The Big Picture

If we zoom out and take a look at the big picture of scripture, what do we see? If Genesis 1-11 is the prologue of the story, depicting creation, the fall, and the establishment of the nations, then we find the story of redemption beginning in Genesis 12 and the calling of Abraham. What God establishes through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can be summed up in Genesis 35:

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. Genesis 35:9-11 (ESV)

What we see in God’s plan, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the beginning of redemption established in unity-with-distinction. The plan is centered around a people drawn from the nations and set apart through a covenantal calling, yet the promised blessings will be extended from this nation to all nations. This covenantal calling of Israel is later expanded through the giving of Torah on Sinai, and then again expanded and intensified in the coming of Jesus as Messiah, who establishes the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31. The promises of the New Covenant, established through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, are what is ultimately offered to all of the nations, through the Jewish people. We see Paul echoing this unity in his epistle to the Galatians:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

What Paul is telling us in Galatians is that this New Covenant, while promised to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, is ultimately extended to all people through faith. The unity of Jew and Greek/Gentile described here is not a unity that abrogates Jewish covenantal calling, as we see Paul’s given analogy of unity in male and female – men and women still exist distinctly as men and women, even as they are united in the Messiah.

On the opposite end of the establishment of redemption as unity-with-distinction, we see the consummation of redemption described in the exact same way:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel… Revelation 7:4 (ESV)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV)

What we see in the 7th chapter of Revelation is the final redemption of those from Israel and the nations, described distinctly, but as unity-with-distinction. This principle, laid out in Genesis 35, is the exact same picture we see in the end.

What we should challenge with this are two significant theological ideas in Western theology: dispensationalism and replacement/fulfillment theology. The former errs in that it wants to pull apart unity-with-distinction into simply “distinction” and create two peoples of God, while the latter errs by wanting to compress unity-with-distinction into simply “unity” and abrogate Torah and Jewish covenantal calling. Both views miss the mark by veering too far one way or the other – our goal should be to navigate the river of theology right down the middle.

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