by Peter Ditzel
Even a quick look at this sermon tells us that Jesus is here introducing something totally new and radical. I am not overstating the case. What Jesus is saying here is radical. First, He tells those who are poor, hungry, and hated that they are blessed. Then He says woe to those who are rich, full, and well spoken of. Talk about turning things upside down!
Next, Jesus tells us to love, bless, and pray for our enemies, to turn the other cheek and even to give to someone who takes from us. Then He gives us the Golden Rule: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
He continues in this vein, and then He tells us to, “Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed down and shaken and running over they shall give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it shall be measured back to you.”
Jesus then switches gears a little. He gives a parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?” Who are these blind leaders of the blind that Jesus is talking about? Who does Jesus have in mind? Chapter 15 of Matthew answers the question without any doubt. These blind leaders were the Pharisees.
Yes, Jesus was saying that the Pharisees, who had been nitpicking with Him over tradition and points of the law, the Pharisees who would strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, were blind. They were spiritually blind. Why? Why were the Pharisees spiritually blind? Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus, in John 3, verse 3, that unless “someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Pharisees were not born again. They could not see the kingdom of God, even when it was right in their midst, as Jesus told them it was in Luke 17:21. They were spiritually blind and did not understand what Jesus was doing. He was introducing something new, something radically new right before their eyes, but they didn’t see it! There in His ministry, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was introducing something the Pharisees could not see because they were not born again. What could they not see because they were not born again? The kingdom of God! Unless “someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The Parables Explained
So, now, let’s go back to the three parables. What is the new garment that should not be patched to the old garment? It is the kingdom of God. What is the new wineskin, as opposed to the old wineskin? It is the kingdom of God.
What is the new wine that should not be put into an old wineskin? It is the teachings and laws of the kingdom of God. What is the new wine that people who are used to the old wine don’t like? It is the teachings and laws of the kingdom of God.
But what is the old garment, what is the old wineskin, what is the old wine? To answer this, I am going to turn to the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, the focus was on the kingdom of Israel. But like so many things in the Old Testament, the kingdom of Israel was only a type or shadow of the reality that would come in the New Testament. You could say that the kingdom of Israel was a picture of something in the New Testament. What did the kingdom of Israel picture? It pictured the kingdom of God. What was the old garment of the parable? It was the kingdom of Israel. What was the old wineskin that could not hold the new wine—the teachings—that Jesus brought? It was the kingdom of Israel.
During Jesus’ ministry, His followers thought that at any time, He was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. They thought He was going to throw off the yoke of Roman occupation and become king of a restored kingdom of Israel. They didn’t understand that Jesus hadn’t come to re-establish the old kingdom of Israel, which was only a shadow. He had come to do something totally new. He had come to establish the kingdom of God. They were even thinking this way during the time after Jesus resurrection, but before Pentecost. Notice Acts 1, beginning with verse 6: “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has placed in His own authority.’”
In other words, it is as if He was saying, You don’t know what season it is. It’s not the time for the kingdom of Israel. The season for the kingdom of Israel is past. Then He said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It is as if He had said, You asked about the kingdom of Israel. The time for that is over. Instead, you are going to receive power to spread the kingdom of God over the whole earth.
The contrast is always between the old and the new. The old was passing away, and the new was coming. The old was the kingdom of Israel, and the new is the kingdom of God. And, under these two main headings—“kingdom of Israel” and “kingdom of God”—we see more things that are old and new. For example, the people of the kingdom of Israel were the Israelites, also called the Jews. In the kingdom of Israel, the Jews were God’s people. In the kingdom of God, people of all nations—Jews and Gentiles alike—can be God’s people. We call these people the church. (“Church” is a mistranslation of the Greek ekklēsia, which literally means “called out.” People were citizens of the kingdom of Israel by being born into it, and this was signified in males by circumcision. But the citizens of the kingdom of God are born spiritually (born again, see John 3:3), signified by a profession of faith in water baptism, and called out of all of the nations of this dark world into the light of God’s kingdom. See, for example, 1 Peter 2:9, where the words “called” and “out” are the root words of ekklēsia.)
What Established Israel
And I also want to point out what established Israel as God’s people. If we know what established Israel as God’s people, we may see what establishes the church as God’s people today.
Notice what God said to the children of Israel right before giving them the Ten Commandments. This is in Exodus 19 and verses 5 and 6: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (KJV). What established Israel as God’s people? The covenant He made with them. God made a covenant with Israel, and this covenant made them “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
Now listen in Deuteronomy 5, verses 1-3, to what Moses said later in rehearsing the events that led to the establishment of Israel as a nation before God:
And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. [Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where God gave the Ten Commandments.] The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.
Now I want to point out something here. Moses said that God did not make this covenant with the fathers. “The fathers” here refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God did not make this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yes, He made a covenant with them. But He did not make this covenant with them. This covenant was not the same as that covenant. This covenant was not part of some one, continuous, eternal covenant that stretches from Adam until now. The Bible never speaks of such a covenant, and here we see Moses saying that this covenant given at Mount Sinai was not the same covenant as that made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Furthermore, by saying this, Moses was saying that God made this covenant with Israel. He did not say that God made this covenant with the Canaanites, or with the Egyptians, or with the Greeks, or with the Romans, or with the English, or with the Scottish, or with the Dutch, or with the Americans. God did not make this covenant with anyone but Israel. The Old Covenant containing the Mosaic law was made with ancient, physical Israel.
Now some will say that the church is Israel, so God also made this covenant with the church. But that is not quite correct. Many people glibly say that the church is Israel. But this is imprecise and leads to many problems. Here is the correct relationship between Israel and the church, so please note it well. Israel was a type or shadow of the church. The church is the antitype or reality that was pictured by Israel. Old Testament Israel was a physical nation, but the church is a spiritual nation; it is spiritual Israel. As spiritual Israel, the church is not subject to the same covenant as physical Israel. I want to repeat that: As spiritual Israel, the church is not subject to the same covenant as physical Israel.
Physical Israel is only a shadow of the church. The covenant that God established with this shadow is, itself, also merely a shadow. A shadow of what? A shadow of the covenant God established with the church. The Old Covenant is a shadow of the New Covenant. And, again, we see the contrast between the old and the new, the old that cannot contain the new. It is also the Old Covenant with its laws that the Pharisees preferred to the New Covenant Jesus was introducing. What was the old wine of the parable? It was the laws of the kingdom of Israel, the laws of the Old Covenant.
Quickly, I want to point out something in Deuteronomy 4. Moses is telling Israel to heed the statutes and judgments, the laws and commandments that God gave them that made them a nation. So, again, he is talking about the covenant. I want to particularly point out verse 13, where Moses says that God “declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (KJV). Moses here equates the covenant with the Ten Commandments. Yes, there were other statutes and judgments and commandments involved, but central to this covenant God made with Israel were the Ten Commandments. Central to this covenant that was only a shadow of the covenant God made with the church are the Ten Commandments. Bear this in mind as we go on. The Ten Commandments are part of the shadowy Old Covenant, but there is a real counterpart to them in the New Covenant.
Copyright © 2005-2011 Peter Ditzel