The Israel Of God (4)

In part 3 we considered what Scripture says about national Israel.

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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 (Eph 2:11–22; Col 2:8–3:11).

Matthew 2:15

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 Hosea 11:1.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 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).

Galatians 3:16

In a similar way, the Apostle Paul argues very clearly that the promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ. Galatians 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

Acts 13:23

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 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. ”

Abraham’s Children

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.  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. 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” (Rom 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 (Rom 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…. (Rom 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.

Next time: Not All Israel Is Israel.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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4 comments

  1. Scott,

    I appreciate this series.

    Question: Does the concept of recapitulation relate at all to the idea of republication?

  2. At least one, and maybe only one anyone has used that language: R Scott Clark

    “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).”

    http://rscottclark.org/2011/01/on-the-new-covenant/

    • I got it from Irenaeus c. 150 AD. He’s the pioneer of the idea of recapitulation. The question is whether there is a connection between recapitulation (Irenaeus) and republication of the Mosaic law.

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