Paul says there were some where “the first to set our hope on Christ”. Who were these folks? I used to think we, the “church”, were the first. However, I now understand that we are a long way off from these people, and that their hope was to have immediate results and influence on those around them. Christ’s return was eminent!
Ephesians 1:11-14 NRSV
(11) In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, (12) so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. (13) In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; (14) this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
How were we made God's inheritance? According to verse 11, we are made so “in Christ”. We could also say it is through Christ and his cross. We enter a union with Jesus, the anointed one. We enter a sphere of influence, so to speak, and this being permanent. This sphere of Christ allows us to enter union with the Father. The Father encompasses all, but we need to be in union with the Anointed one, Jesus, to effectually live and operate within the Fathers embrace. This how we are made, and receive an inheritance, now. But it was not always this way because before the cross, in the old ways or old realm of humanity, Christ had not yet come and accomplished this most important work.
I believe it is important to understand the difference between the old covenant inheritance and that of the new. The reason of importance is the purpose of God behind the inheritance. God chose a man to begin God’s inheritance among humanity, for the specific purpose of brining the rest into God’s embrace. God embraced one man who eventually bore many, bore a great nation to be God’s inheritance. This nation, Israel, gained only part of their inheritance, land. They failed to reach goal and thus they missed out on their ultimate inheritance. But some, by faith, as Hebrews 11 proclaims, did reach more fully despite the absence of the cross, and as Hebrews says, they did not see the purpose fulfilled.
Peace with God
Romans 5:1-2 NRSV
(1) Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
We have peace with God due to the faith of Jesus Christ! Due to his work! Due to his suffering, his endurance, his character, and his hope! So, we can follow in his example of suffering, endurance, character, and hope- God's work in us, through Christ. This is our hope. So, there were some faithful in Israel, and they mattered. The question is this, did Israel have peace with God?
If we read through the Old Testament, we find God’s inheritance was rarely at peace. God’s inheritance was continually fighting against their purpose and working hard to be just like everyone else. God was incredibly patient, seemingly forgetting about them at times. Searching for the word “peace” in the Old Testament, it is found primarily within the books of prophecy. Most occurrences are as a vision of the future, others warn of false peace. A few of those speaking of future peace, in Isaiah, tell of the coming Messiah. Unfortunately, Israel not only failed to understand these prophecies, they also murdered the Messiah as Peter proclaimed in the book of Acts. The unfortunate events of A.D. 70 were the result of their failure.
It is no wonder that Israel could never find peace with God. They were given a law which they could rarely keep. I believe the law they were given was not difficult but that they added to this law. The additions became so complicated that they were destined for failure. The reason was that Israel was never satisfied with the system of heaven that God offered. Israel’s system was filled with contingencies that required their own doing, doing, doing. Our own times are not always vastly different. Despite the peace with God that is ours, we still devise our own systems because we can not just accept that the cross has done it all. Life in God is meant to be full of life and enjoyment of God and others, but it becomes competition and pits us against each other and God.
Jesus was the manifestation of the very character of God on this earth. God is love and this is what Jesus ultimately displayed and characterized, love. Anything that is outside of love is not of God. Some will say that we cannot comprehend God's love. While agree to an extent, I also do not agree to a larger extent. If there is no possible comprehension, then how can I possibly have any idea of how to live a life that if after God? How did David become a man after God's own heart? We want, or should want, to be a people after God’s own heart. The story of the relationship between God and Israel is an example of what not to do if one wants to be after God’s own heart. Paul, in Romans chapter 9, warns us that we should take this example to heart and understand that we are as capable of failure as Israel was. There is however a shinning difference, we are in Christ! We are in the anointed and as a result are anointed.
Matthew 5:17-20 NRSV
(17) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. (18) For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (19) Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (20) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
What 'law' did he come to fulfill? The law of God- love. The law on which every other law God gave hangs. The perfect law. The law that exceeds that of men. Any law that falls outside of the cross Philippians 2:5-11. I do not believe that Jesus came to fulfill the entire Mosaic law because it was not needed. The Mosaic law was never intended to be the absolute means of man reaching God. In fact, I believe much of this law may have been born in the hearts and minds of men rather than God. We have an example of this idea in the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV
(43) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Who was saying this? God was saying this as we know Jesus said everything he said and did came from the Father. I believe that here we have an example of God saying what God has always said, love others completely and wholly. There is one God, the same in the New Testament as in the Old. There are no contradictions in the heart of God. Was Jesus then contradicting his Father? No! Humanity has contradicted God at every possible turn. Israel could not fulfill the purpose of their inheritance because they relied on man written defilements of God’s law. They lacked faith in God and instead placed faith in themselves and the rest of humanity.
Romans 9:30-33 NRSV
(30) What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; (31) but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. (32) Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, (33) as it is written, "See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
I believe that we see the wrath of God at work in verse 33 of Romans 9. Israel’s need to follow their own desires, including laws that could never bring them to peace with God. God simply let them experience the outcome of their own actions and desires. Enter Christ Jesus and his cross, the end of the old ways, the ways of man. The beginning of the ways of God and Christ within us!
Romans 10:1-4 NRSV
(1) Brothers and sisters, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (2) I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. (3) For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness. (4) For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Humanity is not capable on our own. Humanity without God is not enlightened. There is no "peace with God" from our end. Enter Christ- Romans 5 (one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture), enter peace! Peace is now not only possible, it is a reality, for all.
Setting Their Hope
The nation of Israel, corporately, did not set their hope on Christ. But some of them did, those that finally understood through the apostles and disciples who taught them through the scriptures that Jesus was their true King and that the Kingdom was present. They understood that they had peace, both Israelites and gentiles. The idea of a corporate Israel being an inheritance to fulfil the purpose of God ceased. A transitional period had come, the exiting of the old covenant had come. These who were the first to place their hope on the Messiah had an important place in the fulfilment of prophecy to gain as many as possible out of corporate Israel and draw them into the arms of the Father before the eminent return of Christ. They lived for the praise of his glory! A new day was dawning. As Paul proclaimed, there was now one new man, no longer was there Jew or gentile. God’s purposes would be fulfilled in this new glory. The final destruction of the old occurred and now we to can have this hope in inheritance.
Ephesians 1:13-14 NRSV
(13) In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; (14) this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
God chose a nation as His own inheritance with the goal of making everyone, all of creation, His inheritance. Has that goal changed? Israel was to be His people, but as Paul said not all Israel was of Israel. See, Israel was more of an idea than a nation. Today there is still a people of God with no divisions between them. That is us, and we are God’s inheritance with a purpose! All who believe are grafted onto the root, Jesus Christ. The result is a tree of incredible fruit which is ever growing and spreading over the entire world. God’s inheritance becomes ours, and the seal of the Holy Spirit is our pledge.