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THE ATONEMENT OF ISRAEL


 According to his plan, after the creation and birth of Israel (the Son of God), God had to first redeem the whole nation, in order to prepare them as a sacrifice. This was done when they were leaving Egypt.

”The Lord spoke to Moses and said: Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.’ (…), the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of human being and beast alike. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord every male that opens the womb, and why I ransom every firstborn of my sons (by a lamb).” (Exodus 13:1,2,13,15)

Firstborns are the foundation of every nation. God could have simply said that he would protect all the firstborn of Israel simply because they were Abraham’s descendants by Isaac and Jacob. However, God related the value of their lives to the value of the lives of all the children of Israel and all the people. So they had to die for themselves and be dedicated to God, but by the replacement blood of the lamb.

Isaac was replaced by a ‘ram’ (adult male sheep) and his children were replaced by a ‘lamb’. The firstborn lamb was sacred and intended for sacrifice (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 18:17). The Passover lamb was considered by God to be “his sacrifice” (Exodus 23:18; 34:25). This is because, in the place of that lamb, there should have been the firstborns who belonged to him when he took them to himself before they were born. Namely, they were destined for sacrifice together with Isaac. Therefore, every firstborn was born and consecrated as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ that had a ransom value.

God sought the sacrificial sacrifice and the blood (life) of the lamb that would replace the firstborn. Thus the entire nation that has since belonged to God as His people was to be redeemed by the firstborns.

“Remember the congregation that you have acquired from the old, which you have redeemed for the people of your heritage…!” (Psalm 74:2)

 This means that the death (life in blood) of the lamb that replaced the firstborns could redeem the whole nation. Since the lamb has replaced the firstborns, then they should have been in the place of that lamb, so we can consider them the ‘lamb of God’ sacrificed for the redemption of Israel. Thus, all Israel is identified with the firstborns.

Firstborns ⇔ 〈Israel = world

Namely, the death of the lamb resulted in the symbolic death of the firstborns. By this act of atonement, the firstborns belonged to God who prepared this substitute for their lives. Thus, as a nation, Israel was born in one day by the firstborns and officially became the “Firstborn Son of God” (the Lamb of God), by which all nations would be redeemed and blessed. In order to retain the status of God’s ‘firstborn’ Son (Numbers 3:13), each firstborn was to be consecrated to God from then on. Among those firstborns was Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’ who was consecrated to God immediately after birth (Luke 2:23).

We noted in the verse mentioned above ( Exodus 13:15) that God said that every firstborn should have been sacrificed to God. However, in order not to be physically sacrificed, every firstborn should have been redeemed by a substitute sacrifice, like in the case of Isaac. This is because the unborn firstborns, who represented Israel before God,  were sacrificed in advance by the blood of the lamb. At their birth they already belonged to God, who had the right to ask of them to serve him in the temple as a ‘living sacrifice’ in order to redeem their sons from the sin with the substitute blood, and not their own.

Because of this, all the children of Israel were to serve in the temple, but they were redeemed with their firstborn. The firstborns were supposed to serve as priests and the other sons as servants of the temple, but were replaced by the Levites. All the children of Israel were to pay a tax as ransom for themselves.

“When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be enrolled, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the Lord a ransom for his life (…) When you receive this ransom money from the Israelites, you shall donate it to the service of the tent of meeting, that there it may be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord of  the ransom paid for their lives.” (Exodus 30:12,16)

We note here that the ransom price of the children of Israel went in favor of the service in the tabernacle, so that price represented themselves as a ‘sacrifice’ to God. And Jesus paid that tax (Matthew 17:24-27). Next we see that all Israelites had to be aware that this ‘sacrifice’ of their sons was used to ‘redeem the lives’ of the entire nation. This means that all of them, as a nation, should have been in the place of that ‘sacrifice’. That is exactly what they were, by means of the Levites who took their ‘sacrifice’ upon themselves. Although the sons of Israel were redeemed from service in the temple, all of them, as ‘living sacrifices’, were to be subject to covenants and laws. Eventually, their physical death was precious because they were dying for God. Therefore, they had to be part of Abraham’s offspring and of the nation God had redeemed from the world for this holy purpose. In order to be ‘holy’ they had to maintain their status as the ‘sacrifice’ by means of the substitutionary sacrifices that covered for their sins.

