Galatians 4 Shows That Isaiah 66 Is Not About Modern Israel


I grew up in a church where Christian Zionism and dispensationalist theology was (and still is) taught. In that setting, and in others, I was repeatedly taught that Bible prophecy was fulfilled when Israel became a nation in 1948. Furthermore, I was told, this event “restarted God’s prophetic time clock.” Two passages of Scripture allegedly foretold that event, Isaiah 66:7-9 and Matthew 24:32-33. In neither case does this ring true, and both passages carry an entirely different message.

Isaiah 66:5-13

Many believe that Isaiah was looking ahead about 2700 years to the political events of 1948 when he wrote the final portion of his book. They often point to verses 7-9 in particular, and insist that Isaiah foresaw the birth of national Israel “in one day.” Before looking at what this passage says, let’s consider Isaiah’s patterns and themes in the final eight chapters of his book:

  • Isaiah 59 concludes with a Messianic prophecy (“The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob…”). This prophecy, quoted in Romans 11:26-27, foretold Christ’s work on the cross as a sacrifice for sin.
  • Isaiah 60 is filled with prophetic decrees of the coming new covenant age (this present age), when the nations come to the light of the gospel.
  • Isaiah 61 contains a prophecy about the Lord’s anointed One and the good news, healing, and liberty He would bring; Jesus said this was fulfilled during His earthly ministry (see Luke 4:18-19).
  • Isaiah 65 speaks of new heavens and a new earth, in which sin, death, childbearing, and labor would continue (this makes sense if his prophecy is viewed as the establishment of the new covenant age rather than an overhaul of this planet and the galaxy). Our study on Matthew 24:35 discusses more fully the view that the Bible sometimes uses covenant language when speaking of “the heavens and the earth.”
  • From these and other examples in the final chapters of Isaiah, we see that Isaiah looks repeatedly to what we know were first century events. Let’s look now at Isaiah 66:5-13.

5 Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: “Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’ But they shall be ashamed.”  6 The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, who fully repays His enemies!  7 “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child.  8 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.  9 Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the Lord. “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God.  10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;  11 that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.”  12 For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees.  13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Verse 5: This is clearly the Lord’s comfort for those who would be persecuted, hated, and cast out for His sake. Albert Barnes (1834), John Gill (1763), and Matthew Henry (1710) all taught that Isaiah was referring to the first century when Jesus, the apostles, and the early church preached the gospel and were opposed by the religious leaders of Israel.

Verse 6: Noise and a voice are heard from the city and the temple, and the voice is the Lord’s as He repays His enemies. Who are His enemies here? The text doesn’t say, at least not explicitly. However, if verse 5 is about the religious (temple) authorities persecuting the followers of Christ, then they are the enemies being repaid here at the time of the temple’s downfall; and Matthew 23 and I Thessalonians 1 also foretell this event:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …you are sons of those who murdered the prophets… I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth… all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:29-36).

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Verses 7-8: Isaiah sees a woman, identified as Zion (verse 8), in labor. She delivers “a male child” (verse 7) and gives birth to “children” (verse 8). A nation is born “in one day” and “at once” (verse 8). Matthew Poole (1683) and John Gill (1763) are among those who taught that Isaiah foretold what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 Jews heard Peter preach the gospel and believed (Acts 2:41).

Verses 9-11: For those who love Jerusalem, this birthing is cause for rejoicing (verse 10). They are invited to “feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom” and to “drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”  (verse 11).

Verses 12-13: This woman is given “peace like a river,” and she is filled with “the glory of the Gentiles” (verse 12). [Interestingly, those who insist that this is a prophecy of Israel becoming a nation in 1948 are often fixated on the goal of "a Jewish state," and sound as if they would be happy to see each and every non-Jew exiled from Israel. The Jerusalem Isaiah saw would be marked by the glory of Gentiles - of Gentiles finding salvation in Christ.] Those who feed from this woman would be carried on her sides and dandled on her knees. God would comfort them in Jerusalem as one is comforted by his own mother.

Where else does Scripture depict Jerusalem as the mother of God’s people? And which Jerusalem is that, the earthly one or the heavenly one?

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem ABOVE is free, which is THE MOTHER OF US ALL” (Galatians 4:24-26; see verses 21-31 for a fuller context).

In the next verse Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1, a passage which is parallel to Isaiah 66:

For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband’ (Galatians 4:27).

Observe how Paul goes on to interpret Isaiah 54:1.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:27-31).

Isaiah 66:8 is parallel to Isaiah 54:1, and it ought to be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from unfaithful Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the establishment of the new Jerusalem for the bride of Christ, and the dissolving of the old covenant in favor of the new covenant (which was established at the cross). This is the point of both Isaiah and Paul.

Matthew 24:32-33

Matthew 24:32-33 reads this way: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that He is near—at the doors!” In part 4 of our series on the Olivet Discourse, we noted that dispensationalists are fond of saying that the fig tree represents Israel, and that when Israel became a nation in 1948, the world’s final generation was unveiled. We also noted at least four problems with this view:

[1] When Paul speaks of Israel in his epistle to the Romans (11:17, 24), he uses the illustration of an olive tree, not a fig tree.

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus speaks of not only the fig tree, but “all the trees” (See Luke 21:29-31).

[3] Jesus does speak of a fig tree elsewhere in Matthew, but observe closely what He says about it: “In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’” (Matthew 21:18-19). In light of what Jesus said to that fig tree, one ought to think twice about what it means if national Israel is represented by the fig tree.

[4] In Matthew 24:34 Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” This certainly included the branches of the fig tree, so to speak, bringing forth leaves. James saw the signs and declared, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9; compare with Matt. 24:33).

Modern Israel is not in view in either of these passages which are so often cited as predicting the events of the mid-20th century. Some of those who thunder the loudest against what they call “replacement theology” have attempted to take Isaiah’s prophecy about the birth of the new covenant church, and make it about the (re-)birth of national Israel instead. Scripture interprets Scripture to demonstrate that, while God cast out earthly Jerusalem, He chose new Jerusalem to be the nurturing mother of the church. 

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Matthew 13 (Verses 24-58: “The Wheat and the Tares” and Other Parables)


The previous post featured notes and commentary on Matthew 13:1-23 (The Parable of the Sower and the Seed). This post covers the rest of Matthew 13 (verses 24-58), and this study also took place in June 2011.

Verses 24-30: The Parable of the Weeds

This parable is explained by Jesus in verses 36-43, so we will only give a brief overview here. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his own field. He apparently assigned his servants to do this sowing, because while they were sleeping, an enemy came and intentionally sabotaged the harvest by sowing weeds among the wheat before going away. The damage was done, and when the grain appeared, so did the weeds. The servants offered to pluck up the weeds, but they were told not to do so lest they mistakenly pull up the wheat along with it. The weeds would be pulled first later on at harvest time by the reapers, and bound in bundles to be burned, but the wheat would be gathered into the man’s barn.

In farmer’s terms, there was a weed known as “bearded darnel” which resembled wheat when the plants were young. Only when they reached maturity would it be clear which was which.

Q: Do we view all of Jesus’ parables as general anecdotes about how we should live? Or do we view some of them as specific declarations to a 1st century audience of coming judgment and change?

Verses 31-33: The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

Verses 31-32: Jesus next compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed sowed in a man’s field. The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to the Jewish community, and elsewhere Jesus referred to this seed in His statement about mountain-moving faith (Matt. 17:20). What grows from this seed, however, is a tree that is larger than all garden plants and becomes a host to many birds and their nests. Christ’s kingdom would be small at the time of its beginning, but over time it would greatly expand as many came to faith from all nations. Another implication is that His kingdom would be far greater than any earthly kingdom.

