The New Covenant and The Gentiles
Up to the present, we have only considered the covenants as they relate to Israel, but that the Gentiles find a place in these covenant blessings is now our special interest.
When the Old Covenant was made with Israel, the promise was that if the covenant was kept they should be a kingdom of prists in the earth.
"Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then . . . ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Ex. xix. 5, 6).
What Levi was to Israel, Israel was to be to the world. This ideal was not attainable under the Old Covenant; Israel could not keep it, and therefore Israel did not become the priestly nation to the Gentiles. The law of the Old Covenant but led Israel to Christ
(Gal. iii. 24); it made manifest the need of the New Covenant. It was not possible for them to be a blessing to the nations in their own strength, but only through Christ. This is true of the individual; we cannot be a real blessing to anyone save through the Lord Jesus.
What Israel were unable to be under the Old Covenant, they are to be enabled to be under the New Covenant.
Isaiah, speaking of a future day, foresees this priesthood being exercised.
"And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vine-dressers, but ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord, men shall call you the Ministers of our God; ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves" (Isa. lxi. 5, 6).
"And they shall bring all your brethren an offering unto the Lord out of all nations . . . to My holy mountain, Jerusalem . . . and I will also take them for Levites, saith the Lord" (Isa. lxvi. 20, 21).
Israel has not yet been made a nation of priests for the blessing of the Gentiles. What, then, has been the position of the Gentiles? Have they been left altogether without a hope? Without a guide? Has the failure of Israel been permitted to deprive the Gentiles of blessing?
The position of the Gentile who sought blessing during the time Israel were under the Old Covenant is described in Isaiah lvi.:
"Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it, that keepeth the sabbath from poluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger that hath joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from His people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs . . . also the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, every one that keepeth the sabbath from poluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer . . . The Lord God, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, 'Yet will I gather others to him, besides, those that are gathered unto him'" (Isa. lvi. 1-8).
Because Israel had not become the channel of blessing to the Gentiles, the provision was made that the individual Gentile might voluntarily take upon himself to observe the conditions of the covenant, and the promise was given that he should be blessed with Israel. Thus the failure of the Jew brought the Gentile into closer relationship with Israel's blessings; he could be blessed with Israel in contrast to being blessed only through Israel.
The period covered by the Gospels was also under the Old Covenant, thus Israel still held the prominent place. The Lord said:
"I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. xv. 24).
Any Gentiles who received blessing at that time received it only on the grounds of unclaimable--if we can use such a term--grace. The Lord was not sent to them, neither were the disciples:
"Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans, enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and, as ye go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matt. x. 5-7).
This kingdom would not only see David's greater Son as the acknowledged King of Israel--Israel in possession of their promised land, but, also, Israel made what God had intended them to be, a kingdom of priests amongst the nations. The proclamation, being thus restricted, was not because the Gentiles had no place, but rather with the view to the ultimate blessing of the Gentiles;
"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written . . ." (Rom. xv. 8, 9).
After that the Lord Jesus had confirmed the New Covenant through His blood, the preaching was again sent first of all to Israel; this time it was the message of the New Covenant, with its good news of forgiveness of sins. The period of the Acts was under the New Covenant.
The restitution of all things that the Prophets had spoken of now depended on Israel's national repentance and acceptance of their Messiah (Acts iii. 19-21). The Lord Jesus is seen to be the One of whom:
"Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me" (Acts iii. 22).
In many respects, Moses' work was just the opposite to the Lord's, for Moses' life manifested the impotence of the law, but in one particular, at least, his ministry was like unto the Lord's. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, as the Lord was the mediator of the New Covenant (see Heb. xii. 18-26). Moses shed the blood of the Old Covenant, and gave to Israel the Passover, as the memorial. The Lord from heaven did all this in the terms of the New Covenant. It remained now for Israel to accept the New Covenant, as they did the Old by the mouth of Moses; if this was done, the foundation had been laid by which they could have been made the kingdom of priests, as was promised. To Israel first came this message:
"Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts iii. 26).
As it became apparent that Israel were not in the attitude of heart to receive the New Covenant, a similar principle with respect to the Gentiles began to operate, as had been provided under the Old Covenant. Because the Gentiles could not yet be blessed through Israel, they were enabled to be blessed with Israel.
The first Gentile to be blessed was the Ethiopian, to whom Phillip was directed; this man had evidently taken hold of the Old Covenant, as described in Isaiah lvi., so that when the New Covenant was proclaimed, he received the great privilege of being among the first to be blessed. Later, the Gentiles were brought more and more into blessing, especially under the ministry of Paul, but from the commencement to the end of Acts, the order was always "to the Jew first." In every city it was only after they had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life that the Apostles turned to the Gentiles.
Romans was the last epistle written during the period of the Acts. In the eleventh chapter, the position of the Gentiles blessed with Israel is illustrated by a wild olive branch grafted into the good olive tree of Israel's covenant blessings, and thereby rendered a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive (verse 17). This unnatural process was designed to provoke Israel to emulation:
"Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? . . . for if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?" (Rom. xi. 12-15).
The inclusion of the Gentiles with Israel was only until the time when Israel were received. Thus, there was at that present time an election according to grace (verse 5), in which were included many Gentiles. These constituted the "Israel of God" (Gal. vi. 16), the firstfruits of "My people" (Jer. xxxi. 3. 1). They were counted as the "children of promise" (Gal. iii. 29; iv. 28). Israel in the flesh received the promise of the covenants (Rom. ix. 3, 4). The Gentiles in the flesh were strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph. ii. 12), but the ministration of the New Covenant was spirit (2 Cor. iii. 8), thereby enabling the disability of the Gentile flesh to be lost sight of. But, as always, those born after the flesh persecute those born after the Spirit, so it proved in those days (Gal. iv. 29). The Jews and Gentiles who had received the New Covenant suffered at the hands of the earthly Israel.
We find then, that when the New Covenant is made with Israel, they will be a kingdom of priests to the nations, but pending that time, the Gentiles have been blessed with them. This is the relation of Gentiles to Jews, the present dispensation of the mystery being excepted. In the Church which is His Body, there is no distinction, of the twain there is being made one new man (Eph. ii).