted to Luther’s early understanding.
If the New Testament’s only teaching with regard to Israel were the statement that “all Israel will be saved,” we would gladly yield to the majority opinion. As it is, however, to insist that this verse teaches a general conversion of physical Israel can only be blatant disregard for the “scripture interprets scripture” principle.
Circus tricks are required to fit a last-days, general conversion of physical Israel in with Jesus’ assertion that “at that time… the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 25:10-12). How can all Israel experience salvation by a resurrection and conversion of dead Israelites, if “man is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27)? Why did the Holy Spirit bother to warn Israelites, “Do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8), if this was a hardening that would be entirely softened? Were the tears Jesus shed outside Jerusalem false tears like the crocodile tears of a child (Luke 19:41)? What was the point of His word to the daughters of Jerusalem, “Weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28)? No, so much of Scripture is violated by the general conversion view that one logically ends up with either Christless salvation, universalism or both.
When scripture is allowed to interpret “and so all Israel will be saved,” the only possible conclusion is that spiritual Israel is meant. In the New Testament, especially, Israel is a fluid term used sometimes in a physical sense, sometimes in a spiritual sense. It didn’t trouble Paul at all to set the two uses side by side: “For not all who are descended from Israel (physical) are Israel (spiritual)” (Romans 9:6). Other examples will be cited as the discussion continues. To follow this approach is to conclude that all those who are Israel in a spiritual sense will be saved. This agrees perfectly with Peter’s word to Jews: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Nor does this view require that any other scriptures be twisted or violated.
It would be nice if “the few” who understand Israel to be spiritual Israel would agree as to what constitutes spiritual Israel. There is no such agreement. Lenski, F. Pieper, Hendriksen and others interpret “all Israel” as all Jewish people who put their faith in Abraham’s Seed. The other possibility is that “all Israel” includes all Jews and Gentiles who believe that Jesus is the Christ. I am persuaded that the second interpretation is the correct one.
Recall the introductory remarks about Paul’s threefold repetition of his thesis concerning Israel! If we check the preceding paragraph for a parallel to “all Israel,” we find an olive tree with wild branches (Gentile) and natural branches (Jewish). If we check the paragraph that follows, we find a parallel to “all Israel” in this that “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” An earlier statement, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9), makes it clear that this parallel to “all Israel” also consists of Jews and Gentiles.
The immediate context supports the same view. “And so” introduces a conclusion with regard to “all Israel.” The conclusion flows out of the points which precede: 1) Physical Israel has experienced a partial hardening, partial because some still believe and are saved. 2) This will continue to be true until the end when all believing Gentiles will have come into the kingdom and been saved. Conclusion: The result of some Jewish people believing and some Gentiles believing is that “all Israel will be saved.”
It is also important to consider the teaching of the entire New Testament on the Jewish/Gentile issue. Jesus and His apostles worked hard to remove the distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians, that is, to identify both as the “chosen people” (First Peter 2:9), as “Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:8) or “all Israel.”
7 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1950, page 371. 8 Luther’s Works, American Edition, Volume 25, page 429.
The One whose ancestry could be traced to Abraham, upon the confession of the Gentile centurion, said, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). At the family table of the patriarchs are set out place cards with the names of Gentiles printed on them so that “all Israel” can feast on salvation.
The One who had long been Israel’s Shepherd (Psalm 23) and called Himself the Good Shepherd said: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen (a reference to Israel). I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). As this promise of Jesus found its fulfillment in the adding of Gentiles to the flock, one would hardly expect to find a new division into two flocks. “All Israel” is one flock of Jewish sheep and Gentile sheep.
The prophet Amos looked ahead to the day when David’s tent would be “restored, repaired and rebuilt” (Amos 9: 11-12). James, when convinced by Peter, Paul and Barnabas that Gentiles had a rightful claim on the Gospel, quoted this prophecy of Amos (Acts 15:16-17). David’s tent would be in good repair once it sheltered both Jews and Gentiles, or, “all Israel.”
The city of Ephesus housed a Christian congregation with a mixed membership of Jews and Gentiles. To them Paul explained that there had been a legitimate distinction between Gentiles and Israel. Paul went on to say that Christ “has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” The consequence, Paul told the Gentiles: “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:12-19). To be counted among God’s people is to be included in “all Israel.”
