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Biblical Survey Of Messianic Ecclesiology Part 1

Biblical Survey Of Messianic Ecclesiology Part 1

Biblical Theology of Mission Course – 12a

 

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It is the righteous assembly/church of Jew and Gentile who will inherit the earth in the age to come when Jesus the Messiah returns to restore the glory of the Lord upon the earth. This common eschatological destiny informs a common present identity in the church.
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BIBLICAL SURVEY OF MESSIANIC ECCLESIOLOGY

INTRODUCTION: THE CONTROVERSY CONCERNING THE EKKLESIA

INTRODUCTION: THE CONTROVERSY CONCERNING THE EKKLESIA

A.    Ecclesiology is simply “the knowledge or study of the church (Gk. ekklēsia).”    The initial difficulty with this definition involves the definition of “church”—that is, what is the ekklēsia?  Historically, interpretation of the ekklēsia has been bound within a Christonaturalistic worldview.  Thus, the ekklēsia is composed of those who are the supernatural (or “spiritual”) people of God, while Israel is composed of those who are the natural (or “physical”) people of God.  This has produced two basic ecclesiological interpretations:

1.    Covenantal Theology

a)             Classically the Church (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) has viewed itself as the “new Israel,” the inheritors of the promises and covenants made with the patriarchs.  Since the Church is the Kingdom of God (or the manifestation thereof), which was promised in the Old Testament and which Jesus began to establish at his coming, it logically “replaces” Israel in God’s redemptive plan.[1]

b)    Logically, however, Israel was never really part of redemptive history in the first place, since it was only a type of the Church to come (which is now the prophesied Kingdom).  It was the physical shadow of the true spiritual principles that the Church/Kingdom would later embody.

2.    Dispensational Theology

a)             In the 19th century, however, dispensationalism began as a movement with one of its primary distinctions being a sharp division between the Church and Israel.[2]  God has two different redemptive programs and thus two different redeemed peoples.[3]  Israel is the “earthly” people who will receive the “earthly blessings” (which await a future fulfillment on the earth), while the Church is the “heavenly” people who will receive the “heavenly blessings” (which will be fulfilled in an immaterial heaven).[4]  This will begin to be fully seen in the millennium, when the Church is translated and reigns in heaven, while Jesus fulfills the promises to Israel on the earth.[5]

What is it exactly that makes a person a dispensationalist?  What are the indispensable ingredients of dispensational theology?  As Ryrie puts it, “What is the sine qua non of the system?”  It is not the issue of distinguishably different economies in God’s governance of world affairs, for nondispensationalists frequently employ the term “dispensation” in the development of their own dispensational schemes… The number of dispensations to which one holds and the question of premillennialism—belief in Christ’s return to reign over a literal thousand year earthly kingdom—are not the deciding factors either… Neither are the doctrines of the pretribulation rapture of the saints and the parenthetical nature of the church the essential ingredients of dispensational theology… they are not that which reduces it to its lowest common denominator.  They are not the heart of the system.  Ryrie suggests that there are three essential factors—the sine qua non of the system—in determining who is and is not a dispensationalist.  First, a dispensationalist makes a sharp distinction between Israel and the church.  It is the dispensationalist’s belief that throughout history, God has purposed two distinct purposes.  One program involves the earthly people—Israel (Judaism), while the other involves a heavenly people—the church (Christianity).  According to Ryrie, this distinction between Israel and the church “is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive.”[6]

b)             According to dispensationalists, the church thus did not exist in the Old Testament and did not begin until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  Accordingly, the Old Testament promises to Israel cannot be fulfilled in the Church, and thus there must be two redemptive plans in God’s economy (which is ultimately based on the foundation of metaphysical dualism), which logically results in a soteriological parenthesis, or “intercalation,” in the redemptive plan of God.[7]

c)             Thus, unlike traditional Western theologies, which hold to one plan of immaterial “heavenly” salvation, dispensationalism engages in soteriological dualism based on its eternal metaphysical dualism.[8]  Though the modified dispensationalists of the 1950s and 60s rejected this eternal bifurcation of reality, they still practically engaged in soteriological dualism by focusing the majority of their study on the “Millennial Kingdom” which is practically indistinguishable from its traditional counterpart.[9]

