The nation of Israel were the chosen people of God. The Jews were a special treasure to God, above all the peoples on the face of the earth. As a nation they had responsibility based on the profession of the name of their God Jehovah. As a nation they had a corporate responsibility for Jehovah’s testimony in the world. This principle is easily seen in the following passage:
Ezekiel 36:16–20 (NKJV)
“Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. 18 Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. 19 So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. 20 When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’
The nation of Israel was the corporate body which had responsibility for the testimony of God in the earth during the Jewish dispensation. Jehovah would either be glorified by their actions, or His name would be defiled. Israel was given two specific corporate responsibilities during the dispensation.
- at the beginning of the dispensation, the Jews were obligated to keep the law and covenant.
- at the end, the Jews were charged with receiving their Messiah/King when He was sent to them.
Israel’s failure in both responsibilities is well documented in Scripture and is easily seen. This first example is a parable of the Lord’s, spoken a few days before His crucifixion.
Matthew 21:33–44 (NKJV)
33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
By the symbolism of this parable we see the failure of Israel in its responsibility during the time and length of their dispensation. The landowner is God and the planted vineyard is the nation of Israel (Isa. 5:1–7, Ps. 80). When God looks for fruit, it is always a matter of responsibility – does He find obedience to His will? (Matt. 21:34) The servants sent were the Old Testament prophets. One of the specific reasons God would raise up prophets at certain times was to call Israel back to obedience to His law and covenant (Neh. 9:26–30, II Chron. 36:15, Jer. 7:21–28, 26:4–5, 35:14–17). But Israel failed to obey the voice of the Lord through them, mistreating and killing them. The nation had failed to obey God’s law; they did not keep His covenant. And the messengers God sent to them had no effect in calling them back out of their rebellion.
Israel’s second testing of responsibility comes after their failure in the first. Would they receive their Messiah/King when He was sent? We easily see this final testing in the words of the parable.
Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
The parable also tells us the results.
But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance,’ and they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matt. 21:38)
All four gospels document the rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jewish people. God’s Son was tried and turned over to the Romans to be crucified. Because their specific responsibility was to receive their King, according to their prophecies and promises, their failure to do so accrues to them the greater quilt (Acts 2:22–23). And rejecting their King means there was no possibility at that time for the promised Messianic kingdom.
the kingdom of God is taken from you… (Matt. 21:43)
Nothing but judgment remained for the Jews, and this would end their dispensation.
And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder. (Matt. 21:43)
What is important to proper dispensational thinking is to identify and clearly see the particular responsibility being looked at and judged by God in the dispensation. Israel had these two distinct responsibilities. Scripture makes this clear in other passages.154 The historical events of Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed two separate times can be paired with Israel’s failures in their two responsibilities. The Babylonian destruction corresponds to their failure in keeping the law and covenant. Their idols were their biggest issue. After this, Israel no longer had God’s throne or manifested presence. These realities meant the Jews couldn’t properly practice the law any longer. The Roman destruction in 70 AD corresponds to their failure to receive Messiah.
154 [ The two responsibilities Israel held during the Jewish dispensation are seen separately in the first two Psalms – Ps. 1 is testing by the law; Ps. 2 is Israel being tested by the presentation of Messiah]
Israel’s failure in the law is directly linked to their idolatry – the breaking of the first commandment. At Mt. Sinai, they made a golden calf, and this began the decline of the nation (Ex. 32:1–35, Deut. 9:8–21). The seeds of rebellion and apostasy had been sown early in the dispensation. Their evil and idolatry would grow and ripen from this point, until it exhausts the long-suffering of God. This occurred in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. God would cause the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians (Chaldeans).
Jer. 32:26–36 (NKJV)
26 “Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me? 28 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it. 29 And the Chaldeans who fight against this city shall come and set fire to this city and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger; 30 because the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth. For the children of Israel have provoked Me only to anger with the work of their hands,’ says the Lord. 31 ‘For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day; so I will remove it from before My face 32 because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their princes, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction. 34 But they set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. 35 And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’
36 “Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence’:
Jeremiah 7:12–28 (NKJV)
12 “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these works,” says the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.
16 “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. 17 Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. 19 Do they provoke Me to anger?” says the Lord. “Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?”
20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.”
21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. 22 For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. 25 Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. 26 Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.
27 “Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.
28 “So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth.
Both passages link the judgment of God through the hands of the Babylonians as the rightful consequence of Israel’s ripening evil and idolatry. After the seventy-year captivity, a remnant of Judah returns to rebuild the city walls and temple. We might be tempted to think this was so the Jews could restart the practice of the law. However, without the throne of God and His presence, the worship was just formality. We might think it meant revival in Israel. But this is hard to conceive, because as part of their judgment they were now under the dominion of the Gentiles. All they could look for was the promised Messiah/King who would throw off their chains. God’s purpose for returning a remnant and having the walls and temple rebuilt was for the last testing of Israel’s responsibility. God was preparing to send His Son into the world (Matt. 21:37).
The following passages were both spoken by Jesus Christ after being rejected by the Jews. If we consider them together, we have the setting aside of Israel by God as made spiritually and physically desolate, as well as the prediction of the desolation of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Matthew 23:37–24:2 (NKJV)
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
(24) “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Luke 21:20–24 (NKJV)
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
There should be no doubt these events occurred because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem in 70 AD and destroyed the city. Many of the Jews were slain by the sword. Those who didn’t perish where led away captive into the nations. This second desolation of the city is linked to Israel’s crucifying their promised Messiah. As the house of God, Israel would remain desolate for thousands of years. This failure in responsibility on their part directly brought on this judgment from God by which the dispensation officially ends.
