puzzle pieces

For most of my life I thought that the Old Testament Scriptures had little-to-nothing to say about the church.

I was wrong, really wrong.

When I first saw what I'm about to share with you, I got excited. Each time I've studied it since, I find it more incredibly beautiful.

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Welcome to the 28th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you've not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.

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We've previously discussed the individual puzzle pieces that make up this picture, so we can quickly get to the point. There is much ground to cover.

Background Context

GOD gave Abraham promises regarding himself and his descendants that were only partially fulfilled physically.

The promises had spiritual components in addition to the physical ones. The language GOD used when making these promises to Abraham sounded as though the promises were physical in nature. (GOD spoke this way throughout the Scriptures.)

One of the promises to Abraham was that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan for all generations (see Gen. 13:15; 17:8). The fulfillment of this promise is experienced only spiritually, not physically.

The Song of Moses foretold:

  1. Israel's future rebellion against GOD

  2. A resulting distinction between "Israel" and GOD's faithful servants

  3. The persecution of these righteous servants by Israel

  4. A fiery judgment GOD would bring upon the nation of Israel because of its wickeness and persectution of GOD's righteous servants

  5. The end of the physical nation of Israel

As time progressed, Moses' prophecy unfolded just as GOD had revealed.

Israel became wicked.

GOD brought about the increasingly-severe punishments He had forewarned them about through Moses.

Compelled by love for Israel, GOD brought prophet after prophet to warn them and call them to repent, but they wouldn't listen.

Throughout the prophets' writings, GOD used what can be confusing language, first condemning "Israel" here, then, in the very next statements, promising comfort to and blessings upon her.

We looked at Joel 2 as one example of this contrast.

Physical Israel and Spiritual Israel

Thus, there are two "Israel's" in the Scriptures:

  1. The physical descendants of Abraham who rebelled against GOD and were rejected.

  2. The spiritual children of Abraham who lived/live by faith (as Abraham had) and were/are accepted by GOD.

This biblical truth is critical to grasping the overall message of Scripture. Do not miss it.

The physical always comes first and is superceded by the spiritual. So it is with the two Israel's.

Physical Israel Scattered

Moses foretold that GOD was going to physically scatter Israel because of their wickedness. GOD did so. Israelites ended up in every nation in the known world.

Moses also foretold that Israel would be gathered back home and become even more numerous than at their peak, but only after they repented and diligently sought the LORD after their scattering.

1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.
(Deut. 30:1-5 NIV)

Physically speaking, the blessings Moses spoke of did not accompany this first gathering. In fact, physically, these blessings never happened for the Jews after their return to Jerusalem.

Although a remnant of Jews returned to Jerusalem after the 70-year Babylonian captivity, they were never fully devoted to GOD. A little over a century following their return, GOD through Malachi (around 425 B.C.) chastized the Jews for heartlessly going through the motions.

The people were not more numerous than ever. They were so few they had to cast lots to determine who would live in Jerusalem just so they'd have enough people to defend it.

But the Prophets repeatedly spoke about a future gathering of Israel which would be accompanied by great blessings—just as Moses had prophesied.

The Second Gathering

We previously studied Isaiah 11, where GOD plainly promised a second gathering—after the Babylonian return—which would occur in the time of Jesus.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.
(Isa. 11:10-11 NIV)

What time period was "that day" here? The time when Jesus would stand as a banner for all people. In John 12:31-33, Jesus said He would draw all peoples to Himself at His crucifixion.

The second gathering would occur during the timeframe of Jesus.

According to the Prophets, this gathering would occur at Jerusalem.

For example, Jeremiah prophesied the following during the days of King Josiah:

14 “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. 15 Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. 16 In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. 17 At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. 18 In those days the people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.
(Jer. 3:14-18 NIV)

The Ekklésia (church) Means "a Gathering!"

Do you know where the first occurrance of the word "church" is in our English translations of the Scriptures?

It's Matthew 16:18.

You remember this verse, right? Here it is in context:

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
(Matt. 16:13-19 NIV)

Think about this for a second: This is the first time that the word "church" has come up in Jesus' recorded conversations with the apostles! And it happened toward the end of Jesus' ministry (prior to the Feast of Tabernacles in Sept./Oct. 29 A.D.).

Have you ever wondered why the apostles weren't freaked out about Jesus suddenly dropping this 'church' concept on them like it was no big deal?

It should strike us as odd that the apostles didn't seem surprised.

That is, until we consider that:

  1. The apostles were familiar with the prophesies of the Old Testament Scriptures and, like all Jews, had been awaiting the promised Messiah.

