Salvation Through the Ages, Chap. 7, The Age of Grace
From Jesus to Judgment
The Bible holds Law and Grace in opposition, meaning Grace is the absence of Law.1 Jesus took away "the list of violations against us, and nailed it to the cross";2 at the moment of his death the curtain in the temple was torn in two.3 This was the way out of our hopeless condition: to trust in Jesus' ability to keep the Law, not our own ability. For Jews this means that Jesus did what they clearly could not,4 and for Gentiles it means the strict and exclusive Law could no longer stand in the way of their being reconciled to God and being called his people.
The theme of the entire New Testament is salvation by the grace5 of God through faith alone in Jesus alone.6 We who are in Christ are saved not by what we do, but so that we can do what God has planned for us. Now the verses following are taken by some to mean the exact opposite of freedom from the Mosaic law. They reason that since Jew and Gentile are reconciled and united in Christ, then either Israel is finished or Christians must live like Jews. But not only doesn't this follow logically, it actually nullifies Jesus' sacrifice; if we are all under Jewish law, then not only did practically nothing change, "Christ died for nothing!"7
Jesus did not "upgrade" Judaism, yet neither did he forget Israel, as Paul states in Rom. 11:1-2. That chapter is perhaps the most often-cited proof text for the belief that the church was "grafted into Israel." But it is not the wild branches being grafted into the natural; the wild is grafted into the Vine, which is Christ. Jesus said he would (future) build his church, and Paul is using the same analogy as Jesus used which has Jesus and not Israel as the Vine. So while Israel had been the first or "natural" choice, now the Gentile or "wild" branches were to be added to that Vine. To emphasize, Israel is not the vine.
In Galatians 2 we find the famous public rebuke Paul gave to Peter about his fear of the Jews. In no uncertain terms, Paul states that not even Jews are to practice separateness when they become Christians, clearly indicating once again that the church and Israel are not the same entity. In fact, Paul was never free from this battle for the rest of his life; he wrote and suffered much for drawing a sharp line between the Christian and all other 'churches'.8
But somehow, when arriving at ch. 3, many forget all of this and see Paul's statement about "the children of Abraham" as confirmation that the two are indeed the same. Yet though Abraham was deemed righteous by his faith, the laws of Moses did not replace this salvation, as we have already seen. So in this context, Paul's teaching is that while salvation is by faith, this does not mean there was never a Law or that the Law would nullify the Promise. And when we remember what Peter said to the Jews, we see that the Law alone could not save.
It seems clear from all this that salvation for the current age is purely by faith and not at all connected to the Jewish law. Yet it is a specific faith; not just that God exists, but that Jesus rose from the dead. As Paul explained to the Greeks at Mars Hill9 and Peter to the Jews at Pentecost,10 everyone was now required to accept this. The Jews had to accept Jesus as their Messiah, and the Gentiles had no more leeway given to their ignorance. Yet he never told the Gentiles that they would become Jews as a result. In fact, there was a meeting in Jerusalem over this very issue.11 Peter stated there that they must not "try to put a yoke on the necks of Gentiles that neither we nor our ancestors could bear." James then quoted the prophet Amos in stating that there had to be people called of God from among the Gentiles— who by definition are not Jews. All he asked of them was to be sensitive to the Jews in a few basic ways.
There is something else unique about this age: each and every individual believer receives the Holy Spirit within them "as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance",12 which is our adoption as the children of God.13 This was never seen in any time of history before for individuals, even in Israel. A few people had the Spirit of God come upon them on occasion, but never was it permanent or guaranteed. Neither were they described as adopted children or heirs. The phrase "children of Israel" simply means Israelites. Yet they were and are, as a nation, the chosen people of God.14
Of course we know that the nature and identity of God never changes. But since we have seen that the parameters and conditions of salvation have changed up to this point, we cannot presume that they will never change again. Though the current age did begin the fulfillment of that ancient promise to Eve, there is more to be done than simply building up the church with both Jews and Gentiles.
There are prophecies for the people and nation of Israel yet to be fulfilled. The primary one is found in Daniel 9:20-27, the Seventy Weeks prophecy. The stated purpose is to "finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place." The final seven years are what the book of Revelation covers. Although some authors treat the seven-year Tribulation as a separate age, it is really a return to the age of Law. Israel had rejected the Messiah with one prophetic week to go15 and " their house was left desolate".16
Those who come to faith during that time are never referred to as the church but only as "saints"— a term used also for the righteous before the church existed.17 The Revelation begins with letters sent to seven churches, but they are never mentioned again in the entire prophecy. Most significantly, the means of salvation during that entire time is simply to endure, to give glory to God. Nothing is said about the Holy Spirit indwelling people, adoption, inheritance, or "that blessed hope" of being taken alive to heaven.18
Yet another unique characteristic of the church age is that believers are called both the Body and the Bride of Christ.19 Note that it is specifically of Christ, not of the Father or Israel or anyone else. And we are called his brothers and sisters as well.20 Thus Christians alone are more than children of God in significant ways, ways which are not applied either before or after the age of grace.