There is probably no more Israelite-ish book in the Bible than Leviticus. Most Christians admittedly bog down in their “read through the Bible in a year” plans when they hit Leviticus. They wonder if the book has any relevance for New Testament believers. The cause of this sensation is no doubt the lack of clarity most people possess concerning the relationship of Old Testament Israel to the New Testament Church.
To help clarify this, let’s look at Leviticus 26:11-12. “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (ESV)
These verses are at the end of a segment (26:1-13) that contains the blessings of covenant keeping. The covenant in question is the Covenant of Grace. We know that this is so because it contains God’s promise to Abraham from Genesis 17:7-8
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (ESV)
Many people mistakenly believe that the Law given at Sinai was a return to the Covenant of Works, but this is not true. The Sinai Law was part of the Covenant of Grace. This can be seen from the fact that in Exodus 19, before the Decalogue was given, God re-confirmed with Israel the Covenant of Grace He had made with their forefather Abraham. Not only that, but the prologue to the Decalogue is pure, unadulterated grace.
One can compare Ezekiel 37:26-28 with the Leviticus 26 passage to see a confirmation that this is a special promise of God relating to the Covenant of Grace.
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. (ESV)
Fastforward several centuries to the day of Pentecost and the time immediately after it. Pentecost, whatever else may be said about it, is the beginning of the New Testament Church. It is the point at which the worship of God moves from a physical temple to a spiritual one. I said all that to say this: anything which occurs here can no longer be said to be a part of the Old Testament Israel-centered religion. In a fully New Testament context, Peter confirms that the promise to Abraham relates to the Church (Acts 2:39 cf. Acts 3:25).
Later, speaking to a church comprised largely of ethnic Gentiles, Paul quotes this promise (“I will be your God and you will be My people) in reference to the Church. Indeed Paul acts as if he understood the original promise to be finally fulfilled in the New Testament Church. Here is what he says: What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. (ESV)
Notice that Paul actually says that the New Testament Church IS the Temple spoken of throughout Scripture.If this weren’t clear enough, two times in Romans 4 (verses 1 and 9-12 - again addressed to Gentiles), Paul refers to Abraham as “our father.” And in verses 9-12, Paul argues conclusively that the promises of the Covenant of Grace were made to Abraham before there were such people as Jews. That the New Testament Church is the fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham is even clearer in Galatians, because this is precisely what Paul argues in Galatians 3.The reasoning of Galatians 3:6-9 absolutely demolishes the phony dichotomy between Israel and the Church which Dispensationalism creates. Look back at Leviticus 26:11-12. The covenant promise of God is this: I will be your God and will dwell with you. Ezekiel 37:26-28 reaffirms this promise to Israel. Paul then interprets the promise to “dwell among you” to mean that the Church IS the temple of God and the promise therefore is ultimately for the New Testament Church (2 Cor. 6:16). Romans 4 and Galatians 3 argue conclusively that the New Testament Church is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament church, Israel.
Confirming that we have not read into Scripture something that is not there, the Bible itself ends on this very note. Revelation 21:3 reiterates this promise to the Church:And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (ESV)
Very interesting post, it is good to find out that other Christians are interested in this and acknowledge the covenant promise "I will be your God and you shall be my people". I wonder what the dispensationists view this promise or whether they realize the importance of it with regards to God's plan of redemption.ReplyDelete
This is quite helpful. Having left dispensationalism, and still trying to find the ground, so-to-speak, I found this brief article well articulated and clear. It helped me to drive the nails in the coffins behind me, and to see covenantalism with more precision. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Still prayerfully grappling,
Andy, you're my hero!ReplyDelete
Thanks everyone for your kind comments.ReplyDelete
Aaron, I came from a Pentecostal(hence Arminian) background. I was taught the Post-trib rapture theory) but dispensationalist nonetheless). So I understand what you feel. It was a process for me, but I have never looked back, and the father I get from all that stuff, the healthier I feel.
Again dispensationalism is one of the greatest frauds perpetuated on the church.ReplyDelete