with Jeremy Westcott –
Over the next series of posts I want to set out for you clearly what Jesus said. We have looked before at the passage in Matthew 24 where the disciples asked Jesus “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” What were ‘these things’ that they were asking about?
To find the answer to this we need to go back several chapters (remember that there were no chapters in the original scriptures). Wherever you start from, you are in a sense jumping into the middle of events which were already going on, but there is a clear development of ideas which begins in Matthew 21.
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matt 21:42-44).
Jesus was talking about Himself, that He would be rejected and that there would be a consequence of that rejection for Israel. The mandate to be God’s people would be taken from the people who rejected the Stone, and it would be given to people who accepted the Stone. That Stone was to become the chief cornerstone of the church. In verse 44 we see that the Stone will fall on those who reject Him, and in due course we are going to see what happened when that Stone fell.
Let’s understand this: God’s covenant purpose has not changed. We can read it in Genesis 12:2 where God makes covenant with Abraham, “And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing… And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” There is continuity here, you only have to look at passages like Gen 1:28, where God made covenant with Adam, in Gen 9:1 with Noah, and in Matt 28:18-20, where the church was sent out to take the gospel to the whole world. It is the same covenant purpose: to bring the kingdom of God to the earth.
We read in Galatians, The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU” (Gal 3:8). The gospel we preach has the same covenant purpose: to bring God’s kingdom to the earth. There is a unity in God’s purpose that we have not always understood.
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13).
Abraham’s promise was not a small package of land in the Middle East. It was supposed to start there, but from there to spread, filling the whole earth with God’s kingdom. And it did not come by keeping the Law, even under the old covenant, but through the righteousness of faith. It was always by faith. You never could have a relationship with God other than by faith. The Law was only a tutor to protect that covenant until Christ would come and fulfil it. No-one could keep the law, so you never could be justified by the law, only by faith. The covenant with Abraham was made 430 years before the Law was given, and it was not nullified by that Law. In fact, it is still in place today – and that is why we are here.
A light to the nations
God’s covenant purpose through Israel was stated in very similar terms: just look at the language. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6).
That is still the promise to God’s people today, by the way.
“I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations…” (Isa 42:6). They were supposed to be a light to the nations, but they weren’t. They kept it all to themselves and stopped anyone else receiving it.
“I will appoint You as a covenant to the people” (Isa 42:6). Time and again, we keep coming back to this: we need to understand covenant. In particular, we need to understand covenant blessings and covenant judgments, because those are what Jesus is going to refer to in this passage. We can see those concepts most clearly in Deut 28:1-14 (blessings) and Deut 28:15-68 (judgments, or ‘curses’), and that is where we will pick up next time.
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