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Monday, February 12, 2018

Paul's Use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27

by Michael J. Vlach

One example where a New Testament writer views an Old Testament prophetic passage as needing to be fulfilled literally in the future is Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

This statement by Paul comes in the context of his discussion concerning why God’s Word has not failed concerning Israel in Romans 9-11. In showing how Paul uses this passage I start with explaining Isaiah 59:20-21 in its original context.

Isaiah 59:20-21 in Context

Isaiah 59:20-21 reads:

“A Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord.
21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”

The last two major sections of Isaiah are chapters 49-57 and 58-66. Isaiah 49-57 focuses on the coming Suffering Servant who will vicariously atone for the sins of His people. We now know that Jesus is this Suffering Servant. Isaiah 58-66 then focuses on the glorious kingdom blessings that will come to Israel and the world. Israel will be restored and the nations of the earth will then bless Israel.

Together, these two sections focus on salvation and kingdom. So when Isaiah 59:20-21 will speak of the Lord’s salvation of Israel, the backdrop of this truth is the work of the Suffering Servant.

Isaiah 59 is a strategic chapter since it addresses: (1) Israel’s sin (vv. 1-8); (2) Israel’s national confession of guilt (vv. 9-15a); (3) the Lord’s rescue of Israel (vv. 15b-19); and (4) the salvation of Israel and Israel’s inclusion into the New Covenant (vv. 20-21).

Starting with Isaiah 59:15b, the Lord, who is presented as Israel’s interceder, is said to be displeased that there was “no justice” and “that there was no one to intercede” for Israel. So He decides to act alone on Israel’s behalf against the nations. This interceding on Israel’s behalf will include both national deliverance from Israel’s enemies and spiritual salvation for Israel from her sins.

Isaiah 59:16-19 emphasizes the coming wrath of God against the nations, even distant nations—“Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; to the coastlands He will make recompense” (59:18). This is clearly a physical deliverance from oppression. This also is the message of Zechariah 14 and Isaiah 63:3-6 which speak of the Lord’s physical deliverance of Israel from her enemies. Also, in the New Testament Zacharias declared that the coming Messiah (Jesus) would bring “Salvation from our enemies” (Luke 1:71). He also said that in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant God would “grant us that we being rescued from the hand of our enemies” (Luke 1:74).

Yet in addition to national deliverance from enemies, the “Redeemer” of Isaiah 59:20 is also a Savior from sin. Much of Isaiah 58-66 concerns Israel’s sinfulness and Israel’s national confession of sin. Isaiah 59 began with, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (v. 1). That this includes salvation from sin is supported by the fact that Isaiah 59:1-15a is all about Israel’s sin and confession of sin. So the “Redeemer” of verse 20 is more than a deliverer from oppressing nations He is also a Savior from sin. This Redeemer is also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53 who “bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors” (53:12). Also, this “Redeemer” comes “to those who turn from transgression in Jacob” (59: 20). So the Redeemer’s coming to Zion is linked with forgiveness of sins in Israel.

This salvation that the Redeemer brings is linked with Israel’s inclusion and participation in the New Covenant—“‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit which is upon you. . . .’” (21a). The “My covenant” here most probably is the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31, 34 explicitly links the New Covenant with Israel’s forgiveness of sins. Ezekiel 36 also links the Holy Spirit with the New Covenant—I will put My Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:27a). This inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant is also linked with Abrahamic Covenant blessings since the New Covenant is an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In sum, Isaiah 59 reveals that Israel’s sin will one day be recognized by the people of Israel. When this occurs, the Lord will act alone on Israel’s behalf to rescue Israel from her enemies. He also comes to Israel with salvation, a salvation based on the work of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53. This salvation means inclusion into the New Covenant.

Romans 11:26-27

So how does Isaiah 59:20-21 connect with Romans 11? In Romans 9-11 Paul addressed the situation of Israel’s unbelief and whether God’s Word has failed (see Rom. 9:1-6). He explains that Israel missed God’s righteousness since the nation pursued righteousness through the works of the Mosaic Law and not through faith in Jesus who is the end of the Law (see Rom. 9:30–10:4).