God decreed that the Levites (the saints) would instead bear that ‘sacrifice’ by sanctifying themselves for God and for the people. However, that did not mean that the Israelites were freed from their status of the ‘sacrifice’. The Levites (saints) merely represented the people, and through them, the whole nation was sacrificed to God. In turn, God could use that sacrifice of “spiritual Israel” (because not all Israel was really Israel) to redeem one man whom he had made his Firstborn Son.

Levites ⇔ Firstborn = [(Israel = world)]

To be holy means to be separated from the world and to belong to God. That is why the Israelites were redeemed at a certain price as a people represented by the ‘saints’. These ‘saints’ were redeemed from a sanctified people and made their vow to God.

“Gather my loyal ones (saints) to me,
 those who made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psalm 50:5)

 This refers to the elect who, with the king and high priest, formed that ‘royal priesthood’ which, according to the first covenant, still did not receive the seal of perfection. Namely, they were under condemnation from which they could be freed only by one among them who would be sacrificed. Only then, after being “redeemed” by the blood of Jesus and receiving “life in themselves” by the holy spirit, could they form “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” with Jesus (1 Peter 2: 9). This ‘priesthood’ is an integral part of the ‘holy people’ by which all nations would be blessed in the coming ‘kingdom of Jesus Christ’.

It means that the Israelites, as Abraham’s offspring, who were recorded in the Book of life, should have been ‘the firstfruits’, or the first ones, who in Christ, by the holy spirit

  • became redeemed from death
  • got life in themselves
  • were made perfect

We can say freely that the blessing of life comes to other nations through born-again Israelites, but in the way of being represented by one man who served as a real human sacrifice for them. By this sacrifice, they were all redeemed as ‘firstfruits’ and as such could be of greater value than people from other nations.

It is implied that not only those who descended from Abraham in the flesh were eligible for the work of God, but only those who complied with the requirements of the covenant. Obviously, God created all the circumstances to be able to have the representatives of the world within them, who by being obedient to God’s righteous standards died for themselves and lived as a “living sacrifice, pleasing to God”.

By their representatives, the Israelites therefore lived and died as the ‘sacrifice’ in Isaac that carried a ransom value. Their death was not used to redeem the entire world, but only one man. They were dying in Isaac by the substitution sacrifice as the firstborn Son of God. Jesus, who was appointed to be the Son of God, was also redeemed by the death of this Son (Israel) by the firstborns

Israel, Son of God Jesus, Son of God

God used Isaac’s symbolic death, by the temporary blood, to kill and make Abraham’s offspring his own children. Isaac came into the world by promise. The literal sacrificial death of the man who also came by promise made it possible for God to permanently redeem Abraham’s offspring so they would become his children. Their sin was permanently covered by that sacrifice. Hence, the eternal life. as a gift from God was made possible first to them, and then to all who were born of God by the holy spirit. To be born of God, one had to be redeemed from the death penalty. Jesus was redeemed by the death of ‘all’ who were made a ‘living sacrifice’. In turn, all of them were redeemed by Jesus’ sacrificial death, as he died instead of them.

Just as Isaac’s symbolic death served to kill God through temporary blood and redeem Abraham’s offspring for his children, because Isaac came into the world by promise, so the literal sacrificial death of the man who came by promise made it possible for God to have Abraham’s offspring atonement for his children, whose sin was permanently covered by that sacrifice, so that eternal life as a gift from God was made possible first to them, and after them to all who are born of God by the holy spirit. To be born of God, one had to be redeemed from the death penalty. Jesus was redeemed after the death of ‘all’ who were made a ‘sacrifice alive’, all of them after his sacrificial death with which he died instead of all.

All that was said concerning Israel, the Son of God, indicated the need for the literal sacrifice of one chosen firstborn, redeemed from the world and appointed as the “Lamb (Son of God) who takes away the sins of the world.” In this capacity, he was to permanently redeem all people by his death, first the consecrated firstborns, and then, by means of them, all the seed of Abraham, through which all nations would be blessed. In this way, God would, through Christ (the Anointed One, the Son of God), free all the family communities of his consecrated people Israel and all those people from other nations who would join them from the slavery of death. This is exactly what happened because it was written:

”He delivered (redeemed) us from the power of darkness (death) and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13)

“You have approached… the assembly of the firstborns… and God… and Jesus… and the blood of sprinkling…” (Heb. 12:22,23)

It is possible to assume that God intended to select 144,000 from Israel, and thereby from the world. By obeying God’s righteous standards, they would, like Jesus, meet God’s requirements. He would thus accept their death as the sacrifice needed for atonement.