Paul’s letter to the Galatians includes the familiar allegory employing Hagar and Sarah. In effect, Paul turned the facts of the matter upside down in order to include Gentiles in the family of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The fact was that Jerusalem and its Israelitish citizens had descended from Sarah and Abraham. But Paul denied any kinship between Israel according to the flesh and the child of promise born to Sarah. Instead, Paul assured all the Jews and Gentiles who populated the churches of Galatia: “You, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:28). Jews and Gentiles who have been “born of God… to be children of God” (John 1:13) are the spiritual kin of Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac and all who are truly Israel.
The letter of Paul to the Romans deals with the Jewish/Gentile issue from its beginning. Perhaps the most familiar passage in the first three chapters begins: “There is no difference…” (Romans 3:22). No difference between whom? No difference between Jews and Gentiles as regards sin—“all have sinned” (Romans 3: 23)—and no difference between Jews and Gentiles as regards justification—“all are . . . justified by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). How strange it would have been for Paul, after he had spent chapters establishing the fact that there is no difference, now to introduce a difference among those who belong to “all Israel!”
Return to the verses under consideration, especially the quote of prophecy which Paul used to substantiate the contention that “all Israel will be saved!” These words are taken in part from Isaiah 59:20-21, and in part from the “new covenant” passage of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Together these passages speak of the Redeemer who would come to Jacob (Israel), turn Jacob to repentance, and take away their sins.” Paul and the other apostles knew well the Redeemer’s own word: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Once Jesus had broadened the prophecies to include all nations it would have been inappropriate for Paul to restrict them to a purely Jewish Israel.
Why limit “all Israel,” as Pieper does, to “the whole number of elect among the Jews?”9 Paul was generous enough to include those of us who are Gentiles with him in his Israel. Why should we be any more restrictive? Jews and Gentiles together constitute “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
This introduces an interesting question which is too extensive to be treated in this paper: By what right do the scriptures enlarge the term “Israel” to include Gentiles? What warrant is there for this approach? I would like to offer just a couple of suggestions:
9 Pieper, op.cit., page 528. 1)
1) At the time of Abram’s call, God promised to make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:2). This turned out to be the nation of Israel. Or, did it? The adjective “great” might well indicate something more than the relatively puny nation of Israel. Even at this initial call the LORD explained that Abram and his nation were to be an instrument of blessing for “all peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:2-3). Israel’s existence as a nation was not to be viewed as an end in itself; Israel was to be a means of blessing for all people.
At a later repetition of the covenant promise the LORD said to Abraham, “You will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4). Israel’s father was destined to be father of many nations. When the Magi came; when the centurion confessed; when the Ethiopian was baptized; when the disciples made disciples of all nations; whenever Gentiles came to faith in Abraham’s Seed—then Gentiles were coming to their father in faith, Abraham; then Gentiles became Abraham’s Israel. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed” (Galatians 3:29).
2) Another “Israel-thread” is picked up and pulled through Scripture when a person sees Jesus Christ as a “representative Israel,” as a New and obedient Israel” or as an “Israel reduced to one.” His birth and life involved a tracing of Israel’s history—into Egypt, out of Egypt, through the water, in the wilderness, on a mountain, etc. He obeyed Israel’s law and yet was held guilty of Israel’s sins (Colossians 3:14) and punished with Israel’s punishments (Psalm 22:1). If true Israel is Jesus Christ, and we are “in Christ,” then we are Israel just as we are His body, the Church (Ephesians 2,5). Robert Brinsmead is one of those who says: “To be in Christ is to be in Israel.”10
Verses 28-29 “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as salvation is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
With these words Paul begins to repeat another time. To say that some Jewish people are enemies of the Gospel is not substantially different from the preceding comment on Israel’s hardening in part. To say that some respond to the love of God which surrounds them through their patriarchal heritage is not substantially different from saying that not all Jewish people are hardened.
“As far as the gospel… enemies.” The church in Smyrna was troubled by “the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). So was the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:9). According to the flesh they were descendants of Abraham. Had they been true Jews, however, they never would have thought to oppose and slander the churches of Jesus Christ. Like so many other fleshly Jews in all of history and in the present, these were enemies of the Gospel.
