Let me explain why I’m writing this blog on “the Israel of God.”
I don’t think I even heard of Replacement Theology until recently. Then, one Sunday morning, there it was. In a sermon.
I agree. Some “theology” should be replaced. But that’s not what it means.
It means the church replaces Israel. And I found out that some people are not happy when they say the words “Replacement Theology.”
I wondered why.
Then I realized that it resembles something I read in the Bible. So when I heard it was “anti-Semitic” and “Satanic,” I thought, this cannot be good for God.
I’m not going to defend “Replacement Theology.” I have a hunch there are some things about it I don’t agree with. But I am going to defend God’s Word.
Galatians 6:15 and 16
I’ve read in the Bible that the church has become “the Israel of God.” People will say to me, “Oh no. That’s not what Paul means by the Israel of God! Israel is the Israel of God.”
Do you know what I think?
Paul is trying to tell us something in Galatians 6:15 and 16. But we are not listening.
Does Paul have the nation of Israel in mind when he says “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16?
Let him answer that.
Let him paint the picture we will hang in our Theological Gallery. It is an impressive gallery. As much as possible, we try to display only original works of art. That’s because we’d like to have a door open directly from there into the Great Hall where we actually study the Word of God.
So watch Paul while he paints.
He begins Galatians 6:15 and 16 with this: “For neither circumcision or uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation” (v. 15). For starters he pops out a cornerstone of Israel’s identity as a people. Circumcision. It is nothing, he says.
The point he’s making? The Gentile Galatians had no need to be circumcised.
But that’s not all.
“But,” the next word that skips across his “keyboard,” is another way of saying, “The times, they are a changin’.” It means, “You were looking north. Now look south.” It’s not about being a Jew or Gentile anymore (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14; John 10:16; 11:51,52). We no longer even think of Christ in this way. “From now on we know [recognize] no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we no longer know Him [in this way]” (II Cor. 5:16).
Wait a minute! Is that true? We recognize “no one” according to flesh?
Don’t we enjoy pointing out that our friends are “Greek” or “Jewish” or whatever, when we introduce them to someone? Sure, there are still Jews and Greeks, and so forth. That’s who we are. But Paul is saying that ethnicity is no longer an issue for us as Christians. Just as it makes no difference whether or not we’re circumcised.
New creation, new man
From now on it’s all about being “a new creation [a new creature].” Which he says in II Corinthians 5:17, anyone “in Christ” is.
And this “new creation” is the “new man” in Ephesians 2:15. That means we have sailed beyond national boundaries. There are no fortified walls. No moats with crocodiles. No “shores” where waves divide. Customs agents? Passports or visas? None. And no alarms going off every time I walk through a metal detector. We are brothers now. Together we make “ONE new man.” Who does? Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
We are no longer TWO. In case you missed that. I repeat. We are no longer TWO. I will only say it twice.
Paul, as I said, is telling the Galatian Christians they need not be circumcised and bound by law. They were being pressured to do this, so Judaizers among them could boast about their “flesh” (Gal. 6:12). Literally. Paul says, “As for me, I will only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (v. 14).
Having all that in mind; now look at verse 16 of Galatians 6.
Verse 16: the Israel of God
“And as many as” is selective. You are not part of this group unless you fit the description that follows. “As many as walk by this rule [the new creation-crucified to the world rule]: peace on them and mercy.” Anyone who lives their lives in this way, it is on them that “peace” and “mercy” rest.
“And upon the Israel of God.” The word “and” can be translated “and,” “also,” or “even.” Without putting too much weight on that, think about what Paul is saying. Peace and mercy are on those who live by the principle that the most important thing is being a new creation (a new creature). Not a Jew or Gentile. Not circumcised or uncircumcised. The world is crucified to you, and you to the world. You are in fact dead and now live a new life in Christ. And you “boast” in the cross! That is the general idea.
Again. Irrespective of how you translate “and”; can you place Israel, a nation that flatly denies that Jesus is the Messiah (and won’t be boasting in a cross anytime soon), under this “peace” and “mercy”? Is Paul saying they are not required to live by the “rule” others must follow to enjoy peace and mercy? Because they are “Israel,” they get a free pass? If you grant that, the words “as many as” are suddenly irrelevant! Paul would be erasing as fast as he writes.
To be in harmony with what he is teaching here, the “Israel of God” can only be one of two groups: (1) Christians in general, or (2) Jewish Christians. Either way, it is a reference to the church. If it is not the church, why would Paul make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles with the words “Israel of God” after he said there is none and that “a new creation” is key?
No. Paul is actually saying that the Israel of God LIVES BY the “rule” he gives in these verses. These are distinctive characteristics one can observe in “the Israel of God.”
The nature of a true Israelite is also expressed in John 1:47 and Romans 2:28 and 29.
So, the most accurate translation of “and” is “even.” Paul is saying followers of Jesus Christ, the “new creation,” are “the Israel of God.”
You do realize, don’t you, that if this is what Paul is saying, it is revolutionary?
It’s no longer “business as usual.” Theologically speaking.
