Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Defense of Israel’s Expectation, Part Two


Objections considered

One reason why many Christians believe that a rebuilt temple and reinstituted sacrificial system would not have divine approval (whether in this eon or the next) is based on the commonly-held belief that the law given by God to Israel ended nearly 2,000 years ago (either at the time of Christ’s death, or at the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD). For example, commenting on my article concerning John’s expectation, one reader wrote that “…70 AD is crucial to understanding that the Law has been fulfilled and is no longer part of God's plan for the rest of the ages.”

When this reader referred to the law as having been “fulfilled,” I assume that she was referring to the following words of Christ in Matthew 5:17-20:

”You should not infer that I came to demolish the law or the prophets. I came not to demolish, but to fulfill. For verily, I am saying to you, Till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring.”

However, this passage in no way proves that “the Law is no longer part of God’s plan for the rest of the ages.” For Christ to have come to “demolish” the law and the prophets would mean that he came to put an end to them, and make them no longer applicable to (or authoritative for) Israel. But this is the very thing that Christ declared he didn’t come to do. Instead, he came to “fulfill” them. Although many Christians interpret the word “fulfill” to mean “bring an end to,” such an interpretation is untenable (as it would essentially have Christ contradicting himself by declaring that he didn’t come to put an end to the law or the prophets, but to put an end to them).

When a certain prophecy is “fulfilled,” that which was written or spoken by the prophet is not “ended” or “terminated”; rather, that which was prophesied actually occurs or is brought about. It is, in other words, carried out, or carried into effect. Thus, for the law and the prophets to be “fulfilled” (or “made full”) by Christ involves that which is written in the law and the prophets being fully carried out by Christ (such that it actually occurs and is brought about). And we know from the prophets that the law given to Israel will continue to be in effect during the eon to come (e.g., Isaiah 2:3; 66:22-23; Jer. 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24; 44:15-17, 24; 45:21, 25; Micah 4:1-2; Zech. 14:16-18; etc.). Thus, it follows that the passing by of the law given to Israel cannot occur before the next eon ends. Until “heaven and earth should be passing by,” the following words spoken by Christ in his “sermon on the mount” (which immediately follow his words in Matt. 5:17-18) will remain applicable to Israel:

“Whosoever, then, should be annulling one of the least of these precepts, and should be teaching men thus, the least in the kingdom of the heavens shall he be called. Yet whoever should be doing and teaching them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I am saying to you that, if ever your righteousness should not be super-abounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means may you be entering into the kingdom of the heavens.”

[For a fuller defense of this view, see part three of my study, “God’s Covenant People” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/09/gods-covenant-people-why-most-believing_83.html).]

Concerning the ending of the old covenant, I was once assured by another believer that the author of the letter to the Hebrews “emphatically declared that the old covenant had been done away with.” However, we actually read no such thing in this letter (despite the fact that the author very easily could have said this, had he believed it to have been the case). Rather than saying that the old covenant had been “done away with,” the author of Hebrews instead wrote the following concerning it: “In saying ‘new,’ [God] has made the former old. Now, that which is growing old and decrepit is near its disappearance” (Heb 8:13). To say that something is “growing old and decrepit” and is “near its disappearance” is not the same as saying that it has, in fact, ended or disappeared. And since that which the author wrote was true at the time when he wrote his letter (which was likely more than 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ), it would mean that Christ’s death and resurrection did not end the old covenant.

The “nearness” of the disappearance of the old covenant (and the implementation of the new covenant) is inseparably connected to the return of Christ. In Hebrews 1:2 the author referred to the era in which he wrote as “the last of these days” (cf. Acts 2:16-18; 1 Pet. 1:20), and in Heb. 10:25 he referred to the future day of the Lord as “drawing near” (cf. verses 26-31). James wrote that the “presence of the Lord is near” and “the Judge stands before the doors.” Peter wrote in his first letter, “Now the consummation of all is near.” Insofar as the nearness of Christ’s return was true when the author of Hebrews wrote, the disappearance of the old covenant could be said to have been “near” as well, since it is at the consummation referred to by Peter (when the “Chief Shepherd is manifested”) that the old covenant will disappear, and the new covenant will go into effect (and which will involve Israel, as a nation, being supernaturally empowered by God to successfully keep the law).

As far as the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, this was not the first time that Jerusalem fell to a foreign power and the temple was destroyed (nor was it the first time that the Jewish people were exiled from their land). The same thing happened in 587 BC under King Nebuchadnezzar. And we know that this judgment didn’t involve the end of the Mosaic Law or the old covenant. On the contrary, that which took place at this time was in accord with the old covenant (which threatened Israel with curses for disobedience; see, for example, Lev. 26:14-39 and Deut. 28:15-68). And in accord with God’s promise of national restoration and healing, the Jewish temple was eventually rebuilt. In light of these considerations, we can conclude that the events of both 587 BC and 70 AD are proof that God’s covenant with Israel was still in effect at these respective times in the nation’s history, and in no way suggest that the Mosaic Law (or even the old covenant) ended when the temple was destroyed.

Another objection is based on the following words of Stephen in Acts 7:46-50: And he requests that he may find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. Yet Solomon builds Him a house. But the Most High is not dwelling in what is made by hands, according as the prophet is saying, “‘Heaven is My throne, yet the earth is a footstool for My feet. What kind of house shall be built for Me?’ the Lord is saying, or what is the place of My stopping?” Is it not My hand that does all these things?'”

The problem with this objection is that God’s “not dwelling in what is made by hands” is something that was just as true (and just as understood to be true) in Solomon’s day as it was when Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin. Stephen wasn’t giving Israel any “new revelation” here. For anyone to believe that God did dwell in what is made by hands would be to believe something that was not even true in Solomon’s day, when the first Jewish temple was built! Although Solomon declared that he had “built…a House, a residence for [God]” and “a site for [God] to dwell in for the eons” (1 Kings 8:13), even Solomon knew and openly acknowledged that the newly-constructed temple was not something that could possibly contain the transcendent Creator of heaven and earth, or keep him bound to a single location on earth as a dwelling place (see 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6).

