NEW COVENANT GEO-POLITICISM
(Part 5 of
"Dispensationalism, Israel, and Scripture")
We are continuing
our study of the geo-political implications of the Israel-blessing
prophecies of the Old Testament. Few questions are as important
in the covenantal-dispensational debate. Though Progressive Dispensationalism
has made enormous emendations in the dispensational system, Israel
still remains as a key to dispensational theology of all varieties.
Hence, my present series on the question of Israel is already
at number five.
I will keep the series at fewer than 666 entries. On Sunday, September
14, 1997, in Greenville, South Carolina, the major grocery chain
in town had to run an expensive two full-page ad quieting rumors
that their "BonusCard" worked with 666. Somehow some
alert dispensationalist noted that if you took the first six digits
of the twelve digit card number and found the square root, it
would come up to 666.something. [For instance, my BonusCard number
is 444013913795. Try it. And fear!] Not explained were: (1) Why
you would choose only half the number to work with. (2) Why you
would take the square root of that half. (3) Why the square root
comes out to a few decimal points over 666. (4) Why you can buy
groceries there without the card. (5) Why the grocery store managers
did not persecute you and kill you if you did not use it. I mention
all of this because I don’t want to have to defend my integrity
again! After all, one of my books has the words on the cover:
"The Beast of Revelation Dr. Kenneth Gentry"!)
ISRAEL AND PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM
important in the Israel debate is the question of the geo-political
future of Israel. Our point of departure for the last two issues
has been Progressive Dispensationalist Bruce Ware’s important
chapter in Blaising and Bock’s <Dispensationalism, Israel and
the Church> (1992). He (and other dispensationalists) see the
geo-political prophecies as determinative for a biblical eschatology
and proof of the dispensational system. Israel must be regathered
to the land as a nation in an earthly-political millennium, according
to his exposition of such passages as Jeremiah’s New Covenant
In last month’s
response to Ware I began considering his first major argument
for dispensationalism: "What do we make of the territorial
and political aspects of the new-covenant promise that clearly
states that God will restore Israel to its land in prosperity
and productivity and unite it again as one nation (Israel and
Judah) whose center of rulership is Jerusalem?" (DIC, p.
93) I showed in that article that ultimately the new covenant
church becomes the new Jerusalem, taking over and expanding the
Old Testament idea of the "city of God."
Now I want
us to note that the universal expansion of God’s blessings --
transforming the people of God from one nation to all nations
-- is effected by a remarkable means: Christ Jesus is the ultimate
fulfillment of the land, city, and seed promise! The Old Testament
promises are personalized and "Messianized" -- as well
as universalized -- in Christ. We are particularly interested
in the promises relating to Jerusalem, in that the new covenant
in Jeremiah 31:31-40 expressly mentions God’s dealing with that
glorious city. Let me explain what I mean by this biblio-theological
I showed that the focus of covenantal promise narrowed from the
(larger) land of Israel to the (smaller) city of Jerusalem. The
city of Jerusalem rises to the forefront of eschatological prophecy
in the biblico-theological development of the Old Testament. The
idea of a city, remember, is that of a center of civilization.
The new Jerusalem supplants the old Jerusalem as the center of
a holy civilization; it gives birth to Christendom, especially
as centered in the church. Ironically, though the focus narrows
from land to city, the city has to be enlarged so as to welcome
in all nations of the world.
In this edition
of my newsletter I will show that the means of this transformation
is through the ultimate fulfillment of Jerusalem: the Lord Jesus
Christ. That is, in the new covenant era of fulfillment the focus
of covenantal promise narrows even further: not just from Promised
Land (Israel) to its capitol city (Jerusalem), but from the capitol
city to its King (Jesus the Messiah).
structuring the historico-redemptive reality of much of the New
Testament is the demise of historical Jerusalem and the anticipation
of her utter destruction in A.D. 70. (Perhaps the best analysis
available on this topic is Peter W. L. Walker’s recent book <Jesus
and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem>
As I begin
I will note the significance of the movement away from local Jerusalem
in the New Testament. Much evidence could be brought to the debate
in this regard. Due to space limitations, I will focus on two
illustrations, one from Luke’s writing, the other from Matthew.