Verse 33: The parable of the leaven spoke of how the kingdom of heaven was to come to fruition. Does this illustrate the time period between the announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus that the kingdom was at hand until it was to come in power – while some of Jesus’ disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28)? In other words, was this leavening process to take one generation, the generation which saw the Old Covenant age pass in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple? Or might this parable speak of how the kingdom of heaven works itself out in the hearts of God’s people and/or how it was to pervade the whole world as the message of the gospel went forth to the nations?

Verses 34-35: Prophecy and Parables

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He only spoke to the crowds by means of parables. Matthew said this fulfilled a prophecy by Asaph in Psalm 78:2.

“Asaph wrote that he would explain to his readers aspects of Israel’s history that had been previously unknown. He then proceeded to use Israel’s history to teach the Israelites how consistently rebellious they had been toward God and how just and merciful God had been with them. He taught these lessons by using ‘parables,’ by comparing various things. By comparing various incidents in Israel’s history He revealed things previously unclear. Stephen used the same technique in Acts 7” (Dr. Thomas Constable). 

Jesus was casting new light onto the teachings of the kingdom that had been given by the prophets.

Verses 36-43: The Parable of the Weeds Explained

Verse 36: This explanation of the parable of the weeds, and the parables that follow, are spoken only in the presence of Jesus’ disciples. They went back into the same house that they were in earlier (Matt. 12:46, 13:1). It was the disciples who asked to hear the explanation of the parable of the weeds.

Verse 37-39: Jesus identifies the cast of characters in this parable: [1] Jesus is the sower of the good seed [2] The good seed is those who belong to the kingdom [3] The field is the entire world [4] The weeds are those who do not belong to the kingdom [5] The sower of the weeds is the devil [6] The reapers are angels.

Verse 39: Jesus identifies the time of the harvest as “the close of the age.” It’s popularly taught today that this means the end of world history. However, whereas the phrase “time of the end” appears in Scripture numerous times, the phrase “end of time” does not. In Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus about “the end of the age,” and this was parallel to their question about the pending destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7), which we know from history took place in 70 AD. Furthermore, the reply that Jesus gave them also tied the end of the age to their own generation (Matt. 24:34). In other words, they spoke of the end of the Old Covenant age. For further proof of this, see Hebrews 9:26 (Jesus appeared at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself), I Corinthians 2:6-8 (the rulers of Paul’s age had crucified the Lord, and they were doomed to pass away), and I Cor. 10:11 (the ends of the ages had come upon Paul’s first century readers). According to William Barclay’s “New Testament Words,” the word used for “age” here in verse 39 means “generation or epoch.”

The reapers are angels, Jesus also says. The judgments we see in the book of Revelation all involve angels. In Revelation 14:14-20 we also see a two-part harvest. An angel announces that “the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (verse 15). A different angel then shouts out a command to “gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe” (verse 18). This second reaping results in those who are gathered being cast into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” where much blood flowed “outside the city” (verses 19-20). In Matthew 16:27-28, we also see that Jesus is to come within the lifetime of some of His disciples in judgment and “with His holy angels.” Both passages appear to mirror what we see here in this parable. Joel McDurmon comments (SOURCE):

…The separation of wheat and tares, then, pertained to the destruction of Jerusalem and the separation of God’s true fruit-bearing people from the weeds, the unbelieving Jews of that time. Ironically, this interpretation gets to the heart of the picture in the parable.

A “tare” was not simply any old weed, but a particular weed called a “darnel” or zizania in Greek. It looked almost exactly like wheat in early stages of growth and required close examination to tell the difference. In later stages, the difference grows clear, but then it is too late to remove the darnel without damaging the wheat (as the parable says). Worse yet, the darnel kernels are poisonous, causing dizziness, sickness, and possibly even death when eaten. In short, they could look like the real thing, but they were poison; and after a while, their true colors showed. This was exactly the story with the rebellious Jews. They looked like God’s people, but they were really the children of the enemy—they even killed God’s prophets (Matt. 23:30–39). And the longer history went on, the more their true nature as the children of wrath was revealed.

Thus the parable describes the then-soon-coming end of that old age and the destruction of its children, and the beginning of the gathering in of the true children of God’s kingdom. It should not be understood as teaching anything beyond this

In what sense were the unbelieving Jews, the Judaizers especially, like poisonous weeds among the children of the kingdom? Paul offers a clue in what he says to the Thessalonians who were under persecution: “…For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”  (I Thess. 2:14-16).

Verses 40-42: At the close of the age (70 AD), Jesus would send His angels to gather “out of His kingdom” the weeds, i.e. those who rejected His kingdom, and they would be thrown “into the fiery furnace” and burned with fire. Jerusalem and the temple were literally burned with fire by the Romans in 70 AD, just as Jesus (Matthew 22:7) and John (Revelation 17:16, 18:8-9, 18) said would happen. Jesus’ words here also appear to be related to what He said in the Parable of the Tenants, when He proclaimed that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the religious leadership of Israel and given to those who would bear its fruit (Matthew 21:43). The following are some thoughts shared by two friends of mine, Mark Church and Kurt Simmons (a published author), in a Facebook conversation, also in June 2011 (Source):

The imagery of being “cast into the lake of fire” is taken from the Old Testament prophets, and describes the defeat of nations and armies. When the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians, the bodies were buried and burned in Tophet (Valley of Hinnom), which gave rise to the imagery of hell (Gehenna) as a place of fire and maggots (Isaiah 30:31-33). This defeat and cremation of an enemy army seems to be the source of latter imagery. Ezekiel describes the defeat of Egypt in similar language, saying its host would go down to the “pit” (sheol) in defeat (Ezekiel 31:14, 17)… Also in Isaiah 34:8-10 it uses similar language about the lake of fire (stream of fire) in juxtaposition to the destruction of Edom (kingdom just south of Israel). 

Isaiah 34:8-10 “For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.”

IT SAYS THERE THAT THE SMOKE WOULD RISE FOREVER AND EVER. Obviously after the destruction of Edom, we don’t still see the smoke rising from there to this day. It was a metaphorical expression about being completely wiped out. 

It was the same in the book of Revelation chapter 19 when describing the ultimate destruction of Babylon (which we know was JERUSALEM).

Revelation 19:3 “And again they shouted: ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.’”

Obviously, to this day we don’t still see Jerusalem smoke rising forever and ever. It was an expression of complete annihilation.

Verse 43: The righteous will shine like the sun. Compare with Daniel 12:3, which also has as its context the completion of the great tribulation and the end of the age (verses 1, 4, 7, 13).

Verse 44: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

The true disciple loses his affection for the things of this world, as Jesus and His kingdom become the treasure of his heart.

Verses 45-46: The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value

Ditto! In the previous parable, though, the discovery was accidental.

Verses 47-50: The Parable of the Net

This parable is very similar to the parable of the weeds. All things are gathered first, and the sorting occurs later, where again the bad things gathered are thrown away.

Verses 51-52: New and Old Treasures

The disciples affirmed that they understood what Jesus shared with them, in fulfillment of verse 11 (“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom…”).

Verses 53-58: Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth, where the crowds gathered at the synagogue were astonished by His mighty works, and also likely by His teachings. They expressed doubt that, having come from a humble upbringing, He could then do all these things. They chose to be offended by Him, and so He withheld the greater part of His mighty works from them because of their unbelief. This likely indicates that their astonishment had been the result of hearing about His mighty works, and not so much the result of witnessing them firsthand.