3.             George Eldon Ladd’s proposal for “historical premillennialism” is now termed by dispensationalists as “covenantal premillennialism.”  As a mitigation between dispensationalism and postmillennialism, covenantal premillennialism sees one eternal soteriological plan finding fulfillment on the New Earth.  However, attention to ethnicity is lacking and as such has drawn the criticism of modern dispensationalists.[10]

4.    This work seeks a unified soteriological plan of the restoration of creation, while retaining ethnic distinctions in the age to come.  The Church is made up of righteous Jews and Gentiles who will receive a common inheritance in the resurrection, but will function in different governmental roles in the Messianic Kingdom (cf. Is. 14:2; 49:22f; 60:10ff; Jer. 31:7ff; Acts 1:6; Rom. 11:11-12).

Diagram1-Messianic-Ethnicity

 Diagram2-Christonaturalistic-Ethnicity-Covenantalism

 Diagram3-Christonaturalistic-Ethnicity-Dispensational-Premillennialism

Diagram4-Christonaturalistic-Ethnicity-Covenantal-Premillennialism

B.    The Greek word, ekklēsia, is a generic word meaning “church, congregation; assembly, gathering (of religious, political, or unofficial groups)” (UBS).

  • <1577> evkklhsi,a ekklesia {ek-klay-see’-ah}

Meaning:  1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating 1b) the assembly of the Israelites 1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously 1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting…

Origin:  from a compound of 1537 [Gk. ek, “from out of”] and a derivative of 2564 Gk. kaleo, “to call”]; TDNT – 3:501,394; n f

Usage:  AV – church 115, assembly 3; 118

Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company (Gk. ekklēsia, LXX, “group” NKJV/NIV/NLT) of the prophets prophesying… they also prophesied. (ESV 1 Samuel 19:20)

Now some (in Ephesus) cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (Gk. ekklēsia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. (ESV Acts 19:32)

1.    It is used 114 times in the NT, generally referring to the gathering of believers in Messiah.[11]  However, it is also used 77 times in the OT (LXX) to translate Hb. qāhāl, and edāh, referring to the gathering, assembly or congregation of Israel.[12]  In this light, the NT uses ekklēsia to refer to the assembly of Israel in the OT (Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12).

This is he (Moses), that was in the church (Gk. ekklēsia, “congregation” ESV, NASB, NKJV; “assembly” NIV, NLT) in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us. (KJV Acts 7:38)

So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation (Gk. ekklēsia, “church” KJV) I will sing your praises.” (cf. Ps. 22:22) (NIV Hebrews 2:11-12)

2.             Similarly, the Greek word, sunagōgē, is a common word meaning “synagogue, Jewish place of worship; congregation; assembly, meeting (for worship)” (UBS).  It is used 57 times in the NT, generally referring to Jewish synagogues.[13]  However, it is used 299 times in the OT (LXX) interchangeably with ekklēsia to translate Hb. qāhāl and edāh, referring to the gathering, assembly or congregation of Israel.[14]

These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly (Gk. sunagōgē LXX) at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness… (ESV Deuteronomy 5:22)

Take the staff, and assemble (Gk. ekklēsiazō, LXX) the congregation (Gk. sunagōgē, LXX), you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. (ESV Numbers 20:8)

Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly;  16 gather (Gk. sunagō, LXX) the people. Consecrate the congregation (Gk. ekklēsia, LXX); assemble (Gk. eklēgō, LXX) the elders; gather (Gk. sunagō, LXX) the children, even nursing infants. (ESV Joel 2:15-17)

3.    Moreover, the Greek word, plēthos, is also used to refer to the assembly of messianic believers (cf. Acts 4:32; 6:2, 5; 15:12, 30).

And the congregation (Gk. plēthos, “multitude” KJV/NKJV) of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. (NASB Acts 4:32)

The men were sent off (from the Jerusalem Council) and went down to Antioch, where they gathered (Gk. sunagō) the church (Gk. plēthos, “congregation” ESV, NASB) together and delivered the letter. (NIV Acts 15:30)


[1] Though some may object to such a sweeping generalization, I believe Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the various denominations of Protestantism all generally believe the Church has replaced Israel in redemptive history—if not in theory, definitely in practice.  This is based on the overarching view of salvation ending in “heaven,” which is assumed to be the domain of the Church, since Israel was promised things relating to the earth (cf. Gen. 17:8; Deut. 30:5; 2 Sam. 7:16; etc.)

