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  • Jesus proclaimed peace to “you who were distant (the nations) and to those who were nearby (Israel)”. | Photo Credit: Creative Commons CCO
Teachings

Fellow citizens and members of the family

Rev Jaap de Vreugd - 25 June 2019

The congregation is the place created by God after Whitsun (Shavuot) where the gentiles may share Israel’s privileges. In an impressive manner Paul speaks about this in Ephesians 2:11-22.

Gloomily he pictures the situation of the goyim (i.e. the non-Jews): without Christ, alienated from Israeli’s citizenship, alienated from the covenants and the promises, without God and without hope in the world. There is rumor of a separation wall: on one side Israel with God’s knowledge, on the other side the nations, sunk down in the night of heathenism. But this is the Gospel: Christ pulled down the separation wall and wiped out the enmity in His flesh.

Partition wall
What does Paul mean with that pulled down wall and that wiped out enmity? It is quite possible that Paul thought of a real wall. Those who entered the Temple complex in Jerusalem first entered the so-called Great or Outer Court, everyone could access and that was separated from the next court by a wall: The Inner Court or Court of Israel. On that wall was a Greek inscription saying that it was punishable by death for non-Jews to continue. The partition wall that separates… Israel has access to God’s sanctuary but the nations have not. They are without God and therefore without hope in this world.

“The wall that separates simultaneously fences-in Israel as it were”

Protection
But there is more. The wall that separates simultaneously fences-in Israel as it were. The Greek word Paul uses can also mean: fence, border. And that is a well-known image in Judaism: the Torah with all her ordinances borders and protects Israel. In Judaism there is a large degree of freedom with respect to opinions and conceptions, provided that you stay within the “borders of the Torah”.

And thus the “law of the commandments in existing ordinances” simultaneously highlights the special individuality of Israel as God’s people and sets it apart from the goyim. The commandments and regulations and the traditions based on that, the Torah and the Halakha make Israel a special people, a “… people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations” (Numbers 23:9).

Enmity
This apparently induces feelings of alienation and even enmity in the nations. The being different of Israel is a thorn in the flesh of the goyim, a stumbling block in the relationship between Israel and the nations. So, the latter goes thus far for Paul that he doesn’t hesitate to use the word enmity in this respect.

That he doesn’t exaggerate is unfortunately proved by history: the individuality of Israel induces a range of feelings, ranging from alienation to sheer antisemitism. The anti-Semite Haman expressed this aptly: “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8). To Haman that is the reason to suggest to the king to “destroy, kill and annihilate” all the Jews (Esther 3:12). History has known many Hamans…

Change
But the coming of Jesus has changed that! He proclaimed peace to “you who were distant (the nations) and to those who were nearby (Israel)”. He pulled down the partition wall that separated and thus wiped out the enmity by giving His own life; The enmity induced by the law of the commandments in existing ordinances.

Does this mean that Paul takes the view that Jesus abolished the Torah by His death on the cross? Many Christians in the past read and still read these words in this way today. With the consequence that for Jesus believers the Torah has no meaning what so ever anymore, because a Christian is “free from the Law”.

Differences of opinion
And then new differences of opinion are being construed: the “free Christians” opposed to the “legalistic Jew”; the Gospel opposed to the Law; the New Testament opposed to the Old Testament, Christ’s congregation living out of grace, and with that is the new Israel of God, opposed to Israel still living out of the Law as a fossil that has outlived itself. In theology and in the practice of faith these improper discrepancies have dire consequences.

Not finished
Anyway, Jesus Himself has said that He didn’t come to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17); i.e. fulfil perfectly, but also to bring to light the proper meaning, like He does e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount, that absolutely does not include abolition of the Torah, but much more deepening and intensifying the Torah.

It is rather amazing to suspect Paul of considering the Torah as abolished against the express Word of His Master. What Paul time and again argues in amazement and joy is that the goyim are welcome through Jesus! He even considers this to be his calling par excellence to tell this secret to the nations, namely that they are welcome, that the gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6).

Thus, sings the apostle in these verses the praises of the fundamentally new relationship that came into being between Israel and the nations because He removed the sting of the enmity in His fulfilment of the Torah. Now this may take shape in the congregation of the Messiah, where Jews and Gentiles are together, once this will come true in full when according to the prophetic perspective Israel and the nations serve and praise the Lord together.


Conclusion

So, on the basis of the above it can only be concluded that: The Church or the congregation of Christ (the Church in the sense of institute and congregation in the meaning of the true believers in Christ) does not exist since Adam and also not since Abraham. Abraham and the believers in Israel where no Christians before the term existed. Israel is and remains central in God’s plan of salvation.

The congregation of Christ is the creation of the Holy Spirit since Whitsun (Shavuot), meant to be the community that gives the goyim the merciful opportunity to step out of the darkness of paganism into the light of the God of Israel and thus, in fellowship with Jesus as Messiah believing Jews, sharing the privileges of Israel, in other words: to be admitted in God’s covenantal history with Israel. In the mean while God’s covenantal history with Israel also continues. The “doctrine of the Church” in the traditional theology needs to be thoroughly revised.

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