Who Is the True Israel of God?

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.

Blessing and Cursing Israel

Jr:

Is It True That God Blesses Those Who Bless Israel and Curses Those Who Curse Israel? (original source here)

It must be true, because this is what God says, isn’t it? Well, actually God says this, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

When God makes a promise we can know that it is certain, and that He will not change. The problem is, however, when we hear Him saying what He did not say. This text does say that God will bless those who bless Israel, but rather those who bless Abraham, to whom God is speaking. Later, however, in Numbers 24, it gets a little more clear. There Balaam, clearly speaking about the nation of Israel says, “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.”

That should settle the matter, should it not? The difficulty is still, however, answering about whom this promise is made. Does not Paul himself say, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). Here it is all too easy to get confused. What could it mean that not all Israel is of Israel?

If there are some who are Israel that are called Israel, and some that are not Israel that are called Israel, which of these are the ones that fit the promise? My dispensational friends suggest that the Israel to whom this promise is made matches up with the nation of Israel founded in 1948 in the Middle East. They hear in this promise that those who bless that nation of Israel will be blessed and those who curse that same nation will be cursed. This, in part, informs the politics of American foreign policy. As long as America sees this Israel as a friend, the reasoning seems to go, God will bless America. When America turns its back on that nation, God will curse this nation.

The Reformed perspective takes a different tack. It affirms that that Israel which is actually Israel, just as with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, applies to those who are in Christ, who trust in His finished work. Though we deny the moniker, this is what our dispensational friends call “replacement theology.” The Reformed, however, see this is as the outworking of the truth of Galatians 3:7- “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” We who are Reformed do not believe God replaced Israel with the church. We believe instead that there has always been only one people of God, those who believe.

Israel is the sons of Abraham. Those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham. Those who are of faith are therefore Israel. And in turn, those who bless those who are of faith will be blessed, and those who curse those who are of faith will be cursed. It is how we treat the church that matters. What of ethnic Israel? What of that country in the Middle East? Many in the Reformed camp hold out hope that there will be one day a mass conversion of those who are not today the sons of Abraham, that virtually all of Israel will once again become Israel. That said, many of these likewise hold out hope that there will be a mass conversion of Arabs, and Persians, of every tongue and every tribe. All of the promises of God belong to the children of Abraham, those who are of faith, including the promise that through Abraham, all the world will be blessed.

The Church, the true Israel of God?

stormsDr. Sam Storms’ article, “IS THE CHURCH THE TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD?” – (original source “Is the Church the True Israel of God?” is found at the close of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (among other places in the NT). He pronounces a blessing that has been the source of seemingly endless controversy.

The ESV renders the passage this way:

“And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

The NIV renders it slightly differently:

“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.”

Those who embrace the first (ESV) translation typically recognize two groups: (1) “all who walk by this rule,” a reference either to Gentile believers or all who are in the Church, whether Jew or Gentile, and (2) all believing Jews or elect ethnic Israelites. According to the second (NIV) translation, Paul has in view only one group. The Greek conjunction kai, most often translated simply as “and,” is taken as explanatory (or the more technical term, “epexegetical”) and is rendered “even,” or in some translations is simply omitted altogether. Most commentators acknowledge that kai can be rendered in either way and that grammar alone cannot decide the interpretive outcome. Context must be the deciding factor.

Thus, a somewhat expanded paraphrase would be, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, which is to say, to the Israel of God.” Thus in the NIV Paul identifies those “who follow this rule” with “the Israel of God.” They are one and the same.

Some have suggested that by “the Israel of God” Paul has in view all ethnic Jews, the nation as a whole, whether they believe in Jesus or not. But this is highly unlikely, if not altogether impossible. It is simply inconceivable that Paul would have considered those who reject Christ as being “of God” on whom a spiritual blessing is pronounced. We must not forget that Paul earlier in Galatians pronounced a curse (or “anathema”; Gal. 1:8-9) on those who corrupt the gospel by insisting on circumcision or any other ritual or work as a condition for acceptance with God. There is simply no way that Paul would now reverse himself and pronounce on them both “peace and mercy.” Thus, when it comes to “the Israel of God,” the two options available to us are (1) Jewish believers, or (2) Jewish and Gentile believers alike, together who constitute the Church, the one true Israel of God.

The first task in bringing us to a responsible conclusion is to define what Paul means by “this rule.” The “rule” by which Paul calls upon all to live may well be the entirety of what he has written in the letter. But more likely the reference is closer at hand. Continue reading