Paul explains that God’s Word has not failed. In doing so he appeals to past, present, and future truths. Concerning the past, Israel is still related to adoption, the covenants, the promises, temple service, the patriarchs, and Jesus the Messiah (see Rom. 9:4-5). Concerning the present God has kept a remnant of believing ethnic Israelites (Rom. 11:1-6). This remnant is a guarantee that God has not permanently rejected the nation Israel. In the present God is also saving many Gentiles. In fact, the salvation of Gentiles is being used by God to make corporate Israel jealous (11:11).

Concerning the future, God will save and reinstall national Israel to Abrahamic covenant blessings after the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:17-25). This “fullness of the Gentiles” relates to God’s purposes for Gentiles in this age including their salvation and role of provoking Israel to jealousy. This leads to the salvation of Israel as Paul states in 11:25-26a:

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; 26 and so all Israel will be saved.

“All Israel” in Scripture refers to the nation Israel as a whole at any given point in time when Israel is being addressed. Since the context is future-oriented here, the “all Israel” refers to Israel as a whole at some point in the future.

To support the assertion that “all Israel will be saved” Paul draws upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Here Paul relies upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in a contextual way. The Isaiah passage predicted a coming salvation of Israel as a corporate entity that reverses the nation’s unbelief and that is Paul’s point too. The coming of the Redeemer, who is Jesus the Messiah, will be linked with the salvation of national Israel and Israel’s inclusion in the New Covenant. That is the message of both Isaiah and Paul. To compare:

Isaiah 59:20-21: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.

Romans 11:26-27: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.

 “To” or “From” Zion

While the meaning of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27 is established, I need to mention some issues concerning “Zion.” Isaiah 59:20 says the Deliverer will come “to Zion,” but Paul says the Deliverer will come “from [ek] Zion.” Zion is consistently used of an earthly mountain in Jerusalem. But some think that since Paul says the Deliverer is returning “from Zion,” that “Zion” in Romans 11:26 must refer to Heaven. If this is the case the normal earthly sense of “Zion” would not occur in 11:26.

But a heavenly understanding of “Zion” is probably not accurate. Paul’s use of “Zion” in Romans 9:33 concerned earthly Zion, and Paul is probably not changing the meaning of “Zion” in 11:26. But why does Paul say “from” and not “to” concerning Zion? Is Paul being creative in his interpretation?

I do not think so. Paul may be drawing upon Psalm 14:7 which states that Israel’s salvation will “come from Zion.” But even if he is not, the different prepositions (“to” and “from”), while acknowledged, should not be pushed too much. The Old Testament prophets spoke of both a coming “to Zion” and “from Zion,” almost equally with no radical distinction between the two.

Paul’s use of “from Zion” could emphasize Jesus’ rule from earthly Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) as a result of Jesus’ return “to Zion.” In Psalm 110:1-2, the Messiah is said to rule “from Zion” in Jerusalem after a session in heaven at God’s right hand. But for this rule “from Zion” to occur a return “to Zion” (i.e. Jerusalem) had to happen.

Isaiah himself declared both concepts. In addition to saying the Deliverer comes “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), Isaiah also says, “For the law will go forth from Zion” (Isa. 2:3, emphasis added). So the prepositions “to” and “from” are closely related.

In sum, the statements that the Deliverer is coming “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20) and “from Zion” (Rom. 11:27) are closely linked and can be harmonized. Paul could refer to Jesus’ rule “from Zion” (earthly Jerusalem) that is connected with Jesus’ second coming “to” Jerusalem as stated in Isaiah 59:20.


Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27 is contextual. He relies upon Isaiah’s intent. This is an example of a New Testament writer expecting a literal fulfillment of an Old Testament prophetic text that has not been fulfilled yet.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

“By Which a Man May Live”: The Meaning of Leviticus 18:5

by Michael J. Vlach

Leviticus 18:5 stresses the importance of keeping God’s Law during the Mosaic era as the basis for living. Its truths also appear in Ezekiel 20:11, 13, and 21. Paul even alludes to Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. The verse reads:

So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

Not all agree on the meaning of Leviticus 18:5. Sometimes this verse is used to support the idea that eternal life is based on Law-keeping. But there is a more accurate understanding What Leviticus 18:5 is stating is this: As God’s covenant people, Israel is in a relationship with God. Since Israel already belonged to God, Israel (both corporately and individually) is to obey Him by keeping all His commandments. Obeying God’s commandments will result in Israel remaining in and living abundantly in the land of promise associated with the Abrahamic Covenant.

What follows is an attempt to support this position.

Israel Belongs to God
The first seventeen chapters of Leviticus focused on God’s holiness and the significance of offering and sacrifices. God’s presence among His people means His people are to be holy (see Lev. 11:44-45). Leviticus 18:1-5 then functions as a preamble to what follows concerning God’s expectations for His people, Israel. Three times God declared the foundational truth that He is Israel’s God:

18:2: Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “I am the Lord your God. 

18:4: “I am the Lord your God.

18:5: “I am the LORD.”

Just before the giving of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 20, God also claimed the people of Israel as His own when he declared, “I am the LORD Your God,” (Exod. 20:2).

Israel too had committed themselves to the Lord. Exodus 14:31 states that the people of Israel already had “believed in the Lord,” which is similar language to Genesis 15:6 where we are told that Abram “believed in the LORD.” At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel declared, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exod. 19:8; cf. 24:3, 7).

So Israel had believed in God and Israel belonged to Him. As Thomas Schreiner observes, Leviticus 18: “is addressed to those who belong to the Lord.” This is because “Israel has been redeemed from Egypt and liberated by God’s grace.” (40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, 59).

Significantly, the command for Israel to obey God’s commandments in Leviticus 18:5 is within the context of a covenantal relationship between God and Israel. This expected obedience is not presented as a means for a relationship with God, but rather the proper response of a people already belonging to God. As Daniel Block states, the Law of Moses was not given as a means of salvation, but “as the grateful response of those who had already been saved” ("Law, Ten Commandments, Torah," in Holman Dictionary).
Put another way.

It is not:
            Obey to become My people.

It is:
            Because you are My people—obey!

God’s Commands
Leviticus 18:5 begins with, “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments . . .” The “statutes” and “judgments” refer to the laws of the Mosaic Covenant. This includes the entirety of the commands in the legal sections of the Pentateuch. These are in contrast to the “abominable customs” of Egypt where Israel previously was enslaved (18:30). Israel was enslaved to Egypt and under its laws, but now Israel belonged to God and was expected to obey His commandments.

Living and Long Life in the Land
Next, obeying God will result in living—“by which a man may live if he does them” (Lev. 18:5). The “may live” here refers to long and abundant life in the land of promise. It means remaining in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant in the land. It contrasts with death and being cut off and removed from the land of promise. Other passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy show that obedience is linked with living a long and prosperous life in the land:

Lev. 25:18:  You shall thus observe My statutes and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land.

Deut. 4:40:  So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

Deut. 5:33: You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.

Deut. 30:16:  in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.

Also, what immediately follows Leviticus 18:5 supports this understanding of life in the land. In Leviticus 18:6-23 God offered a long list of sexual sins to avoid that characterized both the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Then with 18:24-25 God said other nations were being removed from their lands because of sinful actions. Disobedience is linked with removal from the land:

“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”

So the nations were being “spewed out” from their lands because of sinful activities. What is important here is that Leviticus 18 is declaring that sinful activity leads to expulsion from land.

Leviticus 18:26-29 then explicitly states that keeping God’s commandments is necessary for Israel to avoid being removed from the land:

But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. 

For Israel, the consequences for disobeying God’s commands in Leviticus 18 involve being spewed out from the land and being “cut off” from among the people. On the flip side, obedience means continued blessings in the land.

