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The Five Visions of Daniel



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Matters of the Law: From Circumcision to Tithing

Posted: August 3rd, 2007, by Reggie Kelly

Dear Reggie,

I was reading through Galatians 2 recently, and I noticed how Titus refused to be circumcised so as to appease the party of the circumcision (to Paul’s approval). Yet in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul embraces a being all things to all people philosophy. So, my question is to what degree as Christians are we to embrace such a philosophy in regard to matters of the law?

In my own context, I attend a church where the vast majority (if not all) members believe in and practice tithing. Yet it is my understanding that since the tithe was part of the entire sacrificial system (whether pre-law or not), that we as Christians today are not obligated to tithe. However, since I love my brethren, and desire to minister to them, to the best of my ability, I attempt to tithe. For I know that if I did not tithe, and such was known to them, such would be a stumbling block to them, and most of them would have nothing to do with me or my ministry.

But in light of Galatians 2, I have wondered if my approach has been proper? Would I be better off not tithing, so as to display that far from the heavens being shut, and the earth being as brass, that the blessing of the Spirit rests upon me in spite of such?

God bless,

You have a very important question there.

Before coming to the question of tithing and the problem of legalism within the church, it is good to look at the word “obligation.” Obligation is not opposed to grace. During the millennium, the nation that fails to send a delegation to Jerusalem to keep the feast of tabernacles will receive no rain (Zech 14). Now that’s obligation! But responsibility has nothing to do with justification, which is a resurrection event of new creation, unconstrained by anything in man or of man. Therefore, grace is never the absence of responsibility, but rather the power to fulfill ‘all righteousness’ by a newness of spirit that works by love. This, since nothing counts except what issues out of a new creation (Gal 6:15).

Thus, Paul’s vehemence against the law is essentially directed not against the law, but against the evil presumption that anything within the natural power of man (even the best will and resolve of religious man) could procure righteousness or contribute anything towards justification. That common presumption is always and under all circumstances and dispensations, WORKS. For this cause, Paul said “to whom we gave place, no, not so much as an hour SO THAT the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Pretty serious stuff. So serious that Paul says to Peter, “if I build again the things that I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Again, pretty serious implications.

But there’s an important difference between this and tithing. Typically, the evangelical is not looking to tithing for his justification, although he cannot imagine sanctification without it. It seems a small thing indeed, but once that ground has been given, it becomes quite arbitrary where the line is to be drawn. Not that a believer is trusting in himself to obtain righteousness by his commitment to giving, but when giving becomes the law of the tithe, it misses entirely the point of NT testimony of the spirit of liberty, which says giving is to be ‘without constraint’. Why without constraint? What is at stake? We mustn’t lightly yield the principle here. Why would the law of the tithe not be obligatory during this dispensation?

Indeed, the sad absence of a freedom to give and sacrifice liberally does not give evidence of the new spirit of Christian liberty, but rather hints at some kind of bondage or blockage, but this isn’t remedied by a legal return to the law of the tithe, which in principle opens the door to turning what should have been a free and unconstrained delight into a moral obligation, that if not mandatory for justification, is certainly required for blessing.

And certainly there is a blessing to the giver, and there is a godly desire to separate to the Lord a first-fruits (not as “necessity,” but as a representative token that really “all” has been given over to God). But this assumes that such giving is without a servile necessity that is “under” the law, since this would convert what should have been a delight into a mandatory obligation. Hence, something important is lost of the divine intention for this dispensation when, for example, our Presbyterian brethren make Sunday the new Christian Sabbath. By so doing, they actually embrace in principle (a divinely imposed obligation based on the perpetuity of the ten commandments) the very error that gives the Sabbatarians the strength of their argument, not for justification, of course, but as an evidence of justification. Still, even when not for life, but as evidence of new life, such obligation to the law is not God’s intention for this dispensation, which is to show His prerogative to give the promised Spirit “apart from the law,” on the basis of a living faith, even to unqualified Gentiles. And the evidence of the NT does not lead me to conclude that such Gentiles began immediately to observe the law as proof of their salvation.

So responsibility, even ‘obligation’ is not the problem in any period or dispensation, but progressive revelation necessarily brings dispensational changes suited to the purpose of that time, and there is thus a new responsibility peculiar to that particular divine trust. The test is our response to that revelation.

So, I believe to return to the law of the tithe is a slippery slope to the return to the whole law, if not for justification, for the perfecting of the Christian life. But having begun in the Spirit, we cannot hope to be perfected by laws and ordinances, not even the big ten. “For had there been ‘a’ (any) law that could have given life ….” It is a matter of dispensational propriety, because even if such ordinances were obligatory for this time, that would not in itself militate against Christian freedom. On the contrary, grace in the heart would lead the Christian to delight in those things, if that were indeed the stewardship/ requirement of this time. But as I have discussed elsewhere, God has a statement that He is making through Gentiles in this time and dispensation. When that statement is complete, I believe there will be a return to certain legal obligations in the millennium as a testimony, and the regenerate nation of the Jews will delight in responsibilities some old and some new, also as a testimony. My only point is that these are not the testimony, not the test, of this dispensation.