“God’s gift and his call . . . irrevocable.” Concerning this Martin Franzmann has written: No simple scheme of wrath and retribution is sufficient to enclose the inexhaustible workings of the Word of God. That Word once said to Israel, “I have chosen you,” and swore fidelity to Abraham and his seed. The men of Israel are not only enemies but also beloved. Go is God and not a man. His gifts and His call have their cause and origin in Him alone; they are not generated by the goodness of man, and they do not evaporate before the badness of man. His gifts and call are “irrevocable,” so far as His will to give and to call are concerned. “God’s love,” Luther says, “does not find the object it can love; God’s love creates it.11
verses 30-32 “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
10 Robert Brinsmead, Present Truth, Vol. 5, No. 7, page 51. 11 Martin Franzmann, op.cit., pages 208-209.
Here Paul draws together all that has been said in a final summation. The “you” are Gentiles who have been brought to faith. The “they” are Jews who will yet be saved. In either case it is divine mercy that covers human disobedience. To say that the Gentile believers “were at one time disobedient” is the equivalent of Paul’s “far away,” “foreigners,” and “aliens” in Ephesians. It is the same as Paul’s “all have sinned” in Romans 3. Yet, mercy has atoned for the disobedience. Mercy has worked repentance. Mercy has been received by a faith worked by mercy. All MERCY.
Among the Jews, too, are those who have “now become disobedient.” This is not to say there had been a time when Jews had not been disobedient. It has already been said, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). These are Jews who will come to a knowledge of their disobedience as Paul had learned to know what sin was through the law (Romans 7:7). These are also Jews who will come to know mercy as Gentiles share with them the mercy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then for these Jews too it will be all MERCY.
On the human side the great equalizer is sin and disobedience. What the human population has in common are not necessarily arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouths. For some of us those features are missing. All of us, however, share in the disobedience of sin. It is our inherent sameness, whether we are Jews or Gentiles. “God has bound all men over to disobedience.” Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin… that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Romans 3:9&19).
On the divine side is mercy, mercy that shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34), unexplainable mercy, precious mercy, mercy that robs all (Jews and Gentiles) of any ability to boast (Romans 3:27).
That being the case; how ought Gentiles regard Jews? How ought Jews regard Gentiles? When they are one in Christ they ought embrace each other and sing the praise of the mercy that brought them together. At all times Gentile recipients of mercy are to reflect that mercy back on the Jews; Jewish recipients of mercy are to open the riches of their heritage to Gentiles.
Whether we are Gentile pastors, Gentile Lutheran Christians or whether a Jewish mother who wanted the “sparkle” she saw in a Gentile, whether Jewish children who are baptized, instructed, confirmed, we rejoice that we are all “children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). “To Him be the glory forever: Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Conflicting Visions of the Second Coming
There are two basic visions of eschatology or the seconding of Christ. They are the ‘thief in the night’ vision and the ‘sign seeking’ vision. Both visions have been with the church since her beginning and will be with her to some degree until her consummation. However, the question is which version is Biblical?
The most important thing in determining if a view is Biblical or not, is to determine what rules of hermeneutics one will adhere to in their study of the text. Hermeneutics is the study or science of interpretation and like all true science it has rules and laws that it follows to guides its study of a text. We can use these rules to help us critique the two versions of the second coming of the Lord.
To begin with we need to study what each view teaches and what is the biblical basis for their interpretation. Let’s start with the ‘sign seeking’ vision.
This version holds to the view that God has given a number of signs that point to the time of the second coming. These signs constitute the fulfillment of current events which align with the prophecies. This school of thought uses a standard referred to by scholars as the pesher hermeneutic or method of interpretation. This method is not new and was practiced even in the days of Christ by the Essenes and other groups. It basically interprets all prophecy as being fulfilled in the life time of the reader. Therefore, the question of whom the author was originally speaking to is not a priority in this version or its hermeneutic. God is speaking to them personally and anything happening in scripture or history is happening specifically to them. They really don’t care to whom it was originally intended for. You might call this interpretation the ‘me’ interpretation of the Bible for its adherence believes that every prophecy must be fulfilled in their lifetime and God is talking to them personally.
