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Revelation: The Time Is Near

“One New Man” (Various Passages; Foundation for Rest of Revelation)

The Reasons for the Question

Our study in Revelation requires a pause. There’s a question to answer before we move forward. We’ve come to the end of chapter 6. But the visions in chapter 7 require us to answer this question, which I’ll give you the question in a few minutes.

First, I want to tell you that there are other reasons to answer this question. I believe the answer to this question will enhance your Bible reading. Do you desire a better grasp on how the whole Bible fits together? Do you want to see new connections throughout the Bible? Answering this question will advance these goals. When I answered the question, it opened the Bible for me in a new way.

Also, the answer to this question will strengthen your identity in Christ. Do you long to understand better who you are in relation to Jesus? Do you want to know how you fit into His plan? Answering this question will help you. When I answered the question, I understood who I am in a more profound way.

Further, the answer to this question will cause you to delight in Jesus Christ more personally. Do you desire to deepen your worship and devotion to Him? Do you want to know him more intently? Do you want to love him more intimately. Answering the question will move you toward him. When I answered the question, , my affection for Christ deepened.

That’s why this question is important: to enhance our enjoyment of God’s word; to sharpen our understanding of our identity in Christ; and to deepen our devotion to Him.

I lay out these goals up front because, when I tell you the question, it may seem irrelevant to you. Too technical. Unimpressive. I hope to show you that it is not. To do that we are going to look at several passages in the Bible. Some will be on the screen but I will ask you to turn to others. So, get a copy of God’s Word ready. Give me about twenty minutes for a little technical teaching and then we’ll circle back to these goals.

The Question

Here’s the question. Who is Israel? Or, who is True Israel.

The question arises early in Revelation 7. Begin there. Revelation 7:1–4 (p. 1031 in the Bibles provided):

1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

Interpreters disagree about the identity of these 144,000. Before we can ask to whom the symbol points, we need to understand the symbol. John sees an army of Israelites. So, who is Israel, his sons, and these tribes?

The Man

The answer begins in the book of Genesis. Israel is a man. He lives about 2000 years before Christ. At birth, his parents, Isaac and Rebekah, name him Jacob. They name his twin brother, Esau. Most importantly for our purposes, his grandfather was Abraham.

God promised Abraham a great land, a great family, and, through his descendant, blessings to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12, 17, 18). Through a couple of shady tricks, Jacob snatches the family blessing away from Esau. Jacob’s name means “the Grabber” (very appropriate).

But this was God’s plan all along. Turn to Romans 9:10-13 (p. 945).

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

There are many controversial statements here that we cannot dive into right now. We note, simply, that God’s favor rests on Jacob. The Lord confirms Abraham’s promise to him in a dream, Genesis 28:13–14

13And behold, the Lord stood above [the heavenly ladder] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Land, family, and blessing to all earth’s families. Jacob inherits Abraham’s promises. I pause to note that human sin cannot cancel God’s purposes. What Jacob did to Esau was wrong. But his sin did not prevent God’s blessing from going forward.

So, if you say, “I’ve sinned so badly that God cannot save me,” you do not yet grasp the power of God. He can save you. Repent of your rebellion against Him. Trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He will save you. Your sin is not more powerful than God’s promise.

On the other hand, if you say, “I’ve been sinned against so badly that God cannot heal my pain,” you do not yet grasp the love of God. Repent of your confidence that another’s sin defines who are. Surrender to Jesus Christ. See how He redeems your pain for his glory and your joy. The sin against you is not more powerful than God’s promise.

As God confirms his promise to Jacob, He gives him a whole new identity. He changes his name to Israel. Genesis 35:9–11:

9God appeared to Jacob again … and blessed him. 10And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply …”

The Family Becomes A Nation

Israel is fruitful. He has twelve sons. His family of 70 enter Egypt during a famine. The family grows, and the Egyptians consider them a threat. So, they force the Israelites into slave labor.

