Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many Jewish Christians/Messianic Jews protest when they feel that they have been cast aside in the plan of redemption. Judah Gabriel is outraged at John Piper’s tweet on his (Piper’s) sermon, which Judah claims, sidelines, indeed, casts off, ethnic Israel. The sermon is entitled “I’m not sure whether Judah read John’s sermon, “How the Offspring of Isaac Blesses the Sons of Ishmael,” which is based on Romans 9:1-13.
And here is Piper’s offending tweet: “Isaac not Ishmael. Jacob not Esau. Israel not the Nations. Jesus not Israel. In Jesus all who believe.”
In the Tanach (Old Testament) the elect is ”Israel not the nations” (Piper). What appears to be Piper’s offensive bit is the next sentence: ”Jesus not Israel.” The reason why Piper says ”Jesus not Israel” is ”explained” (actually tweets are dangerous for your health) in his next and last ”tweetbit”: ”In Jesus all who believe.” What I’d like to do here is see how Piper’s tweet relates to his sermon, and if nothing more is gained than the discovery that tweets can cause scaries, I’d feel content, if not enriched.
The gist of Piper’s sermon is that ethnic Israel serves no other divine purpose than being the fleshly door for the Messiah. There’s more, which Piper did not mention, and that is, as the Talmud says, “All the world was created for the Messiah” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament says it this way; 16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col. 1:16-17). And at the end of the three chapters on the role of the Jews in redemption (Romans 9 -11), we read:
“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” So, the New Testament is clear: ”for him are all things,” which includes ethnic Israel.
Here is Judah Gabriel:
“The promises of God belong to Israel. They didn’t disappear when Jesus showed up.”
I would like to show that in Judah’s desire to restore the Jew to what he considers his (Judah and other Jews) rightful place in the plan of redemption, he downplays the role of Jesus – unwittingly, of course.
Here is Judah’s comment (above) within the larger context of his complaint:
“But he (Piper) speaks of election only to suggest that God’s choosing of Israel was done in order to elect Yeshua. Thus, Israel’s election is made irrelevant because God’s purposes for Israel are fully carried out in Yeshua. Roll the credits, because in Jesus, it’s Israel: The End. Though he cited Romans 9, it’s as if he didn’t read it at all.”
Judah quotes Romans 9:3-4:
3 I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. 4 Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
“To Israel, says Judah, belongs these things. Not belonged. Belongs. The promises of God belong to Israel. They didn’t disappear when Jesus showed up.”
By “Israel” Judah means, of course, Israel of the flesh (the Jewish race), which Paul reiterates in Romans 9:5, “Theirs are the (the promises of the) patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry (of whom as concerning the flesh) of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
The role of the Jew in the redemption story can be compared in some way to the Pied Piper of Hamelin but with a – for the Christian, but not for the Jew – a noble twist: Jesus “showed up.” What Judah hates is Piper’s idea that the reason why the the Jew (Israel) was elected (which the “nations” goyim were not) was for one reason only, namely, to be the fleshly door through which the Messiah was to enter this world of human corruption in order to save the children of the promise. The argument of most Messianic Jews, Judah, for example, is that Romans 9 is fundamentally about the election of Israel.
We place Judah’s excerpt from Romans 9 ( verse 4 of Piper’s sermon) in its larger context.
”4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
Judah says, correctly, “belongs” and not “belonged.” But the “but” that follows explains what Paul means by “Israelites.”
”6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8. This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” Romans 9:6-13).
As Piper explains in his sermon, the reason why the younger Isaac, both of whose parents were Hebrews, was chosen over the elder Ishmael had nothing to do with the fact that Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, was not a Hebrew. This is proved by the fact that both the younger Jacob (the deceiver, the heel – all deceivers are heels) and the elder Esau had the same Hebrew parents – they were both, anachronistically-speaking, Jewish. So Paul has bent over backwards to make it as clear as crystal that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring (verse 8).
What Jewish believers in Jesus, who generally are Arminians (a few might be Armenians as well) do not get – as is true of all ArminiansNOTE1 – the plain sense of Romans 9:13-16:
”As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.”
This has nothing to do with the Israel of the flesh, but of the Israel of the promise, who are the children of faith, that is, the children of Abraham.
What about the future nation of Israel? Both Judah and I would agree with the following admonition: ”To suggest, says Chris on the Roshpinaproject, that God has finished with Israel is an insult to God’s faithfulness and integrity. If God can break his promises to Israel, he can break his promises to any of us as he cannot be trusted.”
God, as both Judah and I vehemently hold, has not finished with Israel. The point that Piper makes in his sermon, however, is that the Jew’s role in the plan of redemption has been fulfilled in Jesus; ”It is finished” (fait accompli). The (orthodox) Jew who rejects Jesus, in contrast, claims that he is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who is to bring redemption to the world. From a New Testament view, this is one of the evidences of the insufferable servant’s distortions of scripture. Although it is true that the world needs a saviour, no Jew (no matter how much he obeys the mizvot) or no Gentile can contribute a thing to their or somebody else’s salvation. Only Jesus the Messiah can do that. And that is Piper’s persistent point.
Where, though, does John Piper stand on the issue of the future of ethnic Israel, for he doesn’t mention it in his sermon. What would Piper make of Romans 11:28-29 ”As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
Here is Piper on the future of ethnic Israel, which is a minority Christian position:
”One of the problems for gentile Christians like us is how a book full of promises to Jerusalem and Judah can be a help to us today. Let me try to sketch very briefly the principles that guide my interpretation of prophecies like this. First, I think these prophecies are aimed primarily at the ethnic people of Israel. They were the audience; and when they heard Zechariah refer to “the house of Judah and the house of Israel” they would naturally understand the Jewish people not the church of Christian gentiles. These prophecies are aimed at the ethnic people Israel. Second, I think there is a glorious future for Israel even yet when she repents. It is too simple to say that since the time of Christ the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people, even though that is true, in a sense. The reason it is too simple is that in Romans 11 Paul teaches that God is not finished with ethnic Israel. In verse 1 he says, “Has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul insists that God has not finished with the Jews, first of all because he is a Jew (of the tribe of Benjamin!). Paul does admit that the Jews are temporarily rejected through their unbelief, but this is for the benefit of us gentiles; and when the full number of gentiles is complete the remaining Jews, too, will repent and be saved. Romans 11:12,15, “Now if their (Jews) trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! … If their (Jews) rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” Here Israel is distinct from converted gentiles and is promised a glorious future. So a few verses later in verses 25,26, Paul says, “A hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number of the gentiles comes in, and so all Israel will be saved.” In the context of Romans 11:12,15 it is unwarranted to interpret “all Israel” here to mean anything other than corporate ethnic Israel. So one of my guiding principles in reading Old Testament prophecy about Israel is that there is a glorious future ahead when Israel will repent, turn to Christ and be saved.”
So, it is true that (Romans 11:28-29) ”as far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
Not to forget, though, the next verses that explain the ultimate meaning of the election of Israel:
”30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.”
And the clincher, which hopefully will demolish any pride or protest:
32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
As far as salvation is concerned, Jew and Gentile have, at best, fallen short, and thus are at God’s mercy. And what a mercy that is!