The scriptural basis for this ‘sign seeking’ vision is taken from a number of places in the Old Testament most of which are highly figurative. Scripture such as the book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and also the book of Revelation. However, for the most part this version is heavily dependent on Matthew 24 and without Matthew 24 this vision would have a hard time surviving.
On the other hand the ‘thief in the night’ vision believes that there are no specific signs for the coming of the Lord. This vision emphasizes that Christians should be prepared at all times for the second coming of their Lord, “Look he stands at the door”. Scripture demonstrates that the Bible is simply teaching us that the Lord’s return is likened to a ‘thief in the night’ when people are not expecting him. It also corresponds to the latter section of Matthew 24 starting with verse 36 to end of the chapter for its proof text, along with a number of lesser texts.
In view of the importance of Matthew 24 to both visions it would seem logical that it should be the place that we begin to put these two versions to the litmus test of truth.
To do this we need to look at the immediate context of the signs and predictions made in Matthew 24. We would draw this from the verses preceding Matthew 24 and those following immediately after the signs section, which is Matthew 24:1-36
After that we need to look at the overall context of the entire book of Matthew to see if it lines up with our interpretation of chapter 24.
Now let’s turn to the immediate context of Matthew 24, which is the latter section of Matthew 23. In Matthew 23 we find Jesus giving a scalding criticism of the leaders of the Jewish nation by reminding them of their father’s sins against God and man, but especially against God’s prophets. In verse 32 he said “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.” In this he was saying that the generation presently living would complete their rebellion against God by rejecting God’s son and killing him, i.e. they will kill the greatest prophet of all, the Son of God.
Jesus goes on to say in verses 35 and 36 that the generation presently living would receive the retribution for their sins and sins of their fathers’ “so that on you may come all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation”. (Mt 23:35-36).
After that, in verse 37 Jesus turned his criticism from the leaders of Israel to the city of Jerusalem, as the city which kills the prophets. He says to the city in verse 38 “See, your house is left to you desolate.” We are given some help in understanding this in Luke’s gospel, chapter 21:20-24 which is a parallel passage of Matthew 24. There it is clear that the thing that causes the abomination of desolation is the army of Rome laying siege to the city of Jerusalem and then finally destroying it in A.D. 70.
Next in Matthew 24, as Jesus walked away, his disciples pointed to the temple and basically asked “how can this be, for Gods house is in Jerusalem?” In essence, they were questioning his prophecy on the city and the nation. How could God destroy the city of David and his own temple?
In response Jesus points to the temple and says in Matthew 24:2 “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” They then ask Jesus for signs, which would lead up to this destruction of the temple. Jesus answers their questions about the Temple in verses 2-34 of Matthew 24.
From this short section of Matthew 23 we see that Jesus, in the context of Matthew 24, is talking to his disciples about a judgment which was coming on the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem, for their sins. In this prophecy Jesus placed it in the time frame of that generation presently living, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. (Mt 23:36)
As we move into Matthew 24 the disciples ask Jesus three questions. “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3) Their first question is when will these things happen? What are the “these things” that the disciples are asking about? Well, they are the things he just told them in Matthew 23. The second question is what will be the sign (singular) of your coming, and the third question is when will the end of the age, or the world, happen.
One of the problems with understanding Matthew 24 is how Jesus answered these questions. He uses a code language called apocalyptic literature to veil what he was saying from the outsiders. In other words, he was trying to confuse those that did not understand the Jewish culture and the highly figurative language used by them during turbulent periods of their history. This language is often used to cloak or shroud a message of destruction on the outsiders and the enemies of God. In this case it was the Romans.
In verse 33 of chapter 24 Jesus answered the disciples question about the coming judgment and the signs of the temples destruction. “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” In this verse Jesus plainly tells them that what he just told them in verse 4-32, were the signs and he clearly tells them that they would see all these signs fulfilled. In fact he goes on to set a time limit on there for fulfillment. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mt 24:34).
Then in verse 35, which we might call the transition text, Jesus moves from talking about the destruction of the temple to the end is the age or world “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. He then contrasts this event with the previous one; the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The first has numerous and obvious signs and the latter have none. The reason being no one knows when it is going to happen “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Mt 24:36). This statement would make no sense if Jesus was still talking about the same event of verses 4-35 where he gives a host of signs. If you assume Matthew 24 to be talking about one event then you must take the position that Jesus contradicts himself and is a false prophet.
