(Jeremiah 3:14-18) – 14 Return, O faithless children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. 15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage. (NRSV)
Jeremiah 3:14-18 is fulfilled in Christ as the True Israel of God, and during the Church age (Gospel era) in which we live and serve Christ until His return. In other words, we’re living in the period of fulfillment of this prophecy now, which began in the city of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given and the Church and the Church age began. Similar prophecies like this one are scattered throughout the Old Testament, and all of them point to Christ and His Church.
Dispensationalism teaches that these prophecies refer to a time when God will restore the nation of Israel, where salvation finally and fully comes to this nation, which still awaits fulfillment. Dispensationalism teaches that this will begin to come to pass during the so-called seven year tribulation period, and will have its complete fulfillment during the so-called earthly millennial kingdom, where Christ will rule this present earth as King.
Dispensationalism also teaches that the physical temple of God will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and animal sacrifices will again be restored—as a “memorial,” based on such passages as Ezekiel 43.* That idea alone discredits this theology, as the book of Hebrews shouts against such a notion. Indeed, the whole New Testament points to the blood of Christ. That’s the true “memorial,” not the blood of animals, as Jesus Himself and Paul make really clear (Lu 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25).
*Note: I believe the temple of Ezekiel 43 refers to the temple that was built after the return from Babylonian captivity. This is confirmed by the book of Haggai and Zechariah 1-4 (note Zech 4:8-10). Also, I believe the prophecy of this temple ultimately had Christ and His Church in view (and the whole Church age), as a type and shadow of the true temple of God. I believe Paul and Peter interpreted it that way (2 Cor 6:14-18; 1 Pet 2:4-10).
We can read about the OT sacrifices and acknowledge the significance of what those sacrifices pictured, but those animal sacrifices will never again be instituted, not even as a “memorial.” Those sacrifices looked ahead to Christ, and there is no going back. Dispensationalism takes us backwards. In Christ, we’re always looking ahead and practicing the Christ way of life, our new life in Him. In Christ we’re always looking at the spiritual and heavenly, not the physical and earthly. Dispensationalism is blinded by its literal and limited Old Testament viewpoint. It’s a blinding theology that prevents one from seeing the full and glorious significance of what Jesus accomplished. It doesn’t allow one to see that all the covenant promises and prophecies regarding Israel are fulfilled in Him, and that God’s plan for Israel is now complete in Him. Meaning, there is no further plan for them yet to be fulfilled. It’s done.
The NT looks beyond the physical and earthly and sees the OT promises and prophecies regarding Israel to be completely fulfilled in Christ and in those who are in Him via faith in Him, as members of His Church. The NT doesn’t acknowledge an earthly kingdom, but is totally centered on the spiritual Kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13), which continues into the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth of the Revelation 21 and 22. A close and unbiased look at the NT reveals that there is no earthly kingdom, but that we go directly into our eternal state upon the return of Christ.
If it sounds like I’m a little rough on dispensationalism, it’s because I was a proponent of that theology most of my Christian life. It kept me imprisoned in a system that prevented me from seeing beyond its confining bars of its earthly Israel theology. However, my beef is not with dispensationalists themselves, but with their theology.
Let’s now look at Jeremiah 3:14-18:
(Jeremiah 3:14-15) – 14 Return, O faithless children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. 15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
These shepherds refer to the Apostles of Christ, whom He chose to lead and establish His Church. It also refers to the elders and pastors who lead His people in local churches throughout the world. They teach us the Bible, the written Word of God. They “feed us with knowledge and understanding.”
(Jeremiah 3:16) – 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made.
When “you have multiplied and increased in the land,” refers to God’s people in Christ throughout the world. In regard to the “ark of the covenant of the Lord,” Got Questions explains this ark:
“The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place. The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins.”
Therefore, this prophecy is fulfilled in Christ, where the Arc of the Covenant is no longer relevant, because we now have Christ, whom this Ark and the sacrifices related to it looked toward, and was a type and shadow of. In the gospel era in which we live, we’re not focused on the Ark, but on the Lord Jesus. The Ark never “comes to our mind,” in the sense that it has no relevance for us today. Christ’s sacrifice, the blood that He shed for us upon the cross, is what “comes to mind.” That’s our focus. That’s what we remember as the redeemed of Christ, as Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Lu 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25).
(Jeremiah 3:17) – 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.
