Saturday, May 31, 2014

The New Testament church is compared to Israel in the wilderness. Part 13

By Joe Daniels and Terry Cropper

Of all the nations and peoples on earth, God chose one man, Abraham being the father of many nations. (Genesis 17:5) As soon as God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, he immediately set that promise in motion.

While in the wilderness, God gives Israel a unique command. Gentiles from other nationalities who had a sincere desire to become a part of God’s covenant people could do so. The God of Abraham would  welcome and assimilate others (absorbed as equals) into “Israel,” the “body of Moses” through faith and obedience to the conditions of the covenant.

Aliens were welcome. Exodus. 12:47-49 NKJV All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. 49 One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.” Other verses are (Numbers.9:14; Isaiah. 56:6-8) Joshua, converted to Hebrew by "conversion" he entered into the Mosaic Covenant because he had a sincere desire to worship the God of Abraham.

These Aliens fell in step with the Hebrews as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Exodus 12:37-39 mentions two groups of people—Israelite and the mixed multitude marching out of Egypt. 37 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.

For how long? Their presence during the quail incident, cited above, indicates that these peoples were still with the Israelites at least one year after the first Passover. That means that the mixed multitude was present at Mount Sinai, some fifty days after the Red Sea crossing.

Whoever they were, the peoples of the mixed multitude were much more than just witnesses of God's strength. Even the unbelieving Egyptians witnessed that! The mixed multitude partook of God's grace before the law was given through faith! Whoever they were, these people were fellow-travelers with Israel who experienced the power of God as He pulled Israel out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt."

Deuteronomy 4:20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day. See also (I Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4). There was "a great gulf fixed" between Gentile and Israelite that only faith could bridge. God offered the gentiles that opportunity from the very beginning.

During the wilderness journey of the church God was sill fulfilling the promise to Abraham. In the midst of a Roman Empire dominated society a Christian society was founded on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem about 30 to 31 A.D. (Acts 2) Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost was entirely Jewish, quoting the prophets and the Psalmist David, and would have meant nothing to any Gentiles standing around, if there were any. The 3,000 people who were saved that day would have been all Jewish. (Acts 2:1-41) Yet as we have noted in a few studies Peter spoke of the mystery that was not yet revield. A mystery hidden until the apostle Paul made it clear that salvation would also be for those “afar off” μακρὰν ! Acts 2:39    “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (NKJV)

In the earliest years of Christianity the Church had consisted of only Jews for the first several years except for a few proselytes. The book of Acts makes it clear that the first Christians were Jewish and went to the Temple in Jerusalem, attended synagogue services, and wanted to remain Jews. They met regularly in the Temple, where Gentiles were excluded (Acts 2:46). The nearest the Gentiles could get was the Court of the Gentiles on the Temple grounds.

The first time Gentiles would be directly evangelized and admitted into fellowship with Jewish Christians would occur about ten years later. Cornelius (in Greek, Κορνήλιος The name Cornelius means “of a horn” the use of a “horn” in scripture speaks of power.) was a Roman centurion who is considered to be the first Gentile to convert to the faith, as related in Acts 10. This section shows that God, through the Holy Spirit, is bringing the Gentiles into his spiritual body, the church. In Acts 15:5-11 it shows this acknowledgement concerning law as decisions were rendered regarding Gentiles coming into the Church. (Acts 15:18-20)

A centurion was a Roman army officer, theoretically in charge of a hundred men. Cornelius was called a God-fearer, that is to say, he was a monotheist, a Gentile who worshipped the One God. (A very important fact to note is that “God fearers” were people who converted to Judiasim yet would not yeild to circumcision.) One day, as he was praying, an angel appeared to him and told him to send a messenger to Joppa and ask Peter to come and preach to him. Notice Cornelius's worship is directed to the one true God. Acts 10:3-6 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”
Peter, meanwhile, was given a vision that disposed him to go with the messenger.

When Peter had preached to Cornelius and his family and friends, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on the first Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2), and they began to speak in other tongues. Thus, there was ample evidence to convince Jewish Christians who hesitated to believe that it was the will of God that Gentiles should be brought into the Church.

Cornelius was the first Gentile converted to Christianity, along with his household, and Luke, recording this event, clearly regards it as of the utmost importance in the history of the early Church: the beginning of the Church's decision to admit Gentiles to full and equal fellowship with Jewish Christians.

In Chapter 11, Peter returns to Jerusalem and tells the whole story again to the "circumcised believers" there (the new Jewish Christians). By now, the story has become a sermon, which Peter concludes with the words, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us…who was I that I could hinder God?"

