Why does the Old Testament talk about the nations being judged because of their treatment of Israel, and then the New Testament speaks of judgment coming to the nations because of Jesus?
In the book of Isaiah, when you reach chapter 40 and onward, it seems as though there is a blur between Israel and their judgment and the Messiah’s suffering. Many times you read of Israel being the servant of God. But then only a few verses later you read of a servant that will deliver Israel. And then you read again of how Jacob is God’s chosen – His elect. And then you read of the Messiah that is the elect being called of name by God. It almost seems as though the Messiah and Israel are both intertwined and to receive judgment/chastisement. Maybe that is why the orthodox Jews find Isaiah 53 being about Israel instead of Messiah.
Part of what we’re seeing here is that Israel is a victim. Their past and their history show a lot of persecution and suffering. So when we are in Isaiah 53, we as Christians read this as Jesus. Some Jews, however, are able to internalize it and see Israel. So I know that when I say this I’m stepping on toes and hitting a nerve. But I think that the difference between the Jewish translation of this passage being Israel and the Christian translation being Messiah is that the former sees self as a victim and the latter sees self as a victor.
This is important to note. When you read the prayers of the prophets, and when you read about the salvation of Israel, you find over and over again that the people Israel need to acknowledge that they are the ones at fault. This isn’t the goyim (nations) that are persecuting us. It is God Himself chastising. This isn’t suffering being inflicted by godless men. This is God Himself judging. If they are unwilling to receive the judgment of God as from God, but will only receive it as victims of a cruel anti-Semitic world, then they will continue to undergo suffering and persecution – each time getting worse than the last.
But this is something every Christian needs to understand as well. If God did not spare His own Son, and if God did not spare His own people, why would He spare we that are grafted in as wild branches? Do not boast. Do not be arrogant or conceited. God has grafted you into their root for purpose. But God will cut you off and graft them back in. There will come a time where they will be regrafted, but it won’t be at the expense of the Gentile believers. Only if you are diligent and don’t boast against the true branches will you endure to the end.
So get back to the initial question of “How do you reconcile the Old Testament saying that the judgment of the nations comes down to how they treat the Jew and the New Testament saying that the judgment of the nations comes down to what they do with Jesus?” How do these things come together? It is a paradox, but if you will study this, you will find that it comes together in the cross. It is the pattern of God that suffering goes before the glory. Before there was resurrection, there had to be death.
God’s pattern has been established in the cross of Jesus. When you read the prophecies concerning Israel’s redemption, it always either states that there will no longer be tribulation, persecution, suffering, tears, etc, or it comes right after passages about judgment. It is always one or the other. And the reason for that is because it is the pattern of God. The end of the age will conclude with Jesus’ return. But it comes immediately after suffering like the world has never seen.
So what am I getting at here?
The paradox is something of hermeneutic. Many times in the prophets they said there would be death and pestilence and famine and judgment. All of these things happened. But did it happen exactly like the prophet said? Many times no. There was an immediate fulfillment, and yet there was only a partial fulfillment. The way this is worded is, “already and not yet.” It has already happened, but has yet to happen.
So the paradox of Israel and the Messiah come to a crux at this. Yes, many of the Scriptures that are referenced in the New Testament have been fulfilled. Peter said that the latter days outpouring of the Spirit had come in Acts 2. Peter indicated in his first epistle chapter 2 that we are living stones building a spiritual temple as a spiritual priesthood and offering spiritual sacrifices. This is probably a reference to Hosea 3:4 where God said that Israel shall for a time be without temple, sacrifice, priest, and ephod until David their king comes and rules over them.
But has that been fulfilled? Peter says yes, but there is an obvious sense in which it has not been fulfilled. Jesus has not returned. There has not been an antichrist to cut off sacrifices at the temple. There has not been an abolition of death. There hasn’t been the final defeat of Satan. World peace has not been established. So there must be something yet future that will take place that will fulfill all these prophecies. Though they have had partial fulfillment, and we can even say that there are spiritual implications in them, there has not been the literal fulfillment of any of these things.
And so the main point is not to split the Messiah and Israel. It is not to distinguish between which prophecies are about Jesus and which prophecies are about Israel in the last days. The main point is to understand that their callings are the same. The Messiah is the first fruit. He suffered and was raised from the dead before that ultimate suffering and resurrection of Israel. But it doesn’t stop there. There is another mystery at work here.
We are the Body of Christ. Those who have the testimony of Jesus and follow the commandments of God are now called to live out and fulfill the very same Scriptures given to Christ. We are also called to be a suffering servant. That isn’t to say that we are to be victims, but that we are to suffer on behalf of. The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is not one that continuously is persecuted. The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is one that lays down his life for the benefit of all.
This was fulfilled in the cross of Jesus. But there is another fulfillment still yet to come in the Church. And then there will be the final fulfillment in Israel’s death and resurrection at the end of the age. We are all heading to this. The glory of God being revealed from on high cannot come until the suffering and death of all three of these. Messiah is the first fruit, a remnant of the Church is then to have that same achievement and obtain the first resurrection, and then Israel will also suffer the death and resurrection to be the priestly nation to the nations in the Millennial Kingdom. The first has already happened, the last two are yet future.
This is why we need to be extremely careful in our Christology. We can actually attribute to Christ something that deteriorates God. Use extreme caution when saying something is fulfilled in Christ, and therefore it doesn’t need to happen in the future. This is heresy.
The reason that the nations get judged by how they treat Israel and what they do with Jesus is in this. They are the same question. Ultimately, what you are saying in your treatment of these two issues is what you are saying about God. It is the exact same pattern of God being worked out before the nations. If they deny Jesus, they will also deny the work of God in Israel. If they deny the work of God in Israel, they will also deny Jesus. To deny the one is to deny the other. We’re talking about God’s chosen servant in both cases. This gets to the heart of the matter.
If a Christian claims belief in Jesus, but then renounces this kind of scenario with Israel, then they are ultimately denying the very same Gospel message they proclaim. The cross is foolishness, but why? It is foolishness because who has ever heard of the idea that we gain our victory in our death? Who would call this logical that he who loses his life shall find it? It was true of Jesus, it is true for us, and it will be true for Israel in the last days.