The sacrifice of Christ was made in Jerusalem. His Church began in Jerusalem, and from there the Gospel of Christ spread throughout the world. However, this has a wider meaning.
This Jerusalem is a spiritual Jerusalem, as Paul reveals in Galatians 4:22-31 and in the book of Hebrews. This is kind of a long discussion, but it’s highly significant. It helps to explain why we must interpret the OT with a NT understanding. It helps to explain why dispensationalism cannot be correct, why God cannot still have a plan for the nation of Israel:
(Galatians 4:24-25) – 24 These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (NET)
“Hagar represents Mount Sinai”
In order to help the Galatians understand the true nature of salvation, Paul explains what both Hagar and Sarah represent (read Gal 4:22-23,28-31):
The law of Moses was given on Mount Sinai (Ex 19 & 20), thus Hagar represents the Old Covenant of law, and therefore, slavery. Sarah represents the New Covenant of grace through Jesus Christ, as this was promised through Isaac. Hagar and Ishmael are a picture of slavery, while Sarah and Isaac are a picture of freedom. The law enslaves, but Christ frees.
Paul likens Hagar to the “present Jerusalem” (of Paul’s day). Meaning, that Hagar (and her son) represents the city of Jerusalem, which was the seat of Judaism for all Israel. That truth was a blow to the Jews, for they prided themselves on being “sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” However, the true sons of Abraham are not according to human lineage, but according to faith in Christ, the “faith of Abraham” (Ro 4:13-17; Gal 3:7-9). Even though the ethnic people of Israel are actually through the line of Isaac, Paul puts them in the line of Ishmael to make the point that Israel, under the law, are slaves to the law (“in bondage”), just as much as Ishmael himself was a slave. In other words, the people of Israel are not regarded by God as true Israel, but true Israel are those who come through the line of Isaac by faith, which makes them (us) spiritual Israel (Ro 9:6-9).
Sarah (and her son), on the other hand, represents the “Jerusalem above” (New Jerusalem), a direct reference to the Church as the New Jerusalem (He 12:22; Rev 3:12, Rev 19:7; Rev 21:2), which consists of those who are in Christ through faith in Him, both Jew and Gentile. It’s Christ who sets us free from the “bondage” of sin and of the law.
Paul’s comparison of the “present Jerusalem” with the “Jerusalem above” (New Jerusalem, Heavenly Jerusalem), indicates that God no longer has a separate plan for the nation of Israel, especially when you consider what Paul says about it in verses 30 & 31, which we’ll look at in a bit.
(Galatians 4:27-28) – 27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren woman who does not bear children; break forth and shout, you who have no birth pains, because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.” 28 But you, brothers and sisters, are children of the promise like Isaac. (NET)
This is a quote from Is 54:1. I will give you the quote within the context:
(Isaiah 54:1-8) – 1 Shout for joy, O barren one who has not given birth! Give a joyful shout and cry out, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one are more numerous than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord. 2 Make your tent larger, stretch your tent curtains farther out! Spare no effort, lengthen your ropes, and pound your stakes deep. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your children will conquer nations and will resettle desolate cities. 4 Don’t be afraid, for you will not be put to shame. Don’t be intimidated, for you will not be humiliated. You will forget about the shame you experienced in your youth; you will no longer remember the disgrace of your abandonment. 5 For your husband is the one who made you—the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name. He is your Protector, the Holy One of Israel. He is called “God of the entire earth.” 6 “Indeed, the Lord will call you back like a wife who has been abandoned and suffers from depression, like a young wife when she has been rejected,” says your God. 7 “For a short time I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In a burst of anger I rejected you momentarily, but with lasting devotion I will have compassion on you,” says your Protector, the Lord. (NET)
Chapter 53, of course, is the chapter about Christ and His crucifixion, which leads right into this passage. Thus the salvation of the world is the context in which Is 54:1-8 is given. I encourage you to read all of chapter 53 and 54 of Isaiah to get the full import of what Paul is saying here in Galatians 4:27.
While Israel was in Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, Israel was “barren” and “desolate.” They were not flourishing like other cities or countries, which can be likened to a “married woman,” who was being cared for by her husband. Because Israel had forsaken God, and had declined into such great wickedness, God “abandoned” them and “rejected” them, and brought their enemies upon them. They were like an unmarried woman, without a husband to take care of them.
