The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
THAT THE great bulk of revelation is concerned with the nation of Israel is true not only of the Hebrew Scriptures but of the Greek as well. Not that it is concerned with them alone and the other nations not at all, but that they receive the first and foremost place and the rest a secondary and subordinate one. “Christ has become the Servant of the Circumcision, for the sake of the truth of God, to confirm the patriarchal promises. Yet the nations are to glorify God for His mercy . . . with His people” (Rom.15:8-10).
The twelve apostles of Christ continued this ministry, and Peter, James and John are expressly said to confine themselves to the Circumcision. Paul writes to the Galations: “Perceiving that I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision (for He who operates in Peter for the apostleship of the Circumcision operates in me also for the nations), and knowing the grace which is being given to me, James and Cephas and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed, are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision” (Gal.2:7-9).
Let us remember, however, that the term “Circumcision” includes proselytes such as Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48), who, in order to share Israel’s blessings, submitted to this fleshly rite.
From these clear statements it is evident that the accounts of our Lord’s life, usually called the “gospels” and the ministries of Peter, James and John, both in the Acts and in their epistles, are distinctly limited to the favored nation whose flesh bore the seal of the covenant of Yahweh. As Hebrews is written to the Hebrews and Jude was one of the Circumcision, we are doubly assured that Paul alone wrote for the Uncircumcision, though his ministry was shared by Barnabas and Timothy and Titus, as well as many others.
The writings for the Circumcision, like the Hebrew Scriptures, fall into two great divisions, Historic and Prophetic. The historical record of the ministry of Messiah and His apostles in the so-called Gospels and the book of Acts, repeats the sad tale of declension, defection and apostasy which is characteristic of their course from Moses to the close of the book of Kings. But the epistles, and the apocalypse, like the ancient prophets, present a splendid spectacle of future glory.
Each of these two divisions is again divided into two classes. In the Gospels the Kingdom is rejected through the crucifixion of the King. In the Acts it is finally refused by the failure of the ministry of His apostles. The epistles present the Kingdom in distant prospect; the apocalypse presents it coming in power.
Of old Israel rejected Yahweh and His prophets. Now they reject the Lord and His apostles. The Kingdom is proclaimed by the Messiah and they crucify Him. In mercy it is again proclaimed by His apostles in the book of Acts, only to be once more rejected.
The treatises of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are a fourfold presentation of Messiah’s ministry to Israel and its rejection. His cry upon the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing!” once more opened the door into the Kingdom and they wander for forty years in the desert of unbelief, as recorded in Acts.
In the book of Hebrews, those individuals in the nation who believed the proclamation of the kingdom are exhorted to patient continuance in faith in view of its postponement. Their trials in the past as well as the trials which await His earthly people when the Kingdom is set up in power in the day of the Lord are made the basis of the epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude.
The Revelation, or Unveiling, of Jesus Christ is the crowning prophecy of the Circumcision series, and details the conflict of Israel with the nations and the realization of all the prophecies and promises of the Hebrew scriptures.
It has been the usual custom simply to prefix the name of the author to each of the four accounts of our Lord’s life thus: “According to Matthew”; “According to Mark”; “According to Luke”; and “According to John.” Lately the editors of the text have prefixed the word “Gospel” or evangel as a sort of general title to them all. So long as this does not mislead us into the belief that they are, or contain, the gospel for us today no serious objection could be offered. It does lead, however, to the hazy impression that we must look to these for the gospel of salvation.
The good news, or evangel, contained in these records of our Lord’s earthly ministry is strictly confined to the Kingdom foretold by the prophets. Christ was not sent to the nations but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt.15:24).
While the four accounts differ in many details, they all have the same underlying subject–the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Messiah–and all pursue a similar plan in its unfolding. They refer us to the fortieth of Isaiah in introducing the forerunner, John the Baptist. Then Messiah’s public ministry to the apostate nation follows His anointing and is closed by a quotation from the sixth chapter of the same prophet. This is followed by His private ministry to His disciples, His betrayal, death and resurrection. The four accounts agree in presenting these great features of the common subject–Messiah’s ministry. Our Lord Himself confirmed this limitation of His ministry on various occasions. “I was not commissioned except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt.15:24). He warned the twelve when He sent them forth, not to go to the Samaritans. He Himself never went outside the boundaries of the land until after His resurrection and ascension.
