Home > New Testament > Jesus the End of Exile, Part 3

Jesus the End of Exile, Part 3

We have looked at how despite returning to the land the Israelites remained in exile despite returning to the land and continued to exist under foreign kings and kingdoms (see part one and part two).  We also looked at the opening chapters of Matthew and saw how Matthew builds a case for Jesus as the promised King not just for Jews, but for all nations.  Moreover, we looked at other events recorded in the early chapters of Matthew that established Jesus as the true Israel.  With all that said we want to understand what Matthew is trying to teach by quoting Jeremiah 31:15 as fulfilled with the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16-18. 

As the true Son escapes to Egypt, Herod becomes angry because he has been tricked.  In response he orders all the male children in Bethlehem to be killed.  Matthew recognizes that the killing of the male children is in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15, but how?  The context of Jeremiah 31:15 is the sorrow that precedes the exile of God’s people.  As if Rachel herself, the favored wife of Jacob, were still alive, she sheds tears at the desolation and exile of her offspring.  She weeps at Ramah the place that bordered Israel and Judah; a place of fortification against foreign armies and, consequently, probably the place of deportation to Babylon (1 Kings 15:17; 2 Chro 16:1).  Although there is great anguish and weeping, God is going to show mercy and forgiveness toward Israel as described throughout Jeremiah 31.  God’s mercy and forgiveness is epitomized with God establishing a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34) with the people when they return from exile; a covenant unlike the former covenant (i.e., Mosaic covenant).  This new covenant will be characterized by five things.

1.) God will reunite Israel and Judah into one people (Jer 31:31).

2.) God will put his law in their hearts (Jer 31:33).

3.) God will be their God and they shall be his people (Jer 31:33).

4.) All of God’s people will know him in an intimate way (Jer 31:34).

5.) God will forgive them and remember their sins no more (Jer 31:34).

The promises of Jeremiah 31:1-34 will be accomplished by God through a righteous branch from David (Jer 33:14-15; cf., Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5; Ezek 34:23; 37:24-25; Zech 6:12).  In other words, with the establishment of a new covenant comes the fulfillment of the promises to David of a forever king and a forever kingdom (2 Sam 7:14). 

These promises remained unfulfilled until Jesus came (cf., Jer 33:14-15).  Jesus establishes the new covenant (Luke 22:20; Heb 8:1-13).  Paul discusses how God’s presence is in and with his people (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) and Peter establishes how the church fulfills all that Israel was to be as God’s people under the old covenant (1 Pet 2:4-10; cf. Eph 2:11ff).  In other words, the New Testament clearly teaches that the new covenant has begun with the completed work of Jesus at the cross and that the church is the recipient of these promises given to Israel found in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Therefore the question becomes, how does this tie into Matthew 2:16-18?

The tears that existed in Jeremiah’s day due to impending exile were not shed again at until the tragedy at Bethlehem.  The Davidic line was dethroned at the exile and never recovered even after the exile (Matt 1:11).  In this way the people are still in exile and the tears that began in Jeremiah’s day are now climaxed and ended by the tears of the mothers at Bethlehem.  Why are these tears climaxed and ended, because the one who will sit on David’s throne and bring the people back from exile and establish the promise of new covenant has now come.  After Jeremiah 31:15 is the promise of a new covenant that will come about after exile and now that exile has truly ended with the birth of the true Israelite, who is the faithful and obedient son, the promised king, and the establisher of the new covenant.

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Categories: New Testament
  1. March 26, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Chad –

    I agree with everything that you have put forth in this post. How do you respond to those interpreters who argue that the New Covenant is only for the “House of Israel and the House of Judah”? The return from exile only applies to those who have gone into exile seems to be the reasoning of some.

    Obviously, I do not agree with this reasoning, but it is a common objection. I believe that progressive dispensationalists also argue that the new covenant has not been consumated yet because the people with whom that covenant was made have not even entered into yet. Does this make sense?

    Matthew 2 does not directly make the connection to the nations, though Matthew 28:19ff makes this connection explicite. Excellent series of posts!! Keep ’em coming!