Nevertheless – and this is the point that needs to be emphasized here – the temple in Jerusalem could still, in all truthfulness and legitimacy, be referred to as the “temple of God” or the “temple of Yahweh” (1 Kings 8:10-11, etc.). Why? It wasn’t because God was literally contained within its walls (for again, not even Solomon believed that). We’re told that God promised David that his son would “build a House for My Name” (2 Sam. 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5). God himself declared in 2 Chron. 7:16, “Now I have chosen and sanctified this House for My Name to be there unto the eon. My eyes and My heart will be there all the days.” God also told Solomon that he had chosen the temple to be “a house of sacrifice” (2 Chron. 7:12). And this wasn’t just true of Solomon’s temple; the second Jewish temple (commonly referred to as “Herod’s temple”) was just as much the temple of God or “temple of the Lord” as the first (Luke 1:9).

Christ himself even referred to the second temple as my Father’s house (John 2:16; cf. Luke 2:49), and both his words and his actions made it clear that he understood the temple to be a holy and sacred place (Matt. 23:16-17; Mark 11:15-17; cf. Isaiah 56:7, which Christ quoted when he “cleansed the temple”). Obviously, Christ would’ve agreed with Stephen in Acts 7:46-50 (and with Paul in Acts 17:24) that “the Most High is not dwelling in what is made by hands.” And yet, Christ still considered the temple to be his “Father’s house” (and, it should be noted, the temple that Christ referred to as his Father’s house did not even contain the Ark of the Covenant)! Thus, unlike many Christians today, Christ clearly believed that the Jewish temple – despite not being a place in which God literally resided or dwelled – was, nonetheless, a place with which his Father’s honor was greatly connected. The problem in Christ’s day was not with the temple itself (which, again, is something that God himself said would be for his “Name”), but rather with the hearts of those who worshiped and offered sacrifices there.

Christ’s priestly ministry

The book of Hebrews is often appealed to by Christians in support of their belief that the Levitical priesthood has been abolished and invalidated, and that Israel’s sacrificial system will thus never be reinstituted (at least, not with God’s approval). One of the main passages on which this widely-held view is based is Hebrews 7:11-19. In Young’s Literal Translation, this passage reads as follows:

11 If indeed, then, perfection were through the Levitical priesthood -- for the people under it had received law -- what further need, according to the order of Melchizedek, for another priest to arise, and not to be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 for the priesthood being changed, of necessity also, of the law a change doth come, 13 for he of whom these things are said in another tribe hath had part, of whom no one gave attendance at the altar, 14 for [it is] evident that out of Judah hath arisen our Lord, in regard to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet more abundantly most evident, if according to the similitude of Melchizedek there doth arise another priest, 16 who came not according to the law of a fleshly command, but according to the power of an endless life, 17 for He doth testify -- `Thou [art] a priest -- to the age, according to the order of Melchizedek;' 18 for a disannulling indeed doth come of the command going before because of its weakness, and unprofitableness, 19 (for nothing did the law perfect) and the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw nigh to God.

Because we’re told perfection is not “through the Levitical priesthood,” it’s assumed that the Levitical priesthood must have been abolished (or that it lost its validity/divine approval) when Christ became Chief Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” However, a fact of which many who hold to this view seem unaware (or which is simply overlooked) is that the Levitical priesthood was never meant to bring about the “perfection” referred to in this passage. This was never the intended, God-given purpose and design of the Levitical priesthood. So the fact that Christ’s superior Melchizedekian priesthood does bring about the perfection referred to in v. 11 does not logically lead to the conclusion that the inferior Levitical priesthood was abolished when Christ became Chief Priest (since, again, it was never the job of the Levitical priests to bring about the perfection referred to). Since the two priesthoods have two different purposes/functions, the superior (Melchizedekian) priesthood in heaven need not be understood as replacing the inferior (Levitical) priesthood on earth. They can – and, I believe, will – exist simultaneously, with each of the priesthoods fulfilling its distinct purpose and role in the respective realm to which each inherently belongs. 

According to Vine’s Greek New Testament Dictionary, the word translated “priesthood” in the above passage (hierosune) “signifies the office, quality, rank and ministry of ‘a priest’” (https://studybible.info/vines/Priesthood,%20Priest's%20Office; see also https://studybible.info/strongs/G2420). Similarly, the Greek-English Keyword Concordance of the CLNT defines it as “that which was associated with the priestly office.” Based on the context, I believe it can be reasonably concluded that, in Heb. 7:12, 24, the author of Hebrews was referring specifically to the office and ministry of chief priest. But what does it mean for the priesthood to have been “changed” (v. 12)? The word translated “changed” in this passage is metatithemen─ôs. According to the Greek-English Keyword Concordance in the Concordant Literal New Testament, the elements of this word are “after-PLACE.” In the CLNT, this term is translated “transferred” in Heb. 7:12 (however, it should be noted that the same term is translated “bartering” in Jude 4). The term “transferred” seems to communicate the idea that the Levitical priesthood – which is in view in v. 12 – was transferred from one location (or person/people) to another. However, we know that’s not the case. And this fact alone suggests to me that metatithemen─ôs does not mean “transferred” in Heb. 7:12. Does this mean that “changed” should be seen as the better translation here? Perhaps. However, there’s another possibility. In contrast with both the CLNT and Young’s translation, the term metatithemen─ôs is translated “displaced” in the Dabhar translation: “For due to the priestdom being displaced, of necessity there becomes a displacement of law also.” I believe this translation gets us closer to the actual meaning of the term (at least, as it’s used in Hebrews 7:12) than either “changed” or “transferred.” If the term does mean “displaced” in this verse, then the idea being communicated is that the Levitical office and ministry of chief priest on earth was, following Christ’s ascension to heaven, displaced by Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood.

