We would have a much clearer understanding of scriptures if we paid attention to the intended audience. I'd like to propose a framework for this. It would seem reasonable to first look at the division already provided by scriptures, namely two of the main covenants—the Abrahamic and the Messianic—not from the usual perspective of Law and Grace, but from that of relationship to God.
The Abrahamic Covenant
The one we refer to as the Abrahamic Covenant, also called the covenant of circumcision,1 begins with Abram:
Genesis 17:7 "I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Genesis 17:19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
Prior to this covenant God treated the people of the earth as one. Following this event, the children of Abram (later renamed Abraham), were separated into an exclusive people group from those known as the Gentiles. The only requirement placed upon Abram and his descendants was that they be circumcised.2
By this act God elected to make an everlasting covenant of relationship with Abram and his descendants. The covenant was repeated with a focus on Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. The Gentiles enjoyed none of the benefits of this covenant unless they joined themselves to Israel (as proselytes) and became circumcised.
Jesus attested to and upheld this exclusive covenant relationship with Israel in his response to the pleas of the Canaanite woman—a gentile:
Matthew 15:22-24 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Jesus was sent only to Israel. Should we not also use this fact as a framework for interpreting the primary focus of his words in the gospels as well?
The Messianic Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,…”
This new Messianic Covenant was again to be with Israel/Judah, however, Paul tells us that it was because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus that God's favour, through salvation, was made available to the Gentiles.
Romans 11:11 But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles…
Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.
This rejection was evidenced in their words at the crucifixion:
John 19:15 The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
Perhaps in the difficulties of the Great Tribulation, these words will be recanted.
A New People Group
As a result of Israel’s rejection, the Gentiles were invited to do so in a new covenant:
Matthew 22:8-9 "Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'
Initially, only Israel was invited to participate. Their rejection opened the invitation to whoever will accept it.
A Temporary Rejection
From Paul’s writings we learn that this rejection of Christ and the corresponding new covenant by Israel is a temporary event. When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel will have a change of heart and receive salvation. The new everlasting covenant will be reestablished with Israel at that time. Remember, that new covenant too, was intended to be exclusive to Israel as an addendum to the everlasting nature of the original covenant.
Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation-- that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
Old Testament prophecy tells of a return of the children of Israel to their land by God’s doing. This too indicates that God is not finished with the Jews. Consequently we have four distinct people groups to examine.
Three People Groups
Gentiles, Christian Gentiles and Messianic Jews, and those Jews who continue to reject Jesus now exist as distinct people groups. Gentiles and Jews, unless they accept God’s invitation into salvation, remain outside of God’s favour.
I separate Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians because in Acts 15 a distinction was made in the requirements or expectations on these two groups.
Acts 15:23-28 “…and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings…. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials…”
The Gentile Christians were given, by the Holy Spirit, a different standard than that expected of the Messianic Jews—circumcision being the main one. Clearly there remains a distinction between these two groups, one which I believe will be finally removed when the body of Christ, the called out ones, and the bride of Christ, the elected ones, are united in marriage.
The Seventy Weeks
That God is not finished with Israel is obvious from the words of the Angel to Daniel:
Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
The clocks of the cosmos were decreed to focus on Daniel’s people—the Jews. Most accept that 69 weeks of years (a week symbolizing 7 years) were completed on exactly the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey. Soon thereafter, Israel’s rejection of Jesus initiated the “time of the gentiles.”4 The cosmic clock stopped, leaving the 70th week of years to be completed.
When the time of the gentiles is complete that clock will resume it’s countdown to fulfil the 70th week of years also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble5 and the Great Tribulation. That week of seven years, as described in Revelation, will again focus on Jewish Israel, not on the church.
The End of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Jeremiah 30:7 Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.
The beginning of the “time of Jacob’s trouble” also marks the end of the “time of the Gentiles.” In the midst of it, Jewish Israel as a nation or people group will turn to recognize and receive Jesus as their Messiah and then re-enter an exclusive relationship with God.
This week of seven years is Jacob’s nightmare, the focus being on Jacob’s offspring. For this reason I read Revelation 4-18 as describing event which involve Jewish Israel and references therein to ‘the saints’ and ‘the elect’ as applying only to those Jews who have turned to Christ.
I suspect that prior to the beginning of the time of Jacob's trouble, the Gentile Christians, who had until this time enjoyed God’s favour, will be “caught up”6 or raptured so as to avoid a contractual difficulty with God’s promise to give favour exclusively to Jewish Israel. By that I mean that if the new covenant requires that God give his favour only to Messianic Jews, then he would no longer be able to show favour toward Gentile Christians. The rapture would remove this conflict.
The Wedding Feast
At the end of the Great Tribulation Jesus will fulfil his promise to the disciples, Messianic Jews, to come again, to receive them to be in the place he has prepared for them:
“...I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3
That place is suspect is the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven with Him in it.
Revelation 21:9-11 “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.”
Revelation 22:3 “and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,”
Revelation 22:16-17 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches…” The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
The Spirit and the bride say to the churches, “Come.” That Israel is the bride of Christ is discussed in the article, "Body or Bride?"
A Framework for Scriptures
This then becomes the framework (subject to modification) in which and from which we would examine, interpret, and understand scriptures. Scriptures should be view from the perspective that:
- Genesis 1 to 11 - was written with a focus on all of human kind
- Genesis 12 to Acts 1 - was written with a focus primarily on Israel
- Acts 2 to Philemon - was written with a focus primarily on Gentiles Christians
- Hebrews to 1 Peter - was written with a primary focus on Messianic Jews
- 2 Peter to Revelation 3 - was written with a focus primarily on Gentiles Christians
- Revelation 4 to 18 - was written with a focus primarily on Jewish Israel
- Revelation 19 to 21 - applies to all the saints.
What does mean or how does that affect our reading of scriptures?
References to the elect and the saints in Revelation 4 to 18 should be read as pertaining to Messianic Jews, not Gentile Christians. The Woman of Revelation 12 who gives birth to a son who is taken up to heaven while she flees into the desert could then represent Israel out of which comes a small body of believers who are raptured before Satan is able to 'devour' them. They will, with all those of the church who overcome, rule with Christ:
Revelation 2:26-27 'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father;
Jesus' parables and His description of end time events should be read as having a primary focus on the nation of Israel—the Jews, those elected for salvation and those not, the wheat and tares, sheep and goats, wise and foolish virgins, etc…, these all have new meaning.
1 Acts 7:8
2 Genesis 17:11
3 Act 11:26
4 Luke 21:24
5 Jeremiah 30:7
6 1 Thessalonians 4:17
©2011, Steve: Bydeley.
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Dr. Steve Bydeley is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.