The “Salt of the Earth” Is Probably Not Who You Think It Is

In Matthew 5, Jesus gives his Sermon on the Mount. He starts out with the well-known beatitudes:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:1-12)

But then he moves on to two strange metaphors about “salt” and “light”:

 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-15)

The question I have is this: WHO is the salt of the earth? It’s Christians, right? Most Christians claim that Jesus is referring to the church. There is lots of Christian SWAG that is sold with this “salt of the earth” idea:

And it’s not in merchandise alone, either. In this article by Andrew Wilson at the Gospel Coalition, he describes how Jesus is using the ordinary qualities of salt – it’s quality as a preservative, as one that brings out flavor, and other facts – to make a point about the Church. He summarizes this point in the following paragraph:

There’s a sense in which disciples have the same purpose. God scatters salty Christians into the world as a way of judging evil, destroying wickedness, and preventing lust or greed or murder or injustice from taking root. The very existence of the church, preaching and living out the gospel, proclaims judgment against the enemies of God and serves as what Paul calls “a clear sign to them of their destruction” (Phil. 1:28); this may be why Jesus says we are the salt of the earth immediately after describing the persecution we will face if we follow him. Frequently, of course, the church has failed to live this way and has been an accelerator of worldly evil, not a brake. But Jesus knew that would happen.

What Does It Really Mean to Be the Salt of the Earth?

And he’s not alone. The oldest place I can find that refers to “salt of the earth” being Christians is Matthew Henry’s commentary of the Bible, circa 1704,

I. Ye are the salt of the earth. This would encourage and support them under their sufferings, that, though they should be treated with contempt, yet they should really be blessings to the world, and the more so for their suffering thus. The prophets, who went before them, were the salt of the land of Canaan; but the apostles were the salt of the whole earth, for they must go into all the world to preach the gospel. It was a discouragement to them that they were so few and so weak. What could they do in so large a province as the whole earth? Nothing, if they were to work by force of arms and dint of sword; but, being to work silent as salt, one handful of that salt would diffuse its savour far and wide; would go a great way, and work insensibly and irresistibly as leaven, ch. 13:33. The doctrine of the gospel is as salt; it is penetrating, quick, and powerful (Heb. 4:12); it reaches the heart Acts 2:37. It is cleansing, it is relishing, and preserves from putrefaction. We read of the savour of the knowledge of Christ (2 Co. 2:14); for all other learning is insipid without that. An everlasting covenant is called a covenant of salt (Num. 18:19); and the gospel is an everlasting gospel. Salt was required in all the sacrifices (Lev. 2:13), in Ezekiel’s mystical temple, Eze. 43:24. Now Christ’s disciples having themselves learned the doctrine of the gospel, and being employed to teach it to others, were as salt. Note, Christians, and especially ministers, are the salt of the earth.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Matthew 5 –

But I have a problem with this interpretation. It doesn’t make much sense. Christians are NOT the salt of the earth, at least not according to this metaphor. Additionally, treating Christians as the salt of the earth ignores the extremely important PROPHETIC aspect of what Jesus is saying with this metaphor using salt. So let me explain.

The Problems with Christians Being the Salt of the Earth

While it is possible that Christians are NOW the salt of the earth, that is not very clear from the text. After Jesus gives this metaphor in Matthew (and repeated in the other gospels), there are only two other passages that mention “salt” in the entire New Testament:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:6)

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:10-12)

In one of them, salt is associated with something good, and in the other, salt is associated with something bad. As such, this issue of the Church being “salt” is not as clear as we would like.

Additionally, we see that “if salt has lost its taste,” then it is worthless. What exactly does this refer to for the Christian? Is this a reference to the “unforgivable sin” (which is actually just a hatred of the gospel and a rejection of the new life of the Holy Spirit) that Jesus mentions later in Matthew?

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
(Matthew 12:31-32)

Is it a reference to what Hebrews discusses about subjecting Jesus Christ to crucifixion again?

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
(Hebrews 6:1-8)

Well, these are difficult questions, but I think the answer is much simpler:

The “salt” Jesus is talking about in his metaphor is not the Christian Church. Instead, the “salt” is the nation of Israel.

That “salt” metaphor can be translated to the Christian Church to the extent that Israel’s position before God can be translated to the Christian Church. But at the same time, that “salt” metaphor CANNOT be translated to the Christian Church to the same extent that Israel’s position before God CANNOT be translated to the Christian Church. The details of that translation is the theological question of “supersessionism.” Every orthodox Christian is at least a LITTLE supersessionist, but exactly HOW supersessionist is a big issue of dispute. I won’t get into that here.