We will see that God rejects historical Jerusalem as the center
of his purposes, even though his purpose continues in a NEW Jerusalem,
as per the new covenant.
Here I will
focus primarily on Luke’s writings because of their being more
obviously theologically structured in this particular regard.
But both Matthew and Luke indicate an intentional, divinely-ordained
movement AWAY from Jerusalem.
Early in Matthew
the announcement of Jesus’s birth causes fear and dread in Jerusalem:
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days
of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we
have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem
with him" (Matt. 2:1-3). Instead of rejoicing at the birth
of the Messiah, Jerusalem fears. Later Matthew records Jesus’s
limited focus on Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24): she has a special
and blessed opportunity (Matt. 13:16-17) that is highlighted in
his presentation to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:4-5; 23:37).
opens with Jesus being mentioned in the context of Jerusalem (Matt.
2:1-3), at the end of the Gospel he appears on a mountain in Galilee
of the gentiles (Matt. 28:16). As Matthew closes, Jesus gives
a commission in Galilee (rather than Judah, where Jerusalem is
located). In that commission he directs his disciples to reach
out to "all the nations" (Matt. 28:19), not just Israel.
He does this after Jerusalem’s leadership rejects and crucifies
him (Matt. 27:1-2, 12, 20-24, 41-43). I will return to Matthaen
Jerusalem imagery shortly.
Gospel we find a famous thematic movement: beginning in chapter
9 Jesus resolutely "sets his face toward Jerusalem."
Luke clearly emphasizes Jesus’s determined movement toward Jerusalem
as his goal. Jesus is intent upon entering Jerusalem to be formally
presented to Israel’s leaders. Note the following Lucan samples:
"Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be
received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem."
"They did not receive Him, because His face was set for the
journey to Jerusalem."
"He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying
"Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day
following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside
"Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through
the midst of Samaria and Galilee."
"Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, Behold,
we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written
by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished."
"When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem."
on Jesus’s relentless and determined movement to Jerusalem, Luke’s
Gospel ends with him in Jerusalem and directing his disciples
to remain there for awhile: "‘Behold, I send the Promise
of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until
you are endued with power from on high.’ And He led them out as
far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now
it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from
them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned
to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple
praising and blessing God. Amen" (Luke 24:49-53).
Luke’s second volume, Acts, a new movement begins. Acts opens
in Jerusalem where Luke’s Gospel ends. But its movement, both
thematically and chronologically, is AWAY from Jerusalem: "But
you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea
and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). In
fact, Acts ends with Paul in Rome: "Now when we came to Rome,
the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard;
but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who
guarded him" (Acts 28:16).
emphasis on Jerusalem’s sin and coming destruction suggests the
theological rationale for such a movement away from Jerusalem.
Interestingly, Luke is also unique among the Gospels for containing
FOUR separate oracles from Jesus regarding Jerusalem’s destruction:
"And He said to them, Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast
out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third
day I shall be perfected.’  Nevertheless I must journey today,
tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet
should perish outside of Jerusalem.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to
her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a
hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!
 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I
say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you
say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’"
"Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 
saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day,
the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from
your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies
will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you
in on every side,  and level you, and your children within
you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon
another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."
"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know
that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea
flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart,
and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these
are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may
be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those
who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great
distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they
will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into
all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until
the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
"And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women
who also mourned and lamented Him.  But Jesus, turning to
them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep
for yourselves and for your children.  For indeed the days
are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs
that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’  Then they
will begin ‘to say to the mountains, Fall on us! and to the hills,
Cover us!’  For if they do these things in the green wood,
what will be done in the dry?"
Now what are
we to make of all of this?
significance lies in her being the "city of God": "There
is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the
holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High" (Psa. 46:4).
"Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!"
is the City of God because the Lord there establishes his temple,
which is the house of his very presence: "Then Solomon spoke:
"The LORD said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely
built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever"
(1 Kgs. 8:12-13). "Then Solomon sent to Hiram king of Tyre,
saying: ‘As you have dealt with David my father, and sent him
cedars to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me’"
(2 Chron. 2:3). "I have surely built You an exalted house,
and a place for You to dwell in forever" (2 Chron. 6:2).
