The Israel of God (Part 3)

Again, I am putting down some thoughts on what I believe concerning Israel from a new covenant perspective. My premise is that the ekklesia of Christ, that is the body of Christ made up of believing Jew and Gentile, is the true Israel of God.

In part 1, I began by considering one specific aspect, mainly that God has made a new covenant people through a new circumcision. Then, in part 2, I focused on God’s people being a new creation people and a new people of faith.
In this article, I will consider two more aspects, those two being the new Jerusalem and Jesus’ choosing of a new group of twelve. I will, then, end out the series in my next article by considering the continuity between the Old Testament Hebrew word qahal and the New Testament Greek word ekklesia, which I believe supports the reality that the ekklesia (or church) is the true Israel.

A New Jerusalem
In the Old Testament, there is no doubt that God made Jerusalem the city from which His rule would be specially manifest. The throne of the king was established there and the temple, which housed the ark of the covenant, was planted in its midst. Jerusalem was the ‘city of God’ and that name even became a synonym for the old covenant people of God.

But, when we turn to the New Testament, specifically to the book of Hebrews, the author speaks to God’s people at one point to let them know that the church, or again, the ekklesia, is the heavenly Jerusalem.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

One of the main teachings of the book of Hebrews is that the new covenant, in all its aspects, is a better covenant than that of the old.

  • A better hope (Hebrews 7:19)
  • A better covenant (Hebrews 7:22)
  • Better promises (Hebrews 8:6)
  • Christ as a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23)
  • A better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16)
  • A better word spoken in the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:24)

And, from Hebrews 12:22-24, we see that, in Christ, a new (and better) city has been formed, the heavenly Jerusalem. In the context, the word heavenly does not refer to the ‘sky’ or ‘up there’, but rather to that which is ‘of heaven’ or ‘of God’. Paul contrasts the old Jerusalem with the heavenly one with these words:

25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem [physical, earthly Jerusalem], for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above [heavenly Jerusalem] is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:25-26)

John also refers to God’s people as the new Jerusalem:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)

It is the Bride of Christ who makes up the new, heavenly Jerusalem. This Bride consists of Jews and Gentiles who are in Christ. God does not have two peoples, two brides, two Jerusalems, two olive trees (Romans 11), two bodies, etc. There is one and one alone in Christ.

Therefore, we must remember that, in the economy of God, Jerusalem is no longer centred in the middle-east. Rather, Jerusalem is now the entire body of Christ, the ekklesia of God’s people, that is the believing people of God spread across the whole earth.

‘God’s people no longer gather in Jerusalem. Rather, they now worship in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb.12:22). The earthly city was a shadow of the heavenly reality. Sinai burned with physical fire; heaven burns with the fire of God’s presence (Heb. 12:18, 29).’ (Edmund Clowney, The Church)

A New Group of Twelve
In the Old Testament, following the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, there had been twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:28; Exodus 24:4; etc). These twelve tribes, identified by the names of the twelve sons of Jacob (with Joseph being split into Benjamin and Manasseh), became the covenant people of God.

But, as we move on into the New Testament, just following the inauguration of Christ’s ministry, we see that He called twelve initial apostles to Himself (Mark 3:13-19). This was a significant act for the Messiah to choose these twelve, as it was a pronouncement that a new people, a new Israel, were being initiated. These twelve were known as the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14).

This new people were not completely distinct from old covenant Israel, as I pointed out in my thoughts on a new people of faith. Rather, God was making a decisive declaration that being a part of His people was not simply down to one’s race heritage, but rather down to one’s faith response, following in the footsteps of the father of faith, Abraham.

Author and scholar N.T. Wright helps with seeing this:

‘The reason why there were twelve of them [apostles] is obvious to anyone who understands Jewish culture and history. There had been twelve tribes of Israel, and Jesus was signalling, in his choice of twelve close followers to be around him, that God had called him to renew and restore the people of Israel.’ (N.T. Wright, Acts For Everyone: Part 1)

Therefore, with this choosing of a new group of twelve, there is no doubt with regards to Christ’s intention: He had begun a new people. As Wright also points out, by use of the word ‘new’, we do not mean wholly and completely different, as in a rejection of the previous. But ‘new’ refers to a re-creation and fresh focus. A restoration was being brought to God’s people and their identification would no longer be by the physical heritage and circumcision, but by a true inward circumcision and faith response. And that faith response would be in Christ and Christ alone. This is the new covenant Israel.

So, for me, it is clear that God had formed a new Israel. Again, this Israel is not completely different from the old covenant Israel, but rather a continuation and fulfilment of all God’s purposes for His people. Stick with me as I share some more thoughts in my next article.

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