Monday, October 17, 2016

A Study on the Two Evangels (Part 2)

Two “Salvation Programs” 

Concerning his earthly ministry, we read in Romans 15:8 that Christ was “the Servant of the Circumcision, for the sake of the truth of God, to confirm the patriarchal promises.” Commenting on this verse, A.E. Knoch noted the following:

“Christ never went outside the land of Israel. He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Paul, on the contrary, was not called until he had left the land of Israel. He was sent to the Uncircumcision. It is of the utmost importance that we recognize these distinctive ministries, for the distinction has been virtually ignored. Christ is taken as the minister to the nations and Paul is forgotten. Yet throughout the Lord's public life He emphasized the fact that His mission was to Israel exclusively. A few proselytes, indeed, received blessing, but they were counted as one with the favored nation. The Syro-Phoenician woman had to take the place of an outcast before she could get a crumb from Israel's board. Paul is a direct contrast to all this.”

In contrast with the view articulated by Knoch above, it would seem that most Christians today do not see Paul’s ministry as being a "direct contrast" to the ministry of Christ while he was on earth. Popular Christian belief notwithstanding, I side with Knoch on this subject. The earthly ministry of Christ and that of Paul were quite different in nature; they were not merely different phases of the same program of salvation. But in order to appreciate why this was the case, we must understand that, during his earthly ministry, Christ was confirming what Paul called the “patriarchal promises” (and, of course, we must further understand what these "patriarchal promises" were!).

The promises that Christ confirmed as the “Servant of the Circumcision” were the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – i.e., the promises that are commonly referred to as the “Abrahamic Covenant.” This covenant is referred to as the “covenant of circumcision” by Stephen in Acts 7:8, since circumcision was the sign or token of this covenant (Gen.17:9-13). As Clyde Pilkington points out in his book God’s Holy Nation (p. 29), the Abrahamic Covenant is “the basis and foundation of National Israel.” Pilkington goes on to note that “the original covenant was laid forth in Genesis 12:1-3” and then later “confirmed and amplified in Genesis 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-18.” 

In accordance with this foundational covenant, all the nations and kindreds of the earth are to be blessed through Abraham’s seed – i.e., those constituting the nation of Israel (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18; cf. Acts 3:25-26). But Israel must first be saved from her sins before the nation can be a blessing to the rest of the world (Isaiah 59:20-60:1-3; Zech. 8:13, 22-23). In his book Things That Differ (1996), C.R. Stam explains (p. 246), “The great Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed the blessing of the Gentiles through Israel; therefore, Israel first must be saved and blessed. The whole prophetic program is founded on this great covenant.”

In other words, Israel cannot fulfill its prophesied destiny as the chosen nation through which the rest of the nations of the earth will be blessed until it has become a nation constituted by Israelites who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18), and whose righteousness is “super-abounding more” than that of the scribes and Pharisees who lived in Christ’s day (Matt. 5:17-20). That is, it must be a nation constituted by Israelites who have been “begotten of God” (1 John 3:7-10; 5:1-4, 13, 18; cf. John 3:3-8) – Israelites who have been freed from their sins by the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5), and on whose hearts God has inscribed his laws (Heb. 8:8-12).

This fact explains why Christ, in order to confirm the patriarchal promises, had to keep his focus on Israel, and was able to declare that he “was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). This also explains why Christ would charge his disciples as follows: “Into a road of the nations you may not pass forth, and into a city of the Samaritans you may not be entering. Yet be going rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Only after the nation of Israel becomes constituted by a people fully invigorated by God's spirit will it then become the channel through which blessings may flow to the rest of the nations, in accordance with the patriarchal promises.