  2. The Greek word that is translated "church" in English is the word "ekklésia." It means a gathering or an assembly.

Jesus' church is the second gathering of (spiritual) Israel!

Understanding Spiritual Israel

Stay with me on this; I'm going to walk you through it.

GOD's promises were to Abraham and his descendants.

Though Abraham had physical descendants through whom the promises were passed down, the heirs of the promise are those who have the faith of Abraham.

This is Paul's point in Romans:

3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

...

So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Note: Do you see it? Abraham is the father of the faith-FULL: the Gentile (i.e., the uncircumcised) who lived/lives by faith AND the Jew who lived by faith. This is a massive truth that we CANNOT afford to miss!

One who is a faithful follower of GOD, though he/she be a Gentile, is a spiritual Israelite—and a part of the second gathering under the Lord Jesus!

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
(Rom. 4:3-5, 11b-18 NIV)

In Rom. 4:17, Paul quoted from Gen. 17:5 where GOD Abraham that he would become the father of many nations. And Paul, by divine inspiration, applied the fulfillment of this promise to Abraham as being spiritual—to all who have the faith of Abraham, Jew or Gentile.

Later in the letter, Paul expounded upon the "not all Jews are children of Abraham" truth:

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
(Rom. 9:6-8 NIV)

Paul then pointed back to the Song of Moses saying that what was happening then (in his generation, the first century) was what Moses foretold:

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,

“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

Note: Paul quoted here from Deut. 32:21 in the Song of Moses, divinely applying it to the events of the first century.

20 And Isaiah boldly says,

“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But concerning Israel he says,

“All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
(Rom. 10:16-21 NIV)

Paul then proved that GOD did not reject His people (Israel) or renege on His promises to Abraham:

11 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
(Rom. 11:1-2a NIV)

Finally, Paul put a bow on the discussion by showing that the Gentiles who obeyed/obey the gospel were/are part of this spiritual Israel—the real Israel:

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.
(Rom. 11:26-26a NIV)

Thus, an Israelite (of spiritual Israel) is anyone who lives by faith and obedience to the gospel of Jesus.

Are You Teaching an "Israel-only Salvation?"

Let me pause and quickly address a question that may arise.

I've tried my best to be crystal clear.

Despite my best efforts, some knucklehead is going to claim that I'm teaching that GOD only saved/saves Jews—descendants of Abraham by physical birth.

That is not what I am saying.

What I am teaching is that the Scriptures plainly show that anyone who is saved is an heir of the promises of Abraham. Being an heir means they are a son. Being a son, in the language of the Scriptures, means that person is a spiritual Israelite.

Jews and Gentiles could, can, are and will be saved.

The Land ↔ Canaan ↔ Jerusalem ↔ Zion ↔ The Kingdom ↔ Mountain of GOD ↔ The Church

Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, GOD used many terms to refer to Israel, such as:

  • The land of Canaan / Promised Land
  • Israel
  • Judah
  • Ephraim
  • Jerusalem
  • Zion
  • The kingdom
  • GOD's holy mountain
  • Daughter Israel
  • Bride of GOD
  • GOD's vineyard

These terms were basically interchangeable.

When GOD replaced the old covenant with a better covenant, the physical shadows were exchanged for the real (spiritual) things.

And the descriptors used in the old covenant were remapped to their new replacements.

The writer of Hebrews said:

7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
(Heb. 8:8-13 NIV)

Here, the writer of Hebrews quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34 and divinely applied its fulfillment to the then-present time period of the first century.

If we (wisely) flip over to Jeremiah 31 and examine the broader context of Jeremiah's prophecy, we see that the section begins in Jer. 30:1 and continues until the end of Jer. 31.

Consider what it says there:

30:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. 3 The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”

Note: Hey look! It's the second gathering GOD is discussing. Note how He promised to reunite the once-divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. And the land promised here is the same one promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But it isn't physical Israel.

4 These are the words the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: 5 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘Cries of fear are heard—
terror, not peace.
6 Ask and see:
Can a man bear children?
Then why do I see every strong man
with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor,
every face turned deathly pale?
7 How awful that day will be!
No other will be like it.
It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
but he will be saved out of it.

8 “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty,
‘I will break the yoke off their necks
and will tear off their bonds;
no longer will foreigners enslave them.
9 Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
and David their king,
whom I will raise up for them.

Note: Ah, look! GOD is talking about the timeframe of Jesus here (David their king)! Were the physical Jews freed from physical slavery in the time of Jesus? No. But all GOD's people were freed from spiritual slavery.

