Israel and the Kingdom of God (7)
The Mystery of Israel and the Church
by Art Katz
Chapter 7 - Israel and the Kingdom of God
There is a great corrective that is needed in the Church, all the more in those segments of the Church that are most applauded, where we presume to think that we have a 'full gospel' and the 'fullness of the Spirit.' Any part of the Church that is not preoccupied with the jealous guarding of that which pertains to the glory of God as its central and foremost consideration, or has substituted the needs of men, however real such needs may be, is no longer the Church in any true or apostolic way. The glory of God is going to be realized in the coming of the King and His theocratic kingdom in these final and consummating Last Days.
Though we may be persuaded that the kingdom of God is exclusively 'within,' and something personal and subjective, the kingdom of God, in its most awesome aspect, should be understood as a ruling entity over the nations. There is a God who is actually going to rule out of the nation, Israel. There is going to be a law that will go forth out of a literal and geographic Zion in Jerusalem. The result of that rule will be that men will not study war any longer, they will beat their swords into plowshares, and nations will come up to the God of Jacob in the place where He will have established His sanctuary, His dwelling, and the locus of His theocratic rule out of a restored Israel.
Our failure to know, believe, expect and desire this has had great consequence for the Church. It should be central to our every perspective and our every preoccupation with the faith. When the Lord inserts the critical key of an apostolic and prophetic perception of the centrality of Israel, as being significant and foremost in the Church's own consideration, all of the separate and isolated good things, given of God, come together in a new coherence that makes the faith the faith indeed!
God has not forsaken His ancient people, Israel; His promises and covenant intent will yet be fulfilled, or how shall He then be God? Probably the greatest presumption of the Church is its triumphalistic assumption that it now is the Israel of God, and that this ancient and original people have lost it, and have no place of return or restoration in God's purposes. That is a tragic error, and has condemned the Church to something much less than the glory, power and significance of God's intention. The issue of Israel is central for the Church's own recognition of itself as the Church, and to remove this aspect from our consideration is to leave us lopsided and out of joint, and subject, therefore, to every whim, every passing fad, and every hope for something to fill the void that is sensed and needed. We must restore the thing that God Himself intends, not because Israel necessarily deserves that consideration, but because God has spoken, because God has promised, because God is the God of covenant, and will keep it even when His own people will not.
Because the kingdom is the kingdom of David, so must it be established from the throne of David in Zion. These are not mystical, poetic allusions; these are concrete and specific indications of the scandalous specificity of God, of a literal people and a literal place that must be the seat and locus of His rule over creation. That we are not jealous for that rule is an embarrassment to the Church, and I trust that our human governments, however much we may hope in them, will invariably show their inadequacy. When we say, "Come, Lord Jesus!," we are not praying for escape, but for righteousness to come into the earth through the rule of God from the place which He has designated, and which will not be obtained except through the instrumentality of the Church to the Jews in these Last Days.
This is to be accomplished by a self-sacrificing Church that demonstrates the very mercy of its God, not in a corner, but must take place before the face of all nations. The nations will have to acknowledge that the God of Israel, the God of Jacob, the Creator of the heavens and the earth is alone God, to the eternal praise of His glory. The nations presently have given scant consideration to the God of Israel. They see Him only a contending deity among the whole bewildering array. But the God of Jacob is alone God, and the demonstration of His mercy to Jacob, after His judgment, will persuade the world that He alone is God, for they will witness both the expulsion as well as the return of His own people through their own nations. God has said that He will not do this in a corner, but before the face of all nations (Isaiah 52:9-10).
We are at the conclusion of the age; an antichrist time of great severity, challenge and devastation is coming, not only upon Israel, but also upon the saints. What we lack, and what was distinctive of the early Church, and needs to be restored, is the significance of Israel in the eschatological (pertaining to the end) and apocalyptic (judgment and devastation) content of the faith. The first Church anxiously awaited the Lord's appearing, which in turn gave to the Church the sense of urgency, a dynamic of great and high seriousness, altogether the antithesis of the lightness that has characterized our 'charismatic' time. To not have these components as a vital center in our Christianity disfigures our Christianity, and relegates it to the kind of harmless and innocuous culture by which the world perceives us. The issue of Israel is the issue of the Church, but it is the issue of Israel rightly understood, and not idealistically minimized.
