If the birth of Jesus did not mark the beginning of a new “covenant” or a new program of God, then what was God doing during the period of time covered by the four gospels (Matthew – John)? What was the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ all about? The apostle Paul sums up the ministry of Christ while He was here on earth in Romans 15:8,
“Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the fathers.”
From this verse we see two key facts. First, Jesus Christ became a servant or a minister to “the circumcision,” a term which refers to God’s chosen people, Israel. The sign of circumcision was given to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel (Gen. 17:9-14). This physical sign set the people of Israel apart from other nations, who were thus referred to as the “uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11-12). Jesus’ ministry was not to begin a new program or a new “covenant” for all people. His ministry was directed specifically to Israel. Jesus Himself declared,
“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24)
When He sent out His disciples to minister, Jesus commanded them,
“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5-6)
It was “the acceptable year of the Lord” for the people of Israel (Luke 4:19). It was Israel’s “day” (Luke 19:41-42). It was their opportunity to accept their promised Messiah, but, as the Scriptures record, they were “not willing” (Matt. 23:37-39).
The second fact we find in Romans 15:8 is that the message Jesus proclaimed was not a new revelation, but it was “to confirm the promises made to the fathers;” the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the promises made to David; the promises that were set forth in the Old Testament prophets. What were these promises? To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God promised a seed, a nation, and a land. To David, God promised a seed, a house, and a throne. In both cases, the promised “seed,” in one sense, referred to their immediate descendants, but ultimately, the promised “Seed” referred to the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16).
Israel was promised a coming “Messiah” (Dan. 9:25-26), which means literally “anointed one.” This Messiah was to be the fulfillment of all the promises made to Abraham and to David. Jesus of Nazareth was “the Christ” (which also means “the Anointed One”). The opening verses of the book of Matthew trace His lineage showing Him to be “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). All the promises and prophecies made about Israel’s coming Messiah and King were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
What about the message that was proclaimed? John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, proclaimed,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2)
When Jesus began His public ministry, He proclaimed the very same message that John the Baptist proclaimed (Matt. 4:17). When Jesus sent forth His disciples to minister and preach, He commanded them to preach this same message (Matt. 10:7). The “kingdom of heaven” is the very kingdom that was promised to David (II Sam. 7) and was spoken of by the prophets (Dan. 7:26-27). This kingdom originates from “the heavens,” but it will be established upon the earth (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 6:10). This kingdom was proclaimed to be “at hand” or “drawing near” because the King was present on earth (Luke 1:31-33).
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passion Week was His official proclamation to Israel as their Messiah and King. This event, which is recorded in all four gospel accounts, was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Behold your King is coming to you …”
Jesus’ message to Israel, was not a new message of “the gospel of the grace of God,” but was instead “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23).
An integral part of Jesus’ ministry was the use of miracles, signs and wonders. We read in Acts 2:22 that Jesus of Nazareth was
“… attested (or approved) by God to you (Israel) by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst …”
These miracles and signs were performed that the people of Israel might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and that believing they might have life through His name (John 20:30-31). Why signs? Because the Jews have always requested signs from God (Luke 11:29-30; I Cor. 1:22) and God has always dealt with them using signs (i.e. Abraham—the sign of circumcision, Gen. 17:11, Moses—signs that the people would believe him, Exo. 4:8). When you find God dealing with the people of Israel, you see the use of miracles, wonders, and signs. God is not working today using miracles and signs because during this present age of grace the nation of Israel has been set aside.
What do the teachings of Jesus mean to us today? Are they directed to the church or not? We will seek to answer this question in the next chapter.