The Salvation of the Jews: John the Baptist, Part 1 (the Kingdom of Heaven)

jewish_starTo a First Century Jew raised on the Torah, a central text was —

(Deu 30:6 ESV)  6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 

This text was so central that the authors of the NT refer to often so obliquely that we miss it. They understood Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Joel to promise that hearts would be circumcised by the Holy Spirit.

(Eze 36:26-27 ESV)  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

(Eze 37:12-14 ESV) 12 “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Notice that the promise is “that you may live.” John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul took “live” to mean “have eternal life.” Thus, they refer to the salvific work of the Spirit in Deu 30:6 terms.

(Joh 6:63 ESV)  63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 

(2Co 3:5-6 ESV)  5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

These are surely not just new NT doctrine but allusions to the promise of Deu 30:6. Hence, in Rom 8:2, Paul refers to the “Torah of the Spirit of life.” This is a very obscure phrase unless you first think in terms of Deu 30:6, which is part of the Torah and which promises circumcised hearts, love for God, and life. Hence, obedience to the Law is replaced by a life led by the Spirit — into love for God, resulting in obedience and eternal life. This is the Christian Torah — the old Torah re-envisioned through the Spirit, in light of the cross.

Now, with this in mind, let’s talk about John the Baptist. There are some theologians — preachers, really — who teach that John brought a new covenant because he offered forgiveness through baptism rather than through animal sacrifice — kind of an in-between covenant as God transitioned from one legal system to another. And this is a mistake.

Rather, John was not changing the covenant. He was living and working within a particular understanding of the covenant that existed at the time: the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic covenant. Remember: Russian dolls. New covenants don’t repeal old covenants. They further God’s revelation.

So let’s start in Matthew —

(Mat 3:1-2 ESV)  In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

“Repent” does not mean “give up your immoral life.” It means “change from your intended course.” In the OT, the word almost always refers to God relenting from one plan to another, typically in response to human repentance. Therefore, we have to go to the context to understand: repent from what intended course?

“Kingdom of heaven” was a euphemism for “Kingdom of God.” The Jews often preferred to say “heaven” rather than “God” — just as we sometimes say, “Heaven help us!” when we mean “God help  us!”

“Kingdom” has a dual meaning. It’s first a nation ruled by a king with boundaries and laws. The king of a kingdom is both the maker of laws and the ultimate judge. Paul appealed to Caesar, not the Roman Supreme Court, because the king was the supreme court. Separation of powers came many years later.

But, second, “kingdom” means reign. It’s not God’s kingdom unless the subjects actually honor God as king. Lines on a map mean nothing. The state of one’s heart matters much more.

And so God’s kingdom is a voluntary kingdom. He doesn’t run for office, but we choose whether to submit to Jesus as King.

The Kingdom of prophecy is spoken of in both terms. It’s both Daniel’s stone carved out of a mountain that destroys all human kingdoms, and it’s the Suffering Servant of Isaiah dying for the sins of others.

The Jews to whom John was speaking knew nothing of Jesus — not yet — but they knew about Isaiah and Daniel. And so the promise of the kingdom of heaven meant that the Exile would soon be coming to an end, the Spirit would be outpoured on God’s people, the Messiah would come and reign on the throne of David, and the blessings of the Kingdom would be received by God’s people.

The Jews might debate the details and even the nature of the Kingdom, but they’d been praying for the Kingdom ever since Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem and taken the Jews into captivity — for hundreds of years.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Connection of Church with Israel, Soteriology, The Salvation of the Jews, The Salvation of the Jews, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Salvation of the Jews: John the Baptist, Part 1 (the Kingdom of Heaven)

  1. Price says:

    OK.. I’m a little confused… You pointed out that forgiveness of sin was already available under the Law.. and included scriptural support which one can’t really argue with… so is JTB just stating the obvious? That if one repents that forgiveness is available under the present Law ? If that is the case then the sins that are forgiven are a one time forgiveness…not a continual product of grace provided for in the new covenant at the cross… Is that correct ?