Also, Leviticus 26 will spell out what obedience means. Walking in “My statutes” and keeping “My commandments” (26:3) will lead to rains, agricultural abundance, successful harvests, satisfaction with food, security in the land, lack of harmful beasts, success over enemies, and God’s presence (26:3-12). However, disobeying God’s commands means a reversal of these blessings and dispersion from the land (26:14-45). Leviticus 26, therefore, is a commentary on what living means. So “may live” in Leviticus 18:5 refers to abundant living in the land of promise.

Theological Implications
What are some theological implications from Leviticus 18:5?

First, that “may live” in Leviticus 18:5 is referring to life in the land of promise for Israel is well-established by the context of Leviticus 18. Thus, this verse does not teach that Mosaic Law observance is the basis for eternal life. As Schreiner notes, “Therefore, in context the verse should not be construed as legalistic or as offering salvation on the basis of works” (40 Questions, 59).

It is true that later Jewish tradition will use this verse to claim eternal life is based on law-keeping. And there is great debate as to whether Paul has eternal life in mind when he quotes Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. That is a topic for another post. But in its own context, Leviticus 18:5 is primarily about abundant life in the land.

Second, law-keeping in Leviticus 18:5 seems related to what those in a relationship with God are expected to do. Because Israel belongs to God they are commanded to obey. Thus, Mosaic Law keeping seems more related to sanctification at this time than initial justification. During the Mosaic Era, keeping the Mosaic Law was required for all within Israel as a way to express obedience to God. Abraham, the chief example of justification through faith alone (Gen. 15:6), established that justification occurs through faith apart from the Mosaic Law (see Gal. 3:17).

Third, law-keeping for Israel is both a corporate and individual matter. Israel as a whole was to keep God’s laws and would be held accountable for keeping the Law. Passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 predicted that Israel as a corporate entity will be held accountable for covenant disobedience. And both predicted a coming dispersion and removal from the land for disobeying God’s commands. Hundreds of years later, Ezekiel 20, with its three connections to Leviticus 18:5 (Ezek. 20:11, 13, 21), indicts Israel as a whole for Mosaic Covenant disobedience. It is also true that individuals within Israel were required to keep the Mosaic Covenant as well (see Deut. 27:15-26). Individuals within Israel could be cut off from Israel through flagrant violations of the Law.

Fourth, as mentioned, this post has not addressed the use of Leviticus 18:5 in the New Testament—most notably Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. The use of Leviticus 18:5 in these two verses is heavily debated with many good scholars disagreeing with several different views concerning how Paul is using Leviticus 18:5. Some think Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 contextually, while others believe Paul is using it non-contextually whether through typology or reinterpretation. Others believe Paul is addressing a Jewish misunderstanding of the Law in Galatians 3:12. These issues are too complex to address here but I hope to address them in a later post.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Psalm 8 in the New Testament

by Michael J. Vlach

Written by David, Psalm 8 extols the majesty of the Lord and reaffirms that man is expected to rule over God’s creation.

The first and last verse of the psalm both declare the greatness of God—“Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1, 9). So God’s glory is at the forefront. But this psalm also declares the exalted position mankind has in God’s purposes concerning the earth. Psalm 8:4-8 states:

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Psalm 8 draws upon the truth of Genesis 1:26-28 that God created man to “rule” and “subdue” the world. In fact Psalm 8 functions much like a commentary on Genesis 1:26-28. Even in a fallen world man’s right to rule over creation has not been revoked, even though man in his sinful state is not able to fulfill it as he should (see Genesis 3).

Psalm 8 in the New Testament

Matthew 21:16

Psalm 8 is explicitly quoted four times in the New Testament—Matthew 21:16; Hebrews 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:27; and Ephesians 1:22. Thus, to understand the Bible’s storyline, accurately comprehending Psalm 8 and how the New Testament writers use this psalm are important.

The first reference to Psalm 8 occurs in Matthew 21:16. After Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem days before His death, the Pharisees were upset that some children in the temple were proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:15). Verse 16 then says:

and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” 

Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 to draw upon the principle that God will use the words of babies to speak truth and confound those who think they are wise. With Matthew 21 young children speak wisely against the skepticism of the religious leaders. So the use of Psalm 8 in Matthew 21:16 is contextual since Matthew 21:16 reaffirms a principle evident in Psalm 8:2.

