Lately I have been continuing in my study of the New Exodus theme as it relates to end-times prophecy, and it seems that everything revolves around the complicated questions regarding the identity of “Israel.” After Jesus died and rose again, and began to gather into Himself all those who believe in Him, what became of the definition of “Israel”? Did it remain the same, or did it change to include Gentiles? If it changed then how does the new definition of “Israel” relate to the many Old Testament passages predicting a gathering of “Israel” back to Jerusalem?
Before we begin let’s take a look at three significant points that often seem to be ignored:
1. When the leaders of Israel led their nation in rejecting Jesus, they also rejected Torah, because the whole purpose of the Torah was to point to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, in whom all of the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled. That is why Jesus declared to the scribes and Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
2. If point number one is true, then there is no such thing as a Torah-observant non-Christian “Jew”. To be truly “Torah observant” can only mean to accept the One to whom the Torah pointed. The Scriptures and their commandments never brought eternal life; only Jesus brings eternal life. If this point is true, then the following point made by Jesus Himself makes perfect sense:
3. In the book of Revelation the only non-Christian Jews that are mentioned are referred to as the “Synagogue of Satan.” They are the Old Covenant Jews who opposed the followers of Jesus in the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia. Twice Jesus Himself referred to these Jews as “those who say they are Jews and are not.” To Smyrna Jesus said that their claim to be Jews was “blasphemy”, and to Philadelphia He said that their claim to be Jews was a “lie”.
These are incredible statements for Jesus to make, especially when compared to today’s popular end-times teaching that declares that the unbelieving genetic/cultural descendants of the ethnic Israelites that rejected Jesus –those who populate the modern-day state of Israel– are “the apple of God’s eye.” This phrase is a reference to Israel that is taken from Zechariah 2:8, where the Lord declares His faithfulness to Israel and His role as protector and defender of Israel against their enemies. Here is the passage in context:
(7) Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.
(8) For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:
(9) “Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me.
(10) Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.
(11) And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
(12) And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.”
(13) Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
First of all, note the “New Exodus” terminology in v.7 of Israel escaping Babylon and heading for Zion. Then in verse 9 note that the LORD declares that Israel will know that the LORD has acted when Israel’s former oppressors are forced to turn over their goods to Israel. In Isaiah 45:14 we find a similar situation when the enemies of Israel finally confess that Israel was truly the habitation of God:
(14) Thus says the LORD: “The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.'”
Now let’s go back to Zechariah 2 and note verse 11, where it says that “many nations” will be joined to the Lord at this time and shall become the Lord’s people. In other words, many Gentiles will become Israelites when the Lord comes to dwell in Israel’s midst. This might not be perfectly clear if we just look at the passage above from Zechariah 2, but it does become clear when we take a closer look at several passages from Isaiah:
(1) “But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen!
(2) Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
(3) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
(4) They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.
(5) This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”
Who are these “willows” shooting up next to a previously dry stream bed? They are the descendants and offspring of Israel. They are also Gentiles. Does this sound like a stretch? Perhaps it does to many of my readers, but let’s look at another passage from Isaiah:
(1) But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
(2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
(3) For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
(4) Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
(5) Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.
(6) I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth,
(7) everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
These passages from Zechariah and Isaiah are all making use of the “New Exodus” theme to describe God’s restoration of end-times Israel. In fact, the entire second half of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) is one long description of God’s restoration of Israel, as the Lord leads her out of the spiritual wilderness of Babylon and on to the holy city Jerusalem. Sprinkled throughout Isaiah are repeated predictions that this New Exodus will also include Gentiles who will join up with Israel on the journey along the “highway of holiness” (Isaiah 11:16, 19:23, 35:8, 40:3, 62:10) that leads back to Jerusalem where Jews and Gentiles will serve together in the temple as priests (Isaiah 66:20-21).
Over the past few years I have come across several studies that have shown that the book of Isaiah is a microcosm of the entire Bible. Isaiah has 66 chapters whereas the Bible has 66 books. Each chapter can be shown to pair up in some profound way with its corresponding book. It is noteworthy, therefore, that Isaiah is recognized by scholars to contain a significant break in its narrative after chapter 39, with chapter 40 marking the beginning of a new theme. Secular scholars call Isaiah 40-66 “Second Isaiah” and allege that it had to have been written by a different author at a different time after the Babylonian captivity. This must be the case, they theorize, because the second half of Isaiah speaks of Israel “coming out of Babylon.” My view is that these scholars make this mistaken assumption because they take these descriptions of Babylon literally. However, Isaiah is not describing the literal city of Babylon, but is only using “Babylon” as a metaphor for the power, lawlessness, and idolatry of the pagan nations as a whole!
