There is a belief that the whole of the Bible points to Jesus, and all of biblical theology declares this. I would like to challenge this, because when we make it all about Jesus, we then come across difficult books of the Bible. What is the point of Obadiah? There is almost nothing in that book that can relate to Jesus, and the same is true for many of the minor prophets. I’m being a bit extreme here, but the point remains that the Old Testament is used primarily for allegory and illustration, but not to consider God’s heart and His purposes. The difficulty is that there is a lot of legitimacy to saying that Christ is the focus of the Scripture. Jesus even claims of Himself in John 5:38-47 that Moses wrote of Him. We see in Luke 24 (road to Emmaus) that Jesus takes the two men through all of the Scripture to show how it explains His ministry.
My argument is that what the Scripture is focusing upon is actually the eschaton. The conclusion and consummation of the ages is the pinnacle of all Scripture, and Jesus’ first coming. What I’m questioning is whether all of Scripture is speaking of Christ, and Christ alone. To one degree, yes, because you cannot separate the head from the body, otherwise you have death to both. To another degree, no, absolutely not, because if we shove Jesus into the passages of every story, psalm, and prophecy, we will eventually nullify something critical. The same arguments to support Christ-centrism, I can use to show Israel-centrism. The Old Testament had always supported a time when Israel would be cast off temporarily, a future time of calamity at the end of the age, and a final restoration of Israel. Now, it is true that this all revolves around the two comings of Christ, but that is exactly the point. Christ’s first and second coming revolve around Israel’s casting aside and re-engraftment just as much as Israel’s casting aside and redemption revolve around Christ’s first and second appearing. There is a cosmic plan at work, and we miss it when we ignore everything but Christ and how this or that verse pertains to Him.1
I would like to suggest two things. First, Christ is not merely God incarnate, but is also the representative of Israel. Second, we don’t only look back to Christ’s death and resurrection, but we see the Scripture through the lens of the two comings of Christ. There are many topics within Scripture that pertain to Christ, but are not central upon Christ. For example, in what way does Christ’s centrality effect the statements of Israel in Ezra telling the enemies of Israel they could have no part in rebuilding the city?2 Is it impossible to understand the narrative of Genesis 1-3 without Jesus being at the absolute center? Or, is it possible to comprehend these things apart from Christ’s centrality? That isn’t to say Jesus isn’t necessary, but that Jesus isn’t center in those texts. Obviously, in the New Testament Christ is central. Yet, even there we don’t abandon the discussion of Israel’s centrality either.
Let us deal with this first point. In Hosea 11:1, we read that “out of Egypt [God] call[s His] son.” This is in context to when God called out Israel. We can go back to Exodus 4:22 and find that God calls Israel His firstborn son. Matthew takes this statement and applies it to the life of Jesus. Now, what Matthew is doing is applying a hermeneutic principle that we simply have lost in modern times. “As with Israel, so with Messiah. As with Messiah, so with Israel.” In this, we find that Matthew is hinting to us that there are many parallels between the life of Jesus and the history of Israel. For example, Pharaoh killed all of the Hebrew children in his day, and Herod killed all of the children in Bethlehem in his day. Just as Israel is called out of Egypt, Jesus is called out of Egypt. Just as Israel wonders through the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.
We see Jesus as the representative of Israel, much like the Olympic athletes are representative of their nations. When someone wins the gold, the announcer does not get on the microphone and say the name of the person. Instead, the announcer exclaims, “Israel has won the gold!” That doesn’t mean everyone in Israel ran the race. It means the one person who got the gold is representative of the entire nation of Israel. Likewise, Israel did not live up to her purpose and call, but Jesus did. Jesus acts as a representative of Israel, fulfilling all that Israel has been called to fulfill.
At the same time, we find it reflected in Jesus’ words, as well as in Old Testament eschatology, that Israel will also fulfill her destiny.3 This is corporate Israel at the end of the age. So, the principle states, “As with Messiah, so with Israel”. What Jesus endured on the cross, and what He endured through His life, Israel will endure at the end of the age. She will go through tribulation, and in that experience her own Calvary, so that she too might receive resurrection. When Jesus returns, all Israel shall be saved, as it is written.4 Thus, we see the connection between Jesus and Israel, so that the Scripture is indeed Christo-centric, but at the same time, it is centered upon Israel.