What we need to do now is explain why this statement of Jesus applies to Israel, and not directly to the Christian Church.

Proving the Identity of the “Salt of the Earth.”

The first thing we should notice is the context of Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the mount. Look at the very next thing that Jesus says in the passage in Matthew 5:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-15)

Most people think that these are three metaphors put back to back to back. We have a metaphor about light, a metaphor about a city and a metaphor about a lamp in a house. What I’d like to tell you is that this is one metaphor and an ACTUAL FACT that the crowds would have understood. The city on the hill IS JERUSALEM, which is quite literally a city on a hill. This was plainly evident to everyone who saw Jerusalem. For example, this is how Tacitus, a Roman historian, described the city in the context of the Jewish revolt in the 60s AD:

The Romans now turned to preparations for an assault; for the soldiers thought it beneath their dignity to wait for the enemy to be starved out, and so they began to clamour for danger, part being prompted by bravery, but many were moved by their savage natures and their desire for booty. Titus himself had before his eyes a vision of Rome, its wealth and its pleasures, and he felt that if Jerusalem did not fall at once, his enjoyment of them was delayed. But the city stands on an eminence, and the Jews had defended it with works and fortifications sufficient to protect even level ground; for the two hills that rise to a great height had been included within walls that had been skillfully built, projecting out or bending in so as to put the flanks of an assailing body under fire. The rocks terminated in sheer cliffs, and towers rose to a height of sixty feet where the hill assisted the fortifications, and in the valleys they reached one hundred and twenty; they presented a wonderful sight, and appeared of equal height when viewed from a distance. An inner line of walls had been built around the palace, and on a conspicuous height stands Antony’s Tower, so named by Herod in honour of Mark Antony.

The temple was built like a citadel, with walls of its own, which were constructed with more care and effort than any of the rest; the very colonnades about the temple made a splendid defence. Within the enclosure is an ever-flowing spring; in the hills are subterraneous excavations, with pools and cisterns for holding rain-water. The founders of the city had foreseen that there would be many wars because the ways of their people differed so from those of the neighbours: therefore they had built at every point as if they expected a long siege; and after the city had been stormed by Pompey, their fears and experience taught them much. Moreover, profiting by the greed displayed during the reign of Claudius, they had bought the privilege of fortifying the city, and in time of peace had built walls as if for war. The population at this time had been increased by streams of rabble that flowed in from the other captured cities, for the most desperate rebels had taken refuge here, and consequently sedition was the more rife. There were three generals, three armies: the outermost and largest circuit of the walls was held by Simon, the middle of the city by John, and the temple was guarded by Eleazar. John and Simon were strong in numbers and equipment, Eleazar had the advantage of position: between these three there was constant fighting, treachery, and arson, and a great store of grain was consumed. Then John got possession of the temple by sending a party, under pretence of offering sacrifice, to slay Eleazar and his troops. So the citizens were divided into two factions until, at the approach of the Romans, foreign war produced concord.

Tacitus, Histories, Book 13, Chapters 11-12

In other words, the context shows that Jesus is talking about JERUSALEM. And as such, the previous metaphor about “salt” was about THE NATION OF ISRAEL.

Additionally, we see in Matthew 5 that Jesus is preaching to the crowds. But WHICH crowds is Jesus preaching to? Well, we have a very clear answer from Jesus himself in a different place in the gospel of Matthew about Jesus’s target audience:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
(Matthew 10:5-15)

In other words, for some reason, Jesus wanted his ministry and the ministry of his disciples to be limited to “the house of Israel.” Jesus even makes this point himself when he is approached by a non-Isrealite:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28)

This is an extremely odd interaction. Jesus has healed non-Jews before. For example, he healed the servant of a centurion. A centurion is a Roman, not a Jew. We don’t know if the servant was Roman, but he probably was. And yet, Jesus is okay with the miracle:

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
(Matthew 8:5-13)

For some reason, Jesus is okay with this miracle in Capernaum, but he is not okay with a similar miracle in Tyre and Sidon. For some reason, he unhesitatingly offers to heal the centurion’s servant but for some reason, he needs to be coaxed into healing the child of the Canaanite woman. What is going on here?

The answer is pretty clear when you see what is going on. Jesus is fine doing miracles IN JUDEA, and he is fine doing miracles TO THE JEWISH ISRAELITES. He is not okay BOTH going outside of the Jewish territory AND doing miracles for non-Jews. The only thing that changes Jesus’s mind is when the faith of the Canaanite woman in the God of Israel is clearly demonstrated.