    Thanks,
    John

  2. Chad
    March 26, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    John,

    Thanks for the interaction and feedback. I would like to respond to the last your last statement first about Progressive Dispensationalists. I think something rather obvious that many dispensationalists miss (whether progressive or not) is that the promises in the OT given to Israel were always meant for those who believed such promises and looked forward to them in faith. For example, no believer today would tell an unbeliever that the promises of a new heavens and new earth are for them, would they? Of course not, the promises of God are always for those who believe. Likewise, the promises to Israel were for those who believe. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 9-11. Not all Israel is Israel, but the true is Israel are those who believe the promises of God and Paul points to himself as the fulfillment of the promises to the fathers, because like Elijah before him he is part of that believing remnant of Jews. God’s purposes and promises to the Jewish people have been faithful because there are Jews today who believe the gospel message, just as there were in Paul’s day. What has taken place through the cross of Christ is that Gentiles who were once far off from the promises and commonwealth of Israel have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2-3). Believing Gentiles are now fellow heirs with believing Jews to the promises of Abraham, by virtue of Christ, and we both comprise one new man (Gal 3:16ff; Eph 2-3).

    Now to answer the first point you make, I think my above statements help support that the new covenant is in fact fulfilled. First, Jesus states that he has now inaugurated the new covenant (Luke 22:20). Second, Paul states that we are servants of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6; cf., 1 Cor 11:25). Finally, the writer of Hebrews (chapter eight) states that the promises of Jeremiah 31 have been fulfilled. The admonition of the writer is to move on and grow up in Christ because the new covenant is here and all its promises; therefore, there is no reason to return to Judaism. Some dispensationalists might suggest that the language of “Israel” and “Judah” necessitate that the promises are “literally” for Israel, but again the essential point that is missed by dispensationalists is the linear movement of redemptive-history where newer revelation (final revelation in Jesus, Heb 1:1-2; Mark 9:7) interprets prior revelation. God as the sovereign Lord over history reserves the right to remain faithful to promises, but bring about their fulfillment in a different and better way than the original recipients could understand or expect. G. K. Beale in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, uses an excellent illustration: He tells of a father who lives around the turn of the 20th century and promises his son as a wedding gift a horse and carriage. As time progresses people no longer use horse and carriage, but now drive automobiles. The son finally gets married and the father gives his son an automobile. Now the father still kept the promise, but the progress of human history made the promise better than the son could ask or even expect. God’s promises are fulfilled in the new covenant, but are more broad (Jews and Gentiles) and better (not a place, but a people) than any of us could have ever asked or imagined.

    What do you think or how would you respond?

    Chad

  3. March 27, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Chad –

    I would agree with what you have said. It seems there are also clues in the OT revelation as well concerning this issue. I am thinking of Jeremiah 1:4, 10 where Jeremiah is called a prophet to the nations. Jer 12:14-17 also seems to leave room for the nations to join Israel, though again these are only clues that Gentiles will be included, not the proof itself. Zech 8:20-23 also indicates that Gentiles will return from exile with Israel and Judah because God is with the Jews.

    These texts need to be placed in the overarching storyline of Scripture (Creation-Fall-New Creation). First, Gen 1-11 indicates that God is the God of all creation. Adam and Noah are not Jews, but immediately indicate that God is concerned with mankind and new creation. Second, the promises made to Abraham can linguistically be connected to Genesis 10-11 (the table of nations), indicating that God is concerned with the blessing of a new creation or new humanity. Abraham and his descendents will be the means by which God blesses the nations, for Abraham was commanded to “be a blessing.” The return from exile passages fit this overarching theme which was presented in the incipient chapters of the Bible. God has all along been concerned with the redemption of the creation. Third, David understood that his “house” or dynasty would rule over the nations, which seems to be in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. God has always had a universal focus, even when he elected a specific people to accomplish his redemptive purposes.

    The new covenant is a necessary part to this new creation. This covenant is made with all who will believe the gospel of the kingdom. It began with twelve apostles who represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22; Acts 1), but it quickly spread to the rest of the nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (Gal 3). In a real sense, Gentiles take part in the new Israel and can thus be legitimate children of Abraham and members of the new covenant (Gal 6:16).

    Ultimately, I think dispensationalists lose sight of the overaching plan of God begun in Genesis 1-12. They mistake the means of God for the purposes of God, which those means were only serving. Of course promises are made to Israel, but they are yes and amen in Christ. God has been abundantly faithful to Israel in Christ (Rom 11).

    I hope I am preaching to the choir, but point out any problems you see.

    -John

  4. Chad
    March 27, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    Hey John,

    Yes, you are preaching to the choir, but it is excellent stuff and I don’t have any issues with what you said. I like your statement about how dispensationalists confuse the means of God with the purposes of God. With that said, the content of your reply has sparked a new set of post I’m going to write on the Gospel to the nations and do so from a redemptive-historical sense. We went over a lot of this material at our church in our Doctrine of the Church series, but I am going to post some of it to further support what your wrote to help others see what you and I are so passionate about. Thanks again for your comments and feedback.

    Chad

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