And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect without us.
These are tremendously interesting verses. The writer has listed a whole bunch of “heroes of the faith,” going clear back to Abel, but then he seems to be saying in these verses that we have something to do with them, indeed, that without us, they would be lacking something.
Read the verses again: And all these [heroes of the faith], having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [or, “brought to completion”] without us, emphases added.
As I’ve thought over these verses, I’ve come to a different view of them than I had originally. In fact, I had to rewrite most of this post.
There’s a lot of discussion, and has been through church history, about what the church is, her place in God’s redemptive purpose, and, especially, her relationship with Israel .
One view is that God did indeed choose Israel to be His people, and Jesus came to “offer” the kingdom spoken of in the OT to her, but when she rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “Oops,” and began the church as sort of a plan B. This was the view I grew up around and the view of the Bible college which I attended.
As I began to read Puritan and Reformed writers, I came across another view. This view taught that when Israel rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “That’s it! I’m done!” The church came in as a replacement to Israel, and all the OT promises became hers. The church is the goal and fulfillment of all those promises and prophecies. “The church” is a spiritual kingdom; there is no “literal, earthly” kingdom with Jesus on a throne in Jerusalem. Believers are “spiritual Israel.” There is no future for ethnic Israel; God is finished with her.
There is a wide variety of teaching in both of these viewpoints.
I don’t claim to have all the answers or to understand everything in the Scriptures, and I’m sure that this post will not lay the discussion to rest, but I believe both views are wrong.
The church is not “Plan B”! It seems to me that the very idea that God could be, as it were, caught by surprise and have to come up with “Plan B” doesn’t say very much about our view of Him, to say nothing of what it says about Him! And I don’t know about you, but if God had to change or rework His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B.
It seems to me to be more Scriptural to say that the church is “Part B” in God’s redemptive purpose. We’ll return to this thought in a minute.
Now, there are a lot of things we could say about and around this topic. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that, if words have any meaning at all, the Bible is clear that God is not done with Israel. True, Scripture says that she had been temporarily (emphasis on “temporarily”) put aside. Micah 5:1 says they shall strike the judge of Israel on the cheek, as a result of which, therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth, v. 3, emphasis added. Indeed, the rejection of the Messiah is the means through which Israel will ultimately be redeemed. Romans 11:25, 26 refers to this. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Israel has been put on the shelf, so to speak, and Gentiles have come into the blessings of the Gospel. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t say that God is done with Israel. On the contrary –
And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’
“All Israel shall be saved.”
Not “every Israelite who ever lived will be saved,” as some have said we believe, but rather that every Israelite alive at the time will be saved. In chs. 9-11, Paul is writing about ethnic Israel, his countrymen according to the flesh, and so, the “Israel” of 9:26 cannot refer to “spiritual Israel,” that is, you and me, as a preacher once claimed in the worst exposition of Romans 9-11 I’ve ever heard.
There is coming a time in which Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6, a time which Paul refers to as their fullness, Romans 11:12. In vs. 11, 12, Paul wrote I say then, have they stumbled [see 9:23] that they should fall? Certainly not! but through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
As an example of the difficulty some people have with the idea that God still has plans for the nation of Israel, the preacher whom I mentioned above interpreted v. 12 like this, “Now if their (Israel) fall is riches for the world, and their (Israel) failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness.” This is how he actually wrote it out. He simply would not or could not see that if the first two instances of “their” referred to Israel, then the third one has to, as well. Israel has yet to have, and will have, fullness.
So what does all this have to do with our text?
There are books and books about prophecy, from every viewpoint. Although, as I’ve said elsewhere, I expect that when it’s all said and done, that all of us will discover that we didn’t have everything figured out.
One thing is certain. In the final description of the city which has foundations, Hebrews 11:10, the Apostle John wrote that he saw the great city, the holy city, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, …on the north, …on the south, and…on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, Revelation 21:10-14.
Although I’m not sure how it’ll all play out, it seems that Israel and “the church” will never lose their distinctive identities. Without “the church,” in this sense, it seems to me, Israel would not be “complete.” This is why the OT saints never “received the [fulfillment of the] promise.”
It wasn’t time yet.