Jesus then makes three comparisons of his second coming and the end of age or world, with other events Matthew 24 verses 37-44. It will be like the days of Noah, like a normal workday and like a thief coming in the night. In other, words nothing out of ordinary will be happening.
Then Jesus tells three longer parables in a row about his second coming. The first one is the parable of the wise servant, verses 45-51, where he warned that the master could come at anytime, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Mt 24:44). The second parable of the ten virgins warns that it could be sooner than we think (Mt 24:50). The third parable of the talents Matthew 25:14-30 warns it could be later than we think (Mt 25:5). In these parables Jesus covered all the bases: his coming could be sooner, it could be later. The over arching message is that Jesus “will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” In other words as a thief in the night.
Which version and interpretation of Matthew 24 squares best with the overall context of the gospel of Matthew? The Gospel of Matthew is a book showing the unfolding of Gods plan to bring the good news of Christ to the world. This unfolding or revelation shows how and why Gods focus changed from the nation of Israel to the man Jesus and then to a new nation made up of true Israelites assembled out of a people from every nation of the earth (John 3:1-5, 2 Peter 2:9, Daniel 7:13-14).
In the very beginning of his story Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus and puts it in the context of the leaders of Israel rejecting Christ and attempting to kill him. On the other hand the wise men of east which symbolizes the world were seeking him and embraced him as the new king. This story of wise men set much of the story line of the book and history of the Christian movement which we read about in the Book of Acts.
In Matthew’s recording of Jesus returning from exile in Egypt, Matthew sees the return and restoration of the true Israel to the land and the destruction of children in Ramah as the judgment on unfaithful Israel who is left childless. This theme continues in the forth chapter with the new Israel (Jesus) entering the wilderness to be tested as did the first Israel, with the marked difference that the physical nation was unfaithful and the latter was true to his calling.
John Sets the Stage
In the third chapter of his Gospel, Matthew has John the Baptist coming on the stage with a twofold message; one of blessing for those who embrace the Christ and one of judgment on those who do evil and reject him.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”(Mt 3:7-12)
The point cannot be missed, the Messiah is coming soon not just to bless the nation of Israel but to judge it and purify it. In fact the judgment has already started (The ax has already begun its work) as seen in the Ministry of John. The interpretation of this section of scripture has been grossly misinterpreted by associating it with the tongues of fire that appeared over the heads of the apostles on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts two. The two sections have only one thing in common and that is the word fire. The passage in Acts two does not explain the event which was experienced by the apostles in acts two. If anything, they represent the phenomena which took place in the Old Testament when the Temple was dedicated. This would be exactly what we would expect see on the day of Pentecost in as recorded in Acts 2 seeing that the Lord had come to dwell in his new temple, the Church.
The Parables Tell the Story
The parables in the gospel of Matthew, tell the same story of God coming to his people, then rejecting him and the retribution that follows. The first is the parable of the tenants found in Matthew 21:33-46. In this parable Jesus tells a story that parallels what the leaders and the nation of Israel were doing in rejecting him. In essence they were rejecting the creator God who had made them a nation and had given them the land as represented by the vineyard. In verse 41 he tells them the owner (God) responds to their final and complete rejection of Gods rule through rejecting his son. “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and rent the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” The miserable death would be the desertion of Jerusalem. Then in verses 43-46, Jesus gives his explanation of the parable. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but to the one on whom it falls, they will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet”.
It is obvious that the Jewish leaders who heard Jesus tell this parable understood that it was spoken about them and not a generation of people that would exist 2000 years later.
The second is the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. In this parable the Lord likens the rule of God or kingdom of God to a King throwing a party for his son’s wedding and sending out his servants to invite people to the party, however, the people he invited began to make excuses, seized some of the messengers and killed the others. Now, we need to remember that in that culture to say no to the Kings’ invitation was unthinkable. It would be a horrendous offence worthy of death. This is exactly what we see in the parable. The King took offense and was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city, (Mt 22:7) Note that there are two groups of people who were slated for judgment by the King; those that were indifferent to the message of the King and those who had killed the messengers of the King. i.e. those that do not accept the invitation offered through his son.
