In mid-July, at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations Conference, Dr. Craig Blaising presented a theology of Israel and the Church. I was impressed and thrilled with his talk. Who is Dr. Blaising? He is the provost of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas – the largest Evangelical Seminary in the United States. Dr. Blaising’s position is in agreement with my own views as set out in my books, Jewish Roots, a Foundation of Biblical Theology and The Irrevocable Calling. His position is also in accord with the magnificent book by R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
Dr. Blaising views the whole thrust of the Scriptures as moving to an eternal order as seen in Revelation 21 where Israel and the nations are one under the rule of Yeshua. There is ultimately one people of God, but within that one people is the ethnic, racial and social diversity of many peoples that still preserve the cultural varieties loved by God.
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it” (Revelation 21:24, NIV).
Israel and the Nations as an Everlasting Distinction
Central to this is the distinction of Israel and the nations. The word “nations” is a shorthand way of including each nation precious to God without naming them all. In Revelation 21 we see that each nation brings its own distinct glory into the New Jerusalem. The ultimate picture there is the Kingdom of God in its fullness, where God fully rules and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Before we get to this amazing final end of resurrection life and joyful eternity, there are historical developments to be fulfilled along the way.
The Body of Believers, the Fellowship of Jews and Gentiles
The call of Abraham began the long process toward the final Kingdom of God. Israel is God’s instrument of witness, intercession and preparation, moving history inexorably to that ultimate Kingdom. However, even with Israel as a corporate whole not yet embracing the Messiah Yeshua, God nevertheless raises up the Body of Believers (Blaising uses the word ‘Church’), which is a fellowship of Jews and a vast multitude of Gentiles from all the nations. This is a foreshadowing of the Age to Come. However, the election of national-ethnic Israel still continues. This is unambiguously stated in the strongest and clearest terms in Romans 11:28,29, and is affirmed continually and repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish people as an elect people will continue to be distinct forever.
One of the errors of past theologies is to think that the Church replaces Israel, as a kind of new or continuing Israel. This cannot be the case in the light of the strong Biblical statements to the contrary. Another error is to think that the Jewish people are on a shelf and God is no longer using them for this “Church Age.” This erroneous view contends that after the Church is raptured at the beginning of the Tribulation, God will again use Israel, and especially the 144,000 of the Book of Revelation as His witnesses to the world (See, Revelation 7:1ff). There is nothing in the Bible to support this “shelf theology”. Rather, Israel is and remains a witness and an active instrument of God. The key to understanding the Body of Believers is that it is called the Bride of Messiah as a foreshadowing of what all the people of God will be in the Ultimate Kingdom of Revelation 21. Blaising emphasizes, as do I, that Jews and Gentiles, while distinct, are spiritually equal in the Body of the Messiah.
The Call of Messianic Jews
This has great implications for Jewish disciples of Yeshua, for they still are part of Israel while being part of the Bride of Messiah, the fellowship of Jews and all kinds of Gentiles. Within that fellowship is room for all kinds of expressions of faith, including a Jewish expression where Jews are encouraged to maintain a corporate Jewish identity in the Body of the Messiah, and a continued connection to Jewry or ethnic Israel.
The Millennial Age
After the return of the Messiah Yeshua, there is one more transitional age before the Everlasting Age, the Ultimate Kingdom. That transitional age is the Millennium. The Millennium is that strange period where those who have been resurrected or translated into glorified bodies, co-mingle with the non-resurrected. This interaction is described in the Gospels between the resurrected Yeshua and His disciples. The Millennial Age is a great age of peace and prosperity, but ends with a time of testing, where those who would not be true can still fall away through the great deception at that time (see Revelation 20:7-10). That Age fulfills the Bible passages that describe world peace, marriages, childbirth and people living to a very old age before dying. It is different than eternity where there is no more death in the New Heavens and New Earth. Many think this is a totally renewed earth still having a continuity of identity with this earth (see Isaiah 65:20-25).
I would love to see Dr. Blaising put all of this in a book. The implications of a leading Evangelical theologian putting forth a view that is so compatible with Messianic Judaism is encouraging and amazing. What would I add?
Passion to see Messianic Jews Fulfill their Role in the World
As we seek to be a witness to our people and to play our role as Messianic Jews, it is important to note that while Professor Blaising embraces the legitimacy of Jewish life and Messianic Jewish congregations where Jewish life is consistent with the Bible, he did not express a passion that Jewish Yeshua-believers are called to identify with and live as part of their own Jewish people. He may believe this but it was not clear. For Jews, Jewish life in Yeshua is not just a cafeteria item for New Covenant believers that may be selected or rejected. Our living out the meaning of being the “saved remnant of Israel” is a key to Israel’s salvation which is to be added to the witness of those from the nations that are called to make Israel jealous (Romans 11:5, 14). Paul in Romans 11 presents a two-pronged witness that is to last until all Israel is saved. This is the view of our Toward Jerusalem Council II committee. In this great project we call for repentance and the alignment of the whole Church, in all its streams, with Israel and the Messianic Jews. This does not mean endorsing all that Israel does or all that is in Judaism. However, it is a basic heart alignment with the purposes of God for Israel and the nations.