The Wrath of God

     The Wrath of God-1When reading through the Bible, one encounters the subject of God’s wrath in numerous places (Num. 16:46; Deut. 9:7-8, 22; 29:23, 28; Ps. 7:11; Nah. 1:2; Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 6:16-17; 15:1; 16:1, 19). Scripture reveals, “God is a righteous judge and a God who shows His wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11), and “A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; the LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). The apostle Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). “More than twenty different words occurring about 580 times express the wrath of God in the Old Testament (2 Kings 13:3; 23:26; Job 21:20; Jer. 21:12; Ezek. 8:18; 16:38; 23:25; 24:13).”[1] The most common of these Hebrew words are אַף aph (210 times), חֵמָה chemah (115 times), קֶצֶף qetseph (28 times), חָרוֹן charon (33 times), and עֶבְרָה ebrah (24 times). The two Greek words are ὀργή orge (34 times) and θυμός thumos (18 times). “Orge conveys a more settled anger (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6:16), while thumos indicates a more passionate anger (Rev. 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15). Together they clearly convey the divine hostility against sin in a personal way.”[2]

A Definition of God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath refers to His intense hatred of sin. God’s hatred of sin is primarily born out of His attributes of righteousness and love.[3] Righteousness and love are eternal attributes, but wrath is not. God’s wrath is the natural response to that which is contrary to His righteousness and love. God loves righteousness and He loves His people. Concerning His righteousness it is written, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5), and “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:7).[4] Concerning His people Israel, He says, “you are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you” (Isa. 43:4), and in another place He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). And of the church, it is written, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2), and to John it was revealed that Jesus Christ “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5).

     To perpetually act contrary to God’s righteousness will eventually bring a response of anger, and to attack that which God loves—His people—will bring about divine retribution (Rom. 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 6:9-10; 19:2). Good parents understand these concepts, for they love their children and desire that they live morally according to the righteous standard of God’s Word. Virtuous parents seek to protect their children from unhealthy values that will corrupt their minds and behavior, because they know this can destroy their life, and loving parents will rise in fury if anyone should seek to harm their children.

Examples of God’s Wrath

     A few examples of God’s wrath in the OT include the worldwide flood (Genesis 6-9), the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19), the defeat of the Egyptians (Ex. 15:7), the suppression of the rebellion of Korah (Num. 16:1-50), the Assyrian destruction of the ten tribes of Israel (2 Ki. 17:1-23), and the Babylonian destruction of the two tribes of Judah (2 Ki. 24:1-4; Jer. 25:1-11). A few examples in the NT include Jesus’ anger at the hard-heartedness of religious leaders (Mark 3:1-6), His anger at the money changers in the Temple (John 2:13-16), God’s wrath during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10; 15:7; 16:1), at the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 19:2, 15), and at the Great White throne judgment where unbelievers are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Reasons for God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath is kindled against those who are disobedient to His revelation (2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chron. 24:18-19; 36:15-16; Ps. 78:21-22; Jer. 32:31-33; Rom. 1:18; 2:5). When writing to the Romans, Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). God’s revelation, both natural and special, reveals He is not friendly toward those who reject Him and perpetuate sin, especially the sin of idolatry (Deut. 28:25-25; 2 Ki. 22:17; Ps. 78:58-59; Jer. 7:17-20; 44:5-6; Rev. 9:20; 14:11). In another place Paul writes, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Whenever God pours out His wrath, such as during the Tribulation, He is always declared to be righteous and true, and those who receive His righteous anger deserve what they get.

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev. 16:5-7)

God’s Patience Delays His Wrath

     God’s anger is never rash. In fact, many biblical passages reveal God is very patient and slow to anger. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6), and “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15), and “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17; cf. Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2). God’s patience allows people time to humble themselves and turn to Him before judgment comes. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Though God is patient, He is not patient forever, and there eventually comes a time when His judgment comes, both in time and in eternity.

God’s Wrath at the Cross

     God’s righteousness demands punishment for sin. We produce sin, but are helpless to deal with it. God alone solves our sin-problem, and the cross of Christ is that solution. At the cross God satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, who bore the wrath that rightfully belongs to us (Isa. 53:6-12; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:18). As a result, God is propitiated by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and extends grace and love to undeserving sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9; Tit. 3:5). Those who reject Christ as Savior continue under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 5:9-10). Those who trust Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Furthermore, we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), have relational peace with Him (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20), will never know eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 31-39), and will be spared from the wrath to come (Rom. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:1-10; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9-10).

     It should be noted there is a difference between wrath and discipline. The Christian who falls into a lifestyle of perpetual sin may know God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11), even to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). But discipline is born out of God’s love for the believer, not His anger, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6), and “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).

Should Believers Get Angry?

     Is it alright for God’s people to get angry? The answer is yes and no. There is a sinful anger that God’s people must avoid (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7); however, there are times when we will experience injustice, and it is natural and valid to be angry when this happens. The most common reasons for human anger are hatred, jealousy, fear, or injustice. Because we have such limited or faulty perceptions of circumstances or behaviors, as well as the causes and/or motivations behind them, we are often told not to get angry, as it can result in sin on our part (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7).

