HOW THE O.T. PROPHECIES
ARE INTERPRETED BY PAUL
We shall be the better prepared for an examination of the O.T.
prophecies concerning "the hope of Israel" if we first observe how those
prophecies were interpreted by the N.T. writers, especially Paul. Therefore we
call attention at this point to a few N.T. passages.
When Porcius Festus remanded Paul for trial before King Herod Agrippa
on the charges lodged against him by the Jews, and when the king had given the
apostle leave to speak for himself, he said:
"And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God
unto our fathers; unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving
God day and night hope to come. For which hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am
accused of the Jews"
(Ac. 26:6, 7).
This is very definite. It proves that Paul, in preaching the gospel of
Christ crucified and risen from the dead, was proclaiming to the people of
Israel the fulfillment of God's promise to that people; a promise that had
been made, not only to them through Moses and the prophets, but also directly
to their fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And this, be it noted, is in
exact agreement with the testimony of Peter, who, writing to converted Jews of
the dispersion and speaking of the prophets of Israel, said: "Unto whom it was
revealed that, not unto themselves but unto us, they did minister the things
which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto
you" (1 Pet. 1:10-12).
Paul's statement to King Agrippa further proves that this
gospel-salvation, which he preached, was and had been the hope of every true
Israelite - "all our twelve tribes." Therefore the true hope of Israel was
not, and is not, an earthly kingdom which some future generation of Jews, men
of flesh and blood, are to inherit. Furthermore, the true Israel of God, as
Paul himself had previously explained in his epistle to the Romans, is
composed of believing Israelites according to the flesh, with believing
Gentiles added to them, forming one body, as represented by the olive-tree of
The above statement of Paul to King Agrippa also makes clear what he
meant by saying: "Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the
election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Rom. 11:7). For the
true hope and expectation of all Israel - "our twelve tribes" - lay in the
resurrection, where the promise of the "sure mercies of David" was to be
fulfilled (Acts 13:34). It matters not that, as individuals, they were nearly
all "blinded" to it, and were looking for a kingdom of earthly grandeur,
suited to their carnal ideas; for the truth of their own Scriptures was that
the kingdom of God, which had been promised by their prophets, was a spiritual
kingdom, to be realized in the resurrection of the dead, and to be entered
only by those who are born again of the Word and Spirit of God.
The Lord Jesus Himself had given the same teaching concerning the
Kingdom of heaven (or Kingdom of God, the two expressions being used by Him
interchangeably). Thus He taught His disciples, saying, "Verily I say unto
you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter
into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3); and He goes on to show that to enter
into that kingdom is to "enter into life" (vv. 8-11). And this he followed up
by declaring how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom (Matt.
19:16-26), calling it in one verse (23) "the kingdom of heaven," and in the
next, "the kingdom of God." And He concluded the lesson by saying to those who
had forsaken all and followed Him; "Verily I say unto you, that ye which have
followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne
of His glory, ye shall also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes
of Israel" (v. 28).
From this it appears that the "all Israel" of Scripture here
designated as "the twelve tribes of Israel," is a spiritual nation; and that
it shall come into its inheritance in the day of "glory," when the kingdom of
God shall be manifested, and when Christ, who is now upon His Father's throne
in heaven, shall occupy the throne of His glory.
Returning now to Paul's defense before King Agrippa, we note his
"Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day,
witnessing both to small and great, saying" - not a new thing, a mystery never
before revealed, but - "none other things than those which the prophets and
Moses did say should come" - not that Christ would restore earthly dominion to
national Israel, as now is widely taught amongst Christians, but - "that
Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from
the dead, and should show light unto the people [Israel] and to the Gentiles"
Here is clear proof that the gospel proclaims nothing that was not
foretold by the prophets; for, as we know from Paul's teaching elsewhere, the
"mystery" of the gospel was that believing Gentiles were to become "fellow
citizens with the saints and of the household of God," being made "fellow
heirs [with saved Jews] and of the same body, and partakers [with saved Jews]
of His promise in Christ"; and that all this was to be accomplished "by [means
of] the gospel" (Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6,9).
And the last quoted passage also proves that the predicted
manifestation of light to the people of Israel and to the Gentiles was to come
after the sufferings of the promised Messiah and his resurrection from the
dead. Here we have the statement of an inspired apostle as to what was the
order of revelation as it stood when Christ appeared to the Jewish people; -
not "the setting up of the Davidic kingdom," as stated by the leading exponent
of modern dispensationalism, but - the sufferings of Christ and His
resurrection from the dead, followed by the showing of Gospel light to the Jew
fist, and also to the Gentile. In other words, that "the next thing in the
order of divine revelation" was precisely what came to pass.
