How do believing Jew and believing gentile co-relate? Why is ‘a bigger tent’ needed? Peter Sammons considers. Part 2, of a 2- part article.
In the previous article we reflected a little on God’s determination to build a big family – needing a bigger tent. We defined in some sense what ‘Israel’ means.
Too small a thing
Sometimes ideas about ‘election’ and “chosen people” can be misused. It is important to stress that God’s election of Israel is primarily a gift that results in service and witness. Israel is to serve God as a distinctive (holy) community (see Deuteronomy 7:6 and Joel 3: 16).This lesson is made powerfully by the Prophet Isaiah who states; “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and to bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6). As we reflect and explore God’s faithful love for Israel and His purposes for the whole of His creation we should be moved to echo Paul’s own sense of mystery, awe and joy as expressed in Romans 11:33 and verse 36: “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out……….For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen”.
Lengthen your cords ….
Amen indeed! Hopefully the foregoing provides a suitable backdrop to the remainder of this article, as we explore God’s purposes to enlarge the extent of His family across planet Earth. In Genesis 35:10, just after re-naming Jacob as Israel, God is clear that through Jacob (now Israel) both a nation and a community of nations will emerge from him, and that “kings” will come from his body – i.e. as his descendants.
Whilst this is certainly true and traceable in the Bible, it is King Jesus whom most Christians today “see” as being referenced here – King Jesus, David’s Son Who reigns forever on David’s throne. In Isaiah chapter 54 we see a prophecy of the future “glory” of Zion, this nation that is Holy to the Lord. The prophecy is specific, that Israel will (verse 2) enlarge the place of her tent. The prophecy is: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (Isa 54:2-3).
Whilst some understood that as simply the enlargement of the lands of Israel at the expense of her immediate neighbours, it seems that the real prophecy relates to the expansion of Israel to be a “blessing” to all the nations across the face of this planet. The theme reemerges in Isaiah 55:5 where Zion is told “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”
This theme is continued in Isaiah 56 where, having already stated that hugely famous verse “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (verse 7 – which was quoted so devastatingly by Jesus in his confrontation with the Temple authorities of His day – see Matthew 21:13 and Mark 11:17) so in verse 8 the prophet is specific: “The Sovereign LORD declares — he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” We can say emphatically, that God’s plan is to enlarge His “house” and to expand it across all points of the compass. And we praise God for that!
We remain with Isaiah a little longer; in chapter 52 the spiritual triumph of Zion is flagged up. vv7 ff – others will declare “your God reigns”. Salvation is for “all the nations” (v 10) whilst vv 13-15 introduce us to the suffering servant (Jesus) whose crucifixion is so compellingly foretold in Isaiah chapter 53, that harrowingly clear statement of the penal substitution of Jesus for all mankind (53:4-6 in particular). So the crucifixion leads naturally into the reality that Israel’s tent will be “enlarged” (54:2-3). Perhaps in today’s politically correct world, the obvious spiritual interpretation of Isaiah 54:3 may jar with some.
But for others it is a simple confirmation and affirmation of the reality that Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 (the so-called great commission to His church): the reality is that true biblical Christianity has indeed “dispossessed” the pagan religions of so many Gentile nations, where those nations have in large measure turned towards Jesus the Messiah. So we can say that in Isaiah chapters 52-56 there is a congruence of themes: Jesus is at the centre of everything. God’s eternal love for Israel is re-stated, yet the efficacy of the sacrifice of the suffering servant spreads far and wide. God’s TRUE family is to be enlarged – across all nations.
Enlargement Theology as espoused, particularly, by Rev Alex Jacob is more than simply a recognition of the thorough inadequacies of both Replacement Theology and its ugly twin Two-Covenant Theology. Enlargement Theology is in the end a useful explanation and a clear and compelling nomenclature of God’s covenantal purposes – to enlarge the Abraham covenant (which promises that Abraham’s offspring will become a great nation to the blessing of all Mankind) and to enlarge the Moses covenant (which promises that the Hebrews will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation) so as to cover ALL people who will become grafted-in to God’s elect by placing their trust and faith in Jesus the Hebrew Messiah.
Once again we are compelled to say “Praise God!” Enlargement Theology, whilst emphatically not a systematic theology in its own right, is first and foremost a helpful exploration of the reality that a small ‘tent’ is enlarged to become big enough to accommodate all those chosen. Whilst Alex Jacob intends his term to be usable in contradistinction and in opposition to “Replacement” and “Two Covenant”, his term surely has wider applicability as it also reflects God’s ultimate salvific purpose – that of bringing-in those who are outside.
Scripture certainly backs up this theme of enlargement – but always remembering a simple truth: God’s family is enlarged by those who place their trust and faith in Jesus, with all that this implies in terms of lifestyle, witness and practical service. Witness not backed by reformed lifestyle and practical service is meaningless. Practical service not backed by witness and reformed lifestyle is equally useless. We might add for completeness that a reformed lifestyle not backed by loving discipleship of Jesus will also ultimately fail. God first and foremost expects love for His Son, Who died that we might thereby be saved.
Alex Jacob’s book explores the truth that in God’s purposes there are three inter-connected communities that live, to a large extent, in ignorance and mistrust of one another. Today we call, collectively, the true disciples of Jesus “Christians”, although we should note that this was not the earliest, nor the preferred, term of those earliest believers in the Messiah. They called themselves the people of the Way – surely a subject for a future article! The three interconnected communities that live, spiritually speaking, adjacent to one another are:
- “Christians” (true believers in Jesus the Messiah)
- Jews (those who are culturally and ethnically Jewish – howsoever defined, but who by and large have not received Jesus (Yeshua) as Lord)
- Messianic Jews – ethnically Jewish and sometimes culturally Jewish too, who have placed their trust in Yeshua and received Him as Lord.
