Post Title: The Wicked Tenants
If you are a parent, you know in earthly form what God feels in heavenly form. You may have a child who is rebellious and difficult, who may do stupid things and bring calamitous consequences upon him or her. Does that child separate themselves from your love? Yes. Do you no longer love your child? Of course not. So it is with God and Israel.
God understood the children of Israel were imperfect. He gave them a comprehensive system of sacrifices within the Torah to atone for sin, enhance fellowship, and reconcile and restore them. He provided all that was needed. Israel's relationship and covenant with God is based on his grace and love, just as our relationship with God is based on his grace and love.
Yes, his love compels the obedience of faith, but it is always his initiative and faithfulness to endure. So, the blessings may be removed because of disobedience, but Israel is never rejected.
Some believe that Jesus' parable of the wicked tenants is the definitive text showing that God has rejected Israel. However, the text in context is quite clear that the wicked tenants of the vineyard are the chief priests, the scribes, and the Sadducean leaders of the temple complex (Lk 20:1). These are the ones God was unhappy with. And make no mistake about it; they understood his meaning.
"He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others." When they heard this, they said, "Surely not!" But he looked directly at them and said, "What then is this that is written: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'? (Luke 20:16-17 [Is 28:16, Ps 118:22])
The people of Israel are his vineyard. He doesn't forsake them; he displaces those tending his vineyard. In other words, he takes his kingdom movement out from under their authority. In one sense, this makes way for his movement to go out unto the uttermost parts of the earth.
Now if anybody would have appreciated Israel's displacement or replacement, surely it would have been Paul. But notice what Paul says. To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen (Rom 9:4-5).
Let's look carefully again at Paul's statement. Do you notice anything peculiar about the tense he chooses? Most scholars concur this was written sometime in the '60s, over 30 years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Yet Paul says all this about Israel in the present tense!
Why doesn't he say theirs was the covenant, theirs was the adoption, etc?
Because Paul knows it is still in effect, even as he writes. They do have the adoption, they do have the patriarchs, they do have the Torah, and they do have the covenants. But as we know from Jesus and Paul (indeed from all the NT writings), Jesus is the fulfillment of the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah in which people's hearts would be changed. God would put the commandments, guidance, and wisdom of his Torah not upon tablets but upon our hearts in the inward person.
Paul understands that God's covenant love for Israel is still in effect. Or said another way, if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).
Nowhere in the New Testament is the church called Israel.
The words Israel and Israelites appear seventy-nine times but are never used as a synonym for the church. There are texts that some have tried to explain that way, yet their interpretation does not hold up. It is an exceptional hermeneutic driven by theological prejudice fostered by the Early Church fathers.
The church is not Israel. But it has been joined to Israel by God's grace. It is a mystery so profound, so marvelous that it leads Paul, at the end of his exposition on the subject (Romans 9-11), to a doxology.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Who can figure out the mercy of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The only fitting response is to bow in humble praise and adoration.
I must be clear here that my subject is not the modern State of Israel. I am not arguing either pro or con with respect to current events and whether the State of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophesy or not. It is an interesting and important question for another occasion. Regardless of your view, we should all hold to the integrity of Scripture that God is covenantally committed to Israel—and be thankful that he is.
What I am highlighting in this teaching are far more foundational issues:
The calling of Israel and her covenants.
God's call remains in place, and his covenant love for Israel is everlasting.
In the broader view, what is ultimately at stake is God's glory.
"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and I am God. (Isaiah 43:10-12)
God's election of and covenant with Israel gave him witnesses in the earth, those who would testify, in word and deed, of his identity, majesty, and might. Israel is called to be a witness (as is the church) that the Lord God of Israel is God. There is no other. Ezekiel—citing the Davidic Covenant fulfilled in Jesus—sees this prophetically in the last days.
My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.