We know that, even before Christ was made a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” the chief priest Caiaphas disqualified himself as chief priest by his own law-breaking actions (see Matthew 26:65 and compare with Leviticus 10:6; 21:10). However, it was not until after Christ ascended to heaven that the Levitical office of chief priest was displaced by Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood. The reason for this is provided in the next chapter of Hebrews. In Heb. 8:4-5, the author made it clear that, if Christ were on earth at the time the letter was written, he would not even be a priest (since there was, at the time the letter was written, a Levitical priesthood on the earth operating in accord with the law). And based on what we find revealed in prophecy (see, for example, Jer. 33:20-22, Zech. 14:20-21 and all the reference to the priests in Ezekiel 40-48), it’s clear that the Levitical priesthood will, in fact, be present and operative on the earth during the next eon, after the kingdom has been restored to Israel (however, it should be noted that, according to Ezek. 43:19 and 44:15, only those who are of the family of Zadok will have the privilege of offering sacrifices and ministering in the future sanctuary).

So it’s reasonable to conclude that the chief priestly office on earth was displaced by Christ’s priesthood after he ascended to heaven. Moreover, since Christ is not of the tribe of Levi (he’s of Judah), the displacement of the chief priestly office on earth necessarily involved a displacement of the law concerning who can (and who can’t) be a chief priest. In v. 17 we read that the basis of Christ’s priesthood is not according to the law of a fleshly command, but according to the power of an endless life.” And a few verses later we read the following: “And, in as much as it was not apart from the swearing of an oath (for these, indeed, are priests, having become so apart from the swearing of an oath, yet that One with the swearing of an oath by Him Who is saying to Him, “The Lord swears and will not be regretting it, ‘Thou art a priest for the eon according to the order of Melchizedek.’”) (Heb. 7:20-21)

In other words, the law concerning who can become a chief priest was, in the case of Christ, displaced by God’s oath. In accord with this understanding of the displacement of the law referred to in Heb. 7:12, the “repudiation of the preceding precept” (v. 18) refers to the repudiation of the “fleshly precept” referred to in v. 16. This precept concerns the requirement that a chief priest be from the family of Aaron (it’s called “fleshly” because it involves the fleshly lineage of priests). In Exodus 29:9 we read that “the priesthood shall be theirs [i.e., Aaron and his sons] for a perpetual statute.” This precept concerning the Aaronic priesthood requirement is said to be “weak and without benefit” insofar as it appointed men chief priests “who have infirmity” (v. 28), and who, consequently, couldn’t adequately deal with sin and bring Israel to perfection (and, it should be emphasized, this was never the job of the Levitical priesthood in the first place).

In contrast with this “fleshly precept” concerning who can (and can’t) become chief priest, we read that the “word sworn in the oath which is after the law appoints the Son, perfected, for the eon” (v. 28; cf. vv 20-21). Thus, the repudiation of this precept should not be understood as involving the abolishing/annulling of the entire Levitical/Aaronic priesthood (for, again, it’s prophesied that this priesthood – as well as its associated sacrificial system – will be present and active on the earth during the next eon). Rather, the “fleshly precept” being “repudiated” simply means that this precept was rejected by God as having any binding force on Christ (who became Chief Priest in accord with God’s oath, in conjunction with “the power of an endless life” that Christ received when he was raised from the dead by God). That is, the precept concerning qualifications for becoming chief priest was repudiated only in regard to Jesus’ present, heavenly priesthood. This precept simply does not apply to (or have any authority over) Christ in his present, heavenly location

In summary, the Levitical office of chief priest was displaced by Christ’s office as Chief Priest, and the associated law/precept concerning qualifications for becoming chief priest was, in the case of Christ, displaced by God’s oath. However, although Christ’s heavenly, Melchizedekian priesthood is superior to the earthly, Levitical priesthood, the Levitical priesthood was not invalidated or abolished when Christ became Chief Priest. Based on what we read in Ezekiel 40-48 and elsewhere (e.g., Jer. 33:20-22 and Zech. 14:20-21), it’s clear that the Levitical priesthood will be present and operative on the earth during the next eon.

A response to Stephen Jones

Recently, a fellow believer posted some excerpts from a book by Stephen Jones (an anti-dispensationalist” Christian teacher who denies that God's covenant people, Israel, have any future expectation that is distinct from that which belongs to believers in the body of Christ). In the excerpts shared by the believer, the author attempts to defend the view that none of the prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures that reveal a future millennial temple and reinstituted sacrificial system during the eon to come are actually going to be fulfilled. The remainder of this article will therefore consist of a response to each of the claims and objections made by Stephen Jones that were shared by the believer.

Stephen Jones: “The modern teaching in Dispensationalism that animal sacrifice will be reinstituted is based upon Old Testament prophetic statements such as Ezekiel 44, which prophesies in Old Testament terms, but which must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament.”

I’m not sure what, exactly, Stephen Jones means by “…based upon Old Testament prophetic statements such as Ezekiel 44, which prophesies in Old Testament terms.” I find this to be unhelpful, ambiguous language. What, exactly, are “Old Testament terms?” I doubt that, by these words, Stephen Jones is simply referring to terms that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures (or “Old Testament”), for that would be a stupid thing to say. Obviously, Ezekiel’s prophetic statements are part of the Hebrew Scriptures, and were recorded using the Hebrew language. Perhaps, then, Jones means something like, “terms that pertain to the Old Covenant.” But this understanding of Stephen’s words would imply that Ezekiel 36-48 concerns the Old Covenant. However, the prophecies found in Ezekiel 36-48 are all about Israel’s future destiny under the New Covenant. In other words, Ezekiel was, in these last twelve chapters of his book, prophesying concerning conditions that will not be present on the earth until after the New Covenant has gone into effect! Thus, it’s absurd to say that Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapters 36-48 reveals a future destiny for Israel in “Old Covenant” terms (and if Stephen Jones believes that what is revealed in these chapters reflects an “Old Covenant” relationship between God and Israel, then this simply means that he doesn’t understand what the New Covenant is or involves).