Matthew 13 (Verses 1-23: Parable of the Sower and the Seed)


What follows are notes and brief commentary from a Bible study that took place almost three years ago (June 8, 2011). At the time, 5-7 of us guys met together weekly, and we took turns preparing and leading these studies. I was part of the group from January 2008 – August 2013 (when my wife and I move to Ohio). Most of the time we worked through one book of the Bible at a time, and at this point we were in Matthew.

Scripture passage for this study: Matthew 13:1-13

Verses 1-9: The Parable of the Sower

Verses 1-2: We’re told that Jesus “went out of the house.” Tracing Matthew’s account backwards, Jesus must have been in a house when the demon-oppressed blind and mute man was brought to him (Matt. 12:22). This makes sense when we see in Matt. 12:46 that at the end of this round of teaching “His mother and His brothers stood outside.” The crowds had apparently grown much larger in size, so Jesus went to the sea instead and got into a boat.

The phrase “That same day” links the parables Jesus is about to tell to the condemnation He had just pronounced upon His own evil generation, along with the affirmation that anyone (regardless of ethnicity) who did His will was part of His spiritual family. So we should look for these parables to be a response to Israel’s rejection of Him.

Verse 3: The word “parable,” according to Strong’s Concordance, means “a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude.” Jesus used this method often. He tells His audience why just a bit later.

Verses 4-9: These verses contain the Parable of the Sower. We’ll give just a short overview here, since Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of this parable in verses 18-23. Jesus speaks of four different types of reception given to the seed sown by the sower. What was sowed was identical. Therefore, the focus is on the soil, or the recipients: [1] this seed only lay on the surface and was devoured by birds [2] this seed fell on rocky ground with very thin topsoil; there was no root and they were quickly scorched [3] this seed was choked by surrounding thorns [4] this seed fell on good soil and produced fruit, but in different quantities. Not everyone would have “ears to hear,” but it was a good thing to have them.

This first parable seems to be an introduction to the parables which are to follow. Israel was frequently portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures as a vineyard. See, for example, Isaiah 5:1-7. This is probably just one of the reasons the Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45).

Verses 10-17: The Purpose of Parables

Verses 10-11: The disciples wanted to know why Jesus spoke in parables, and He promptly told them that they had already “been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” but that the crowds had not. That’s why Jesus spoke to the crowds in this veiled manner, while expecting His disciples/followers/those whose ears were open to understand and learn what the kingdom of heaven was all about.

Verse 12: There seems to be a warning here about not taking for granted what one has. Consider what Israel had: “…the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2); “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:4-5). The church in Ephesus was warned by Jesus that if they didn’t repent and return to their first love, He would come to them and remove their lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5).

Verse 13: Jesus’ Jewish audience (generally speaking) hadn’t accepted basic revelation about Him and who He was, so Jesus would continue to speak to them in a veiled manner so that they wouldn’t pick up on further truth either.

Verses 14-15: Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, where Isaiah had given this prophecy a little before 700 BC. Isaiah stated that this condition would last until “cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste” (verse 11). This was fulfilled in 586 BC when Babylon destroyed Judah and Jerusalem. Jesus suggested by quoting this passage that it was going to happen again. It did, in 70 AD. This passage from Isaiah is also quoted in John 12:39-40 and Acts 28:25-27, where Paul followed this up by saying, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

Verses 16-17: The disciples and those whose ears were opened, however, were greatly blessed, especially because the longed-for Messiah was in their midst.

Verses 18-23: The Parable of the Sower Explained

Verse 19: [1] The seed sown on the path (surface only) is likened to the one who doesn’t understand the message of the kingdom, and what is heard is snatched away by the evil one. The Jews, for the most part, so anticipated a political kingdom marked by Jewish superiority that they rejected Christ’s message of a heavenly, spiritual kingdom for all nations.

Verses 20-21: [2] The seed sown on rocky ground with very little soil is likened to the one who initially shows great enthusiasm for the message of the kingdom, but they are not rooted in the truth and so easily fall away when opposition arises. Observe how many turned away and walked with Jesus no longer (John 6:66) when He gave hard sayings and talked about laying His life down for all peoples.

Verse 22: [3] The seed sown among thorns is likened to the one who proves unfruitful because the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches in this life crowd out any affection for eternal life through Jesus.

Verse 23: [4] The seed sown on good soil is likened to those who both hear and understand the message of the kingdom, and who go on to bear fruit to various degrees.

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The next post will feature notes and commentary on Matthew 13:24-58 (“The Wheat and the Tares” and other parables).

The Significance of the Word “Desolate” in the New Testament


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the book of Revelation”

The word “desolate” (or the related word “desolation”) only appears 12 times in the New Testament. Seven of these appearances are in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and five of them are references to Jerusalem’s condition in Jesus’ day and to what was about to happen to that city. This word does not appear in John’s gospel account, but its final two appearances in the New Testament demonstrate that John, in the book of Revelation, was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was.

Like the previous post, this one is also inspired by a recent discussion here. PJ Miller, of Sola Dei Gloria, observed the similarity between Matthew’s use of the word “desolate” in both chapters 23 and 24:

[1] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

[2] “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16).

[1] In Matthew 23:38, Jesus summed up what had become of Jerusalem in His lament over that city. Although formerly God’s house, Jesus now spoke of Jerusalem (and/or the temple) as “your house,” for He had abandoned it and left it to them as “desolate.”  About 650 years earlierGod said the same to Jeremiah just before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC:

I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritageI have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies… ‘Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion underfoot; They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate; Desolate, it mourns to Me; The whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart” (Jeremiah 12:7-11).

(In two recent posts, we discussed how first century Jerusalem became infested with demons, but how God chose new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, as His house and His dwelling place.)

Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used in Matthew 23:38, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.”

[2] In Matthew 24:15, Jesus warned His followers living in Judea to flee to the mountains when they saw the “abomination of desolation.” Matthew’s Jewish audience was familiar with this phrase, and would understand the reference to Daniel, but Luke quotes Jesus differently for his mostly Gentile audience:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Luke 21:20-21).

So the “abomination of desolation” was in the hands of foreign armies coming to complete Jerusalem’s desolation. The warnings of Matthew and Luke, stated differently, were to bring about the same response: immediate flight. In 314 AD, Eusebius, known as the father of church history, wrote the following about the obedience of Jesus’ followers to His words in Matthew 24:

“The people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to the approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the [Jewish-Roman war of 67-73 AD], and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella [in modern-day Jordan]. And when those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the whole land of Judaea, the Justice of God then visited upon them all their acts of violence to Christ and his apostles, by destroying that generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men” (see here for more about this event).

The word “desolation” in Matthew 24:15 is #2049 in Strong’s Concordance, and the definition there is: “from 2048; to lay waste (lit. or fig.): -(bring to, make) desolate (-ion), come to nought.” The word “desolation” in Luke 21:20 is entry #2050, and Strong’s simply points back to #2049. So we can see that all three entries (#2048, #2049, and #2050) are essentially the same word, just as the words “desolate” and “desolation” are essentially the same in English.

“Desolate” and “desolation” appear in Mark 13:14 and Luke 13:35 as direct parallels to Matthew 24 and Matthew 23, respectively. Otherwise, these words only appear six other times in the New Testament.* We’ll look briefly at four of these instances, before looking at their two appearances in Revelation: 

The word “desolation” appears in Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 (parallel passages), where Jesus responds to the Pharisees who question by what power He was casting out demons: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

The word “desolate” appears in Acts 1:20 regarding Judas Iscariot: “’For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it.”

It also shows up in Galatians 4:27, in Paul’s argument that God’s people belong to the Jerusalem above, and not the Jerusalem below. He quotes Isaiah 54: “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’”

The Strong’s entry for Acts 1:20 and Galatians 4:27 is #2048, and the entry for Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 is #2049.