Hebrews 2:5-8

The three other quotations of Psalm 8 in the New Testament focus upon Psalm 8:6.

We start with Hebrews 2 since this chapter involves the most significant quotation of Psalm 8. The writer of Hebrews quotes three verses of Psalm 8 (vv. 4-6), and offers commentary on when the conditions of Hebrews 8 will be fulfilled. Hebrews 2:5-8 reads:

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying,
What is man, that You remember him?
Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

This Hebrews’ passage is consistent with the message of Psalm 8, namely that man possesses an exalted position that involves ruling over the creation. Yet the writer of Hebrews also offers inspired commentary concerning when Psalm 8 will be fulfilled. He makes clear that man’s rule over the world will occur in the future. It is not happening now. This is evident by the words “world to come” (Heb. 2:5), and by the fact that at the end of verse 8 he says, “We do not yet see all things subjected to him.” Even though man still possesses the right to rule creation, we do not yet see the successful rule of man over it. Man’s successful rule over creation awaits the future.

Hebrews 2:9 then brings up Jesus who suffered and is now exalted:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Man’s successful reign over the earth cannot occur while he is estranged from God. But Jesus, the ultimate representative of mankind, suffered and “taste[d] death for everyone” so that the successful reign of man over the earth can occur. This shows that the cross is related to the coming kingdom. Without the cross there would be no kingdom.

In sum, the message of Hebrews 2:5-8 and its quotation of Psalm 8:4-6 is that mankind is still destined to rule the earth but this has not happened yet. But it will occur in the “world to come.” This fulfillment is tied to Jesus who tasted death for everyone so that man can one day fulfill his mandate to rule the earth successfully. The following two verses below show further how this relates to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:27

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Paul explained God’s three-stage resurrection program and how this relates to the kingdom of God. First, there is Jesus’ resurrection. Second there will be a resurrection of believers with Jesus’ second coming. Then, third, there will be a resurrection associated with “the end” which comes after Jesus’ has reigned and defeated all His enemies (see Rev. 20:5). In verses 27-28 Paul focuses on the issue of “subjection.” He quotes Psalm 8:6:

For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

Paul points out that Psalm 8:6 teaches that God “put all things in subjection” to man. The only exception to this “subjection” is God the Father. The Father is not subject to the Son but the Son is to the Father. And when the Son has ruled successfully He will hand His kingdom over to the Father “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24, 28).

But there is an interesting development in verses 27-28. Whereas Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2:5-8 focus mostly on mankind’s right to rule, Paul ties Psalm 8:6 specifically to Jesus. So why does Paul take a passage about mankind in general and say it will be fulfilled with the individual person of Jesus? Did Paul misinterpret Psalm 8?

No. Paul is not using Psalm 8 in a non-contextual manner. The key here is understanding the biblical concept of “corporate headship” or “corporate representation” in which a single representative can act on behalf of the many. Back in Genesis 3:15 when the first man sinned, God said there would be a battle between the seed of the woman (righteous mankind) and the seed of the evil power behind the serpent (unrighteous mankind). Yet from the seed of the woman would come a “He” who would reverse the curse and defeat the power behind the serpent (Satan) one day. So Genesis 3:15 involves both mankind in general and a coming single deliverer from mankind. This deliverer is Jesus, the Last Adam (see 1 Cor. 15:45).

Since Jesus is the sinless and perfect representative who is able to restore mankind, Paul views Jesus as the one who will fulfill the Psalm 8 (and Genesis 1:26-28) expectation of a successful rule of man from and over the earth. Yet this does not leave out mankind. Other verses indicate that saved people in Jesus will also participate in Jesus’ rule upon the earth. For example, Revelation 5:10 states: “You have made them [believers in Jesus] to be a kingdom and they will reign upon the earth.” Revelation 2:26-27 and 3:21 also teach this idea of believers sharing in Jesus’ coming kingdom reign on the earth.

