The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.
- Isaiah 25:6
This is how the prophet Isaiah describes what John the Apostle would later call the marriage supper of the Lamb; the gathering together of the elect to celebrate the inauguration of Jesus' Millennial reign, the reversal of the curse, and the restoration of all things. A Thanksgiving feast for the ages! (1)
As much as I look forward to the annual holiday staples of turkey and dressing, I'll have to admit, choice marrow and aged wine sound much better. Pass the ribeye, please! What's more, the Scripture says this feast is for all peoples. The whole family is sitting together for this meal.
From a young age, my sister and I were taught proper table manners. I trust most people are familiar with the basics of dinner etiquette. Rule #1: We wait for the whole family to be seated at the table before eating. This is because the meal is more than just eating and drinking. It's a time of fellowship, a time to give thanks to God for bringing us all together at the conclusion of our day. As a family, we share this time together, regardless of how we view ourselves as separate individuals within the unit. We are bound together as one. Therefore, the family sits down together.
So it is in God's household. Allow me to explain. Long ago, God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. They would be greatly blessed and inherit a land flowing with milk and honey, where they would live eternally before God. And in the same breath, God promised that all nations would share in this blessing. These promises are knit together. This is God's everlasting covenant. (2)
While the book of Genesis spends quite a bit of time developing the patriarchs, my favorite accounts come from the stories of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. What's most interesting about these accounts is that, in many ways, Joseph's story is Jesus' as well. Joseph's encounters with his brothers parallel Christ's past and future encounters with Israel. The similarities are striking. First, Joseph is sent out by his father to locate his wayward brethren. But their pride and envy stumble them. They will not bow to Joseph's authority. Instead, they betray their kinsmen and cast him away. (3)
Despite being given over by his brothers to servitude in a foreign nation, Joseph rises to the right hand of the king and becomes a savior to the Gentiles, all while his Jewish brethren are completely unaware of his existence. During a seven year famine, Joseph's leadership results in deliverance for all the nations. And in his family's time of great distress, he comes to their rescue. (4)
No longer will he hide his face from them. Overwhelmed by a mixture of sorrow and relief, the brothers weep repentantly, knowing they owe their lives to Joseph. In Zechariah 12:10, we see this is the same context in which Israel will be saved by their Messiah. At the end of their strength, they will look upon Him whom they pierced, recognizing who He is, and weep. Jesus will then pour out the Spirit of grace upon them. (5)
But the parallels don't end there. Once Jacob and his family take up residence in Egypt, we are introduced to Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's two sons born of an Egyptian woman during his sojourn amongst the Gentiles. And in an act of incredible grace, Jacob decides to adopt Joseph's children as his own. Despite being born outside the nation of promise, Ephraim and Manasseh receive a full inheritance equal to Jacob's oldest sons and are grafted into Israel, becoming the newest members of the family. Grace upon grace!
As the Church, this is nearly identical to our story. We are the adopted sons, formerly far off but now brought near. We've been grafted into the covenant family, bought with the precious blood of Jesus. This act of grace fully precludes any presumption of natural claim to the inheritance. It's all by God's gracious choice. Paul expounds on this truth in his letter to the Romans. He uses the analogy of an olive tree, with some of the natural (Jewish) branches being broken off in order to graft in the wild (Gentile) branches. But don't be ignorant of the mystery, he says. For it is precisely because of Israel's rejection of their Messiah that salvation has come to the Gentiles. Ephraim and Mannaseh would never have seen the light of day if Joseph had not been rejected by his brethren. So to prevent any confusion that could potentially arise, Paul reminds us that Israel's story is not over. Their hardening, like Joseph's siblings', is temporary. When the full number of Gentiles have come into the family, all Israel will then be saved. But not until then.
Now, think back to the first rule of dinner etiquette. We must wait for the whole family to be seated at the table before eating. But along the way to the wedding feast, something has gone terribly wrong. The adopted sons and the natural branches have been separated. Surely this wasn't the way it was intended to be. The family sits together, right?
