Is the church Israel?
Is the church Israel? Have the promises God made to the Jews been transferred to the church?
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Session 13 ... transcript
Is the church Israel?
The church is the spiritual body of all believers in Jesus. The Bible never calls the church the "new Israel" or "spiritual Israel". If you hear those terms, they are not from the Bible.
There is one place where the New Testament refers to the "Israel of God" (see Galatians 6:16). This is not an expansion of the term Israel, to refer to the church. It's a restriction of the term to refer to Jewish believers in Jesus.
At first, the church was made up of Jewish believers in Jesus. Gradually Gentiles came to faith. Today the church is made up of Jewish and Gentile believers ... one new man ... united in Christ.
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile ... male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). This verse is talking about our unity in Christ and it is saying that God doesn't have favourites. Obviously, there is a physical difference between male and female (that doesn't change), but no-one, no group is more important than another.
Likewise, there is an ethnic difference between Jews and Gentiles but, as fellow believers in Jesus, we are equal in God's sight. Gentiles don't become Jews. And Jews don't lose their Jewish identity.
Who are the Jews? A Jew is someone from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Abraham had two sons ... Ishmael and Isaac. God said that His promise would come about through Isaac, not Ishmael (see Genesis 26:1-4). God restricted His promise to a specific line.
Isaac had two sons ... Esau and Jacob. God said that His promise would come through Jacob, not Esau (see Genesis 28:10-15 and Genesis 35:9-12). God restricted the promise to the line of Jacob.
God re-named Jacob "Israel" (see Genesis 32:28 and Genesis 35:9-10). Israel had twelve sons, and from these men came the twelve tribes of Israel.
The description of the people of Israel as Jews comes from the abbreviation of the name of the fourth son, Judah. The apostle Paul, for example, was from the tribe of Benjamin (see Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5). But, he called himself an Israelite (see Romans 11:1). And he called himself a Jew (see Acts 21:39 and 22:3).
Jews have been set apart, and identified as a separated people, through the signs of circumcision and Sabbath observance. God's promise to the Jews is to have a people for Himself. God's promise to the Jews is a corporate promise. It's for a group of people. It's up to individuals within Israel to believe God ... to respond in faith. God doesn't force Himself on anyone. God holds out a gift. It's up to individuals to accept it.
God's promise to Israel hasn't failed. God has always had a remnant for Himself out of Israel. There have always been at least a minority who have trusted in God.
However, because God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He has said that, in the end, He will save all the Jewish people ... all the remnant that is left.
God's promises are fulfilled in Christ. In the end, the Jewish people ... all the Jewish people ... those who are alive ... will turn to Jesus.
That means, until then, there will be Jews who believe in God, in Jesus, and there will be Jews who are set apart, natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who don't yet believe in Jesus. They are all Jews. They are all people of Israel. Those who believe are the Israel of God.
When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said: "Here is a true Israelite ... in whom there is no deceit" (see John 1:47). God knows the heart. God knows those who are His.
There are theologians who have been confused by the verse that says: "... not all who are from Israel are Israel" (see Romans 9:6). This verse is not saying that the church is now Israel. The context is Paul grieving over His Jewish brethren who do not believe in Jesus. Paul calls them Israelites (see Romans 9:1-5). Then Paul goes on to talk about how God restricted His promise through Isaac and Jacob, setting some aside ... in this example, Ishmael and Esau (see Romans 9:7-13).
It illustrates how God has a people, Israel, but many of the people of Israel excluded themselves .. by not believing God. There is Israel, and there is the Israel of God. People are born into an opportunity. They have to respond.
In those who do exercise faith, there is evidence of that faith. This is what is being noted in Romans, chapter 2 (verses 28-29). when Paul says that Jewishness doesn't come only from outward appearances (like circumcision), but from an inward matter of the heart ... through faith.
The way for a Jew (and now, with the New Covenant, for anyone) to be adopted into God's family is by accepting Jesus as Lord, by believing in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
Unfortunately, there are Christians who believe that the church is Israel, and it leads to confusion about The Law, or aspects of The Law, like Sabbath-keeping or tithing.
To understand this question, go now to the next session: "The Law of Moses".