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Since the days of Moses, the Israelites enjoyed a clear advantage over other nations in that they were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1, 2). Those, for instance, who lived in China or the Congo had no such revelation for many generations over thousands of years. For this reason, most believers prior to the Great Commission were Jews and Israelites—even though only a “remnant” of Israel and Judah actually had Abrahamic faith.
In fact, both Israel and Judah were “cast out” (Jer. 7:15) on account of their rejection of God (Christ). Israel rejected Jesus Christ in His pre-existent state; Judah rejected Him during the time of His manifestation on earth. After Judah’s Babylonian captivity, the nation was given a second chance, as it were, when they returned to the land of Judah. God did this in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.
Nonetheless, in the end, the nation of Judah also rejected Christ, and this time God raised up the Romans to send them into exile.
Judah’s original captivity had come at the hands of Babylon, because God had given Nebuchadnezzar the Dominion Mandate (Jer. 27:6-8). But centuries later, Rome, as the fourth beast, inherited the same authority. Hence, it was Rome’s responsibility (as God’s agent) to bring divine judgment upon Judah.
This is apparent from Jesus’ parable in Matt. 22:2-7,
2 The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son [Jesus]. 3 And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come… 5 But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his slaves [the prophets] and mistreated them and killed them. 7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his [Roman] armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city [Jerusalem] on fire.
The parable goes on to show how the same king invited other people to the wedding feast. Among them were people who were “both evil and good” (Matt. 22:10), and so even they had to be distinguished. The evil ones, described as not having proper wedding clothes, were cast out, while the rest remained as the king’s guests.
There are many aspects to this parable, but our purpose here is to focus on the fact that Rome was God’s agent with the authority to bring divine judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem. Although there is no doubt that the Romans were as brutal as the Babylonians in earlier times, one cannot merely blame the Romans for the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Jesus identified them as “His armies,” that is, God’s armies.
The purpose of divine judgment (in the parable) was their mistreatment of the prophets over a period of many centuries. This is confirmed in Matt. 23:29-35, where Jesus makes them accountable for “all the righteous blood shed on earth,” going back to the murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8).
Jesus told another parable in Matt. 21:33-40, in which He enlarged upon this theme. Not only did they kill the prophets, but they also finally killed the Son. Matt. 21:35-39 says,
35 The vine-growers [stewards of the “vineyard,” or kingdom] took his slaves [the prophets] and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son [Jesus], they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” 39 They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
This tells us that Jesus was sent to Jerusalem only after many prophets had been killed or mistreated. His coming was a climactic event. The “vine-growers” (or “husbandmen,” KJV) were those who were entrusted with the oracles of God. They were the stewards of the vineyard—that is, the Kingdom of God. Perhaps they did not actually recognize the prophets, but Jesus said clearly that they recognized the Son when they saw Him coming. “This is the heir,” they said.
Their purpose in killing Jesus was to “seize his inheritance.” What exactly was that inheritance? It was the right of ownership, as Jesus Christ was “the heir.” Heb. 1:1, 2 says,
1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
The chief priests knew all the signs and miracles that Jesus had done, which proved that He was indeed the Messiah. But they also disagreed with many of His teachings. Most of all, they felt threatened by Him, for they understood that if He were to be accepted as the Messiah, their jobs would have been in jeopardy. They could not allow Him to replace the Sanhedrin with ignorant fishermen.
So they decided to “seize his inheritance.” It was a palace coup in the Kingdom. From then on, their high priests would (figuratively) occupy the temple, as if they—and not “the only-begotten God” (John 1:18)—were God (2 Thess. 2:4).
This was the final cause of Jerusalem’s destruction 40 years later. Recall that Ezekiel’s intercession had given them a grace period of 40 years (Ezekiel 4:6, 7). But during those 40 years, the temple priests as a whole continued to persecute the body of Christ. Even so, many did indeed turn to Christ, for we read in Acts 6:7,
7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
The problem was that these priests who believed in Christ were not in a position of authority to alter the decisions of the temple itself. We thank God for individuals who were “obedient to the faith,” but individuals do not necessarily hold power. God always chooses a remnant in the face of overall apostasy. The situation in the first century was no exception, and it is the same today.
Paul tells us in Romans 11 that the promises of God have not failed, because God has chosen a remnant in which to fulfill His promises. Although God did indeed cast out both Israel and Judah (each in their own time and manner), the continuity of God’s promise was centered in the remnant—not in the nations per se.
Hence, the promises of God have not failed (Rom. 11:2, 5), even though the vast majority of Israelites and Judahites were cast off. Only the remnant had the status of “My people.” Those faithless Israelites according to the flesh were never chosen from the beginning. From God’s perspective, they were never God’s chosen people but were instead children of the flesh (Gal. 4:29).
So Paul concludes in Rom. 9:6, 7,
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”
We must interpret this according to Paul’s longer explanation in Galatians 4, where he discusses the difference between Hagar and Sarah and between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly city. “Isaac” in this case represents New Covenant believers, whose chosen status is not based on genealogy from Abraham but their faith in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant.
The Roman Catholic church developed a teaching that is known as Replacement Theology. It taught that the church replaced Israel (by which they meant the Jews) as God’s chosen people. Those theologians did not fully understand the Scriptures. The remnant never replaced the unbelieving nation. The remnant was ALWAYS the chosen group from the beginning. The remnant was chosen continuously, and their legal status with God was based on their faith.
To be a “Jew” was to have legal status as a member of the tribe of Judah—that is, a Judahite, or a Judean (Greek form of Judah). Carnally-minded people base their view on fleshly genealogy, but Paul tells us in Rom. 2:28, 29 God’s definition of a Jew,
28 For he is NOT A JEW who is one outwardly; nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he IS A JEW who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Here Paul defines a Jew in terms of the meaning of the name “Judah.” Judah means “praise,” and only those who truly “praise” God have the right to be called “Jews.” In other words, only those who praise God are members of the tribe of Judah, as far as God is concerned. Those who claim to be Jews on account of their fleshly circumcision are mistaken.
To paraphrase Paul’s last statement, one’s status as a member of the tribe of Judah is not according to how men may define a Jew, but rather it is according to how God defines a Jew.
God defines a Jew in terms of heart circumcision (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4). Paul tells us that “he is not a Jew” unless his heart has been circumcised through the New Covenant.
So did gentiles replace Jews? Not at all. Neither did the remnant replace either the Jews or the Israelites. Those who truly praise God in every generation are “Jews” by God’s definition, for they alone are a people of praise. Their status has never changed.
So the remnant is the body that praises God (and finds praise from God), whether we are talking about the 7,000 in the days of Elijah, or the remnant in Paul’s day, or the remnant today. It was never based on genealogy. So if someone insists upon saying that the Jews are God’s chosen people, that is a correct statement if we use God’s definition of a Jew in Rom. 2:29. But if we include unbelieving people of any nation in our definition of a Jew, then the statement is wrong.
To know the mind of God includes renewing our minds so that our definition of terms conforms to His word. This is how we may have a clear vision of the Kingdom.