We have seen in a previous sharing that the church is not just a New Testament phenomenon. The church in the New Testament is a continuation of Israel from the Old Testament. The covenant God made with Abraham is the basis from which the church in history evolved, and Paul showed that the true children of Abraham are those who respond and share the faith of Abraham (Romans 9:6-8). Paul also pointed out that the historical church is likened to an olive tree from which some natural branches ( those from Israel) were broken off because of unbelief, whilst a wild olive shoot (gentile believers) were grafted in. Gentile believers should not be proud but continue in faith and remain in God’s kindness (Romans 11:17-22).
With this background in mind, we can conclude that the instructions and warnings given to the people of God in Israel are directly relevant to believers in the New Testament context, not only because the principles in God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament are practically applicable to those in the New Testament, but also because the New Testament church is a continuation of Israel of the Old Testament, and both belong to the same ‘olive tree’. As such, we must pay the closer attention to what Scripture has to say regarding the warnings for God’s people in their walk with the Lord God.
“I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 11:1-5).
“For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?” (Hebrews 3:16-17),
From the two passages above, we can see that the people of Israel were privileged people. God delivered them from Egypt; they were led by God personally in the wilderness, provided by God with spiritual food and drink (including physical food and drink); delivered from their enemies and the dangers and challenges in the wilderness; and God was leading them through His servant Moses to the promised land.
We the people of God in the New Testament are thoroughly familiar with our privileges in Christ; we are forgiven, delivered from the tyranny of death, from the power of sin and the evil one; we are adopted as God’s children, endowed with the Holy Spirit, and God is leading us to the new heaven and new earth.
For both the Old and New Testament people of God, the one obvious principle enunciated here is – do not to take God’s mercy and grace for granted.
Notice the parallel truths demonstrated in the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament and the New Testament; from another angle, we can say that what happened to Israel of Old is a ‘type’ of what is happening to the church of God in the New Testament (the ‘antitype’). Both were delivered from bondage; Israel from slavery in Egypt, Christians from the bondage to sin; both experienced personal guidance and provision from God; both are heading to the promised land, in the case of physical Israel – the land flowing with milk and honey in the time of Moses,in the case of the church (saints from Israel and Gentiles) the celestial city and the new heaven and new earth.
But take note that with most of those led by Moses, God was not pleased, and they were overthrown in the wilderness – they never enter the promised land even though they started off in the ‘Exodus’.
Here is a stark warning to God’s people in the church today; with reference to the olive tree, if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare us who are from a wild olive tree, grafted in contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree.
“For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’ (the day of testing of Israel in the wilderness) (Hebrews 3:14-15). We are not to follow the bad example of Israel in the wilderness who took God’s mercy and grace for granted.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instructions, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corin. 10:11-13).
Some in the church today may ‘take liberty’ in a negative sense with God’s grace, mercy and provision in Christ. We may think that we already have a ‘passport to heaven’ and thus it does not matter how we live our lives, for God is always gracious to forgive and He is too loving and kind to reject us despite our rebellion and false assurance. We may ‘claim’ our entitlement to such a privilege because we have worked so hard for God and did so many ‘spiritual deeds’ for Him.
Hearken to what our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lod, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Scripture reveals many wonderful promises of God; Scripture also has many stern and serious warnings for God’s people. If we take God’s grace for granted and think that He is too loving to reject us, think again! God is also a God of wrath and a God of judgement. The author of Hebrews has this to warn us, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2-3).
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses, how much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”(Hebrews 10:26-29).