Following on from previous conversations on the rapture, I was wondering if anyone understands any scripture that specifically addresses the Jewish nation with regards to the church in arguments for and against the rapture? Is it not strange that the church and Israel are considered separate in so much rapture theology when so many of Paul’s teachings say that we are grafted in together? Does the New Testament support this distinction between the church and Israel in eschatology?
It’s a fascinating question, and I’m glad you raised it.
Dr. Averbeck, in his book The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church, notes:
The church today tends to come at the whole thing backward. The question in the earliest church was not whether Jews could live their faith in Yeshua in a Jewish way, but whether or not Gentile believers must convert to Judaism. This was the point of contention in the first Jerusalem council (337).
He also points out the freedom that Paul had in his ministry:
There is good reason to connect Paul’s actions in Acts 21 with his ministry rationale in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor 9:20). His freedom in Christ allowed him to adjust for the context in which he was ministering. If he was with Jewish believers in Yeshua, he lived like a Jew. That is what he was doing in Acts 21. With regard to Gentile ministry contexts, however, he wrote in the next verse: “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Cor 9:21) (339).
He also discusses the tension between genuine freedom in how we follow Jesus and the importance of demonstrating that we are all one in Christ:
On the one hand, as Paul put it, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor 9:19). He was free to give up his Jewish practices, if in his estimation the situation called for it, in order to remove obstacles to the gospel message. He once blew up at Peter over this matter when Peter separated from Gentile believers to meet the expectations of Jewish ones (Gal 2:11-21). There is one church fellowship, not two. Jews and Gentiles together in the church must have the wall broken down between them at all cost.
On the other hand, as he wrote earlier in that letter, “Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised” (1 Cor 7:17-18). Actually, I am not sure what it could mean for someone to become physically “uncircumcised.” But his point is that we should not get caught up in changing from one to the other, Jew or Gentile, but all of us should be concerned about “keeping God’s commands” (1 Cor 7:19). We can do this in a Jewish way or a Gentile way, as the comparison between Acts 15 and Acts 21 shows (340).
He argues that Paul’s life, and the logic of the Bible, is that a Jewish person becomes more Jewish by following their Messiah, Jesus. However, this does not mean they need to give up their Jewish identity and live as a Gentile! Yet both Jews and Gentiles will have to work to accommodate one another in the life of the church.
He notes that the Old Testament law applies fully to both Jews and Gentiles, but because of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit works God’s truth into our lives (346). So there is no advantage for a Jewish person to be holy by adhering to Old Testament regulations in a way that a Gentile person doesn’t. Both Jewish and Gentile cultural practices have their place in the world; but what is most important is that all followers of Jesus, who are filled with the Spirit, have God’s law written on their hearts.
So what does all this mean for the return of Jesus?
Consider Ephesians 2:11-22,
So, then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
Dr. Craig Keener reminds us of the cultural context:
Paul writes this letter from prison because he has been falsely charged with taking a non-Jew inside the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 21:28).
Around the time Paul was writing these words, arguing for racial unity in Christ, Jews and Syrians were massacring each other in the streets of Caesarea, a city where he had been not long before (Acts 23:23). Here Paul does not simply mimic a common stand against racism in his culture; he condemns racism and segregation of a religious institution even though he has to challenge his culture to do so.
Max Turner comments on this passage, “God wished to create one new humanity out of Jew and Gentile…the church really is, for Paul, a third entity—neither Jew nor Gentile, but new humanity.”
All this to say, it is hard to see how, when both Jew and Gentile, through Jesus, have access in one Spirit to the Father, why or how there would be a separation in the way we continue to be with God when Jesus returns.
This interview with Dr. Averbeck provides further context:
As always, I look forward to hearing other perspectives!