The Mystery That Stumbles Pride

In the same way that God used the hidden wisdom of the cross to defeat the principalities and powers (1Cor 2:7-8) and the mystery of Jesus’s identity to expose and judge the religious pride of many in first century Israel (Mt 11:25-27; Mk 4:11; 8:27, 30; 9:9; Lk 22:70; Jn 12:34), I am convinced that God is going to employ the mystery of Israel to judge the pride of the professing church, as “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1Pet 4:17). That is to say, I believe we will be astonished at how nearly the great falling away of the church will be connected to Paul’s warning in Ro 11:25.

Here’s the background of my thought: Although foretold in its entirety in the “scriptures of the prophets” (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:11) the “mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19) was kept secret until the appointed time (Ro 16:25), not only to accomplish eternal redemption, but also to bring judgment on the wisdom of this age, both of men and of angels (Mt 11:25; 1Cor 2:7-8). The same mystery that revealed the glories of the messianic redemption to the penitent in Israel was equally designed to elude pride, particularly religious pride. It will be so again.

The same mystery in its concluding stage (though now an ‘open secret’ by the revelation of the Spirit), will once more constitute a watershed of division, certainly in the world, but no less in the church itself. The same mystery that opened the age in both salvation and judgement will likewise conclude it.

The mystery was hidden for judgement, precisely so that its apprehension would be by grace and not by flesh and blood (Mt 11:25; 16:17; 1Cor 2:7; Gal 1:15-16). Ironically, what was entirely unknown to Israel concerning Christ’s two comings, is now well known to the church. Conversely, what was well known to Israel concerning a future day of the Lord, centered around “the controversy of Zion” (Isa 34:8; Joel 3:2; Zech 12:2-3;14:3 Mt 24:16; Rev 11:2) is now mostly hidden from the church.

Which is worse? An evangelicalism that sees itself as an independent entity that will be safely removed by rapture, so that Jacob’s trouble is only ‘Jacob’s problem,’ or an evangelicalism that sees no further covenanted significance in history for Israel? How can we be reading the same Bible? Is this only a question of hermeneutics, or does it imply the dangerous ignorance against which Paul warns in Ro 11:25?

I can only suppose what place the doctrine of election might have in such a theology, what theologians have called, ‘the scandal of particularity.’ I wonder if the abiding election of Israel is not the real offense underlying the way the church has read prophecy? But just when I think so, I remember how that many who hold a robust view of sovereign election where it concerns the church, seem unable to conceive of a future corporate salvation of an all holy nation here on this earth, comprised of the elect progeny of those who perished in the crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, and finally the Holocaust of “Christian” Europe.

But if Israel will not be the head of the nations in a coming millennium, then so much that God has promised fades into vague and undefined notions that empty language of its natural function and meaning. This has been the church’s habit for centuries of triumphal replacement theology that has retained no consciousness of a predestined future of covenant fulfillment and divine vindication for the people of the long exile. It is that theology that has been more or less directly responsible for the anguish of the Jews in all the lands of Christendom, not discerning the divinely intended test of ‘the Jew in the midst.’

The restoration of the kingdom to Israel is God’s self appointed ‘mission impossible’ in history, and the end of the age will show that He will spare nothing to accomplish His goal to bring again the captivity of Zion. The great question of history is, “can He that brought them out, bring them in, finally and permanently? What could bring about such a change in a world of super powers, such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome? And what could bring about such a radical transformation in the hearts of a people prone always to backslide, so as to secure abiding continuance in the Land, free from fear?

If the prophets had conceived of the promises to Israel as taking place only in the heart or in heaven, they would never have conceived of the necessity of a predestined “great and terrible day of the Lord,” as the ultimate apocalyptic intervention whereby world conditions would be so radically altered as to permit a restored nation of Jews (‘the natural branches’) to “lie down in safety, so that none would make them afraid” (Isa 14:29-31; Jer 23:6; 30:10; Eze 34:27-28; Mic 4:4; Hos 2:18; Zeph 3:13; Zech 14:11) ever again, “world without end” (Isa 45:17).

That is the language of what the prophets would call, “the everlasting covenant.” It is said only of a post-day of the Lord Israel, finally and fully delivered at the end of an unequaled great tribulation (Jer 30:7; 31:34; 32:40; Dan 12:1). The scene is not heaven but earth. The ‘literal’ fulfillment of this impossible promise is the great test of God and history, and God knew it when He told Moses to step aside (Ex 32:11; Num 14:12). It may surprise us to learn that replacement theology was first proposed by God Himself.

He could do this, because He well knew, and fully intended to evoke in Moses, Christ the intercessor (1Pet 1:11), as Moses would appeal to God’s reputation. What would the nations say if the God that brought them out was not able to bring them into the Land? Not only momentarily and provisionally, but ultimately and permanently, as an all holy people (Isa 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34), able now to abide in the Land forever without threat of further expulsion.

After Moses’s well argued intercession on behalf of a people that were never chosen or given the Land on the basis of their righteousness in the first place (Deut 9:5-6; Eze 36:22), God answers with the glorious words, “I have pardoned according to your word” (Num 14:20). No doubt in holy contemplation of the solemn cost, God exclaims, “As surely as I live, says the Lord, the whole earth will be filled with my glory!” (Ex 32:10-14; Num 14:15-21). The earth will be filled with His glory precisely when this particular people are all holy in the Land forever (Isa 4:3; 45:25; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34; Eze 39:22), never again to be plucked up or removed! (2Sam 7:10; Jer 31:40; Amos 9:15).

It will be glory filling the whole earth, because the bringing again of the captivity of wayward Israel is so demonstrably ‘impossible with man’. As I like to say, history is proof that if God were waiting on Israel to fulfill His promise to them, He would surely be waiting forever. But God will do it, against all odds, publicly, and in the sight of all nations to the praise of the glory of His almighty, all conquering, invincible, grace.

It will be the open historical vindication of an inviolable everlasting covenant to which He has bound His very name and oath. As He apprehended His man on the road to Damascus (Gal 1:15-16), He is well able to apprehend and birth Israel into a holy nation in in “one day” (Ps 102:13; Isa 66:8; Eze 39:22; Zech 3:9 etc.). Oh saints, do we see the glory of this? Do we see what this will mean to God?

What are we missing if we have not conceived of His glory in the way He has conceived it? The tragic binding over to unbelief of Israel in order to obtain the salvation of the world should be a source of great humbling, creating in the heart of every gentile a profound debt of love to the Jew, who is to be honored as the beloved enemy ‘for our sake.’ It would be tragic robbery if such a sacrifice to obtain such a glory, at such an awful cost, should be wasted on the consciousness of the church.

No wonder that the accomplishment of this great impossibility is also the end of Satan’s rule over the nations. Significantly, from that time, he is bound for a thousand years; the covenant has been vindicated and the mystery of God finished. This great impossibility, which also brings Christ back to restore all things (Acts 3:21) will confound and silence the principalities and powers, as nothing else since the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, it is the great historical parallel. Israel must be raised up from the dead, just as Messiah was raised, and so ends the question of history, “Has God really said?’

Finally, if Israel has no particular significance in our world view. If the mystery of Israel is not the key to the meaning of how and why history should end in the way that prophecy so plainly depicts, then when Jacob is in his great trouble and hated by all the world, how many will stand aloof from his sore (Ps 38:11), as one from whom men hide their faces? (Isa 53:3). It would not be the first time.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

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