The turning point for the Church will be the discovery of Israel in the sense that we are describing it, not in the condescending acknowledgement of the present, Zionist state and its success, for which many hope, but in the sense of the mystery central to God's redemptive glory and theocratic intention. Significantly, a merely benign and sanctimonious approval of present Israel does not threaten our petty kingdoms; rather it leaves them strangely quite intact. The revelation of a redeemed nation resurrected out of the death of the present one, like its Lord before it, shatters all our petty kingdoms, all of our categories, and requires and makes necessary anew the review of our understanding even of God as God. One can know that one has apprehended the issue of Israel rightly when it jostles and requires a complete realignment of one's entire understanding, and the forsaking and foregoing of one's own petty kingdoms.
Will God go that far? We anticipate a soon-coming catastrophe that will eclipse the Nazi time, and the Church has not the slightest awareness of its coming, and has made no preparation, either physically or spiritually, to expect it. In fact, most of the Church has presumed its own absence at that time. This puts the great premium on our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Only He can bring the perception of reality and understanding that has been so lost to us that it cannot even be humanly communicated. Even Paul speaks of it as mystery, and warns us to not be ignorant of it (Rom. 11:25). It is the only mystery of which Paul gave such a warning. We might miss some of the other mysteries, but if we miss this mystery, there is a consequence that is fateful for the Church, namely, it will become wise in its own conceit. It will remain pompous and inflated, and believe that it has become the Israel of God, and that it will bring the kingdom of God to the earth; that the Church, in fact, is the kingdom of God, the 'kingdom now,' and that it is going to influence and take over society. God has, on the contrary, called the Church to a humbling and secondary role. We are called as a proviso in order to bring back to Himself a people who have been broken off from the tree into which we, in their place, have been grafted.
When we perceive the issue of Israel rightly, we are compelled to consider the God of Judgment, to consider apocalyptic devastation; to consider people being dispelled again into the nations, exile, and a subsequent return; to consider suffering and its significance; to consider the meaning of the Cross and the suffering that precedes the glory, not only for Jesus, but for that nation called in Exodus 4:22, "My firstborn son." And that son has a destiny more comparable to its Pattern Son and Messiah, and must, in substantial measure, also follow Him in a road to Calvary.
If God will take sin that seriously as to judge His ancient people so devastatingly, how well do we know Him? And what 'Jesus' is it that we promulgate? Is it, in fact, really the Son of God? The One who is going to judge the earth in equity and justice? Do we know God as God? And can we know Him if we have dismissed the revelation of Himself, so accurately set forth in His full triune Godhead except in His dealing with the people Israel? This is the divinely chosen context of God's own self-revelation. The absence of that critical knowledge has made the Church light and frivolous, open to the celebration of personality, feeling, experience and excitement, to the point where our souls have been so indulged that we cannot scarce tell now where soul ends and spirit begins. We can hardly distinguish between the faculty of soul and spirit, and have equated the one as the other. How much do we realize that our souls are being stirred through hype, through all of the various devices that betray a foundational emptiness in the Church for the lack of that centrality God intended as normative? Little wonder there is a pride in the Church that is reluctant to give to the Jew place of prominence in the Last Days.
There is a remarkable episode of an incident that occurred in another age, in an hour when the Spirit of God prevailed in such magnitude and purity that the very same act which might well be applauded today resulted, in that day, in sudden judgment and death. Let someone come today with a great contribution (as with Ananias and Sapphira - Acts 5:1-10), and we would not ask too much about its source or the spirit by which it was offered. Probably such a person would be given a place of honor and acknowledgement, a deacon, at least, if not an elder, but the Church that identified the lie, and was not impressed with the sum, is quite contrary to the Church of today. The Church then was in its glory because it was alert to the issue of truth and deception; it knew that before the Spirit of God is the Spirit of power, He is first and foremost the Spirit of truth. When truth is compromised, we will find that the Spirit is not going to be around to perform the expressions of power that serve our needs and gratify our souls, especially if we have forsaken Him and His first designation and identity as the Spirit of truth. There needs to be a jealous regard for the truth, and Peter was therefore able to discern the pretence of a man and his wife, giving a sum of money as to be the whole, when it was only the part.13
Almost in the next breath we hear that "with great power, the apostles gave testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ," and that when the shadow of Peter would fall upon those who were sick and infirm, they would be healed. The respect for the Spirit of God as the Spirit of truth allowed for the demonstration of the Spirit as power. It is much easier to try and reverse that order, and many have, and have celebrated the power, the signs and wonders, and relegated truth to a distant consideration, if indeed, any consideration at all. And who of us has not played the game of giving the part and making that to appear as the whole?