Let’s get back on track now to where I was going… faithful Jews and Gentiles united as the people who make up the true end-times Israel. Isaiah saw this coming, and so did Jesus and the Apostles, including Paul. In fact, the first New Testament figure to allude to this new identity for Israel was John the Baptist. He was predicted in Isaiah 40 as the “voice crying out in the wilderness.” He was the one sent to do the preparation work on the “highway” that would lead God’s people out of their spiritual wilderness and onwards to Zion. Isaiah 40, the first chapter of “Second Isaiah”, corresponds to the Gospel of Matthew, the 40th book of the Bible and first book of the New Testament. John the Baptist’s message was fierce and non-compromising and here is what Matthew records him saying:
(1) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
(2) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” [Isaiah 40:3]
(4) Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
(5) Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
(6) and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
(7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
(8) Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
(9) And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
(10) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…”
What we see here is that John the Baptist is directly confronting the smug and self-righteous presumptions of the religious leaders of Israel who assumed that because they were the genetic descendants of Israel (Abraham) that their place in the coming Messianic kingdom was secure. John the Baptist essentially tells them, “You’re genealogy means absolutely nothing to God! If you do not repent and bear the fruit of obedience you will be cut off from the family of God and replaced. God can do anything He wants, and He could even fill your covenant position in His family with rocks!“
Yes, this is true! God could raise up rocks as “children of Abraham” and inheritors of the promises initially made to the genetic descendants of Abraham! We find the same message and the same statement given by Jesus Himself in the immediate aftermath of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 8 Jesus first heals a leper thereby demonstrating a “Messianic miracle” that was intended to offer proof of His Messiahship directly to the chief priests and leaders of Israel. The second thing that Jesus does is respond to the request of a Roman centurion, who was a Gentile and a reputed enemy of Israel:
(5) When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him,
(6) “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”
(7) And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
(8) But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
(9) For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
(10) When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
(11) I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
(12) while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
(13) And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
In this astonishing statement from Jesus we find that He is referring back to the prediction of Isaiah 43:5 of the “offspring” of Israel being gathered from “east and west” to take part in the New Exodus of God’s people coming out of spiritual bondage. This is the first time in the New Testament where Jesus teaches that Gentiles will be adopted into God’s family, Israel, simply by having faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. Again, we find the truth reinforced that genealogy or bloodline now means nothing to God and that faithful obedience to Jesus means everything.
Later on we read in Matthew 12 that Jesus was sent to fulfill what was written in Isaiah 42:1-4 about the “Servant of the Lord” who would be sent to lead Israel and reach out to the Gentiles:
(17) This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
(18) “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
(19) He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
(20) a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
(21) and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
This reference to Jesus as the coming “Servant of the Lord” who was predicted by Isaiah is followed up by an exchange between Jesus and someone asking Him about His family:
(46) While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.
(48) But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
(49) And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
(50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus Himself once again makes it clear that He no longer recognizes genealogy as having anything to do with His true family. On the contrary, membership in the family of God is now entirely dependent on faithful obedience to the will of God! Later on in the Gospels we read that this new condition has the effect of cutting off the majority of Israel from covenant relationship with God, preserving only a remnant of genetic Israelites led by the Twelve Apostles who were given authority over the renewed “twelve tribes” in Luke 22:28-30. At the same time this cutting off of Old Covenant Israel opened the door for Gentiles to become grafted in to the twelve tribes of the New Israel which soon led to a situation where, after only a generation or so, Gentiles made up the majority of New Covenant Israel, which we know today simply as “the Church.”
This is a situation that the Apostle Paul clearly foresaw in his ministry as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” He recognized that Jesus had embodied, in His life, teachings, death and resurrection, Israel as a whole. After the resurrection of Jesus the only way to be recognized by God as a true member of Israel was through faith and obedience to Jesus. He was the firstborn of the New Creation who paved a way for God to adopt many more sons into His eternal family. It is a single family, made of ethnic Israelites and Gentiles that together make up the end-times “Israel of God” that stands to inherit all of the promises of the Old Testament.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Does this all sound hard to believe? It shouldn’t because it is simply the message that Jesus preached, even in His last words to the Church as recorded in Revelation. The letters to the seven churches are absolutely filled with Old Testament allusions, showing how these churches stand to inherit all that was promised to Israel if they remain firm in their faith and overcome. For instance, let’s look again at the message to the church at Philadelphia:
(7) “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
(8) “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
(9) Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
(10) Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
(11) I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
(12) The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
(13) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Bible scholar G. K. Beale explains how the promises to the Philadelphia church point back to certain Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel:
“Rev. 3:9 … refers to Isaianic prophecies that the Gentiles will come and bow down before Israel and recognize Israel as God’s chosen people (Isa. 45:14, 49:23, 60:14). This Jewish hope has been turned upside down. Now it is Jewish persecutors of Christians whom God will make submit to the church. This reversal of Isaiah’s language is probably a conscious attempt to express the irony that the submission that unbelieving ethnic Jews hoped to receive from Gentiles, they themselves will be forced to render to the church. John concludes that ethnic Jews have become like unbelieving Gentiles because of their rejection of Christ and persecution of Christians. In fact, this ironic element is intensified at the end of v 9 through John’s reference to the predominantly Gentile church as being in the position of true Israel. This he accomplishes with a reverse application of Isa. 43:4, which originally spoke of God’s love and honor for Israel above the nations… John shows, rather, a consistent ironic understanding of some of the major themes in Isaiah 40-66.”