Stephen Jones: “The Temple that God is now constructing is of the New Jerusalem, as described in Ephesians 2:20-22.”

I disagree that the figurative temple to which Paul referred in Eph. 2:20-22 is “of the New Jerusalem.” But for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that it is. We know that there’s not going to be a literal temple in the New Jerusalem, so this state of affairs would be consistent with Paul’s reference to the figurative “temple” of Eph. 2:20-22. But would this mean that we should understand the millennial temple described in the final chapters of Ezekiel as a description of the figurative temple referred to in Ephesians 2:20-22? Not at all. Paul’s reference to a figurative temple in Eph. 2:20-22 in no way justifies the interpretive decision of those who, because of their own doctrinal bias and assumptions, see Ezekiel’s prophecy of the millennial temple as an elaborate allegory that will never literally be fulfilled (despite the fact that, unlike Paul’s words in Eph. 2:20-22, there is no indication that the temple prophesied by Ezekiel is anything other than a literal temple). Everything of which Ezekiel prophesied can be understood in a normal, straight-forward way without contradicting anything Paul wrote in Eph. 2:20-22.

Stephen Jones: “This is the Temple from which Jesus Christ will rule in the Tabernacles Age to come. He does not intend to rule the earth from an old-style temple in the old Jerusalem, nor will He call Aaronic priests to minister with animal sacrifices upon an altar on the Temple Mount.”

Actually, we’re not told in Ezekiel or the other prophets that the millennial temple will be located “in the old Jerusalem,” or that it will be located on the present-day “Temple Mount.” In fact, we know that major topographical changes are going to be occurring in the land of Israel at the time of Christ’s return to the earth (Zech. 14:3-5). These changes will result in a much-larger/expanded Jerusalem that will be elevated above the rest of the surrounding land (which, in Zech. 14:10, we’re told will be turned into a plain). At this time, Mount Zion (which will be the sight of the future temple in Jerusalem) will be the most elevated location in the land of Israel:

“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:1-3

Stephen Jones is, of course, free to dismiss this and all of the other related prophecies concerning Israel’s eonian destiny (e.g., by allegorizing them away or making them conditional in nature), but he is simply mistaken if he believes that his interpretation is somehow more consistent with the rest of Scripture than the understanding of those with whom he disagrees. There is absolutely no contradiction between what the Hebrew prophets wrote concerning Israel’s covenant-based expectation during the eon to come (and which will be in accord with the New Covenant) and what we read anywhere in the Greek Scriptures (including the book of Hebrews).

Contrary to the belief of Stephen Jones (which, I should add, reflects the belief of most Christians), the law-keeping and temple-based worship system that prophecy reveals will characterize the national life of God’s covenant people during the eon to come will not be a “step backwards” for them, or (as one believer put it) a “change back” to an Old Covenant-based relationship with God. Life under the New Covenant will be a huge step forward for Israel. When the New Covenant goes into effect, Israel will be empowered to walk in God's statutes and obey his rules for them (Ezek. 36:26-27). This, of course, is one of the main purposes of the New Covenant: empowering Israel to do what they were unable to do under the Old Covenant. Thus, although Israel’s relationship with God in the millennial kingdom will involve a degree of continuity with their relationship with God when they were under the Old Covenant, the differences will be far greater and more profound.

Stephen Jones: “Modern Dispensationalism has brought us once again to the same problem that Paul faced in the first century. The attempt is being made to turn the Church back to the Old Covenant, which would empower Levites to re-institute animal sacrifices in a physical temple in Jerusalem. Like the Jerusalem Church, the Christians are trying to add Jesus to the Old Covenant and its old priestly system.”

I’m not sure who, exactly, Stephen Jones had in mind when he asserted that “modern Dispensationalism” is attempting “to turn the Church back to the Old Covenant.” However, insofar as my own “dispensational” position is concerned, Stephen’s assertion is a complete straw-man and misrepresentation of what I believe. No one who correctly distinguishes the body of Christ from that company of saints referred to by Paul as “the Israel of God” (i.e., believers from among God’s covenant people) could, with any consistency, believe that the body of Christ should “turn back to the Old Covenant!” Such a position as this would be completely absurd. Moreover, even if “the Church” to which Stephen Jones was referring is understood as that which is comprised of believers among God’s covenant people (which is the “church” to which Christ was referring in Matthew 16:18), it still wouldn’t be true to say that, after Christ returns, these believers will be turning “back to the Old Covenant!” Ezekiel 36-48 is not about the Old Covenant, or Israel’s future under the Old Covenant. It’s all about the New Covenant. If this fact is problematic for Stephen Jones’ understanding of the New Covenant (and it is), then it simply means that Stephen’s understanding of the New Covenant (and Israel’s covenant-based expectation) is seriously flawed.

In fact, not only do I not believe that the body of Christ should “turn back to the Old Covenant,” but I don’t even think we have anything directly to do with the New Covenant! Although Israel’s life under the New Covenant won’t be a “step backwards” for them, their covenant-based expectation would be a “step backwards” for Jewish believers in the body of Christ (such as Paul). The reason for this is as follows: Israelites who have been chosen beforehand by God for membership in the body of Christ – and who are subsequently called by God through the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” – cease to be in a covenant-based relationship with God (and thus cease to be members of God's covenant people, Israel) when they become members of the body of Christ. Paul referred to the status of those who were in a covenant-based relationship with God (and who thus had a covenant-based obligation to keep the law given by God to Israel) as being “under law” or “in law” (Rom. 2:12; 6:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:20-21; Gal. 4:4-5, 21). Conversely, those who Paul referred to as being “without law” are simply those who aren’t members of God’s covenant people, Israel, and who thus don’t have a covenant-based obligation to keep the law of God given to Israel.