The question now is what is God’s intention for this time, and our responsibility to the changes that have been instituted for this time, in manifest contrast to the older dispensation. That is a real point of difference that I take with the Sabbatarians, who must impute to the ten commandments a higher sanctity than the other laws of equal perpetuity, such as circumcision for example.

But apart from all these considerations, tithing is in a category all its own. It is an emotional issue, because just in the nature of things, tithing is good business. It uses guilt (not consciously, of course) to control Christians that are not free, and that would not otherwise give. It’s smart; it’s rational; it’s natural; it works.

As to your decision, I can’t think of too many things more unsavory than having the joy and freedom of my giving to be monitored. There’s a point when accommodating someones scruples can become its own bondage, and actually is a kind of indulgence that encourages an immaturity that genders to bondage in many other areas as well. When Paul became all things, I don’t think he was talking about putting up indefinitely with a believer’s divisive errors of heart or doctrine, but rather for the sake of evangelism among the cultures there was a measure of accommodation. What is needed is sound teaching on the issue of grace and law and the dispensations. But because of the sense of threat to settled and reliable views and their safe and assured results, you can expect that such teaching will expose the teacher to the greater danger of rejection and loss. That itself should tell you something about the vested interests of the intimidating principalities over issues like this.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

The Key of the Mystery of Israel in the Reign of Grace

Posted: July 31st, 2007, by Reggie Kelly


My question of recent days has been what are the covenantal blessings we Gentiles receive in this life on earth?

“The covenantal curses are maintained as applying literally to Israel , while the promises of grace and redemption are spiritualized and taken over by the ‘church.'”

Did Jesus not redeem us from the curse of the law so that the blessings of Abraham might come upon us… is the great blessing the Spirit by faith?

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Are we waiting upon all Israel to be saved that we might inherit with them and only with them the promises to Abraham?

Just beginning to understand, Anonymous

No, I do not believe that we are “waiting upon all Israel to be saved that we might inherit with them and only with them the promises to Abraham.” But we are to see in their coming salvation, a pattern for all salvation. In fact, the church is only the church by reason of the fact that the salvation promised Israel at the end of Jacob’s trouble has appeared to all men in advance of the great day of the Lord by the revelation of the mystery of the gospel.

This means that the church exists as first-fruits of Israel’s millennial salvation. This is the mystery that comes to light in the revelation of Christ’s twofold coming. We are grafted into Israel’s covenanted salvation in unexpected advance of the age transforming day of the Lord, which day will realize the restoration of the natural branches (“all Israel”) when “the deliverer shall come out of Zion …” (compare Isa 59:19-21; Ro 11:26). So there is an appropriate ‘double-reference’ of many of the millennial promises, which are quite legitimately applied to the church of this age.

When I said, ““The covenantal curses are maintained as applying literally to Israel , while the promises of grace and redemption are spiritualized and taken over by the ‘church’,” I did not mean that there is nothing of the salvation promised to Israel that has not already come to the church. On the contrary, it is precisely this salvation that makes the church the church. This is the mystery not revealed in times past, namely, that the salvation that was promised to Israel has appeared ‘out of due season’ as it were, in unexpected advance of the climactic ‘day of the Lord’, the well known salvation of the “last day.”

A host of OT passages show that Israel’s national regeneration comes “at once … in one day” (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9; Ezek 39:22) as a climactic revelation of the sealed vision that is sealed (held ‘under wraps’) until the appointed time (compare Isa 8:14-18; Dan 9:24; 12:9; Zech 12:10). It is this sealed vision that has been revealed by the Spirit in the ‘mystery of the gospel’.

The gospel is revealed to the beleaguered remnant of Israel at the very end of Jacob’s trouble (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39), also called “the great tribulation” (Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). Jacob’s trouble is the last half (last 3 1/2 years) of Daniel’s seventy weeks of years (Dan 7:25; 9:24-27; 12:1, 7). This is the time that Israel will enter into the “everlasting righteousness” of the covenant that was ratified (purchased) nearly 2000 years earlier ago in Messiah’s atoning death (“Messiah, the Prince, shall be ‘cut off’, but not for Himself … ; Dan 9:26).

Thus the revelation that is appointed to break upon the heart and understanding of the ‘the escaped of Israel’ in the coming day of the Lord, is precisely the mystery of the gospel that has been revealed by the Spirit, first to the disciples after Christ’s resurrection (Lk 24:26), as first preached at Pentecost, and then subsequently revealed independently to Paul in its fuller and more comprehensive significance for the Gentiles (Gal 1:11; Eph 3:5).

From Pentecost and forward, the disciples would no longer wonder concerning the time of Israel’s restoration (Acts 1:6), as it was now known that the restoration of all things must await the return of Jesus (Acts 3:19). This revealed secret (Ro 16:25-26) of the twofold advent of an atoning and returning Messiah is the scandal, the stone of stumbling, that also underlies the “mystery of the kingdom.” It was hidden for judgement, as Isaiah said, “for a trap and snare.”