By this it appears that Paul's statement as to what was "the next
thing in the order of revelation as it then stood" flatly contradicts that of
the Scofield Reference Bible, quoted above.
Likewise the apostle Peter, in a passage already quoted (1 Pet.
1:9-12), makes known what was "the next thing in the order of divine
revelation" as it then stood; namely, the "salvation" concerning which the
prophets of Israel had enquired and searched diligently, searching what the
Spirit of Christ, who was in them did signify when He testified beforehand
"the sufferings of Christ and the glories [plural] that should follow."
We have referred in the preceding chapter to the fact that Paul, when
he arrived in Rome, sent for the leading Jews of that city and declared to
them that it was "for the hope of Israel" he had been brought thither in
chains (Ac. 28:20). The next succeeding verses make evident that the hope of
Israel was the Kingdom of God as Paul had preached it everywhere (Ac. 17:3, 7;
19:8; 20:25), and as he had expounded and defined it in his Epistle to the
Romans (14:17). For the account in Acts 28 continues:
And when they had appointed him a day there came many to him to his
lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading
them concerning Jesus both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets,
from morning till evening" (v. 23).
Inasmuch as those Jews were thoroughly indoctrinated with the then
current Jewish teaching, it needed, of course, much exposition and persuasion,
and the enlightenment of the Spirit of God besides, to make evident to them
that what Moses and the prophets had foretold was a spiritual kingdom, which
was to be established through the sufferings and death of the expected Messiah
of Israel. But it is an extraordinary thing indeed that, after the truth in
this regard has been clearly set forth in the N.T. Scriptures, and has been
apprehended by successive generations of Christians for nineteen centuries,
there should have arisen in these days a system of doctrine which takes for
one of its foundation stones the very same error touching the true hope of
Israel which turned Paul's fellow Israelites against him.
To those at Rome who "believed not" the things spoken by Paul, he used
great plainness of speech, saying to them:
"Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esias the prophet unto out fathers, saying,
Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye hear and not understand; and seeing
ye shall see and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross,
and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest
they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand
with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it
known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles
and that they will hear it" (vv. 25-27).
By this it appears that the hope of Israel, the kingdom of God and the
salvation of God are three different names for one and the same thing. And it
also shows that a supernatural and punitive blindness concerning the kingdom
foretold by the prophets had been laid upon the unbelieving part of the
natural Israel, even as the same prophets had predicted; which blindness, as
we learn from Romans 11:25, is to continue "until the fullness of the Gentiles
be come in." But who can explain how it is that the very same error which Paul
here denounced, and for the denouncing of which he suffered persecution and
imprisonment, has found advocates among orthodox Christians of the twentieth
The Scriptures we have been reviewing make it plain that "the hope of
Israel" was to be realized in the resurrection. Christ was to suffer, to die,
and to rise again; He the first, and afterward they that are His (1 Cor.
15:23). There is no other hope for Israel, and never was. If the promise of
God to Israel had been earthly dominion, or if that had been even a part of
the promise, it is impossible that Paul should not have declared it on the
occasions to which we have referred, and should not have spoken of it in his
Epistles- especially Romans. Nor could he possibly in that case, have used the
language we have quoted above.
There are indeed certain prophetic passages in the Old Testament
which, apart from the light afforded by the New, might be taken as relating to
"Israel after the flesh," and as foretelling the restoration, at some future
day, of their national greatness; for there is in those passages no distinct
reference to the resurrection. But that goes for nothing. For the natural
intelligence could not possibly have discerned that Psalm 16 and Isaiah 55:3
were to be fulfilled in the resurrection. The Holy Spirit, however, by the
apostle Peter, has given us to know that David, in the 16th Psalm, was
foretelling that God "would raise up Christ to sit on his throne" (Ac. 2:30,
31); and by the apostle Paul the same Spirit has made known that the broad
promise of "the sure mercies of David" was to be fulfilled in the resurrection
of Christ from the dead (Ac. 13:32-34).
The erroneous doctrine of the teachers of Israel which we
have been discussing, was based upon an unspiritual interpretation of their
own Scriptures; for "they knew not the voices of the prophets which were read
every Sabbath day" (Ac. 13:27). That doctrine was fatal to everyone who
received and clung to it; and also to the nation as a whole. Therefore, its
revival amongst orthodox Christians in these days is a proper cause for