Now, according to Paul, those in the body of Christ – whether they’re of a Jewish or Gentile background – are not under law (Romans 6:14-15). Despite the fact that “the law is holy” and “the precept holy and just and good” (7:12), those in the body of Christ have been exempted from the law (7:1-6). In fact, Paul clearly believed that those in the body of Christ who wanted to be circumcised and “be under law” were greatly mistaken, for this was not in accord with their calling and status as members of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:23-29; 5:1-10). Thus, we can conclude that Paul did not have (nor did he consider himself as having) a covenant-based obligation to keep the law given to Israel. And, consequently, Paul couldn’t have considered himself as having been a member of God’s covenant people, Israel, during his apostolic ministry.

In contrast with Paul’s status and relationship to the law as a member of the body of Christ, it’s evident that the “tens of thousands” of believing, law-keeping Jews referred to by James in Acts 21:20 understood themselves as having a covenant-based obligation to keep the law. Consider, then, the following argument:

1. The “tens of thousands” of believing Jews referred to in Acts 21:20 were a continuation of the “little flock” referred to by Christ in Luke 12:32, and were part of the believing remnant among God’s covenant nation, Israel.

2.  As members of God’s covenant nation, Israel, these believing Jews had a covenant-based obligation to keep the law of Moses (they were, in other words, “under law”).

3. The body of Christ – being a company of saints that is distinct from God’s covenant people, Israel – does not have a covenant-based obligation to keep the law of Moses (we are exempt from the law).

4. The “tens of thousands” of believing Jews referred to in Acts 21:20 were not members of the body of Christ, and Paul was not a member of the company of saints to which these believing Jews belonged.

In the body of Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. But for the Israel of God, circumcision remains essential to their identity as members of God's covenant people, and it will still be of importance even in the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 44:9).

Stephen Jones: “Such a view may admit that Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant in His first coming, but it strongly suggests also that Jesus becomes the Mediator of the Old Covenant in His second coming.”

Stephen Jones’ belief that a literal fulfillment of Ezekiel 36-48 would somehow make Jesus “the Mediator of the Old Covenant in His second coming” simply betrays Stephen’s own misunderstanding of what Israel’s relationship with God under the New Covenant will involve. Again, Ezekiel 36-48 is all about Israel’s eonian destiny under the New Covenant (which Christ, upon his return to earth to restore the kingdom to Israel, is going to put into effect). To imply that Jesus would “become the Mediator of the Old Covenant” by fulfilling God’s promises to Israel and bringing about everything prophesied in Ezekiel 36-48 is simply ridiculous. Stephen Jones is reading his own unscriptural beliefs about the New Covenant (and what it will involve for Israel in the eon to come) “in between the lines” of the book of Hebrews. Nothing written in the book of Hebrews contradicts a literal fulfillment of any prophecy concerning Israel’s expectation in the eon to come.

Stephen Jones: “There is hardly a doctrine that is more detrimental to the foundations of Christianity than this. It overthrows virtually all that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. It reverses virtually every major change that took place under the New Covenant that is described in the book of Hebrew. If this teaching were allowed to stand, the book of Hebrews would eventually be removed from the New Testament.”

There is nothing prophesied in Ezekiel 36-48 that “overthrows” anything Jesus accomplished on the cross, or that “reverses every major change that took place under the New Covenant that is described in the book of Hebrews.” The real contradiction is actually between what God has revealed concerning Israel’s eonian destiny under the New Covenant and Stephen Jones’ own erroneous views of the New Covenant and what Jesus accomplished on the cross. 

A Defense of Israel’s Expectation, Part One

Introduction

According to the belief of most Christians throughout church history (including those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and many other mainline Christian churches and denominations), God’s covenant people, Israel, have no further prophesied role to play in God’s redemptive plan, and have no distinct expectation or eonian destiny apart from that which belongs to the company of believers that Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” and the ecclesia which is [Christ's] body (Eph. 1:22). I believe that this view is greatly mistaken, and have written several articles against it and in defense of the view that most believing Jews throughout history – including those alive during the “Acts” era – have an eonian expectation that is distinct from that which belongs to the body of Christ (see, for example, my four-part study, God’s Covenant People,” as well as the related, follow-up articles I posted on my blog during the months of October and November in 2018). In addition to God’s numerous promises concerning Israel and her eonian destiny throughout Scripture, I believe that Paul’s prophecy concerning Israel in Romans 11 completely contradicts the view that the body of Christ has in some way replaced Israel, or that the promises God made concerning Israel and her eonian destiny now belong to the body of Christ.

The fact that God is going to literally fulfill everything he promised concerning the eonian destiny of his covenant people (and which will involve, among other things, a rebuilt temple and a reinstituted sacrificial system) is, of course, highly problematic for those who believe that God’s promises concerning Israel and her eonian destiny now belong to, or include, the body of Christ. In fact, I suspect that one motivating factor that has led some to reject the truth that Israel has a geopolitical/national destiny during the eon to come is that they don’t want to have anything to do with an eonian expectation that will involve a rebuilt temple, Sabbath-keeping, and a reinstated priesthood performing animal sacrifices. For example, I know of several believers who have come to believe that the earth – and not the heavenly realm where Christ presently resides – is where they’re going to be enjoying their eonian destiny. It’s no wonder, then, that they would find it impossible to believe – and would even scoff at the idea – that what we read in Ezekiel 36-48 (for example) could possibly be a literal description of the kingdom in which they’re going to be enjoying their eonian allotment. The belief that they’re going to be on the earth during the coming eon(s) precludes an acceptance of such a view.

However, those in the body of Christ need not worry about having to “share the earth” with those whose expectation will involve the state of affairs that we find described in the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel and elsewhere. As I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere, the eonian destiny that belongs to God’s covenant people is completely distinct from the eonian destiny that belongs to those within the body of Christ. In contrast with the eonian expectation that belongs to those constituting “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), we who are members of the body of Christ will not, during the eons to come, be “reigning on the earth” as “a kingdom and priests to [Christ’s] God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; cf. 20:4-6), or dwelling in “the citadel of the saints and the beloved city” that we find referred to in Revelation 20:9. Rather, our eonian allotment will be “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 3:20) and “among the celestials” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6; cf. 1:20). Rather than receiving an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel after Christ returns to earth, the kingdom of God in which we will be enjoying our eonian life – i.e., the kingdom of God in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment” (1 Cor. 15:50-53) – will be the Lord’s “celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).