The distinctive character of truth is that it is the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or it is not the truth. Any disqualification, any cutting of corners, anything less than what is whole and full converts what seems to be impressive into the lie. So much of our fellowship life does not have the modesty and humility appropriate to a Church whose Lord is the Lamb, whose essential character is meekness. We are too often full of exaggeration, pompous ambition and activity, and think that the appearance constitutes the whole. The greater part that is missing, and that would have made us to a large extent whole, is the part that that has to do with the centrality of Israel in the Church's consideration. It needs to be restored if the Church is to be the Church of the Last Days, and thereby become the very provision of God for the redemption of His people whose time has come, for that is the time to obtain the kingdom.14
It is Israel's kingdom, not exclusively for national aggrandizement, but out of the nexus of their Jerusalem, and out of their Zion, shall the law of the Lord go forth to all nations, which can only go forth from them as the redeemed nation. God has made promises to their patriarchs and to themselves that must be fulfilled. A deliverer must come out of Zion and take transgression from Jacob according to the covenant that He has made with them (Rom. 11:26-27).
We need to ask ourselves whether we are doing anything different from what Ananias and Sapphira did when we seek and expect the evidence of power while consecrating ourselves only in part to the Lord, while yet presuming to have given ourselves wholly. We all want the semblance of these things, the comfort of the Spirit, the intimate communion, but we want it at the lesser price of acknowledging truth as only being doctrinal, or the issue of being biblically correct rather than as the very sum and substance of the reality of our lives. There is a way we can delight to speak truth, but, in our deeps, we do not want to be true. We want correct words, we want to acknowledge truth, but we do not want to obey it. We are bringing our partial, phraseological truth, and making that to stand for the whole, as if we have already the reality that we are describing!
To tolerate one's deceit is to violate the whole truth. To be ninety-nine percent true, or mostly true, and represent that as the whole truth, is to lie utterly. To sin in one part is to sin in the whole. We can talk about our love for the Lord, and our submission to Him, but the issue of truth is found in the place where we are most tempted to keep back for ourselves. There is always one final and ultimate reservation that keeps us back from that utterness towards God. This is the thing that makes truth really the truth, and brings to the Church the reality of His presence and His glory.
How true is true if we are still celebrating the Church over Israel as being the essential center of God's enduring glory and rule? The issue of truth, stubbornly awaiting our consideration, will require an alignment in terms of our traditions and understanding. Until we do, dispositions remain that have opened us for deception, for pseudo-revival, for experience, for emotion, for the kinds of things that are questionable and dubious at best and may actually be demonic at worst. There is something about the radical apprehension of the centrality of Israel as the Zion of God over every other consideration. Once apprehended, we find that the power of deception is broken; it puts an iron into our souls that steadies us, and keeps us from being disposed to the kinds of things that make for deception.
The New Wineskin
The proper recognition of Israel's centrality is the greatest provision of God for the Church, and the absence of that provision has left us in a questionable condition. Even the best of what we have known charismatically has not been the answer. Perhaps it is because the wineskin was always inadequate. We are suggesting that the wineskin is more a wineskin of comprehension of an apostolic and prophetic way of perceiving all the faith, thus fitting the Church for its apostolic mandate and indeed, the very purpose for God pouring out His Spirit. Is not the Holy Spirit rather a provision to prepare us for the suffering, the opposition and the persecution that will come with our identification with Jews in the Last Days, when they will be a hated people among all nations?
When the predominantly Gentile Church receives the Holy Spirit, we are in fact appropriating the promise made first to Israel. We need to understand that, and to be humbled by that fact. The error of the charismatic and other similar movements is that we have forgotten the auspices by which the Holy Spirit has come to us, out of Israel's own promise, and have extrapolated Him for our own purposes even at Israel's expense. Why was the Spirit initially given to the Gentiles? Why was it not enough to give it to the 3,000 or the 5,000 original Jewish converts? Why has God turned now to the 'foolish nation,' Gentiles? In our opinion, the eschatological Spirit was given that we might be a witness to Israel, moving them to jealousy. In other words, we have stopped short of the issue of the glory of God and the resurrection life, the ends for which the Spirit was given. We have lost both the eschatological framework and God's strategy. Paul magnified his office so that he might have a humbled people who would so express the Shekinah glory that Israel must say, "Now there is our God!"
