One New Man

From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts17:26).

It is extraordinary to consider that all the diverse races, nations and cultures that exist in the world today all come from the same original parents. The book of Genesis, which means origins, traces the origins of man and the development of divisions within the human race. After the fall man was instructed to spread out and fill the earth. The barriers and divisions which we find among men today have often resulted in conflicts and hostilities, which we continue to witness to this day, but these were part of God’s purpose in redeeming mankind to himself. Those who are ignorant of God’s dealings with men in past ages may be convinced that it is God’s will for man to be united in order to make the world a better place. But the unity of mankind in itself is not the goal.

Man was made to glorify God and while man persists in rebellion to God’s purposes his efforts to achieve peace and unity will always be frustrated: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill’ ” (Psalm 2:1-6). God, in fact, calls those who will obey his voice to separate themselves from the world, which is in rebellion to his purpose. God’s will is for mankind to be united only in obedience to him. Noah had to separate himself from the people of his day when God destroyed the world in the deluge. Abraham was called to leave his people and their idolatrous practices. Israel was called out of Egypt. Believers are called to separate themselves from unbelievers.

The question is often asked, “Why does God allow evil to flourish?” Although God commands us to obey his word, he does not force anyone to submit to his will. God allows men to persist in their rebellion for a brief time in the hope that many will come to their senses and seek the Lord while he may be found. He has deliberately subjected the creation to frustration in the hope that men will seek him (cf. Rom. 8:18-21). God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but all of us to come to repentance. At the same time he has decreed that all men will surely die. God’s purpose will prevail for eternity. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21). Anything we aspire to, which is contrary to God’s will, will eventually come to nothing. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John.2:17).

Before we can really understand God’s purpose to reconcile us to himself and to unite us in the Messiah it is important for us to understand the divisions in the human race, which God has brought about for his own purpose. In this article we look at the origins and purpose of the divisions, which separate the human race and God’s purpose in creating one new man in Christ to reconcile all mankind to himself.

Religious Barriers

Conflict over religion arose from the very beginning of human history. The first murder ever recorded was over the issue of religion. Many wars have since been waged in the name of religion. The first rift in the human race, which brought tension into the relationship between man and woman, and estranged them from God, was caused through disobedience to God’s word. The religion of Adam and Eve was simple. They did not have hundreds of laws to obey: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16). Yet, despite the simplicity of the commandment, Satan managed to deceive Eve by questioning, distorting and finally directly contradicting the word of God.

The deceiver began by introducing doubts about what God had said: “Did God really say…” Then he went further and flatly contradicted the word of God by adding, “You will surely not die,” in effect calling God a liar. We are all prone to deception because we are inclined to believe what appeals to our human pride rather than the truth, which exposes our nakedness. All religious differences pivot on the question – “Has God really said?” Our faithfulness to God is demonstrated by obeying his word. Obedience to God flows from love for God. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).

After Eve had sinned Adam was confronted with a difficult choice. We are told that Adam was not deceived – he sinned knowingly. By remaining faithful to God he would have been estranged from his wife whom he loved, but if he followed his wife into disobedience he would be estranged from God. We are often confronted with the same choice. Do we place our love for our family or the approval of our peers above that of faithfulness to God? We are commanded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Echoing this command from the Torah Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me . . .” (Matthew 10:37).

The challenge to our faithfulness often comes from those with whom we share the closest relationships. When Adam was called to account by God for his disobedience he responded by trying to shift the blame to his wife and also indirectly to God: “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree . . .” We may succumb to peer pressure for the sake of a brief moment of worldly pleasure or because we do not want to stand out from the crowd but when it comes to giving account before the Lord we will all stand alone with no one but ourselves to blame for our disobedience.

