While the New Testament speaks of Jew and Gentile uniting in one body — through converting to Christ— it also presents Israel’s judgment as a distinct people in the first century. This presents a problem for dispensationalism, which sees Israel as God’s ultimate people and her dominance as history’s ultimate goal. But Jesus is not so sure.
Jesus speaks in such tones that we may not expect any exaltation or preferential treatment of Israel in the future. In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel we can easily see the enormous redemptive-historical significance of Israel’s judgment in AD 70. Interestingly, Matthew’s strong denunciation of Israel leads liberal theologians to declare it one of the most anti-Semitic books in the New Testament. And this despite the Dictionary of Premillennial Theology declaring: “Matthew, standing at the head of the NT canon, emphasizes the messianic hope of Israel and is the gospel of Christ the King.” Let us see how this is so by a quick overview of his Gospel.
In Matthew 1 the Apostle traces the genealogy of Christ to Abraham, the father of the Jews. But in Matthew 2:3 he shows that men from the east come to worship him, while “all Jerusalem was troubled” at the news. Thus, early on in his commentary Matthew is preparing us for the Lord’s rejection by the Jews and his acceptance by the Gentiles. And because of this, Matthew will begin unfolding the judgment of Jerusalem and Israel as a recurring drumbeat.
In Matthew 3:9–12 John the Baptist rebukes the Jews for claiming Abraham as their father (3:9; contra Matthew 1 genealogy of Christ). He then warns just before Christ’s ministry begins that “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees” (3:10) and that “He who is coming” has a “winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His thresh-ing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:12). This anticipates AD 70.
In Matthew 8:10–12 we read of the faithful gentile who exercises more faith than anyone in Israel. We hear once again of people from the east. This time they sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the rightful place of the Jews), while the Jews themselves are “cast out” into “outer darkness.” In Matthew 9:16–17 Christ teaches that the constraints of Judaism are like old wineskins that would burst with the content of Christ’s kingdom. Consequently, God will provide new wineskins (the new covenant church) to contain the wine of the kingdom. In Matthew 10:5 Jesus limits his ministry to Israel, yet in Matthew 10:16–17 he notes that the synagogues will punish his followers. So in 10:23 he promises that he will return to judge before they finish going through all of Israel (referring to AD 70). In Matthew 10:34–36 he warns that he does not come into the world to bring peace on the earth (the Land), but a sword which will divide homes (because of the Jewish opposition, e.g., Jn 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
In Matthew 11:14 Christ declares John the Baptist the fulfillment of the prophecy of Elijah’s return. When we read of this in Mal 3–4 we discover Christ will come to judge Israel. In Matthew 11:20–24 The Lord rebukes and warns cities in Israel regarding their judgment, comparing them unfavorably to wicked OT cities. In Matthew 12:39 he speaks of the Jews of his day as an “evil and adulterous generation.” In Matthew 12:41–42 he once again rebukes and warns cities in Israel of their approaching judgment.
I’ll have more to say about this in tomorrow’s post.