So does the fulfillment of Psalm 8 apply to mankind in general or Jesus? The answer is both. Jesus as the Last Adam and federal head of mankind will fulfill Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26-28 and share His reign with those in union with Him.

Ephesians 1:22

In Ephesians 1:19 Paul says Christians have the power of God working in their lives, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He then said Jesus is now at the right hand of God “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:21). Then in verse 22, he says, “And He [God] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” This draws upon Psalm 8:6.

Paul, with Ephesians 1:22, links Psalm 8:6 to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate man who has been granted all authority at the right hand of the Father and will one day exercise this authority over the world (see Rev. 19:15; Matt. 19:28; 25:31). So like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 2:5-9, Jesus is linked with the fulfillment of the Psalm 8 expectation, even though the fulfillment of Psalm 8 awaits the future.


Psalm 8 is quoted four times in the New Testament showing that its message is important for understanding the Bible’s storyline. All uses of Psalm 8 in the New Testament are contextual and consistent with the meaning of this psalm. Jesus in Matthew 21:16 draws upon the Psalm 8:2 principle that God will use babies to speak the truth and confound the wise. The other three focus on Psalm 8:6. Hebrews 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:27; and Ephesians 1:22 quote Psalm 8:6 contextually to affirm that mankind is destined for a successful reign upon the earth. Hebrews 2:5-8 declares that Psalm 8 has not been fulfilled yet, but it will be in “the world to come.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22 connects Psalm 8 with Jesus and in doing so reveals that the fulfillment of the Psalm 8 expectation will occur because of Jesus. Because of sin and the fall, man cannot fulfill the Psalm 8 expectation on his own. But mankind’s rule over creation will occur because of the ultimate man, the Last Adam—Jesus.

(Michael Vlach is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary and is Editor of The Master’s Seminary Journal. For more on Psalm 8 and the kingdom of God see Michael’s new book, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

4 Eschatological Truths from Matthew 19:28

by Michael Vlach

One verse that is often overlooked but carries great theological significance, particularly for eschatology, is Matthew 19:28:

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The context of Jesus’ words here is His encounter with the Rich Young Ruler (19:16-26) and Peter’s question concerning what rewards the apostles would have for following Jesus (19:27). The Rich Young Ruler loved his possessions more than he desired Jesus so he would not part with his wealth. But the disciples were willing to give up everything for Jesus. So Peter asked what reward there would be for himself and the apostles who did forsake all to follow Him (Matt. 19:27). Jesus reveals great rewards including relationships and dwelling places (19:28-30). But Jesus’ answer in 19:28 also reveals four key truths concerning events to come. It is these we highlight:

First, there is a coming renewal of planet earth. This is made clear by Jesus’ use of the term “regeneration,” which is the Greek word, palingenesia. This term refers to “re-creation” or “renewal, or literally “genesis again.” In this context it refers to the recreation or renewal of the earth and parallels the glorified creation that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-23. It is also closely related to the “restoration of all things” that Peter refers to in Acts 3:21. Thus, Jesus sees a restored planet earth in the future in connection with the restoration of national Israel. Commenting on this term J. I. Packer states, “it denotes the eschatological ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21) under the Messiah for which Israel was waiting” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 925). The future involves a real tangible earth, not a wispy existence on a cloud. This truth refutes any Platonic elevation of the spiritual over the physical. The physical earth matters in God’s plans and His kingdom includes it.