The consequence of disobedience was death for all mankind. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned . . . (Romans 5:12). Many people resent an absolute approach to truth. When Jesus said to Pilate, Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” Pilate responded, “What is truth?” But discerning between truth and error is critical because ignorance or distortion of the truth has grave consequences for all of mankind. The choices we make do not only have temporal consequences, but also determine our eternal destiny. Man does not live [survive] on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3).

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God, in his mercy, gave them the promise of the Redeemer who would restore mankind to the place from whence they had fallen. Although they were banished from God’s presence they were instructed on the means by which they could approach God, and this included an atoning sacrifice.

Religious strife and division continued in the very next generation. Cain and Abel represent the essential difference between man-made religion and the true worship instituted by God. They were of the same flesh and blood. They were not born into the racial, cultural and religious divides which subsequent generations have inherited. Yet Cain murdered his own brother because his brother did what was acceptable in the Lord’s sight, while his own offering was rejected! Cain brought the fruits of the soil, in other words the fruits of his own labour, as an offering to the Lord. Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.

This was the first testimony that only an atoning sacrifice for sin is acceptable to the Lord. Like the Passover lamb and the korban sacrifices of the Torah, it foreshadowed the Lamb of God that was slain from the creation of the world who alone is able to take away our sins and reconcile us to God (Revelation 13:8). The religion of Abel represents that of the faithful, who obey God’s word and who trust in the sacrifice which God has provided to redeem man to himself. The religion of Cain represents that of the unfaithful, who think they can redeem themselves. Even today we encounter the same spirit of hostility and antagonism that provoked Cain to murder his own brother when we proclaim, “Salvation is found in no one else (other than Jesus Christ), for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Seth replaced Abel, and from him to Noah we can trace a faithful remnant of true worshippers, who called upon the name of Yahweh and trusted in the promise of the Redeemer who would one day restore them to the Paradise of God. Cain and his descendants achieved much success in worldly terms. They were renowned for their accomplishments in music, metal work and building cities. Instead of looking for the coming Redeemer they set about establishing themselves in this present world, which is destined to pass away. The descendants of Cain, representing the unfaithful, grew progressively wicked until the earth was filled with violence and God had no choice but to destroy them in the flood.

Having preserved only eight people through the flood, the sons of Noah were again instructed to replenish the earth. From Shem, Ham and Japheth the various nations are derived and it was after the flood that language barriers also emerged. Despite the trend towards apostasy and unfaithfulness the knowledge and worship of the true God was preserved and passed on from Noah down to Abraham, through a faithful remnant.

As far as religious divisions are concerned there have always been only two paths – the broad way, consisting of a multitude of false religions, and the narrow way, representing the only true worship of God according to what he has commanded. Every religion that does not obey the Lord (Yahweh) and His Messiah (Yeshua / Jesus) is essentially the religion of Cain.

Faithfulness and obedience to God comes before all other allegiances. Apostasy cannot be tolerated or condoned because it will spread like a cancer if left unchecked. This is why the warning in the Torah for those who would lead others into disobedience, rebellion and the worship of false gods is so very stern: If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again (Deuteronomy 13:6-11).

When the Israelites fell into apostasy and worshipped the golden calf Moses commanded the Levites to kill their own brothers, friends and neighbours (Exodus 32:27-29). This is how seriously God views unfaithfulness within his people. Yet, there are many people who naively believe that all religions worship the same God and are merely different paths to God. In today’s world tolerance and respect for all religions is highly valued regardless of how contrary to the word of God they may be. Elijah showed no such respect for the religion of Baal when he rebuked the Israelites for their unfaithfulness.

Language Barriers

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. (Genesis 11:1)

After the flood God once again commanded man to spread out and fill the earth. However, in the account of the tower of Babel, we find men resisting God’s instruction and choosing to concentrate themselves in one area in order to make a name for themselves: Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (Genesis11:3). Man was determined to bring about unity in opposition to God. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6).