The quotations from Isaiah are in themselves sufficient evidence. It is Israel whose heart has become fat and whose ears are heavy and whose eyes are closed. Their land has been laid desolate. A remnant of them is being gathered back at this very time. None of this can even be “applied” to the “church.” Why, even the chapter headings over the sixth of Isaiah tell us that “He sheweth the obstinacy of the people unto their desolation,” and we may rest assured that “the people” the translators had in mind was the Jews, not the “church.” The refusal of Messiah’s ministry to Israel calls down the doom so long before pronounced upon them by the prophet. Is this “gospel”? These “gospels” contain the evangel of the kingdom, but this is limited to a few of their earlier chapters. It did not take long for them to refuse it. Then it is no longer proclaimed, and the narrative occupies us with the rejected Messiah and His descent to the cross.
While the four accounts of our Lord’s life have a common theme and a common plan, each is burdened with its own distinctive aspect of His glory. The attentive reader needs but to read the opening words of each to gather the gist of its contents. Matthew mentions the names of David and Abraham and thus intimates that the One he presents is heir to both the throne and the land. Luke takes us back still further to Adam. He presents the Son of Adam, the suffering Seed and the Subjector of all Mankind.
Both Mark and John present us with the Son of God: Mark in His service for man and John in His ministry for God.
The four-fold presentation of Messiah’s ministry gives us every aspect of His work in connection with the establishment of the Kingdom. His relation to Israel as their King is first presented in Matthew, His work of restoration in Mark, His suffering for all mankind in Luke and His priestly relation to God in John.
The four aspects of our Lord’s life are presented to us in the Hebrew Scriptures under the figure of the Sprout. Jeremiah tells us of the Sprout of David, as He is presented in Matthew’s account (Jer.23:5,6):
Behold! Days are coming, averring is Yahweh,
When I will raise for David a righteous Sprout.
And a King shall reign and use intelligence.
And He will execute judgment and justice in the land.
In His days Judah shall be saved,
And Israel shall tabernacle trustingly.
And this is His name, by which they shall call Him:
“Yahweh, our Righteousness.”
Mark’s account is summarized in the exclamation, “Behold Me bringing My Servant, the Sprout” (Zech.3:8). This was said to Joshua, the high priest, who is himself a figure, “Behold the man! Sprout is his name!” (Zech.6:12). John’s account is referred to in Isaiah (Isa.4:2-4):
In that day the elegance [AV, Branch] of Yahweh is coming to
be for stateliness, and for glory,
And the face of the land for pomp and for beauty,
For the delivered of Israel and Judah.
And it comes that the remnant in Zion, and the rest in Jerusalem,
Are being termed holy for Him, all those written
as living in Jerusalem.
If Yahweh washes the filth of the daughters of Zion,
And the blood of Jerusalem be expelled from within it,
By the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of consumption.
The robes of royalty invest the first account of our Lord’s life. He is the Son of David, who, in the genealogy, is called the king. The genealogy itself is put forward immediately to prove His claim to the throne of His father David. The incidents attending His birth are all associated with the nobility of the earth. The wise men came to acknowledge the King and Herod sought to slay Him because of His royal rights. When He announces the Kingdom He lays down its laws and empowers His disciples to proclaim it likewise.
This account alone uses the phrase “kingdom of the heavens,” a distinct reference to the prophet Daniel, who was told that “in their days, that is, of these kings, the Eloah of the heavens will set up a kingdom . . . ” (Dan.2:44). It is only as we interpret the parables it contains of this kingdom that their real significance is discovered. Let us not associate them with a mythical “kingdom” in existence now instead of that future reign predicted by Daniel and definitely assigned to a time subsequent to the overthrow of all earthly sovereignty. They trace the history of this kingdom from the time of its proclamation by the King, through its rejection, to its realization at His return in power at the end of this eon. This account carries us into the very kingdom itself in anticipation when He told them “Given to Me was all authority in heaven and on earth.” The commission which follows is emphatically the kingdom commision founded on the presence of the King. It cannot be fulfilled during His absence.
Let us steadfastly refuse to be drawn into the insidious “application” of this kingdom to God’s present work of grace. Nothing, not even the rejection of His claim to the throne of David, will so obscure and eclipse His glory as the King of Israel. Let us insist that, in God’s good time, the kingdoms of this world–Great Britain, Germany, the United States, France, Russia, India, China, Japan and all the rest–all these shall be displaced by the imperial sway of the Son of Man and Israel will have the highest place under the Son of David.
