God reveals truth from the natural to the spiritual. While in the past Israel was a physical nation covenanted as God’s people, through the new covenant enacted by Messiah Y’shua he has created a new nation, a covenanted spiritual people of promise where there is no longer any Jew or Gentile distinction.
When Paul was writing to the assembly at Corinth regarding the nature of the resurrection, he makes a few interesting statements:
1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-46 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive … And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit. Howbeit that [was] not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
Now, of course, the context here is the resurrection body, and I believe it is not wise to pull a principle of argument out of its proper context to create a general maxim. That might be the case if this was an isolated application. However, I do find many similar comments by Paul and others, including Y’shua himself, in different contexts that allude to a recognition of a more general principle along the lines of natural events having the ability to be applied to spiritual realities.
Galatians 4:22-24 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he [who was] of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman [was] by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
Here, Paul uses the natural, historical account regarding Sarah and Hagar as an allegory, or a physical reality that points to a larger spiritual perspective. First is the natural story (Sarah vs. Hagar), then the spiritual application (the believers in Messiah vs. the Jews).
Peter also, in one of his epistles, draws a spiritual application of the nature and purpose of believers in Messiah from the physical example of the tabernacle/temple.
1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
First the natural order (temple and priesthood), then the spiritual application (believers in Messiah and spiritual offerings).
Y’shua himself was the master of the parable, a story about a physical, relatable event or process that points to the greater spiritual realities. Let’s take a look at a more detailed definition of what a parable is, and what it does:
“A parable is a tale about a simple, common subject to illustrate a deeper, valuable moral lesson. The source definition of the word “parable” means a placement side by side for the purpose of comparison. Sometimes the Gospel authors begin a parable with an analogy, as “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1). Or Jesus may provide an example from everyday life to convey spiritual truth, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan to emphasize love and mercy, or the Parable of the Friend at Midnight to show persistence in prayer. A parable utilizes the full story to produce the spiritual lesson, whereas a proverb, metaphor, simile, or figure of speech centers usually on a word, phrase or sentence.”
Again, at least to me, these examples appear to demonstrate that physical realities rightly understood in the overall context of torah (instruction) can teach us about deeper spiritual realities: i.e., first the natural, then the spiritual.
As seen above, there are many examples of this principle throughout scripture. I believe this is a method that God has used to spiritually teach generations of all nations about his mercy and his grace, using the physical nation of Israel as recorded in the Bible.
Isaiah 42:6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations;
Isaiah 49:6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the nations, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
Isaiah 60:3 And the nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. [Actually ALL of Isaiah 60]
Luke 2:32 A light to lighten the nations, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Acts 13:47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the nations, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth [quoting Isaiah 49:6].
Acts 26:23 That Christ should suffer, [and] that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the nations.
In these verses, I have taken the liberty of converting the word Gentiles into nations. The Hebrew word goyim and the Greek word ethnos are more properly understood as such. To my way of thinking, what these prophecies and passages are showing is that generations of all nations would be spiritually drawn to YHWH, the God of Israel. Israel would be the example, as the one who glorifies God and is a vessel of mercy, and in turn, Israel would become a spiritual light to the nations (goyim/ethnos) through their physical example as recorded in the Bible. This was God’s plan all along, but it wasn’t revealed as such until Messiah fulfilled these prophecies.
Colossians 1:26-28 [Even] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [nations]; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
It was this “mystery,” that Messiah assumed the representative role of Israel, the servant, and tore down the dividing wall between Israel and the nations, that allowed all of this to take place.
Ephesians 2:14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us];
While I believe this verse speaks specifically to the the division between the lost sheep of Israel and the chosen faithful of Judah, the effectiveness of the principle (the breaking down of the wall of partition) applies just as well to the nations of the world who seek to follow the light of Messiah. Just as God called his own who had been scattered throughout the world, others from among the nations also joined in the mercy extended to them.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.
Through this methodology of reuniting his natural people, Israel/Judah, I believe God has enabled the whole world to be able to come to him on level ground: through his grace and his grace alone.
Romans 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
And as all Israel was saved physically, so now salvation on a spiritual level is available to all who will come to Israel’s Messiah, using Israel as an eternal example of his faithfulness. Just as he saved the remnant of the nation of Israel in the physical sense, he is now ministering to, and through, a much greater assembly, the assembly of Messiah which is a spiritual temple built unto YHVH. This is why I believe that “first the natural, then the spiritual” is a valid principle in understanding the overall narrative of scripture. As quoted from Peter’s epistle earlier:
1 Peter 2:4-5 To whom coming, [as unto] a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, [and] precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.