Posts Tagged ‘discontinuity’

What Scripture Has to Say About the Nations

October 1, 2019 2 comments

Old Testament / New Testament Continuity is a topic I’m always interested in, especially in response to the confusion and errors so common in our day, such as the extreme discontinuity of classic dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology, and the error in the anti-confessional, Biblicist, minimalist doctrine view.  Associated with these errors is a simplistic and perhaps lazy attitude toward God’s word, that neglects the majority of the Bible and would generalize scripture down to a few basic concepts, sometimes “justified” with the use of allegorical/spiritualizing that ignores the actual content of scripture in favor of a simple, “broad brush” understanding that God is sovereign and He takes care of everything– a low view of scripture that does not really see the necessity of all of God’s word for all of life, where scripture is limited and boxed in, not something that truly transforms every aspect of our lives (a strong Christian worldview).

A recent example I’ve come across concerns the issue of nations:  the idea that Israel as a nation is meaningless and “not the point” of anything in God’s Word, even within the Old Testament context.  Instead, Israel was just a symbol of the reality of God and individuals and salvation for all of us generally; further, that the Bible is irrelevant concerning nations (Israel or any other), and so we shouldn’t get sidetracked into any Bible discussions about the nations, Israel or other.

This minimalist approach again shows a low view of scripture–and ignorance of what the Bible really does have to say about nations.  Even from the extreme discontinuity perspective that would “unhitch” from all of the Old Testament (see this article about Andy Stanley), the New Testament (even excluding the gospels!) has several things to say here, as for example:

  • Acts 17:26, in Paul’s speech at Athens: God’s purpose for mankind in the nations – and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation
  • Romans 3:1-2, where Paul describes the benefits to Israel as a nation: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
  • All of Romans 9, 10, and 11, concerning Israel as a nation, and the Gentiles
  • Revelation 21:12-14, which alludes to and expands on Ezekiel 47, including everything from Ezekiel 47:

It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

  • Followed by the explicit reference to nations later in the same chapter, Revelation 21:24-26

24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it

These are just examples of what is explicit in the New Testament, and the point has been well made, and quite often, against the Marcionitish idea that would just ditch the Old Testament.  For the first century believers during Jesus’ day, and later during the early church, the Old Testament was their Bible; the later NT revelation does not replace the majority of the Bible.  The NT texts cited above, from Romans and Revelation, demonstrate the continuity, as these texts are not in isolation, totally new words, but reference what had already been said in the Old Testament.

Further, if the Bible is really just about God and individuals, and how we can be saved, then sermon preaching would be extremely limited.  Unfortunately there have been such pastors and preaching, which only deals with the individual’s salvation and God’s sovereignty – but the preaching range is indeed very limited, and contrary to the gospel imperative, that preachers and teachers are to expound the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).  Then too, lest anyone think that the above is the whole counsel of God, it is also very interesting that the apostle Paul spent only about three weeks in Thessalonica (reference Acts 17) and yet later was discussing the details of eschatology including the future man of lawlessness/sin and Christ’s return with the Thessalonian believers (1 and 2 Thessalonians).

If the point of the Bible is only about individual salvation, nothing about nations, then why all the content (Old, and again in the New Testament) about God’s judgment of nations?  God’s judgment of nations is a reality, a somber one that the people in those nations should be made aware of, from preaching the whole counsel of God.  Here I also recall some observations from Charles Spurgeon, from sermon #257  (The Scales of Judgment):

THERE IS A WEIGHING TIME for kings and emperors, and all the monarchs of earth, albeit some of them have exalted themselves to a position in which they appear to be irresponsible to man. Though they escape the scales on earth, they must surely be tried at the bar of God. For nations there is a weighing time. National sins demand national punishments. The whole history of God’s dealings with mankind proves that though a nation may go on in wickedness it may multiply its oppressions; it may abound in bloodshed, tyranny, and war, but an hour of retribution draweth nigh. When it shall have filled up its measure of iniquity, then shall the angel of vengeance execute its doom. There cannot be an eternal damnation for nations as nations; the destruction of men at last will be that of individuals, and at the bar of God each man must be tried for himself. The punishment, therefore, of nations, is national. The guilt they incur must receive its awful recompense in this present time state.

