If you've read my previous two articles on Israel, then this will probably seem familiar. This is a combination of the previous two combined into one study, focussing more on who Israel is under the New Covenant rather than the geopolitical/war situation of the Middle East.
So Who is Israel?
No doubt what I'm about to say will cause some knee-jerk reactions, but to properly understand the New Covenant, we need to address the issue of who is Israel, Biblically speaking? Yes, there is a modern nation known as "Israel" now since 1948, but is that the same Israel of the Bible? The same Israel to whom God made his promises? If so, does that mean God's plans were on hiatus while there was no nation of Israel from AD 70 when Rome destroyed them, until 1948?
So I'm just going to say it: the nation of Israel in the Middle East which we know of today, is not the same Israel of the New Covenant.
So who is Israel then, according to the New Testament?
In a word: Jesus.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.
That promise to Abraham of his offspring blessing the earth was not speaking of the Jewish people as a whole, but their culmination in being the lineage to which the Messiah would come!
What about the nation of Israel?
There are some internet memes which are still doing the rounds every so often, quoting Gen 12:3 ("I will bless those who bless [Israel], and the one who curses [Israel] I will curse") and by implication, putting guilt on anyone who dares say a bad word against the nation of Israel. Yes, all the families of the earth shall be blessed — but not by national Israel, but Jesus who IS the true Israel; the one in whom all the promises to the people of Israel are found complete (2 Cor 1:19-20).
It is now through faith in Jesus that we are grafted into the true Israel of God, and because of that, we are blessed! The true Israel of God now are those who believe in the promise that was given to Abraham, which was the Gospel, and not his earthly/natural descendants.
Don't take my word for it though, read for yourself how the Apostle Paul understood this:
Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
This passage from Galatians is an echo of what God said in Gen 12:3, and also Gen 22:18, which Peter also refers to as well in Acts 3:25-26.
Opponents to this view (a view often called "Replacement Theology" or "Fulfillment Theology") say that this means that God somehow failed in his plans with physical Israel and needed a "Plan B" as it were, hence, the Church. Sometimes it will be stated that there is a "dual-covenant" in which the Mosaic Law still applies to Jews, but not to non-Jews, and that this is how the Jewish people attain salvation separate from Jesus. But I can't see how this is possible, given what the New Testament says.
To be clear though, I'm not saying the Church replaced Israel, but rather it is the continuation of what Israel was always meant to be, and so will be the people group in whom the promises from God will be made complete. It's no longer about land or race, but Jesus's righteousness and faithfulness and an expanded plan to include all people – not simply the Jews. God didn't fail in his promises to bless the nations, his plan was just bigger than anyone first imagined!
To be against this idea/view that Jesus is Israel though, is to be against the teachings of the Apostles and the Church Fathers, and therefore the historical foundation of Christianity.
For example, many of the early Christians taught that Christ had fulfilled the Old Covenant in himself, and therefore superseded it with the New:
Justin Martyr (about 100 to 165): "For the true spiritual Israel ... are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ."
Tertullian (ca.160 – ca.220 AD): “Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates. . . . Therefore, as we have shown above that the coming cessation of the old law and of the carnal circumcision was declared, so, too, the observance of the new law and the spiritual circumcision has shone out into the voluntary observances of peace.”
I'm not quite sure how you can come to a conclusion other than that physical Israel is of no consequence when Paul writes things like this to the church in Rome:
It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.
Paul is building his case that it is not simply a matter of being born a Jew any longer. God's plan all along was to include Gentiles (ie. non-Jews), but that was only going to happen after his Messiah had come. God's plan was always for the whole world, but his vessel of choice to bring this to fulfillment, was the Jewish people. It is now through faith that we become the true spiritual Israel under the New Covenant, grafted into the vine (Rom 11:17; Jn 15:1) so that by God showing mercy to the Gentiles through the Jews disobedience, God can in return, show mercy on them again through the Gentiles in order than none can boast, but all may be humbled by God's overwhelming grace (Rom 11)!
This is Paul's theme throughout his letters to the churches and the new believers, making the point over and over that natural Jews are now no different than Gentiles when it comes to the promises of God. Through Jesus, God has created a new humanity — a new race of people, who are heirs and descendants to Israel's promises!
For he [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
Did you catch that? It is not literal.
Thus, it follows then, that it is the Church and Christians - whether natural Jew or Gentile, who believes in and follows Jesus, that are now "spiritual Jews" grafted into the True Vine of Israel, that is, Christ Jesus.
Take note of this quote from another blogger who made an interesting observation with regards to this matter, and the parallels which God spoke concerning ancient Israel, and with what Peter says to the Church.
I think this sums it all up nicely (the letters A,B,C are to highlight the parallels between the two verses):
To ancient national Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be [A]MY TREASURED POSSESSION among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me [B]A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a [C]HOLY NATION…” (Exodus 19:5-6).
To the church: “But you are a chosen race, [B]A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a [C]HOLY NATION, a people [A]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…” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
It's not about land anymore!
But also, aside from the physical, national Jewish people; Israel the land isn't the point either.
What did Jesus say about having a special place for worship when a Samaritan woman asked him about where the proper place to meet with God was?
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Now, under the New Covenant, it's no longer about nationality, race or land. Jesus changed all that by being the culmination of what the Old promised and then some (Hebrews 8:13)!
Christianity is a new race. A new people group — a new creation in Christ.
The new creation isn't some far flung future event, but was and is a current thing which happens right now! As far as Paul was concerned, once you were in Christ, the old was gone and the new had come already:
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
God's Kingdom is limitless and without bounds. As Christians it is no longer (and shouldn't be) about physical boundaries, race or nation for we are all one in Christ, born again into a new creation — a new race and people of God to worship in spirit and in truth!
Let that sink in, and then go out and live your life by this truth!
- It's no longer about land!
- Support Israel? OK, which Israel?
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