See also: Ezekiel 43:6-7 and Habakkuk 2:20.
is the City of God wherein God dwells in his temple. So when Jerusalem
is destroyed in the Old Testament Babylonian Captivity, when her
inhabitants are cast out, they are effectively CAST FROM THE PRESENCE
OF GOD: "For because of the anger of the LORD this happened
in Jerusalem and Judah, that He finally cast them out from His
presence" (2 Kgs. 24:20; Jer. 52:3).
then, represents the place of God’s presence, the place where
his people meet to worship him and rejoice before him. But Jesus
prophesies the removal of Jerusalem and her temple. Jerusalem
and the temple -- as typological elements from the old covenant
order -- are redundant in the new covenant administration. As
I will now show: Jesus fulfills the significance of the temple
and Jerusalem as the presence of God.
Jesus’s prophetic name: "‘Behold, the virgin shall be with
child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’
which is translated, ‘God with us’" (Matt. 1:23). His prophetic
name is "God with us." Eventually the disciples will
leave Jerusalem with a greater, more blessed promise of God’s
ever abiding presence in Christ: "Lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). His messianic
post-ascension ministry is to remain with the disciples until
the end. In the Old Testament economy, God was with Israel in
the Temple in their capitol city. But all of this is changing.
23 Jesus looks at the temple, the house that was supposed to be
the "house of God." Historically it was the dwelling
place of God, for Jesus notes: "He who swears by the temple,
swears by it and by HIM WHO DWELLS IN IT" (Matt. 23:21).
But then he utters these theologically significant, redemptively
tragic words: "See! YOUR house is left to you desolate"
(Matt. 23:38). By Jesus’s final judgment, no longer is the temple
God’s house, but "your" house.
And how is
it "desolate"? When Jesus leaves, their house becomes
"desolate": "See! YOUR house is left to you desolate;
for I say to you, you shall see ME no more till you say, ‘Blessed
is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’" THEN JESUS WENT
OUT and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to
show Him the buildings of the temple" (Matt. 23:38-24:1).
Jesus is the new locus of God among men, not the Temple, not Jerusalem.
John the Baptist as the one who will "restore all things":
"Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming
first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah
has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever
they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at
their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them
of John the Baptist" (Matt. 17:11-13). How does John the
Baptist do this? How does he "restore all things"? Especially
since he presents Christ who prophesies the destruction of the
temple and Jerusalem -- important elements of the Old Testament
In the New
Testament we find that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, Jerusalem,
and the temple. The Gospel writers intentionally indicate this
with their theological handling of the Old Testament imagery and
their applying it to Christ.
2:18, Matthew relates "Rachel’s weeping" to the massacre
of the babies in Herod’s attempt to kill the Christ child. In
Jeremiah 31:15 the poetic imagery of "Rachel’s weeping for
her children" expresses the lamentation over the Babylonian
Captivity and the fall of Israel. Her "children" are
no more. But now the crying for the children is because of the
Christ child (though he himself escaped Herod). Indeed, it is
a typological "fulfillment" in Christ: "Then was
fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘Then
was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great
mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more"’" (Matt. 2:17-18).
As a consequence
of Herod’s evil attempt on Jesus’s young life, Jesus’s history
providentially re-enacts Israel’s history: "Now when they
had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph
in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother,
flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod
will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’ When he arose, he took
the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,
and was there until the death of Herod, THAT IT MIGHT BE FULFILLED
which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out
of Egypt I called My Son’" (Matt. 2:13-15). Jesus goes down
into Egypt, as did Israel. He then comes up out of Israel, re-tracing
4 we find Jesus once again living out the pattern of Israel. There
Jesus goes off into the wilderness to be tempted forty days (Matt.
4:1-11). This directly reflects Israel’s time in the wilderness
for forty years. "So the LORD’S anger was aroused against
Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years,
until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the
LORD was gone" (Num 32:13). In a quick reference Stephen
ties together Israel’s coming up out of Egypt and her forty year
wandering in the wilderness: "He brought them out, after
he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the
Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years" (Acts 7:36).
God’s "servant" in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 16:13;
Psa. 136:22; Isa. 41:8; 44:1, 22; 49:3; Jer. 30:10; 46:27; cp.
