THE ISRAEL OF GOD
©R. Scott Clark
2003 (rev. 2012) All Rights Reserved.
There is much more to "end-times" or ultimate things
(Eschatology) than what we say actually happens in the last
days. We say what we do about eschatology because of what we
think God is doing in history.
At the center of the debate is the question of "the Israel of
God" (Gal 6.16). Of course, this is not a new question. During
our Lord's earthly ministry and after his resurrection and
before his ascension, the disciples asked him repeatedly, "Lord,
are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
Indeed, there was a widespread rabbinic and popular notion
that the Messiah should be a powerful politico-military figure
of Davidic strength and skill—"David has slain his tens of
thousands" (1 Sam 18.7). John 614-15 records,
After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did,
they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to
come into the world." 15 Jesus,
knowing that they intended to come and make him king by
force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
It was not, as some might have it, that the timing was off,
but rather that an earthly kingdom was contrary to his every
purpose. Again, at the end of his life, during his triumphal
entry, he did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but
rather to fulfill prophecy, "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of
Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt" (John
12:15; Isa 40.9; Zech 9.9).
Jesus had taught the disciples and others that he came not to
bring an earthly kingdom as they expected, but rather he came to
bring salvation from sin. At the end, when "the men of Israel"
could no longer tolerate his refusal to submit to their
eschatology, their plan for history, they crucified him.
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the
law and the elders mocked him. 42 "He
saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's
the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross,
and we will believe in him." (Matt 27.41-2)
It is also a sad fact that many Christians have agreed with
the chief priests and teachers of the law. Classic
Dispensationalism has long held that the Pharisees had the right
method of interpreting the Bible, they simply reached the wrong
It is the Dispensational-Premillennial belief that God made a
promise to Abraham (Genesis chapters 15 and 17) that he would
give to him an earthly, national people with the result that, in
the Dispensational view, it has always been God's intention to
have such a people and if the Jews refused the first offer (or
Jesus refused their terms!) then there must be an earthly,
Jewish, Palestinian, kingdom in the millennium.
According to Dispensationalism, God was so committed to
creating such an earthly, national people that this was the
primary reason for the incarnation, birth and ministry of
Christ. Had they accepted his offer of an earthly kingdom, Jesus
would not have died. In this scheme, Jesus' saving death on the
cross is a happy by-product of God's plan for national Israel.
It is also an article of faith among many Premillennialists
that the creation of a modern Israeli state, in Palestine in
1948, is a providential confirmation of their claim that the
Jews are God's earthly, national people and that further, God
continues to work out history along two parallel tracks, with an
earthly Jewish people and a spiritual, Christian people.
This way of proceeding, however, is fraught with
difficulties. First, such a way of reading contemporary events
is highly dubious. Who among us knows certainly the exact
meaning of providence? If a loved one gets cancer, should we
speculate about what sin caused it? Our Lord warned against
trying to interpret providence (John 9). If we cannot even guess
the meaning of relatively small providences, how are we to
interpret the meaning of rather larger providences? Who is to
say that we should focus on the Israeli state? Perhaps we should
focus on the plight of Palestinian Christians who have suffered
gravely at the hands of Jews and Muslims, especially since the
formation of Modern day Israel?
Though it might be exciting to think that God is doing
something spectacular in our times, one fears that our lust for
excitement is no better than the cry of those Israelites who
said, "Give us Bar-Abbas." It may well be that the end-times
madness we have witnessed, first in the late 1970's, again
during the Gulf War and again in recent years, is really a
search for certainty. Just as earlier generations turned away
from the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the
sacraments, in favor of revivals, our age seems bent on finding
confirmation of the faith in the delusion that we are witnesses
to the end of history. The fact is that Christians have often
thought the same thing, and they have been wrong.
Remember that after the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17.1)
where Moses and Elijah appeared before their Lord, the disciples
peppered Jesus with questions about an earthly Messianic
kingdom, about whether Elijah had yet to come. Jesus replied
"To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.