Then there is the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 8:26-40) God is actively fulfilling his promise to Abraham thought the church's outreach mission soon after the Great Commission! God's goal is not only "quantity" but also "quality," We see in these verses the sincere desire of the Ethiopian Eunuch to know God. (This African court official was a Gentile who was not a Jew or from the tribes of Israel.)

Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and there he met the Ethiopian eunuch. He had been to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27), and was returning home. In immediate obedience, with little information but complete trust in the God who guides, Philip sets out.

The eunuch was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah, and had come to Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip asked the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He said he did not ("How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?"), and asked Philip to explain the text to him. He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, one of the famous so called “servant songs” where the prophet speaks of one who will suffer and give his life as a ransom. Philip tells the Ethiopian that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and rose again is that servant. He then “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” and the man believed and was baptized on the spot. There is a lot more to the story of gentiles coming into the church that we can go into here, but the main theme we wish to make clear is that just as God allowed others to enter into the first Exodus  (Ex.12:37-39)

The same would be true of the first century Exodus. Gentiles (A mixed group just as recorded in the first Exodus out of Egypt. Ex.12:38) would also enter into the 40 year first century journey into the true promised land! All of these types and shadows, displayed in the Exodus, found their fulfillment in the exodus of God's people from the bondage of sin to the eternal rest in Christ.  The natural came first, and then the spiritual second. It makes sense that natural Israelmade an exodus out of the slavery when they left Egypt.  Likewise, the first century spiritual Israel made up of both believing Jew and Gentile were making an exodus out of the slavery of sin by the blood of Christ. May we even suggest that this included those in the hadean realm who were to exit, or exodus from that spiritual state and place they were in! (Heb.11:36-40)

In the book of Revelation we notice spiritual names given to the corrupt city of Jerusalem. In Rev. 18:4 before her great demise, God calls His people to come out  of her! Yet one of her names is Egypt!

Rev. 11:7-8 (NKJV) The two Witnesses Killed 7   “When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”

We all know that it was at Jerusalem that the lord was crucified. And of course it was here that the church was always persecuted and they tried to keep believers in spiritual captivity and bondage in regards to Law! (Gal.4:3,9; Col.28, 20) Now here is where it gets interesting. In Revelation chapter eleven we have the puzzle of having to identify the two witnesses who prophecy. In our estimation few if any at all have correctly identifed the two witnesses. Here is what we believe about them and will share with you. The key to their identification is found in verse four where it states:

11:4 (NKJV)  “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.”

There are only two pieces of identification given here. One is the fact that they are both lampstands. What does the Bible have to say about lampstands? In the book of Revelation itself right in chapter one we are actually given the definition of what a lampstand is in verse 12 the apostle John saw seven golden lamp stands. In verse 20 they are identified as the seven churches to which this letter was actually written to. “...and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  Rev.1:20c.

Now we are only left with having to identify the two olive trees. Is there anywhere else in the Bible that we can turn to and read about to olive trees? There is, Paul wrote about them in another  Chapter 11 – in the book of Romans! In this chapter Paul reminds this church that he is an apostle to the Gentiles. (Rom.11:13) There were a large number of Jewish Christians in this church, but for the most part, it was a predominantly Gentile church. There are a lot of things that we can go into and discuss pertaining to this book and this chapter, but we just want to show that it identifies the two witnesses.

Paul in this chapter states that Jews were being provoked through jealousy by way of the gospel reaching the entire world. (Gentiles) He talks about Jews being cast away in verse 15 and in verse 17 we have a key to our identification of one of the two witnesses. He calls  the Gentiles a “wild olive tree” (ἀγριέλαιος)!!!! And in the same verse says that they were grafted into ‘the olive tree”(ἐλαίας)! Also see verse 24! This shows that the two witnesses were made up of two groups of people. The Jew, and the Gentile believers in Jesus Christ who preached to the entire world. And were persecuted for it! The word in Greek for witness is the word for martyr! (μάρτυς)

Romans 11:17 (NKJV) “And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree (Gentiles), were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”(Jews)

I think it’s plain and simple to see that the Church of the first century made up of Jew and Gentile make up and solve the identity problem of these two witnesses! It’s been there the whole time, we have just missed. We have all for very good reasons thought they were the “Law and the prophets” but that is only half of it! That is a part of the Jewish side of the equation. The other side is that of the witness of those that were “afar off” from many gentile nations who also witnessed. A great number that no one can number (Rev.7:9-17) that came through and out of the Great tribulation! The good news is that the everlasting Gospel continues to save anyone of any nation because of the success of that first century Exodus!

Rev. 21:24-26 (NKJV) 24 “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.”

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