Luke 1:54). A "servant" passage Jews apply to Israel
finds fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament: "That it
might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
‘Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My
soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will
declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out,
nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed
He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He
sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will
trust’" (Matt. 12:17-21).
John the Baptist’s "restoring all things" was not a
failure. Nor was his restorative work put on hold. For in Jesus
all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). All the
promises for Israel, the land, the city, the temple, find their
perfect fulfillment in Christ.
Is not Christ’s
resurrection a rebuilding of the temple? "So the Jews answered
and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these
things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It
has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise
it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His
body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples
remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the
Scripture and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:18-22).
In fact, Christ’s
resurrection serves as the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL AND JERUSALEM,
as well -- for Christ is the True Israel. In this connection,
let me cite once again Matthew 17:11-13, along with two introductory
as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying,
‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from
the dead. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the
scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said
to them, Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.
But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not
know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son
of Man is also about to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples
understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist."
Here in Matthew
17 John the Baptist is identified with Elijah who was to usher
in the time of Israel’s restoration (cf. Mal. 4:5-6). The long
awaited restoration of Israel comes not with political might and
public effect, but with the redemptive work of Jesus in his death,
burial, and resurrection.
Now we see
the significance of the hope for the return of Israel from exile
as it finds fulfillment in Christ. When Matthew relates Rachel’s
weeping to Christ’s experience, he cites from a passage dealing
with Israel’s restoration from captivity (Jer. 31). When he draws
the Rachel reference into his history of Jesus, he brings with
it also the surrounding text-meaning. He draws it from a context
of restoration hope, which happens to be the very context of the
new covenant promise: Jeremiah 31. In fact, Jesus’s reference
to the "new covenant" in his blood draws upon Jeremiah’s
new covenant passage (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20).
scholars have also noted the mountain-motif as relevant to the
restoration-concept in the Gospels. Terrence L. Donaldson, in
his doctoral dissertation from Toronto School of Theology, traces
the mountain imagery of the Old Testament into the Gospel record
(Donaldson, <Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology>
[Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1985)].
Part III of
Donaldson’s dissertation contains the following chapter titles:
"The Mountain of Temptation," "The Mountain of
Teaching," "The Mountain of Feeding," "The
Mountain of Transfiguration," "The Mountain of Olives
and the Olivet Discourse," "The Mountain of Comissioning."
He shows Matthew’s intent in fulfilling the Mount Zion eschatology
of the Old Testament, a fulfillment personalized in Christ.
is the new Mt. Zion, as the Jewish converts who were in danger
of apostatizing were warned in Hebrews 12:22-24: "But you
have come to MOUNT ZION and to the city of the living God, the
heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the
general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered
in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men
made perfect, TO JESUS the Mediator of the NEW COVENANT, and to
the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of
Zion is prophetically
significant as the place of Messiah’s enthronement by the Lord
God, an enthronement leading to victory: "Yet I have set
My King on My holy hill of Zion.... Ask of Me, and I will give
You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth
for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron;
you shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’" (Psa.
2:6, 8-9; cp. Psa. 53:6; 10:2; Isa. 2:3; 24:23; 28:16; 34:8; 35:10;
46:13; Joel 2:1; 2:32; 3:16; Oba. 1:17; Mic. 4:2; 4:7; Zech. 8:3).
One of the verses for the glorification of Zion is applied to
Christ’s Triumphal Entry (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5).
With the prophesied
dominance of Mt. Zion, Israel’s kingdom will draw in the gentiles.
Thus Jesus frequently uses the Greek term "sunagoge"
(synagogue, gathering together) to express the gathering in of
God’s people in him (Matt. 3:2; 12:30; 13:2; 18:20; 24:31; 25:26,
32). Indeed, Christ is the chief-cornerstone laid in Zion (cp.
Isa. 29:8 and Matt. 21:42).
Jesus’s coming and his redemptive labor, we find the fulfillment
of Israel -- a fulfillment which will gather in the gentiles,
just as the Old Testament promised. Consequently, the land and
Jerusalem promises need not await a future, literal fulfillment.
They have come to pass in Jesus Christ in the first century. The
progressive dispensational theology errs with classic and revised
dispensationalism in attempting to continue typological categories
into the new covenant schema.