Friday, August 04, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 6)

Be sure to read the previous parts of this article. Begin here.

Restoration in Jesus’ Ministry and the New Testament
As many scholars have noted, Jesus' selection of the twelve apostles and his promise that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt 19:28//Luke 22:30) expresses the hope for a pan-Israelite restoration.[1] Paula Fredricksen writes, “… if Jesus indeed taught that ultimately these twelve would judge the twelve tribes, then he was thinking eschatologically. To assemble the twelve tribes… would take a miracle. But that, I think, is what Jesus was expecting.” [2]

Likewise, Jesus’ Galilean ministry in northern Israel may be understood within the larger context of the restoration of the united kingdom of David and Solomon. (Only David and the son of David reigned over all twelve tribes.) As the son of David, Jesus is depicted as restoring the united kingdom of David and Solomon, which was originally composed of all Israel—the northern tribes and those in the southern kingdom of “Judah” (the “Jews”).[3] David Ravens writes, “This restoration did not just entail the Jews alone but something altogether more grand: nothing less than a return to the unity that had once existed under David.”[4]

Moreover, it may be significant that Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus breaks Israel’s history up into three periods: “generations from Abraham to David… from David to the deportation to Babylon… and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ” (Matt 1:17). Noteworthy is the fact that the “return” from exile is never mentioned—possibly implying that Nehemiah and Ezra did not bring about the true restoration, it had yet to be accomplished.

Restoration hopes continue through the book of Acts. It is significant that on the day of Pentecost Jews from all over the Diaspora were gathered in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:5-13). Furthermore, the program of the missionary enterprise of the Church described by Jesus in Acts 1:8, “Jerusalem . . . Judea and Samaria . . . the end of earth,” describes the territories of the original Davidic Empire in the reverse order in which they successively were lost.

Paul’s ministry could likewise be read as a mission not only to the Gentiles, but also to “all Israel” scattered to the nations. Paul himself declares to Agrippa that he is on trial “for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day” (Acts 26:6-7). Indeed Paul is keenly aware of the tribal distinctions within Israel and identifies himself as “Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).

Certainly concern for the twelve tribes is also found in other places in the New Testament.

James 1:1: James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.

Rev. 7:4: And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand of the tribe of Benjamin. After this I looked, and behold a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palms branches in their hand” (cf. also Rev. 14:1-5).[5]

Rev. 21:12: It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, (the names) of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.
This hope is also found (perhaps surprisingly) in early Christian sources outside of the New Testament.

Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. 17: Now therefore, Sir, explain to me about the twelve mountains.... 'Listen,' said he, 'these twelve mountains are the tribes which inhabit the whole world.’

Epistula Apostolorum: He answered and said to us, 'Go and preach to the twelve tribes of Israel and to the Gentiles [Eth. add 'and Israel'] and to the land of Israel towards East and West, North and South, and many will believe in me, the Son of God[6]

Instructions of Commodianus XLII: Of the Hidden and Holy People of the Almighty Christ, the Living God": "Let the hidden, the final, the holy people be longed for; and, indeed, let it be unknown by us where it abides, acting by nine of the tribes and a half.... Two of the tribes and a half are left: wherefore is the half of the tribes separated from? That they might be martyrs...

[1]Meyer, The Aims of Jesus, 154; Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 98; Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:148-53; 176 n. 53; Evans, “The Continuing Exile,” 91.
[2] Paula Fredricksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 1999), 98.
[3] Sean Freyne notes that the Galileans were Israelites of non-Jewish stock. See Sean Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels: Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 170-71. In addition, see pages 130-31.
[4] Ravens, Luke and the Restoration of Israel, 99.
[5] “Palm branches” were used as symbols of restoration. 1 Macc 13:51; cf. Matt. 21:7; Mark 11:8.
[6] Cited by Oskar Skarsaune, "The Mission to the Jews--A Closed Chapter?" in J. Adna and H. Kvalbein (eds.), The Mission of the Early Church to Jews and Gentiles (Tubingen: JCB Mohr, 2000), p. 70; citing Hennecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson I, 212.

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