*A different Greek word for “desolate” appears in I Timothy 5:5, and refers to a widow’s grief.

The final two places where this word shows up in the New Testament are in Revelation 17:16 and Revelation 18:19 (Strong’s #2049), regarding the burning of the harlot and the great city:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’”

As we discussed in a recent post (“Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons“), “the great city” was first identified as the place “where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8).” Of course, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. This city was also aptly named “the harlot,” the same name given to it by Jeremiah (3:6-8), Ezekiel (16:15), and Hosea (6:10) because it was full of spiritual adultery at that time. Revelation 16-19 repeatedly holds “the great city”, “the harlot,” and “Babylon the great” (different names for the same entity) responsible for shedding the blood of God’s saints, prophets, and apostles. Jesus left no doubt who was responsible for shedding this blood, and when the resulting judgment would come: Israel, in His generation (Matthew 23:29-38).

Jesus declared Jerusalem in His day to be a desolate house, and He warned that “the abomination of desolation” would come and complete its desolation in His own generation. John, in his visions of “things which must shortly take place…for the time is near…at hand” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10), saw the outcome of what Jesus prophesied, Jerusalem made desolate and burned to the ground.

Seeing how the word “desolate” is used here in Revelation 17 and 18, concerning the harlot and the great city, is good confirmation that John was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was in Matthew 23 and 24. This desolation was made complete in the year 70 AD. Gratefully, we can rejoice that we are children of the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem aligned with the new covenant established by the blood of our Savior (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Luke 17 Shows That Matthew 24 Can’t Be Divided


Scripture passages for this study: Matthew 24:1-51 and Luke 17:20-37

This post was prompted by a discussion under a recent post, concerning what might be and what might not be fulfilled in Matthew 24 (the Olivet Discourse). There was a time when I didn’t believe that any of Matthew 24 has been fulfilled. Then I came to believe that most of Matthew 24:1-34 was fulfilled in Jesus’ generation, before acknowledging that verse 34 doesn’t allow for only some of it to be fulfilled (“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place“). At that point, I believed there must be a breaking point somewhere after verse 34, a dividing line after which the rest of the chapter would be fulfilled about 2000 years later (i.e. in our own future). I never could pinpoint that dividing line, though, and be at peace with it.

There are numerous reasons why I now believe all of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the first century AD, in Jesus’ own generation. This post highlights one of those reasons, which is that Luke 17:20-37 demonstrates the impossibility of any time division. Luke 17 scrambles and reorders various portions of Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24, predictions which are located before and well after verse 34. What is ordered as “1, 2, 3, 4, 5″ in Matthew 24:1-41 is ordered as “2, 4, 1, 5, 3″ in Luke 17:23-37, as shown in this diagram by Ed Stevens in his book titled, “What Happened in 70 AD?”

Matthew 24 Undivided

Source: World Without End (December 5, 2013); Better design seen here

David Curtis, the pastor of Berean Bible Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has also produced a similar chart, in which he fully writes out the passages shown in the diagram above

Matthew 24

Luke 17

SECTION ONE Verses 1-35

1. Matthew 24:17-18 (NKJV)
Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.

2. Luke 17:23-24 (NKJV)
“And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. 24 “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.
2. Matthew 24:26-27 (NKJV)
“Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
4. Luke 17:26-27 (NKJV)
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 “They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
3. Matthew 24:28 (NKJV)
“For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
1. Luke 17:31 (NKJV)
“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.

SECTION TWO Verses 36-51

4. Matthew 24:37-39 (NKJV)
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

5. Luke 17:35-36 (NKJV)
“Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. 36 “Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”
5. Matthew 24:40-41 (NKJV)
“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
3. Luke 17:37 (NKJV)
And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
Those who attempt to divide Matthew 24 say that SECTION ONE refers to the events of AD 70. But they say SECTION TWO refers to events yet future to us. If the five prophetic events of Matthew 24 that are found in Luke 17 are numbered 1-2-3-4-5, Luke’s numbering of the same events would be 2-4-1-5-3. Luke has an event from section 1 followed by one from section 2, then another from section 1 followed by section 2, and finally one from section 1. This shows the impossibility of dividing Matthew 24 with a 2,000 year gap.

 What do you think? Is this a valid conclusion? Why or why not?

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Previous posts on the Olivet Discourse can be viewed at this page, including a 4-part series (titled “This Generation Or That Generation?”) examining the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in a parallel fashion.

New Jerusalem, God’s Dwelling Place


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

In the previous post, “Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons,” we looked at:

  • how Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple were once known as God’s dwelling place on earth
  • how God’s dwelling place is also in heaven
  • how Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness at times earned her the title of “harlot”
  • how Jesus said Jerusalem’s house was “desolate,” and that His “wicked generation” would be like a man exorcised of a demon but then inhabited by seven worse demons,
  • and how John was told that “the great city,” known as “Babylon the great” and “the harlot,” and first identified as Jerusalem, was “a dwelling place of demons.”

We also ended with this question: With God having abandoned Jerusalem as His dwelling place, was He then without a dwelling place of His own? As we also noted, God’s dwelling place was always in heaven (e.g. I Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49):

“And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive…”

Since we, as God’s people in Christ, know that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), it’s no surprise to discover that God has chosen us as His dwelling place. The New Testament record is clear that God’s earthly dwelling place is not in any way confined to a geographical location. God dwells with (and in) those who belong to His Son, Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, “those who dwell in heaven” are repeatedly distinguished from “those who dwell on the earth.” This pattern is discussed more fully in a 3-part series (part 1, part 2, and part 3). In the following two passages, we can see this distinction:

Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time‘” (Revelation 12:10-12).

“And [the beast] was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:5-8).

Earthly Jerusalem was filled with demons, marked for judgment, and was judged, but God had already chosen a different Jerusalem as His dwelling place. This is John’s triumphant message after detailing the judgments which were soon (Rev. 1:1-3; 22:10) to be poured out on earthly Jerusalem: 

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’’” (Revelation 21:2-3).

I don’t believe John’s words here only became true after he wrote them, but rather they were already true of those abiding in Christ. John’s vision here stands in contrast to his previous vision of the harlot city ripe for judgment. Earthly Jerusalem, the harlot, had become a dwelling place for demons (Rev. 18:2), and that demon-filled city met its demise, but God’s dwelling place, the bride, stood unshaken. Since the time of Christ, God dwells in “the holy city, New Jerusalem.” We, the church, the bride of Christ, are that city: 

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). 

Many believe that this promise from Revelation 21 has not yet been realized or fulfilled, even in our day. However, the author of Hebrews didn’t believe this way when he told his first century audience that they had already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling…” (Hebrews 12:22-24). The apostle Paul also didn’t believe this way when he quoted Exodus 29:45, Leviticus 26:11, and Ezekiel 37:27 as a present reality for the Church in his own day:

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people‘” (II Corinthians 6:16).

The apostle Paul also said this to the believers in Ephesus:

You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

I would like to submit that the book of Revelation reflects a picture also shown in Galatians 4:21-31 and in Hebrews 12:18-29, of two cities, two women, and two covenants (this chart appears larger if opened in a new tab):

Two Covenants

Also, note how the following passages in Revelation compare with, and contrast, each other:

A. Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

In the first scene, it’s likely that John was taken to a wilderness because it was in a wilderness that God established the old covenant with the Israelites. In the final scene, it’s likely that John was taken to a great, high mountain because of what God said He would do in the last days of the old covenant age:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1).