     When writing to Christians at Ephesus, Paul stated, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Anger is wrong when it leads us to sin (i.e. revenge, lying, gossip, murder, etc.). Because we are prone to sin, we should always be slow to anger. Scripture states, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29), and “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Prov. 15:18), and “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11), and “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20). As Christians, we must be careful with anger, for sin crouches near the one who harbors it, tempting us to retaliate and exact revenge upon the offending party. Personal revenge is not the Christian way, for Scripture directs us, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). More so, we are to love and pray for our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), and to bless them (Rom. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8-9), if perhaps God may grant them saving grace (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Though God promises to avenge the innocent (2 Thess. 1:6-7; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:1-2); there may be times when He surprises us by showing grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it, such as the grace shown to Paul when he was persecuting the church (Acts 9:1-6; Gal. 1:15-16), or the grace shown to us while we were sinners (Rom. 5:6-10).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 339.

[2] Ibid., 339–340.

[3] Other attributes may be involved as well, such as holiness and jealousy, but I will focus mainly on these two.

[4] This last verse shows the contrast between that which He loves and hates. To love something is to hate the opposite. To love righteousness is to hate sin. Jesus echoed similar language of antithesis when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). And to the church at Ephesus, He states, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).

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Babylonianism

The Building of the Tower of Babel (oil on canvas)

Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

     Babylon is named after the city of Babel, which was founded by a descendant of Noah named Nimrod, who is described as a “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:9). Moses tells us that Nimrod founded several cities, namely, “Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10). Shinar is in the region of what is today known as Iraq. Moses wrote about the origin of Babylon, with its values and practices.

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:1-4)

     In this passage we observe these early descendants of Noah all spoke the same language and chose to settle in the land of Shinar contrary to God’s previous command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). After settling, they began to use God’s resources of volition, intelligence, language, and building materials to build a city for themselves, as well as a tower into heaven. All of this was done to make a name for themselves, rather than to obey and glorify God. Their big plans and big tower were small in the sight of God, who “came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (Gen. 11:5). No matter how big their tower, it would never reach heaven, and the Lord condescended to see their production. Of course, the Lord knew all along what they were doing, and this satirical language helps us understand the work of men from the divine perspective. Because it was God’s will for them to fill the earth, He confused their language and scattered them over the earth (gen. 11:6-9).

     Babylon is the birthplace of organized rebellion against God, in which people used the Lord’s resources in defiance of His will. Babylon is mentioned over three hundred times in Scripture, and in several places is identified for her pride (Isa. 13:19), idolatry (Isa. 21:9; Jer. 51:44), sorceries (Isa. 47:13), and tyrannical form of government (Dan. 1:1-8; 3:1-22). By the time we get to the book of Revelation, Babylon is seen both as a city and a system that promotes religious, political, and economic agendas that are antithetical to God. Babylon is described as a great harlot who influences all of humanity with false religions (Rev. 17:1-5), is guilty of persecuting and murdering prophets and saints (Rev. 17:6), is a dwelling place of demons and unclean spirits (Rev. 18:2), with whom “the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev. 18:3), and she sees herself as a queen that will never know mourning (Rev. 18:7). Eventually, Babylon is completely destroyed just prior to the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 18:2, 10, 21).

     Babylonianism is a philosophy of human autonomy that permeates all aspects of society including politics, economics, business, entertainment, academic institutions, and culture at large. The philosophy is communicated through literature, music, art, television, radio, news channels, and everyday discussions. It is a system of values that start and end with man, and is embraced by the vast majority of people who assign no serious thought of God to their discussions, plans, or projects, and who seek to use His resources independently of His wishes. Babylonianism is also the mother of all world religions, which provide people a system of beliefs and rituals whereby they can work their way to heaven by human effort. There is even a Babylonian form of Christianity, which undermines the grace of God and convinces people they are saved by good works.

     Biblical Christianity is not a religion, whereby people bring themselves to God through ritual practices or good works. Rather, it presents the truth that people are totally helpless to save themselves (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and that salvation is a work of God alone, apart from any human effort (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel message is that God provided a way for helpless sinners to be saved, and this is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4), who died in our place on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:6-8; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18). The simple truth of Scripture is that we are saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (John 3:16), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), whose substitutionary death provides forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).

     Biblical Christianity is more than just a way to be saved. It also provides a structured philosophical framework that tells us why everything exists (i.e. the universe, mankind, evil, etc.) and helps us to see God sovereignly at work in everything, providing purpose for our lives, and directing history toward the return of Christ. This gives us hope for the future; for “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). When properly understood and applied, Scripture guards us from harmful cultural influences (Phil. 4:6-8), and directs and enriches our lives (Ps. 119:14, 111). Jeremiah wrote, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Biblical Christianity sets us free to enjoy God’s world and to pursue righteousness and goodness (Rom. 6:11-13; Tit. 2:11-14).

