Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Significance of Israel in Jesus' Advent

At church this morning, we sang Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”  See here to read the lyrics, and here to listen to the song.

The song contains a line that calls Jesus “Israel’s strength and consolation.”  But how was Jesus Israel’s strength and consolation?  Come to think of it, the song “O Come, O Come Immanuel” asks Jesus to “come and ransom Is-RA-EL.”  But how did Jesus ransom Israel?  Jesus went to heaven, and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed some decades later.

I’ve wondered how exactly Jesus fits into the hopes and expectations of the Hebrew Bible, hopes and expectations that concern God’s deliverance of the nation of Israel from exile and from her oppressors.  Here are some solutions that people have proposed:

—-Jesus offered Israel the Kingdom, which would include deliverance from the Romans, and Israel rejected it.  There are many dispensationalists who offer this explanation.  There may be something to it, for Peter in Acts 3:19-21 exhorts Israel to repent so that God might send times of refreshment through Jesus the Messiah.  At the same time, I have a hard time believing that the New Testament sees the church as God’s Plan B.

—-Because most of Israel rejected the Messiah, God went to the Gentiles, building the church on the remnant of Jews who embrace what God is doing, and also on believing Gentiles.  But God is not through with the nation of Israel, for Israel will one day be saved and turned towards God.  This is one way to read Romans 9-11.  Is it consistent with the Hebrew Bible, however?  Well, on the one hand, the Hebrew Bible does talk a lot about the righteous remnant in Israel, and that could be consistent with what Paul is arguing.  It’s not a perfect correspondence, mind you, for I don’t recall the Hebrew Bible saying that the righteous remnant will believe in the Messiah while the rest of Israel won’t, but both do seem to be talking about God building Israel on a righteous remnant.  On the other hand, the Hebrew Bible usually paints a picture of God restoring Israel, and then the Gentiles coming to worship God, whereas Paul depicts the opposite happening (the Gentiles come to worship God, then Israel will be saved).

—-Jesus was preaching rebellion against Rome, and that was later downplayed by Gospel authors not wanting Roman persecution.  I’m seeing this sort of message as I read S.G.F. Brandon’s Jesus and the Zealots.

I do believe that Jesus had Israel in mind throughout his mission, and that his plan was much more than for the church to replace Israel as God’s chosen people.  I think that Israel should be factored in when Christians consider Jesus’ advent, and that they shouldn’t skip that to say that Jesus came to die for everyone’s sins.

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