More on Paul’s insight into the Promises – Part 3 of ‘The Hope of Israel’

(This is an edited version of the third chapter of Mauro’s book.)

I showed at the outset how the Gospel for which Paul was persecuted by the Jews and imprisoned, was equated with the ‘hope of Israel’.

Paul’s credentials lie in the fact that he persecuted the church, and was stopped in his tracks by God’s direct intervention and later taken up into the third heaven to receive revelation into ‘inexpressible things’ (2 Cor 12:2).

Those who hold to the truth of Paul’s claims should thus be guided in their understanding of the Old Testament prophesies concerning ‘the hope of Isreal’ by observing how those prophesies were taught by Paul.

We can begin this observation with Paul’s testimony after Porcius Festus remanded him for trail before King Herod Agrippa on the charges the Jews had laid on him. When permitted to speak, he said:

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers; unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews (Acts 26:6, 7).

This clearly proves that Paul, in preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, was proclaiming to his people the hope of Israel, being the fulfilment of God’s promise made to their fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This corresponds with the testimony of Peter, who wrote to converted Jews of the dispersion and spoke of the prophets of Israel, ‘unto whom it was revealed that, not unto themselves but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you’ (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Paul’s testimony before Agrippa further proves that the gospel-salvation which he preached, was and had been the hope of every true Israelite – ‘all our twelve tribes.’ I.e. the true hope of Israel was not, and is not, an earthly kingdom which some future generation of Jews are to inherit.

The paradox that Paul should be persecuted of the Jews for proclaiming to them the very hope of the promise that God made to their fathers, demonstrates what Paul wrote to the Romans, namely that ‘Israel has not obtained what he sought for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded’ (Rom 11:7). For the true hope and expectation of all Israel – ‘our twelve tribes’ – lay in the resurrection, where the promise of the sure mercies of David was to be fulfilled (Acts 13:34). It matters not that some were ‘blinded’ to it, and were looking for a kingdom of earthly grandeur, suited to their carnal ideas; for the truth of their own Scriptures was that the kingdom of God, which had been promised by their prophets, was an eternal kingdom to be realized in the resurrection of the dead, and to be entered only by those who are born again of the Word and Spirit of God.

The Lord Jesus Himself had given the same teaching concerning the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God – He uses the two expressions interchangeably). Thus He taught His disciples, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, except that you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat 18:3); and He goes on to show that to enter into that kingdom is to ‘enter into life’ (vv. 8-11). And this he followed up by declaring how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom (Mat 19:16-26), calling it in one verse (verse 23) ‘the kingdom of heaven,” and in the next, ‘the kingdom of God.’ And He concluded the lesson by saying to those who had forsaken all and followed Him: ‘Verily I say unto you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, you shall also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (verse 28).

From this it appears that the ‘all Israel’ of Scripture, spoken of in verse 28 as ‘the twelve tribes of Israel,’ is a spiritual nation which will come into its inheritance in the day of glory, when the kingdom of God shall be manifested, and when Christ, who is now upon His Father’s throne in heaven, shall be seen upon the throne of His glory.

Paul concluded his testimony before Agrippa:

Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying [please note: not a new thing, a mystery never before revealed, but rather]none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.’

This message was not that Christ would restore earthly dominion to national Israel, as now is widely taught amongst Christians, but ‘that Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people and to the Gentiles’ (Acts 26:22,23).

Here is clear proof that the gospel proclaims nothing that was not foretold by the prophets; for, as we know from Paul’s teaching elsewhere, the mystery of the gospel was that believing Gentiles were to become ‘fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God,’ being made ‘fellow heirs [with saved Jews] and of the same body, and partakers [with saved Jews] of His promise in Christ.’ And that all this was to be accomplished ‘by [means of] the gospel’ (Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6, 9).

Likewise the apostle Peter, in a passage already quoted (1 Pet. 1:9-12), spoke of ‘the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow.’

According to these testimonies of Paul and Peter alike, the suffering would come first and the glories would follow, for the glories were in the resurrection, not in the temporal realm, and have their fulfilment in the restoration of all things, not in the geo-political pre-eminence of God’s people in the temporal realm.

In an earlier chapter, I referred to the fact that Paul, when he arrived in Rome, sent for the leading Jews of that city and declared to them that it was ‘for the hope of Israel’ that he had been brought there in chains (Acts 28:20). The verses that follow make it clear that the hope of Israel was indeed the Kingdom of God as Paul had been preaching it everywhere (Acts 17:3, 7; 19:8; 20:25), in the way that he had expounded and defined it in his Letter to the Romans (14:17). For the account in Acts 28 continues:

‘And when they had appointed him a day there came many to him to his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening’ (verse 23).

Inasmuch as those Jews were thoroughly indoctrinated with the more common Jewish teaching, it needed, of course, much exposition and persuasion, and most importantly the light of the Spirit of God, to make it clear to them that what Moses and the prophets had foreseen a kingdom which was not of this world, a kingdom established through the sufferings and death of the Messiah of Israel. But it is an extraordinary thing indeed that, after this truth has been clearly set forth in the New Testament Scriptures, and has been understood by successive generations of Christians for nineteen centuries, that there should have arisen in recent times a system of doctrine which takes for one of its foundation stones the very same error touching the true hope of Israel which turned Paul’s own countrymen against him.

To those at Rome who ‘believed not’ the things spoken by Paul, he used plain and uncompromising speech, saying to them:

Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto out fathers, saying: ‘Go unto this people, and say, Hearing you hear and not understand; and seeing you shall see and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’ Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles and that they will hear it (verses 25-27).

By this it appears that the hope of Israel, the kingdom of God and the salvation of God are three different names for one and the same thing. And it also shows that a supernatural and punitive blindness concerning the kingdom – foretold by the prophets – had been laid upon the unbelieving part of the natural Israel, even as the same prophets had predicted; which blindness, as we learn from Romans 11:25, is to continue ‘until the fullness of the Gentiles have come in.’

The Scriptures we have been reviewing make it plain that ‘the hope of Israel’ was to be realized in the resurrection. Christ was to suffer, to die, and to rise again; He the first, and afterward those who are His (1 Cor. 15:23). There is no other hope for Israel, and never was. If the promise of God to Israel had been earthly dominion, or if that had been even a part of the promise, it is impossible that Paul should not have placated his Jewish opponents by declaring it on the occasions to which I have referred, and should not have spoken of it in his Epistles – especially to the Romans. Nor could he in that case, have used Isaiah’s prophecy against them.

There are indeed certain passages in the Old Testament which, apart from the light afforded by the New, might be taken as relating to ‘Israel after the flesh,’ as foretelling the restoration, at some future day, of their national greatness. But that goes for nothing. For the natural intelligence could not possibly have discerned that Psalm 16 and Isaiah 55:3 were to be fulfilled in the resurrection. The Holy Spirit, however, by the apostle Peter, has revealed to us that David, in the 16th Psalm, was foretelling that God ‘would raise up Christ to sit on his throne’ (Acts 2:30, 31); and by the apostle Paul the same Spirit has made known that the broad promise of ‘the sure mercies of David’ was to be fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Ac. 13:32-34).

The erroneous doctrine of the teachers of Israel which we have been discussing, was based upon an unspiritual interpretation of their own Scriptures; for ‘they knew not the voices of the prophets which were read every Sabbath day’ (Acts 13:27). That doctrine was fatal to everyone who received and clung to it at that time; and also to the nation as a whole. Therefore, its revival amongst orthodox Christians in these days is a proper cause for serious misgivings.

The next part deals with the expectations of the patriarchs.