There is still a nation of Israel. People who are known as Israelites. That hasn’t changed. But “the Israel of God,” Jewish and Gentile believers, are the true people of God (Rom. 9:23-26). They are the Israel “of God” because they follow His Son, in obedience to His will, and are the true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7,29; Matt. 3:9).
There is more we can learn from this.
Follow me closely.
But be careful! Don’t step on my heel.
Those Jews who believe, are the people He did not cast away (see Rom. 11:1,2a). Because some were rejected (v. 15). The people He did not cast away, are those “He foreknew”: the “remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:1-5). They are “beloved,” from before the foundation of the world, for the fathers’ sakes (Rom. 11:28), in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And for this simple reason, Israel will always exist as a nation (Jer. 31:35-37). “If the Lord of Sabaoth had not left us a seed, we would have become as Sodom and been like Gomorrah” (Rom. 9:29).
As for the rest of Israel, unless, or until, He brings them one by one to Christ (John 6:37), they are blinded (Rom. 11:7-10,25; II Cor. 3:14). And “The wrath of God has come upon them to the uttermost [to absolute completion and perfection]” (I Thess. 2:14-16; Luke 21:23). Less than twenty years after Paul wrote these words to the Thessalonians, the axe came down (Matt. 3:10). Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. It was a sad day. A tragic day (Luke 23:27-31)! A stake was driven through the heart of Israel as a nation. Something they have not fully recovered from, to this day. The Dome of the Rock and el-Aqsa mosque on the Haram esh-Sharif (the Temple Mount) stand as a solemn reminder of that, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:37 and 38 and Luke 19:41-44.
Apart from grace, the door has closed on them. But God will give them grace, when He, at His pleasure, imparts faith (Rom. 11:14,15,23-27,30,31; II Cor. 3:14-16; Matt. 23:39). Only through faith in Christ, will they obtain mercy.
A new name
So Israel as a nation has not obtained what it was seeking (they still haven’t found what they’re looking for), “but the election [among them] has” (Rom. 11:7).
It is as God said through Isaiah. “You [the nation] will leave your name for a curse to my chosen [elect] ones. . . But my servants [the elect remnant, plus believing Gentiles] will be called by another name” (Isa. 65:15). So the “new man” has a “new name”!
What is it?
I’m glad you asked.
The answer may be unexpected. . . Are you ready?
The new name is “Christian” (Acts 11:26; 26:27-29; I Pet. 4:16).
It makes sense, you say. Yes. It does.
So, in a strange way, since the two of us (Jews and Gentiles) are one, you could also say that Gentile believers are actually “contributing” somehow to Israel’s fullness (Rom. 11:12,17; 15:10,11; see Hos. 1:8-10; 2:23; Rom. 9:22-27; Matt. 8:10-12; Amos 9:9-12; Acts 15:13-18). We add an “exotic” flair, wouldn’t you say (Rom. 11:24; Rev. 21:24,26)?
We are certainly benefiting by them. (They look good on us.)
Seriously. We, as Gentiles, are truly humbled by this! “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body” (Eph. 3:6) with the Jews who believe! Being built together with them “into a holy temple in the Lord. . .a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:18-22). Talk about grace! We are totally unworthy to be part of something so amazing. What an honor we have been given!
Sharing the root
This means that, by God’s grace and His own eternal purpose in Christ, those of us who are Gentile believers now share the root and fatness of the olive tree, which is Israel (Rom. 11:17). We are grafted in among them. So, to say we have “replaced” Israel, is not the best or most accurate way to describe what God has done. It’s more like we’ve joined up. As a result, Gentile believers are no longer “estranged from the commonwealth [or state] of Israel, and aliens to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12; Rom. 15:27).
We are in the same temple. And the same tree.
So anyone who remembers what Jesus said: that “the kingdom will be taken from you [national Israel, represented by it’s religious leaders] and given to a nation bearing the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43), knows that this “nation” (I Pet. 2:9), the primitive church, began as a Jewish “sect.” Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. The first church in Jerusalem was Jewish. This is a historical fact. Even though the wall between us came down (Eph. 2:14), and as Christians we no longer think in ethnic terms, our faith began as a Jewish faith.
I am not anti-Semitic. The first followers of Jesus are my brothers and sisters. As are all who believed since then. Our heritage began with them and is embodied in them. And we Gentiles are grafted in among them. We are fellow branches. Fellow “beams.” Fellow stones in a spiritual house (I Pet. 2:5). By God’s grace.
We love our Jewish brothers and sisters! And are thankful to God for them! I look forward to sharing eternity with them. Not just a tree.
Our hearts also desire the salvation of every unsaved Jew the Lord allows us to meet. My wife and I seek to share the Gospel with them. And we pray for their salvation.
Our joy is in the Word. The truth.
As for the subject of this blog, as I said, Gentiles in Christ are no longer “estranged from the commonwealth [or state] of Israel, and aliens to the covenants of promise.” We, and our Jewish brothers and sisters, are “the Israel of God” (Rom. 4:16). All the hallmarks of God’s blessing on Israel (in the six points below), by His grace, also belong to us. But the measure of these gifts is even greater through Christ! See and compare Romans 9:4 with the following texts.