And can we expect anything less? The mystery of election is that the elect one of the Isaiah 40’s and 50’s is always Israel, but then sometimes it speaks of one who shall be the deliverer of Israel. There is a connection, and God does not see distinction. Israel is the Body of Messiah, and you wouldn’t claim that a body is altogether apart and disconnected from the head. Why does God choose Israel? Why must election be national? It is because there is a corporate son as much as there is Jesus, the Son of God. Israel was called the son in Exodus 4:22. Why that specific people? Why elect them instead of some other ethnic people? This all gets at the heart of God. God chose that which He identifies with – the weak, the oppressed, the small and insignificant, the blind, and even the pariah. This is a people who have culturally been altogether distinct from other cultures – even in the book of Genesis. When we talk about Israel, we talk about Christ. When we talk about the end of the age, and the redemption of Israel, the absolute havoc that we expect, and the restoration of all things as spoken by the holy prophets, we are indeed talking about Christ and the Gospel, for the two cannot be separated. Anything else is not actually the Gospel at all.
In relation to the second point, that we focus upon Christ’s two comings, I think this is incredibly important. The whole question of Scripture is this: “How can God dwell with His creation in unadulterated glory?” Eschatology seeks to answer that question. Yet, the entire Bible is eschatological. Everything is seeking to expound and answer that one question. We see the patterns and promises given, and the prophetic statements written, and we see that in all of these things, they are trying to explain to us how it is that God will dwell upon the earth. In Genesis 3, God walked with Adam in the cool of the evening. Yet, we find in Genesis 1 that God separated the light from the darkness. In Revelation 21-22, there is no more darkness. It has ever and always been God’s intention to do away with the darkness; otherwise it wouldn’t be His intention now. So, how do we go from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem? How do we go from light and darkness being separated to only light exists?
This is the crux upon which all of Scripture hangs. If we don’t see the three hinges of history (creation, Christ’s Advent, and the Second Advent), or if we only focus upon one or two of those hinges, we will come to radical misinterpretations. Yes, I do believe that the Bible is Christo-centric, but I think that this needs to be defined a lot more properly. We can’t simply make a narrow claim that there are “only two ways to read the Bible”. The truth is that there are many ways to read the Bible. Do they all funnel down to those two claims? No.
If you read the Bible through the focus of Israel, you will come to many solid conclusions, but you will also be wrong in regard to many other conclusions. This is one of the mistakes that many rabbis through the ages have made. If we focus only upon Jesus, and not upon Israel, we will have equally false conclusions. Our erroneous allegations will depend entirely upon this one question: How has God established that He shall dwell upon the earth in the fullness of His glory? The answer to that question is the resurrection. People need to be resurrected; therefore God has sent His Son as the firstborn from the dead. Nations need to be resurrected; therefore God has established that Israel shall be His firstfruits.5 The whole of creation needs to be resurrected, and so God has established that through the revealing of His sons – not only Jesus, but all who shall be resurrected at His appearing – the creation itself will be changed.6 Yet, in regard to the creation’s resurrection, we don’t find in the return of Jesus the resurrection of nations or the earth. Instead, it is after the judgment seat when we see a “New Heaven and New Earth” that all have been resurrected, and those who are elect take their place in the City of God. This is why in Revelation 21-22 we find the throne of God and the Lamb – God in all of His splendor fellowshipping with His creation.
All of Scripture is progressing toward that event. Without the understanding of this event, let alone the expectancy, we will grossly misrepresent what the Bible says. We need to be willing to live within the tension of claiming the Bible to be Christ-centered, Israel-centered, and eschatologically centered. All three are true at all times.
1 This mindset has been introduced more heavily in the modern rise of biblical theology. While it is true that names like Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Calvin were all blatant anti-Semites, and it is true that all of them held to this kind of Christ-centered theology, it is in modern times that biblical theology is being heralded instead of systematic theology. Systematic theology puts Christ at the center of all theology; biblical theology puts Him at the center of every biblical text. The difference is crucial.
2 Ezra 4:1-3
3 Jesus at the Temple casts out the money changers and says, “This is to be a house of prayer”, and when you go back to Isaiah you find that the phrase ends, “for all nations”. In the same way, Jesus then sends out His disciples “to all nations”. Jesus tells His apostles in Matthew 19:28 that they shall judge over Israel. In Acts 1:6 the question is whether Jesus will at that time restore the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus then affirms the legitimacy of that question by saying, “It is not for you to know the times…” Jesus says that Israel shall again see Him when they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus tells the Canaanite woman that He came for the lost sheep of Israel. We read in Matthew 21:31 and 43 that the Kingdom of God is being stripped from the Pharisees and given unto they who will bring forth its fruit – namely, the tax collectors and prostitutes of Israel (notice the context is against discussing the engrafting of Gentiles).
4 Romans 11:26. This is the correct interpretation of the progression of Revelation 12-14.
5 See Jeremiah 2:3, Romans 11:16 (in context to verses 24-26), Revelation 14:4, etc
6 If we reject the Israel focus of Romans 8 here, we reject the entirety of the book of Romans. This isn’t a matter of opinion. This is a matter of willingness. They have stumbled at the rock of offense. Don’t allow yourself to also now stumble at their stumbling.