What we find in all of this is that the Church that was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ is the true Israel, re-formed under the authority of the Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper, who are named as the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev.21:14). Furthermore, entrance into the New Jerusalem, which we know includes a multitude of Gentiles, requires that its citizens enter in through one of the twelve gates that are named after the twelve tribes of Israel. The New Jerusalem, which is the heavenly destination of the “one flock” that follows Jesus, is the eternal home of the Israel of God. This re-formed “New Israel” is the Body of Christ. Recall again that Israel was portrayed as the vineyard in many OT passages (Is. 5:1-7, 27:2-6, Ps. 80:9, Ez. 17, etc.), then Jesus taught the parable of the vineyard in Mark 12:1-12, showing that the tenants of the vineyard were being evicted and the vineyard given to someone else. To whom was it given? Well, Jesus declared that God, Himself, received responsibility over this vineyard when Jesus portrayed Himself as the true vine and His Father as the vinedresser in John 15. To be a part of the New Israel you must be attached to the Vine!
Jesus is the new embodiment of Israel, and those who are “in Him” are the true “Israel of God.” As it says in Zechariah 2:8-11, and repeated in Revelation 3:9, the LORD loves His people Israel and He will be the One to protect them and judge their enemies. The blood-bought people of Jesus, as the renewed Israel of God, are truly “the apple of His eye.” There is no other “Israel” that is recognized by God. He cannot recognize them until they return to the “Vine” or, in Paul’s language, become re-grafted back into the olive tree (Romans 11).
Modern-day Jews and modern-day Israel still has hope. But their hope is not for an end-times regathering into the physical real estate of literal Jerusalem or a so-called “Promised Land” in the Middle East. Isaiah said that only the “righteous” would be able to walk the path that would lead to Israel’s end-times Promised Land because it is a “highway of holiness” (Is. 35:8). In fact, that is why the early church was simply known as “The Way” throughout the book of Acts! They viewed themselves as the restored remnant of Israel, the renewed Israel of God, being led by Jesus out of the fallen world of “Babylon,” gathering believers from all nations into their company, moving forward as pilgrims on “The Way” towards the New Jerusalem! Indeed, the “Promised Land” of the true Israel is not earthly but heavenly! It is not a piece of real estate on the old earth, but is the entire New Creation of the New Heaven and New Earth!
With this over-arching theme in mind, it is obvious to me how stunningly shallow the popular readings of Old Testament prophecy have become. Many people have become convinced that God has a plan separate and apart from His plan for the Body of Christ, and that this plan involves the regathering of Abraham’s genetic descendants back to the Middle East. My God, how terribly we have misunderstood what the prophets were saying! It’s not about getting “Israel” back into their “land.” No indeed! The New Exodus is all about getting all of humanity out of the darkness and death of the current fallen world and back into the Garden of Eden where the tree of life stands (Rev.22:2)! The original exile that God wants to remedy through Jesus is not the tragedy of Jews getting kicked out of Israel, but of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden!
I used to believe that Israel and the Middle East were the most important indicators of end-times events and that everything revolved around the Jews re-acquiring their land, taking it back from the Arabs, and expanding their nation (with God’s blessing) to the borders of Egypt and the Euphrates, but now I see how terribly misguided I was. For this reason I have decided to withdraw my Red Moon Rising book from publication. I have already contacted my publisher and have been assured that no new copies will ever be printed. There are so many statements that I made in that book, written over nine years ago, that I feel are just plain wrong. Removing it from publication is simply the right thing to do, even as “Red Moon” hysteria increases with the first blood moon occurring in a few days on April 14/15.
In the meantime I recognize that I haven’t figured out where all of this is going but I plan to continue to study, and eventually to write, on this major end-times theme of the New Exodus. Please keep me in your prayers!
April 12, 2014