Second, the Davidic throne of Jesus is future. With Luke 1:32-33, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would one day sit upon the throne of David. With Matthew 19:28, Jesus explicitly links His assumption of the throne of David with the future renewal of creation—“in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne.” Since the “regeneration” of the earth is future, we can know that Jesus’ assumption of the Davidic throne is future. Matthew 25:31 supports this when Jesus links His Davidic throne reign with the second coming: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

Third, the nation Israel will be restored. Jesus also mentions the “twelve tribes of Israel” which refers to the literal twelve tribes of Israel. On several occasions, the Old Testament prophets predicted a restored Israel with a unification of the twelve tribes (see Ezekiel 36-37). The mention of the “twelve tribes of Israel” in Matthew 19:28 shows that Jesus expects a future restoration of the nation Israel with the twelve tribes present. There is no reason here to spiritualize the twelve tribes here especially since every other reference to the “twelve tribes” of Israel in the New Testament refers to literal Israel (see Luke 22:30; Acts 26:7; James 1:1; Rev. 7:4-8; 21:12). Plus all references to “Israel” in the New Testament refer to ethnic/national Israel. Thus, Matthew 19:28 is New Testament evidence for a restored and unified Israel.

Fourth, the apostles will rule over a restored national Israel. For their willingness to forsake all and follow Jesus the apostles will “sit[ting] upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Revelation 19:15 reveals that when Jesus returns to earth He will rule the nations of the earth. With Matthew 19:28 we also see that Jesus’ apostles will share His coming reign by judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a literal rule over the literal tribes of Israel when the kingdom comes. So not only will Israel be united and restored, the nation will be ruled over by the twelve apostles.

Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:28 show incredible blessings to come with Jesus’ return. The planet earth will be restored, Jesus will reign as King, Israel will be restored and united, and the apostles will have ruling functions over Israel. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Significance of the Five Quotations of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament

by Michael Vlach

All quotations of the Old Testament (OT) in the New Testament (NT) are significant. Yet when a particular OT passage is cited multiple times, we do well to study why the NT persons and writers viewed this text as so important. Such is the case with Isaiah 6:9-10, a text quoted in the NT five times in connection with national Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

The context of Isaiah 6:9-10 is the prophet Isaiah’s commission to disobedient Israel around 740 B.C. Isaiah’s message to Israel would not result in the nation’s repentance but would result in their being further hardened:

He [the Lord] said, “Go, and tell this people:
“Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.”
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted once each by the four gospel writers—Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:11-12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40—and once by Paul in Acts 28:26-27.

All quotations of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the NT occur in the context of national Israel’s unbelief in Jesus as Messiah and the kingdom of God He presented as “near” (Matt. 4:17). This passage is applied to Israel as a corporate entity even though some individual Jews were believing in Jesus.

In Matthew 13:14-15 Jesus applied Isaiah 6:9-10 to unbelieving Israel:

In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,                           
You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’

The context of this statement is important. According to Matthew 3:2; 4:17; and 10:5-7 the nearness of the kingdom was being presented to Israel. Matthew 10:5-7 reveals that the kingdom message at this time was only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The cities of Israel were the focus here. Yet according to Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus rebuked the cities of Israel for their unbelief: “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).

Then with Matthew 12 the religious leaders of Israel expressed their rejection of Jesus as Messiah when they attributed His miracles to Satan and thus committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:25-32). A national rejection of Jesus was occurring.

So when Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 in Matthew 13 and says “the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled,” He connects Isaiah 6 with the unbelief of Israel during His earthly ministry. One might ask, “How can a prophecy of Isaiah centuries earlier be fulfilled during Jesus’ day?” The answer is that Israel is a corporate national entity with trans-generational implications. Israel’s unbelief in Isaiah’s day can be heightened or fulfilled by the unbelief of Israel during the time of Jesus’ first coming. Both in Isaiah’s day and in Jesus’ day, national Israel evidenced a hardened unbelief.

Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in connection with national Israel’s unbelief and Jesus’ giving of parables is found also in Mark and Luke:

Mark 4:11-12:
And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”

Luke 8:9-10:
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

With John 12 the apostle John also quoted Isaiah 6:10 with some commentary:

For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue (John 12:39-42).

Three factors are noteworthy here. First, Jesus directed the words of Isaiah 6 to Israel’s unbelief.

Second, John says that Isaiah understood his words in connection with Jesus—“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” This reveals that Isaiah had a specific messianic hope.