Israel’s eonian expectation

With this important distinction between Israel and the body of Christ kept in mind, let’s now consider some important prophecies from the book of Ezekiel concerning the eonian expectation of God’s covenant people after Christ has returned to earth and restored the kingdom to Israel. In Ezekiel 36:24-31 we read the following concerning this expectation:

For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My ordinances, and do them. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness: and I will call for the grain, and will multiply it, and lay no famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that you may receive no more the reproach of famine among the nations. Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.”

What we read in verses 25-27 echoes God’s earlier promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34 concerning a “new covenant” that he would make “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” And just as Ezekiel prophesied that God’s covenant people will be brought into their own land and made to flourish there, so the rest of the 31st chapter of Jeremiah makes it clear that the fulfillment of the new covenant promises described in verses 33-34 will coincide with the people of Israel being restored to, and caused to flourish in, the land that God promised them (see, for example, Jer. 31:1-14, 17, 24-28, 35-40). Thus, we can conclude that, when the new covenant between God and Israel goes into effect, Israel will be gathered out of all the nations into which they were scattered and brought into the land that God promised to the fathers. There, God’s covenant people will be caused by God to “walk in [his] statutes,” and will “be careful to keep all [his] ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24). The “statutes” and “ordinances” that are in view here are those that God gave to Israel alone (Lev. 18:3-5), and are frequently referred to throughout Ezekiel (e.g., Ez. 5:7; 11:12, 20). A special emphasis in Ezekiel is placed on the keeping of God’s Sabbaths (e.g., Ezekiel 20:12, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24; cf. 44:24). And as we’ll see a little later, among the statutes and ordinances which God’s covenant people will be obeying during the eon to come are those pertaining to Israel’s temple-based worship and sacrificial system (Ezekiel 40-48).

We go on to read the following in Ezek. 37:15-17:

The word of Yahweh came to me, saying: As for you, son of humanity, take for yourself one stick, and write on it: For Judah and for the sons of Israel joined with him; then take another stick, and write on it: For Joseph (Ephraim’s stick) and all the house of Israel joined with him. Bring them near, one to the other, into one stick for yourself that they may become one in your hand.

Remarkably, one believer recently asserted that the two sticks becoming “one” in Ezekiel’s hand represents (or can be understood as representing) Jews and Greeks becoming “one in Christ.” While I am in complete agreement with this believer that Jews and Greeks in the body of Christ are “one is Christ” (which is a truth clearly taught by Paul in verses like Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 2:13-18), what we read in the above passage from Ezekiel has nothing at all to do with what Paul revealed in his letters concerning the oneness of all who are in the body of Christ. Like most of Scripture, this passage (and the rest of Ezekiel’s prophecy) does not directly pertain to the body of Christ at all. Rather, it has everything to do with the eonian expectation of God’s covenant people, Israel.

The people who are said to be represented by the sticks are not “Jews and Greeks” but rather (1) “Judah and the sons of Israel joined with him” and (2) “Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel joined with him.” This prophecy concerns the reuniting of the divided kingdom of Israel after Christ has returned to earth and restored the kingdom to Israel. When we do read of non-Israelites in Ezekiel’s prophecy, they’re referred to as “the nations” among whom the sons of Israel were to be scattered, and who will come to know that Yahweh is hallowing Israel when his sanctuary comes to be in Israel’s midst “for the eon” (verses 20-28). We’re also told the following concerning those among the nations during the eon to come: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter [Yahweh’s] sanctuary” (Ezek. 44:9).  And although we’re also told that certain non-Israelites will get to enjoy an allotment in the land alongside Israelites (Ezek. 47:21-23), these Gentiles are not going to be members of the body of Christ (for, unlike the Gentiles referred to in these verses, members of the body of Christ are not going to be enjoying an allotment in the land of Israel among the tribes of Israel during the eon to come; our eonian allotment will be “in the heavens” and “among the celestials”).

The fact is that the nations (whether Greek or otherwise) are simply not in view in Ezek. 37:15-17. Ezekiel’s “stick parable” has entirely to do with the reuniting of the divided kingdom of Israel. In verses 20-28, the parable (and the future state of affairs associated with it) is explained and described in detail as follows:

With the sticks on which you wrote held in your hand before their eyes, speak to them, Thus says my Lord Yahweh:  Behold, I shall take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will convene them from all around and bring them to their own ground. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king for them all. They shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms any longer. They shall not defile themselves any longer with their idol clods, with their abominations and with all their transgressions. I will save them from all their backslidings in which they have sinned and will cleanse them. They will become My people, and I Myself shall become their Elohim.

My servant David will be king over them, and there shall come to be one shepherd for them all. They shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes, and they will do them. Thus they will dwell on the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, in which your fathers dwelt; they will dwell on it, they and their sons and their sons’ sons throughout the eon, and David My servant will be their prince for the eon. I will contract with them a covenant of peace; It shall come to be an eonian covenant with them; I will establish them and increase them; I will put My sanctuary in their midst for the eon, And My tabernacle will be over them. Thus I will become their Elohim, And they shall become My people. Then the nations will know that I, Yahweh, am hallowing Israel When My sanctuary comes to be in their midst for the eon.

From these passages it’s evident that the land promised to Israel (the boundaries of which are specified in Numbers 34:1-15 and elsewhere) will, during the eon to come, constitute the geographical territory of the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel. We also find that God’s servant, David, will reign as king over the restored nation. Finally, we’re told that God’s “sanctuary” will be “in their midst for the eon.” That this “sanctuary” refers to a magnificent temple that will exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come is evident from the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, where we find God’s detailed instructions for the construction of this future temple (including its dimensions, parts and contents).