[2] Others including the dividing of biblical history into seven periods (or “dispensations”) of God’s administration of grace to humanity, the pretribulational rapture of the church into heaven, a future literal fulfillment of OT prophecies concerning Israel, and the church age as a parenthesis (or “intercalation”) inserted into redemptive history when the Jews rejected God’s Messiah.  The most extensive dispensationalist systematic theology is by the first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7 Vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-48).

Dispensationalism began in the 1830’s in the Plymouth Brethren movement with the writings of John N. Darby (1800-1882) in Great Britain.  It spread to North America organically until its adoption by evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1872) and lawyer Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921), who published the widely read Scofield Reference Bible (1909), which became the leading Bible used by independent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the U.S. for the next sixty years.  Scofield in turn mentored a young man, Lewis S. Chafer (1871-1952), from 1903 until his death in 1921, who later moved to Dallas, TX and founded Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, which has become the flagship of Dispensationalism in America.

[3] “As related to premillennial interpretation, normative dispensationalism tends to emphasize certain important distinctive.  One of the most significant is the contrast provided between God’s program for Israel and God’s present program for the Church.  The Church composed of Jew and Gentile is considered a separate program of God which does not advance nor fulfill any of the promises given to Israel.  The present age is regarded as a period in which Israel is temporarily set aside as to its national program.  When the Church is translated however, Israel’s program will then proceed to its consummation.” [John F. Walvoord, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” Christianity Today 15:13 (September 1958).]

[4] See Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:45-53.

[5] This view has been significantly modified by “progressive” dispensationalists, such as Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, and Robert Saucy, etc., who argue for a progressive relationship between dispensations and more continuity between Israel and the Church.  However, progressive dispensationalists do not equate the church as Israel in this age, and they still see a future distinct identity and function for ethnic Israel in the coming millennial kingdom [e.g. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: Victor, 1993), 49.].

[6] Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism (Lanham: University Press of America, 1992), 28-29.  Ryrie goes on to summarize the three aspects of the Sine Qua Non: “The essence of dispensationalism, then is the distinction between Israel and the Church.  This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well.” [Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 47.]

[7] “The ultimate proof of the teaching that the present age is a parenthesis is in the positive revelation concerning the church as the body of Christ, the study of which will be undertaken next.  The evidence for a parenthesis in the present age interrupting God’s predicted program for Jew and Gentile as revealed in the Old Testament is extensive, however.  The evidence if interpreted literally leads inevitably to the parenthesis doctrine.  The kingdom predictions of the Old Testament do not conform to the pattern of this present age.” [John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 230; emphasis added.]

[8] As Chafer spells out, “Every covenant, promise, and provision for Israel is earthly, and they continue as a nation with the earth when it is created new.  Every covenant or promise for the church is for a heavenly reality, and she continues in heavenly citizenship when the heavens are recreated.” [Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:47.]

[9] The modified dispensationalists held to a unified eternal destiny for the redeemed, though there was disagreement where this would be.  Ryrie puts them in “heaven” (see Dispensationalism Today, 147), while J. Dwight Pentecost places them on the “new earth” (see Things to Come [Zondervan, 1958], 561-562).

[10] See Craig A Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992), esp. 37-67, 377-394.

[11] Matt. 16:18; 18:17; Acts 5:11; 7:38; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26; 12:1, 5; 13:1; 14:23, 27; 15:3f, 22, 41; 16:5; 18:22; 19:32, 39f; 20:17, 28; Rom. 16:1, 4f, 16, 23; 1 Cor. 1:2; 4:17; 6:4; 7:17; 10:32; 11:16, 18, 22; 12:28; 14:4f, 12, 19, 23, 28, 33ff; 15:9; 16:1, 19; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:1, 18f, 23f; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Gal. 1:2, 13, 22; Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23ff, 27, 29, 32; Phil. 3:6; 4:15; Col. 1:18, 24; 4:15f; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:1, 4; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15; 5:16; Phlm. 1:2; Heb. 2:12; 12:23; Jam. 5:14; 3 John 1:6, 9f; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20; 2:1, 7f, 11f, 17f, 23, 29; 3:1, 6f, 13f, 22; 22:16.