People of The Way
Alex Jacob affirms that, whilst Messianic Jews are certainly a part of the true church, there is no necessity for them to style themselves as “Christians”, especially as the term “Christian” to most Jews has a single and clear connotation – persecution. Alex Jacob depicts these as three overlapping circles, where Jews and Christians as defined above live in isolation and – it must be said – with a degree of mutual suspicion which is damaging to both communities. Messianic Jews provide a potential “bridge” between the two, and enable a richer and more nuanced understanding of God’s salvific purposes, to enlarge His tent to accommodate people from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 7:9).
We might add that, whilst the “bridge” suggests a traffic between the communities, in terms of the clear teaching of the apostle Paul, the relational flow for Jews needs to be towards Yeshua as they, too, come into His Kingdom and take their place as His people – ethnically different, culturally different, but exactly the same in terms of their relationship to God as sinners saved by grace.
As we look at the simple diagram below, with its three overlapping circles, we need continually to ask ourselves:
- what do these groups share in common?
- what are the ‘points of departure’ for these groups?
- how can “Christians” better present Jesus to all Israel – who are yet to be saved (Romans 11:26)?
“Enlargement” is a rich theme throughout Scripture. Arguably it is found on every page, precisely in the same way that we find Jesus on every page. But the “high points” of this topography are found in these scriptures:
- The Abraham Covenant – Genesis 12:2-3
- The Moses Covenant – Exodus 19:5-6
- The ever-lasting covenant – Isaiah 55:1-6
- The “great commission” of Jesus – Matthew 28:19
- Jew and Gentile tread the same path to salvation – Romans 10: 8 -13
- Gentiles grafted-in to Covenantal promises – Romans 11:11 – 21
- In the New Jerusalem are found those from every nation – Revelation 7:9 – 10
The other side of the coin ………..
There is a real sense that we can discern an enlargement theology relating to Hell. Isaiah chapter 5 speaks of the laying low of Israel, as the prophet foretells national disaster awaiting the chosen People who have chosen to rebel against their God. That is the primary message of the chapter. However I believe we are not stretching the point too far when we apply Isaiah 5:14 to the wider world and to its eternal destiny: 5:14 “Therefore death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and their masses with all their brawlers and revelers”. Eternal destruction makes no distinction between the ruling classes and the “masses”. Sadly death can always make room for more! It can expand its realm seemingly without limit.
The ubiquitous “grave” or its associated “hell” will be enlarged to accommodate all those who reject God’s ways – who refuse, indeed, to be the people of THE Way! God’s ways are summarized in one word – Jesus. Reject Jesus and you expand, by one, the number of souls in Hell. The prophet Habakkuk seems to echo this theme. This prophecy is a discourse between Habakkuk and God, as the prophet asks God why He seems to tolerate evil, where amongst the Chosen People unrighteousness seems to prevail. (We should note, however, that this prophecy relates to the wider world as much as it does to Israel). Habakkuk complains to God about the injustices in the world and God’s seeming slowness in executing judgment – a theme as vital today as it was 2,400 years ago when Habakkuk struggled with these huge questions.
In Habakkuk 2:5, the prophet reflects upon the injustice of the ruling classes. In 2:5 God provides an interim answer as He reflects back the truth of Habakkuk’s complaint. God states unequivocally that “he” (presumably the rulers and the unrighteous of society) is “puffed up” (verse 4) and all too full of himself. This arrogant ruler is never at rest, and he is “as greedy as the grave”. What a true phrase! In full: “He is arrogant and never at rest; as greedy as the grave. And like death he is never satisfied. He gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples”. Perhaps in this passage there is a sub-text – perhaps the “he” that is referred to here is in reality Satan himself; the devil who wants us to live in his ways, in contradistinction to Jesus the Messiah Who commands that we should live in His ways. But God emphasizes that there will be an end-time (2:3) and that those who are “puffed up” (verse 4) and the “arrogant” (verse 5) are followers of another, who gathers to himself victims from “all the nations” and “all the peoples”. The devil’s greatest triumph is to fill the grave (Hell). In a very real sense, to follow the devil, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is to conspire in a death cult.
But the good news trumps it!
That is the bad news, but the good news trumps it! The good news
is quite simply that God is on your side! His first purpose and His primary objective is salvation, not damnation. God desires that we shall live in righteousness (Romans 1:17), and this is a “gospel” or a “good news” of righteousness. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14). As if to answer completely Habakkuk’s impatient demand for action, Paul reminds us that there is a reason for God’s delay in executing judgment and His enforcement of righteousness. It is quite simple. 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance”.
Once again we have to say “Praise God”, as we soberly reflect that, one day, time will run out. God is patient with us, yet He will not tarry forever. One day He will return again not as Saviour, but as Judge. We might add, for any one of us, this same God might return not at some indeterminate or vague point in the future – He might return for you or for me this very night! And so we must finally echo the words of Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church. “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says: “in the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you”. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour. Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6: 1-2).
Yes. We can be assured that God’s plan was always to enlarge His tent, to make it big enough for all who will own His Son as Lord and as Saviour. Genuinely, there is a theology of enlargement at work here. For those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord, as Saviour and as Friend, we make the urgent plea – THIS is the day of salvation. Delay today carries the potential for eternal loss.
Peter Sammons © 2024 www.lighthouse-haverhill.co.uk