In my article on the “abomination of desolation” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2019/08/why-i-believe-theres-going-to-be-future_43.html), I argued that a third Jewish temple is going to be constructed in the city of Jerusalem before Christ returns. Around the time of Christ’s return to earth, I believe that this temple – which is going to be desecrated by the setting up of the abomination of desolation approximately 3 ½ years before Christ’s return – is ultimately going to be destroyed. However, according to what we find so clearly revealed in Ezekiel 37-48 (and elsewhere), this temple – which will be the last Jewish temple to exist during this “present wicked eon” – will not be the last Jewish temple to exist on this earth. At some point after Christ has returned and restored the kingdom to Israel, a fourth and final temple is going to be constructed in the restored city of Jerusalem (I refer to this fourth temple as the final temple in light of Revelation 21:22, where we read that John did not perceive a temple in the future city that is going to be descending out of heaven from God after the creation of “the new heaven and new earth”).

As already noted, Ezekiel wasn’t the only prophet to refer to this final Jewish temple. Other references to the temple that will exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come are as follows:

Isaiah 2:1-3 (cf. Micah 4:1-5)
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. 

Isaiah 60:13
The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious. 

Joel 3:18 
And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of Yahweh and water the Valley of Shittim. 

Haggai 2:7-9
And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says Yahweh of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares Yahweh of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says Yahweh of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares Yahweh of hosts. 

In addition to the consistent prophetic references to a future temple existing in the geopolitical territory of Israel during the eon to come, the inclusion of such a staggering number of details concerning this temple that we find in Ezekiel 40-48 constitutes, I believe, a sufficient and conclusive refutation of the view that the temple referred to in these passages should be understood figuratively/allegorically. Significantly, in Ezekiel 40:4, we read that the prophet was told to “declare to the house of Israel everything you see.” We also read that Israel was told to “keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them” (43:11). These and other similar instructions echo the words of Exodus 25:8-9 (which concern the creation of the tabernacle in accord with the pattern Moses saw on the mountain). There is simply no good reason to believe that the temple prophesied in Ezekiel and elsewhere will be any less literal than was the tabernacle which God, through the mediation of Moses, instructed Israel to make.

What about future animal sacrifices?

Along with the immense number of details that we find revealed in the closing chapters of Ezekiel concerning the temple that will exist in Israel during the eon to come, we’re also provided with details concerning the different types, characteristics and purposes of the animal sacrifices that will be performed at this time (Ezekiel 40:38-43; 42:13; 43:18-27; 45:15-25; 46:2-15; 46:20-24). Consider the following examples:

“And on the day that he goes into the Holy Place, into the inner court, to minister in the Holy Place, he shall offer his sin offering, declares the Lord Yahweh. This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. Ezek. 44:27-29

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and the posts of the gate of the inner court.” Ezek. 45:18-19

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh: The gate of the inner court that faces east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by the vestibule of the gate from outside, and shall take his stand by the post of the gate. The priests shall offer his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening.” Ezek. 46:1-2

Other references to animal sacrifices taking place during the eon to come can be found in Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 60:7, 13; Isaiah 66:19-21; Jeremiah 33:17-18; and Zechariah 14:19-21.

In contrast with these prophecies concerning Israel’s expectation, it has been the belief of most Christians throughout “church history” that the entire sacrificial system around which Israel’s temple-based worship was centered was invalidated or “done away with” through Christ’s death on the cross (and this is the case even among “dispensationalist” Christians who, in accord with their understanding of prophecy, believe that animal sacrifices will eventually be resumed in a future third temple). According to this commonly-held view, the rebuilding of the Jewish temple and the reinstatement of Israel’s sacrificial system would be inconsistent with the truth and significance of Christ’s death and would thus lack God’s approval. Not only would the performing of animal sacrifices at some future time be worthless, but – according to popular Christian belief – it would manifest a complete disregard for Christ’s definitive sacrifice for sins. In fact, I’ve heard one Christian confidently state that a rebuilt temple and the resumption of the sacrificial system would be an “abomination” to God! One fellow believer expressed this popular view in a public comment on Facebook, as follows: “Why would God commission [Israel] to build a temple to sacrifice in? That is like saying Christ wasn't enough, so let's all go back to the temple and bring in the Red Heifer. Also, why would the so-called coming antichrist stop people from doing something that was antichrist (instead of Christ)?”

As common as this view is among Christians today (and has been throughout church history), I believe it betrays a misunderstanding of the purpose of sacrifices performed in accord with the law given by God to Israel. This view seems to presuppose that God originally instituted Israel’s sacrificial system with the intention of temporarily (and imperfectly) accomplishing that which Christ would later do perfectly and permanently through his death on the cross. Or, at the very least, this view presupposes that God expected Israel to believe that the sacrificial system would, to some degree or another, accomplish what Christ ultimately accomplished through his sacrificial death. But that’s simply not the case. The purpose of animal sacrifices made under the law and the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross were/are completely different. The sacrifices made under the law were never intended to accomplish what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished, and Christ’s sacrifice was not intended to accomplish what the animal sacrifices offered under the law were designed to accomplish. It would, therefore, be a fallacy to conclude that, because Christ’s sacrifice was and is far superior to the animal sacrifices performed under the law, his death “replaced” animal sacrifices, and removed any further need for Israel to perform animal sacrifices.

But if the animal sacrifices performed in accord with Levitical law had a different purpose than Christ’s sacrifice, then what was their purpose? What did they accomplish? Answer: They were intended by God to deal with ceremonial uncleanness so that Israel could offer acceptable worship to God in the temple, in accord with what God himself had commanded them. The sacrifices made it possible for a person or object that had become ritually impure to return to an acceptable status for participation in worship at the temple, so as to avoid defiling the sacred place of worship. In the words of Hebrews 9:13, “the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the contaminated, is hallowing to the cleanness of the flesh.” In other words, the purpose of the sacrifices made under the law was to preserve the sanctity of the place of worship, and make people (and things) ceremonially clean for the purpose of worship in the temple.