”I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites.” (Rev. 7:4)

”They (144,000) have been ransomed as the firstfruits of the human race for God and the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:4)

Because they were redeemed from Israel as ‘firstborns’, and thus from the world, they are appropriately said to represent Israel and the whole world, and that by the wisdom of God, their death provided God with a sufficient price to redeem Jesus.

144000 ⇔ Firstborn = [(Israel = world)]

Within this number are mainly those who were predetermined and dedicated to the work of God throughout human history and the history of the people of God. Most of them experienced martyrdom.

“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they gave. (…) And every one of them was given white robes, and they were told to stand still for a little while, until the number of their comrades and their brethren, who should be slain as they were, was over.”(Rev. 6:9-11)

“Therefore the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them. Some will be killed and driven away, so that the blood of all the prophets shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation.”(Luke 11:49,50)

We see that they are ‘to be killed’, which alludes to the sacrificial death which has its value. Jesus himself also had to be killed for the atonement price he had in himself. That is why they all enter the ‘number’ of those who are ‘killed because of the word of God’ like Jesus. Hence, they will have the honour of governing and ruling the world with Jesus. When Jesus says that only ‘some’ will be killed, then those who were not killed also died as the ‘sacrifice’ because they, like Jesus, were ready for such a death.

Namely, Israel had two groups of people within itself. Some struggled to meet the requirements of the covenant with God while others deviated from it. It is a matter of physical and spiritual Israel.

“Jehovah called me while I was in my mother’s womb. … And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel (whom I have chosen), and I will show my beauty to you.” (…) And now Jehovah, the one who shaped me in the womb to be his servant, tells me to bring him back to Jacob, for Israel to gather to him.” (Isaiah 49:1-3; 43:10)

Spiritual Israel was that servant of God, identified with Zion, who often endured the tribulations from fleshly Israel. However, Jehovah gave them the strength and help to fulfil their role, especially to return the Israelites to their God, because they, together with sinners, endured the righteous wrath of God and all the evil that Israel did because of their sins (Isaiah 41:8-10; 43:10).

“Remember this, Jacob, and you, Israel, for you are my servant! I created you. You are my servant. Israel, I will not forget you! I will erase your transgressions, and it will be as if the cloud hid them, and sins, as if the clouds hid them. Come back to me, for I will redeem you!” (Isaiah 44:21,22)

“Fear not, O worm of Jacob, O people of Israel! I will help you, “says Jehovah, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:14)

 By the term, ‘worm’ God emphasized their status as a servant who humbly serves God regardless of the contempt of others, and that contempt often came from the fleshly Israelites (the world).

“And I am a worm, not a man, a derision to men and contempt for the people (Israel).” (Psalm 22:6)

It was those who were despised in the people and who represented the people of God that were that truly the spiritual Israel, the Son of God. The spirit of God encouraged them to care spiritually for the people. Although we only know of some prophets in the Bible, there were many more of them. There are “the sons of the prophets” whose names are not mentioned and those who supported the prophets. From generation to generation, they stood for God’s justice and witness for Jehovah. However, they experienced from their people (the world) what Jesus, the Servant, and the Son of God, later experienced. Hypocritical teachers and priests who rose above the people took over their positions. Jesus exposed them to be the ones who killed the prophets while also touring the land and sea to convert other nations to their faith (Matthew 23:15, 29-32). These hypocrites were posing before the people to be that Servant. However, to the true servant of God, they did terrible things. That is what happened to real servants of God:

“… They were tormented for not accepting to be freed from any ransom, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others were tempted by mockery and flogging and even shackles and dungeons. They were stoned, tempted, sawed, slaughtered with the sword, walked in sheep and goat skins, were in need, in distress, abused. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 13:35-38)

