The Israel of God (Part 1)

I have begun a series that is in two major parts. The first major part considered how Christ is the great fulfiller of Israel (part 1, part 2). In support of such a claim, I shared five specific Scriptural pointers as to how we can know Christ fulfilled Israel’s role:

  • Jesus was God’s great firstborn Son
  • Jesus was the true vine
  • Jesus was faithful in His temptation
  • Jesus was disciplined by the Father
  • Jesus received the promises of Abraham

It is those five things in particular that I believe show Christ is, if you will, the great Israel Himself.

Knowing such, I, then, concluded that this truth should lead us to another theological conclusion: all of those in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are the new Israel of God. It is this subject that I plan to take up over my next few articles.

Most who have studied Pauline theology recognise that one of the main themes in his letters is the concept of believers, or the church, being ‘in Christ’. This phrase, and similar wordings, show up some 164 times in his epistles. It is the body of Christ, His ekklesia, that has been joined and united to Christ. We see such especially highlighted in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:1-14)

Such is an amazing passage that details the reality of what it means to be in Him, or in Christ.

Thus, all those joined to Christ are to participate in and receive all the blessings that belong to Christ. Consequently, if Christ is the true Israel, and I propose that He is, then all those who are in Christ, Jew and Gentile, must be the true Israel of God.

Consider these words from theologian Michael Green:

‘If he [Jesus] was Messiah, his followers must be the true Israel. It was as simple as that. The Messiah was inconceivable apart from his flock. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, and his people were therefore heirs to all its promises. This meant that those Jews who did not put their faith in Jesus were renegades from the true Israel; they might be Jews outwardly, but were not so at heart.’ (Evangelism in the Early Church, p144)

But what does Scripture say, right? Well, that’s what I do want to take up. I believe there are six specific Scriptural pointers as to why the church, the ekklesia consisting of both Jew and Gentile in Christ, make up the new covenant Israel of God:

  • A new circumcision
  • A new creation
  • A new people of faith
  • A new Jerusalem
  • A new group of twelve
  • The continuity between the Hebrew word qahal and the Greek word ekklesia

I shall end this article by considering the first point mentioned:

A New Circumcision
The nation of Israel was a people who were to be recognised by the covenant sign of circumcision. We see this established through the covenant with Abraham:

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:9-11)

But even within the old covenant, physical circumcision was to be a sign of something greater, for consider these two passages from Jeremiah:

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD;
remove the foreskin of your hearts

O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;

lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,

because of the evil of your deeds. (Jeremiah 4:4)

25 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh – 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” (Jeremiah 9:25-26)

In the eyes of God, there has always been something more important than the cutting away of flesh from the male reproductive organ. Circumcision was to be a matter of the heart, not simply the foreskin.

Paul confirms this in his letters as he expounded on the new covenant work of Christ by the Spirit:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)

Yes, it is true that God had declared circumcision as an ‘everlasting covenant’ (see Genesis 17:13). But it is the everlasting aspect of this covenant that is fulfilled in the new covenant. Therefore, all of those in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, who have been circumcised by the Spirit, are the ones who comprise Israel.

God is not ultimately bothered whether our males are circumcised in their flesh or not. If one circumcises their children (I believe America is one of the few nations, maybe the only, that practices such outside of Jews), then that is completely fine. But whether one comes from a Jewish background or a Gentile background (America included), God ultimately wants a circumcised heart by His Spirit. That is what brings new life, that is what brings regeneration, that is what makes one part of Christ’s ekklesia.

As a final thought, Edmund Clowney gives these insightful words about the Spirit-circumcised Israel:

‘[Paul] never explained that Christians were joining a new entity, the church, and not Israel, and that circumcision was therefore inappropriate. On the contrary, he claimed for the church the true spiritual circumcision of Christ, gained by union with him.’ (The Church, p43)

Thus, for those of us, whether Jew or Gentile, who are truly in Christ, we constitute the one and only people of God. And God has always desired such a people who have had a circumcision within by the work of the Spirit of God. That, my friends, is the Israel of God.

In my next article, I will take up these two points: a new creation and a new people of faith.

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