     As Christians, must be careful that we do not fall into Babylonianism, either by following the lead of those who seek to silence or pervert the voice God, or be enticed by pleasures or activities that lead us to trust in people or things instead of Him. We are not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Rather, we must consciously place God at the center of our lives and pursue His glory, actively and graciously insert His word into our daily discussions, and humbly serve others above our own self-interests (Phil. 2:4-8).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders

A leader is one who influences the thoughts and actions of others in order to achieve a specific outcome. The Bible differentiates between good and bad leaders, between the righteous and the wicked. Bad leaders exclude God from their daily thoughts and activities and selfishly pursue their own desires, even if it means harming others. Below are some qualities that describe bad leaders:

  1. They trust in human resources rather than God. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isa. 31:1).[1]
  2. They are open to lies. “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood [i.e. intentionally listens to lies], all his ministers become wicked” (Pro. 29:12).
  3. They make people groan. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Pro. 29:2).
  4. They oppress others. “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Pro. 28:15-16).
  5. They are sometimes described as beasts that are empowered by Satan. “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea…and the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:1-2; cf. 7:1-8).
  6. They openly attack God and His people. “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God…It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:6-7).

In contrast, the good leader is first and foremost a follower of God who wears a crown of humility and derives his values and strength from the Lord. Below are some of the qualities of a good leader:

  1. He is a servant to others. When Solomon died, his counselors advised his son, Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7; cf. Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:13-17; Phil. 2:3-4).
  2. He seeks God’s righteousness as his rule for judging others. “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice” (Ps. 72:1-2).
  3. He cares about the poor and needy. “He [the king] will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.” (Ps. 72:12-14).
  4. He governs with integrity and skill. Of David, it is written, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72).
  5. He rules by wisdom. “By me [biblical wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro. 8:15-16).
  6. He displays impeccable judgment. “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment” (Pro. 16:10; cf. read Deut. 17:18-20).
  7. He brings stability by adhering to justice. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro. 29:4).
  8. He governs by loyalty and truth. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Pro. 20:28).
  9. He governs in righteousness. “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved” (Pro. 16:12-13).
  10. He should be honest. “Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool, much less are lying lips to a prince” (Pro. 17:7).
  11. He punishes the wicked. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them” (Pro. 20:26).
  12. He associates with honest and gracious persons. “He who loves purity of heart [i.e. has honest intentions] and whose speech is gracious [i.e. kind speech], the king is his friend” (Pro. 22:11).
  13. He searches to find the facts of a matter. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13).
  14. He preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro. 31:4-5).
  15. He surrounds himself with wise counselors. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pro. 11:14).
  16. He educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. When Moses began leading God’s people, Israel, he overextended himself and began to burnout. Scripture states, “It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening” (Ex. 18:13.). Moses’ father-in-law saw what was happening and said, “Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (Ex. 18:14). Moses explained the people were coming to him and that he felt compelled to help them (Ex. 18:15-16). Moses’ father-in-law answered, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18). He advised Moses to educate God’s people concerning His statutes and laws and then select honest men who would serve as judges to the people. He said, “You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex. 18:19-23). It is said of Moses, he “listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24).

As believers, we are always to pray for those in leadership positions. Paul writes, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

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Faith or Regeneration – Which Comes First?

Faith or Regeneration     I’ve been teaching through the Gospel of John at the federal prison near my house over the past few months. As with any expositional study, certain theological issues will naturally arise, and the issue of election has been popping up in our discussions. One of our conversations got a little heated one evening regarding the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. The discussion focused primarily on whether regeneration precedes faith, or faith precedes regeneration. I was pleased to see them struggling with the issue and trying to work it out in their thinking. After nearly forty-five minutes I brought the discussion to a close, not because we’d resolved the matter, but because I needed get back to the expositional presentation of the Gospel of John, which is what the class is about. After I went home that evening, I spent a few hours writing this article, which I delivered to the inmates the following week. Though I take a position on this subject, I try to present both sides fairly.

     It’s important to keep in mind that there are good and loving theologians who stand on either side of the debate. Some believe regeneration precedes faith in Christ, and others that faith in Christ precedes regeneration. These are not dogmatic on the issue, stating the possibility that faith and regeneration may occur at the same time. Careful study through the Bible does not yield a step by step order concerning God’s salvation process in the life of His elect; rather, many of the arguments are predicated on logical reasonings. Below are a few quotes from top scholars who fall on either side of the debate. Though there are more teachers I could have chosen, I selected a few strong representatives from each side in order to keep the discussion focused and brief. A few opening remarks are important.

In view of the fact that the Bible does not specify the exact order that applies in the application of the work of redemption, there is naturally considerable room for a difference of opinion. And as a matter of fact the Churches are not all agreed as to the ordo salutis. The doctrine of the order of salvation is a fruit of the Reformation. Hardly any semblance of it is found in the works of the Scholastics. In pre-Reformation theology scant justice is done to soteriology in general.[1]

We should be flexible as to what goes into the ordo and what does not. The Bible itself doesn’t use the phrase ordo salutis any more than it speaks of an order of the decrees. And Scripture does not include anywhere a list of all the events theologians typically include under that label. Myself, I think that the ordo is mainly a pedagogical device.[2]

In the Reformed statement of the ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith, for, it is argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe. Although this is admittedly stated only as a logical order, it is not wise to insist even on that; for it may as well be argued that if a sinner has the new life through regeneration, why does he need to believe? Of course, there can be no chronological order; both regeneration and faith have to occur at the same moment. To be sure, faith is also part of the total package of salvation that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:9); yet faith is commanded in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Both are true.[3]

A definition of regeneration:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)[4]

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [γεννάω gennao + ἄνωθεν anothen = born again, or born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

     The word “regeneration” occurs only twice in the Bible (Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5). In both places the Greek word used is παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia, which means the “the state of being renewed… [the] experience of a complete change of life, rebirth of a redeemed person.”[5] Dr. Charles Ryrie states, “The word, used only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5), means to be born again. To be born from above (anothen) occurs in John 3:3 and probably includes the idea of being born again also (see the use of anothen in Gal. 4:9). It is the work of God that gives new life to the one who believes.”[6] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.”[7] The Greek word ἀναγεννάω anagennao can be added as well. The word appears twice in Peter’s first epistle (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). The basic meaning is, to begat again, and is translated born again in both instances and has the idea of imparting new life.

