As we begin this new year, I would like to come back to an important topic that I often write about. Anyone who has been reading this column for any length of time will be aware of my call for the unity of the Church. When I first received God’s call to prepare for the opening of North Korea, He showed me very clearly that the most important preparation was for the Church of Jesus Christ to come together in unity. If we try to go into the North in our present divided state, the people of North Korea will have a very difficult time meeting Jesus Christ in any deep or meaningful way. God’s command to me was not to pray for the funds needed to do this work but, rather, to pray for the unity of the Korean Church. I have sought to be obedient to this command for 17 years now.
Recently, I was introduced to a movement that is seeking to heal the very first division within the Church. This month, I will be sharing about that and about the teaching of Scripture on the subject. The movement is Towards Jerusalem Council II (tjcii.org). This is an effort begun by Messianic Jewish leaders in the United States and Israel to heal the Church’s very first division—that between the Jewish and Gentile parts of Christ’s Church. The first Jerusalem Council is the one recorded in Acts 15. The outcome of that council was to allow Gentile Christians to live as Gentiles. They did not need to convert to Judaism in order to become disciples of Jesus Christ. This was a momentous decision and paved the way for the amazing expanse of the Gentile Church throughout the world. The great tragedy is that during this Gentile expansion, the original Mother Church, the Church of Israel, was pushed out of the growing Gentile Church until it came to the point that almost all churches officially stated that the Children of Israel were no longer the heirs of God’s Covenant and that the Church had come to completely replace Israel in God’s plan.
The purpose of Towards Jerusalem Council II is to bring together all parts of the Body of Christ, worldwide, in union with the renewed Jewish portion of that Church, the Messianic Believers, to heal that first breach. Recently, I attended a conference in Singapore that brought together Christian leaders from 25 nations throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands with the leadership of the TJCII movement for a wonderful time of sharing and building unity. It was a time when I also learned a great deal.
The issue for the Church today is to understand the mind of God in relation to Israel and His Church. Many people take Jesus’ words to the believing Gentile centurion in Matthew 8:10-12 to mean that Israel will be excluded from God’s Kingdom because their faith is less than that of the Gentiles. Let’s look at that passage closely.
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12)
In order to properly understand this verse, it is important to see it within the context of the whole New Testament. Jesus was commending the faith of this Gentile military leader and contrasting it to unbelieving Jewish leaders who based their security on the fact of their being heirs of God’s Covenant with Israel. As heirs of God’s Covenant, they were sons of the Kingdom but because of their unbelieving hearts they would lose the inheritance that God intended for them. However, we need to remember two things First, Jesus’ great love for Israel and Jerusalem as He lamented their unbelief (cf. Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) and their killing of the prophets throughout the ages. And, second, the words of Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. We will look at several passages from His writings.
The first passage I would like to look at is in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus—a Gentile church.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, (Ephesians 2:11-19)
At the beginning of this passage, Paul makes it clear that he is writing to Gentiles as distinct from Jews. The Jews were the “circumcision”, the commonwealth of Israel and those to whom the covenants of promise belonged. They were citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His household. The Gentiles had none of this and were “far off” and without hope. However, these Gentiles were brought near by the blood of Christ who is our peace, who, through His death on the Cross, has made both Jew and Gentile one. The Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens. They are fellow citizens with the saints and have become members of God’s household—Israel. It is God’s desire that both Jew and Gentile be one body in Christ with no distinction between them—one new man. As we shall see next month, this is not accomplished through absorbing one into the other so that they become the same through an obliteration of the past heritage as separate groups. Rather, Jew and Gentile believers become one while both acknowledging the other as parts of the household of God with a distinct identity.
Let’s turn to the Book of Romans. Both the entirety of chapters 10 and 11 are important but we will begin at 10:19.
But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.” And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME. ” But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.” I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.” But what is the divine response to him? “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; (Romans 10:19-11:10)
This passage begins in a tone much like Jesus’ when commending the centurion. Israel was disobedient and obstinate but those who were outside of Israel—Gentiles—would be drawn to God. Paul immediately addresses this issue that seems to be obvious. Israel has sinned; therefore, it must be cut off, rejected by God. But Paul states unequivocally that God has not rejected His people. Israel, the Jews, are still God’s people for all their obstinacy and disobedience. Paul goes on to remind his readers that even among this disobedient people there were those who were faithful just as in the days of Elijah. He then goes on to speak of a remnant who by God’s grace have remained faithful. This statement also applies to Jesus’ words in Matthew 8 as well as his comments when lamenting over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 11:34. . God has not rejected all of Israel for the sins of some but, instead, has preserved a remnant through whom Israel will be saved.
As we continue to pray for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ, it is important to understand both the importance of the healing of this very first division in the Church and how God plans to bring it about.
Next month, we will continue in Romans 11, looking at God’s plan for both the Gentile Church and the Jewish Church. It will inform our prayers and, perhaps, lead us to actions to take.