How will Israel be delivered? – the truth will set you free

Every year millions of Jews throughout the world celebrate the Passover as a reminder of how the LORD delivered the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. The irony is that, figuratively speaking, many Jews remain enslaved in Egypt and Babylon to this day.

Virtually the entire generation who partook of that first Passover in Egypt, and witnessed the mighty power of the Arm of the LORD to deliver them from slavery, perished in the wilderness because they were faithless. Although they were set free from physical bondage, they were not permitted to enter the Promised Land to enjoy their freedom because they doubted God’s promise to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. They were really enslaved to a wicked and unbelieving heart. Abraham is held up as the example of faithfulness in the Scriptures. The true children of Abraham are those who take hold of God’s promises by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), and we are told that “God was not pleased with most of them.”

I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

Jesus came to make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, according to the promise of the LORD (cf. Jer. 31:31). He is the Passover Lamb who sets us free from slavery to sin: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-37). Once again, most did not believe or take hold of the promise of freedom through faith in Jesus Christ.

When celebrating the Passover, it is customary for Jews living in the diaspora to say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” This is intended as an expression of faith in the Lord’s promises of freedom and life in the Promised Land. However, the present city of Jerusalem no longer represents freedom, but is rather a reminder that the people are still in slavery as they cling to the old covenant that is obsolete. Ironically, the earthly city of Jerusalem is compared to Egypt (Rev. 11:8) and the apostle Paul compared the old covenant, received at Mount Sinai, with Hagar who bears children destined to be slaves: Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children (Gal. 4:25). The Jerusalem that is free, to which we belong, is the heavenly Jerusalem.

Throughout the generations the Lord sent Prophets to warn Israel of the grave consequence of their unbelief, rebellion and sin and to urge them to repent and be reconciled to him in genuine faithfulness. More often than not the people rejected the message and despised the messengers, even plotting to persecute and kill them, because they did not want to hear the truth., The LORD rebuked the people for their stubborn unbelief through the prophet Isaiah: “They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:10-11).

Jesus is the Holy One of Israel. Unfortunately, many who call themselves “Christians,” are obliging unbelieving Jews in this reckless request. They have stopped confronting them with the Gospel of the Messiah and are instead holding out an illusion of peace and restoration that does not depend on repentance or faithfulness. They offer false hope and tell them pleasant things, but do not confront them with the truth that they are cut off from God and in danger of eternal condemnation. A well respected Christian teacher, who holds to the dispensational view of eschatology, has stated, “One of the most wonderful things we can tell Jewish people is that there’s a great future ahead for Israel – God is going to redeem the nation. America’s Christian heritage is one of the reasons she has been such a great friend to Israel. The Israelis know that many Americans, especially evangelical Christians, believe in the restoration of Israel.” No doubt the motivation behind these sentiments is indeed a wish to comfort the Jewish people who have suffered much persecution while scattered among the nations and to assure them that God is faithful to his word.

Many evangelical Christians believe that there will be a restoration of unbelieving Israel, as a nation, to faithfulness. But many believe in a “restoration” apart from faith in Jesus Christ as if God has another plan for the restoration and salvation of Israel besides that which has been revealed through the gospel. They maintain that this will only happen in a future dispensation, suggesting that the Church age is merely a parenthesis in God’s dealings with men. I am convinced that the true restoration comes by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ and that the inheritance is received, not in this age in the earthly city of Jerusalem, but in the new Jerusalem in the age to come.

But only those who “enter” by faith now constitute the redeemed remnant who will enter Zion with singing and rejoicing when Jesus is revealed from heaven. At that time the opportunity to be reconciled to God will be closed. For those who have refused to believe there will only be regret and weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is surely why the writer to the Hebrews warns them with such urgency and persistence, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Unbelieving people will, figuratively speaking, perish in the wilderness for not having believed God’s promise spoken through Jesus Christ. Scripture nowhere speaks of any restoration or redemption that is not accompanied by repentance and faith.

There is no “wonderful thing” and nor is there any other “good news” that Christians can tell unbelieving Jews other than the Good News of salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ. All who refuse to partake of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, who was sacrificed to set them free from their bondage to sin and death, will die in their sins and be eternally cut off from God’s presence. Millions of Jews have already died in unbelief over the last two thousand years. The future hope of receiving an inheritance in the “Promised Land”, together with all the men and women of faith, depends entirely upon our present response to the gospel. For those who reject this message there is no future hope, nor any future promise of restoration, but only the anticipation of the dreadful Day of Judgement and the outpouring of God’s wrath like the plagues which came upon Egypt. Those who die in their unbelief, even though they may have observed the ancient, old covenant Passover traditions, are tragically following the way of their forefathers who died in the wilderness on account of their unbelief (literally and figuratively). They did not enter the Land of Promise because they did not believe God’s promise but instead rebelled and perished in the wilderness as restless wanderers.