The argument that regeneration precedes faith in Christ:

     There are many Christians who believe that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. The reasoning is that an unregenerate person has no ability within himself to do anything, and even believing is made possible by means of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. J.I. Packer states, “Jesus’ point throughout [John 3:3-8] is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.”[8] In this formula, Packer places faith in Christ after regeneration. At another point he states, “Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause.”[9] Discussing John 3:3-8, Dr. Wayne Grudem takes the same view as Packer, stating:

Using the verses quoted above [John 3:3-8], we have defined regeneration to be the act of God awakening spiritual life within us, bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. On this definition, it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith. However, when we say that it comes “before” saving faith, it is important to remember that they usually come so close together that it will ordinarily seem to us that they are happening at the same time. As God addresses the effective call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call. So from our perspective it is hard to tell any difference in time, especially because regeneration is a spiritual work that we cannot perceive with our eyes or even understand with our minds.[10]

Dr. John Frame argues that regeneration is the first act in our salvation, saying:

When God calls us into fellowship with Christ, he gives us a new life, a new heart. Regeneration is the first effect of effectual calling. And regeneration is the first item on the list that occurs inside of us. The presupposition of Scripture is that apart from God’s grace we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), as we saw in chapter 8. That means that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing to please God. Just as conception and birth bring new physical life, so the work of regeneration brings new spiritual life. Through the new birth we gain new desire and new ability to serve God.[11]

Arguing that the new birth precedes faith in Christ, Frame further states:

So, the new birth comes before our faith, bringing it about. People sometimes say, “Believe in Jesus, and you will be born again.” This expression is biblically inaccurate. It is true that believing in Jesus is the path to blessing. But the new birth is the cause of faith rather than the other way around. Again, you cannot give birth to yourself, even by faith. Rather, God gives new birth to you and enables you to have faith. It is always God’s sovereignty, isn’t it?[12]

The argument that faith in Christ precedes regeneration:

     Regeneration is completely a work of God, for fallen persons have no ability to produce spiritual life. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer believes regeneration is a work of God alone, in which God the Holy Spirit produces new life in the believer, completely apart from any human merit or worth, and occurs at the moment of faith in Christ.

On the basis of this text [Tit. 3:5], the word “regeneration” has been chosen by theologians to express the concept of new life, new birth, spiritual resurrection, the new creation, and, in general, a reference to the new supernatural life that believers receive as sons of God. In the history of the church, the term has not always had accurate usage, but properly understood, it means the origination of the eternal life which comes into the believer in Christ at the moment of faith, the instantaneous change from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life.[13]

     Dr. John Walvoord argues that regeneration is completely a work of God, saying, “Regeneration by its nature is solely a work of God. While sometimes considered as a result, every instance presumes or states that the act of regeneration was an act of God.”[14] And he comments again, “As the word itself implies, the central thought in the doctrine of regeneration is that eternal life is imparted. Regeneration meets the need created by the presence of spiritual death.”[15] Further, Dr. Walvoord states clearly that eternal life is received by faith, saying:

The important fact, never to be forgotten in the doctrine of regeneration, is that the believer in Christ has received eternal life. This fact must be kept free from all confusion of thought arising from the concept of regeneration which makes it merely an antecedent of salvation, or a preliminary quickening to enable the soul to believe. It is rather the very heart of salvation. It reaches the essential problem of the lack of eternal life without which no soul can spend eternity in the presence of God. Regeneration supplies eternal life as justification and sanctification deal with the problem of sin specifically. It is a smashing blow to all philosophies which hold that man has inherent capacities of saving himself. Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life. The proper doctrine of regeneration gives to God all glory and power due His name, and at the same time it displays His abundant provision for a race dead in sin.[16]

     Dr. Charles Ryrie writes concerning the means of regeneration, stating, “God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Pet. 1:23).”[17] Ryrie then defines faith, saying, “Faith means confidence, trust, to hold something as true. Of course, faith must have content; there must be confidence or trust about something. To have faith in Christ unto salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and grant eternal life.”[18] And finally, addressing the necessity of faith, he states, “Salvation is always through faith, not because of faith (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the channel through which we receive God’s gift of eternal life; it is not the cause. This is so man can never boast, even of his faith. But faith is the necessary and only channel (John 5:24; 17:3).”[19] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying:

John 1:13 indicates the new birth is not effected by the will of man. Regeneration is an act of God, not a cooperative effort between God and man. That is not to say, however, that faith is unnecessary in salvation. It may be suggested that although regeneration and faith are distinct, they occur simultaneously. The two are set side by side in John 1:12–13. In John 1:12, at the moment of receiving Christ (believing), the person becomes a child of God; in John 1:13 it indicates that at that very moment the persons have been born of God. Surely there is a mystery here that surpasses human comprehension.[20]

     I find myself more in agreement with Lewis Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Paul Enns, and many others who teach that regeneration occurs either just after faith in Christ, or at the same time. This discussion is not intended to resolve the issues surrounding the ordo salutis. Though I love and appreciate the writings of theologians such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, J.I. Packer, John Frame, and many others, yet I am unconvinced—at least at this time—by their arguments that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. My current position is based more on the evidence of Scripture rather than well-crafted theological arguments.