12 But I tell you, Elijah has already
come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him
everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is
going to suffer at their hands." 13
Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them
about John the Baptist."
It was always Jesus' intention to preach the advent of the
the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in
the Gospel" Mark 1.15), die for sinners, and rule his kingdom,
as he is now, at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2.36).
Later, in Mt 19.27-30, after hearing Jesus' teaching about
the true nature of the kingdom, Peter again asked the kingdom
question, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will
there be for us?" To which Jesus responded,
"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when
the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have
followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the
twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And
everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or
father or mother or children or fields for my sake will
receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal
life. 30 But many who are first will
be last, and many who are last will be first.
Our Premillennial brothers take this as a promise of an
earthly Jewish kingdom, but Jesus understood the kingdom quite
differently. The parables which follow teach precisely that God
is not setting up an earthly Jewish kingdom, but rather that,
"the last will be first, and the first will be last" and that
"the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and
the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death
19 and will turn him over to the
Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the
third day he will be raised to life!" (Matt 20.18).
He was even more pointed to the mother of James and John, who
was looking for work for her boys: "Grant that one of these two
sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in
your kingdom" (Mt 20.21). He rebuked her by telling her that not
only is he not going to set up an earthly kingdom, but that he
is going to suffer and die and they are going to suffer and die
because of him, because "the Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"
Therefore, we cannot agree with the argument of the
Dispensationalist Clarence Larkin, when he interpreted Jesus'
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father
has set by his own authority. 8 But
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea
and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.7-8).
not as a rebuke to the disciples for seeking an earthly
kingdom, but only as a caution to wait for the earthly kingdom.
Rather, Jesus came not to build an earthly Jewish kingdom now
or later, but always and only his intention was to redeem all
his people by his death on the cross, and to rule the nations
with a rod of iron in his ascension until his return in
It is my contention that God's chief purpose in history has
been to glorify himself through the redemption of a people in
all times, places and out of all races, which grace he has
administered since the fall, in history in a visible,
institutional church, under Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David
and now Christ.
Therefore, the premise that God's intent has been to
establish a permanent or millennial, national, Jewish people has
it exactly backward. Our Dispensationalist brothers confuse what
is temporary with what is permanent, and what is permanent with
what is temporary.
It is the teaching of God's Word that Jesus is the true
Israel of God, that his incarnation, obedience, death and
resurrection was not a by-product of Israel's rejection of the
offer of an earthly kingdom, but the fulfillment of God's plan
from all eternity. This is what Jesus told the disciples on the
road to Emmaus. One of them said, "we had hoped that he was the
one who was going to redeem Israel." In response our Lord said,
"How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe
all that the prophets have spoken! 26
Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then
enter his glory?" 27 And beginning
with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what
was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke
The Apostle Paul summarized this same teaching when he told
the Corinthians that " For no matter how many promises God has
made, they are "Yes" in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
We cannot understand what God is doing in history apart from
understanding one of the most important terms in Scripture:
covenant. This is a very frequent word in the Bible (294 times).
Covenant describes the way God relates to creatures. It is a
mutually binding oath in which there are stipulations, blessings
for obedience and curses for disobedience as well as signs and
seals of the oath.
Law and Gospel: Covenants of Works and Grace
God made the first covenant in human history, a covenant of
works with the first man in the garden. The promised blessing
for covenant keeping was that Adam and all humanity would enter
into glory ("eat
and live forever," Gen 3.22); the threatened
curse for covenant breaking was death ("you shall surely die,"
Gen. 2.17). The stipulation of the covenant was that Adam should
refrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil (Gen 2.17). The signs of the covenant were the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Gen 2.9).
As you know, Adam failed that test, and Paul says that "sin
entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in
this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans
5:12). So we are all now born under this covenant of works.
The second covenant in human history was also made by our God
with our father Adam. This covenant, however, was not a
law-covenant; rather it was a gospel covenant. In the covenant of grace, God promised on oath a coming
Savior ("seed of the woman") who would crush the head of the
seed of the serpent when the serpent struck his heel (Gen.