However, it would not always be that way. Looking to the future, again verse one says:
(Isaiah 54:1) – 1 Shout for joy, O barren one who has not given birth! Give a joyful shout and cry out, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one are more numerous than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.
This is the verse that Paul quotes here in Galatians. While Israel was at one time “barren” and “desolate,” she would one day flourish with many children of faith, and would have children “more numerous” than any other city or country. The children these passages are referring to, and what Paul is talking about, are those who become true sons of Abraham through faith in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. People from all over the world would become a part of true Israel through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are all “children of promise.” These are all a part of the “Jerusalem that is above,” those who are “free.”
No longer is the Jerusalem of this world the focal point of God’s plans. They’re still “barren” and “desolate.” Jesus confirms this:
(Matthew 23:37-38) – 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate! (NET)
Jesus was obviously referring to their coming destruction in AD 70, but He was also referring to their spiritual “desolation.” It was their spiritual desolation that led to the other.
The Jerusalem of this world remains desolate. When the Bible refers to Jerusalem in such a manner, it refers to all of Israel. Jerusalem is representative of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, and the seat of their religion. To talk about Jerusalem is to talk about Israel.
Likewise, when the Bible refers to the New Jerusalem, it’s referring to all of God’s people. It’s this Jerusalem that’s now the focal point of God’s plans.
(Galatians 4:29) – 29 But just as at that time the one born by natural descent persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is now. (NET)
As Ishmael mocked Isaac (Ge 21:8-9), so now do the Jews persecute (“mock”) Christians, who are “born according to the Spirit (“children of promise”),” speaking of those who are born-again (John 1:12-13; John 3:3-7). It’s slaves persecuting those who are free. Paul’s point is, there is no sense to the Galatians following a belief system that opposes their faith in Christ. If there was no difference, then there would be no persecution. The Jews rejected Christ as their Messiah, thus they persecuted those who belong to Him.
(Galatians 4:30) – 30 But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman. (NET)
This is a continuation from the quote in verse 29 (Ge 21:10). The “son of the slave woman” is Ishmael, plus those who are in his line, which is ethnic Israel, of which the people are still in slavery to the law. The “son of the free woman” is Isaac, plus those who are in his spiritual line, which are believing Jews and Gentiles (the Church), who have been set free in Christ.
Jews are transformed from ethnic Israel to spiritual Israel upon their faith in Christ. Jews are not true sons of Abraham and Isaac until they are born into their line by faith. It’s not the physical birth through human lineage that matters, it’s the spiritual birth that makes one a son of Abraham.
Coupled with what Paul says in verses 25 and 26, I regard this (Gal 4:30) as one of the most important statements in the Bible about the relationship between Israel and the Church. I believe this most certainly symbolizes the “throwing out” (by God) of ethnic Israel, and the election of the spiritual children (the Church) of the “free woman.” Paul confirms this by plainly stating that the children of the slave woman (ethnic Israel) “will not share the inheritance with the son of the free woman,” referring to Isaac and to all those who are born spiritually into his line by faith in Christ, making them the true sons of Abraham. I don’t know how Paul could have said it any clearer than that. Ethnic Israel will not share the eternal inheritance with the children of the “free woman,” because true Israel is now a spiritual Israel in Christ.
The idea that the Church has replaced Israel, isn’t taught in the Word of God. On the contrary, this whole passage of Scripture that we’ve been dealing with here (Gal 4:22-31), reveals that the Church is actually the continuation of Israel as a spiritual nation, not a replacement for it. All the promises relating to Israel are fulfilled in Christ, who is the Head of the Church.
That’s what Paul wants the Galatians to understand. He wants them to see that what they are now believing in, makes them a part of a people and a religious system that has been “thrown out” by God, and has nothing to do with their salvation.