10 “‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
do not be dismayed, Israel,’
declares the Lord.
I will surely save you out of a distant place,
your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
and no one will make him afraid.
11 I am with you and will save you,’
declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
among which I scatter you,
I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

Note: Now GOD is about to switch back to speaking of Jacob in the physical sense.

Physical Israel's wound was incurable. Their future was cast in stone due to their rebellion and wickedness.

The Jews were already in Babylonian exile when Jeremiah received this prophecy, but, as GOD revealed to Daniel in Dan. 9:24, their period of transgression was not yet over.

12 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wound is incurable,
your injury beyond healing.
13 There is no one to plead your cause,
no remedy for your sore,
no healing for you.
14 All your allies have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you.
I have struck you as an enemy would
and punished you as would the cruel,
because your guilt is so great
and your sins so many.
15 Why do you cry out over your wound,
your pain that has no cure?
Because of your great guilt and many sins
I have done these things to you.

16 “‘But all who devour you will be devoured;
all your enemies will go into exile.
Those who plunder you will be plundered;
all who make spoil of you I will despoil.
17 But I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds,’
declares the Lord,
‘because you are called an outcast,
Zion for whom no one cares.’

Note: In v.17 we have a great example of what I've previously said regarding the contradictory-sounding language GOD used in the Prophets as He contrasted between physical Israel and spiritual Israel.

In v.12, GOD said Israel's wound was incurable. In v.17, He said He'd heal their wound.

Physical Israel couldn't be fixed, yet spiritual Israel would be healed and blessed.

See the difference? It's critical.

18 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents
and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city will be rebuilt on her ruins,
and the palace will stand in its proper place.
19 From them will come songs of thanksgiving
and the sound of rejoicing.
I will add to their numbers,
and they will not be decreased;
I will bring them honor,
and they will not be disdained.
20 Their children will be as in days of old,
and their community will be established before me;
I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.
22 “‘So you will be my people,
and I will be your God.’”

23 See, the storm of the Lord
will burst out in wrath,
a driving wind swirling down
on the heads of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he fully accomplishes
the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
you will understand this.

Note: The phrase translated "In days to come" in Jer. 30:24 literally means, "In the last days..." The Septuagint translates it as "In the last days..."

Now, note the very next thing GOD said would happen in these last days.

31:1 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

2 This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”
3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”

Note: These things GOD described did not happen physically during the last days of the old covenant. Rather, GOD was using physical language metaphorically to refer to spiritual Israel.

7 This is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Note: Look at the tenderness of Almighty GOD! Is this not moving?! This is the second gathering, the spiritual return of the wayward to back to Jesus. You and I would be among this number, if we are His.

Though this gathering began in the first century, it continues for all generations, as GOD calls people to Himself through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,”
declares the Lord.

15 This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

Note: Jer. 31:15 was fulfilled in the first century with Herod's mass execution of the Jewish baby boys (see Matt. 2:17-18).

16 This is what the Lord says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,”
declares the Lord.
They will return from the land of the enemy.

17 So there is hope for your descendants,”
declares the Lord.
Your children will return to their own land.

18 “I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return,
because you are the Lord my God.
19 After I strayed,
I repented;
after I came to understand,
I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
20 Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord.

21 “Set up road signs;
put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
return to your towns.
22 How long will you wander,
unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
the woman will return to the man.”

23 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’ 24 People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. 25 I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”

26 At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me.

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

Note: In Jer. 31:27, the planting of Israel and Judah among the offspring of people and animals refers, I believe, to the elimination of the Jew-Gentile separation which existed under the Law of Moses. GOD used similar animal references in Isa. 11:6-9 to refer to this coexistance.

Now, finally, with this context, here we find the "new covenant" prophecy quoted in Heb. 8.

Note the timeframe is the same that has been under discussion since Jer. 30:1 (the last days).

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

Note: Have you noticed before that the new covenant is not between Jew and Gentile, but between Israel and Judah. Why? Because spiritual Israel is united, including the righteous from both houses of the divided Israel as well as the righteous Gentiles.

Likewise, here GOD foretold the difference in nature between the old and new covenants.

32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

35 This is what the Lord says,

he who appoints the sun
to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
so that its waves roar—
the Lord Almighty is his name:
36 Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
declares the Lord,
will Israel ever cease
being a nation before me.”

Note: At the risk of over-repeating, it is spiritual Israel that endured as a nation. Physical Israel ceased being a nation for over a thousand years so that couldn't be what GOD was referring to.

Sadly, misunderstanding the spiritual nature of these prophecies about Israel has had enormous financial, military and other consequences through the centuries as people mistakenly think GOD has these future plans for the physical land.