God has his own plan and purpose to create one new man in Christ, but it is not his will for man, in his rebellious, unredeemed state, to achieve unity outside of his purpose. God frustrated their plans by confusing their languages. He demolished the head quarters of the “United Nations”, and deliberately created communication problems so that they would be scattered over the face of the whole earth. The word Babel means confusion, and it also refers to the place where the Tower of Babel was built, which became the scene of confusion in the world. The Tower of Babel represents man’s rebellion to God’s word. Thus God himself created the divisions of languages that separate us from one another in order that his purpose in uniting man in Messiah would prevail.

Man cannot achieve his God-given potential and destiny, for which he was created, without being redeemed and reconciled to God. Our true destiny is to be restored to the place from which man fell. This can only be accomplished through the Messiah. This world, in its present state, is not our permanent home. We are merely sojourners, waiting for Messiah to take us to the home he has prepared for us. But many people cannot see anything beyond this physical world, and concentrate all their efforts into improving their position in this life, giving no thought to eternity. Jesus said; “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

After the LORD had confused man’s language and scattered the nations over the face of the earth, he chose one nation through whom he continued to reveal his purposes for the redemption of mankind – the nation of Israel. The Hebrew people were entrusted with the oracles of God and were called to remain separate from the surrounding nations so that they would not be defiled by their pagan practices. They did not always remain faithful to God’s word. Following the humiliation of the Babylonian captivity Ezra instituted strict measures to maintain a separation from the other nations and to prevent assimilation by forbidding inter-marriage. He also insisted that they preserve their identity by learning to speak the language of Judah (cf. Nehemiah 13:24).

The LORD said through the prophet Isaiah that a time was coming when he would speak to his chosen people in foreign languages because they had not listened to his word spoken through the Hebrew prophets: Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”– but they would not listen” (Isaiah 28:11-12). Later in this article we will show how this prophecy was fulfilled.

National Barriers

All the nations have their origins with the three sons of Noah – Shem, Ham and Japheth. Racial tensions emerged between the descendants of Shem and Ham from the beginning. The descendants of Ham, Noah’s youngest son, were cursed by Noah because Ham dishonoured his father. “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave” (Genesis 9:24-27).

Abraham, who is claimed as a patriarch by three of the major world religions, was a descendant of Shem. The Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning father of a great multitude. This was fulfilled both literally and spiritually. Abraham was the father of Ishmael, Isaac, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. They all became the patriarchs of Semitic nations. Isaac became the patriarch of two nations, the Edomites (the descendants of Esau) and the Israelites (the descendants of Jacob). Abraham is also the father of all who believe, because he believed the Lord, and this was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:11). Abraham was called a Hebrew. It means one who has crossed over, and is derived from Eber, a second-generation descendant of Shem.

This term has rich spiritual overtones for believers in Messiah, representing the crossing over from death to life through baptism. The Lord called Abraham to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and to go to the land that he would show him. We see again, in the example of Abraham, that it is believing and obeying God’s word that counts. The Lord chose Abraham, from among all the nations, to effect his purpose through which all nations would be blessed. The promise to Abraham was that it was through his seed (referring to the Messiah) that all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:7, Galatians 3:16).

Anti-Semitism is surely an expression of resentment against the election of one nation as the vehicle through which God would reveal his purposes and bring blessing to all nations. Such exclusivity inevitably resulted in racial hostility. Strictly speaking, the term Anti-Semitism is a misnomer, as the descendants of Shem, from whence the term is derived, include many others besides the Jewish nation. Considering that all the nations are descended from the three sons of Noah one could speculate that approximately one third of the world’s population could be Semites. Nonetheless, the Jewish people have been subjected to a singular hostility throughout the centuries.

This was also forecast in the judgements for unfaithfulness pronounced by God to Moses. The hostility against the Jewish people is both a testimony against the wickedness of the nations and the unfaithfulness of the Jewish people. The Lord warned the Israelites that they would be subject to the scorn and ridicule of the nations if they did not obey all his commands: If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: . . . The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the Lord will drive you (Deuteronomy 28:15,36,37).