     Biblically, there are numerous passages that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to having new life, or regeneration. It is written, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). In these and other instances, “eternal life” is given after we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Faith is never the cause of our salvation, but rather, the means by which we receive it. Scripture clearly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

     I would also like to say in closing that I do not consider this theological issue as central to the Christian faith; therefore, disagreement on this issue is not a basis for breaking fellowship. I agree with the statement: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel in Two Minutes  
  2. Not of Works  
  3. The Doctrine of Election  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation   

 

Cited Sources:

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 417.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 183.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 376.

[4] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 752.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[7] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 338.

[8] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 157–158.

[9] Ibid., 158.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 702.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 185.

[12] Ibid., 186.

[13] Lewis Sperry Chafer; Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 2010), 97-98.

[14] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapds, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 130.

[15] Ibid., 131.

[16] Ibid., 132.

[17] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[18] Ibid., 377.

[19] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 377.

[20] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 340.

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What is the Church?

[This article is soon to appear in an upcoming book titled: What is dispe… dispe… dispensationalism?]

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

     ChurchThe term church is a common translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means called out ones, assembly, congregation, or community of Christians.[1] The New Testament writers use the word both in a general and technical sense. When used in a general sense, the word refers to any assembly, such as an assembly of residents in a city (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is interesting that the assembly mentioned in Acts 19 refers to pagan worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis and does not refer to believers at all (Acts 19:34-35). The word ekklesia is also applied to Israel as a general assembly or congregation (Matt. 18:17; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus addresses the subject of discipline within the fellowship of a community (ekklesia); however, the evidence of the passage favors a Jewish assembly (i.e. a synagogue) and not the Christian church.[2] In Acts 7:38 Stephen is speaking to a Jewish audience and mentions “the congregation [ekklesia] in the wilderness.”[3] Stephen’s use of the word ekklesia simply refers the assembly of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22, in which the Septuagint[4] has the term ekklesia, again, used in a general way of an assembly or congregation of Jewish people.

     When applied to Christians in the New Testament, ekklesia takes on a technical meaning and refers to those who have been joined to the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23) by means of personal faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9). The first reference to the Christian church occurs in Matthew 16:18 after Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and based on the rock-solid truth of Peter’s statement, Jesus said, “I will build [future tense] My church [ekklesia]; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus’ future tense statement reveals a church that was not in existence when He spoke. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit began His baptizing ministry of placing believers into the body of Christ. Concerning this work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-28). “The Holy Spirit of God is the primary agent who identifies the believer with other believers. Each one is a member of the body, and each member is united with the other members and with Christ (Rom. 6:1–4).”[5] The comparison of Acts 1:4-5 with Acts 2:1-4 and 11:15-17 make a compelling case for the church’s origin in Acts 2. It is mainly in the writings of Paul that the Christian church is identified as the body of Christ. Note the following Scriptures:

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23)

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:18)

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

     Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Head of the body, the church. The Greek word soma, translated body, occurs 142 times in the New Testament and is used most often of physical bodies; however, it is used “sixteen times to refer to the church, the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). With the exception of Eph. 5:28, in Ephesians it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the body of Christ, the church.”[6] Paul first learned about this identification when he, as an unbeliever, encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was persecuting Christians and putting them in prison. While on the road, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, which caused him to fall to the ground, and then a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4; cf. 22:7; 26:14). When Paul asked, “who are You Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul learned that an attack on Christians is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “The question, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, ‘Why do you persecute My church?’ The reference to ‘Me’ gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ.”[7] When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).[8]

The Universal Church

     The New Testament church is understood both in a universal and local sense. The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ. This is the organic church as it exists all over the planet. Several passages in the New Testament communicate the idea of a universal church, such as when Paul said, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), and “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28), and “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; italics added). What is noticed in these and other places in Scripture is the use of the term church without a specific location (Matt. 16:18; Acts 8:3; 9:31; 20:28; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Robert Lightner comments on this:

There are a number of usages of ekklesia that do not seem to refer to a local assembly of believers. Instead, they speak of that company of believers formed on the day of Pentecost into the body of Christ, which has been growing ever since as sinners trust Christ alone as Savior and are added to it. This company of the redeemed is called the church without consideration of whether or not those who are a part of it are members of local churches.[9]

     The universal church exists all over the earth. When the rapture of the church occurs, all believers, wherever they are on the planet, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is, the church, as it exists globally, will be removed from the earth and taken to be with Christ. Also, whenever we meet another Christian, we are meeting someone who belongs to the global body of Christ, whether they belong to a local assembly or not.

