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?” (Acts 1.6).
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. Scripture says,
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 conclusions.
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 saying,
“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 Kingdom (“…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 Matthew 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” (Mt 20.28).
Therefore, we cannot agree with the argument of the Dispensationalist Clarence Larkin, when he interpreted Jesus’ words,
“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 judgment.
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 24.25-7).
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 from it.
There are three things to be said about conditions relative to the covenant of grace.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 15.6).
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, “My covenant.”
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 “fading.”
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).
Israel Defined: 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 and men.”
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 (Deut 7.7)
According to this passage, there are two reasons for God’s choosing of Israel, His undeserved love and His Covenant promise to Abraham.
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. Scripture says,
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 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 2.19-34).
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” (John 8.28-9).
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 anyone.
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 4.11-12)
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&—not 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…(Romans 2.29).
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…(Eph 2.15-16).
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 so? Because
before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—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 9.25-6).
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 descendant 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 Gentile—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…” (11.7).
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” (11.25-6).
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 received mercy.”
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 strength.
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 1.24).