400 years later, God orchestrates their freedom through the Exodus. He makes a way through the sea and brings them to Mt. Sinai. There, he makes a covenant with them. He constitutes Israel’s family as a new nation. He gives them his law and confirms His promises. Turn to Exodus 19:1–5 (p. 60),

1…after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt … they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2…There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine….” 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’”

I borrow words to summarize:

Through the covenant with his family Israel (Exodus 19–24) as a royal priesthood (with a priority on worship that results in being a light to nations), God is extending his rule. Since Israel is settled at the navel of the world, the nations of the world will see displayed a right relationship to God, social justice in human interaction, and good stewardship of the earth’s resources.

So long as Israel lives in obedience, she is God’s nation, in God’s place, under God’s rule, to bring God’s blessing to the world. Obedience leads to blessing. Rebellion to curse.

Their failure begins immediately. After Sinai, they wander in the desert for 40 years due to unbelief and rebellion. They secure the promised land under Joshua but descend into chaos during the Judges. They dishonor God by the way they demand a king.

Their first king Saul was a disaster. The Lord replaces him with David. the gold standard for human kings. His reign is the high point in Israel’s history. He unites the nation to worship God and display his glory to the nations. In some sense, David’s son, Solomon, takes Israel to new heights, but his fall is catastrophic.

The nation divides. The northern kingdom takes the name Israel. The southern kingdom identifies as Judah. The north completely rejects the Lord. In less than 200 years, Assyria invades Israel and disperses her people throughout the world.

150 after that, the Babylonians force most of Judah into exile. Though some return to the land, the kingdom never regains independence. The hope of a united Israel disintegrates.

Throughout the nation’s history, some individual Israelites remain faithful to the Lord, but the vast majority do not. They refuse to keep covenant. They fail to meet the conditions for God’s blessing. They have every advantage of a covenant relationship with God, except a heart to obey him. In his lifetime, Moses predicts their demise. Look at these words from Deuteronomy 28:

45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.

Those who are faithful recognize their sin and failure and trust in God’s mercy to bring salvation and fulfill His promises. The Lord even prophesies a new covenant through which He will give his people a heart to obey him. Turn to Ezekiel 36:24–27 (p. 724):

24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Jesus as True Israel

But hundreds of years pass. The exile never really ends. Old covenant failure is still the dominant story for God’s people. The curses continue. Then Jesus comes. He begins to reenact Israel’s history. He leads a new Exodus.

In his youth, he escapes to Egypt and returns (Matthew 2:15–20). He passes through the waters of baptism as the nation had passed through the Red Sea. The Father pours His Spirit on him to lead the new Exodus (Matthew 3:13–17). He ventures into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1–11). He ascends a mountain to deliver the law for his kingdom (Matthew 5:1–2).

He feeds a multitude as the Lord did with manna (Luke 9:10–17). Jesus claims to be the bread of life (John 6:35). He offers himself as living water (John 7:38). He enters Jerusalem as a king like David. He enters the temple and claims it as “My house” (Luke 19:45).

Jesus calls disciples and promises God’s kingdom to those who follow Him. Listen to Him in Luke 12:32

32“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Most importantly, Jesus perfectly fulfills all the conditions for receiving the blessings under the older covenant. He embodies the demands of Deuteronomy 10:12–13

12“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Jesus does this, completely. Yet, even those who follow him, desert him. They prove unable to meet covenant expectations. But Jesus does. He merits all the blessings promised to Abraham. He is True Israel, the only one who qualifies.

And yet, instead of covenant blessings, he receives covenant curses. He is put to death outside the camp. Why? He takes the curse on behalf of those who deserve it so that he can share his covenant blessings with those who do not deserve them. In his death he inaugurates the new covenant.

All “in Christ” as True Israel

Jesus Christ rises from the dead to receive all the blessings promised to Abraham. He inherits not only the promised land, but the whole world. His family includes millions who have repented and trusted in Him as Savior and Lord. Through the gospel of his life, death, and resurrection, all the families of the earth are and will be blessed.

