Reading the Bible Yourself – Part 4

WHICH SCRIPTURES APPLY TO WHICH GROUPS OF PEOPLE?

In the previous chapter on rightly dividing, it was stressed that some parts of the Bible do not directly apply to the church of today, even though all Scriptures contain material from which we may learn. So which portions apply directly to us?

To answer this it is necessary to be familiar with the overall "plot" of the Bible, as this has a great deal to do with answering our question.


An Outline of God's Plan
The first pages of the Bible open with the account of the creation (Genesis I & 2). They are soon followed by the story of Adam and Eve's sin (Genesis 3). Here began man's need for regaining a right relationship with God - the underlying theme of Scripture.

Through the ages, God has commissioned messengers to tell others of this need, as well as the way to meet this need through obedience to His words. Noah was one of these messengers. Not many people listened to the message that he had to say, and they suffered the consequences (Genesis 6-9).

The descendants of Noah and his sons displayed an open sign of rebellion against God by building the tower of Babel. As a result, mankind was scattered across the earth (Genesis 11). Out from among the dispersed human race, God chose one man to continue the delivery of His message.

Abram (later to be called "Abraham") was called to father a nation which was intended to be God's messenger to all of the other nations (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram's grandson, Jacob, was renamed "Israel" and his descendants took on this name as the title of their nation.

The families of Israel's sons grew in number and were held captive under Egyptian rule. Soon after their miraculous release from slavery, the nation was given a set of laws (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). In being obedient to the law they were to be different from the other nations.

From this point onwards, the only time we read of people who were not Israelites (e.g. Egypt, Assyria, etc.) is when these "outsiders" come in contact with Israelites.

The writings which make up the rest of the Old Testament display Israel's constant struggle between belief and faith in God, and their unbelief and rebellion. It will be remembered that the nation was to be God's "messenger" to the other nations. However, they were not in a position to deliver the message whilst not being faithful to the message themselves.

From the time of the book of Judges onwards, the Lord commissioned prophets (or spokesmen) to remind the Israelites of their role as God's chosen nation. On occasions the prophets were believed, but largely they were ignored. Many of the prophecies told not only of impending punishment for disobeying God's commands, but also of a future time when the whole nation would listen and be obedient. In that time, they would be ruled over by one known as the "Messiah", or Anointed One. This promised to be a glorious era in Israel's future, and something that they should eagerly await.

However, when the New Testament opens, we find that Israel is being ruled over by the Roman Empire. Most Jews at this time were looking for the promised Messiah to come so that they could be rid of the Romans and live in that promised time of glory as a free nation.

The heart of the majority of the nation's people had changed little, though. Jews who truly had faith in God's word were in the minority, and when God sent His Son - the one who was to be their future king - the nation rejected Him and had Him crucified.

On the cross one of the last things Jesus said was, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Here, He was referring to the nation of Israel and, even after committing such an horrific action, the nation continued to be the focus of God's attention during the period covered by the book of Acts. This period followed Christ's resurrection and ascension into heaven.

If Israel had changed their hearts at this stage, the prophecies promising their glorious future would have been fulfilled there and then:

"Men of Israel ... repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus." (Acts 3:12,19-20)

Sadly, this plea was largely ignored. After some time of continuing unbelief by the majority of Israelites, the message was sent to the home of a Gentile (non-Israelite) called Cornelius (Acts 10). Prior to this, if a Gentile wanted to partake of God's blessings, he had to undergo many rituals and actually become an Israelite (Exodus 12:48 & elsewhere). Here, for the first time, a Gentile was allowed to take part in God's blessings without these ceremonies (Acts 15:1-31).

The intention of this change was to make Israel jealous (Romans 11: 11). What previously belonged only to the Jews was being made available to Gentiles now as well. It should be noted that despite this change in circumstances, the Jew still had the prior position in God's plans: "What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew ... much in every way!" (Romans 3:1; see also Romans 1:16; 2:9,10. The book of Romans was written during the Acts period.)

However, the majority of Israelites remained stubborn. As a result of continuing unbelief, the nation ceased to be God's chosen people at the end of the period covered by the book of Acts. This judgment was delivered by Paul to the leaders of the Jews, representatives of Israel's spiritual state (Acts 28:28).

The letters written after the end of the Acts period speak of a new revelation in God's plan for mankind which only came to light after the rejection of the Israelite nation,

"the mystery made known to me (Paul) by revelation ... was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed ... This mystery is that, through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together ... members together of one body" (Ephesians 3:3-6).

No longer did Israelites have the prior place in God's plans for mankind, as was the case during the Acts period. Rather believers, whether Gentiles or Jews, now shared equal status.

The letters written after the Acts period speak not of hoping for the Messiah to come, but of a different destiny for believers of this age to look forward to. Promises which, instead of being earthly, are to do with being blessed in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3 & 2:6; Colossians 3:2). These are the circumstances which directly concern today's body of believers.

What, then, of all the promises to Israel concerning their time of glory on the earth? These will still come to fruition, but at a future time, when all of the blessings which were prophesied long ago will be fulfilled.

 

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