Article: Who Is the True Israel of God? by Rev. Nicholas T. Batzig (@Nick_Batzig), pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga., and editor of reformation 21. He blogs at Feeding on Christ.
I recently read an article in which a noted Christian theologian was encouraging Christian churches to celebrate the Passover Seder. The author’s line of argumentation was not that God requires Christians to keep the Old Testament feasts and festivals but that by observing Passover, Christians can better remember the Jewish foundation of their faith as well as help foster improved Jewish-Christian relations. Strikingly absent from this article were any biblical references to Christ’s fulfillment of the old covenant feasts and festivals.
Yet the Apostle Paul, along with the other New Testament authors, in no uncertain terms explained that Jesus fulfilled each and every single shadowy and typical aspect of the old covenant ceremonial law (Col. 2:16–17), just as He came to fulfill all of the Old Testament promises and prophecies (2 Cor. 1:20). While Christians profess that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the preparatory and anticipatory aspects of the Old Testament, many lack the overarching framework by which the individual parts find their place in the grand narrative of God’s plan of redemption. In short, Jesus fulfills every preparatory and anticipatory aspect of the history of redemption in the Old Testament in general—and in the history of Israel in particular—because He is the true Israel of God. He recapitulates—summarizes and repeats—Israel’s history in His own experience and work in order to secure for His people the blessings promised to Abraham.
While there are many places in Scripture to which we might turn when seeking to understand the biblical teaching about Jesus as the true Israel of God, the gospel of Matthew develops it most fully. Matthew begins his account by focusing on Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham. By tracing Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, Matthew explains to the covenant people that Jesus is the long-awaited and ultimate son of Abraham.
Abraham is, of course, the father of the Jews—whom God called, in the days of the exodus—“my son” (Ex. 4:23). When God called the Gentile Abram to Himself, gave him promises of redemption, and justified him only through his faith in the coming Redeemer, He turned him into the father of Israel. In order to properly understand Israel, we have to first understand Abraham. But in order to understand Abraham, we have to first understand God’s covenant plan of redemption—His eternal plan which He began to work out in time immediately after the fall of our first parents (Gen. 3:15).
In the Scriptures, Abraham stands as the covenant head of the people to whom God revealed Himself and His promise of redemption. The New Testament authors home in on the fact that God gave promises “to Abraham and to his seed.” The Apostle Paul goes a step further by suggesting that Christ is “the seed” (singular) to whom God was referring when He made His covenant promises with Abraham (Gal. 3:16 NIV). The point is clear: God gave promises to Abraham so that they might be passed down to Christ who would, in the fullness of time, fulfill them in His person and by His work.
We see this in the divine dialogue that the writer to the Hebrews sets out from the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g., Heb. 2:10–16). The covenant promises that God gave to Abraham and to David had to make their way to the incarnate Christ. When the writer cites Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5, he is helping us understand that God the Father was speaking to God the Son in the Old Testament about the covenant promises made to David.
The implications are large. In the Old Testament, everything that seems to be for the nation of Israel had to be passed down to Jesus, who then fulfilled the realities of the promises for us in His own person and work. This is how the Apostle Paul could say, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him [Christ]” (2 Cor. 1:20). It is also the reason why he could say of the Old Testament Scriptures: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
When we read of God’s promises of restoration that He gave Israel through the Old Testament prophets, we must do so through the lens of the person and work of Christ. All of the judgment prophesied about the nation prepares us for the judgment that fell on Christ—the true Israel—for our sin. In His resurrection, Jesus secures the restoration that was promised so long before. When the Apostles appeal to Joel 2:28–32 in Acts 2:16–21 and Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15:16–17, this is what they have in view. The fulfillment of those restoration promises occurs first in the risen or restored Son of Abraham, who will consummate them in a new heaven and earth.
What has been written only begins to scratch the surface of the way in which the Scriptures hold forth Jesus as the true Israel of God. In the forthcoming posts in this short series, we will consider New Testament expositions of pertinent Old Testament passages as well as the structured narrative that Matthew gives us to help us get our minds around the importance of this most marvelous—yet often overlooked—aspect of the history of redemption.