There is also the issue of HISTORY, which is that Jesus’s claim about “salt” being trampled on is not just a metaphor. It actually happened, and Jesus knew it was going to happen:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
(Matthew 24:1-2)

Jesus gives more detail on this prediction in the gospel of Luke:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.
(Luke 19:41-44)

And he even gives the timing of when this will happen:

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

. . .

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
(Luke 21:5-9, 20-32)

And sure enough, all of this happened. Josephus describes how it happened in Jewish Wars. It happened in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple also seems to have happened almost by accident. As Josephus describes it, the Romans did not want to destroy the temple, only the gate to the temple, which the Jews were using as a castle of sorts, but once they broke through the gates, the temple was set on fire without orders, and the orders of Titus couldn’t stop the chaos. Here is what he describes:

So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house. But as for that house, God had, for certain, long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages; it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Ab,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the holy house fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning the inner [court of the] temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamor, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered any thing to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it.

And now a certain person came running to Titus, and told him of this fire, as he was resting himself in his tent after the last battle; whereupon he rose up in great haste, and, as he was, ran to the holy house, in order to have a stop put to the fire; after him followed all his commanders, and after them followed the several legions, in great astonishment; so there was a great clamor and tumult raised, as was natural upon the disorderly motion of so great an army. Then did Caesar, both by calling to the soldiers that were fighting, with a loud voice, and by giving a signal to them with his right hand, order them to quench the fire. But they did not hear what he said, though he spake so loud, having their ears already dimmed by a greater noise another way; nor did they attend to the signal he made with his hand neither, as still some of them were distracted with fighting, and others with passion. But as for the legions that came running thither, neither any persuasions nor any threatenings could restrain their violence, but each one’s own passion was his commander at this time; and as they were crowding into the temple together, many of them were trampled on by one another, while a great number fell among the ruins of the cloisters, which were still hot and smoking, and were destroyed in the same miserable way with those whom they had conquered; and when they were come near the holy house, they made as if they did not so much as hear Caesar’s orders to the contrary; but they encouraged those that were before them to set it on fire. As for the seditious, they were in too great distress already to afford their assistance [towards quenching the fire]; they were every where slain, and every where beaten; and as for a great part of the people, they were weak and without arms, and had their throats cut wherever they were caught. Now round about the altar lay dead bodies heaped one upon another, as at the steps going up to it ran a great quantity of their blood, whither also the dead bodies that were slain above [on the altar] fell down.

And now, since Caesar was no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire proceeded on more and more, he went into the holy place of the temple, with his commanders, and saw it, with what was in it, which he found to be far superior to what the relations of foreigners contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed about it. But as the flame had not as yet reached to its inward parts, but was still consuming the rooms that were about the holy house, and Titus supposing what the fact was, that the house itself might yet be saved, he came in haste and endeavored to persuade the soldiers to quench the fire, and gave order to Liberalius the centurion, and one of those spearmen that were about him, to beat the soldiers that were refractory with their staves, and to restrain them; yet were their passions too hard for the regards they had for Caesar, and the dread they had of him who forbade them, as was their hatred of the Jews, and a certain vehement inclination to fight them, too hard for them also. Moreover, the hope of plunder induced many to go on, as having this opinion, that all the places within were full of money, and as seeing that all round about it was made of gold. And besides, one of those that went into the place prevented Caesar, when he ran so hastily out to restrain the soldiers, and threw the fire upon the hinges of the gate, in the dark; whereby the flame burst out from within the holy house itself immediately, when the commanders retired, and Caesar with them, and when nobody any longer forbade those that were without to set fire to it. And thus was the holy house burnt down, without Caesar’s approbation.

Now although any one would justly lament the destruction of such a work as this was, since it was the most admirable of all the works that we have seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the vast wealth bestowed upon it, as well as for the glorious reputation it had for its holiness; yet might such a one comfort himself with this thought, that it was fate that decreed it so to be, which is inevitable, both as to living creatures, and as to works and places also. However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were now observed, as I said before, wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians. Now the number of years that passed from its first foundation, which was laid by king Solomon, till this its destruction, which happened in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, are collected to be one thousand one hundred and thirty, besides seven months and fifteen days; and from the second building of it, which was done by Haggai, in the second year of Cyrus the king, till its destruction under Vespasian, there were six hundred and thirty-nine years and forty-five days.

Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 6, Chapter 4.

