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Jesus: True Israel of the First Gospel

If you suggested to most evangelicals that Jesus is the second Adam (a fact explicitly stated in Scripture--Romans 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22; 45) you might find that some of them will acknowledge it--and may even appreciate the theological implications; but, if you suggested to the same group of Christians that He is true Israel you would probably get a mixture of facial responses--ranging from a furrowed brow to a blank stare. This is, however, one of the richest, most necessary and most spiritually comforting truths taught in Scripture. If it is taught in Scripture, why do so many never come to understand this important aspect of God's word? While several answers that could be given, the principle one is a failure to understand the representative nature of Christ's work, and the typological nature of covenantal people, places, events, objects, and even nations in the Old Testament.

Throughout the years, I have benefited enormously from reading O. Palmer Robertson's The Israel of God. Robertson's principle argument in this work is that the New Covenant Church is the new Israel. Among the many helpful biblical observations he makes, Robertson points out that the very important fact that when Jesus picked the twelve disciples he was "reconstituting Israel" (12 tribes, 12 apostles). While the teaching of this book is substantial, it fails to firmly establish the fact that New Covenant believers are Israel by faith in Jesus, because Jesus Christ is Himself the true Israel.  I have  found several helpful volumes to supplement Robertson's masterpiece. The first is David E. Holwerda's Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two. The second (written by a Seventh Day Adventist) is Hans K. LaRondelle's The Israel of God in Prophecy. It must also be acknowledged that the issue of the "New Exodus" comes into play in this discussion too (Luke 9:31; Acts 2-12). In this regard I would recommend James Dennison's  article on this subject.

When investigating the Scripture's teaching about Jesus as true Israel, the first Gospel is a good place to start. Matthew's Gospel certainly appears to teach that Jesus, as true Israel, recapitulates Old Covenant Israel's history and purpose. Jesus is "the son of Abraham," thus making Him Israel. God's covenant promises given with respect to Abraham's seed were really given to Christ. In the unfolding of redemptive history, the seed of Abraham, in typical form, was the nation of Israel--but, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:16, it was about Christ, the true spiritual 'Seed.' It is interesting to note at this point that the name Israel is not first given to the nation--rather, it is first given to an individual, Jacob. Jacob was a type of Christ--being for a time the head of the covenant, and as an individual with the name Israel he typifies the Redeemer who was going to be the true Israel. Here the individual precedes the corporate--a significant factor to consider with regard to this discussion. Matthew begins his Gospel with that fact.

At the beginning of the genealogy, Matthew mentions three major epochs in Israel's history: fourteen generation from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Exile. The reference to the period from  Abraham to David, and from David to the Exile, marks the totality of Israel's history as they waited for the promise of the Father. The genealogy of Christ is more than a mere record of lineage. It introduces the idea of Christ being the fulfillment of the entirety of Israel's promises, and prepares the reader for the idea of Christ as the one who recapitulates Israel's history in order to fulfill those promises.

After He is born, Jesus goes down into Egypt, out of Egypt, through the waters, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (where He overcomes by using Scripture that God gave to Israel in the wilderness), up on the mountain, down from the mountain to feed the people with bread like God fed Israel with the manna in the wilderness.

Jesus then recapitulates the Kingdom period, telling the religious leaders of Israel that He was "a greater than David," "a greater than Solomon" and "a greater than the Temple" (which Solomon built), had arrived as King (Mat. 12).  Jesus explains that He and His disciples were the antitype of David and His mighty men, when He walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath--doing something similar to what David did when he took the showbread for his mighty men! The Kingdom typology runs, not chronologically, but thematically throughout the book. Beside the typology of David and the mighty men, Jesus was the antitypical fulfillment of Solomon's coronation when He, unsuspectingly, rode into Jerusalem on a Donkey. Solomong had rode to the throne, unsuspectingly, on a mule. Jesus also said in Matthew 12 that He, with His wisdom, was "greater than" (and yet, in a very real sense, similar to) that of Solomon, who built the Temple.

In addition, Jesus recapitulates the prophetic era and ministry when He pronounces woes on the Pharisees (Matthew 23). Here he promised the destruction of the physical Temple that stood in Israel. As in Ezekiel's vision of the glory of God departing from the Temple--moving out til it stood at the Mount of Olives--(Ezekiel 1-11), so Jesus (the real glory of God) left the Temple for the last time and went to stand on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple.

Finally, He was exiled at the cross, and brought about the restoration (promised by the prophets) of the true Israel in His resurrection.

So what are we to make of all this, if indeed it is what was intended by the Holy Spirit?

The Apostle Paul explained, in 2 Corinthians 1:20, that "all the promises of God in Him (i.e. in Christ) are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us." Jesus, as the true Israel, received the promises of God that were passed down from the fathers (i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). He said 'Yes' to His heavenly Father with regard to all the stipulations and promises of the Covenant. This means He said 'Yes' to the demand for perfect obedience; and He said 'Yes' to the curses that were threatened for our disobedience. He did this as true Israel, and representative of His people. Just as He was the second Adam, obeying in every place where the first Adam failed to obey, He was as true Israel--obeying where Old Covenant Israel failed to obey. This is most clearly seen in His temptation in the wilderness. He was recapitulating Israel's temptation in the wilderness. Where national Israel failed, Christ obeyed. National Israel failed to battle the temptations of the devil and the flesh by failing to use the word that God gave them in the wilderness. Jesus, in His temptation by the devil, battled back victoriously by appealing to and obeying the word of God that was given to Israel in the wilderness (all three verses came out of Deuteronomy).

"In every way that Israel proved to be the unrighteous son, Jesus proved that He was the righteous Son. The obedience of Christ is the emphasis of the temptation accounts; and, failure to see this fact, will inevitably lead to a failure to see His glory in redemption. We need a covenant keeper who has fulfilled the demands of the law for us. His obedience is credited to us, because, just as He represented us in His baptism, so also He represented us in His temptation. Here we find the "good news" of the Gospel. It is not simply His death on the cross--as detached from His obedient life--that justifies us. No, that death is attached to every subsequent act of obedience the Son of God placed on the divine scale for our salvation. God the Father was pleased with the Son at His baptism, He was pleased in His overcoming the attacks of the devil, and He was pleased with Him through the entirety of His obedient life, "even (and especially) to the point of death on the cross."

As we approach Matthew's account of the temptation of Christ, further indications of this typological structure surface. When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, as Israel was tempted in the wilderness, He appeals to those portions of Scripture specifically given to Israel in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3; 6:16; 6:13). If it had been possible for to Israel  to hav obeyed when tested, the promise of blessing would have been procured. Israel would have overcome with the weapons God supplied. The true Israel must overcome by the word of God. It is by faith in Him that the blessings procured now become ours. God does not deal with us in the same way as He dealt with Jesus. The Lord was driven into the wilderness to be tested, and, subsequently, rewarded on the merits of His obedience.

'He was tempted in all points even as we are, yet without sin,' that we now have an Advocate in heaven who gives us 'grace and mercy in time of need.' He had no help when He was alone in the wilderness. Unlike Him, we are not taken out there to face the devil on our own. We have a victorious Savior--a representative figure--who has come 'conquering and to conquer."' May God grant us grace to see that we are "complete in Him" and may we know that peace and mercy that now rests upon us, he new Israel, in Him.1

1. The final paragraphs in this post are a slightly modified version of a 2009 article I wrote for Reformation 21, titled "God's Obedient Son."

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