We are saying that this is the new wineskin, not as it is currently understood as a change in ecclesiastical forms or church structures, but as an apocalyptic framework of understanding. Like Paul, our gospel needs to be one that is according to the revelation of the mystery hidden in other ages. (Col. 1:26). It is a context of an Israel that would stumble, of a Son of Man who would be rejected and crucified by His own nation, and then a calling out of a foolish, Gentile people, a 'no people,' to move Israel to jealousy. What is the gospel if it is not preached in this context? What is lost? Paul preached his gospel in that context, and it is a context that should compel and direct our attention to the issue of death and resurrection, which then restores the gospel as 'Christ-centered.' It restores Jesus to the true center as King, because it recaptures the theocratic context, and this, we are saying, is the 'gospel of the kingdom.'
When we talk about 'the mystery of the kingdom,' or 'the mystery of the gospel,' we are talking about the context of the mystery of two comings of Messiah to Israel. This is the key to the whole mystery, and if we do not understand that the Messiah came a first time to make Israel stumble, as a judgment, an eschatological judgment, and that we are living between the two advents of Messiah, under and during the judgment of Israel. There was a plenitude of salvation promised to Gentiles, of Israel going forth to the nations as a priestly, theocratic kingdom, the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. In other words, if God was just interested in evangelism, He would have restored Israel and the Gentiles would have had an abounding access to the grace that would come to them. Now that will be true in the Millennium. "For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world [nations], what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15). In other words, if their fall has brought this much grace to the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness bring but more abundant grace to the Gentile nations!
The first Jewish believers in Messiah knew that when Israel was to be restored, the nations would be blessed, and Abraham's promise be fulfilled, but what they did not conceive, or consider, was that God would be calling out a people from the Gentile nations "to move Israel to jealousy," and that the gifts of the Spirit would be given to a "strange and another people" to make Israel jealous as a judgment, as a testimony against them. Both Moses and Paul were in agreement. That context has been lost, but it is a theocratic framework that constitutes the mystery.
…according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith (Rom. 16:25b-26).
Only a gospel preached in this context will do that. Is this not the plumbline that divides between the true and false church? Israel is the missing link, and nothing so accentuates and underscores the core of the gospel, namely death and resurrection, than the issue of Israel. God has given Israel to underscore in her own experience the issue of death and resurrection. And He has given the Gentiles to Israel to press that reality home to them. Israel has been given to us to compel us to that reality, and we, in turn, to them. That Israel would not know the 'time of their visitation' was foreordained of God.
In the absence of this theocratic context, the gospel that has been promulgated has been reduced to something personal, rapture-oriented, 'place in heaven,' and enjoyment, satisfaction, and prosperity in this life. Or, as the institutional religion of Rome, the gospel is completely of a 'displacement' orientation. It takes to itself all the prerogatives that God intended for theocratic Israel. It conceives of itself as the theocratic entity in the earth, a kind of millennial phenomenon. In other words, being identified with another gospel results in our establishing a present kingdom on earth, exempting Israel's national restoration, her resurrection from the dead, the glory of God forever!
The whole interim that the Gentile Church is in now is a 'between-the-times' phenomenon, and it is given as a call for repentance, to prepare the way of the Lord for the coming of the apocalyptic, intervention of His kingdom. We enter by the Spirit now, into the kingdom that must come to Israel. We are entered as a first fruit, a foreshadowing of Israel's millennial glory in ourselves. The reality of that kingdom should have a power and a presence now, but it should be with one view: to preparing a people for that kingdom, which will bring the restitution of all things spoken of by the prophets (Acts 3:21). The first saints were living in the imminent expectation of the destruction and overthrow of Jerusalem, and the imminent restitution of all things. It was a time of great urgency, but that apocalyptic framework has, for centuries, been lost, exacting, thereby, an enormous toll.