I want to make it clear that this “throwing out” is not simply the throwing out of Judaism (the law), but also of ethnic national Israel, as a comparison of this verse (Gal 4:30) and verse 25 (Gal 4:25) reveals. Paul says that Hagar is “like the present Jerusalem,” and that Hagar is to be thrown out. Hagar represents Israel, of which Jerusalem is the capital, and seat of Judaism. That city has been cast out forever. That is, they no longer have a special place in the plan of God. The only city that is in view now is New Jerusalem. The idea that God is going to save all the people of ethnic Israel (which would only be a fraction of Jews that have lived throughout history — think about that), and set up a 1000 year kingdom, and build a new temple, and go back to animal sacrifices, with the current city of Jerusalem as its capital, is completely out of harmony with what Paul is teaching in this section of Galatians, and also in many other places. Furthermore, if God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, then that would give us two Israels, which wouldn’t make any sense. There’s only one true Israel. As I already mentioned, the Church is the continuation of Israel as a spiritual nation, which is fulfilled in Christ. It’s gone through a transformation. It’s been transformed from a physical Israel to a spiritual Israel. It’s in its glorified state now, in the form of the Church, that has Abraham as our spiritual father, and Christ as the Head. As Jesus said, the house (of Israel) has been left desolate (Matt 23:37,28). The Greek word for “desolate,” has the idea of being “deserted.” Thus, physical Israel has been deserted to become spiritual Israel. The nation of Israel is no longer in view. Casting out Jerusalem is exactly what God did in AD 70. Paul may have had this coming destruction in mind even as he was writing these words. Jesus spoke of it in the gospels (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). In addition to what we’ve already discussed – that this casting out is forever – is confirmed by what the writer of Hebrews says:
(Hebrews 12:22-24) – 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (ESV)
That was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, this earthly Jerusalem is completely overlooked. Its glory and significance is in the past. It’s now the “heavenly Jerusalem” that radiates the glory of God. In the same passage the writer of Hebrews adds this:
(Hebrews 12:28) – 28 Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” (ESV)
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, and undoubtedly written by a Jewish Christian. If anyone would have understood what the Kingdom of Christ is about, it would have been them at that time in history. Yet, you will not find a single indication that they were looking forward to an earthly kingdom. On the contrary, what the writer focused on was our eternal kingdom. If the nation of Israel had an earthly kingdom to look forward to, it seems reasonable there would be a reference to it in this book. Instead what we find are references to the “heavenly Jerusalem.” In fact, in the last chapter of Hebrews, the writer says:
(Hebrews 13:14) – 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (ESV)
For the Jew, their great hope is a coming earthly kingdom that will have their Messiah as King. Yet, here the writer of Hebrews says that what believing Jews actually seek is “the city to come,” because “here we have no lasting city.” It’s reasonable to conclude that the Jewish Christian writer of this book, and the Jewish Christians he was writing to, understood the kingdom of Christ to be an eternal kingdom (in the new heaven and new earth – Rev 21:1,2), and not a kingdom of this world.
(Galatians 4:31) – 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman. (NET)
Paul concludes this discussion by telling the Galatians that we (in Christ) are not children of slavery that comes through the law, but that we are children of freedom that comes through promise, which had Christ in view. Paul wants them to realize that we’ve been set free from the law through faith in Christ, and thus, there is no sense in returning to what He has set us free from.
We’ll finish this up with the completion of our Jeremiah passage:
(Jeremiah 3:18) – 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.
In the days that this was written, Israel and Judah were separated into two kingdoms, northern kingdom and southern kingdom. Upon their return from Babylonian captivity, they would be reunited, which is what we see in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. However, this has a wider meaning. It pictures true Israel (spiritual Israel) complete in Christ. It pictures oneness, the oneness that we have in Christ as spiritual Jews (Ro 2:28-29) of spiritual Israel (Ro 6:6-9). It pictures New Israel of the New Covenant, which is the complete Church in Christ, which continues as the New Jerusalem of the New Heavens and the New Earth of Revelation 21 & 22, as we’ve been discussing throughout this study.
I realize this has probably been a little hard to follow with Galatians 4 brought into the discussion, but if you take your time and think through it and consider the whole, I believe it will become clear why passages such as Jeremiah 3:14-18 are – and must be – fulfilled in Christ and His Church, and therefore, why there cannot be a future fulfillment for the nation of Israel. They already have their fulfillment in Christ, who is Himself True Israel, and in His Church who is New Israel in Him as a spiritual nation.
All such passages (like Jeremiah 3:14-18) throughout the Old Testament that speak of a future fulfillment of Israel, does not have ethnic national Israel in view, but has Christ and His Church in view. Therefore, when reading those passages, this is what must be kept in mind. Also keep in mind that when reading those OT passages, there may be involved a fulfillment of those prophecies of both national Israel of the OT, as well as spiritual Israel in Christ of the NT. In other words, the physical fulfillment of the OT pictures the spiritual fulfillment of the NT.