Messenger of the Covenant
He came to them with a message. They refused to listen and killed the messenger! The enormity of what they had done was not realised until much later when their city was put under siege and destroyed. According to Josephus (Wars of the Jews, Book VI) around 1,100,000 people died in the slaughter. Those who survived were scattered and have been persecuted ever since.
They lost God’s protection; their status as ‘God’s people’, and their inheritance which was given to others. Until they repent and accept the messenger they killed as their king and saviour they cannot regain what they lost.
Shortly before he was crucified Christ rode into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass he brought a warning that was not heeded. The significance of events just prior to Christ’s death cannot be ignored.
Through the use of parables he delivered powerful messages to those in authority over the remnant of Israel in Judea. The Book of Hebrews confirms that God spoke through His Son Jesus Christ, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2). It also confirms the pre-existence of Christ and his role as heir of all things.
He was the spokesman, or Word of God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John1:1-3).
He was also the messenger of the covenant for whom John the Baptist prepared the way, “Behold, I will send my messenger (John), and he shall prepare the way before me (Christ): and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1).
As ‘messenger of the covenant’ Christ bore a powerful message that Malachi indicated would have severe consequences, “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3).
Christ was deeply moved because he knew what those consequence were, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” (Luke19:41-44).
This was the ‘refining fire’ mentioned by Malachi. It would see the city and temple destroyed and the remnant of Israel (Jews) dispersed throughout the world. To this day that refining has continued in the form of persecution. Only when they repent and accept Christ as their saviour will it stop. For most that will only occur after a resurrection when in a repentant frame of mind they, “ .. may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (from Malachi 3:4 above).
Christ rode into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass just as Zechariah foretold four hundred years earlier (Zechariah 9:9) to proclaim a message to the remnant of Israel about the covenant. An event planned by God to coincide with the Passover, when a great multitude from all over Judea gathered in Jerusalem. They were inspired to acknowledge Christ, waving palm fronds, throwing their garments in his path and shouting praises to God for their King, “… and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” (Luke 19:35-38).
Had the people not acknowledged Christ as their king at that time the stones would have shouted it out, “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples, And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40).
Previously Christ had resisted attempts for men to establish him as King because the time had not been right,“When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15).
Preparing to Deliver the Message
He cleared the temple in preparation for the message he would deliver the following day and healed the sick to remind them that he was from God, “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.” (Matthew 21:12-14).
The following morning while returning to the city he indicated to his disciples the nature of the message, “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”(Matthew 21:19). He also indicated the type of faith that would be available to his disciples (verses 21-22).
The astute among them would have recalled an earlier parable, on that occasion preceded by the words, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”. He said, “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:5-9).
The fig tree’s flourish of visible greenery disguised the fact that it had no fruit and was no longer fulfilling its purpose. The remnant of Israel’s flourish of pharisaic religious pageantry and tradition merely disguised its spiritual barrenness. Despite repeated warnings through the prophets and intervention from God they had stubbornly refused to genuinely submit to God. Their options had run out!
When he returned to the temple and the chief priests and elders questioned his authority he turned the tables castigating them for their unbelief and unrepentant attitude, “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (Matthew 21:32)
Had they acknowledged Christ’s authority and repented things may well have been different for the remnant of Israel, but Christ knew what was in their hearts and the consequences of the actions that would inevitably ensue had given him cause to weep, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,” (Luke 19:41).
He continued to address them in parables,“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.” (Matthew 21:33-39). Obviously he was talking about the Kingdom of God entrusted to the religious authorities of Israel who had killed God’s prophets and now intended to kill the son and heir.
He let them condemn themselves when he asked what should be done, “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” (verses 40-41). With that in mind he confirmed that he was that son and heir, “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (verse 42).
He delivered his message, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (verse 43).
And reminded them of the consequences that could result from their actions, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (verse 44). They knew exactly what he spoke about and to whom it was addressed, “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” (verse 45). Yet they still sought to do the evil that was in their hearts, deterred at that particular time only by fear of the crowd rather than by fear of God, “But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.” (verse 46).
