Jeremias is perhaps best known for his work on the parables of Jesus or his influence in the “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus“, but this slender volume of only 76 pages “Jesus’ promise to the nations” is well worth your attention if you happen upon it in a used bookstore. I found it at Brightlight Books near RTS Orlando on a visit to the Stardust cafe with Jake Belder. Who is soon to be the next great Canadian church history scholar 🙂
Jeremias’s book is only four chapters long: the first one is dedicated to three important negative conclusions about Jesus mission; the second one is dedicated to three important positive conclusions about Jesus mission; then Jeremias gives us a solution; and his conclusion takes Jesus mission to the churches mission today.
Three important negative conclusions 01: Jeremias says there are three negative conclusions we must accept about Jesus mission: 1) he pronounces a strong judgment upon the Jewish mission; 2) he forbade his disciples during his own lifetime to preach to non-Jews; and 3) he limited his own activity to Israel (with a few understandable exceptions). Jeremias says the time when Jesus came on the scene was the hay day for all Jewish evangelistic efforts. The diaspora of the Jews during their several hundred years of captivity offered them the opportunity to reach more people globally than most of their competitor faiths. And the did in fact reach them. Which makes Jesus condemnation of their mission all the more puzzeling (Matt 23.15). Jeremias is quick to note that though Jesus words seem to be aimed at Pharisees the oddity of his only recorded statement toward prior evangelistic efforts remains. Jesus seems to at least to have had a disposition of disdain for the previous outreaches. Jesus statement in Mattew 23 seemed to have been backed up by his practice with his disciples, they are not to go to the gentiles during his life (Matt 10.5). Now of course this doesn’t mean that Gentiles couldn’t come to Jesus or his disciples but still the practice and policy of Jesus was clear. Jesus himself restricted his own travels to in and around Jerusalem and the few puzzling encounters he has with Gentiles are filled with tension and rebuke for Israel’s lack of faith (Mark 7, Matt 8 ) With just these pictures in mind it may appear that Jesus attitude to Gentiles was more severe than that of regular Jewish attitudes, but more needs to be said.
Three important positive conclusions 02: With these three negative conclusions come three positive ones: 1) he removed the idea of vengeance from the eschatological expectation; 2) he promised the gentiles a share in salvation; and 3) its clear from the gospels that the redemptive activity and lordship of Jesus does in fact include the Gentiles even though his practice seems to play that down on a surface reading of the material. Many of the Major Prophets preached both redemption and judgment for the nations but Jesus’ teaching, Jeremias says, does not emphasize judgment which was part of why Israel couldn’t understand him. “The good news was their stumbling block, principally because Jesus had removed vengeance on the Gentiles from the picture of the future.” (pg. 45) One prominent example of this is Jesus use of Isaiah 61.2 in Luke 4.19. Jesus only quotes half the verse leaving the note of judgment silent. But Jesus didn’t stop at de-emphasizing judgment, he went as far as to say the Gentiles will share in the resurrection promised to Israel (Matt 10-11). This was abhorrent to most Jews, “The full horror of the threat that in the final judgment Gentiles will take the place of the sons of the Kingdom can best be measured by the fact that no Jewish scholar and no Jewish apocalyptist had ever dared to utter such a thing, and only to the Baptist, in Matt 3.9, is a similar saying attributed.” (pg. 51) Jesus was abundantly clear in his actions (Mark 11, see Zach 9) and in his teachings where he said he was the Servant of the Lord (Mark 12, Isa 42) that his redemptive activity and lordship would include the Gentiles. But how can this picture of Jesus fit with the previous picture above?
The solution to the problem 03: Here’s how Jeremias sets up the problem, “Our study landed us in what appears to be a complete contradiction. We have found, on the one hand, that Jesus limited his activity to Israel, and imposed the same limitation upon his disciples. On the other hand, it has been established that Jesus expressly promised the Gentiles a share in the Kingdom of God, and even warned his Jewish hearers that their own place might be taken by the Gentiles.” (pg. 55) The solution to this problem is found in Jesus own eschatological perceptions. Jeremias says Jesus saw the great ingathering of the Gentiles at the last day when Israel’s own hardness of heart causes their inclusion. The day in the prophets pictured when the part of Israel and all the nations come to the mountain of God (a very ancient picture of salvation I might add). Jeremias says there will be an epiphany of God (Isa 51, 2, 40; Zech 2); a call of God to the nations (Ps 50; Isa 45, 55); the journey of the Gentiles along a great highway led by their kings to worship God in his holy mountain/temple (Isa 19, 2; Zech 8; Jer 3; Isa 60 & Ps 47); Worship in that world-sanctuary (Isa 56, 66; Mark 11; Ps 22; Zeph 3; Jer 16; etc); and then of course the image most Christian are familiar with a Messianic banquet upon that world-mountain temple (Zech 9; Dan 7; Isa 25; Rev 22). “The Messianic feast of which Jesus speaks so often and under so many symbols as the wedding feast, as the final Passover, as the satisfying of all hunger, is none other than the feast upon Mount Zion described in Isa 25.6f., God’s universal feast towards which the nation flows, where the veil that shrouds them, and the covering that blinds their eyes, shall be rent asunder.” (pg. 63) For this to occur prior conditions must be fulfilled which help us understand Jesus own policy’s regarding Gentiles. The promise of salvation has to go to the fathers and sons, ie Israel (Rom 15; Acts 3); and secondly the Lamb must be slain to make such an inclusion possible (Mark 10; Isa 53).
Conclusion: What about the Mission? 04: What can we learn from this for the churches mission today? First, says Jeremias, we must see the unparalleled insistence on humility. Man can do nothing! Secondly, we must appreciate just how important missions is. It is THE ACT of God now!
I’ll leave you with what I thought was the most powerful quote from Jeremias in the whole book;
“Thus we see that the incorporation of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God promised by the prophets, was expected and announced by Jesus as God’s eschatological act of power, as the great final manifestation of God’s free grace. For the last time God brings life out of death, creates children to Abraham out of stones, when in the hour of final revelation he summons the nations to Zion, and by constituting the universal people of God from Jews and Gentiles abolishes all earthly distinctions.” (pgs. 70-71)