With His Son, Jesus, as the cornerstone, God has built His church as His spiritual house and temple. Because Jesus is the light of the world, we are also the light of the world, and the nations are being drawn to His light. Jerusalem, in its last days, was a dwelling place for demons, but God’s new covenant community, new Jerusalem, is now His holy dwelling place.

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For more details behind the content in this post, see our study on Revelation 21 (verses 1-4 and verses 5-27).

Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

And [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2)

A survey of the Old Testament reveals a common theme, as God repeatedly proclaimed that Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple were His dwelling place. Consider the following texts (this is just a sample):

You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:17).

But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go” (Deuteronomy 12:5).

In Jerusalem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:2).

For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place(Psalm 132:13).

At the same time, God’s dwelling place was in heaven (e.g. I Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49):

“And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive…”

A survey of the Old Testament also reveals that Israel and Jerusalem often proved unworthy of serving as a dwelling place for God. In these times of unfaithfulness, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea were among those who referred to Israel as a harlot:

The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlotAnd I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:6-8).

But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it” (Ezekiel 16:15).

I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: There is the harlotry of Ephraim; Israel is defiled” (Hosea 6:10).

When Jesus came, He summed up what had become of Jerusalem in this lament:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used by Matthew here, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.” In the New Testament, we see indications that demons are attracted to such places:

For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness” (Luke 8:29; some translations say “solitary places” or “deserted places”).

Similarly, recall what Jesus said would be true of the nation of Israel in His generation:

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:41-45).

John wrote the book of Revelation in Jesus’ generation, and there we see a tragic picture of what had become of His former dwelling place, as John describes “Babylon the great”:

And [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2).

Someone may object here and say that Babylon the great is not Jerusalem. However, if we pay attention, John does positively identify the great city, Babylon. In the previous chapter, John is shown “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication” (Rev. 17:1-2). She is shown sitting on a great beast (verse 3), and on her forehead are written these words: “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (verse 5). John sees her drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs (verse 6). The angel says to John, “The woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). So the following is clear:

The harlot = Babylon the great = the great city

The “great city” is mentioned five times in Rev. 18 (verses 10, 16, 18, 19, and 21). In verses 10 and 21 it’s referred to as “the great city Babylon.” (See also Rev. 14:8.) Yet it’s in the first mention of “the great city” where we see the positive identification of that city. We see this in the scene of the two witnesses who are killed by the beast:

 “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8).

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Therefore, “the great city” is Jerusalem. This title was also given to Jerusalem by Josephus (Wars 7:8:7) and Appian, a Roman historian of the same era. It may also be a throwback to Jeremiah’s words when he described the soon-coming judgment upon Jerusalem by Babylon, which took place in 586 BC:

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).

The great city, Babylon, is further confirmed as Jerusalem in at least the following three ways:

[1] This would not be the first time that Israel was referred to as “Sodom.” Isaiah did the same thing: Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of SodomGive ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:10-11)John invokes the names of two of Israel’s oldest enemies, Sodom and Egypt, and uses them to describe first century Jerusalem.

[2] John describes the great city using the imagery of a harlot. As discussed above, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea referred to Israel as a harlot in their day. Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, and therefore capable of spiritual adultery, unlike other nations in John’s day (or the United States or any other nation in our own day).

[3] John sees the harlot, Babylon the great, drunk with the blood of martyrs and saints (Rev. 17:6), and filled with the blood of prophets and apostles (Rev. 18:20, 24; see also Rev. 16:6, 19:2). Jesus said that Israel would be held responsible and judged in His generation for shedding this very blood (Matthew 23:29-36). He also said that “it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). 

In all this we see that a terrible thing had happened to Jerusalem, God’s former dwelling place. It was given over to spiritual adultery and had become overrun by demons:

“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2).

With God having abandoned Jerusalem as His dwelling place, was He then without a dwelling place of His own? Not at all. In the next post, we will see that God has chosen as His dwelling place the new Jerusalem, the community of saints who abide in His Son, Jesus.

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For more information and details on the content in this post, see our studies on Revelation 17 (verses 1-6 and verses 7-18) and Revelation 18.

If time allows, consider also our study on Revelation 9, where John sees an army of torturing locusts emerging out of the abyss. There is good reason to believe John witnesses a horde of demons sweeping through the land of Israel. The locusts didn’t touch any vegetation, but were given authority to torment only those who were not God’s servants, and this torment was to last for five months. In Judea, locusts typically came between May and September (a 5-month period), and this is roughly the same period when Rome laid a 5-month siege upon Jerusalem in 70 AD leading to Jerusalem’s downfall in September of that year.

Dueling Jewish Perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict


Today I read two articles concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both focusing in part on recent comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and both reflecting Jewish perspectives. They almost couldn’t have been more opposite. I thought it would be good to post both of these perspectives together, for the sake of comparison, and without any further comments on my part.

The first perspective is from Jewish Voice for Peace, whose tagline is “Israelis and Palestinians. Two Peoples, One Future.” JVP is based in Oakland, California, and describes itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights [to] support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.” The second perspective is from Israel Today, which describes itself as “a Jerusalem-based news agency providing a biblical and objective perspective on local news.”

The following is Jewish Voice for Peace’sStatement on Peace Process, 4/11/2014“:

Poof.

It wasn’t exactly poetry, but Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress this week on the stalled peace talks might go down in history as a fundamental turning point in the last 20 plus years of US-orchestrated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. (1)

For the first time— and despite later efforts to backtrack— a US Secretary of State admitted it was the Israelis who derailed talks.

Kerry couldn’t have been clearer about the sequence of events. First Israel refused to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners they had promised to free, then they announced construction of 700 new settlement units, and only then did the Palestinians respond with an announcement that they would attempt to join 15 international human rights conventions.

The US and Israel vigorously criticized that move, prompting many to ask: what kind of “peace process” considers signing on to covenants promoting the rights of children, the disabled, and others a threat to peace? (2)

Of course, unilateral Israeli actions to undermine peace go back much further.

Since the Oslo Accords, the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land has more than doubled and today there are some 650,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (3) In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned for re-election on a promise of one million Jews living in “Judea and Samaria”. (4)

Rather than holding Israel accountable, the United States has repeatedly rewarded the Israel government whenever it violated the law or agreements, now fueling the occupation with $3.2 billion in annual military aid.

During these talks, the United States is acting like a broker—one representing Israel’s interests.

The losers in this peace scam? The Palestinians most of all, but also every Israeli who wants a lasting and just peace.  And every US resident who wants our tax money to be used for freedom and democracy, not occupation and apartheid.

What about the peace framework that Kerry wants as a basis for negotiations?

The terms Kerry and Israel set forth have nothing to do with equality – they’ll require Palestinians to sit at the back of the bus.

But they give us an idea of what will be on the table should talks limp along.

They include an unprecedented demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That’s code for condemning Israel’s 25% of citizens who are non-Jewish to second and third class status, and denying the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees. (5)

And the land being negotiated for a future Palestinian “state”?

It looks more like the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese, thanks to decades of US-enabled settlement expansion. Put another way, whatever the rhetoric of a “two-state solution,” Israeli policies have already created a de-facto single state including all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, albeit one built on the premise of separate and unequal lives for Jews and non-Jews. This is the very definition of apartheid.

So what next?

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we believe that the struggle for freedom and self-determination will still end, like similar struggles in Northern Ireland and South Africa, at the negotiation table. But that can only happen when all parties can sit down together with equal power.

Israel has one of the strongest militaries of the world, the only nuclear arsenal in the entire Middle East, the unconditional backing of the world’s sole super power, and is the 24th wealthiest country in the world, while the Palestinians across the table remain stateless, impoverished, occupied, or second-class citizens inside of Israel.

