PAUL’S PROMISE OF A NEW ISRAEL
In the new Israel, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). According to Paul, all Christians, in a sense, have become Jews. Paul asked the question and gave the answer, “Did God reject his people? No, He never did! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not abandon his people, whom he has foreknown or predestined.” “At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:1-2, 5-6). To satisfy the Gentiles and give credence to his mission, God replaced the Jews He had not elected with Gentiles He knew would accept Christ (Romans 9:24-33).
To find out what Paul meant, we must look up Ephesians 1:3-5 and 2:4-10. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has endowed us with spiritual gifts in Christ’s heavenly realm. For, He has chosen us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before God. He predetermined in love through Christ and intended in His will for us to be his children. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, but it is of God’s doing. It is not of any work we could brag about. We are God’s handiwork made in the likeness of Christ to do good deeds, that God decided in advance for us to do.” What is Paul conveying to me? God intended for man to be his Son and without sin before the world began and before man fell from grace. God never rejected man; rather, it was man that went off on his own. God knew that man would fall into sin, and He commissioned Christ to deal with it in due time. In Christ man can be reborn and resume the work for which he was intended. There is no wedge between good deeds and grace in Paul; but between sinful deeds and grace (Romans 6:1-4). Jesus explained clearly this way of a productive life in “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 21:33-46). Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
Paul became to Christians what Moses was to the Jews and both men have been misunderstood and misrepresented. In his own words and in his time, he wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly abandoning the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following another gospel. Not that there is another, but that they confuse you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But if we, or even an angel from heaven should preach to you a different gospel, from the one we shared with you, let him be condemned. As we have said before and say it again, if anyone brings to you a gospel that is different from the one you received from us, let him be condemned” (Galatians 1:6-9). The people that troubled Paul and the Gentiles were the circumcision group that demanded that circumcision be made part of the Gospel (Acts 15:1). It created a schism between Jews and Gentiles and even leaders like Peter and Barnabas sided with the Judaisers (Galatians 2). At the Council at Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas received strong support from Peter and the Gentiles were exempt from being circumcised. James, the head of the Church send this message to the Gentiles, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to lay any additional burdens on you’ except what is necessary, ‘That you abstain from meats offered to idols, from blood, from strangled animals and from fornication.’ If you abstain, you shall do well” (Acts 15:28-29). It was a victory for the Gentiles and a new form of Christianity that began to separate itself from Judaism and became more acceptable to the world at large. It was in essence the Gospel according to Paul. He proclaimed his Gospel some time before the others were written.
Who was Paul and what did he believe? “If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6). Paul did more than keep the Ten Commandments. He was proud to be a Jew and believed that he was a member of the chosen people of God by birth, by circumcision, and by leading the lifestyle of a Pharisee, also known as the fathers that build the traditions to preserve Israel’s identity (Galatians 1:13-14). The rituals like washing hands and sacrifices for sins were of absolute necessity for his salvation in an afterlife. Jesus followers no longer followed the precepts of the fathers and that was a capital offence. That was why Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus in order to apprehend Christians that he encountered the light and voice from heaven blinding him and turning him into an instant messenger of Jesus (Acts 9). He believed firmly that his call came from Jesus. “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preach is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus” (Galatians 1:11-17).
Paul became an instant believer and follower of Jesus. He was convinced that Jesus was the Christ; only, his own people did not believe it. The issue was not faith but this Christ that did not fit in with their interpretation of the coming of the Deliverer. There was no way a Prophet from the house of David could come from Galilee (John 7:40-52). Paul’s love for his people was painful. “I have great sorrow and anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my race, the people of Israel.” Not all of the Israelites were lost, for not all were the children of the Promises. “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descendants from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” The heirs of the Promises were born of faith in the selection made by God. He bypassed the natural heirs Ishmael and Esau and He demonstrated His power over Pharaoh who tried to deny God’s chosen to claim their Promises. The amazing contradiction was that God the potter had a blueprint for his selection; only the selected resisted His will and removed them selves out of His design. It was then that God opened the door to others that were willing to be God’s people. The Gentiles that came from different parts of the world began to gather under the Roman umbrella where Christ Jesus united them all. In essence, it was a new Israel based on faith in a person similar to Abraham’s promise to trust in Isaac and not in Ishmael. This was what Paul believed. “Now you, like Isaac, are children of the promise” (Galatians 4:21-31).