3.14-16). The blessing of this covenant is eternal life (the
tree of life) and the curse for covenant breaking remains death.
The Gospel of this covenant is that there is a Savior who will
keep the terms of the covenant of works and sinners will benefit
There are three things to be said about conditions relative
to the covenant of grace.
1. Relative to the cause of our justification, the
covenant of grace is unconditional. God does not accept
sinners for any other reason than that he graciously imputes
to them Christ's justice.
2. Relative to the instrument of our justification,
saving faith, itself God's gift (Eph 2.8-10), is the sole,
passive (receiving) Christward-looking instrument or
condition of the covenant. This is what the Protestant
Reformers meant by sola fide.
3. Relative to the administration of the covenant of
grace, there can be said to be covenant stipulations, i.e.,
that means of grace by which God ordinarily raises sinners
from death to life, namely the preaching of the Holy Gospel,
and those means of grace by which he confirms his promises
and strengthens our faith: the holy sacraments. Christian
obedience is neither ground nor instrument of our justice
before God, but the fruit and demonstration of Christ's work
for and in us.
In the history of salvation, this same Gospel covenant which
God made with Adam was renewed with Abraham, but the promise was
re-stated, "I will be your God, and to your children." The sign
in Genesis 15 was the cutting of animals and the stipulation
remained faith. For this reason Scripture says, "Abraham
believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gen
In Gen 17.10-14, circumcision became the sign of initiation
into the covenant of grace. The covenant and the sign are so
closely identified that the Lord calls the sign of circumcision,
The covenant of works did not simply disappear in the history
of salvation. Rather, the covenant of works is repeated
throughout the Scriptures, every time the Law is read and God
demands perfect righteousness from sinners, e.g., "Cursed is
everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the
Book of the Law" (Gal 3:10). When Jesus said to the rich young
ruler, "do this and live" (Luke 10.28) he was repeating the
covenant of works.
Likewise, the covenant of grace is repeated throughout the
history of redemption, whenever God says, "I will be your God,
you will be my people" he is repeating the promise he made to
Adam. He repeated this gospel promise to Noah, Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob, David, Moses and finally fulfilled it in Christ and then
repeats it to us through the Apostles, as in Acts 2.39.
These two covenants unify all of Scripture. All humans are
born dead in sins and trespasses and all those who are saved are
in the covenant of grace.19
The Old (Mosaic) Covenant
Many Bible believers assume that every event which occurred
in the history of salvation before the incarnation and death of
Christ belongs to the Old Testament and many of them assume that
since the incarnation, the Old Covenant Scriptures do not speak
or apply to Christians. Indeed, some Dispensationalists even
consider that some books in the NT do not apply to Christians
today, because they were intended for those who are ethnically
Jewish. Only a few years ago, I heard a Dispensationalist pastor
say at Christmas, "The problem with the Gospels is that the
Gospel is not in the Gospels. "
The Scriptures themselves, however, refute such notions. The
Apostle Paul in 2 Cor 3.12-18 defines the "Old Covenant" as
Moses, i.e., broadly the books of Moses and most particularly
the Mosaic laws (vv.14-15). In Hebrews 7:22, Jesus is the
guarantee of a better covenant than that which was given to the
Israelites. In 8.6-13 in contrasting the New Covenant with the
Old, restricts the Old Covenant to the Mosaic epoch of salvation
history. He makes the same distinction in 9:15-20 also. Thus,
speaking strictly, the Old Covenant describes the covenant which
God made with Israel at Sinai. Therefore, not everything which
occurred in the history of salvation, before the incarnation,
belongs to the Old Covenant. This is important, because the Old
Covenant is described in the New Testament as "inferior"
(Hebrews 8.7), "obsolete," "aging" (8.13) and its glory
In this connection, the other important fact to note about
the Old Covenant is that it was intentionally temporary and
typical. Colossians 2:17 describes the Mosaic (Old Covenant)
ceremonial laws as a "shadow" of things to come. Hebrews 8:5
describes the earthly Temple as a "type and shadow" of the
heavenly temple. The Mosaic Law itself, was only a "shadow" of
the fulfillment which came with Christ.