[12] Deut. 4:10; 9:10; 18:16; 23:1ff, 8; 31:30; Josh. 9:2; Judg. 20:2; 21:5, 8; 1 Sam. 17:47; 19:20; 1 Kgs 8:14, 22, 55, 65; 1 Chr. 13:2, 4; 28:2, 8; 29:1, 10, 20; 2 Chr. 1:3, 5; 6:3, 12f; 7:8; 10:3; 20:5, 14; 23:3; 28:14; 29:23, 28, 31f; 30:2, 4, 13, 17, 23ff; Ezra 2:64; 10:1, 8, 12, 14; Neh. 5:7, 13; 7:66; 8:2, 17; 13:1; Psa. 21:23, 26; 25:5, 12; 34:18; 39:10; 67:27; 88:6; 106:32; 149:1; Prov. 5:14; Job 30:28; Mic. 2:5; Joel 2:16; Lam. 1:10.  Since the Septuagint (LXX) was the Bible most used by the Apostles and early Christians, it stands to reason that its use of ekklēsia primarily informed the understanding of NT believers.

[13] Matt. 4:23; 6:2, 5; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 23:6, 34; Mark 1:21, 23, 29, 39; 3:1; 6:2; 12:39; 13:9; Luke 4:15f, 20, 28, 33, 38, 44; 6:6; 7:5; 8:41; 11:43; 12:11; 13:10; 20:46; 21:12; John 6:59; 18:20; Acts 6:9; 9:2, 20; 13:5, 14, 43; 14:1; 15:21; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19; 24:12; 26:11; Jam. 2:2; Rev. 2:9; 3:9.

[14] Gen. 1:9; 28:3; 35:11; 48:4; Exod. 12:3, 6, 19, 47; 16:1ff, 6, 9f, 22; 17:1; 23:16; 34:22, 31; 35:1, 4, 20; 38:22; 39:2; Lev. 4:13ff, 21; 8:3ff; 9:5; 10:3, 6, 17; 11:36; 16:5, 17, 33; 19:2; 22:18; 24:14, 16; Num. 1:2, 16, 18; 8:9, 20; 10:2f, 7; 13:26; 14:1f, 5, 7, 10, 27, 35f; 15:14, 24ff, 33, 35f; 16:2f, 5f, 9, 11, 16, 19, 21f, 24, 26, 33; 17:7, 10, 12; 19:9, 20; 20:1f, 4, 6, 8, 10ff, 22, 25, 27, 29; 22:4; 25:6f; 26:2, 9f; 27:2f, 14, 16f, 19, 21f; 31:13, 16, 26f, 43; 32:2, 15; 35:12, 24f; Deut. 5:22; 33:4; Josh. 9:15, 18f, 21, 27; 18:1; 20:3, 9; 22:16f, 20, 30; Judg. 14:8; 20:1; 21:10, 13, 16; 1 Kgs 12:20f; 2 Chr. 5:6; Esth. 10:3; Psa. 7:8; 15:4; 21:17; 39:11; 61:9; 67:31; 73:2; 81:1; 85:14; 105:17f; 110:1; Prov. 5:14; 21:16; Job 8:17; Obad. 1:13; Zeph. 3:8; Zech. 9:12; Isa. 19:6; 22:6; 37:25; 56:8; Jer. 6:11; 27:9; 33:17; 38:4, 13; 51:15; Ezek. 26:7; 27:27, 34; 32:22; 37:10; 38:4, 7, 13, 15; Dan. 8:25; 11:10ff.

James is even comfortable using sunagōgē interchangeably with ekklēsia to refer to the assembly of messianic believers, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly (Gk. sunagōgē), and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in… Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (ESV James 2:1-5)

THE FOUR-FOLD USAGE OF ASSEMBLY

THE FOUR-FOLD USAGE OF ASSEMBLY

A.    Assembly of Israel

Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly of Israel… (ESV Deuteronomy 31:30)

And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the LORD our God, let us send abroad to our brothers…” (ESV 1 Chronicles 13:2)

Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven… (ESV 1 Kings 8:22)

And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the LORD our God, let us send abroad to our brothers…” (ESV 1 Chronicles 13:2)

B.    Assembly of the Nations

I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them– all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. (NIV Zephaniah 3:8)

On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. (ESV Zechariah 12:3)

Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, “Let her be defiled, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”  12 But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. (ESV Micah 4:11-12)