And note how spooky that fact is at the end. The temple was destroyed by the Romans ON ACCIDENT on the same day that the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians centuries before. After the destruction of the temple was accomplished, there were still Jews shut up in some of the fortifications around the temple complex. However, rather than surrender, they tried to bargain, which made Titus angry:

At this Titus had great indignation, that when they were in the case of men already taken captives, they should pretend to make their own terms with him, as if they had been conquerors. So he ordered this proclamation to be made to them, That they should no more come out to him as deserters, nor hope for any further security; for that he would henceforth spare nobody, but fight them with his whole army; and that they must save themselves as well as they could; for that he would from henceforth treat them according to the laws of war. So he gave orders to the soldiers both to burn and to plunder the city; who did nothing indeed that day; but on the next day they set fire to the repository of the archives, to Acra, to the council-house, and to the place called Ophlas; at which time the fire proceeded as far as the palace of queen Helena, which was in the middle of Acra; the lanes also were burnt down, as were also those houses that were full of the dead bodies of such as were destroyed by famine.

Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 6, Chapter 6

Therefore, not only was the temple destroyed by fire, the entire complex was destroyed. Legend says that when the city and temple were set on fire, and after Titus gave the order to plunder the city, the fires of the Romans met the unbelievable amounts of gold that were stored in the Temple, and the gold melted, falling inside the cracks of the stone works. It was for this reason that the Romans made sure not only to destroy the city, as they were ordered to do, but also remove every stone so that the gold underneath could be collected. Or as Jesus said:

. . . they will not leave one stone upon another in you . . .

In fact, Josephus even notes how the Romans reacted to this great victory in light of the formidable obstacles they faced in conquering the city:

Now when Titus was come into this [upper] city, he admired not only some other places of strength in it, but particularly those strong towers which the tyrants in their mad conduct had relinquished; for when he saw their solid altitude, and the largeness of their several stones, and the exactness of their joints, as also how great was their breadth, and how extensive their length, he expressed himself after the manner following: “We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men or any machines do towards overthrowing these towers?” At which time he had many such discourses to his friends; he also let such go free as had been bound by the tyrants, and were left in the prisons. To conclude, when he entirely demolished the rest of the city, and overthrew its walls, he left these towers as a monument of his good fortune, which had proved his auxiliaries, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him.

Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 6, Chapter 9

This statement is all the more unique because Josephus was not a Christian, and neither was Titus. But sure enough, this destruction of the Temple had been predicted by Jesus. But not only had it been predicted by Jesus, the manner in which it had been destroyed was predicted by Jesus. And not only that, the timing of when it would be destroyed was also predicted by Jesus.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. That is within the same generation of Jesus, who died in 33 AD. All of that was described by Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

But did you notice what word he slipped into that description of the destruction of the Temple in Luke 21?

. . . and Jerusalem will be TRAMPLED underfoot by the Gentiles . . .

Isn’t that a strange coincidence? Of course it’s not a coincidence, because NOTHING in your Bible is a coincidence. Instead, you should notice that FOR WHATEVER REASON, “salt” was associated with the priesthood that served before the tabernacle. Look what the Lord says in Numbers 18 to Aaron and his class of priests:

Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. But their flesh shall be yours, as the breast that is waved and as the right thigh are yours. All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.
(Numbers 18:8-19)

A covenant OF SALT? Yes. There was a covenant OF SALT that God made with AARON, who was the high priest. And it is this covenant with the high priests in Jerusalem and the Temple of Jerusalem that was LITERALLY TRAMPLED by the Gentiles in 70 AD.

What is even more spooky is what you realize about HOW the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans actually occurred. It happened at the time of the Passover. The entire nation of the Jews, both from within Judea and outside of Judea, assembled for the festival and sacrifices of their birth and delivery from Egypt by the Lord God. But after the Lord God visited Israel, and they rejected him, by crucifying him and declaring that they had “no king but Caesar,” this same festival and sacrifices was the means of their destruction. This is what Jesus meant when he said the following in Luke 21:

For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
(Luke 19:43-44)

This has significant power as a factual and historical matter: If the Jews accepted the sacrifice and coming of Jesus as the final and better sacrifice of Israel before God, then THEY WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN IN JERUSALEM when the destruction came. And when that destruction came, Jerusalem was trampled by the Gentiles.