The New Covenant
With Christ's death, resurrection and ascension the promise
which God made to Adam and repeated to Abraham remains, but the
circumstances have changed. We who live on this side of the
cross view things differently because we live in the days of
fulfillment. In biblical terms, we live in the "last days" (2
Pet 3.3; James 5.3; Hebrews 1.2; Acts 2.17).
The entire function of the Old Covenant was to direct
attention upward to heavenly realities (Ex 25.9; Acts 7.44; Heb
8.5) and forward in history to the sacrifice of Jesus on the
cross. The old signs, Passover and circumcision along with the
other bloody sacrifices and ceremonies have been replaced. Yet
we still live in covenantal arrangement with God, and the bloody
pictures of Christ have been replaced with unbloody signs
(reminders) and seals.
Just as God made a covenant with Abraham, he promised a New
Covenant to come later (Jer 31.31). He made this New Covenant in
the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 22.20). The Lord Jesus
consciously and specifically established "the New covenant." The
Apostle Paul said he was "a servant of the New covenant" (2 Cor
3.6) . How can this be if there is but one Covenant of Grace?
The New Covenant is new as contrasted with Moses, but not as
contrasted with Abraham.
This is the point of Galatians 3:1-29; 4:21-31, and 2
Corinthians 3:7-18 where Paul says that the glory of the Old
Covenant was fading but the glory of the New Covenant is
permanent. The message of Hebrews chapters' 3-10 is that the Old
Covenant (under Moses) was preparatory to the New Covenant. The
fundamental theme of Hebrews 11 is that Abraham had a New
Covenant faith, that is, he anticipated a heavenly city and to
the redemption which we have in Christ (Heb. 11.10).
Jacob Have I Loved
There was, therefore an Israel before the Old Covenant.
Israel was the name given to Jacob. The first time the word
"Israel" appears in Scripture, as the conclusion to the story of
Jacob's wrestling match (Gen 32.21-30).
After spending the night wrestling with an anonymous man, and
"when the man saw that he could not overpower Jacob" (v.25),
Jacob demanded a blessing from him. In turn, the wrestler
renamed Jacob as Israel, which he defined as "wrestles with God
Thus, in the history of salvation, all those who stem from
the Patriarch Jacob are, in a broad sense, "Israel." Only two
chapters later the term "Israel" is used to describe the place
and name of the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (34.7). At
Paddan Aram, God again blessed him and named Jacob, "Israel"
(35.9-10) and repeated the Abrahamic promise to be a God to
Abraham and to his children.
All this might seem to support the notion that, Israel means,
"those physically descended from Jacob." Except that Jacob is
not the beginning of the story. Before there was an Israel there
was Abraham and his miracle son, Isaac (Rom 9) and before
Abraham, Jesus says, "I AM" (John 8.58). It was to Abraham, that
God promised, "I will be your God, and you will be my people."
Indeed, Jesus taught the Jews in John 8, that it was he who made
the promise to Abraham (John 8.56). Remember too that the first
fulfillment of that promise did not come by "the will of man"
but by the sovereign power of God when he allowed Sarah to
conceive in her old age. These will be important facts to
remember when we come to Paul's answer to the question, who is
the Israel of God?
Israel My Son
In the Exodus from Egypt, God constituted the children of
Jacob collectively as his "son."
This is what the LORD says: is my firstborn son,
23 and I told you, "Let my son go, so
he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will
kill your firstborn son' "
This is not just casual speech, but a very deliberate
description of the national people. The sons of Jacob are not
God's Son by nature, but, as it were, by adoption. Moses denies
that there was any quality inherent in Israel which made the
sons of Jacob worthy of being called the people of God.
