Monday 15 February 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (44/50) – The New Israel

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the forty-fourth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces… You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 1:1; 2:9-10

The Lord called to (Moses) from the mountain and said… ‘Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
Exodus 19:3-6

Peter wrote to the churches of Asia Minor, small fellowships of Jews and Gentiles and gave them a new and powerful identity, using the titles given by God to the newly formed nation of Israel at Sinai.

As we read the New Testament documents, we can see how the writers are being led by the Holy Spirit into a new understanding of what it means to be the people of God; that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus have taken them into a new dispensation, a new age. Now Jew and Gentile together are the church, the redeemed people of God. But this did not mean simply that Gentiles should become Jews, grafted in to all that Judaism entailed, law and regulations for living, temple and sacrifices, land and ethnic identity. Nor did it mean that these were swept away and forgotten as a new faith sprang into life.

Now all the great symbolic identity markers of Israel are pulled into focus, finding their true and final meaning through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is our sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-14), his body the temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19). Now we, as Christians, are also identified as temples of the Holy Spirit, both individually and together (2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21). Now there is no longer one ethnic group in one geographically outlined land, but new communities of ‘saints from every tribe and language and people and nation, a kingdom and priests serving our God’ (Revelation 5:9). As Stephen Sizer (Christian Zionism, IVP, 2004) notes: ‘The church is Israel renewed and restored in Christ, but now enlarged to embrace people of all nations.’ All the heritage of Israel, from Abraham through David to John the Baptist, has been transformed into the heritage of his redeemed and chosen people throughout the earth.

And Israel’s call – their identity and role with respect to the world – is now taken up by the church, by all followers of Christ. God’s mission to bless all nations continues to be worked out through us, his people – wherever we may find ourselves ‘scattered’ – placed in the world for the sake of the world.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. There is a group in the United States who have started a fund to rebuild the temple. Some Christians believe God has a special plan for Israel and that the return of Jews to Palestine in the 20th century is part of that plan. Interpretations of some of the prophecies in the Old Testament lie behind much of the complexities and tragedies of Middle East politics. If you want to think further about this, read Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? (Lion, 2002) and Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism (IVP, 2004).

2. If there are no chosen nations, no ethnicities special to God, no land with a particular and unique blessing, but all barriers are broken down and Christians are all one in Christ, what are the implications for our churches? Are there divisions that still affect our lives together?

3. In his book, The Radical Disciple (IVP, 2010), John Stott writes: ‘I doubt if there is any New Testament text which gives a more varied and balanced account of what it means to be a disciple than 1 Peter 2:1-17.’ Read the passage, and reflect on his assessment of its ‘varied and balanced account’.

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