That’s not just “prophetic,” that’s downright SPOOKY! And THAT is what the book of Hebrews is describing in the passage above:

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
(Hebrews 6:1-8)

All that stuff about the “elementary doctrine of Christ” is things that Israel had THROUGH ITS OWN SCRIPTURES. Or as Jesus’s first disciples said at the very beginning:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
(John 1:45)

The resurrection of the dead, repentance from dead works, faith in God, washings, and the laying on of hands, and eternal judgment is all a part of the OLD COVENANT OF MOSES. The author of Hebrews is saying that going back to the law is no good, because the law had a purpose. This is the same purpose which Paul speaks of in Galatians:

“So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
(Galatians 3:24-25, ASV)

That word “tutor” is the Greek word παιδαγωγός, and it means “a boy’s guardian or tutor, a slave who had charge of the life and morals of the boys of a family, not strictly a teacher.” This is why Paul in Galatians does not want the Jewish believers to go back to “slavery.” That will do no good, because that “slavery” and forced education was all intended to stop with the arrival of Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews in that passage is pointing out that the ultimate fate of those that follow that system is to be burned, because they reject Christ by continuing to follow it.

This is also what Jesus is describing when he preached in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
(Matthew 5:13)

And that’s why the “salt of the earth” is Israel as a chosen nation before God, not the Christian Church. This is a prophesy about Israel and something THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED EXACTLY AS PREDICTED.

Conclusion With A Happy Ending

Wow. That was really dark. I think I need to take a deep breath and curl up into a ball after reading all of that death.

However, there is good news. While the metaphor of “salt” is not something that carries over to the Church, let me reverse myself and say that MAYBE IT DOES. And there’s a very simple chemical reason for this as it applies to salt.

That’s because it is very difficult to ACTUALLY destroy salt. You can dissolve salt in water, and that will break the ionic bond between the Sodium and Chloride atoms. But if that water evaporates, the salt will form into crystals once again. In other words, you return back to the salt that was previously destroyed. When it comes to the chemistry of salt, this is just crystalline formation and chemistry. But when you realize that salt is a metaphor for the people of Israel, this “ordinary chemistry” becomes something else on the other side of the metaphor, which is about human beings:


Israel was supposed to be the salt of the earth, and Jerusalem was supposed to be a light set up on a pedestal which gives light to the whole world, but Israel did not accomplish that purpose and Jerusalem rejected its God. As such, when Jesus was being led to the cross, and all of his disciples abandoned him, right down to Peter – who earnestly believed that he would die before rejecting Jesus – by the time Jesus was being led to the cross, there was only one point of light left:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
(John 8:12)

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
(John 9:5)

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
(John 12:35-36)

But Jesus rose from the grave, and Jesus is no longer on earth. He rose into heaven. And now, since Jesus is no longer in the world, he is not the “light” of the world anymore. As the New Testament constantly reiterates, that light is now in us by faith:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 4:6)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
. . .
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
(1 John 1:5-10, 1 John 2:7-11)

If you want to know more about that metaphor of Light in the New Testament, including how Jesus uses it, you can read what I previously wrote on this subject here.

So that’s what is going on there. The metaphor of salt does not continue, and to the extent it does continue, it only continues through the act of resurrection. But the metaphor of light does not stop. The “light” applies to both the faithful Jews in Israel and to Christians, equally. After all, look at what Peter says up there in reference to “light”:

you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, . . . Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. . .

This is language that was always used in the Old Testament for ISRAEL. Look at what God said in the book of Exodus and how it mirrors what Peter is saying:

The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
(Exodus 19:3-6)

How is it that this Old Testament blessing and status as a chosen people translates in an unbroken fashion to the Christian Church? The answer is simple:


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. . . . And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
(Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40)

What is this “something better” that is for us? The “something better” is that the chosen people of God is not merely the nation of Israel to whom Jesus was so focused on. Remember what Jesus instructed when he was alive:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
(Matthew 10:5-7)

And that’s what the “gospel” is. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, not only for Israel, but for all people:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
(Matthew 28:18-20)

The priesthood of Israel was found to be unfaithful and worthless. The salt lost its taste and its worth and it was ruined and trampled by evil men. When Jesus came, there was no one faithful. All was dark and all were unfaithful, except for him. And when the one man of Israel who was still faithful was put to death, it seemed as if the access to God that the Levite priesthood was completely extinguished. But that was not so:

This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.
(Hebrews 7:15-16)

The ruler of this world, Satan, as he accomplished the destruction of God’s people through their unfaithfulness was surprised to find that you can’t KILL Jesus Christ. All you can do is break the chains that kept him from reaching the rest of the world.

That’s why the death and resurrection of Jesus did not end the light of Jerusalem. Rather, it merely expanded its rule and authority. That is why everyone counts their date on the basis Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi – The Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ – because the kingdom of heaven is at hand for all people, and Jesus no longer sends his servants among only one people. This is the same gospel that was preached at the very beginning:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
(Acts 17:24-29)

Therefore, repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

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