History's second-most-significant event
Believers would probably be unanimous in their opinion about what historical event since creation would rank as Event Number One, the most important happening ever — the Incarnation. What medical advance, what marvel of worldwide conquest, what saga of staggering courage — all of which are works of mere men — can compare with the incomprehensible, never-to-be-repeated miracle of the birth of God in human form? What event orchestrated by men can compare with the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind?
Opinion would be sharply divided over what comes next. Let me share my thoughts with you. Try this exercise: sample as wide a range as possible of passages from all the Old Testament's literary categories with the view in mind of finding its chief theme. I believe that if you do this in an unbiased way you will be struck by the sheer number of references to one particular theme — the election of Israel as God's chosen instrument, with special emphasis on the defining moment of Israel's calling, the Exodus from Egypt. Again and again the writers remind readers of the Red Sea crossing and the subsequent occupation of the land of promise by Abraham's descendants.
I was personally struck by Psalm 136. Its opening verses praise the God of creation; the rest of the Psalm praises the God who led Israel from Egypt and gave them the promised land. Israel's election and redemption are virtually put on a par with the creation of the universe! The coverage given to the phenomenon of Israel's election and redemption strongly suggests that it constitutes history's second-most-important event. Let's hasten to add a vital comment; Scripture portrays Israel's calling as God's method of ultimately carrying knowledge of Him and His way (including knowledge of Jesus Christ and His salvation) to all nations. The great mystery of the ages is that God intends to save all mankind; Israel was called to act as a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) and a nation of “ministers” (Is. 61:6) to all peoples in executing that plan. Naturally, we must also consider the New Testament's insights. However, the New Testament consists primarily of three things:
1. a record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ;
2. an explanation of Jesus' person and paramount role in the divine plan;
3. an account of events that befell Jesus' followers and of their successes (and failures) in preaching the good news of the atoning work of Jesus Christ and His role in opening the doors of the kingdom of God to all men and women.
In short, the New Testament's purpose lies not in reinterpreting the Old Testament but in revealing the activities of the Divine Agent or Mediator in bringing all of history's mightiest events to pass, including Israel's election. Jesus did not come to start a brand new program of divine activity but to make possible the entire plan of salvation, including those aspects that had already occurred. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the promised “seed of blessing”, stands as the fulcrum on which that plan pivots, the foundation on which it is based, the peg from which it hangs. That plan is encapsulated in the covenant made with Abraham; Israel's special role comes straight out of that covenant. Jesus came to confirm that covenant, not to overthrow it and introduce a different way (Rom. 15:8).
Of course, who would dare downplay the significance of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the church? Or the "at-handness" of the kingdom of God? However, these could not have happened except Israel had first been redeemed from captivity and made into a free nation. Let me make a shocking statement: Scriptural testimony shows that the Spirit-led church continues the calling and election of Israel, it does not overthrow it! The Spirit-empowered church is a continuation of the congregation of believers, consisting of both Israelites and Gentiles, originally established in the redeemed nation of Israel. To imagine that the Sovereign Lord went to so much trouble to make a people for Himself only to jettison them when their Messiah finally came just makes no sense at all. And it goes contrary to New Testament teaching, which assures us that Israel will experience “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15), that in the millennial age the disciples will judge the tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28), and that the gates of the New Jerusalem will be named after the twelve tribes (Rev. 21:12). God has not abandoned Israel.