Strangers And Aliens (9): The Israel Of God (1 Peter 2:9–10)

The-Israelites-after-Crossing-the-Red-SeaUnder Moses and then under the Monarchy there were three special offices in Israel: Prophet, Priest, and King. These offices, of course, were given as part of the formation of God’s temporary, national people Israel, named after Jacob (Gen 32:28), whom God named Israel (‏יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל) because he wrestled with God. Out of Israel came 12 tribes (Gen 49:28), who were “fruitful fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Ex 1:7; ESV). Yahweh delivered his people Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea (‏ἐρυθρὰν θάλασσαν in LXX and Acts 7:36; Heb 11:29) on dry ground (Ex 14:16, 22, 29; 15:19; Ps 106:9). He made them his national people as a colorful, violent, bloody sermon illustration pointing forward to realities yet to come, to the the Incarnate Word (John 1:1–3, 14, 18) and the last prophet (Mark 6:4; Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37), our Melchizedekian priest (Heb 2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15; 5:5–10; 6:20; chapters 7-9; 13:11), and our ascended and reigning king (Matt 21:5; 27:11, 29; John 1:49; 12:13; 18:33–37; Acts 17:7; 1 Tim 1:7; 6:15; Rev 15:3; 17:14; 19:16). Indeed, Jesus is the Israel of God. He went down to Egypt and after which Scripture declared “out of Egypt I called my Son” (Matt 2:15). The language originally used to describe God’s national people, God now applies to Jesus. Just as Hebrews explains that Moses was a servant in God’s house (Heb 3:5) and Jesus is the Son (3:6) and, thus, Moses works for Jesus (i.e., he points to and is fulfilled by Jesus) so too Israel works for Jesus, as it were. The whole function of the national Israelite economy was not to point to a third earthly temple nor to a restored civil-religious kingdom but to Christ. Further, as Paul says in Galatians 6:16, all who have been given new life and true faith in Jesus are the “Israel of God.” We, believers, are the Israel of God. In our passage the Apostle Peter picks up and elaborates upon this new covenant reality.

1 Peter 2:9–10

9ὑμεῖς δὲ γένος ἐκλεκτόν, βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, ἔθνος ἅγιον, λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν, ὅπως τὰς ἀρετὰς ἐξαγγείλητε τοῦ ἐκ σκότους ὑμᾶς καλέσαντος εἰς τὸ θαυμαστὸν αὐτοῦ φῶς·10οἵ ποτε οὐ λαὸς νῦν δὲ λαὸς θεοῦ, οἱ οὐκ ἠλεημένοι νῦν δὲ ἐλεηθέντες. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (ESV).

v. 9: The Israel Of God
Writing to believers in Asia Minor in the 60s AD, the Apostle Peter says that they are an “elect race” (γένος ἐκλεκτόν) and a holy people (ἅγιον, λαὸς). This is the language that was used of national Israel in Deuteronomy 7, as they prepared to enter Canaan (itself a type of heavenly realities). Peter’s language here is an allusion to Deuteronomy 7:6: ““For you are a people holy to the Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” As we saw earlier in 1 Peter, Jesus is Yahweh. God the Son elected national Israel to be his temporary national people to point first to himself and then to the new covenant realities that were coming to pass in the decades after his ascension. The ascended Lord Jesus, prophet, priest, and king over his people is collecting a new covenant people from the nations, Jew and Gentile alike, to be his people sola gratia, sola fide. The old special offices of prophet, priest, and king have been fulfilled in Christ and now he has made his people into prophets, priests, and kings by virtue of our union with Christ. We are his royal priesthood (βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα). This is not to say that there are no special offices. Peter himself writes to elders (ch, 5) as an apostle and shepherd. Paul instructs us about ministers, elders, and deacons, which are a reflection of the prophetic function in the ministry of the Word, the ruling office, and the ministry to the healing needs of God’s people (Lev 14). The Lord had called Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6; ESV) but, in their temporary, national covenant Israel did not cleanse either Canaan nor themselves (Ez 22:24) did they purify their hearts (Ps 73:1) and therefore the Lord put Israel out of the land (Deut 29:25–28; 1 Kings 9:7). She neither ruled over God’s temporary, earthly kingdom nor did she remain God’s dominion (Ps 114:1,2). In Christ, in the new covenant made in his blood (Luke 22:20), there is a new reality present in the world. Christ is our priest-king (Ps 110) and we are a royal priesthood in him but not by virtue of being part of a national people but by virtue of union with Christ. What was promised in Isaiah 61:6, “You shall be called priests of Yahweh” is true of those who are united to Christ, through the Spirit, by faith alone.

Christ’s kingdom is Spiritual. He was quite explicit about this: ““My kingdom is not of this world (ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου). If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from here (ἐντεῦθεν)” (John 18:36). Christ was not saying that his kingdom is ethereal. He was not a Gnostic. There is a flesh and blood manifestation of his kingdom, outposts or embassies. Wherever his people gather for corporate worship, wherever the marks of the true church are present (the pure preaching of the Word, the pure administration of the sacraments, the use of church discipline) are present, there is a manifestation of the true church. The Spirit has called his elect people out of spiritual darkness. He has given to us new life and sight. By definition, those who live in darkness cannot see. Those who have been brought into the light can see. Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12). By his grace, Christ and light has shone his light on us and within us. By his grace we can see what others cannot—not because we are more clever or have a secret (Gnostic) insight but because of his free favor to us. In that we are just like the Israelites described in Deuteronomy 7. God did not grant us new life because of anything in us or done by us or even because he foresaw what we would do. He gave us new life to demonstrate his kindness and mercy and grace and so that we would, as Peter says, that we might proclaim (ἐξαγγείλητε) Christ’s virtues (ἀρετὰς).

v. 10: From “Not My People” to God’s People
The Christians to whom Peter wrote were mostly Gentiles. Hitherto, before the ascension of Christ, in the history of salvation they had been largely excluded from the people of God from, as Paul says, “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom 9:4; ESV). In Old Testament terms they were “Not my people” (‏לֹֽא־עַמִּי֙). This is how God described Israel in Hosea (1:9; 2:23). Because of their disobedience, God had made national Israel like the Gentiles. Peter interprets the promise of Hosea 2:23 to apply to new covenant believers:

and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People,‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” (ESV)

Now, in Christ, the dividing wall has been broken down (Eph 2:4), Gentiles have been ingrafted (Rom 11:7), sola gratia, sola fide. Now, in the new covenant, the types and shadows have been fulfilled. The 613 civil and ceremonial old covenant laws have been abrogated. The final, eschatological reality is inaugurated. Ethnicity and national status are now immaterial to belonging to the people of God. There were foreshadowings of this under Moses and David but now, in Christ, the promises of Genesis 12, 15, and 17 are beginning to come to fruition. This is Paul’s teaching also in Romans 9:25, 26. Those who were once outside the visible people are now being brought in. Under national Israel God had commissioned his people to conduct holy war against the Canaanites, as a picture of the final judgment. Now, however, that Christ has absorbed that judgment for all his people, Jew and Gentile alike are being called to recognize the greatness of their sin and misery, to see Christ for who he is: Prophet, Priest, and King, and to turn to him in true faith and bow the knee in submission and devotion to the the Word, the Savior who laid down his life for all of God’s elect.

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