Listen to how Paul describes Jesus’s relation to Abraham in Galatians 3:16,

16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Jesus is Abraham’s true Heir. So, for those who trust in Jesus, Paul concludes, Galatians 3:28–29,

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

We heard earlier Paul say to Gentiles (non-Israelites), Ephesians 2

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace….

The New Testament now applies names and titles for ancient Israel to the church. Just a few examples: Peter addresses the church, 1 Peter 2:9–10,

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Paul warns against those who want to force Gentiles to become Jews in order to be Christians, and declares, Philippians 3:3,

3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

The writer of Hebrews assures Christians, Hebrews 12:22,

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem….

Next week, we will look at another example in Revelation 7. The “twelve tribes of Israel” is a title applied to the church. That’s next week.

True Israel

Who is True Israel? It is Jesus Christ and all those who follow Him (Jew or Gentile). I close by showing how this observation has changed my Bible reading, my identity, and my worship of Jesus Christ. To illustrate, turn to Psalm 87 (p. 494)

First, Bible Reading: References throughout Scripture to Israel and Zion apply to the church. Psalm 87:1–3 picture a literal city (Jerusalem), but points to something greater, the church of Jesus Christ.

1On the holy mount stands the city he founded; 2the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. 3Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God.

I no longer slice up the Bible into passages that apply to Israel and those that apply to the church. Literal references expand into ultimate realities in God’s plan. So, we can sing, as we did earlier, a hymn based on this psalm, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” and apply all kinds of OT experiences to the church in Christ.

Savior, if of Zion's city, I, through grace, a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in thy name: fading is the worldling's pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion's children know.

Among the solid joys of being a citizen of Zion is reading the Bible from this expansive perspective with new depth and beauty. Second, it affects my identity in Christ. Look at Psalm 87:4–6

4Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush— “This one was born there,” they say. 5And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her. 6The Lord records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.”

How is this possible? If this is the literal city of Jerusalem, there is no way that Rahab was born in it. Zion didn’t when she trusted in the Lord. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. No Babylonian would be known as “from Jerusalem.” Philistia is Israel’s enemy. Cush refers to Africa, the ends of the earth for the psalmist.

These are all Gentiles, like me and you. Because of the new birth, all who trust in Jesus Christ claim an identity as citizens of God’s city. “This one” was born there. “This one and that one.” Individuals who were outcasts are accepted and included in God’s inheritance.

At least two implications flow from this identity. One, all earthly identities fade in importance.

I can appreciate my American citizenship and practice healthy patriotism, but my identity in Christ is infinitely more important. It’s more important than my family identity, my job identity, or any other earthly identity.

And another, all sense of racial superiority comes to an end in Christ. All the nations of the earth are blessed through Him. Christianity cannot be a tool for bigotry or prejudice.

The third area I mentioned at the start of this message is an enhanced worship of Jesus Christ. Notice in Psalm 87 that the Most High Himself will establish this city. He will make it possible for those born physically beyond Israel to enjoy the blessings of citizenship in God’s holy city. How will the Lord himself do this?

He will come. God the Son comes as an Israelite and fulfills every expectation of the old covenant. He merits the blessings. He suffers the curse on behalf of all who will trust in Him. He becomes the spring of eternal life that flows from the city to the ends of the earth so that anyone, including anyone sitting in a church service in Atchison, KS may drink freely of Christ by faith.

No wonder the singers and dancers say “All my springs are in you” (v. 7). These worshipers understand: the Lord himself establishes his people. He satisfies them with living water, Himself. They delight full and finally in him.

If you are established in God’s city as a citizen, Jesus did that for you. So, you sing with deeper joy,

See, the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love,

well supply thy sons and daughters, and all fear of want remove;

who can faint, while such a river ever flows their thirst t'assuage?–

grace which, like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age.



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