37 This is what the Lord says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
because of all they have done,”
declares the Lord.

38 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”

Note: Physical Jerusalem has been a war zone for most of the past 2,000 years, so it cannot be the city GOD was speaking of here. Rather, the city here is the church of Jesus, spiritual Jerusalem. Let me show you...

(Jer. 30:1-31:40 NIV)

Jesus' church (i.e., gathering) is the new Mount Zion. Mount Zion is the citadel of Jerusalem.

The church is the New Jerusalem.

The Hebrew writer said:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
(Heb. 12:18-24 NIV)

The old mountain (Sinai) that the Israelites trembled at was physical.

These first century Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and wavering on remaining faithful to Christ had not come to that physical mountain.

Instead, they had come to the spiritual city of GOD, Mount Zion, the church of Jesus!

And you and I, if we be Christians, have come to that same mountain!

The Hagar/Sarah Allegory of Galatians 4

Paul spoke of the church as the New Jerusalem as well.

In the second post of this series, I introduced the biblical concept of shadows and substance.

To illustrate the principle, I used Paul's allegory of Hagar and Sarah from Galatians 4:

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. 

24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: 

“Be glad, barren woman,
   you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
   you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
   than of her who has a husband.” 

28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
(Gal. 4:21-31 NIV)

Pentecost: The Gathering Began

Fifty days after Jesus' crucifixion, the second gathering began en masse.

We've previously studied the connection between the Holy Spirit's arrival on Pentecost following Jesus' ascension and Joel's prophecy.

Recall that a massive crowd of Jews and proselytes had gathered to Jerusalem for the feast:

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
(Acts 2:5 NIV)

As Peter concluded preaching the gospel to the Jerusalem crowd, we read:

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
(Acts 2:36-39 NIV)

Many times Peter's phrase, "for all who are far off," is said to mean those who were spiritually far off in sin.

And that is true, at least in part, for it was the sins of these people and their forefathers that caused their scattering in the first place.

But Peter was primarily referring to the physical scattering that GOD had inflicted upon His people.

"The promise" was the promise GOD gave to Moses back in Deut. 30: repent and seek Me with all your heart and I'll gather you again.

As we know, the gospel spread outward from Jerusalem and more souls were gathered to Jesus as they obeyed.

The Nations Gathered at Jesus' Return

Lastly, I should note that, at Jesus' return, the Scriptures also mention two other aspects of this gathering: in judgment.

The dead (at the time) were resurrected and judged by Jesus:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
(Matt. 25:31-33 NIV)

Daniel, in referencing these events, made it clear that these who were gathered were dead:

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
(Dan. 12:1-2 NIV)

Yet, Joel (and other prophets) also foretold a punishment of the living who persecuted GOD's righteous servants:

2:28 “And afterward [Tim: "In the last days," per Acts 2:14],
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.

3:1 “In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
3 They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine to drink.

4 “Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. 5 For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. 6 You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.

7 “See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. 8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.” The Lord has spoken.

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.

Bring down your warriors, Lord!

12 “Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
13 Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”
(Joel 2:28-3:13 NIV)

Key Takeaways

So, what are we to learn from all of this? 

  1. It is critical to our overall understanding of the Scriptures that we recognize the existance of and difference between the physical Israel and the spiritual Israel. Only then can we properly understand key concepts such as the promised land, the kingdom, the reign of Jesus, the New Jerusalem, the true nature of Jesus' church (as the great gathering of Israel) and the prophesies regarding Israel's future.

  2. The Scriptures teach that all faithful Christians are spiritual children of Abraham—spiritual Israelites. In this sense, yes, it is Israel who is saved. Yet this does not imply that only physical Jews are saved. Gentiles who obey the gospel become spiritual Israelites.

  3. Whereas we might have thought that the church was not discussed in the Old Testament Scriptures, the truth is they abound in references to it. Incredibly beautiful promises are found there—promises that apply directly to Christians today and to all generations.

  4. When we realize that Jesus' church (the ekklésia) is the gathering of Israel, and we study what GOD said about that gathering, it should significantly affect how we think about the church. The body of Jesus isn't physically visible, it's invisible. I have long felt that our modern "universal/local church" distinction was partially misaligned with the biblical picture of the church. Now I'm even more convinced. Like I said from the beginning, our most fundamental problem is our struggle to go beyond that which we can see. Our perspective of what the church is may well be the clearest illustration of that struggle.

Continue to the next post where we look at how GOD chose baptism as His means of transferring repentant believers into the spiritual Israel.

Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I'm truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)

Tim Harris
Author: Tim Harris

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