The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you
because you were more numerous than other people, for you
were the fewest of all people. But it was because the Lord
loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers
that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you
from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh, King of
Egypt (Dt 7.7)
According to this passage, there are two reasons for God's
choosing of Israel, His undeserved love and His Covenant promise
Israel was not, however, God's natural Son. That much was
evident in the wilderness, in Canaan and finally in the ejection
when God changed the name of his "son" Israel to "Lo Ammi, not
my people" (Hos 1.9-10)
God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national "son"
Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended
to have a permanent earthly, national people. After the
captivity, they had largely fulfilled their role in the history
of salvation. As a sign of this fact, the Glory-Spirit departed
from the temple. This is because their chief function was to
serve as a type and shadow of God's natural Son, Jesus the
Messiah (Heb 10.1-4).
Jesus the Israel of God
It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the
true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by
grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that
union, the true Israel of God. This means that it is wrong
headed to look for, expect, hope for or desire a reconstitution
of national Israel in the future. The New Covenant church is not
something which God instituted until he could recreate a
national people in Palestine, but rather, God only had a
national people temporarily (from Moses to Christ) as a prelude
to and foreshadowing of the creation of the New Covenant in
which the ethnic distinctions which existed under Moses were
fulfilled and abolished (Ephesians 2.11-22; Col 2.8-3.11).
In the Hebrew Scriptures the expression "out of Egypt" occurs
more than 140 times. It is one of the defining facts of the
existence of national Israel. When God gave the Law he said, "I
am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt."
They were a redeemed people belonging to their Savior.
Thus it most significant when Matthew 2:15 quotes Hos 11.1.
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the
night and left for Egypt, 15 where he
stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what
the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I
called my son."
Herod was about to execute his bloody rage against the
firstborn of the Jews. Matthew's inspired interpretation of the
Hebrew Scriptures must norm our interpretation of Scripture and
according to Matthew's interpretation, it is our Lord Jesus, not
the temporary, national, people who is the true Israel of God.
Indeed it is not too much to say that the only reason God
orchestrated the first Exodus was so that he might orchestrate
the second Exodus and that so we might know that Jesus is the
true Son of God and that all Christians are God's Israel
regardless of ethnicity.
It is because Jesus is the true Israel of God that, in his
infancy and indeed in his entire life, he recapitulated the
history of national Israel. What rebellious national Israel
would not do, Jesus did: He loved God with all his heart, soul,
mind and strength and his neighbor as himself (Matt 22.37-40).
In a similar way, the Apostle Paul argues very clearly that
the promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ. Gal 3.16 says,
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The
Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people,
but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.
Paul explains what he means. The promises given to Abraham
were NT gospel promises. They were given before Moses and they
were fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is Abraham's true Son, he is
"the seed" promised to Abraham.
The purpose of the Law given to Moses was to teach national
Israel and us the greatness of our sin and misery (Gal 3.22).
The Law administered through Moses did not fundamentally change
the gospel promise to Abraham (3.17-20). The New Covenant is
nothing more than the fulfillment and renewal of the Abrahamic
Covenant and the Abrahamic covenant was nothing more than the
fulfillment and renewal of the gracious covenant made with Adam
after the fall.
Jesus the Savior of Israel
Part of the confusion which surrounds God's plan in history,
and therefore part of the reason Christians are so confused
about God's plans for the the future of his people, is that many
misunderstand what Jesus came to do for national Israel. He did
not come to set up a national, earthly Jewish kingdom, but he
did come to be their Savior and the Savior of all of God's
people whether Jew or Gentile.
Our Lord, before he was incarnate, identified himself to
Israel through the Prophet Isaiah (43.3) as "the Holy One of
Israel," their "Savior." This was the same point the Apostle
Peter made in his great Pentecost sermon, that David is not the
King, since he's dead. Jesus, since he lives is the King and it
was about Jesus the ascended King that David prophesied (Acts
Later, in another sermon, Peter said that God has now
"exalted" Jesus "to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that
he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. "
With this background then, we are in a position to answer the
questions, "Who are Abraham's children?" and "Who is the Israel
of God?" Jesus said,
"When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will
know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing
on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.