If the writer of Matthew was a tax-gatherer and a traitor to the royal hopes of Israel before his call, the writer of Mark was the most distinguished example of what a servant ought not to be. Paul would not have him with him (Acts 15:38). Yet he is chosen to portray God’s Son as the Servant. Without a genealogy or any introduction He goes to work immediately and keeps at it, with brief intervals of rest until He sits down at the right hand of God (16:19), His work accomplished.
The ideal attitude of the Servant of Yahweh towards the other nations is revealed in the story of the Syrophenician woman (7.26). She besought Him that He would cast out the demon out of her daughter. But He said to her, “Let first the children be satisfied, for it is not ideal to take the children’s bread and cast it to the puppies.” Yet she answers, “Yes, Lord. For the puppies also, underneath the table, are eating from the scraps of the little children.” She took her proper place and received the blessing. If she had claimed the same food as the offspring (the Lord uses a special word for “children”) she would have received nothing but a rebuke. But when she acknowledged her inferior position in the kingdom she gets her share of blessing. Had we any place in that kingdom this would be our portion: under the table feeding on the scraps which Israel drops. Now, however, when the table is bare and Israel has nothing, we find ourselves in a totally different place as set forth in Paul’s epistles. As the proselytes to Judaism from among the other nations, such as Cornelius, had the standing of servants, this account of our Lord’s ministry is especially suited to them. Many of its Jewish expressions are interpreted, and its idioms accommodated to the understanding of the Roman reader.
The broader outlook and vaster range of human sympathy found in Luke’s account are foreshadowed by the genealogy, which stretches clear back to the first man Adam. In this account He is preeminently the Man, the only One of the human race Who bears the name without a blush. He is the Son of Adam come to seek and to save that which Adam lost. And He will find it and deliver it. He will undo the effects of Adam’s sin and restore to humanity the sovereignty over the lower orders which Adam forfeited. He will deliver them from the effects of sin in all its phases. This is the Man the world should be waiting for. Repentance and remission of sins is not confined to the favored nation, but is to be preached to the whole human race, beginning at Jerusalem. All the nations are to be blessed through Israel. The fulfillment of this commission is given us in the book of Acts, which speaks of Luke’s account as “the first account.” From Jerusalem the message spread to all Judea, and to Samaria. It was taken up by Paul in his early ministry to the nations, but was later displaced by the gospel of God, in which repentance is displaced by faith and remission by justification. Like the other “gospels” Luke hinges all on Israel’s blessing. While Israel is set aside for the time (Rom.11:14) this ministry waits until their restoration to Yahweh’s favor.
In John’s account our Lord’s ministry is unfolded to us in these simple words: “He came out from God and is going away to God” (John 13:3). Here we find Him in the beginning with God. Then He comes to His own but His own people do not receive Him. Hence the balance of the book is occupied with His journey back to God. If we compare this return with the path of the priest into the tabernacle we cannot but be struck with the similarity. After His rejection He speaks of His sacrifice. The corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies (John 12:24). Then He washes His disciples’ feet, unlike, indeed, the priests of old, who washed only their own feet at the laver. Then He enters the holy place with His disciples, teaching them the truth of the table of shew bread in the parable of the vine, and promising the spirit, which is the anti-type of the seven branched lamp stand. In the seventeenth chapter He enters beyond the veil into the holy of holies. Then it was that He went forth to His death and became the Victim on the brazen altar.
The seven signs in this account are especially intended to convince readers of the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30,31). The marriage at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) prefigures the Wedding of the Lambkin in the day of Yahweh. And the healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54), the curing of the impotent man (John 5:1-9), the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14), the stilling of the storm (John 6:16-21), the opening of the blind man’s eyes (John 9:1-7) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) all signify and certify to the nearness of the kingdom foretold by the prophets which commences, indeed, with the resurrection of all the saints of the Circumcision and banishes all blindness, impotence and disease from the people because of His power over the forces of nature.
The fact that this gospel is for the whole world does not in the least discount the further truth that it can only be administered through the Circumcision. John, in his first epistle includes the whole world, but in its very expression shows that the priority of Israel is not lost sight of for a moment. “He is the propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins, yet not concerned with our’s only, but concerned with the whole world also” (1 John 2:2). The overflowing blessing of John’s gospel must not be confounded with the transcendent ministry of the apostle Paul. Israel’s spiritual blessings will spread over the whole world when they are blessed, but have no channel while they are cast aside.
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