Under the Levitical system, sacrifices were required to make atonement for the buildings, the altar (Exodus 29:37; Lev. 43:20–27), the Levites (44:25–27), and the sanctuary (45:18). We’re also told that sacrifices made atonement for the ritual impurities or personal events that separated anyone from participation in the temple services (such as child birth or a skin disease; see Lev. 12:7; 14:9-20). Obviously, it wasn’t a violation of the “moral law” (as codified in the Ten Commandments) to give birth to a child or to have a skin disease. Again, the atonement that was effected by virtue of these sacrifices pertained to ceremonial impurity/uncleanness, and made it possible for the person who had become ritually impure to return to an acceptable status for participation in worship at the temple, so as to avoid defiling the sacred place of worship.

Christ’s sacrifice, on the other hand, was not intended to make people and things ceremonially clean/ritually pure in connection with the temple-based worship system that God instituted for Israel. According to what we read in Hebrews 9-10, Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sins made the believing Jews to whom the author wrote “perfect in regard to conscience,” it procured their “eonian redemption,” and it “perfected to a finality” those who were being “hallowed.” Since Christ’s sacrificial death had nothing to do with making people and things ritually pure and preventing defilement of the temple, it did not invalidate Israel’s sacrificial system, or take away the (relative) importance of animal sacrifices in connection with the temple. And the mere fact that (Gentile) members of the body of Christ may struggle to make sense of Israel’s divinely-prescribed sacrificial system is no reason to deny its importance for Israel, or its rightful place in God’s past and future purpose for his covenant people.

So, although Christ’s sacrifice is clearly superior to the animal sacrifices that were made under the law (since it accomplished something far greater than these offerings ever could), it’s equally true that Christ’s sacrifice accomplished something that the Levitical sacrifices were never designed to accomplish. Again, the purpose of sacrifices made in accord with the Mosaic Law was to preserve the sanctity of the place of worship, and make people and things ceremonially clean for the purpose of worship in the temple. Israel’s sacrificial system can, therefore, be understood as having a relative importance for Israel. Christ’s sacrifice, on the other hand, has an absolute importance for all people. Since Christ’s sacrifice has an absolute importance for all, and Israel’s sacrificial system has only a relative importance for Israel, the latter did not remove the relative importance of the former (since it accomplished something that the former was never intended to accomplish). And it’s for this reason that the resumption of animal sacrifices in a rebuilt Jewish temple would in no way be incompatible with the fact of Christ’s death for our sins.

Moreover, we know that, approximately 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, there were “tens of thousands” of believing Jews in the land of Israel who were “all inherently zealous for the law.” These believing Jews – among whom James and the other Jewish elders would’ve counted themselves – believed that it would’ve been wrong for any of them to apostatize from Moses (which we’re told would’ve involved no longer circumcising their children or “walking in the customs” of the Mosaic law), and that anyone who taught otherwise was wrong (Acts 21:18-22). But this would mean that there were “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who, 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, saw nothing problematic about Israel’s temple-based ceremonial worship and sacrificial system (for “walking in the customs” of the Mosaic Law would’ve included participation in this). That is, these believing Jews did not see any inconsistency between their faith in Christ and their continued participation in a ceremonial, temple-based worship system that involved (and was inseparable from) animal sacrifice.

According to the popular view among Christians concerning the validity of Israel’s sacrificial system after Christ’s death, does it make any sense that, thirty years after Christ’s death, there would’ve been “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who saw no problem with Israel’s sacrificial system? If Israel’s sacrificial system had, in fact, been invalidated by Christ’s death (and participation in this system was incompatible with the life of a Jewish believer in Christ), wouldn’t thirty years have been more than enough time for the twelve apostles and James to “get the word out” in Jerusalem that this was the case? But that’s not what we find. And not only do we find no disruption in the involvement that believing Jews had in Israel’s temple-based worship and sacrificial system, but it’s evident that Paul himself did not view participation in this system by believing Jews as being at all inconsistent with their faith in Christ.

In Acts 21:26, we read that Paul – out of courtesy to the believing Jews who’d heard false rumors concerning what he was teaching Jews among the nations (and who were thus suspicious of him) – agreed to take part in a Jewish purification ceremony to dispel their fears that he was teaching “all the Jews who are among the nations to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21). Now, if Paul had believed that sacrificing animals in the temple was something that Israel ought not to have been doing any longer because of the sacrifice of Christ thirty years earlier (and that doing so was actually contrary to the truth of Christ’s sacrifice), there’s no way he would’ve agreed to take part in a law-based ritual which involved, among other things, offering a sacrifice in the temple. Had Paul believed that the “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who were all “zealous for the law” ought to have distanced themselves from Israel’s sacrificial system, then it would’ve been disingenuous and downright hypocritical for him to have done what we’re told he did (even as a courtesy to James). Such an act would’ve misled an entire company of believing Jews (tens of thousands, in fact), and served to further confirm them in a belief that Paul knew was at odds with their faith in Christ. The very thought is outrageous.

Thus, this single episode in Paul’s apostolic ministry tells us that, in contrast with the belief of many Christians today, the apostle of the nations did not believe that it was wrong for those who comprised the “Israel of God” to continue to participate in Israel’s temple-based ceremonial worship and sacrificial system, or that participation in this system by believing Jews was somehow incompatible with their faith in Christ. And this can only mean that Paul did not believe that Christ’s death had invalidated Israel’s sacrificial system, or that Israel’s sacrificial system was somehow “antichrist” (as the believer quoted earlier erroneously thought it to be). Even after Christ’s death for our sins, there has never been anything inherently wrong with, or “abominable” about, Israel’s sacrificial system, or the temple associated with it. Although Israel’s temple and sacrificial system has no direct relevance to believers in the body of Christ (most of whom have never been under the law and in a covenant-based relationship with God), it is also not something that we can simply dismiss as having no importance or significance whatsoever. It was an important part of God’s relationship with his covenant people in the past, and I believe that it will play an important role in his relationship with Israel in the future as well.