Having chosen one nation out of which the Redeemer would be born who would bring reconciliation to all nations, the Lord separated them from the other nations in order to maintain the testimony of the true God of Israel and to keep them from being defiled through the worship of false gods. Thus barriers were introduced which prevented fellowship between God’s chosen people and the heathen nations. The barriers that existed under the Old Covenant were typified in the design of the temple in Jerusalem. There were barriers separating Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Levites and Israelites, and the high priest from the other priests. A thick, heavy curtain was at the entrance to the Most Holy Place. The Holy Spirit was showing that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing (Hebrews 9:8).

These barriers showed that God’s people had to remain separate from the other nations, but also that no men, not even the high priest, could enter the presence of God and remain in his presence. Although the priesthood was confined to the descendants of Aaron, the whole nation was counted as a priestly nation. The Lord told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites understood, through the duties of the priests, that they served as mediators between the nations and God. The duty of the priesthood was to represent the people in matters relating to God. A misunderstanding of the purpose of God in setting Israel apart as a holy nation could easily result in misplaced pride on the one hand and resentment on the other. The calling of the Israelites as a kingdom of priests was indeed a high and noble calling, but such a high calling also places great responsibility on those called. Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

Breaking down the Barriers

All adult Israelite males had to appear before the Lord three times a year at the temple in Jerusalem. These were the three great pilgrim feasts (see Exodus 23:14-17). They would assemble in the Name of the Lord, in other words they were united as a nation through faithfulness to the Lord. One of the feasts which the Israelites were required to attend was the Feast of Harvest or Shavuot (Pentecost). This harvest festival prefigured the gathering of God’s faithful people from among all the nations through the ministry of the Messiah. This was the feast that God used to reveal his purpose in which all men would be united, not by their own efforts, as they attempted to do with the Tower of Babel, but through God’s Anointed King, Jesus the Messiah.

From the time of the Assyrian and the Babylonian captivities the Jewish people were scattered among the nations, only a remnant having returned from Babylon. Almost two thousand years ago, as many of the scattered people of Israel made their way up to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot (Pentecost), fifty days after the Passover in which Jesus, the Passover lamb, had been sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, the time had come for God to gather his sheep into one flock under one shepherd. The disciples had been told to wait in Jerusalem to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would empower them to be his witnesses to the people whom he had scattered throughout the earth. It was at this feast, representing the first harvest of the season, that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the first disciples and they began to speak in other languages. The Jews from the Diaspora, including many Gentile proselytes who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot, all miraculously heard the Good News of salvation through Jesus the Messiah proclaimed in their own language: When the crowd heard the disciples declaring the wonders of God in their native languages they were amazed and asked, “What does this mean?”(Acts 2:5-12).

What did this mean? God was showing by this that he was reversing the confusion that he had brought about at the Tower of Babel, and gathering the scattered people of all nations into unity in the Messiah. These were the first fruits of an abundant harvest. The believers were instructed to proclaim the message of salvation, beginning in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This gospel has been proclaimed throughout the earth (Colossians 1:6,23) and the Scriptures have been translated into almost every known language, bringing the knowledge of the God of Israel to the ends of the earth, fulfilling the word of the Lord to Isaiah (2:3): The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

The Lord was also fulfilling his word spoken through Isaiah the prophet, “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and, ‘This is the place of repose’– but they would not listen” (Isaiah 28:11-12 cf. 1 Corinthians 14:21). Israel had been wearied through the yoke of the law, which they were never able to bear, weakened as they were by their own sinful inclinations. The Lord sent the Messiah to establish the New Covenant in which he would change their hearts as he had promised to do (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 & Ezekiel 36:26), so that they might enter his rest. But Isaiah asks, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1).