It becomes obvious when we consider the overall context of the book of Matthew that the sign seeking version is not the best interpretation of Matthew 24. Those that use the sign seeking version to interpret this section of Scripture must ignore the basic law of hermeneutics, which says you must consider the context of the passage. The context would include who Jesus was speaking to when he said “all these things shall come upon this generation”.
My conclusion is that Matthew 24 does not support the sign seeking version: rather in the first section of the chapter verses 1-34 it points to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, with the last section of the chapter pointing to and confirming the thief in the night version. If the sign seeking version is to be established by the Bible it must be done by some other section of Scripture other than Matthew 24. This version and interpretation of Matthew 24 seem to be shared by the early church Father Tertullian who clearly was making reference to Matthew 24 when he spoke of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple.
 Why do Westerners seem convinced that Christ will come on our watch? The truth is, we aren’t the first. The Dead Sea Scrolls are copies of Old Testament books discovered near Qumran, the commune of the Essenes on the rim of the Dead Sea. This reclusive group of Jews from Jesus’ day had several peculiarities. One of the lesser known was a method of biblical interpretation that scholars often call pesher. This method of interpretation requires two presuppositions. First, it assumes a verse of Scripture is referring to the end of time, even if it doesn’t originally appear to be…..Second-and this is the most important ingredient-the pesher exegete interprets his or her current time as the eschaton. Thus, step one is assuming a given passage is actually about the end of time; step two is assuming that time is now. E. Randolph Richards; Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 2276-2284). Kindle Edition.
 The new Adam has come It is no long the seed of Abraham it has become the seed of Christ. One greater than Abraham and Moses has come.
 Jesus was questioned by His disciples concerning when those things were to come to pass that He had said about the destruction of the temple. So He first spoke to them about the order of Jewish events until the overthrow of Jerusalem. Then, he spoke about the things that will concern all nations— up to the very end of the world. . . . Therefore, although there is presently a sprouting in the acknowledgement of all this mystery, yet it is only in the actual presence of the Lord that the flower will be developed and the fruit will be borne. . . . Who has yet beheld Jesus descending from heaven in a manner similar to how the apostles saw Him ascend?. . . . Up to the present moment, no one has smitten their breasts, tribe by tribe, looking on Him whom they pierced. No one has yet fallen in with Elijah. No one has yet escaped from the Antichrist. No one has yet had to bewail the downfall of Babylon. Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.561).
The New Creation and the Resurrection
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy (Col 1:15-18).
The resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of the new creation. This is why Christ is referred to as the beginning of the Creation of God. What is the new creation? It is the final evolution of humanity into its eternal form and place in the creation of God. In the resurrection, Jesus becomes the new Adam (1Cor 15:25), with his bride, the body of Christ became the new Eve, which gives birth to a new race of beings that will rule over the entire new creation, seen and unseen.
After His resurrection, the living Christ gave his Spirit to his disciples to reveal in full the new creation (John 14:26). He revealed to them that He was the beginning of a new humanity a humanity that is above and different from all human categories as we now know. This new humanity at the present time is in its infancy and is slowly being transformed in its spirit into the likeness of the resurrected One. However, this transformation only will be completed when the second Adam (Jesus) returns for his bride.
The second Adam was born, lived and died as a Jewish man under the law of Moses. However, in his resurrection he was raised a catholic (universal being) not as a man of flesh and blood but as a new kind of being. A being whose new spiritual body had the power to create worlds. In this, He died in weakness and was raised with unlimited power (Rom 1:4). This power gave him absolute authority over the visible and the invisible. In the final resurrection at the end of time when he comes back for his bride, the new Eve, will share this power and authority with him for she will be raised in his likeness. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3).
Those who have been spiritually raised with him now (the new birth), stand with him above all law, all principalities and authorities in this world, and the one to come. They have been given a taste of the power of the coming age. The fullness of that power will come with and in the final resurrection, when the final transformation takes place those in the new creation will receive the goal of their salvation; the final evolution into the glorified children of God (Rom 8:22, 23). The worm will become a butterfly. The universe will become the playground of the children of God. I hope this helps you to understands the Apostle Paul’s words “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” LD