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ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH

From the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) the nation of Israel is dominant in the Old Testament, while from the public ministry of Christ, the Church dominates in the New Testament. These two facts raise some fundamental questions: What is the relationship of Israel and the Church? Is there strict distinction and separation? Is there continuity which results in essential union? Do the prophecies of the Old Testament apply to a restored and redeemed ethnic Israel, or are they meant only for the Church and are to be fulfilled in a deeply spiritual sense? Is there both discontinuity as well as continuity between Israel and the Church?

Paul speaks of “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16; the fuller phrase is “and upon the Israel of God”), and the words require an answer as to what is intended. Do the words belong to the New Testament, do the words belong to the Old Testament, or do the words belong to both Testaments in that by these few words the two Testaments are united? Does the Text refer to: one, the ethnic nation of Israel; two, saved Jews who belong to the churches of Galatia; or three, the Church, which is composed of Jew and Gentile and is, therefore, a spiritual development from the Old Testament ethnic nation? The issue is whether the word “and” can be understood as “even”; only the theological understanding of the word can determine the meaning.

Other passages are related to this issue:

Rom. 9:6 – “for they are not all Israel who are of Israel”; the entire chapter is speaking of the nation of Israel; “of Israel” refers to physical Jews, descended from Abraham; “Israel” refers to those of these Jews who are the true people of God, the spiritual children of the promise.

Rom. 11:16-24 – the account of the olive tree; there is the olive tree and the tree does not become the Church nor does the Church replace it; rather, for a time the Church is grafted into the tree but the tree remains.

The issue in simple words is this:

What is the relationship
of the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament
to the Church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament?

Thoughts

The New Testament does not identify Israel with the Church; in fact, they are spoken of as separate concepts; see Rom. 9-11 for an example.

It seems proper to keep Israel and the Church separate; the one is not transformed into the other, nor are the two merged; the concepts are distinct.

All believers belong to the Church, the congregation of God’s people, whether from the Old Testament or from the New Testament; the body of Christ is one.

It is extremely difficult to classify the promises in the Old Testament, those which apply to literal Israel alone and those which are to be understood in a spiritual sense and are, therefore, applicable to the Church alone.

The Church is not an interruption nor a parenthesis in God’s redemptive work, but is the continuation of His eternal plan.

There is a sense in which ethnic Jews are Jews—the descendants of Abraham; but in a deeper sense the true Jew is the spiritual Jew—one who accepts and follows Christ. Abraham is the father of both.

In the Church, or in Christ, the Jew and Gentile have been united, made one.

It does seem that there are some prophecies that relate exclusively to the nation of Israel that await fulfillment.

Through the fulfillment of prophecies that relate in a literal sense to the nation of Israel, a spiritual purpose will be accomplished in the life of the nation: physical Jews will become spiritual Jews.

Specifically, regarding the promises to the nation, there are three answers:

One, they were never intended to be literal; they were just spoken in literal terms in order to teach and inspire the nation at the time; we are to understand them in that sense; the promises were for a season; the emphasis now should be Christ, and they are completely and fully fulfilled in and through Him.

Two, they were intended for the nation of Israel alone, and have no meaning for the Church, except the historical lessons that can be gleamed; the nation and the Church must be kept separate; each has a destiny.

Three they were meant for the nation in a literal sense—and some still wait fulfillment—but they also are to be understood as symbolically applying to the Church; the ultimate application of all of the history of the nation of Israel is to the Church in a spiritual sense not to a future ethnic kingdom in a literal sense; thus the Old Testament must be transformed into the New Testament; the literal become spiritual (Matt. 21:34); the fulfillment of the literal is for the purpose of the spiritual—physical Jews must become spiritual Jews.

True Israel is spiritual Israel. Though meaning literal Israel (see: Hos. 1:6-11) Hos. 2:23 is applied to spiritual Israel by Paul in Rom. 9:24-25; thus, the people of God, Jew or Gentile, have always been the true Israel of God.

The Israel of God is true Israel which has been redefined in terms of Christ.

When they are saved, Jews become part of the Israel of God.

When they are saved, Gentiles become part of the Israel of God.

According to Romans there is a moment of redemption awaiting the nation (Rom. 9-11). At that time many ethnic Jews will become spiritual Jews and members of the Church, the congregation of God’s people, the Israel of God.


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