Not too long ago, I shared an article about our Christ-centred gospel. While it’s ok to study and believe in peripheral things to the centrality of Christ, such as Calvinism or amillenialism, we want to make sure we are ultimately looking to connect those beliefs into Christ, for He is the great summation of the purpose and promises of God.
One particular belief that I am not too much a fan of is known as Zionism. Now, some will already think I am going to get nasty here, as there are a lot of emotions that arise when one discusses the nature of Israel, the people and the land. But I promise, I am not going to get nasty. If you think I am acting in such a way, then you’ve simply read me wrong.
This belief of Zionism became quite popular back in the late 1940’s with the reestablishment of the Jewish state of Israel in the middle-east. While the world gets caught up in the politics of it all, the church has tended to get caught up in the theology of it all, though there are plenty of Christians who disguise their political involvement with theological talk.
Now, I really don’t want to get involved in the all the political talk. I am aware of some of the stuff between Palestine and Israel, as well as other Semitic and Arabic groups, but I am a theologian (of some sorts). And so I usually approach topics by thinking things through theologically as I ponder Scripture. For me, that’s the starting point. So that’s what I will do.
I simply wanted to do a short series entitled, Christ, the Great Fulfiller of Israel. And I think I will follow the series up with something on the ekklesia (church), both Jew and Gentile, being the great Israel. But we shall see.
Still, getting back to the focus of our Christ-centred gospel, my main problem with Zionism, from a Christian perspective, is that such a strong view has tended to get the focus off of Christ and onto something peripheral. Hence, that moves us away from the importance of our Christ-centred faith and gospel.
Of course, not every dispensationalist will be a hard-nosed Zionist. But for many Zionists that I have engaged with in conversation (or debate), there can almost be an obsession with the Jewish people. Now, though this will sound really a harsh blow, I want it to be taken as a challenge to some who I would consider over the top. Whereas I can be accused of replacing Israel with the church (though I don’t think that is a faithful summary of my belief, as I shall expound on in later articles), it is almost like some Christian Zionists have replaced Jesus with Israel. Again, this does not describe all Zionists, and definitely not all dispensationalists. But I believe some are leaning that way. And I challenge such a strong view that brings this whole discussion outside of the centrality of the work of the Christ. That, or rather, He is the point and focus of our faith. We are called to, first and foremost, stay Christ-focused.
Moving on, though…
What do I mean when I saw Christ is the great fulfiller of Israel and how would this be supported in Scripture? Well, I want to consider five main points covered over two articles:
- Jesus as God’s Son and Firstborn
- Jesus as True Vine
- Jesus’ Faithfulness in Temptation
- Jesus Disciplined by the Father
- Jesus Receives the Promises of Abraham
In the New Testament, we read that, at just the right time, Jesus, the Anointed Messiah, arrives on the scene.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law… (Galatians 4:4)
Jesus was born and began His earthly ministry exactly as the Trinity had planned – not a day too soon, not a day too late.
Christ was faithful to proclaim the good news concerning God’s rule (Mark 1:15) and faithful to give His life a ransom for mankind (Matthew 20:28). But I very much believe Christ had another special assignment. This task is not as easily discerned from a group of people reading the Scriptures some 2,000 years after it was finished, but it is in there if we consider the text carefully. This is that other special assignment of Christ: Whereas Israel had been unfaithful to God throughout the Old Testament, the Messiah stepped into human history to faithfully fulfil the role of Israel.
So, my first two points in laying out such a case:
Jesus as God’s Son and Firstborn
I don’t know if many people realise this this, but Israel was actually referred to as both God’s firstborn son and His son. Here are a couple of texts:
22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ (Exodus 4:22-23)
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)
Now, turning to the pages of the New Testament, we see Jesus is God’s one and only Son and the firstborn over all creation.
14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:14-15; which quotes Hosea 11:1)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord… (Romans 1:1-4)
Now, just as a side note. The passage in Romans 1:1-4 does not refer to the time when Christ became the Son of God. Rather, it is in reference to His resurrection from the dead being a public proclamation of the already existing truth. It was a stamp of approval upon the reality of Christ being the Son of God.
Also, whereas groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses will use the Colossians passage to teach that Christ was physically created by God the Father, this is a misunderstanding of the text. A simple understanding of Old Testament and Jewish culture will help enlighten us in regards to the meaning of this passage. The word firstborn was a term to denote the special role of the first son. The firstborn was the preeminent one, the special one that would receive a double portion from the father. It was the important firstborn blessing from the father that Jacob had stolen form Esau (see Genesis 27).
Therefore, Colossians 1:15 is declaring that Jesus is the firstborn, or special and preeminent One over all creation. And, of course, being the divine Son of God and King of kings, such would be true. We also see this underlined even more when we continue to read into vs16-20.
But, let’s move on to see more of how Christ had come to fulfil the failed role of Israel.
Jesus as the True Vine
Another point people do not realise about Israel is that one descriptive picture-word used to describe them was that of a vine.
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. (Psalm 80:8)
Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21)
Now, we all will probably remember that Jesus referred to Himself as the true vine.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
But, knowing that Israel was referred to and pictured as a vine, it is interesting that Christ would call Himself the true vine. Perhaps He was really communicating something of significance to the people. I think He was. Jesus was stating that He had come to be the true and faithful fulfilment of all the promises of God. He was the true and faithful Israel.
I shall share more thoughts in a few days and sum it all up.