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. (NIV Revelation 19:19)

C.   Assembly of Righteous

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (NIV Psalm 1:5-6)

I will tell of Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You. (cf. Heb. 2:12)  23 You who fear the LORD, praise Him… 25 From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him. (NASB Psalm 22:22)

Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. (NKJV Psalm 111:1)

Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. (NIV Psalm 149:1-2)

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. (NIV Daniel 7:27)

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? … 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? … 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (ESV 1 Corinthians 6:1-11)

D.   Assembly of Wicked

I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites;  5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. (NIV Psalm 26:4-5)

He (Moses) warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” (NIV Numbers 16:26)

I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers, Nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because of Your hand, For You have filled me with indignation. (NKJV Jeremiah 15:17)

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (cf. Deut. 13:5; 17:7; 21:21; 22:21)(NIV 1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Diagram5-Assembly-Quadrilateral

THE ASSEMBLY OF THE RIGHTEOUS COMPOSED OF JEW AND GENTILE

THE ASSEMBLY OF THE RIGHTEOUS COMPOSED OF JEW AND GENTILE

A.    The basis of all the covenants is righteousness, which is based simply on repentance and faith.  The main point of the covenants is that only the righteous receive the benefits of the covenants—only the saints inherit the age to come in the Messiah.

The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (NIV Revelation 21:26-27)

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints (Gk. hagios, LXX), the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” (NIV Daniel 7:27)

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints (Gk. hagios)?  2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world (under the leadership of Messiah)? And if the world is to be judged by you (eschatologically), are you incompetent to try trivial cases (in this age)? … 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church (Gk. ekklēsia)? (NIV 1 Corinthians 6:1-4)

B.    Though the Church of the Righteous technically began at the Cross (since it was only at the Cross that righteousness was truly accomplished), the Church has existed since the world began of those righteous in God’s sight.  The “Church of the Firstborn” (Heb. 12:23) is thus composed of all believers in the Messiah for all time.[1]

These (Abel > prophets) were all commended for their faith (in Messiah), yet none of them received what had been promised.  40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us (having the same faith, hope and destiny) would they be made perfect (in the resurrection).  12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (to Messiah), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (cf. diligence vv. 2-6; discipline vv. 7-13, ungodliness vv. 14-17)… 18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire (cf. Mount Sinai)… 22 But you have come (with eschatological faith, cf. 10:37; 11:1ff) to Mount Zion (cf. Ps. 2:6; 48:2; 110:2; Is. 51:11; 60:14; Joel 2:32), to the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Is. 2:1ff; 40:2ff; 62:7; 65:18; Jer. 23:6; 33:16; Mic. 4:8; Zeph. 3:16; Zech. 12:2ff; Mal. 3:4), the city of the living God (i.e. Jerusalem of the Messianic Kingdom, cf. Ps. 132:13; Dan. 9:25; Zech. 14:8ff). You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly (at the coming of the Messiah, cf. Dan. 7:13; Zech. 14:5; Enoch 1:9),  23 to the church (Gk. ekklēsia, OT and NT messianic believers) of the firstborn (i.e. Messiah, cf. Acts 26:23; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), whose names are written in heaven (in the book of the resurrection, cf. Is. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 20:15). You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (in the resurrection),  24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant (accomplishing righteousness), and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (NIV Hebrews 11:39-12:24)

C.   This righteous assembly has always included both Jew and Gentile, because it is foundational to the covenants.  The Adamic Covenant assumes the blessedness of the resurrection upon all peoples, and the Abrahamic Covenant clearly articulates how this blessedness will function between the peoples, all in context to the righteous who have faith and continue in repentance.