Even the so-called “great commission” that Christ gave to his apostles before his ascension presupposed that all the nations and families of the earth would be blessed through a pardoned and believing nation of Israel. As the ones destined to reign over the twelve tribes of Israel in the eon to come, the twelve apostles (with Matthias taking the place of Judas shortly after Christ’s ascension) became the official representatives of the future redeemed nation (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30). As such, the twelve were commissioned to herald, in Christ’s name, “repentance for the pardon of sins, to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Only after Israel had repented and believed in the name of Christ (and thus received the pardon of sins) could they then go into “all the world” (Mark 16:15) and “disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to be keeping all” of what Christ directed them (Matt. 28:19).

Contrary to their commission-based expectation, the nation of Israel - as a nation - failed to respond positively to the heralding of the twelve apostles with repentance and faith in Christ. Consequently, rather than being able to fulfill their prophetically-based commission - which was to take them from Jerusalem to “all the nations” in the rest of the world - we find the twelve apostles and their co-laborers having to confine their ministry to Jews and proselytes dwelling in the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and to those among the twelve tribes who had been scattered “in the dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1). Their ministry was, in other words, limited to those among (and those closely associated with) “the circumcision” (Gal. 2:8).

It is after the twelve apostles have found themselves unable to fulfill their worldwide commission from Christ that we then find God doing something completely unexpected: God, in accord with his own secret “purpose of the eons,” raises up another apostle to be the “apostle of the nations,” and to bring an “evangel of the Uncircumcision” to the nations. The ministry of the apostle Paul to the nations should, therefore, be understood as a radical departure from the commission given to the twelve. It simply cannot be seen as a continuation of their prophetic and promise-based program.

In contrast with Christ’s earthly ministry and that of his twelve apostles, Paul’s ministry as the apostle of the nations did not “confirm the patriarchal promises.” When Paul’s administration began, the nations were not being blessed on the basis of the commission that Christ gave the twelve apostles. Thus, the very fact that Paul was made an apostle, and was laboring at all, is proof that he was not (as some have erroneously asserted) laboring under a “Jewish, prophetic economy.”

Paul knew that God’s prophetic purpose concerning Israel as a nation would not begin to find fulfillment until “the complement of the nations” had entered (Rom. 11:25). Until this time comes, “callousness, in part” is to remain on Israel. Paul also described the calloused condition of the majority of Israelites (and thus Israel as a nation) during the present era of world-conciliation as “their casting away” (Rom. 11:15), which implies that this state of affairs involving Israel will continue for as long as people from among the nations are being called out by God to become members of the body of Christ.

This interval during which Israel, as a nation, is “calloused” and “cast away” and people from among the nations are being saved through faith in Paul’s evangel is referred to by Paul as a “most acceptable era” and “day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:18-21; 6:1-2). And there is no indication that Paul had any idea how long this present period will last; as far as Paul knew, the snatching away could’ve taken place during the lifetime of some of the saints to whom he wrote.

When this event takes place and the body of Christ is removed from the earth, the present administration of the grace of God will come to a close. And with the ushering in of the final, 70th heptad prophesied in Daniel 9 and the resumption of God’s “prophetic program” involving Israel, the evangel that was entrusted to the apostle Peter – the evangel of the Circumcision - will, once again, be the only evangel by which people will be saved.

Two callings, two expectations and (therefore) two evangels

What sometimes gets left out of the discussion when the subject involves the question of how many evangels there are is the related issue of a person’s “calling” and “expectation.” As I hope to make clear, believing the truth of a particular evangel is one thing; being called through the evangel to the expectation that pertains to it is another thing entirely. One can do the former without the latter also being the case. Once we understand that not every believer has the same exact eonian “expectation” – and that it is by hearing and believing a particular evangel that one is “called” by God to their particular expectation - it becomes much easier to make sense of why there would be two distinct evangels (as well as how a person could believe the truth constituting both evangels while only having one eonian expectation).

There are a number of verses in the Greek scriptures in which the calling and/or expectation of a believer is referred to. Here are just some examples from the letters of Paul:

“I am marveling that thus, swiftly, you are transferred from that which calls you in the grace of Christ, to a different evangel, which is not another, except it be that some who are disturbing you want also to distort the evangel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7).

