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29th November, 2010

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Agents of salvation

Verbal economy stands out as a hallmark of Moses' writings; tomes could undoubtedly be written elaborating on some of the Pentateuch's pithy passages. Perhaps no one passage illustrates the principle of parsimony better than Genesis 22:18:

In your (Abraham's) seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

Walter Kaiser says that this and similar statements in Genesis speak of ". a divine plan in history which promised to bring a universal blessing through the agency of an unmerited, divine choice of a human offspring.".1 The scope and majesty of this promise can barely be overstated; in a nutshell, through Jesus Christ atonement for sin, reconciliation with God and, ultimately, eternal life is made available to "all nations". On Calvary, Jesus provided the means for all these blessings to be extended to all mankind; at His return (and on judgment day) He will implement the means and bring these blessings to fruition.

The Jews of the first century thought that they were the promised seed of blessing; Paul gave no quarter in refuting that idea:

Now to [in] Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to[in] seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to [in] your Seed," who is Christ (Gal. 3:16).

As the One who personally administers these blessings, Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between man and his Father (1 Tim. 2:5).

Some push the camel's nose under the tent and conclude from Paul's words that neither Israel nor the church has any substantial role to play in the plan of salvation. Oh sure, they might say, the church has been charged with preaching the gospel, but that doesn't actually have much bearing on the hearer's salvation. Sure, the church may serve as the agent of the kingdom of God, but nothing is accomplished with respect to salvation. Wrong.

For the sake of brevity we must leave aside the question of whether or not the "church that Jesus built" is actively performing these duties today. (If anybody is doing them they seem to be doing them "under a basket" where the

light cannot be seen.) Under ideal circumstances, the church, which consists of the continuation of the holy remnant of Israel (Rom. 11:5) can appropriately be considered God's agent of salvation. Jesus alone is the mediator between God and man, but the holy remnant of Israel has been designated as the instrument of God's work on earth and, as such, facilitates salvation. One of the most remarkable statements in the prophets can be found in Zechariah 8:13:

And it shall come to pass that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing.

Don't let the significance of these words escape you. If you have a reference Bible you will probably find that it directs you to Genesis 12:2, where God told Abraham that he would "be a blessing". Though Jesus Christ is the promised single seed of blessing, Abraham himself and his multiple descendants may well be alluded to in Genesis 12:2 as. well. assistants of Jesus Christ in bringing salvation to all mankind. Jesus' role as mediator and the holy remnant's role as agents of God are not mutually exclusive. God set up Israel to be a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6), a role which the Israelites have failed miserably to fulfill. But fulfill it they will when God sets His hand to turning them back to Him when the "time is fulfilled" (Is. 61:6). The idea is beautifully expressed in Zechariah 8:23:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you' ".

In this remarkable example of brevity of words a fabulously rich, significant concept is expressed. The verse implies that, without the able assistance of a Jew, these people would fail to "make the journey". When the church that Jesus built rises from its protracted near-death experience (He did promise that the gates of hell could not prevail against it - but they could come close) we will see some action on the salvation front. How many Chinese, Moslems, Hindus, atheists, are wholeheartedly turning to God today "in truth"? How can they, when they can't hear a preacher whom God has sent (Rom. 10:14-15)? But as Matthew 24:14 makes clear, such preachers will in due course arise. Alleluia.

1Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 13


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