So yes, the nations – Israel specifically, as well as the many other nations – are important to God.  Though “the nations are as a drop in a bucket” to God (Isaiah 40:15), still He has much to say about them.  As noted in many online sermons I’ve listened to, and books I’ve read, it may seem strange to us that God would care about material, “unspiritual” things such as nations, and yet it is so.  Our God reveals Himself to us in scripture, the God who is involved in everything: the big things, the small things, and (even) the nations.

Continuity and Discontinuity Between the Old and New Testament

October 20, 2011 10 comments

Often in discussions about “Covenant Theology” versus “Dispensational Theology,” the topic of continuity and discontinuity comes up.  I’ve often heard an amillennialist pastor say, for instance (without setting forth any specifics), that CT holds to complete continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and dispensationalists believe in complete discontinuity, and he thinks it’s somewhere in the middle (the continuity level of NCT, Reformed Baptists).

Then this weekend, in an online discussion between Calvinist Dispensationalists, we discussed the ideas of ultra- or hyper-dispensationalism; one person apparently holds to a mixture of moderate and ultra-dispensationalism.  That view does make much of discontinuity, saying that the church started not in Acts 2 but at some later point in Acts:  chapters 9, 13, a few other places, or even the extreme of after Acts.  Ultra-dispensationalism also puts discontinuity between the NT epistles from Peter (to the Jews of the kingdom dispensation) versus the epistles from Paul, saying that Gentiles only follow Christ as Paul follows Christ.

But what is a valid biblical understanding concerning continuity and discontinuity in the Bible?  Here I refer back to a lesson from S. Lewis Johnson, #16 in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

Areas of Continuity:
1.  Believers in the church and Israel, whether Jewish or Gentile, inherit the Messianic promises. The same promises that are found in the Old Testament, in the prophetic word, are the promises that are inherited by all believers within the Christian church, Jews and Gentiles.  Romans 11 sets this forth, in the description of the olive tree and the wild branches (Gentiles) grafted into the same olive tree, inheriting the same promises.

2.  Both entities, Israel and the church, form part of the one overall purpose of God that deals with the nations.
Romans chapter 11:28-32 describes this.  God has arranged things in the divine plan of ages in such a way that he might have mercy upon all.

Areas of Discontinuity
1.  A change in the national character of the people of God, as the history of the church unfolds:  from a Jewish church at the beginning (Pentecost), then historical change to predominately Gentiles. This is brought out in the book of Acts and later church history.

2.  A change in the administration of the Kingdom of God.
The administration of the kingdom, which belonged to the nation Israel, has now been taken from them because of the disobedience of the nation as a whole and handed over to the church of Jesus Christ.   As S. Lewis Johnson observes:  And so that’s why we read in the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and in other places, similar types of things, that it is the responsibility of the church to guard the truth, to be the pillar and ground of the truth of God in the present time.  Israel’s privileges then are given to Gentiles until their restoration.

3.  A change in the relation of Israel to the Gentiles.

Israel was given the Law of Moses; now, the Law of Moses has been done away with.  The church, the people of God, are no longer under the Law of Moses.  In the Old Testament, if a man became a believer in Christ, he would unite with the nation Israel.  That is no longer a necessary thing.  The mental wall of partition, as Paul states in Ephesians 2, has been broken down and, therefore, and the Book of Acts records how this is spelled out in history, therefore, while a believing Gentile may enter the church of Jesus Christ on the same basis, in the same way, that a member of the nation Israel enters the church through faith in the Messiah who has come and is to come.

4.  A change has taken place in the divine ordinances.  The Old Testament had circumcision, the sign of belonging to the Abrahamic covenant.  Now, we as believers do not have circumcision, but have the ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s supper.

5.  A change in the individual experience of salvation.  The believer today enjoys an access to God that believers in the Old Testament did not enjoy.