But the balance of power is changing.

And the engine of that change is the unstoppable movement of nonviolent resistance by Palestinians and their allies – including Jews of conscience – around the globe. Education, lobbying, the involvement of international legal bodies, demonstrations in the streets in Israel and Palestine, have all made a difference and will continue to grow.

And where our governments have thus far failed us, more and more people everywhere have begun to stand up and use nonviolent, economic power to build pressure on Israel to do the right thing.

The successes of the Palestinian-led nonviolent movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are growing, with billions of dollars and major multinational corporations already impacted. That pressure has already been felt at this round of talks. That pressure is so significant that Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned BDS 26 times in his speech to AIPAC, the US largest pro-Israel lobbying organization.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is where the Civil Rights movement was when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. 

This movement for us as Jews is a form of tochecha, the Jewish tradition of sacred rebuke, which comes from a place of love and is the religious obligation to remind one’s friends to live by their values. It is a nonviolent and principled way to liberate our own community from the dehumanizing role of oppressor.

Can BDS really work? We think so.

Israeli government officials agree. Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid warned that even a limited EU boycott could cost the Israeli economy over $5 billion dollars a year.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni put it even more directly: “The boycott is moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially…Those who don’t want to see it, will end up feeling it.”

Already impacted, even Israel’s business elite is organizing to demand a negotiated agreement.

Certainly, BDS is working better than any strategy has before. It’s a movement rooted in Palestinian civil society – women’s groups, trade unions, students – and so it has no leader that can be stopped. No single funder that can be cut off.

It is fueled instead by the same love for justice, equality, and human rights that has fueled every successful justice movement the world has ever seen.

But why BDS to get to the negotiating table?

Martin Luther King famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

That is precisely what we are doing.

And we ask you to continue to join us in this historic movement at this historic moment. So that all who live in Israel and Palestine, in whatever configuration both peoples choose, can live as equals, with the same opportunities to raise families safely, go to school, and build a future of equality.

Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, we have turned a corner, and there’s no going back. 

We invite you to join one of the fastest growing justice movements the world has seen. 

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/world/middleeast/israeli-settlement-plan-derailed-peace-talks-kerry-says.html

2) http://mondoweiss.net/2014/04/absolutely-palestine-process.html

3) http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/oxfam-oslo-20-factsheet.pdf

4) http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israel-going-for-one-million-jews-in-the-west-bank.premium-1.508510

5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel

6) IMF 2013

Israel Today’s perspective was featured in a Breaking Christian News (BCN) article two days ago:

(Israel)-Israel Today reported that Israel was “stunned” by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s accusation that Israel sank peace talks with its plans for new housing for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, across 1967 lines, in an area Palestinians claim for a future state.

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” said Kerry, referring to the housing plans.

Israelis, stung by what they’ve labeled the “poof speech,” countered that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying to join 15 UN international conventions and treaties.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following remarks on at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting:

“In recent months the State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the Palestinians in order to reach a peace agreement. Israelis expect peace, a genuine peace, in which our vital national interests are assured, with security first and foremost. During these talks we carried out difficult steps and showed a willingness to continue implementing moves that were not easy, in the coming months as well, in order to create a framework that would allow for putting an end to the conflict between us. Just as we were about to enter into that framework for the continuation of the negotiations, Abu Mazen hastened to declare that he is not prepared even to discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, which we have made clear to both the President of the United States and to other world leaders as well.

“To my regret as we reached the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks, the Palestinian leadership hastened to unilaterally request to accede to 14 international treaties. Thus the Palestinians substantially violated the understandings that were reached with American involvement.

“The Palestinians’ threats to appeal to the UN will not affect us. The Palestinians have much to lose by this unilateral move. They will achieve a state only by direct negotiations, not by empty statements and not by unilateral moves. These will only push a peace agreement farther away and unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part. We are ready to continue the talks but not at any price.”

Israel Today included the following within their statement on the matter:

Israel was stunned on Wednesday, as attested to by the morning newspaper headlines, that US Secretary of State John Kerry had effectively “thrown it under the bus” by apportioning the lion’s share of the blame for failed peace talks to the Jewish state.

During a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry explained the failure of his obsessive peace efforts thus:

“The [Palestinian] prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day – and then 700 [housing] units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof.”

…What Kerry left out is that the “unhelpful” step taken by the Palestinian leadership not only threw a wrench in current negotiations, but was a fundamental violation of all signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians going back to 1993.

As chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni pointed out, when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 treaties with international organizations and conventions, he reneged on the Palestinians’ promise to only seek independence and sovereignty via a bilateral agreement with Israel.

In response to Abbas’ maneuvering, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered his government to suspend all ties and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

As things currently stand, an overwhelming 92 percent majority of Israelis do not believe negotiations can lead to a final status peace agreement, according to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University. Even 87 percent of left-wing Israelis said peace with the current Palestinian leadership is beyond reach.

God’s Promise of A New Covenant to the House of Israel


(This post is somewhat similar to my April 2011 post titled, “No Alienation from the Commonwealth of Israel.” This post, however, features several new details and approaches the topic from a different angle.)

Summary Outline

In this post we will see that Scripture presents the following case:

1. God promised, through Jeremiah, that He would make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and that He would be their God and they would be His people.
2. In the New Testament, the church is called “the household of faith” and “the household of God”, which is no longer alienated from the commonwealth of Israel or separated from “the covenants of promise.”
3. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly said that He had chosen Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple as His dwelling place.
4. In the New Testament, John says Jerusalem has become a dwelling place for demons.
5. In the New Testament, God declares that the bride of Christ and “the holy city, New Jerusalem” has become His dwelling place, and that He is their God and they are His people.
6. In the New Testament, the household of God is said to be built on the foundation of the apostles, who are known as “ministers of the new covenant.” Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s new house.

Jeremiah’s Prophecy of a New Covenant for the House of Israel

Jeremiah, a prophet of Judah before and during the Babylonian exile (586 – 538 BC), delivered a key promise to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a promise of coming days when God would establish a new covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

In this promise of a new covenant, we see the following elements:

Participants in this covenant: [1] God [2] the house of Israel, and the house of Judah*

Nature of this covenant: Not according to the covenant made at Mount Sinai, which was broken by the house of Israel

Features of this covenant:

[1] God’s laws in their hearts and minds [2] The house of Israel is God’s people, and He is their God [3] Everyone in the house of Israel will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest [4] God will forgive their sins and remember them no more.

*The houses of Israel and Judah were separated soon after Solomon’s death around 975 BC. The Assyrians captured Israel (the northern kingdom) in 722 BC, and Babylon would defeat Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Has Jeremiah’s prophecy come true? Has a new covenant been established with the house of Israel? Some insist that the answer to these questions is “no”:

[1] “This covenant must follow the return of Christ at the second advent… This covenant will be realized in the millennial age… the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must and can be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the Church” (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, 1958).

[2] “…the new covenant is with Israel and the fulfillment [will be] in the millennial kingdom after the second coming of Christ… the new covenant as revealed in the Old Testament concerns Israel and requires fulfillment in the millennium kingdom” (John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 1959).

[3] “The Church, then, is not under the new covenant…it is Israel which is God’s covenant people” (Harry Ironside, Notes on the Prophecy of and Lamentations of Jeremiah, 1906).

