In my recent discussions with those hermeneutically opposed to my biblical worldview, we seem to keep coming back to the discussion of whether the church is now “True Israel.” In fact, it seems to be the biggest stumbling block in our little group that we have (aside from whether there will be an actual, literal millennial reign of Christ on earth).
Now, many will admit that God still has a plan for “Israel” (national/ethnic Jews), but since Christ has come and fulfilled everything, He now is Israel. According to them, because Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament, and we are now in Christ, we are Israel. The viewpoint of these is that God only ever had one people, for all time, and that through national Israel’s failings, we have not only been grafted in, but somehow, we have become the tree itself instead of just a lonely branch.
Granted, as Christian’s, we are the “seed of Abraham” in the spiritual sense (Gal. 3:16). But that does not make the church the “seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Needless to say, all that seems to do is discount God’s specific calling of a real, physical people out of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Romans 9:6-13). Quoting the conversation between God and Moses, Paul records that God declares, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy.” In Romans 9, Paul further goes on to use Pharaoh as an example of God raising Him up, only so that He could use him to demonstrate His power.
For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Rom. 9:17-18).
So it is with the creation of Israel, God deliberately set Abram aside as a Gentile (Josh 24:2), and then through His calling, changes Abram to Abraham and from Sarai, to Sarah, where then Moses records Abram as being the first Hebrew in Scriptures (Gen 14:13). And through Abraham’s son, Isaac (the son of promise), would come a physical nation whose calling was to be as a “kingdom of priests” before the Lord…
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).
Paul further clarifies, that because of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, God would cause a partial hardening to happen (Rom. 11:25), but because of God’s promises (covenants) to the patriarchs, they (Israel as a physical people) are beloved. So that puts them at odds directly with the Church in Paul’s day, and even unto our day, that this hardening has continued, and will continue, until God once again turns His focus back upon the people that He originally called for Himself.
“Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:28-32).
And since the church is not an enemy to the cross, but redeemed by it, we cannot be the same thing. The argument then shifts that we are now “true Israel” or “spiritual Israel.” According to Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, the term “Israel” is used 73 times in the New Testament, of which, the vast majority refers to national, ethnic Israel. Two verses I have had used on me repeatedly Gal. 3;16 and Romans 9:6, SEEM to lead one to the view that the church has taken Israel’s place, if taken completely out of the context with the rest of the chapter or even book, as with Galatians. I would like to pull two quotes from here that capitalize on this point with extreme clarity.
§ The usage of the terms Israel and the church in the early chapters of the book of Acts is in complete harmony, for Israel exists there alongside the newly formed church, and the two entities are kept separate in terminology [Ibid., p. 189].
§ On the contrary, the apostle is concerned with correcting the gospel preached to the Galatians by the Judaizers, particularly their false contention that it was necessary to be circumcised to be saved and to observe as Christians certain requirements of the law of Moses in order to remain in divine favor . . . The apostle makes no attempt whatsoever to deny that there is a legitimate distinction of race between Gentile and Jewish believers in the church . . . . There is a remnant of Jewish believers in the church according to the election of grace . . . . This approach fails to see that Paul does not say there is neither Jew nor Greek within the church. He speaks of those who are “in Christ.” . . . But Paul also says there is neither male nor female, nor slave nor free man in Christ. Would he then deny sexual differences within the church? Or the social differences in Paul’s day? Is it not plain that Paul is not speaking of national or ethnic differences in Christ, but of spiritual status? In that sense there is no difference in Christ [Ibid., p. 190].
True Israel then are those Jews who have come to faith in their Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, and through faith have been redeemed by His blood, and not through the blood required of by the Mosaic covenant (the Law) i.e.…. that of bulls, goats, and sheep. Hebrews 10:11-14 states:
“…For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
But God also promised Abraham that he would be a “father of many nations” not only as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashores, but as many as the stars in the heavens above (Gen 22:16-18). That leads me to think that God was telling Abraham prophetically that there would be both physical descendents and spiritual ones. I don’t think Abraham would have understood that at that time, but what he was expecting, was a physical heir, one of his own flesh. But as with the sand and the stars, one would come by the flesh, the other through like-faith. Two distinct nations unified in Christ in this dispensation, but who, still remain their distinct identities. The Gentiles are the wild branch grafted in, and the other, the natural branch, becoming true Israel. Are we then true Israel if we are grafted in?