And third, we are told that “many” of “the rulers” of Israel “believed in Him [Jesus].” This shows that Isaiah’s words apply primarily to Israel as a corporate entity and not just to individual Jews. Even though many rulers in Israel believed in Jesus the leadership as a whole did not, even to the point of intimidating others Jewish leaders who believed. Thus, Israel’s national rejection of Jesus, even in spite of the belief of “many. . . rulers” of Israel, is cause for the application of Isaiah 6:10 to the corporate entity of Israel in Jesus’ day.

Acts 28:17-29
This last chapter of Acts describes an important encounter between Paul and “leading men of the Jews” in Rome (Acts 28:17). This gathering of Jewish leaders offers a formality to this encounter and indicates more than just a happenstance gathering of individual Jews.

Even though these Jewish leaders do not believe in Jesus Paul calls them “Brethren,” and he identifies with them by referring to “our people” and “our fathers” (28:17). He also told them, “I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel” (28:20). Thus there is a heavy Israelite context to this encounter and Paul takes the Jewish element of this encounter very seriously. There certainly is no idea that the church has replaced the traditional concept of “Israel.”

Then we are told that these Jewish leaders came to Paul at his lodging “in large numbers” (28:23). Paul then testified about the kingdom of God and tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from the Law and the Prophets (i.e. Hebrew scriptures) from morning until evening.

The result of this all-day encounter is described in verse 24: “Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.” Thus, some Jewish leaders were persuaded by Paul and believed, yet others did not believe. We are not told which of these two groups was larger but there seems to be a significant number who believed. This should not be overlooked. Some Jewish leaders believed in Jesus the Messiah.

Certainly, Paul must have been pleased with these Jewish believers but his strong words indicated that he was hoping for more. Verse 25 indicates that the two groups could not agree and this hindered a unified belief in Jesus as Messiah by Israel as a corporate entity. This led to a stinging rebuke of corporate Israel by using the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Acts 28:25-27:

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,
“Go to this people and say,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

The disagreement between the believing and unbelieving Jews led Paul to quote Isaiah 6:9-10 with its message of judgment for unbelieving corporate Israel. But why would Paul do this when some of the Jewish leaders in Rome did believe in Jesus? Should this not be considered a successful encounter since “some” Jewish leaders had believed? Kinzer asks an appropriate question:

Why does Paul respond so negatively to what Christians today might consider a rather successful evangelistic encounter? His fierce reaction appears disproportionate to the mixed attitudes of his audience.

But for Paul this was not a successful encounter. While probably encouraged by the remnant of Jewish men who believed (Rom. 11:1-6), this meeting did not result in a corporate acceptance of Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish leadership. That was what Paul was seeking—belief in Jesus as Messiah by Israel as represented by its leadership.

Concerning the encounter in Acts 28 Kinzer notes, “This scene makes little sense if we view Paul’s audience as a collection of Jewish individuals and Paul’s aim in addressing them as the ‘salvation’ of as many of them as possible.”[1] Instead what Paul was after was a communal decision of belief in Jesus as the Messiah as Tannehill points out:

The presence of disagreement among the Jews is enough to show that Paul has not achieved what he sought. He was seeking a communal decision, a recognition by the Jewish community as a whole that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish hope. The presence of significant opposition shows that this is not going to happen.[2]

This encounter in Acts 28 parallels John 12 when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 even though “many” of the Jewish leadership had believed. But in both John 12 and Acts 28 the leadership as a whole as representatives of national Israel did not believe. Thus, the condemnation of Isaiah 6:9-10 again applied.

Significance of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament
The five references to Isaiah 6:9-10 concern national Israel’s unbelief in Jesus the Messiah and a rejection of the kingdom of God. Even though some Israelites believed in Jesus and thus comprised the remnant of Israel (see Rom. 11:1-6), the lack of corporate belief by Israel brings a stinging rebuke in which both Jesus and Paul draw upon the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 for their current Jewish audiences. This situation will be reversed one day when national Israel believes in Jesus as Messiah as passages like Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:26 indicate.

[1] Mark S. Kinzer, “Zionism is Luke-Acts,” in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & the Land (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 160.
[2] Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts, vol. 2, The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 347.