Those who believe this way apparently insist that we identify “the house of Israel,” even now, as national Israel. This assumption acts as a powerful filter against the idea that the new covenant has already been established:

  • It matters not that Jesus explicitly said His blood was to be poured out in order to give birth to the new covenant, “made with many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28), the very purpose for which Jeremiah said it was designed.
  • It matters not that Paul said he and his co-workers in the gospel were “ministers of the new covenant,” which he likened to “the ministry of the Spirit” and “the ministry of righteousness.” Paul’s ministry excelled the “ministry of death, written and engraved on stones” and ready to pass away (II Corinthians 3:5-11).
  • It matters not that Paul gave an “analogy of two covenants,” one represented by Mount Sinai (the birthplace of the old covenant), a woman in bondage, and earthly Jerusalem, which was about to be cast out; and the other covenant representing the “Jerusalem above,” which is free and “the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:21-31).
  • It matters not that the author of Hebrews states that Jesus “has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
  • It matters not that the author of Hebrews immediately goes on to quote from Jeremiah’s prophecy and explicitly states (Hebrews 8:6-13) that this New Covenant had been established in his own time (i.e. the first century AD), even as the first covenant had been made obsolete and was ready to vanish away.
  • It matters not that Hebrews 12:22-24 says that the church had already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”
  • It matters not that “the New Testament” is named as such due to its unveiling of God’s new covenant.

One of the many cures for this hangup can be found in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Notice the vocabulary that Paul uses in the following passage (Eph. 2:11-22):

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

There are plenty of gems worth unpacking in this beautiful passage, but I’ve highlighted two sections to examine (verses 12 and 19-21), as well as three phrases which I believe relate to Jeremiah’s prophecy:

  • the commonwealth of Israel
  • the household of God
  • a dwelling place for God

The Commonwealth of Israel

In verse 11 Paul specifically addresses Gentile believers, i.e. non-Jewish followers of Christ. He reminds them (verse 12) that, just as they were separated from Christ, they were also “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” By speaking this way, he indicates they now belong to the commonwealth of Israel, just as they now belong to Christ. This expression, “commonwealth of Israel,” appears to mirror the expression, “the house of Israel,” used in Jeremiah 31 and throughout the Old Testament. The Strong’s Concordance entry for the Greek word translated as “commonwealth” (#4174) is defined as “citizenship; a community.”

Paul also reminds these Gentile believers that they were once “strangers to the covenants of promise.” Again, by speaking this way, Paul indicates they are now recipients of “the covenants of promise” made to Israel. Paul made a similar point in his epistle to the Galatians, when he declared that all the promises were made to Abraham and his offspring, i.e. Christ alone (Gal. 3:16). He then added that those who belong to Christ—regardless of ethnicity, gender, or status (Gal. 3:28)—are heirs of those promises (Gal. 3:29). We, as followers of Jesus, have received “the covenants of promise” because they were made to Jesus, who is true Israel.

The Household of God

In verse 19, Paul refers to the Church as “the household of God,” very similar to the way he calls the Church “the household of faith” in Galatians 6:10. Again, it seems these titles are parallel to the title, “the house of Israel,” used since the days of Moses. The following is a sample of texts where this title occurs (notice the progression toward unfaithfulness and a state of being lost):

And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31).

For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38).

So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it… Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43-45).

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Isaiah 5:7).

I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: There is the harlotry of Ephraim; Israel is defiled” (Hosea 6:10).

But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).

But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 15:24).

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

In Ephesians 2:20-22, Paul goes on to define “the household of God” as “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” with Jesus as the cornerstone. Everyone, joined together, “grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” This is significant. Jeremiah prophesied that a new covenant would be made with the house of Israel. Here we see that the household of God, in Jesus, was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Recall that Paul said he and his co-workers were “ministers of the new covenant” (II Corinthians 3:5). Since Paul was a minister of the new covenant, this was also true of Peter, John, James, and the other apostles. The household of God, with Jesus as the cornerstone, has been built on the foundation of apostles who were ministers of the new covenant. This is nothing less than Jeremiah’s prophecy unveiled as a reality in the first century.

A Dwelling Place for God

Paul says something else very profound to the believers in Ephesus: “In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Paul’s words very clearly echo a common and central theme in the Old Testament, where God repeatedly stated that He had chosen Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple as His dwelling place. Consider the following sample of texts:

You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:17).

But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go” (Deuteronomy 12:5).

In Jerusalem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:2).

For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place(Psalm 132:13).

At the same time, God’s dwelling place was in heaven (e.g. I Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49).

By the time John wrote the book of Revelation in the first century, we see a tragic picture of what had become of His former dwelling place, through John’s description of “Babylon the great.” Also known as “the great city” (see Rev. 14:8 and 17:18) and “the harlot” (see Rev. 17:1-6), “Babylon the great” was first identified in Rev. 11:8 as “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” This is a clear reference to Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. As we saw in the section above, Hosea called Israel a harlot in his day as well (Hosea 6:10). John invokes the names of two of Israel’s oldest enemies, Sodom and Egypt, and uses them to describe first century Jerusalem. Now, instead of being God’s dwelling place, a terrible thing had happened. Observe what God said had happened to His former dwelling place:

And [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2; see our study on Rev. 18)

Had God lost His earthly dwelling place then? Not at all. He dwells with (and in) those who belong to His Son:

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:2-3; see part 1 and part 2 of our study on Rev. 21).

In her last days before judgment, Jerusalem was given over to demons, but since the time of Christ, God dwells in “the holy city, New Jerusalem.” We, the church, are that city: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Is this promise from Revelation 21 awaiting future fulfillment? The author of Hebrews didn’t believe so when he told his first century audience that they had already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling…” (Hebrews 12:22-24). The apostle Paul also didn’t believe so when he quoted Exodus 29:45, Leviticus 26:11, and Ezekiel 37:27 as a present reality for the Church in his own day:

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people‘” (II Corinthians 6:16).

Here, and also in Rev. 21, we see one of the features of Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant for the house of Israel: “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33). Consider also this description of the church by Peter:

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5).

The conclusion is simple. Jeremiah laid out certain things that would be true of the house of Israel when God made a new covenant with that house. Paul, John, and Peter said these things were true of the church, the bride of Christ, in their day. Therefore, the church is the house of Israel, and God has made His new covenant with us. Let us rejoice in this truth, and not allow anyone to try to steal this birthright from the people of God who are in Christ.

 

Why I Stand With Israel


I believe that all Christians should stand with Israel. The very name “Christian” is undermined when we fail to do this, and standing with Israel is central to our faith.

Going further, I believe that all Christians should be united for Israel.

Proposal: The Israel that is beloved in the eyes of God, and which has significance for His people, is not a political nation in the Middle East. First and foremost, Israel is Jesus. Secondly, Israel is the church (the body of Christ), because we abide in Jesus and He abides in us. He extends this name, this status, and this reality to His followers.

Basis: Matthew, Luke, and John are among the New Testament authors who demonstrate that what was said of ancient Israel in the Old Testament is now said of Jesus, our Savior. Isaiah, at least once, made the same connection.

Testimonies of Isaiah and Matthew

 In Exodus 4:22, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me.”’” In Hosea 11:1-2 we read, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” Who is Israel here? Clearly it’s that ancient nation that was established after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Yet look at how this verse is applied in Matthew 2:14-15, according to Matthew’s commentary here. An angel warns Joseph, the father of Jesus, to flee to Egypt with his family, because Herod was going to seek to destroy Jesus: “And he [Joseph] rose and took the child [Jesus] and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called My son.’”

Only 40 verses into the New Testament, we see that what was said of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is now said of Jesus. By strong implication, Matthew communicates that Jesus is true Israel. Matthew does this to prove to his mainly Jewish audience that Jesus is the Lord’s servant spoken of throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Isaiah, we see quite a number of times when God describes the nation of Israel as “My servant” (e.g. Isaiah 41:8-10, 44:1-3).