  2. rich constant says:

    IFl for one thing I’ve started to use the ESV I think it is what you guys are using.
    And I was remembering what Homer hailey Taught me when we were studying the curses and blessings and he always made a point of saying go to Deuteronomy 28 and everywhere that you see the word IF circle that wordD!
    DS curses and blessings all conditional and every one of the conditions had to be meant to be righteous.
    Individually as far as the kingdom was concerned it was conditional conditional upon obedience.
    Just as Paul Says Roman seven you shall not covet well that did a lot for him didn’t it

  3. rich constant says:

    When reading that chapter don’t forget the first few verses.
    When reading the chapter this dictates what Paul is thinking about.
    . Then read the first few words of the next chapter how does it start out.
    actually by understanding certain principles in the last 2 or 3 versions of 7 you come to find out what balls talking about.
    and you understand why the words there are there is therefore now no. Paul is speaking specifically Of flesh of sin. when he says I was free without a LAW once. oh gee Wiz whatever you do don’t read chapter 5

  4. rich constant says:

    I think Paul is speaking and what I was taught to be a dialect dialectic chapter 7 Romans

  5. Monty says:

    Rich said,

    ” you come to find out what balls talking about.”

    You lost me on that one.

  6. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think Rich uses his phone to post, which is why he post in small blurbs with comments as if he is posting on Facebook and spell check adjust words for him.

  7. rich constant says:

    That would be Paul…
    boy oh boy
    thank you guys need to you can ask me any word that I that I lalala

  8. rich constant says:

    Thank you.Dwight that’s exactly right but I don’t use social media either.
    I didn’t go to school because of this too couldn’t stand to make mistakes and get all those red marks all over my paper.
    Thanks everyone blessings

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price,

    I think it’s kind of in layers.

    One layer is that the Jews were always saved by faith — to the extent any one was saved at all. “Faith” includes faithfulness includes repentance. Being penitent is essential to having faith at all. That’s the individual layer. And God saves individuals.

    But God also deals with Israel as a nation, and John was calling the entire nation to repent because God was granting repentance to the Jews — as a nation — to end the Exile and bring the Kingdom. The opportunity had not existed before because the time had not yet been right. The Exile and the curses of Deu 28 were potentially at an end because the Kingdom would soon come. The nation therefore had the opportunity to repent as a nation, be relieved of the curses and Exile, and be restored to right relationship with God — and so enter the Kingdom and the blessed rule of the Messiah.

    I take such Acts phrases as “grant repentance” to mean that the time had arrived for the nation to repent and be restored. The offer of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration per Deu 30 was being made by God through JTB, Jesus, and then the apostles. The opportunity had arrived. The moment had come.

    But the nation of Israel, as a nation, rejected God’s offer and so continued in Exile, accursed, and ultimately found its Holy City destroyed and Temple pulled down stone by stone — in an eerie repeat of the Babylonian Captivity. But some Jews had faith in Jesus as Messiah, repented, were forgiven, were restored, and entered the Kingdom. These became the “remnant” Paul speaks of in Rom 11 as having been prophesied. They are the true Israel — into which the faithful Gentiles were later grafted.

    So, at an individual level, faith/faithfulness/penitence has always been accepted by God. But at a national level — at the level of the destiny prophesied by Moses and the Prophets, JTB was announcing a turning point in Jewish and world history because God was making a last-ditch effort to restore Israel to right relationship. God was reaching out to his people, begging them one last time to repent so they could share in the Kingdom. God was being faithful to covenant — and more so — by not only accepting faith as righteousness but sending JTB and Jesus and the apostles to warn the Jews and plead with them to repent by following Jesus.

    So it’s not really about a one-time or continuous forgiveness. It’s about God moving in history to attempt to rescue his people from a worldly perspective that relied on swords and siege warfare to bring about an earthly kingdom, corruption in the Temple, and a false reliance on ancestry rather than faith, and a lack of concern for the poor and oppressed — which we might see as national diseases, just as idolatry (very literal idolatry) brought about Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest as something of a national disease.

    But at the individual level Jeremiah remained saved despite God’s cursing of the nation. He dealt with Israel as a nation but individuals were saved or lost based on their individual faith/faithfulness.

    It’s a difficult concept for Americans because we have such an individualized culture and version of Christianity. Some of this is from Calvin, who individualized election, although in the OT, election is about Israel, not each individual Jew. Saul was among the chosen people, but he was individually rejected. Just so, we have been saved into the elect people of God, but he has chosen the Kingdom as a continuation of Israel as the chosen people. This hardly argues for individual election — although we struggle to see it any other way. (This makes much better sense of the predestination passages. Sadly, we only care about our individual atonement – not realizing that individual atonement is a corollary of national atonement. If we weren’t invited into Israel — granted repentance unto God — we’d not be saved at all. Hence, predestination is about God’s plan from Abraham to invite the Gentiles in — not necessarily me or you but all nations. (This is what Rom 9 – 11 is really saying. Makes better sense of Eph 1 as well.) To Paul, God’s great miracle and mystery revealed is that the Gentiles become not just blessed but grafted into Israel, allowing them to be saved by faith (like Abraham) not works — so grace is poured out to the nations.