The Local Church

     The word church is also used to refer to a local assembly of those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3). Luke mentions “the church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). Paul mentions “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2) (italics added). The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). These were all local churches that existed in ancient cities, where Christians lived and worked. However, we can narrow the local church down a little further and say that Christians met in the homes of specific church members within each city. The first church—which was Jewish—met “in the temple” in Jerusalem, as well as “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). As the church grew, and included Gentiles, the home continued as the primary meeting place for believers. Luke records Paul’s ministry to Christians in Ephesus and explained that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul mentions several home churches such as the one run by Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19), and about “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Col. 4:15), and “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Phm. 1:2) (italics added).

     Who were the members of these local house churches? From several writings in the New Testament we get a demographic breakdown of church members, which consisted of men and women (Eph. 5:22-23), parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4), slaves and free persons (Eph. 6:5-9), rich and poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jam. 2:2-5), spiritual and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1), mature and immature (1 Cor. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2). We can also surmise that home churches generally had few members because of the size of the homes (probably not exceeding 50 people) and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian fellowship. Luke gives us a snapshot of some of the values and practices of the early church in which he tells us “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

     We also know the first century church had problems. Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship. Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish tended to cause trouble. Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship conflicts (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12). But God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), manifesting “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In the church, Christians were to learn Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), seek the interests of others over self (Phil. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10), and do good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). These Christian qualities made the church attractive and productive.

     The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God. Paul states, “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), and “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Pet. 2:5). Other purposes of the church include evangelizing the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), edifying believers through biblical teaching so they might advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), praying for one another (Jam. 5:16), and showing love (John 13:34).

A Divided Understanding of the Church

     One of the dispensational distinctives is that Israel and the church are separate. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, made up of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). The church, as the body of Christ, was revealed to the apostles only in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). However, covenant theologians see the church existing as one people of God, a single group of people that goes all the way back to Genesis. Covenant theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[10] And John Frame comments, “Israel was the church of the old covenant; the New Testament church is the Israel of the new covenant, what Paul calls ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”[11] Covenant theologians such as Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, Edward Young, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and many others argue that Israel is the church and the church is Israel; they are the same. Though I have a great love for covenant theologians and am profoundly thankful for much of their writings, I respectfully disagree with their understanding of the church.

     When one reads back through the Old Testament there were basically two groups of people on the earth: Jews and Gentiles. This distinction began with the call of Abraham, when God called him into a special relationship and promised to bless the world through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Biblically, a Jew is a Jew because he/she is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 19; 22:15-17; 28:13-14; Ex. 2:24-25). “The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant which promised that a nation would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis 12:2a; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1–2, 7; 22:17; 26:4, 24; and 28:14; from which a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced.”[12] A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. And a Gentile, no matter how hard he/she tried, could never be a biological Jew. Certainly Gentiles could participate in the Jewish blessings if he/she embraced God. Rahab and Ruth believed in God, but, though saved and in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5), they were never regarded as biological Jews. Ruth continued to be called a Moabitess, even after her conversion (Ruth 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). The Jew and Gentile distinction continued for millennia until the formation of the Christian church. Now, in the church age, there are three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. This is why Paul makes the comment, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32; italics added). The church is now a third group that consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ as their Savior and been joined to the body of Christ.[13]

     Though both Israel and Christians are the people of God, the Christian church is distinct from the nation of Israel. Several observations from the New Testament provide a compelling case. First, the term Israel occurs 73 times in the New Testament (30 times in the Gospels, 21 times in the book of Acts, 19 times in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation), and not once does it refer to the church.[14] “The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the Church in general or of Gentile believers in particular.”[15] The fact that Israel is still called Israel, even after the church is formed, argues that Israel is not the church. Second, the word Jew occurs 186 times in the New Testament (84 times in the Gospels, 76 times in the book of Acts, 24 times in the Epistles, and 2 times in the book of Revelation), and refers to anyone who is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word Jew is never used of Gentiles or the church. The fact that these distinctions continue throughout the New Testament make a compelling case that Israel and the church are separate groups of people.

The distinction between Israel and the church is verified by several facts. (1) In the New Testament natural Israel and Gentiles are contrasted after the church was clearly established (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:19). (2) Natural Israel and the church are clearly distinguished, showing that the church is not Israel (1 Cor. 10:32). The apostle’s distinction would be meaningless if Israel were the same as the church.[16]

     Additional biblical distinctions reveal that Israel is a nation (Ex. 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom. 10:19). God’s program for Israel focuses on the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num. 14:15; Josh. 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-6; Col. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 16:25-26).[17] Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

     In the New Testament, there are Jewish unbelievers (Acts 14:2; 19:8-9), and Jewish believers (Acts 10:45; 14:1). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, one could be a biological Jew and not belong to the remnant of saved Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, there are Gentile unbelievers (Acts 14:2-7), and Gentile believers (Acts 13:48; 21:25). Both Jews and Gentiles are distinguished in several passages (Acts 4:27; 9:15; 14:2, 5; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:29; 9:24), as well as Jews and Christians (Gal. 2:11-14), Gentiles and Christians (Acts 11:1), and all three at once (Acts 14:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:32). In the book of Galatians, Paul draws a distinction between Gentile and Jewish believers, where he states, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them [Gentile Christians], and upon the Israel of God [Jewish Christians]” (Gal. 6:16). Covenant theologians commonly reference Galatians 6:16 to argue that the church and Israel are the same; but this fails to consider the language of the text. “The first group is the them, the uncircumcision, the Gentile Christians to and of whom he [Paul] had devoted most of the epistle. The second group is the Israel of God. These are the circumcision, the Jewish believers who, in contrast with the Judaizers, followed the rule of salvation by grace through faith alone.”[18] These distinctions in the New Testament make a compelling argument that Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are seen as separate groups.[19]

