This article continues a study began in my last post. It regards Israel in the New Testament — particularly Israel in the teaching of Christ. This study should surprise dispensationalists who would never allow such teaching in their churches.
Even 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. 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 threshing 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.
In Matthew 12:43–45 the Lord speaks of the seven-fold demonization of Israel in “this generation.” In Matthew 13:58 he performs no miracles in Nazareth due to their lack of faith. In Matthew 15:7–14 he rebukes the rabbis in Israel for neglecting God’s word and teaching falsely, according to Isaianic prophecy. In Matthew 16:4 he once again speaks of Israel as an evil and adulterous generation.
In Matthew 16:21 Jesus teaches his disciples that Israel’s chief priests will kill him. In Matthew 16:28 he notes that some of his followers will live to see the kingdom come with power. In Matthew 17:10–13 Jesus declares John the Baptist to be Elijah, whom the Jews do not recognize as such and therefore kill him, just as they will kill Jesus.
Matthew 19:28 the Son of Man will come and the apostles will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. In Matthew 20:18–19 Christ once again prophesies that the chief priests will condemn him to death.
In Matthew 21:12 he casts out the moneychangers and overturns their tables — as prophetic theater showing the soon overthrow of the temple. In Matthew 21:19–21 he curses the fig tree and speaks of throwing “this mountain” into the sea, as signs of judgment on Israel (“this mountain” probably points to the temple mount). In Matthew 21:33–43, 45 the parable of the landowner shows God taking the kingdom from the Jews and crushing them. In Matthew 22:2–7 prophesies the AD 70 burning of “their city,” Jerusalem.
In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounces seven woes upon the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:34–36 first century Israel will be judged for the righteous blood shed in the land. In 23:36–38 he laments the temple and declares it desolate. In 24:2–3 he leaves the temple and prophesies its destruction. In 24:16 he notes that his followers are to flee Judea, because in 24:34 “this generation” will experience judgment.
In Matthew 26:3–5 the chief priests and the High Priest counsel Jesus’ death. In Matthew 26:47 the High Priest secures Jesus’ arrest. In 26:57 the High Priest tries Jesus, even bringing in brings false witnesses (26:59). In 26:63–64 Jesus warns that the High Priest will see him coming in judgment.
In Matthew 27:1 the High Priest confers with others to kill Jesus. In vv 15–21 the chief priests encourage the crowd to seek the release of the robber Barabbas, instead of the innocent Messiah Jesus. In v 25 the people call his blood down upon themselves. While he is dying on the cross in vv 39–40, the people mock him for declaring the destruction of the temple. In vv 41–43 the scribes, elders, and chief priests deride him as he dies. In Matthew 28:11–15 the priests assemble after the resurrection to bribe the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb, directing them to claim that his disciples stole his body.
Then finally in Mt 28:18–20 the Lord gives the Great Commission — which directs his followers to take the gospel to “all nations,” rather than limiting their ministry to Israel as previously (10:16–17; 15:24). Here we see God turning from the Jews to the world.
Matthew’s picture certainly does not suggest any distinctive favoring of racial Israel in the future. In fact, it appears as strong evidence against such a viewpoint. It would seem that dispensationalists would be wise in avoiding Matthew’s Gospel, rather than emphasizing it.