One New Man in Christ

It was always understood from the word of the Lord spoken through the Prophets that the Messiah would be the one to gather the exiles. When Jesus came he referred to himself as the good shepherd, “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). However, later he said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Jesus was referring to the gathering, not only of the scattered people of Israel, but to the gathering out of all the nations those who would believe in him and thus be counted among his people (cf. Isaiah 49:6). This was to fulfil the word of God spoken through the prophet Zechariah (2:11), “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people.”

The divisions of races, languages and nations has often led to clashes, but we must keep in mind that it was God who scattered mankind across the face of the whole earth and who brought about the various divisions in accordance with his own purpose. National pride and patriotism often blinds us to God’s purpose of establishing true peace and unity through the Messiah. God’s purpose was to redeem from all the nations a people for himself, to be holy and separate, and to create one holy nation in which all would be reconciled to him. This nation is made up of the redeemed from every tribe, language and nation. We have no choice as to which nation we are born into, but through the New Covenant established by the Messiah we may all become members of his chosen, holy nation by being “born again” of his Holy Spirit. This “new man in Christ” represents a new creation, the old creation being destined for destruction.

Our nationality according to the flesh does not determine whether or not we are born into this holy nation. The types in Genesis repeatedly show that it is not natural descent that counts, but what is born according to the promise of God’s word. This is seen in the account of Ishmael and Isaac and again in Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21-26). The election of Isaac, the son of promise, represents those born of the Spirit and prefigures the hostility of the natural descendants towards those born of the Spirit. Paul wrote, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit” (Galatians 4:28-29). Jacob and Esau shared the same mother and father, they were born into the same religious and social environment, they inherited the same prejudices, yet two very different and distinct nations emerged. Spiritually, Esau represents those who are faithless and carnal, while Jacob represents those who trust God’s word and are transformed through a personal encounter with him.

The tension between Jacob and Esau represents the conflict we all face between the carnal man and the spiritual man. Jacob had to learn that God’s promises would not be brought about by human manipulation or connivance, but by trusting in God. Jacob was not born Israel. He had to figuratively be born again before he was called Israel. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6) The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)

Until the coming of the Messiah God kept the Jewish people as a separate nation in order to preserve the line through which the Messiah would be born and to preserve his word which had been entrusted to them through Moses and the prophets. After the coming of the Messiah God handed all men over to disobedience, Jew and Gentile alike, in order that he might show mercy to all.

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24). The separation of Israel under the Mosaic covenant prefigured the final spiritual separation of believers from unbelievers in the New Covenant. Even the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, must be born again by the power of His Holy Spirit to become part of the faithful remnant of Israel. The barriers which had excluded Gentiles from God’s holy nation, giving rise to hostility between Jews and Gentiles, were destroyed and many Gentiles received the message of salvation with gladness.

Many of the early Gentile converts were from among the God-fearers, Gentiles who already worshipped the God of Israel, attended the Synagogue, and often observed the Sabbath and dietary laws, but who were deterred from becoming full proselytes to Judaism by the requirement of circumcision and the heavy yoke of the Torah. According to the New Covenant circumcision in the flesh was no longer a requirement, but what counted was a circumcised heart and a new creation through being born again of the Spirit of God. The death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross was God’s way of destroying the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility that had separated Jews and Gentiles for 1500 years:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The breaking down of the barriers, resulting in a flood of Gentiles into the faithful assembly of Israel, was not received with gladness by all parties. Even the Jews who believed the gospel found it hard to accept that the barriers between Jews and Gentiles had been removed. For so long faithfulness to God had meant resisting assimilation with Gentiles. Antiochus had tried to force all the people in his kingdom to abandon their own customs, which separated them from the other nations in order to make those subject to his rule into one people. Leading up to, and including the period of Messiah’s earthly ministry, the very zealous Orthodox Jews resisted the Hellenistic influences through which many Jews were being drawn more and more into the Greek culture. The identity of the nation had continually been threatened by assimilation into the nations. In this light Paul’s teaching, showing that the exclusive calling and election of the Jewish people was now open to all, was a radical teaching: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). The apostle Peter, writing to the believers in Messiah, uses the same terms to describe the calling of all believers in Messiah as that used by Moses to describe the calling of Israel:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9 cf. Exodus 19:6).