Yet today, amongst well meaning believers, there is still confusion over what the exact nature of the relationship is between the Church and Israel. At best, the Church acknowledges Israel's unique calling and their place in God's plan. We recognize that Israel was chosen by God, that our Savior descended from Israel, and that He will one day return to save them. Beyond that, the consensus seems to be that we are two separate families with two distinct histories and destinies.
This is probably not far removed from the worldview Ephraim and Manasseh once held. Consider the following. Although they had a connection to Israel through their father, they had lived their entire lives in a Gentile nation, far away from Jacob's family. They likely even viewed Joseph as a Gentile. He would have dressed like an Egyptian, talked like an Egyptian, and tended to Egyptian business. Ephraim and Manasseh's Jewish connection was of no practical importance to them, only historical fact. They existed as a separate family. Jacob's future would have no bearing on their lives. Or so they thought.
But as we know, they would go on to be adopted into Jacob's family and receive a share in his family's inheritance! This is the relationship the Church has with Israel. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul declares that the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been broken down for good through the blood of Christ. Both groups have now been made into one new man, comprising one new body. Gentiles, he says, while formerly outside of the covenant of promise, have been brought in to the commonwealth of Israel. (8)
This is the great mystery of the gospel that was revealed to Paul. How would all the nations be blessed, as was promised to Abraham? By being grafted into the body of Christ. One new man. While formerly far off from Jacob, Ephraim and Manasseh were brought near to the father through Joseph, resulting in the removal of the former separation. One family. (9)
But now, it's as if the mystery that was previously revealed has become veiled once again. The Church has assigned Israel a separate table. How can this be? Have we forgotten Paul's rebuke of Peter? The family sits together! And what then of the wedding feast? Are we to believe that when the last trumpet sounds, the Church will depart to enjoy the feast while their adoptive family endures seven years of famine alone? May it never be! We wait for the whole family to be seated at the table before eating. (10)
The last trumpet, found in 1st Corinthians 15:51-55, is the proverbial dinner bell. When the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised to imperishable glory. The Church will be gathered for the feast. We know this already, but we're missing a crucial point. Paul lets us know what that is by quoting Isaiah 25:8. This verse is part of a larger section found in chapters 24-27 which describes Israel's salvation at the sound of a great trumpet (27:13) and the resurrection of the dead (26:19) at the end of Jacob's final trouble. By linking this passage with his last trumpet, Paul is providing the Church with a timely reminder about proper dinner etiquette. I trust you know what this means by now. (11)
Several generations after being grafted in, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh would depart from Egypt with their family, sharing the same trials and looking forward to the same promises. So it is for us, the Church. As adopted sons, our inheritance is inextricably bound up with God's promises to the natural branches. Or has the body of Christ been divided? To the law and to the testimony! We are one new man in Christ. Only, the rest of the family isn't at the table yet. Therefore, we must wait, and stand in the gap for Jacob. And we won't sit down until the whole family makes it to the table. So in the meantime, let's not be ignorant of the mystery. When the last trumpet sounds, Israel and the Church will emerge as one, taking their seat at the table together for the marriage supper of the Lamb. And for this, we give thanks. (12)
Now it will come about that
In the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.
(1) Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 19:9
(2) Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 15:1-19; 17:1-8; Galatains 3:8; Hebrews 13:20
(3) Genesis 37:1-36; Matthew 27:22-26
(4) Genesis 39:1-6; 41:1-57-44:34; Deuteronomy 4:30; Hosea 6:1-3
(5) Genesis 45:1-15; Zechariah 12:10-14; Isaiah 32:15-20; Ezekiel 39:29
(6) Genesis 46:1-7; 48:1-22
(7) Romans 11:11-27
(8) Ephesians 2:11-3:7
(9) Romans 16:25-27
(10) Galatains 2:11-14; Acts 15:6-11
(11) 1st Corinthians 15:51-55; Isaiah 25:6-8; 26:19; 27:13; Hosea 13:14; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 24:29-31; 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
(12) Isaiah 8:16-20
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