Although the prophet Isaiah wrote a great deal about them, we will highlight only some of the links that were later fulfilled on Jesus because he could not avoid what happened to the servant of God (spiritual Israel). Although there were many who represented this Servant, they all suffered for the sins of the people, bearing their guilt. What they have experienced through the centuries individually is described as having been experienced by one Servant. The prophet Isaiah, as a servant of God, also eventually endured the martyrdom by the hands of his people. However, before he died, he placed himself in the position of the people and wrote the following about that Servant:

  • Despised and shunned by humans
  •  pain and illness he met
  • we turned our heads not to look at his face
  • he carried our sickness,
  • he took our pain upon himself
  • for our transgression he was pierced
  • for our sins he was crushed
  • The punishment was on him for the sake of our peace,
  • because of his wounds our healing came
  • Jehovah made the sin of us all come upon him
  • He was being oppressed, and he let the pain hurt him and he did not open his mouth
  • They took him like a lamb for slaughter and he did not open his mouth
  • He was deprived of just judgement, and therefore removed
  • For he was cut off from the land of the living.
  • Because of the transgression of my people, blow was given to him
  • they assigned him a grave among the wicked and the rich
  • he did no evil, neither was there deceit in his mouth
  • was counted among the offenders advocated for offenders
  • he poured out his soul into death
  • he bore the sin of many

Following this description, the prophet points out to the outcome that God will attain through his Servant:

“And it was Jehovah’s pleasure to crush him; he made him sick. If you give, O God, his soul as a sacrifice for guilt, he will see his offspring; Because of the suffering of his soul, he will see the fruits of his toil and be pleased with them. By knowledge my righteous servant will give righteousness to many, and he will take their transgressions upon himself. Therefore, I will give him his portion as with many, and he will share his spoils with the mighty.” (Isaiah 53)

This Servant has the right to rule with Christ and share the spoils with the mighty. What many of them experienced, as true spiritual Israel, was fulfilled by only one man whose death and resurrection to life enabled the glory of eternal life to all who endured suffering and death for the sake of God. Namely, all that the members of spiritual Israel, the Servant of God, had experienced over the centuries, had to be fulfilled again at the moment when brought into existence the man whom He had foretold and appointed as His distinguished Servant and firstborn Son. Matthew used the description of the Servant on Jesus in one situation and wrote:

“And he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all the sick, that it might be fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, saying, He hath taken our infirmities, and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16,17)

The apostle Peter wrote similarly:

“He carried our sins in his body to the pillar, so that we might forsake our sins and live for righteousness. “By his wounds you were healed.” For you were like sheep of wanderers, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.“ (1 Peter 2:24,25)

By the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, all faithful members of God’s people (“the small flock”) died with the Messianic ‘lamb’ in 33 A. D, so that by their symbolic resurrection in Christ the new people Israel, the Son of God, who was represented by the ‘assembly of the firstborn’, was born again.

In order for one of the Israelites to approach God’s restored nation, he had to be baptized and born again, and all members of other nations (other sheep) could be admitted to the “pen” by birth in the holy spirit (John 10:16). As they enter the pen, God classifies them as tribes, as they attach them to one of Israel’s 12 olive branches as ‘twigs’. In this way, people from other nations, together with the Israelites, will approach the throne of God on which Jesus will sit. It will especially happen on holidays in honour of Jehovah and Christ, as they enter Jerusalem to meet Jesus, passing through one of the 12 gates carrying the names of the tribes of Israel led by the 12 apostles (see Romans 11: 17; Revelation 21: 10-14).

When Jesus chose his apostles and empowered them by the holy spirit as his representatives, they were thus made the firstborns, as were the seventy other prophets he sent into the world with the good news. They also represented this Servant, so Jesus announced that they would experience similar troubles and death. They represented all the families of the chosen ‘little flock’ of Israelites who were to form the new nation and also all the prophets from the foundation of the world. Jesus (the Lamb of God) was sanctified and sacrificed instead of all of them so that the new assembly of Israel (Son) of God was founded on the apostles and prophets, and the very cornerstone was Christ Jesus.

Hence, the Kingdom of God be founded on the apostles and all the firstborns instead of whom Christ died. Just as the Levites represented all the firstborns of the tribes of Israel, and thus the entire nation, so will the 144,000 firstborns, separated from the 12 tribes of Israel, represent all of Israel of God, who will be joined by all the nations of the world. Jesus’ literal human sacrifice enabled the new nation a permanent right to inherit the Kingdom of God.