Unless the Spirit of God and the gifts of God are understood and are seen in the context of the apostolic framework of God's intention as a besieged community in the midst of a sea of hostility and worldly hatred, then we make the Spirit of God and His gifts serve a lesser purpose. They accommodate us rather than God, and one wonders if God is in that business, providing that accommodation, or, that something questionable has come in its place, and that we have not the discernment to distinguish. If it seems to bring a measure of excitement, a measure of enjoyment, a measure of relief, a measure of healing, which the Powers of this world can easily provide in order to bring in an ultimate deception. The Holy Spirit needs to be restored to the context of God's intention, of which the center is the restoration of a people who have not even the faintest notion of their eternal destiny or a desire for it, and want only to be as other nations. Nevertheless, God's word toward them, and the gifts and callings of God, must be fulfilled, for they are irrevocable and without repentance, or God is voided as God.
Let us not lose this ultimate and apocalyptic expectation, the dynamic that gave the early Church its distinctive. To substitute lesser 'excitements' leaves completely unchallenged the Powers of the air in the heavenly places, who rage against God and against His Anointed, and whose final defeat comes only with the restoration of Israel through the Church. To forfeit this eschatological calling constitutes a Last Days' apostasy, the great falling away of which Paul spoke. However much we might be occupied with the benevolent needs of men, for their healing, their deliverance, even their salvation, etc, it is to be occupied only in part, rather than in whole. It is the occupation with the whole that is the radically requiring aspect. It is little wonder that we shun the Jew, "the enemy of the gospel," and that we would much rather engage one another than to take up the central task of the Church, and, indeed, in a great part, the divine strategy in the salvation of Gentiles "so as to move them [the Jew] to jealousy."
In the unfathomable wisdom of God, the issue of Israel, rightly and prophetically understood, is God's provision for an errant Church, because it alone provides the framework by which the Church itself is to be understood. Its origins are derived from Israel, "for salvation is of the Jews." By being grafted into her tree, and living by the Life that is expressed through her root, the Church has a destiny as God's salvific agency for the restoration of that people in moving them to jealousy and showing them the face of their own God, who is full of mercy and unconditional in His love.
What has been too long confused is that the Church is not the kingdom, per se, but an interim provision in Israel's restoration, and it is time now to restore the kingdom of David to that literal people on David's throne, on the holy hill of Zion. The kingdom of God will either go forth from that place, or it will not go forth at all. Until that kingdom comes, no true divine law will go forth to the nations. Wars, suffering, death, incest and every kind of vile mayhem will continue to prevail over the world until the law of God can go forth from the one place specifically designated. Only one redeemed nation has the honor of expressing it, and whose redemption has come through a Zion (the Church of the Last Days) out of which, alone, their Deliverer comes (Rom. 11:25-27).
There is something foundationally wrong when we desire to enjoy a semblance of the Spirit, and its 'excitement,' without the Cross. We want the reality of God without the suffering that precedes that glory. Church, as every earnest believer knows, is a place of suffering, before it is a glory. The Church is a means, not an end in itself, but by being that means, it obtains, at the consummation of the age, something more glorious than that of the redeemed millennial Israel herself, namely, a ruling and reigning with Christ in the heavenly places. We, who are a "no people" as the Church, have become the "people of God" to move to envy a nation, Israel, that has lost that very identity. In the final frenzy, which is even now brewing, Jews will likely regard us, the Church, as enemies and a threat to their Jewishness in the anti-Semitic furor of the Last Days' persecution. In the failure to recognize that ours is a heart of love toward them, we may possibly have to suffer martyrdom even at their hands, as Stephen did, as a critical necessity, a sacrifice, to bring by it, if that alone is the final requirement, the revelation of the Lord that turned Saul from persecutor to apostle, and will bring that nation from opposing God to its own apostolate in blessing all the families of the earth.
Our coming under these purposes of God for Israel's redemption, this first-born among the nations, is calculated for our humility. We must not expect Jewish understanding, let alone gratitude for our sacrifice on their behalf, and, like Christ dying for us as sinners when we were dead in our transgressions, we also must 'suffer' for them while they are yet in their transgressions. In that mutuality and in that willingness to suffer for them as He suffered for us, we show forth the essential character of their God. The crisis that the Jew of the Last Days brings to a Church called to their redemption will reveal the truth of our condition in its depths, a condition calculated by God to bring us to the need for a full sanctification, which would not otherwise have been recognized, nor sought.