These blessings were given to Israel. But the church is blessed in a way that corresponds to each one in the Scriptures given.
God’s blessings on Israel are shared by the church, the Israel of God
(1) The adoption: Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26; 4:4-6; Romans 8:14 and 15.
(2) The glory: Ephesians 3:21; Colossians 1:27; Romans 8:18; 9:23 and 24; I Peter 5:1 and 10; II Corinthians 4:17; 3:7-14 and 18; James 2:1; Revelation 15:5 and 8.
(3) The covenants: Ephesians 2:12 and 19.
(4) The law-giving: Hebrews 10:16; Matthew 28:19 and 20; Colossians 3:16; 1:28; Romans 10:4; 13:10; Hebrews 8:1,2,10 and 11; 9:8,11,12 and 23-26; 10:1 and 19-22.
(5) The service: John 4:21,23 and 24; Philippians 3:3; 4:18; Romans 12:1; 15:16 and 27; II Timothy 4:6; Malachi 3:3 and 4; I Peter 2:5 and 9; Zechariah 6:12 and 13; Acts 15:14-17; Ephesians 2:18-22; Hebrews 12:28; 13:10,15 and 16; 8:4 and 5a; 9:14; Luke 1:74 and 75; Matthew 12:6; Revelation 1:5 and 6; 5:9 and 10; 7:15; 13:6; 22:3; Genesis 15:5 and Jeremiah 33:22.
(6) The promises: Galatians 3:29; Hebrews 8:6. II Corinthians 7:1 refers to several promises given to Israel (quoted in 6:16-18), that are ours as well, according to Paul. They can be found in such OT texts as Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38 and 31:9; Ezekiel 37:27 and 20:34 and 41; and Isaiah 52:11 and 43:6. Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 43:21 also find their ultimate fulfillment in the church in I Peter 2:9 and Revelation 1:6 (and 5:9,10). And the promise to Israel and Joshua, before they crossed the Jordan into Canaan (Deut. 31:1-8; Josh. 1:5), as well as the promise in Psalm 118:6, are promises the church embraces in Hebrews 13:5 and 6. These are just a few examples.
In the volume of the Book it is written of Me
Now we will take a look at the bottom line.
You and I both know that there has to be a definitive Jesus “connection” in the OT promises we cherish. Actually, if you remove Him, you press a “delete” button on all of them!
How is that?
(1) The promise of the Messiah is paramount in all the promises of God to Israel (Acts 13:23,29-33; 26:6-9; II Cor. 1:20; Col. 1:18). Jesus, as always, is preeminent.
(2) All Scriptural truth finds its ultimate meaning and fulfillment in Him (Col. 2:17).
(3) The promises were spoken (made) to Him (“to Abraham and his seed, which is Christ“: Gal. 3:16; Heb. 1:1,2; see Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 17:7,8; 24:7) and find their “yes” in Him (II Cor. 1:18-20). So all those who belong to Christ, share them with Him (Gal. 3:29; 4:7; Rom. 8:16,17).
(4) He confirmed the promises to Israel when He came, because He is central in them all (Mic. 7:20; Luke 1:54,55,67-79; 2:36-38; 24:21-27,44-48; Rom. 15:8).
Yet He goes largely unnoticed by those who see the promises to Israel as primarily physical and political. (Unless a “political” significance is attached to Him.) Why is that? Because of a desire to defend the “everlasting” nature of promises to Israel relating to “land” (Gen. 13:15; 17:8; 48:3,4; Ps. 105:8-12; Amos 9:15) and the like. Israel’s national interests. Promises that are everlasting in a temporal sense (unless, as in Gen. 17:13, the ultimate fulfillment is spiritual: Col. 2:11; Phil. 3:3; Acts 7:51). For the world, as we know it, is passing away. We look for a new earth. The “land,” along with the present earth, will be destroyed by fire.
The fulfillment of promises that are eternal, cannot be realized here. But in a heavenly land. The patriarchs understood this (Heb. 11:8-10,13-16). If the nation of Israel possesses the land for a thousand years, or even two thousand years, it is not forever. The ultimate fulfillment of anything “everlasting,” must reach beyond this world.
So “everlasting” is only a problem if we are determined to drive our tent pegs into this earth.
But it’s not a problem if we have a Biblical perspective. If we still have a “compass” in our hand.
As the Bible says. . .
“Don’t look at the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are only for a time, but the things that are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:18). “Seek the things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Think about the things that are above, not the things on the earth” (Col. 3:1,2). A Jewish believer said to his brothers and sisters, “We have no abiding city here” (Heb. 13:14).
Only “Jerusalem that is above” is eternal (Gal. 4:25,26). We’ve come to Zion. But it’s not in the West Bank (Heb. 12:22-24).
We look for a beautiful Savior in a heavenly land.
Why is that?
Because we are the Israel of God. For us, it’s all about a new creation! We no longer muse over the Old World across the Atlantic.
© James Unruh, 2017 and beyond