"This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour."
I am aware that most Christians today place little credence in the prophetic value of "the law and the prophets." However, I prefer to honor the words of God in Isaiah 8:20 and Matt. 11:13. He said, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;" and again, "All the prophets and the law prophesied until John."
So all of those prophecies, which concern the Grace Age, began to be fulfilled in John the Baptist. And Peter declared, without equivocation, that they must all be fulfilled before Jesus returns, saying in Acts 3:20,21, "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began."
In our March issue, we saw how God chose Abraham, calling him out of his native land, and from his relatives, to show him the land which he would give unto his descendants. God made covenants and promises to Abraham, concerning his descendants, many years before he ever bore any children. And when he began to beget children, God made it clear that, although Ishmael was the oldest, and was given a promise of becoming a great nation, and that twelve princes would be born unto him, the inheritance would be given to Isaac, saying, "I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him."
About seven years after Jesus had finished His work of redemption, and had also "purchased the Church of God with His own blood," He appeared unto Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul), and appointed him to be our mentor to explain for us Gentiles the full meaning of God's promises to Abraham and to his seed. Paul partially explained, in Galatians 4:22, how that Isaac was an allegory, a prophecy, of Jesus Christ. Yet the promises to Ishmael were great, and much to be desired.
The prophetic intent of those things was very much a mystery, even to the Twelve Apostles. But Paul said in Eph. 3:3-6, "By revelation God showed unto me the mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." It is apparent that this subject is not an easy one for Jews in general, for Paul found it expedient that he isolate himself from the established leaders of the Church, for more than three years (Gal. 1:15-18), in order for God to reveal to him the truth of the matter.
Consider Romans 4:6-14, where Paul said, "Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Comes this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, (that He might be) the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect."
It is not difficult to see that Paul is telling us that those promises of God were not given to natural Israel forever. But rather, it was to be given to whosoever should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be born again. And he explained in Romans 2, that it was to be given "to the Jew first and also unto the Gentile." By this we can more easily understand what Jesus meant when He said, in Matt. 19:28-30, and Matt. 20:1-16, "Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." Jesus was explaining that, though Ishmael had been born first, and Isaac afterward, the fulfillment would take place in reverse. The allegory of the covenant being established in Isaac would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and afterward, at the end of the Grace Age, the allegory of Ishmael , and his "twelve princes," would be fulfilled in a Gentile Christian, who, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, will appoint the twelve Gentile apostles, as he makes the final preparations for the return of our King.
Again, in Galatians 3:14-29, Paul said, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, ... That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. ... Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, 'And to seeds,' as of many; but as of one, 'And to thy seed,' which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. ... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female (that is concerning the circumcision of the heart, because there will always be a difference in all three of these sets of opposites): for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise " (Gal. 3:14-29).
Everything in the Old Testament (the First Covenant) was a prophetic allegory of the things in the New Testament era. Occasionally, I mention to a congregation that Abraham was not a Christian, and some of the folks are incredulous at first. However, the Old Testament prophets were all looking unto the new era, as Peter said, in 1 Peter 1:10-12, "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you." They wondered what it was exactly, and when it would come, and "God revealed to them that it was not unto them, but unto us they did minister those things."
Jesus made a statement, in Matthew 11, which reveals an awesome truth. Concerning John the Baptist, He said, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." We are "new creatures in Christ Jesus," and therefore, the true heirs of the covenants and promises of God.
In Hebrews 7:11-19, we are told of the necessity of the implementation of a new law. As the book of Hebrews was being written, the old covenant was decaying and waxing old, and was ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). Why? Because God said, "If perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. - For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." As Jesus said, "No man puts new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." It simply was not possible for that law and that priesthood to be adapted to the new era.
Jesus began this new era of the "Law of Faith" (Rom. 3:27) by making a "better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Heb. 8:6). The "commandments" of this new covenant and new law are given to us in Matthew chapters 5-7. If you will study that passage closely, you will find that there are fourteen commandments in this New Covenant, of which God prophesied in Ezekiel 43:16,17.
Jesus said to His disciples, "I will build my church." However, He only laid the foundation of it, as Paul told the "Church" at Ephesus, in Eph. 2:20-22, saying, "(The Church is) built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in Whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy Temple in the Lord: in Whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Jesus ordained the Twelve Apostles, then He ordained the Seventy Prophets, but, as important as is the function of the Seven in the Church, and their ordination being required by the prophecy in Prov. 9:1-3, Jesus did not ordain them. According to the prophecy concerning their ordination, the "house" was built, then the "seven pillars" were hewn out, and her table furnished. (Compare Acts 6:1-8, where we are given the account of the fulfillment of Prov. 9:1-3.)
What Jesus did was to appoint Peter in His stead; to finish His work of building the Church, which is prophesied of in the allegory in 1 Kings 6:37,38. Jesus was speaking of Peter when He said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father." And again, "Feed my sheep, feed my lambs" (John 14:12; John 21:15-17; Matt. 24:45-47).
Seven years or so later, when Peter had finished building the Church, Jesus appeared to Peter the second time (Luke 24:34 and 1Kings 9:1,2), and, after that, to James (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and the other five hundred, or so, leaders of the people, but no mention of the women. (The details in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 require that we accept the fact that this appearance of Christ occurred at least seven years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, partly because of those who were visited and those who were not, but especially by His personal appearance, at that time, to Saul of Tarsus.) This was not merely Paul's account of the events of the forty days after the resurrection. The moment was very near when Peter would use the "Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," to open the door for the Gentiles to come in. Therefore, Jesus personally visited Saul (Paul), and appointed him, and began to prepare him, to spearhead the work of taking the hope of the gospel to the Gentiles.
After that visitation, James became the Chief Bishop, and at the death of James, Jude inherited that office, under whose administration the purity of the Church was marred by the influence of corrupt ministers, and the Church began its descent into ancient Babylonian worship. In the terms which Paul used in 1 Cor. 5, the "Spirit of the Body" could not be saved, and the Church plunged into apostasy.
Both James and Jude were brothers of Jesus, which certifies that "the scepter remained in the hand of Judah" until the death of Jude. In the process of that seventy years or so, from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, God finished His work among the Jews and achieved everything necessary to assure that there would be "light to the Gentiles, and salvation to the ends of the Earth." So, by the end of the first century after the birth of Christ, the scepter had departed from Judah, and the work of carrying the gospel to the world passed into the hands of Gentile Christians, and the long journey to the end of the age had begun.
We now stand very near to that great pivot point in history, where the Gentiles will provoke the Jews to jealousy, and thereby be able to graft them in again to receive the promise, which God gave to Abraham, "that he should inherit the world."
Then shall the words of the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 61, be fulfilled. "Strangers (Gentiles) shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien (the Gentile anointed of God) shall be your plowmen and your vine dressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves" (See also Rom. 2:6-11).
Thus shall a relatively small number of them whom we call Israel today, and whom Isaiah called "The preserved of Israel," be united with their Gentile counterpart for the grand climax of the Christian era.