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Understanding Matthew 21:43

By Shlomo Phillips © 11.28.12

Our text:
Matthew 21:43 Therefore I say to you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing out its fruits.
This verse is often misinterpreted by Christians to teach replacement theology: the false belief that HaShem has abandoned His people and selected the Gentiles, making the Christian religion the 'kingdom of God'. This heresy needs to be understood and quickly rejected. Scripture is clear:
"For I am Adonai, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed -- Malachi 3:6
And Y'shua (Jesus) affirmed this:
John 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

When one approaches the books of the Christian New Testament without knowledge of what came before (i.e. the Tanach: the Hebrew Bible, especially Torah) and ignores the cultural, religious and nationalist paradigms in which they were written it is so easy to misunderstand. Y'shua the Pharisee clearly is not contradicting himself nor the Tanach with this teaching (may God forbid) so we must try and understand what he meant. We must always "rightly divide the Word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15) in order to discover the correct understandings. That means contrasting these writings with the truth of Torah as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11) when they received his teachings through Paul. Some texts are clear, others require deeper consideration.

For 'nation' the Greek uses the term ethnos here. This word stems from etho. Both words can mean different things including a tribe, a house, a people group or, as most translations have it, a nation. Its root etho is a primary verb meaning 'to be used' (as by habit or conventionality). So ethnos is not as clear as people assume. The most likely meaning contextually of Y'shua's comment here was a warning. There once was twelve tribes of Israel, now there was only one (for more on this see my study here): Judah. He was warning: If you, Judah, fail to obey HaShem perhaps He will raise up one of the other tribes again and use them for His purposes!

In this passage Y'shua is addressing the leaders of the people who have rejected his proposed Jewish reforms (see my studies on why his reforms were rejected here.

When read in its context Matthew 21:43 is not referring to the 70 Gentile nations or people groups but to the houses/tribes of Israel. Among humanity Israel is unique due to its special calling:

II Samuel 7:23 Who is like Your people, like Israel, one nation in the world, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people, and to make Him a name, also to accomplish for you the greatness and fearful things for Your land, [in driving out] from before Your people, whom You did redeem for Yourself out of Egypt, [the] nations and their gods? 7:24 And You did establish to Yourself Your people Israel to be a people unto You forever; and You, Lord, became their God.

The only Scripturally consistent meaning then is as stated above. HaShem culled His people by divorcing the 'Ten Lost Tribes' (known collectively as Ephraim: II Kings 17:18), however they will be restored in the Olam Haba (the World to Come) according to Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 3:6-18; Hosea 1-3; Amos 9:8-10; Obadiah 15-21; Micah 2:12-13; 5:3-15; Zechariah 8:13; 9, 10; Ezekiel 34-37 and other passages (for more on this see my study here). Now Judah is warned not to take their calling lightly lest HaShem use one of the other houses instead. He shared the same warning here:

Matthew 3:9 Do not think to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones
"Children to Abraham," i.e. not Gentiles. HaShem could easily produce other children of Abraham from among the abandoned 'stones' of Israel. The promise is and will ever remain with Klal Israel. Not because the Israelites are so sacred or obedient, but because it is HaShem's Sovereign Will to work through them.

The kingdom could not possibly be delivered to the Gentile nations without violating the Word of HaShem.


Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good