Paul described himself as a man for all men in all circumstances and conditions (Philippians 4:10-13). He knew when to use his right as a Roman Citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25) and when not to push his Christian conviction (I Corinthians 9:15-27). “But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do favors for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of what I have done without anyone’s help. But when I preach the Gospel, I cannot take credit for what I did because I was ordered to preach. It will not go well with me if I do not proclaim the Gospel. If I preach willingly, I shall be compensated; if not willingly, I am commanded to carry out orders entrusted to me. What then will I have to show for my preaching? Simply this, that I have preached the Gospel free of my right to charge anyone for proclaiming it. I am a free man; but I became a slave to everyone so that I might win many over for Christ. To the Jews I behave like a Jew so that I can win them. To those that obey the law, I too follow it to win them. Those outside the law, I behave as if I was outside the law to win them –- even though I am not outside the Law of God but under the law of Christ. To the weak I make myself weak. I have become all things to all men that I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel so that I can have a part in seeing it win people for Christ” (I Corinthians 9:15-23).
Paul was a disciplinarian and he did not take his salvation for granted. His body was the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). His entire life for Christ was a race. “In a race, all runners run, but only one wins the prize. Run to win. Before you compete, subject yourself to strict training so that you can endure the race and be crowned a winner; but we run to receive an eternal crown. For that reason, I do not run without a purpose or swing at the air like a boxer; but I harness my life and control it completely so that my behavior does not nullify my preaching and disqualify me from winning the prize” (I Corinthians 9:24-27). The Christian race was not a match up but an individual test. Paul remembered his own people that had taken their relationship with God for granted and lost because they did not follow God’s orders. He wanted his converts to avoid their behavior (I Corinthians 10:1-10). “What has happened to them were examples, written down as warnings for us, in whom the Promises are being fulfilled at long last. If anyone among us thinks he is safe, he should taker special care that he does fall. Man faces temptations that are not beyond his ability to control. God is faithful in providing additional strength to endure and find a way out of man’s trials” (I Corinthians 10:11-13). The Christians most difficult task would be to identify those that seem godly but are not (II Timothy 3:5). False teachers will lead many astray (II Peter 2:1).
Paul never grew tired of reminding his Gentile converts of what happened to Israel. “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘the deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gift and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:25-32). It is the most mysterious and boldest statement a human being has ever made. Universalism has taken this to mean that once man had a sufficient taste of sin he will return to God and be forgiven, including the devil. Unfortunately, all men and women will appear before the supreme judge in the hope that Paul was right. According to Moses, whom Paul quoted, other nations and peoples will make Israel jealous of God (Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19).
Regarding an earthly reign with Jesus and his followers, Paul envisioned the following after the resurrection and judgment, “Then the end will come, after Christ has destroyed all rule, authority and power, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. For Christ must be in control until He has crashed under his feet all enemies. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. With death under his feet, Christ will have completed his mission by being in command of everything except God to who had put Christ in charge. At that time, the Son will himself become subjected to the Father and God will be over everything” (I Corintthians 15:20-28). Until then, Paul had another glimpse of a different kind of antagonist. He called him, “ho anthroupos anomias,” the man set against all Biblical laws. His governing will consist of “apostasia,” a falling away from God. This person will exterminate Judeo-Christian laws and lives. He will terrorize those that adhere to God or Christ and Orthodox Judaism. Paul left us his own account. “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness (anomias) is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy with the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (II Thessalonians 2:1-12).