“Contend the ideal contest of the faith. Get hold of eonian life, for which you were called, and you avow the ideal avowal in the sight of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

“You may not be ashamed, then, of the testimony of our Lord, nor yet of me, His prisoner, but suffer evil with the evangel in accord with the power of God, Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian…” (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

“Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also. (Rom. 8:28-30)

[God is] making known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He makes ready before for glory -- us, whom He calls also, not only out of the Jews, but out of the nations also (Rom. 9:23-24)

In Ephesians 1:17-18, Paul prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may be giving you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, the eyes of your heart having been enlightened, for you to perceive what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment among the saints…”

Paul referred to this calling and expectation again a little later in this letter: “I am entreating you, then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit with the tie of peace: one body and one spirit, according as you were called also with one expectation of your calling” (Eph. 4:1-4).

We find in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 that those “designated beforehand” for the eonian destiny referred to above are called through Paul’s evangel: “Now we ought to be thanking God always concerning you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, seeing that God prefers you from the beginning for salvation, in holiness of the spirit and faith in the truth, into which He also calls us through our evangel, for the procuring of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Before the “casting away” of the majority of unbelieving Israelites (Rom. 11:12-15) and the start of the present (and un-prophesied) “administration of the grace of God” that was given to Paul, the only expectation to which people were being called was that which pertains to God’s covenant people, Israel, and their distinct role and allotment in the eons to come. Peter (whose letters are addressed to Jewish believers) referred to this calling in the following verses:

“As obedient children, not configuring to the former desires, in your ignorance, but, according as He Who calls you is holy, you also become holy in all behavior, because it is written that, Holy shall you be, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15).

“But if, doing good and suffering, you will be enduring, this is grace with God. For for this were you called, seeing that Christ also suffered for your sakes, leaving you a copy, that you should be following up in the footprints of Him Who does no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth…” (1 Pet. 2:20-22)

“Now the God of all grace, Who calls you into His eonian glory in Christ, while briefly suffering, He will be adjusting, establishing, firming, founding you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

We read about this calling and eonian expectation in the letter to the Hebrews as well:

“And therefore [Christ] is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that at a death occurring for the deliverance of the transgressions of those under the first covenant, those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment” (Heb. 9:15).

In Hebrews 3:1 the author referred to the calling of these believing Israelites as a “celestial calling”: “Whence, holy brethren, partners of a celestial calling, consider the Apostle and Chief Priest of our avowal, Jesus, Who is faithful to Him Who makes Him, as Moses also was in His whole house.”

We must not understand from the expression “celestial calling” that the eonian expectation of those to whom the author wrote is in (or “among”) the celestials. In another article I’ve defended the position that the eonian destiny of the saints in the body of Christ is heavenly, or celestial, in location, while the eonian destiny of all other saints throughout the ages – including those constituting the “Israel of God” - is terrestrial, or earthly, in location. Concerning the “celestial calling” referred to in Hebrews 3:1, A.E. Knoch remarks as follows in his commentary:

“It is not easy, in English, to distinguish between the celestial calling, here referred to, and the “calling above” (Phil. 3:14) of Paul’s latest revelation. That which is celestial as to location is often spoken of in Ephesians as our blessing among the celestials (1:3), His seat (1:20), our seat (2:6), the sovereignties and authorities (3:16), our conflict (6:12). This is in the dative case, which gives us the place in which anything is found. It occurs once in Hebrews (12:22). The genitive denotes source or character…the celestial calling [of Hebrews 3:1] is from the ascended Christ, not to heaven, but from heaven. We [those in the body of Christ] are called to heaven, the Hebrews are addressed from heaven.”

Those who are called to the expectation associated with Israel’s eonian destiny are called by God through the “evangel of the Circumcision,” and - after believing this evangel - come to comprise what I believe Paul had in mind when he referred to the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), “Israel” (Rom. 9:6), and the “chosen remnant” (Romans 11:5-7). But of what truth does this evangel consist? 

Part Three:

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