To What End Is The History of Israel?

John Bright, a noted Old Testament scholar who influenced the likes of Graeme Goldsworthy, concludes his massive book, The History of Israel, with these insights about the history of Israel:

The history of Israel would continue in the history of the Jewish people, a people claimed by the God of Israel to live under his law to the last generation of mankind.  To the Jew, therefore, Old Testament theology finds its fruition in the Talmud.  The hope of the Old Testament is to him a thing yet unfulfilled, indefinitely deferred, to be eagerly awated by some, given up by others (for Jews are probably no more of one mind where eschatology is concerned than are Christians), secularized and attenuated by others.  Thus the Jewish answer to the question: Whither Israel’s history?  It is a legitimate answer and, from a historical point of view, a correct one–for Israel’s history does continue in Judaism.

But there is another answer, the one the Christian gives, and must give.  It is likewise historically legitimate, for Christianity did spring from the loins of Judaism.  That answer is that the destination of Old Testament history and theology is Christ and his gospel.  It declares that Christ is the awaited and decisive intrusion of God’s redemptive power into human history and the turning point of the ages, and that in him there is given both the righteousness that fulfils the law and the sufficient fulfillment of Israel’s hope in all its variegated forms.  It affirms, in short, that he is the theological terminus of the history of Israel.  It is on this question, fundamentally, that the Christian and its Jewish friend divide. . . . History really allows no third answer: Israel’s history leads straight on to the Talmud—or the gospel.  It has in fact led in no other direction (John Bright, The History of Israel2nd Ed., 467)

Whether one is inclined to affirm Covenant Theology or some form of Dispensationalism, three things stand out in this quote and are worth noting about the relationship between Israel and the Church.

  1. The church arises from the loins of the Israel.  While Israel and the Church are often pitted against one another–either by replacement (Covenant Theology) or separation (Dispensationalism)–in the first century, a significant remnant of Israel became the church, and thus the DNA of the church is “Jewish.”  Because of this we must hold to the unity of these two entities, even as we affirm the discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church.  Perhaps the best articulation of this is found in the new book, Kingdom Through Covenant, which came out yesterday.
  2. Israel’s history came to an end.  It either passed on into Judaism–which is far different than theocratic Israel–or into New Testament Christianity.  But in either case, Israel ended.  Thus, it is not inappropriate, as the NT, of the church as the New Israel–not because the church replaced Israel, but because Spiritual Israel became the church and ingrafted people of every nation.
  3. The purpose and goal of Israel was not an end in itself.  From father Abraham forward (Gen 12:3), God’s intention had always been to bring about a singular seed (Jesus Christ) whose ministry would create a people of faith–a true Israel–who would become the true seed of Abraham.  Just read Galatians 3, and you will see how Paul moves from the OT patriarch to his singular seed to his plural seed in the churches of Jesus Christ.

For more on this subject, you can check out a paper I wrote a while back, “Jesus, the Church, and Ethnic Israel: A Concentric Approach to Understanding the Future of Israel.”  Or better read the chapter on Ecclesiology in Russell Moore’s book The Kingdom of Christ

Soli Deo Gloria, dss