The promises?

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Illustration of the Temple menorah by Elhanan ben-Avraham

For I tell you that Messiah has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. – Romans 15:8-9

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen. – 2 Corinthians 1:20

Who were the patriarchs, and what were the promises made to them? The patriarchs referred to are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. The promises referred to are the coming of the Messiah, to be sure, but there are other promises as well. For one, the Land of Israel is promised to the Jewish people for “a thousand generations” (at least 40,000 years, if not 100,000 years) as written in Psalm 105:8-11, which was sung by King David as he brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem. Another is that the Jewish people will forever be the chosen of God and a nation before Him, not for their own righteousness, but by grace and the promise made to the forefathers, and for God’s name’s sake (Ezekiel 36). As written in Romans 11:28: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they [the Jews] are enemies for your [Gentiles’] sake; but as far as their election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.”

Paul reminds the Gentiles to not boast against the Jewish people because they, against nature, have been grafted in amongst them (not instead of them), and now have the same access to the throne of YHVH through the Messiah. In so doing he informs them of the Jews, ‘who are Israelis, to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises’ (note that the verbs are all in present tense, not past). The word there “adoption” refers to “sonship,” as God called the people of Israel at the Exodus, ‘Israel is my firstborn son,’ and to Israel as a whole, ‘You are the sons of YHVH your God’ (Exodus 4:22-23, Deuteronomy 14:1).

Paul as well as the Messiah himself conclude: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove godlessness from Jacob.” (Romans 11:25-26, Luke 21:24) He continues, regarding the Jewish people, ‘For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (11:29).

Therefore the promises made to the Jews in this world are not cancelled by the coming of the Messiah, but affirmed, “For I tell you that Messiah has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed.”

And yet there are those many Christians who have falsely been led to believe that somehow the word ‘Israel’ now refers to ‘the church’ since the coming of Jesus, which is simply an ancient heresy passed down from the anti-Semitic church fathers.

Jeremiah proclaimed, “Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the LORD hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith the LORD: If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob (Israel), and David my servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.” (33:23-26)

In the New Testament ‘Israel’ refers only to what was then and now known as the Jewish people. Therefore the promises made to the Jews are not cancelled by the coming of the Messiah, but on the contrary are affirmed, “For I tell you that Messiah has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed.” And: “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen.”

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Elhanan ben-Avraham, born in 1945, is a professional artist, poet, writer and father of two, grandfather of four, living in Israel since 1979. He has served in the IDF, taught the Bible internationally, published five illustrated books of poetry, painted two large Biblical murals in public buildings in Jerusalem, and most recently produced THE JERUSALEM ILLUSTRATED BIBLE, among many other works. He and his wife live in a quiet village in the Mountains of Judah.