     God’s current plan in human history is being worked out through His church. However, we should never draw the conclusion that God is finished with Israel. He is not. Israel as a nation is under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:25-27), but God has a future plan to restore them and to bless the world through them. God’s covenant promises to Israel are still in effect (Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2), which promises point to a future regathering of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15), a King and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 6:9-10; 19:28; 25:31), and a righteous rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16), which will last for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and He will inherit the throne of His father and rule on earth.

Summary

     The church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). More so, the church exists both in a universal and local sense, globally as an organism and locally as an organization. Once the church is caught up to heaven at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), God will resume His plan with national Israel and fulfill all the promises made to them through the covenants (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2; 25-27).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303-304.

[2] There are several reasons Matthew 18:17 does not refer to the Christian church: Firstly, the Christian church did not come into existence until after the resurrection of Jesus. To make Matthew 18:17 refer to the Christian church is to have the church in existence before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, which is how believers are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-16). Secondly, Jesus cites the Mosaic Law as the rule for judging the brother in Matthew 18, and this would have been expected of those living under that code (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Currently, Christians are not living under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), but under the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. Rom. 8:2; Jam. 1:25; 2:8). Thirdly, if the brother refuses to listen to the assembly, he is to be treated “as a Gentile” (Matt. 18:17), a term which would make no sense for the Christian church, since Jewish and Gentile identity is subservient to the greater identity of being united with Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[4] The Septuagint, or LXX, refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated circa 250 B.C.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 229.

[6] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 2002), 290.

[7] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 375–376.

[8] Prior to this transfer, every person is identified positionally as being in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22). However, at the moment of faith in Christ, the believer obtains a new identity and is said to be in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Paul stresses this positional identification several times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:1; 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:1; 2:6, 13; 3:6).

[9] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 228.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 853.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 235.

[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 748.

[13] In one sense, Jews and Gentiles retain their ethnic and cultural identity, even after believing in Christ as Savior. However, in another sense, their new identity as a Christian, which is part of the body of Christ, supersedes whatever identity they had before (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:9-11).

[14] The term Israel is used to refer to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both saved and lost (Matt. 2:6; 9:33; 10:6; 15:24, 31; 27:9; Mark 12:29; Luke 1:16, 54, 80; 2:25, 34; 4:25, 27; 22:30; 24:21; John 1:31; 3:10; Acts 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 37, 42; 10:36; 13:16-17, 23-24; 21:28; 28:20; Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-26; 1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13; 11:22; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:5; Heb. 8:8, 10; 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Luke 1:68), Jesus as the king of Israel (Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13), the land of Israel (Matt. 2:20-21), the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and in contrast with Gentiles (Matt. 8:10; Luke 2:32; 7:9; Acts 4:27; 9:15).

[15] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 699.

[16] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 462.

[17] A mystery (musterion) is something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Paul then states what that mystery is, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

[18] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 691.

[19] A Christian can be a spiritual descendant of Abraham by exercising faith in the same God as Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:29), but this should not be confused with the covenants and promises of God which are promised to national Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

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A Brief Analysis of the Millennial Kingdom

     The Millennial KingdomThe Bible reveals two aspects of God’s rule over His creation. The first is His universal rule in which He sovereignly decrees whatsoever comes to pass and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). There are times when God accomplishes His will immediately without the assistance of others (such as in the creation), and other times He chooses to work mediately through creatures, both intelligent (angels and people), and simple (Balaam’s donkey). Concerning God’s universal rule, Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a; cf. 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12).

     The second is God’s earthly rule in which He governs through a human mediatorial administrator. The first account of such a rule is found in Genesis where the Lord assigned Adam and Eve to rule over the whole world (Gen. 1:26-28). Theirs was a mediatorial kingdom, which may be defined as “the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who not only speaks and acts for God but also represents the people before God; a rule which has especial reference to the earth; and having as its mediatorial ruler one who is always a member of the human race.”[1] However, through an act of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-7), Adam and Eve forfeited their rulership to Satan, a fallen angelic creature, who rules through deception (2 Cor. 11:3, 14; Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8), blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and enslavement (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan has had dominion over this world and is called “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:1), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). When tempting Jesus, Satan offered Him “the kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8-9), and they were his to give. However, the Bible also reveals that Satan has been judged (Gen. 3:15; John 16:11), and in the future will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9), confined for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), and eventually cast into the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:10). It must always be remembered that God sovereignly permits Satan a limited form of rulership for a limited period of time, always restraining him and his demonic forces, if they seek to transgress the boundaries He’s established for them (Job. 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Mark 15:1-13; 2 Pet. 2:4).

