The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part 4

January 25, 2011

The Land as Covenant Backdrop to Romans 11:25-27

            By this point, some readers may be asking, “Why was ‘covenant backdrop’ included in the title of this paper?”  After all, admittedly, I have so far failed to deliver on the “covenant” connection.  However, that part of the overall picture comes into focus as we consider the next verse and a half of Romans 11. 

            Verses 26b-27 contains Old Testament citations that are Paul’s scriptural basis for his prophecy/promise in verses 25b-26a.  The best understanding of where they are found in the Hebrew Bible seems to be that verses 26b-27a is quoting Isaiah 59:20-21a and verse 27b is echoing concepts in Jeremiah 31:31-34.[1] 

            Without delving into the range of exegetical issues related to these quotations, it is helpful for the purposes of this paper to cut through the details and ask why Paul cuts off his quotation of Isaiah 59 with verse 21a, then adds in certain ideas prominent in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  The most obvious reason would seem to be to tie the conversion of “all Israel” to 1) “Zion” (Rom. 11:26b), another name for Jerusalem (or the temple complex within it) through the quote from Isaiah 59 (which includes wording about the taking away of sins, much like Jer. 31:34); and 2) to the fulfillment of the New Covenant (Rom. 11:27), through the shifted reference to Jeremiah 31.

            The first of these two, the use of “Zion,” is difficult.  The only occurrence of “Zion” in the Apocalypse is in 14:1, where Jesus, the Lamb, is seen standing “on Mount Zion” with the 144,000.  However, this appears to be referring to the heavenly Zion, in a usage parallel to the frequent references to the temple in heaven mentioned above.  However, this understanding does not necessarily undermine what has been concluded about the land of Israel to this point in Revelation 11.  The wording in Romans 11 (“from Zion”), as opposed to the wording in Isaiah 59 (“to Zion”) may help here, as does the elegant chiastic structuring of Revelation 14-15. 

a (14:1-5) The Lamb, preparing to return to earth, and the 144,000 on Mount Zion in heaven

b (14:6-7) The announcing of “the eternal gospel”: fear, glorify and worship God!

c (14:8-11) God’s wrath on Babylon the Great and the beast-worshipers

d (14:12-13) The perseverance of the saints and the blessed deaths of the martyrs

d’ (14:14-16) Previewing the coming of the Son of Man (see v. 14; I): the “fields white unto harvest”

c’ (14:17-20) Previewing the coming of the Son of Man (II): the grapes of wrath

b’ (15:1-4) The overcomers now in heaven: singing about fearing, glorifying and worshiping the Lord!

a’ (15:5-8) The heavenly sanctuary (Gk. naos) as the climactic judgment of the bowls of wrath are about to be poured out[2]

            If, as argued earlier, Revelation 14:6-7 is a later explanation of what happened in 11:13, then the above structure helps us put things in chapter 11 in a wider context.  For example, 14:1-5 gets across to us that Jesus is preparing to come to earth “from Zion,” as Romans 11:26 says.  Revelation 14:6-7 tells the reader how the people of Israel have their “godlessness” and “sins” taken away (Rom. 11:26, 27): through their response to “the eternal gospel” (Rev. 11:13).  All of this is in preparation for the final coming of the Son of Man (14:14-16; 19:11ff.; see Rev. 1:7).

            The original wording in Isaiah 59 (“to Zion”) is also significant here.  After all, the events in Revelation 11 occur focally in Jerusalem, the location of the temple (vv. 1-2) and where Jesus was crucified (v. 8).  So, it is not inaccurate to say that, in fulfilling the Scripture we have been considering. Jesus will come from Zion (in heaven) to Zion (earthly Jerusalem).

            However, the use of Jeremiah 31 in Romans 11:27 is also important.  After all, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the only passage in the Hebrew Bible that uses the wording “new covenant.”  To be noted here is the fact that most of the focus of the context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant focuses on the people of Israel.  However, the same wording that begins that wondrous passage in verse 31 (“Look, the days are coming…” [HCSB]) shortly thereafter brings into play the land aspect of the new promise (31:38-40).  Here we begin to get the sense as to how the ongoing land promise functions in regard to the new covenant: as what I call a “covenant backdrop.”

 


[1] E.g., J. Lanier Burns, “The Future of Ethnic Israel in Romans 11,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 213-14.

[2] A.B. Luter, “Twin Peaks: The Inverted Parallel Structure of Revelation 14-15,” Unpublished E.T.S.: Far West regional paper, 1995.

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One Response to “The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part 4”

  1. […] a recent post, The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part 4, A. Boyd Luter seems to struggle, trying to explain how the land promise, included in the promises […]

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