29 The one who sent me is with me; he
has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him"
He went on to say that if they "If you hold to my teaching,
you are really my disciples. 32 Then you
will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." To which
they respond by pointing out that they are physically descended
from Abraham (v.33).
To this Jesus responds, "If you were Abraham's
children...then you would do the things Abraham did" (v.39).
This, then is our Lord's definition of a child of Abraham, a
Jew, or Israel: One who does the things Abraham did. What did
Abraham do? According to Jesus, "Abraham saw my day and
rejoiced" (v.56). According to Jesus the Messiah, a Jew, a true
Israelite is a one who has saving faith in the Lord Jesus before
or after the incarnation. This only another way of saying that
Jesus is the "way, the truth and the life" and that "no one
comes to the Father" except through him (John 14.6). This verse
applies to is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as much as it does to
Thus it should not surprise us to find substantially the same
teaching in the Apostle Paul's theology. In Romans 4, Paul says
that one is justified in the same way Abraham was justified, by
grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone (Rom 4:3-8).
What of the Gentiles then? Paul asks, "When was Abraham
justified? Under what circumstances? Before or after he was
circumcised? "It was not after, but before!" (Rom 4.11).
So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not
been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be
credited to them. 12 And he is also
the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised
but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our
father Abraham had before he was circumcised (Romans
Therefore, these two questions are absolutely connected.
Justice before God "comes by faith" (Romans 4.16), not by
law-keeping, not by being physically or ethnically Jewish,
so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all
Abraham's offspring&mdashlnot only to those who are of the law
but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the
father of us all (Romans 4.16)
This is all so because, as he said in Romans chapter 2,
No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and
circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit,
not by the written code
Christ did not come to reinstate and fix the Mosaic theocracy
or to establish an earthly millennial Jewish kingdom, but to
save Jewish and Gentile sinners and to make them, by grace
alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, Abraham's children.
The Dividing Wall Demolished (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The movement of the history of redemption is on this order.
The people of God were an international people from Adam to Noah
to Moses. Under Moses, the people of God became temporarily a
national people. God instituted special civil and ceremonial
laws to separate his national people from the Gentile pagans. In
Ephesians 2:14 the Apostle Paul describes these civil and
ceremonial laws as a "dividing wall" between Jew and Gentile.
Because of that dividing wall, the Gentiles, considered as a
people, were "separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in
Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without
hope and without God in the world" (2.12).
Now, however, because of Christ's death, Paul assures Gentile
Christians that "you who once were far away have been brought
near through the blood of Christ" (v.13). How? Through his
death, Christ has destroyed the dividing wall, torn the temple
veil, destroyed the temple and restored it three days by his
resurrection (John 2:19),
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments
and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one
new man out of the two, thus making peace,
16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to
God through the cross
Now, by virtue of our union with Christ, both Jewish and
Gentile Christians are "fellow citizens with God's people and
members of God's household" (Eph 2.19); "For it is we who are
the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory
in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil
3.3). Why? Because "
our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3.20).
How is it that Premillennialism, by having two parallel peoples
of God, does not rebuild that very dividing wall which Jesus
destroyed by his death?
Not All Israel is Israel
One of the clearest places in Scripture on this question is
Romans chapter 9. The context is the very question we are
addressing now, what about Israel? Who is the Israel of God? Has
God abandoned his promise to Abraham? Paul's answer is, a Jew is
one who is a Jew inwardly, who loves the Savior of Abraham.
Since Jesus was circumcised (Col 2.11-12) for us on the cross,
circumcision is morally and spiritually indifferent.
"It is not as though God's Word has failed" (Romans 9:6). The
reason that only some Jews have trusted Jesus as Messiah is
because not "all Israel is Israel. Nor because they are his
descendants are they all Abraham's children." Rather, Abraham's
children are reckoned "through Isaac" (9:7) What this means is
that "it is not the natural children who are God's, but children
of the promise" (v.8). How was Isaac born? By the sovereign
power of God. How are Christians born? By the sovereign power of
God. Every Christian is an "Isaac" in his own way. Why is this
before the twins were born or had done anything good or
badmdash;in order that God's purpose in election might stand:
12 not by works but by him who
callsmdash;she was told, "The older will serve the younger."