The Message that he delivered to the unrepentant religious authorities of the remnant of Israel was that the Kingdom of God was to be taken from them and given to another nation who would produce the fruit God wanted! That other nation was a spiritual nation comprising those who were to receive God’s Spirit. Initially they were of Israel - 120 Jews who formed the nucleus of the New Testament church (Acts 1:15) to whom Gentiles were later added. They became a spiritual nation to whom the Kingdom of God was given.
His disciples understood that the Kingdom had been taken from Israel as evidenced by their question when he appeared after his resurrection was, “… Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). This question also implies an expectation of Israel’s restoration to the Kingdom of God. To which Christ said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,” (verse 7). But in the meantime they were to, “ … receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (verses 8).
The removal of the Kingdom from Israel did not break God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham was promised that he would father a great nation, “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Genesis18:18). Paul clarified the situation showing that the promise was to Christ and those that are his, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16).
Heirs of the Promise
Those who are redeemed through Christ are to receive the promise, “Christ hath redeemed us… …That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (verses 13-14). And, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (verses 26-29).
They are now the heirs of the promise of the Kingdom of God, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” (John 1:12). This is the true birthright passed on to believers in the authority of God by Christ in the form of the Holy Spirit, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you… …For all the promises of God in him… …Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” (II Corinthian 1:19-22).
To the religious authorities of the remnant of Israel Christ was a stumbling block. This was the final straw which saw them removed from their appointed position to be replaced by a people who now became ‘the people of God’ to be called a holy nation, “… but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:7-10). They are a holy nation having the Spirit of God - to whom the term ‘spiritual Israel’ aptly applies.
Through Israel’s stumbling salvation has come to others, “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Romans 11:11-12)
From the remnant of Israel that resided in Judea a new remnant emerged that grew and began to transcend physical and racial boundaries to encompass all nations,“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”(Galatians 3:26-29).
The people of physical Israel are not lost, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.” (Romans 11:7-8).
God has not completely cast off the Israelites (the remnant of which are known as Jews), they are no longer in His favour - they are not under grace. At the moment they have been relegated back into the world where they must repent and come under grace like everyone else. Those who have died will be resurrected and given the opportunity like everyone else, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people?... …God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew… …Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:1-5). The 120 people who were present in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and through whom the New Testament Church was established were themselves a remnant of the remnant of Israel. It is they who are under grace.
The prophets often talked about Israel being restored at a future time. It is to this spiritual nation of Israel that the people of ancient Israel and Judah will be restored when they are resurrected and have repented accepting Christ as their saviour and have received the Holy Spirit.
Through Christ the Inheritance
The inheritance to be denied to those who refuse to repent is the Kingdom of God, “…inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5). And, “…shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:10).
The inheritance comes through Christ, the promise being sealed by the Holy Spirit, “(Christ) In whom also we have obtained an inheritance… …in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12-14). And, “…Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5).
Not to an inheritance of physical lands and wealth, but an eternal spiritual inheritance in God’s Kingdom, “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:11). An inheritance that has been made available through Christ and is reserved for those who are his, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:3-5).
Christ came to tell the remnant of Israel that unless they repent and accept him, the Chief cornerstone, as their saviour the Kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to another nation who we have shown emerged from among them and will grow eventually to include all who turn to Christ. In the end those who are Christ’s will be offered up to God, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
The messenger of the covenant who rode into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass brought a very powerful message to the religious authorities of the time. A message they refused to accept. Within days the crowd who praised Christ as King turned into a mob that demanded his crucifixion. Because of their actions the Kingdom of God was taken from the remnant of Israel and given to others who then became the people of God. Just like the fig tree that withered, Israel under a flourish of religiousness was spiritually barren. They had become so devoid of understanding and corrupt that the killed their saviour and King, just as the evil husbandmen had killed the son of the vineyard owner.
When asked what should be done to such people, by their own mouths they sealed their fate. In less than forty years Jerusalem, the temple and many people were destroyed bringing the old covenant to a dramatic close.