Thus, through the revelation of the secret hid from other ages, the kingdom of God is revealed to have a mysterious working within the still remaining structures of this present evil age. In this sense, the “powers of the age to come” have invaded the present evil age by the Spirit of revelation, and this in unexpected advance of the millennial transformation of Israel.

So, I do not object to applying Israel’s promises to the church. My complaint is only against the presumption that applies Israel’s promises ONLY to the church of this age. This can only be done by a questionable process of wholesale ‘re-interpretation’ and ‘spiritualization’ that completely denies to a future Israel the literal meaning of the promises in their original setting and intention. It is a usurping policy that misses entirely the whole point of Paul’s mystery (Ro 11:25). According to Paul, the covenant itself cannot realize its climax and goal apart from the restoration of the ‘natural branches.” While Israel is still in their sins, we may be sure that the covenant is yet unfulfilled in its totality (Ro 11:27 with Isa 59:21).

It is difficult for me to see how these interpreters can so certainly deny, at least the possibility of a future literal fulfillment of the promises to Israel, since in almost every OT context Israel is shown to be in a state of abiding apostasy of unbelief, and under covenant judgment right up until the post-tribulational day of the Lord, which the NT does NOT re-interpret, but continues to understand as still future. This, and this alone, is the “set time” to favor Zion (Ps 102:13; Mt 23:39), never before (see Dan 11:36b).

You would at least expect a modesty of uncertainty that the still future day of the Lord (second coming) might perchance yet see a literal fulfillment of the promises, since this alone would agree with the clear context of every OT promise concerning Israel’s national redemption at end of the last, unequaled tribulation.

Remember, the church, the body of Christ, in continuity with the righteous remnant of the OT, is NOT a NEW, but a ‘newly revealed’ entity (important distinction). Such a revealed entity does not end with the rapture, as held by some. Rather, at the end of Jacob’s trouble, the remnant of Israel that are left are transformed by the same revelation that arrested Paul on the Damascus road. It is this life giving revelation that makes the church the church (Mt 16:17-18), regardless of dispensation, whether now, or in a future millennium. The saved of Israel, together with all that will be gathered to Christ throughout the millennium, will be at that time the born again body of Christ on earth awaiting glorification at the second resurrection, but under a unique stewardship appropriately suited to that dispensation of divine purpose.

So then, who is ‘all Israel’? In Paul’s usage, ‘all Israel’ does not mean all that will ultimately be saved, i.e., the final coming in of all the elect. That is an attractive interpretation, but it does not satisfy the demands of the context. Manifestly, Paul has in mind the national regeneration of Israel at the end of the age.

Nor does “all Israel” mean every Jew, because two thirds will have been cut off out of the Land, and also many will fall in the wilderness of the nations during the desolations of Jacob’s trouble. Rather, the term ‘all Israel’ has in view a phenomenal uniformity of Jewish salvation that will obtain and endure throughout the millennium, extending into final perfection at the second resurrection.

After the salvation of the surviving remnant at the end of Jacob’s trouble, there will never again be an occasion for any Jewish person to evangelize his neighbor (Jer 31:34). Paul’s phrase “and so all Israel shall be saved,” reflects his reading of many OT passages that describe this millennial phenomenon that doesn’t begin UNTIL “the deliverer shall come out of Zion …. (Isa 59:19-21; Ro 11:26), i.e., the post-tribulational day of the Lord.

After a transforming revelation of Christ (“they shall look on Me …. and mourn for Him …”), the ‘escaped of Israel’ will be saved with an everlasting salvation (Isa 45:17; Dan 9:24). From that day and forward (Ezek 39:22), “all” will know Him, from the least to the greatest (Jer 31:34), never to fall away, lest the covenant should fail (see and compare Isa 4:3; 60:21; Jer 31:34; 32:40, and many similar passages). The veil over the Jewish heart is forever removed, and thus Satan is bound (Isa 25:7; Rev 10:7). The covenant has been fulfilled (Ro 11:27). Henceforth, no child born to Jewish parentage will ever fail of the covenant (Isa 54:10, 13; 59:21; Jer 31:34).

Such uniformity of salvation will not, however, characterize the nations. There will be evangelism and salvation throughout the nations, no doubt very great (see Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14; Ro 11:12), but not of such a uniform and unexceptional kind as will obtain among the Jews . (This is very significant, as it constitutes an intended divine statement. What is that statement? The nations will be required to honor that statement whether willingly or unwillingly). This is evident by many passages. The book of the Revelation makes particularly clear that after the thousand years is finished, Satan is loosed for a ‘little season’, and this ordained release makes for a final rebellion against the ‘camp of the saints’ (Jerusalem), as Satan’s age old envy against God’s election will once more provoke the hearts of the unregenerate, as final testimony to the intractable nature of the heart of man under even the most auspicious conditions.

Perhaps these distinctions will be helpful towards finding the balance you’re seeking. Let me know if this somewhat extensive overview was helpful in sorting things out.