Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 1

Time to complete my Christian Zionism series!

This will come in (at least) two parts. In this one I examine the prophetic narrative of exile, restoration, the salvation of the Gentiles, plus certain associated themes that the NT picks up, and I look at how this narrative is retold in and informs NT texts.

One of the most exciting elements of the prophetic writings is the theme of the restoration of the tribes of Israel followed by salvation coming to the Gentiles (please, please read Brant Pitre's Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, if you haven't yet – and Bird's Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission). You will find this narrative all over the place, not least in Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). For example, Zechariah 8:13: 'Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing'.

After the two major exiles, the ten northern tribes of Israel had been lost. Though some remained in the land, most of the tribes, at the time of Jesus and his Apostles, were scattered throughout the nations. In exile, the Israelite world of Jesus holds its breath for redemption...

Here are some NT snapshots with this crucial narrative in mind:

Acts 15:14-18 runs as follows:

'14 Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord-- even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called."'

Because the dwelling of David is rebuilt, because Israel is restored, there is hope at last for the Gentiles (v. 14, 17).

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 Paul writes:

'As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you". See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!'

Here Paul cites the text of Isaiah 49:8, almost exactly the same as that found in Rahlf's LXX. I submit that this is a classic case of what Hays calls metalepsis. The surrounding verses in Isaiah 49 inform our understanding of Paul's text. Within Isaiah 49 is the above narrative: Israel restored and regathered, Israel then given 'as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth' (cf. vv 5 and 6). The confidence of Paul as missionary to the Gentiles is because now is the time of salvation (also for the Gentiles). As Paul puts it at the start of 2 Corinthians: ' For in [Christ] every one of God's promises is a "Yes"' (1:20). Paul and his team become the righteousness of God (5:21) in the sense that God's saving righteousness is now available to the whole world (5:19), embodied in their ministry of reconciliation (5:18). Now there is 'new creation' in Christ (5:17).

The last paragraph shows that various other prophetic themes are associated with the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. Here we see the matter of new creation noted, something associated with the above narrative in Isaiah (cf. 66:18-22 – though read the whole 66th chapter). Connected with this narrative are such matters as the New Covenant (Isaiah 61:4-8; Jer 31), the pouring out of the Spirit (e.g. Ezekiel 39:29), and the new heart (e.g. Ezekiel 36:24-26) that find regular expression in the NT. The Lord's Supper tradition in Luke tells of Jesus speaking of the New Covenant in his blood, a matter picked up in Paul (1 Cor 11:25). The 'new heart' theme may well lie behind the Sermon on the Mount material, as Wright argues, and is explicitly adopted in Paul's argumentation in 2 Corinthians 3 (which also involves mention of the new covenant, mission to the Gentiles, and the ministry of the Spirit). The gift of the Spirit is related all over the place, for example in John (20:22), Luke-Acts (primarily Pentecost, of course!), Paul (e.g. Gal 3 – where it is appropriately linked to the blessing of Abraham).

In the next post in this series, I look at why all of this is important to the Christian Zionism debate.



At 12/10/2007 12:04 PM, Anonymous TJ said...

See, Mr. Tillinch! No one is commenting when you write about "serious" stuff.

At 12/10/2007 7:02 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

I thought it was a good post. I could add a bunch of stuff to it, but I don't know that any of it would be a challenge to the position taken per se. I'll be very interested to see how you connect this to Christian Zionism; I can see some ways to do so, but I honestly don't know if most Christian Zionists (per se) would agree with them. {g}


At 12/11/2007 12:00 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

TJ you are mean, but you did make me laugh!

Hi Jason, "I'll be very interested to see how you connect this to Christian Zionism". I await your comments when I post!


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