In effect, the church was seen as a foretaste of what is to come – an anticipation of the new age. Israel’s hopes had been fulfilled in a preliminary way but were still awaiting final fulfilment.
- The end-time restoration of Israel is anticipated in the community life of Jewish believers in Jesus but the full reality lies in the future.
- The pilgrimage of the nations is anticipated in the lives of Gentile believers in Jesus but the full reality lies in the future.
- The Jesus-community has tasted the powers of the age to come in the Spirit but the fullness will far outstrip current reality.
This is how Paul made sense of the perplexing fact that most Jews in his day rejected their own Messiah and thus rejected the restoration that they longed for (Rom 9-11).
For Paul most of Israel continued to live under the covenant curses and only a remnant were saved (the Jesus-believers). But this remnant was not saved instead of the majority of Israel. Rather, the remnant were like the first fruit of the full harvest and served as a promise that one day the rest of Israel would also embrace the Messiah and so ‘all Israel will be saved’ (Rom 9-11). (I am aware that there is a minority view in NT studies that maintains that 'all Israel' in Rom 11:26 means 'the whole church composed of Jews and Gentiles'. You won't be surprised to discover that I do not concur).
(I expect that this post may generate a whole load of discussion on the much-debated Rom 9-11 - cool - so I will not say any more about it here.)
The full reality of the restoration of all Israel is still future but it is a future embodied in and guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection, and anticipated in the Messianic remnant. (Here is where I depart from N.T. Wright, et al who maintain that there is no expectation in the NT for a future restoration of Israel because the prophetic expectations have already been fulfilled in the resurrection and the Church. I think that this view is right in what it affirms but wrong in what it denies.)
In the same way - though less clearly from Scripture - Gentile Christians are an anticipation of the full pilgrimage of all the nations yet to come (Rev 21:24-26). The complete fulfilment of Ezekiel’s promised new temple awaits the perfection of the restored community, indwelt by God, pictured at the end of the Bible.
Israel’s future hopes and dreams thus find their fulfilment inaugurated in Christ, anticipated in the Church and fulfilled in the future. This is why the New Testament can connect Israel’s hopes to Jesus, to the Church and to the future.
(Just a final note to stir the pot and lose most of my friends - a future restoration of 'all Israel' seems to me to be clearly implied not simply by the trajectory of the metanarrative, as sketched in these posts, but also by some explicit texts, three of which seem to connect it with the parousia. Lk 13:35/Matt 23:37-39; Lk 21:24; Acts 1:6-7; 3:19-21; Rom 11:11-12, 15-16, 26-32).