    We just don’t think that way and so we miss the story and the point and wind up arguing over predestination and election in terms that Paul would not even recognize as Jewish or Christian.

    (I readily admit that Calvin raises some challenging philosophical questions re foreknowledge and freewill. I just don’t think Paul was dealing with that particular question. He was worried about how Gentiles could be saved when the promises given by God were only to Abraham and his offspring.)

    Does this help? It’s late and I’m afraid I’m meandering.

    But to answer your question more directly, if salvation was by faith from Abraham to Jesus (if not from Abel to Jesus, per Hebrews), then it’s not a momentary forgiveness that dissipates with the next lustful or angry thought. It was continuous so long as faith continued. (I am correcting myself on this particular point. I’m learning as I go.) But that faith was only “faith” so long as Jesus had not yet been revealed as Messiah. Once God resurrected Jesus and his Messiahship was announced at Pentecost, the requisites for faith changed. (Future posts will cover in more detail.)

    I probably should explain this all again in a post before I forget. Again — thanks for pushing me to look at this from a different perspective. It helps and it’s great fun.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Rich,

    I’m jealous that you were able to study under Homer Hailey. What a blessing!

    I changed from NIV to ESV a few years ago on the advice of Greg Tidwell. I realized that my more conservative brothers disliked the NIV (not sure why) and so I would be less persuasive using NIV. Also, NIV is really weak in Rom and Gal. I got tired of having to retranslate verses. ESV has served me well, although I sometimes prefer the NET or NRSV translation. And the NIV 2011 edition is much improved over the old NIV, but I still like the ESV as my go-to translation.

  11. Price says:

    @ Jay.. I thought I knew more or less where you stood on this… then you responded.. and now I don’t know where you stand exactly or where I do either.. LOL… It’s interesting to be able to look at all angles without “fierce” debate on the subject.. What a refreshing change. I think I learn more in these environments.. Hard to see when you have to duck the rocks being thrown… 🙂 Thank you for your time and energy here..

  12. laymond says:

    people place way to much importance on the history quoted within the bible and not near enough on the prophecies, or the future.

  13. Monty says:

    Speaking of the NIV. It has been my experience that whenever I look up a word from the KJV in Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the definition given(alternate wording) is pretty much spot on with the NIV nearly every time. So much so, that whenever someone who is still using a KJV Bible asks me what a certain word means, I just refer them to the NIV. 🙂

    The “KJV only” folks ought to get a kick out of that.

  14. Monty says:

    Jay said,

    “If we weren’t invited into Israel — granted repentance unto God — we’d not be saved at all. ”

    Sure you may have said this elsewhere but this helps clarify Peter’s response to those inquiring as to why he baptized Gentiles in the case of Cornelius in Acts 11:18 ” So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” The Jewish nation was granted it(repentance that leads to life) and now the Gentiles too! Quite the eye opener for many Jews. Grace(not law keeping) to the Gentiles too!

  15. rich constant says:

    MGntie in the niv look to Galatians 2:16-21 I dare you to make sense out of that. redundancy is a middle word
    strictly an evangelical translation.

  16. rich constant says:

    Thanks Jay I think I’m going to go the same way you are and maybe I’ll pick up the net again for convenience

  17. rich constant says:

    Monte
    This is where you see the blatant mistranslation determined by the orientation.
    Adamantly strictly adhering to the JUSTIFICATION through faith in Jesus
    and you find a very good example of the tail wagging the dog!
    😉
    Blessings

  18. rich constant says:

    ‘ I’m going to be putting the screws down even tighter to the position or the proposistion that the goal of the Spirit is to give glory to the father by giveing glory to the “SON Of God” faITH of Jesus. .wHat Is spirit to do but you speak of the Son.

    and quite naturally the grace of God is given to the Messiah because of being faithful to the will of God as I tested to buy the profits

  19. jay
    tommorow i will try to work in john 14 15 16

    . 14:12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miracu-lous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14:14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
    Teaching on the Holy Spirit
    14:15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 14:16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advo-cate to be with you forever – 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, be-cause it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.
    14:18 “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. 14:19 In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. 14:20 You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. 14:21 The person who has my com-mandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.”
    14:22 “Lord,” Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “what has happened that you are going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. 14:24 The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.
    14:25 “I have spoken these things while staying with you. 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.
    14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage. 14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am. 14:29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. 14:30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, 14:31 but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Get up, let us go from here.”

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