The Lord was uniting all men who would listen to the God of Israel, whether Jew or Gentile, into one new man, a redeemed and holy nation, to take the good news of his salvation to the ends of the earth. The Lord said concerning the ministry of the Messiah, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah49:6). The good news of universal salvation through the Jewish Messiah was what Moses and the prophets had been pointing to for centuries. The promised seed, who would bring blessing to all the nations, had finally arrived, but for the Jews who had become complacent, trusting in their natural descent rather than in a living relationship with God, this blessing threatened their position as the “eldest son.”

Being made into one new man in Christ, together with believing Gentiles seemingly threatened their unique and privileged status as God’s chosen people. For many finding their identity in Christ provoked an identity crisis. It is tragic indeed that the Gospel, which God announced in advance to Abraham saying, “all nations will be blessed through you,” is perceived by many Jews to be a threat to their identity and their religion, because the real threat is that in refusing to be identified in Christ they will lose their eternal inheritance which the faithful of all generations will receive together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the final consummation (cf. Gal. 3:8). Those who are striving to preserve their separate identity through the barriers of the old covenant, which has been made obsolete, fail to realise that it was these same barriers which kept them from entering into God’s presence (cf. Hebrews 9:8).

Identity in Christ often poses a threat to our identity in the flesh. Cultural, racial and religious ties that we inherit often exert a very strong claim on our loyalty. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were waiting to see him he said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48). Our identity in the flesh is formed according to racial, cultural, national and class distinctions. These distinctions are often used to discriminate against others. In Christ such distinctions are of no consequence. We no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). When we come to Christ we take on his identity – we are being transformed into his likeness: And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49 cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18). We are called to complete unity in him: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3).

Within this one new man we still find cultural diversity. Unity does not necessarily mean uniformity, but we cannot cling to practices that are in conflict with the word of God or which create barriers to fellowship within the body of Christ. Just as Abraham was called to leave his country, his people and his father’s household who had fallen into idolatry and pagan practices, we too are called into a new family, a holy nation and the household of God. What a joy it is to witness people from every nation, tribe, people and language worshipping the one and only true God of Israel together.

The pattern of the world is to take pride in the flesh, to cling to our privileged position and to demand our rights. In view of this let us consider the example of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians2:6-8). The apostle Paul urges us: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). In terms of our separation from this world he poses the question, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). If we are still conformed to the pattern of the world we may find that we have more in common with those of the same ethnic, national or social group than we do with our fellow believers. We need to realise that the separation that remains is between believers and unbelievers. Understanding this will stir in us the same sorrow and anguish for the salvation of our loved ones as that expressed by the Apostle Paul for his fellow Israelites.

When Jesus died on the cross, God himself tore the heavy curtain separating the Holy of holies from top to bottom and the way into the eternal Holy of holies was opened to all who would believe. The streams of all the diverse nations that flowed forth from Adam, which separated with the three sons of Noah, then with Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob and even between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah, were all destined to become one new man in Jesus the Messiah – the Son of God. The barriers of language and culture, the separation between men and women, priests and “laity” were all removed. All are made into one new man in Christ Jesus. God’s eternal purpose was not just the unity of mankind, but that we should be united in Him, conformed to His image. Adam was the first man and the corporate father of all mankind. From him all the streams of diverse nations came forth. Jesus is the second Adam, the head of the new creation, through whom all the redeemed from the nations are reconciled to God. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). The Apostle Paul declared: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Only in Jesus the Messiah, the corporate head of the new human race, do we obtain eternal life:

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:45-48).

The apostle John was given a vision of the ultimate glory of the calling of all nations to be united in Christ:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10).