I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;  3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (NASB Genesis 12:2-3)

As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. (NASB Genesis 17:4-5)

God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel.  11 God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations (“community of nations” NIV) shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. (NASB Genesis 35:10-11)

  • Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,  30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith… 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? … 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” … 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Ps. 32:1-2)  9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? … 11 So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith… 16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring— not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.  17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed– the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (NIV Romans 3:29-4:17)
  • Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? … 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?  6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith… 14 He redeemed us (Jews) in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (NIV Galatians 3:2-14)

1.            Before the New Covenant, it was assumed that the Gentiles would have to convert and become Jews in order to receive the Abrahamic blessing.  Throughout the Old Testament, this inclusion was under the conditions of circumcision and sacrifice (cf. Ex. 12:44-49; Num. 9:14; 15:13-16), unto a common law (cf. Lev. 17:10; 19:34; 24:22; Num. 15:29; Deut. 10:19).[2]

The people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.  38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds… 43 This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it,  44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.  48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you (cf. Gen. 15:13; 17:8; 20:1; 21:23, 34; 23:4) and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you. (ESV Exodus 12:43-49)

All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.  14 If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do15 As for the assembly (Gk. ekklēsia, LXX), there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (NASB Numbers 15:13-16)

Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in Israel, after the census his father David had taken (cf. 1 Chr. 22:2); and they were found to be 153,600. (NIV 2 Chronicles 2:17)

In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them. (NASB Esther 8:17)

2.    However, after the Cross God showed his favor upon the Gentiles apart from circumcision and the Law by giving them the same assurance of salvation in the Spirit that he had given to the Jewish believers (cf. Acts 10:47-48; 11:15-18; 15:8-9).

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead…”  44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all (Cornelius, et al.) who heard the message.  45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water (inclusion rite)? They have received the Holy Spirit (as a deposit guaranteeing inclusion in the Kingdom) just as we have.”  48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (NIV Acts 10:42-48)

Peter began and explained everything to them (“circumcised believers”) precisely as it had happened… 15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning… 17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life (i.e. inclusion in the resurrection and Kingdom).”  (NIV Acts 11:4-18)

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles (cf. Cornelius, et al.) might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  9 He made no distinction between us and them… 13 When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me.  14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself (in the Messianic Kingdom).  15 The words of the prophets are in agreement (Gk. sumphōneō vs. Gk. plēroō, “to fulfill”) with this, as it is written:  16 ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,  17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name (i.e. included in the Messianic Kingdom), says the Lord, who does these things.’  19 It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (NIV Acts 15:1-20)


[1] This thus incorporates the key value of the covenentalist position, that the Church is a universal institution and that salvation is based on righteousness alone, as Grudem articulates: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.  This definition understands the church to be made of all those who are truly saved… that must include all true believers for all time, both believers in the New Testament age and believers in the Old Testament age as well… both the usage of the term ‘church’ in Scripture and the fact that throughout Scripture God has always called his people to assemble to worship himself, indicate that it is appropriate to think of the church as constituting all the people of God for all time, both Old Testament believers and New Testament believers.” [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 853-854.]

[2] During the Intertestamental Period (c.420-20 BC) as synagogues spread throughout the Greco-Roman Empire, proselytism and the inclusion of Gentiles became a paramount issue.  During this time an additional prerequisite of baptism was included, signifying their cleansing from their old heathen ways. Though commonly debated, Edersheim comments concerning the reality of Jewish baptism before the New Testament, “That baptism was absolutely necessary to make a proselyte is so frequently stated as not to be disputed (See Maimonides, u. s.; the tractate Massekheth Gerim in Kirchheim’s Septem Libri Talm. Parvi, pp. 38-44 [which, however, adds little to our knowledge]; Targum on Ex. xii. 44; Ber. 47 b; Kerith. 9 a; Jer. Yebam. p. 8d; Yebam. 45 b, 46 a and b, 48 b, 76 a; Ab. Sar. 57a, 59 a, and other passages).” [Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, New Updated Ed. (Hendrickson, 1993, c.1886), 1014.]

“From the law that proselyte and native Israelite should be treated alike (Num. xv. 14 et seq.) the inference was drawn that circumcision, the bath of purification, and sacrifice were prerequisites for conversion (comp. ‘Yad,’ Issure Biah, xiii. 4).” (Joseph Jacobs and Emil G. Hirsch, “Proselyte,” Jewish Encyclopedia.com; available at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=556&letter=P.)

“The rite of reception [of proselytes] consists of circumcision, baptism, and a sacrifice… Rabbis find a basis for the three conditions in the conditions of the Sinai covenant in Ex. 12:48; 24:5; 19:10. When the conditions are fulfilled, converts are regarded as in every respect Jews.” [Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 945.]

John John (119 Posts)

John lives in Columbia, SC with his wife, Lydia, and four children. He travels and teaches on the Cross, the return of Jesus, and the Great Commission.


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