But you, Israel, are My servantJacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, You are My servantI have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:8-10).

Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosenThus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servantAnd you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:1-3).

Isaiah, speaking as a prophet on behalf of God, also repeatedly describes the coming Messiah as “My servant.” Matthew refers to these prophecies several times in his book, and we will look at a couple of those instances in just a moment. First, though, let’s examine an instance where Isaiah referred to God’s servant as “Israel,” when He was clearly describing Jesus:

And He said to me, You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.’ And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:3-6).

Albert Barnes (1834), Adam Clarke (1831), John Gill (1746), The Geneva Study Bible (1599), Jamieson/Faussett/Brown (1882), Matthew Henry (1708), The Pulpit Commentary (1880′s), and John Wesley (1754) all stand in agreement that Isaiah was speaking here of Jesus, and that Isaiah referred to Jesus as “Israel.” See their commentaries on verse 3, verse 4, verse 5, and verse 6.

Coming back to Matthew, we see in chapter 8 that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and that same evening He heals many other sick people and casts out many demons. Matthew says this fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of a wise servant (Isaiah 52:13) who would sprinkle (or startle) many nations (52:15), suffer and be rejected (53:3), and carry our griefs and sorrows (53:4):

Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.  Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider” (Isaiah 52:13-15). He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them. When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses‘” (Matthew 8:14-17).

In Matthew 12:15-21 we see Jesus withdrawing from a synagogue after He heals a man there with a withered hand. He heals others who followed Him, but tells them not to make Him known. Matthew says this fulfilled what was prophesied in Isaiah 42:1-3, where Isaiah described God’s chosen servant as delighting His soul, having His Spirit, and bringing justice to the nations:

But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust‘” (Matthew 12:15-21; quote of Isaiah 42:1-3).

Luke’s Testimony

Luke follows the same pattern as Matthew. He speaks of the nation Israel as God’s servant (Luke 1:54), speaks of David in the same way (Luke 1:69), and then records Peter speaking of Jesus as God’s servant (Acts 3:13, 26):

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:54-55).

And [God} has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:69-70).

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go… To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:13, 26).

In Acts 8:26-39, Luke records the story of Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch on the road out of Jerusalem. Philip finds him reading the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7-8 about God’s servant who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and have His life taken away. Philip confirms to him that this servant is Jesus.

John’s Testimony

About a week ago, PJ Miller at Sola Dei Gloria posted an article titled, “Jesus Came to Fulfill What Israel Failed to Achieve.” At the beginning of her post, she pointed out several Scriptures from the Old Testament where Israel was referred to as God’s “vine” or “vineyard”:

You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (Psalm 80: 8-9).

“’Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard; I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.’  The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in” (Isaiah 5:3-7).

I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).

Then when Jesus came, He declared that He is the true vine:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1-6).

What the nation of Israel was, Jesus is, and He will never become degenerate or bear bad fruit.

Isaiah also speaks of “a light to the Gentiles” and “a light to the nations,” and John reveals that Jesus is “the true light” and “the light of the world”:

I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6-7).

“Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:3-6).

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world“” (John 1: 6-9).

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

This is a somewhat different case, as even leaders in the Christian Zionism movement often identify at least Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6 as Messianic prophecies about Jesus. For example, David Parsons, the Media Director for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), acknowledges that “Isaiah is speaking about a person of “light” – undoubtedly the promised Messiah.” Yet he goes on to say that “Israel has carried this magnificent light for generations.”

Wikipedia notes that various Jewish Rabbis during the 19th and 20th centuries began to revive the idea that the Jewish people are “a light unto the nations.” Then David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s primary founder and first Prime Minister, spoke of Israel as “a light unto the nations,” as did Benjamin Netanyahu in a 2010 speech at the Herzliya Conference, “Israel’s center stage for the articulation of national policy by its most prominent leaders.”

Daniel C. Juster, a pastor of 27 years, the co-founder of Messianic Jewish Biblical Institute, and the founding president of the (mainly US-based) Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation, authored a book in 2007 titled “The Irrevocable Calling: Israel’s Role As A Light to the Nations.” Juster says this in his own review of the book:

“It is written to answer a question. The Book of Romans tells us that the ‘gifts and call of God (to Israel) are irrevocable.’ However, few seem to know what this is. This book seeks to answer that question in terms of the priestly and intercessory role of the Jewish people and their inheritance of important specific promises such as their inheritance of the Land of Israel.”

It’s one thing when non-Christian, secular government leaders look to a political nation to be a light to the world rather than Jesus, but another matter when Christians do the same.

Similarities Between the Nation of Israel and True Israel, Jesus

The end of PJ Miller’s recent post also featured a list of similarities between ancient Israel and Jesus:

  • In the Old Testament, a young man named Joseph had dreams and went into Egypt to preserve his family alive (Genesis 45:5). In the New Testament we find another Joseph, who likewise had dreams and then went to Egypt to preserve his family (Matthew 2:13).
  • When the young nation of Israel came out of Egypt, God called that nation “my son” in Exodus 4:22. When the baby Jesus came out of Egypt, God said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Matthew 2:15.
  • When Israel left Egypt, the people went through the Red Sea. The apostle Paul says they were “baptized unto Moses … in the sea.” 1 Corinthians 10:2. Jesus was also baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” and immediately afterward God proclaimed Him, “My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:15-17).
  • After the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness” for 40 days (Matthew 4:1, 2).
  • At the end of their 40-year wilderness wandering, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. At the end of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, He resisted Satan’s temptations by quoting three Scriptures-all from Deuteronomy.
  • In Psalm 80:8, God calls Israel a “vine” that He brought “out of Egypt.” Yet Jesus later declared, “I am the true vine.” John 15:1.
  • In the Old Testament, the name “Israel” first applied to one man, to Jacob. It represented Jacob’s spiritual victory over sin. Even so, in the beginning of the New Testament we discover that Jesus Christ is the new Israel who came “out of Egypt.” He is the one victorious Man who overcame all sin – A New Nation

Conclusion

At the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God had His perfect, new, spiritual and eternal Israel in His Son, Jesus; and the imperfect, old, natural, generally unfaithful, and temporary nation of Israel was marked for judgment, though God did save a remnant out of that nation. Nearly 40 years later judgment came, and it passed away in the sight of man. The majority of that nation was cut off from God’s people for their rejection of Jesus, true Israel, (Acts 3:22-23). The shadow (OT Israel) gave way to the sustenance and the fulfillment (Jesus). Israel didn’t cease. It just continued in Jesus. The fulfillment is here. The shadow doesn’t need to come back.

Because Jesus is the Israel of God, those who belong to Him are one with Him, and through Him we are also the Israel of God, as Galatians 6:16 says:

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:14-16).

(See this article for an excellent explanation of why Galatians 6:16 uses the phrase “the Israel of God” to refer to the Church.)

What about the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament? Are they reserved for national Israel, as many claim, to be fulfilled only or primarily among ethnic Jews and/or national Israel? The apostle Paul, in Galatians 3, is clear. Jesus is singularly the recipient of all of God’s promises (verse 16), and He extends those promises to His followers (verse 29), who are all one in Him regardless of ethnicity, gender, etc. (verse 28):

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:16, 28-29).

Does Paul leave any room for those who are outside of Christ to be heirs of the promises? No, he doesn’t, not even for unbelieving Jews. Nor did Jesus (see, for example, John 8:31-47). We are collectively Abraham’s offspring only because Jesus is singularly Abraham’s offspring, and He makes us one with Him. As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:20, all of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Jesus. What are they outside of Jesus? Meaningless and void.

I stand with Israel because He is my Savior, Lord, and Redeemer.