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest…(Hebrews 3:16 – 4:3).

For those who believe the Good News of the Messiah there is indeed cause to celebrate our freedom, for Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7). But the Good News of salvation and restoration through faith in Jesus Christ is only good news for those who believe. The restoration is presently underway through faith in Jesus Christ. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). There are no promises outside of faith in Jesus the Messiah.

It is reasonable to ask, “Why do many Christians believe in a future salvation for unbelieving Israel that is not dependant upon repentance and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ in this present age?” The prophets assured the people who were taken into captivity by the Babylonians that God would gather them from the nations after seventy years in exile. This was fulfilled through King Cyrus when he issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to the land and re-build the temple. But some teachers have argued that when it speaks of a gathering, not only from the north, (Babylon was in the north), but from the east, west and south – in fact from every part of the earth to which they had been scattered – this does not refer to the return from Babylon, but to a future gathering. When the return of the exiles was in full progress and the re-building of the temple was underway the LORD again exhorted the people to be reconciled to him and to take great care that they did not reject and ignore his word as their forefathers had done (Zechariah chapter 1). The LORD also warned the people that their iniquity would result in yet another future exile into Babylon (figuratively speaking), from which there would be no restoration other than through obedience to the word of God (Zechariah 5:5-11).

Although some of the exiles returned with the decree of King Cyrus and began to rebuild the temple, it was made plain through many of the prophets that the restoration would not be complete until the Messiah – who would make the new covenant with Israel – came, and the glory of the LORD – symbolic of God dwelling among his people – returned to the temple. In other words, even after the gathering of the exiles from Babylon the people were to look forward to a glorious future, a new and future dispensation for Israel – the glorious day when their God and King would enter the city of Jerusalem to establish his rule throughout the earth. This promise was once again given through the prophet Zechariah when the exiles who had already returned to the land were busy with the re-building of the temple.

This is what the LORD says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the LORD Almighty. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “You who now hear these words spoken by the prophets who were there when the foundation was laid for the house of the LORD Almighty, let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built. Before that time there were no wages for man or beast. No one could go about his business safely because of his enemy, for I had turned every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 8:1-11).

When would this promise of God’s glorious coming to his people to make his dwelling place among them be fulfilled? Many still await this great coming. Would it not be so obvious that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem would immediately recognise it? But the LORD said concerning his coming:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Alas, just as the LORD warned the people through the prophet Zechariah not to ignore his word spoken through the prophets as their forefathers did, lest an even worse fate should befall them, most of the people completely failed to recognize the time when God came to make his dwelling among his people in Jerusalem and again rejected the word of God spoken from the mouth of Jesus the Messiah! The LORD had warned the people through the prophet Zechariah that, “this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Zechariah 6:15). But the evidence of complete rebellion and disobedience to the word of God is apparent in the rejection of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (John 15:24). For this the curses of the Law come upon the people unless they repent of their unbelief and are reconciled to God through faith in Christ (cf. Deut. 28:15).

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).

The great restoration was indeed still future from the perspective of the exiles who returned from Babylon. It was indeed destined to be a future gathering of the people from all the corners of the earth to which they had been scattered, but it is a gathering to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, for all who respond in faith to the preaching of the glorious gospel of our Saviour and King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him (Jesus Christ) who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:22-28).

This greater gathering was initiated by John the Baptist, the last of the old covenant prophets who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. He called the people to come out into the wilderness to receive a baptism of repentance so that they could be led into the land through faith in the glorious revelation of the Messiah alone. The gathering began on the day of Pentecost almost two thousand years ago, soon after Jesus, our Passover Lamb, had been sacrificed and God raised him again from the dead.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12).

It means that that God has fulfilled his promise through the coming of the Messiah. The good news is that our great Messiah King is seated upon his throne in heaven; he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and is establishing his eternal kingdom in the very midst of the kingdoms of the nations. It means that at this present time God is revealing his grace and mercy inviting sinners to be reconciled to him and to be joined into his holy nation. This is the good news! For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2 ESV).

I would like to exhort the reader to take to heart the seriousness of the task to which every believer is called with the following quotation from John Bright: “the missionary task of the Church is thus one of desperate importance. If the redemption of man awaits his faith in Christ and his Kingdom, then to summon men to that faith is no fussy meddling; it is the pivotal activity of history.” 1

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truth which sets the captives free.

1.   The Kingdom of God pg. 258