     Subsequent to Adam and Eve, God has worked to reestablish His kingdom on earth through the promises and covenants offered to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), the nation Israel (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; Jer. 31:31-33), and king David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37). When Jesus came, He repeatedly offered the earthly kingdom to Israel (Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; 10:5-7), a literal kingdom they could physically enter into (Matt. 5:20; 6:10; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:3-6). But they rejected Him and His offer (Mark 15:12-15; John 19:15); therefore, the earthly kingdom was postponed for a future time (Matt. 21:43; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev. 20:4-6).

     We are currently living in the church age, which will come to an end when the church is raptured to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Afterward, there will be a period of time known as the Tribulation, which will begin when the Antichrist signs a seven year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Revelation chapters 6-18). The time of Tribulation will come to an end when Jesus returns to earth to put down rebellion (Rev. 19:11-21) and establish His kingdom (Matt. 25:31; Rev. 11:15; 20:1-6). After His second coming, Jesus will rule the whole earth, from Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15; Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 27; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Mark 11:9-10), He will rule absolutely with “a rod of iron” (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15), and His reign will be marked by righteousness and peace on the earth (Isa. 11:1-9). Also, we know from Scripture that the earthly kingdom will last a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6), and afterward will become an eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:44; 7:27; 1 Cor. 15:24). The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille which means “thousand” and annum which means “year”. The word millennium translates the Greek word χίλιοι chilioi, which occurs six times in Revelation 20:1-6. The millennial kingdom will see Jesus seated on the throne of David, in Jerusalem, ruling over the world. He will rule the nations in righteousness, advocating for the poor and weak, as well as suppressing wickedness and rebellion (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15). Satan will be bound during the reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3), and a new worship system will be implemented (see Ezekiel 40-46).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Ind. BMH Books, 2009), 41.

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A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophecy

     Israel in History and ProphecyThe history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives from eternity past. Israel was created by God (Isa. 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut. 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen. 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen. 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex. 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). Then God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut. 28:16-68). The nation of Israel remained in the wilderness for forty years while God tested and humbled them (Deut. 8:2-5). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh. 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for nearly 300 hundred years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges is marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam. 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam. 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki. 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki. 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki. 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki. 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki. 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki. 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut. 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in A.D. 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt. 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25).

Israel Present

     For nearly 1900 years God has faithfully kept His word to disperse Israel because of their idolatry (Deut. 28:63-68) and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 23:37-39). Now, since 1948, Israelites are back in the Promised Land; even though the majority of them are atheists who reject God. This could be a fulfillment of prophecy in which God has regathered His people before the time of the judgment of the Tribulation (Ezek. 20:33-38; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-2). Logically it makes sense that God will regather Israel as a nation (Ezek. 36:22-24) before He regenerates them and gives them a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-28). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues two regatherings of Israel. The first is a regathering of Jews in unbelief, which sets the stage for the Tribulation. The second regathering is in belief, which prepares them for Messiah, who will rule over them during the millennium.

First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessings, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present State of Israel fits into prophecy.[1]

     As Christians, we are glad to see Jews returning to the Promised Land and support the nation of Israel. This support is by no means a blanket endorsement of all Israel does, for the nation may behave immorally like any other nation. However, we recognize that God is working to set the stage for prophetic events, and that Israel being in the Promised Land is a part of that.

Israel Future

     Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), and subject to a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah. Once Jesus returns, Israel will possess all of the land that was promised to them, and they will possess it forever.

     Covenant theologians often argue that God has already fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land (see Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Ki. 4:21; Neh. 9:8). God was faithful to bring Abraham’s descendants into the Promised Land, and though they eventually came to control much of it under the reign of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:21-24), they did not possess it all, and this seems plain from other biblical passages where Israelites had to fight the old residents still in the land (Josh. 23:5-7; Judg. 1:21, 27-28).

     “The first chapter of Judges, recording events which took place after the death of Joshua (1:1), records how various tribes failed to take the land allotted to them (1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 33, 34–36). Never in Old Testament history did Israel possess, dwell, and settle in all of the Promised Land. Nor did it ever happen in Jewish history since.”[2] In fact, several of the prophets who lived after Solomon wrote about Israel’s future possession of the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15)

     Furthermore, it was stated in Scripture that Abraham personally would possess the land, and that he and his descendants would possess it forever. Several times God said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you [Abraham] and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you [Abraham]” (Gen. 13:17), and “I will give to you [Abraham] and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Yet, Abraham has never possessed the land that was promised to Him. In fact, Stephen makes this very point in his speech in Acts, where he says, “But He [God] gave him [Abraham] no inheritance in it [the land], not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5).

     During his lifetime, Abraham did not possess the land God promised to him. But God will keep His word to Abraham and his descendants. God will, in the future, through resurrections, give both Abraham and Israel possession of all the Promised Land, and they will possess it forever. In addition, Israel will benefit from all the blessings of the New Covenant which are stated in Scripture (Jer. 31:31-34). Lastly, the nation of Israel will be blessed when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will be seated on His throne in Jerusalem, ruling over them “forever” (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31).

     Both Covenant and Dispensational theologians agree that God made promises to Abraham of land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:13-17; 15:17; 17:26; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). The difference lies in that Covenant theologians believe that God has fulfilled all those promises to Abraham, whereas Dispensationalists believe God will fulfill those promises in the future.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 716.

[2] Ibid., 632.

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