Israel’s corporate responsibility can also be seen in Isaiah’s prophecies. In chapter five, the nation’s obedience under the law is depicted as a vineyard God planted which never produced good fruit (Isa. 5:1–7). The nation of Israel is the vineyard. Despite God doing everything possible so His vineyard could produce good fruit, it still only produced wild grapes. The Lord comments, “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?” Then He says, “…let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard.” And it is all judgment.
In Scripture, when God looks for fruit, He is always judging responsibility, looking for obedience to His will. He did many great things for Israel, delivering the nation out of slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the land. He gave them every advantage possible, even dwelling with them on the earth (Ex. 29:45–46). He chose them as His people and made them special to Himself above all other nations (Deut. 7:6–9). Yet for all that God did for them, their corporate responsibility under His law was miserable. The idolatry which plagued this nation from its beginning was the proof of this.
Israel’s failure to produce good fruit is met with judgment from God. The symbols in the language of the passage are not hard to understand. God says what He will do to His vineyard.
“I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.” (Isa. 5:5–6)
I believe this judgment primarily corresponds to the Assyrian conquering the northern kingdom of Israel, and later, Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonians) conquering the southern kingdom of Judah.155
155 [the judgement above only is in reference to Israel as the house of God. Of course, we realize that the Babylonians eventually conquered the entire prophetic world and uniquely became the first world empire of the Gentiles; Dan. 2:37–38]
Isaiah’s vision in chapter six shows the future glory destined for Israel in the Messianic kingdom on the earth. The vision depicts Jehovah/Messiah in Israel’s millennial temple in Jerusalem. John confirms that Isaiah’s vision is of Jesus Christ (John 12:41) – He is both Israel’s Jehovah and Messiah. Although this prophetic vision will not be fulfilled until the future millennium, receiving Jehovah/Messiah when He came to Israel was a test of Israel’s responsibility during the Jewish dispensation. John goes on to testify how Israel failed this final test.
although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37–38)
Then John goes on to say,
Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.” (John 12:39–40)
This is a quote from the sixth chapter of Isaiah. John is documenting how the nation would not believe in Jesus. John associates Isaiah’s testimony of Israel’s unbelief with the vision Isaiah had of Jehovah/Messiah (John 12:41). John links everything presented by Isaiah to the coming of Jesus Christ by saying Isaiah’s prophecy is now fulfilled. God judges Israel as spiritually unfit for the Messianic kingdom and glory.
Jesus Himself does the same thing in Matthew thirteen (Matt. 13:10–15) – “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled…” It is God’s moral judgment of Israel’s unbelief at the time He sent His Son into the world. The positioning of this in Matthew thirteen is critical – seven prophetic parables describing the soon coming Christian dispensation come after the declaration of this moral judgment of Israel. Chapters eleven and twelve of Matthew depict Israel’s rejection of Jesus, and in turn, God setting Israel aside in their unbelief. The point is this – Israel’s Messiah was sent to them, and in their responsibility, they should have received Him. Instead, they took God’s Son and crucified Him, putting Him to death. Paul uses the same words of Isaiah in speaking to the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:20–28). The Jews rejected Jesus Christ; Israel failed their final test.
This judgment of Israel’s two distinct responsibilities is also seen by a division of Isaiah’s prophecies found later in his book. Chapters 40:1–48:22 shows Israel’s failure under the law by their idolatry. All that the Assyrian and Babylonians inflicted on Israel was their just judgment from God. A second division is found in chapters 49:1–57:21. It distinctly predicts Israel’s rejection of Messiah. The judgment associated with this failure was the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Again, Israel’s failure under the law is predicted by Moses before he sends the nation off into the land under Joshua’s leadership (Deut. 31:28–29). This passage directly connects the written book of the law as a witness against them. Moses says that after his death, Israel would become utterly corrupt. But earlier in the chapter we have God’s direct testimony as a prophecy concerning Israel’s future failure once they crossed over into the land:
Deuteronomy 31:16–21 (NKJV)
16 And the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.
19 “Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. 20 When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. 21 Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them.”
The prophetic song, which served as a warning to Israel, is found in Deuteronomy thirty-two. It is based on God’s foreknowledge of the fall and utter corruption of His chosen people.
Corporate responsibility is different from individual responsibility. When Moses sent the twelve spies into the land of Canaan, they represented the nation of Israel (Num. 13:1–20). Two of the spies returned with a good report, while the other ten did not. The people believed the ten and refused to go into the land. This was an example of corporate responsibility, for even the two with the report of faith had to experience forty years in the wilderness along with the rest of the nation. An example of individual responsibility was how Moses and Aaron disobeyed Jehovah in the wilderness and were not allowed to enter the land (Deut. 3:18–28, 34:4–5, Num. 20:12). But the nation entered in under Joshua, after the forty years.
The only way corporate responsibility doesn’t exist is if there isn’t any corporate body existing in special relationship with God.
Dispensations describe a period of time in which a corporate body, chosen by God, is given by God a particular responsibility. In every dispensation you should be able to identify both. Israel’s responsibility in the Jewish dispensation is certainly implied in the passage below. They were God’s chosen people; they were held responsible for Jehovah’s glory and to bear testimony to Him as the One living God; therefore, God would punish them for their failure.
Amos 3:1–2 (NKJV)
“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying:
2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”