(Joh 10:16 NASB) "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
This verse has always captured my imagination. As a young Christian reading C.S. Lewis's fiction, I thought of other creations on other worlds, like Malacandra or Narnia. How exciting to have fellowship with other persons with substantially different histories and cultures, discovering the elements of truth vouchsafed to them and peculiarly brought forth in their own stories! What a sumptuous feast for the soul!
Later I came to understand that our Lord was most likely and most proximally speaking of the gentile nations. For a fan of fantasy and science fiction, this was at first a letdown. However, on deeper consideration I find it just as exciting. The cultures of the various Earth peoples and nations are strikingly different. They partake of vastly different cultural and intellectual histories. They have seen the work of God through different lenses. The feast will not be diminished even if all the fare comes only from the gardens of Earth.
Hence my aggravation as I continue to hear the currently popular teaching that, to properly understand God's word and world, we must return primarily, even solely, to the thought patterns and philosophical viewpoint of the ancient Hebrews. There is no doubt of the importance of God's initial self-revelation to this particular people in this particular language, just as there is no doubt that we must begin our study of the Messiah with God's word to Eve about her seed. But to begin at a place is not necessarily to end there, or to remain there. It seems particularly clear to me that God reveals himself progressively, and that He is and always was Lord of all the earth and all its history of all its peoples. He intended from the beginning to bring all the nations into his flock, and has therefore troubled himself all along to direct their particular cultural histories no less sovereignly than he did Israel's.
Not being vintners or nurserymen, we too easily misunderstand what grafting involves. A grafted branch indeed draws its life from the stem and root. But it bears fruit unique to its own nature, its own originating variety. Indeed, this is the purpose of grafting in the first place: To produce fruit with certain desirable characteristics that are not found in the native variety. A neighbor of mine used to graft walnut trees. He would begin with a locally native seedling, whose roots are suited to this soil and climate but whose nuts are unremarkable, even bitter. He would then graft the top of another seedling whose roots were weak or disease prone, but whose fruit was large and sweet. These branches would draw their life from the strong roots of the native stock, and the tree would grow tall and strong. The fruit, however, bore the flavor brought by the grafted-on branches.
I think we miss much of the intended richness of God's Kingdom by dismissing ideas brought into it by its grafted branches and conjoined flocks. God surely knew, for example, that Alexander would bring the richness of Greek thought into contact with Israel centuries before the coming of Messiah, so that the earliest branches grafted in would bear its flavor. Was it unintended by God that Augustine would imbibe of Plato through Plotinus prior to being grafted in and so, directly and indirectly through his influence on such giants as Aquinas, imparting that flavor through two centuries of Christian thought? I doubt it. Instead, I think God continues to shed light upon our understanding as each grafted branch brings its peculiar insights into the Kingdom. What else are the kings bringing into the Holy City?
Rev 21:23-24 NASB
(23) And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
(24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.