“…You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 9:16-23).
First of all, the olive tree is and isn’t Israel, because Israel isn’t a tree, it’s a nation. It represents Israel nationally, but it’s not even the tree itself, but just the branches. It is a metaphor meant to convey the place of privilege that Israel had prior to the church’s birth at Pentecost. This example of the olive tree also can’t be speaking about salvation.
As born-again believers, can we be “cut off” as Israel has? No, because Paul writes in both Ephesians 1:11-14 and in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, that we are purchased by God, and sealed by His Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. So if we could be cut off, Paul would be contradicting himself. So what is at stake here is not salvation, but privilege. What we are grafted into, is that same privilege in God’s economy, as Israel once had.
Remember back to Exodus 19, where God assembled the nation of Israel together for the first time at Mt. Sinai, and stated then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people. Their calling was as a nation. Their covenant they agreed to as a nation was conditional (Ex. 24:1-4), but the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:12-20) was not. Abraham’s calling and the covenants that ensued through Isaac and Jacob were unconditional. SO if the church replaces Israel, who they say represents the tree, then the whole tree would have to be cut down if it were to be cut off.
So you and I as believers are grafted into this place of privilege in God’s sovereign plan, we are now God’s focus in this dispensation I call the “Church Age.” We have been gifted with the giving of the Holy Spirit, and have a complete set of Scriptures and 20 centuries of hindsight that we can look back upon and see how God’s word has not only been faithful, but come to pass exactly as it said it would. But we as a people are no better than were the Jews of yester-year. We still sin, because we still live in our sin-corrupted bodies and a sin-stained world. The only difference between them and us, is that we have the once and for all sacrifice applied to our lives, that we might become the righteousness of God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
To think now, that we have achieved some level of superiority over the Jews, whether that is admitted out loud, or only in our heads, is ludicrous. It is all by grace and mercy, that we even have the opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord. It was only through the Jewish race that a Messiah could come. It was only through the patriarchs like Abraham that demonstrated for us what faith looks like, so that we could have a standard to measure our own lives against. Did they know what the Messiah would come and do? Did they know He would not only make a way that we could be reconciled to God, but also that would He conquer death and hell?
Scriptures tell us that they longed to understand His coming, but only got bits and pieces (1 Peter 1:10-12); they looked forward to His coming, and we look back. God through His own sovereignty chose them (Israel) as a people, just as in this age, He chose us. It is God who chooses to whom He will have mercy on. And at the end of this Age, God will, because He is faithful, fulfill to the uttermost the things that He made covenant with them through their patriarchs. And if God could break His unbreakable covenants with them, then we should be fearful.
It was a natural procession of thinking in fallen men, that because of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and their Temple, and because Jews remained hostile to the Gospel, because of this partial hardening, that they were doomed and cursed for all eternity. As the church became more Gentile, the tendency became to lay the blame of Christ’s crucifixion solely on the Jews. So who really killed Christ? Let’s look and see who our likely candidates COULD have been?
1. Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ (Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:15, 27:3, 9).
2. Roman leadership washed their hands of Christ (Pilate, Herod) and actually mocked, beat, scourged, and nailed Him to the cross (Matt. 27:27-31) .
3. The Jews chanted, “Crucify Him” (Matt. 27:24-26).
4. God the Father (Isa 53:10, Acts 2:23; Romans 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19-20) knowingly and willingly allowed it.
5. You and I required it (Gal. 6:14; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; Heb. 12:2).
It was because of my sins that the Father determined to find a way before the foundation of the world, to bridge that gap between His perfect righteousness and my vile wickedness. It was His plan to bring through the Jews, a perfect man, who would be betrayed by Judas, rejected by His own people, who through the Romans would crucify the Son of Man, for my behalf. So I have no one to blame but myself.
But for those replacement theologians who still insist that I am now Israel, then there is only one person who I qualify to be.
I am Barrabas.