13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I
loved, but Esau I hated (Mal 1.2; 9.11-13).
How can this be? It is because God "says to Moses, 'I will
have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on
whom I have compassion'" (9.15).
It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy. 17 For the
Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very
purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my
name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have
mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
Is God unfair? According to the Apostle Paul, as creatures,
we have no "rights" before God. God is the potter, we are the
clay, but Christians are redeemed clay, objects of mercy,
prepared in advance for glory. We must evaluate our condition
against the backdrop of God's patience with those objects of
wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9.22-3). These vessels
prepared for glory are taken from Jews and Gentiles alike
(Romans 9.24). This is what he promised in Hosea, he has made
those who were once "Lo Ammi," "Not my people," i.e., Gentiles,
to be "sons of the living God" (Hosea 2:23; 1:10; Romans
The reason that lawless Gentiles have "obtained
righteousness," and that Israel who pursued it by law has not,
is because justification is not by works, but by grace (Romans
9.32). They stumbled over Jesus, the rock of offense. He did not
fit their nationalist plans and I submit neither does he fit the
nationalist/Zionist plans of Premillennialism.
It is not that Paul does not want Jews to be saved, but
rather he wants Jews to be saved, and the
only way for a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
to become a true Israelite, is to be joined to the true Israel
of God, Jesus, by faith. "For there is no difference between Jew
and Gentilemdash;the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all
who call on him, 13 for, 'Everyone who
calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Romans 10.12).
"Not all of the Israelites have accepted the Gospel".
Has God rejected his people? No, the elect are his people and
all the elect will be saved. There are believing Jews. Paul uses
himself as an example (Romans 11.1). He is a part of the elect
remnant who have not bowed the knee to Baal. "So too, at the
present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it
were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11.5). What Israel
sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The
others were hardened
God's election of some and reprobation of others are the twin
facts of the history of redemption which Paul brings to bear on
the question of "Who is the Israel of God?" time and again he
teaches: Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ
alone; and "What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain,
but the elect did. The others were hardened
Is God finished saving Jews? Not at all. Salvation has come
to the Gentiles "to make Israel envious" (11.11). Gentiles, by
God's undeserved favor, have been grafted on to the Israel of
God. "Israel has experienced a hardening until the full number
of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved"
Christians are the Israel of God in Christ
Given this background, it should not surprise us at all when
the Apostles call both Jews and Gentiles "the Israel of God."
This is Paul's language to the mixed Galatian congregation.
1 Peter 2.9-10
The Apostle Peter uses the same sort of language to describe
the mostly Gentile congregations of Asia Minor to whom he wrote,
saying, "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people
of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have
According to the writer to the Hebrews, those who call on the
name of Christ are the "House of Israel." Everyone who has
trusted Christ is an heir of the promises of the New Covenant.
Does the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob love the Jews? Yes.
Does he have a plan for the Jews? Yes, it is the same plan he
promised to Adam, the seed of the Woman, the same plan he
promised to Abraham, "the Seed." That seed is one: Christ. He is
the Holy One of Israel, he is the Israel of God. He did what
Adam would not do. He did what stubborn Israel would and could
not do. He served the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and
Most of the Jews, however, were not looking for a Savior.
They were looking for a king. Jesus is King, but he earned his
throne by his obedience and death, and that is not what they
wanted. They wanted glory, power and an earthly, political,
theocratic, this-worldly kingdom. Jesus has established his
kingdom, through the preaching of the Gospel and the
administration of the sacraments. This kingdom may not be as
exciting as ruling from Jerusalem during an earthly golden age,
it may not sell many books or fill seats in movie theaters, but
the world never has found the Jesus of Scripture very
interesting, that's why he's stumbling block to Zionist Jews and
a foolishness to Greeks. To Christians, however, he is the
Christ, "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians