Found in Him: True Jews identified in Messiah

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“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then will you also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).

The yearning for Messiah grew out of a recognition of human failure and powerlessness and God’s prophetic promise of an anointed King who would be the Saviour and Redeemer of His people. The messianic hope is thus born out of the belief that God can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves, the belief that the intervention of God will ultimately compensate for man’s failures.

“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You” (Psalm 39:7).

Faith in Messiah would also distinguish those who depend on their own righteousness, i.e those who dress the wound and say it is not serious (Jeremiah 6:14), from those who acknowledge their sin and cry out for redemption: “Save me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness” (Psalm 51:14).

Just like those who were distressed, in debt and discontented rallied around King David (1 Samuel 22:2), so our allegiance is to Messiah, our hope of salvation, our glorious King.

“Christ Jesus, who of God is made our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption”(1 Corinthians 1:30).

In the days before Messiah, faithfulness to the messianic hope required allegiance to the tribe of Judah. Through Jacob’s prophesy, God had ordained that “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh” (Genesis 49:10); and “Judah … thy father’s children shall bow down before thee …” (Genesis 49:8, cf. Micah 5:1-2.)

Thus God promised King David: “I will raise up your seed after you, who shall be from your sons. And I will make his kingdom sure. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. And I will not take My mercy away from him as I took it from him who was before you. And I will settle him in My house, and in My kingdom forever. And his throne shall be established forever” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).

When the ten northern tribes broke away from Judah at the time of King Rehoboam they betrayed the messianic hope for the sake of expedience. This was the origin of “Israel” – the northern kingdom – as distinct from the Kingdom of Judah. The immediate cause was Rehoboam’s threat to burden the Israelites with a heavy yoke (1 Kings 12:16; 2 Chronicles 10:16-19), but dissent was already festering in the time of David (2 Samuel 20:1-2). Yet, a number of the Israelites continued to submit to the dominion of Judah: “But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them” (1 Kings 12:17).

At the same time, King Solomon was being punished for his unfaithfulness and idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-33), for “Solomon did evil in the sight of God” (1Kings 11:6). Yet, for the sake of the messianic promise made to David, Judah’s sceptre was preserved:

“… but he shall have one tribe for My servant David’s sake … so that David My servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Me, to put My name there” (1 Kings 11:32, 36).

After 500 years of continued disobedience both kingdoms were exiled from the land and carried off into captivity, Israel by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians. At the end of the Babylonian captivity, only Judah was restored (with a remnant of the Levites, to resume the Temple sacrifice). The fate of the northern tribes was that they would remain dispersed amongst the nations and assimilated (Hosea 9:17, 7:8; Amos 9:9), although a small remnant would be preserved through incorporation into Judah:

“Return faithless Israel … I will choose you – one from every town and two from a clan – and bring you back to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:11-14).

The Scriptures themselves give evidence that a faithful remnant of Israel returned to Judah with Ezra and Nehemiah, and we assume that more followed throughout the second Temple period.

“And the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah every one in his inheritance” (Nehemiah 11:20; see also verse 3).

From then on, all Israel were called “Jews” (from “Judah”) – because those from Israel’s lost tribes who returned to faithfulness found mercy and salvation by incorporation into Judah. In this way, also, the prophesies were fulfilled that after the exile the Jews would be united in the land as one nation.
“In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together from the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance to your fathers” (Jeremiah 3:18).

The tribe of Judah was preserved in the land for a further 490 years – by God’s grace and providence – for the express purpose of bringing forth the Messiah (Daniel 9:20-27). At the conclusion of this time, the sceptre soon departed, (cf. Babylonian Talmud, Ch. 4, fol. 37), Jerusalem and the temple were once more destroyed and Judah too was dispersed from the land for its sins.

“And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will reject this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:27).

But, as after the first diaspora a remnant of Israel was incorporated into Judah, so, now, the faithful remnant would be incorporated into Messiah and find its preservation and identity in him. “For we are members of his body …” (Ephesians 5:30).

With the birth of Jesus a great mystery is revealed: no more would salvation happen within territorial or ethnic parameters, for as God had ordained concerning Messiah:

“It is a light thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that thou may be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6); and

“He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12).

This “gathering together” is no longer into a specific place or into a temporal inheritance which can spoil or fade, or which thieves can carry away (Matthew 6:20), but is into the kingdom of God, which is eternal, and which the faithful from all generations receive after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 9:15).

For, “the law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it” (Luke 16:16), and “He shall send His messengers with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:31).

“O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, and will bring you into the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:12).

As the good news of salvation, through the forgiveness of sins by the atoning blood of Jesus, was proclaimed throughout the world, it not only brought in many from amongst the Gentiles, but also many from amongst the Jews of the diaspora and many of the lost sons of Israel who had been assimilated into the nations (many of which would have been oblivious to their descent from Jacob). Hereby the three-fold commission of Messiah was accomplished, namely that he would (i) be an ensign to the nations, (ii) assemble the outcasts of Israel and (iii) gather the dispersed of Judah.

As after the first diaspora the remnant of Israel became known as “Jews” through incorporation into Judah, so too at the time of the second exile the faithful remnant of Israel and Judah become known as “Christians” through incorporation into Messiah (the word “Christ” being derived from the Greek word for Messiah).

Thus came to pass the Word of the Lord, as spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“… you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of God will name” (Isaiah 62:2); and “thus says the Lord God [to the unfaithful amongst the Jews]: Behold, you will leave your name for a curse to My elect; for the Lord God will kill you, and call His servants by another name”(Isaiah 65:15).

In contrast to the heavy burden imposed by Rehoboam, Jesus invited the weary ones of Israel with this promise, “Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 10:28-30).

Even today all who acknowledge their sin and seek reconciliation with God through faith, rally around Messiah and find their identity in him. God’s redemptive plan is no different for Judah and Israel, or for Jew and Gentile. For Messiah would reach them all. To this, Saul of Tarsus also testifies:

“If any other thinks that he has reason to trust in the flesh, I more. I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As regards the Law, I was a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness in the Law, blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. But no, rather, I also count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be dung, so that I may win Christ and be found in Him” (Philippians 3:6-9).