So I am in the midst of a series on what I believe the Bible truly teaches about the Israel of God. Ultimately, I believe the New Testament teaches us that Christ is the great Israel of God because He fulfilled Israel’s role to the ‘T’. And, therefore, I believe that all those who are in Christ and have become part of the new covenant – both Jew and Gentile – make up the new covenant Israel of God.
In my last article, I begun by sharing one major pointer as to why I believe those in Christ are the Israel of God. That specific point was that God has instituted a new circumcision through the new covenant. Whereas the old covenant people were defined by physical circumcision, though it was to point to an inward circumcision, such a physical circumcision is of no longer of any consequence within the new covenant. What matters is that one is circumcised by the Spirit of Christ (i.e. Romans 2:28-29).
Matter of fact, Paul tells the Philippian church:
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)
Those in Christ are the true circumcision. Paul did not say this because they had their physical foreskins removed. He said this because the foreskins of their heart had been removed by the Spirit. Therefore, they were those who were not putting their confidence ‘in the flesh’.
I will now move on and share two more pointers as to why I see the New Testament teaching that all those in Christ are the Israel of God.
A New Creation
We are quite familiar with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17. But I point out a passage that is maybe not as familiar to us:
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
Again, I am sorry to sound like a broken record, but Paul seems to make it absolutely clear that circumcision of the foreskin counts for nothing. What matters is that one become a new creation. And, going back to my point from the last article, it is those who have been circumcised within by the Spirit of God that make up the people of God. There is no free pass into the kingdom. No matter what our heritage, no matter what our race – Jew or Gentile – we must become new creations in Christ to be part of the people of God. That, I believe, is the sum teaching of the new covenant.
A New People of Faith
During Christ’s ministry, He had some very harsh words to say to the hard-hearted religious leaders of the day. Here is one particular statement:
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:43)
Jesus was proclaiming that the kingdom of God would be taken away from a faithless and fruitless people, and would be given to a new people producing the fruits of the kingdom. I do not desire to walk down the line of ‘replacement theology’ where one says that God has discarded the Jews and replaced them with the church (mainly made up of Gentiles). That is not my heart. Rather, I believe that the new covenant people of the kingdom are a continuation and fulfilment of God’s desire for a covenant people. Therefore, the ekklesia of Christ – made up of Jew and Gentile – is the Israel of God.
Thus, going back to Christ’s words in Matthew 21:43, we see that He was emphasising and underlining that His people would be a people of faith shown through fruit. The pointer to being part of God’s people was not heritage or circumcision. Rather, one was included with God’s people by a circumcision of the heart, which would produce both a life of faith and a life of fruit.
With regards to physical Israel, Paul had some hard words to swallow. Matter of fact, it was hard for him to even make such a statement knowing these were his people:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (Romans 9:6-7)
I believe that Paul’s thoughts from Romans 9:6-7 can be expressed in the picture below:
One theologian has these words to say about ‘spiritual’ Israel:
‘Thus, Paul [in Romans 9] continues the Old Testament distinction of a spiritual Israel within the nation Israel. The prophets called this spiritual Israel, ‘the remnant,’ and it was to be the bearer of God’s covenant promises.’ (Hans LaRondelle, The Israel of God In Prophecy)
I find this statement of Paul’s quite interesting: He says that all the children of Abraham are not really Abraham’s children (see vs7). He said that the line was to continue through Isaac. But why Isaac?
Both Ishmael and Isaac were circumcised (see Genesis 17:23 and 21:4). You would think that both were to be included as part of the covenant people of God. But the reality is that Ishmael was not the son of promise nor was he of the line of faith. Instead, Isaac had come from the promise of God and it was through him that the covenant line of faith would continue (see Genesis 17:19-21).
Therefore, just because someone was from the physical line of Abraham, this did not mean they were of the line of faith. And just because they had been circumcised, this did not automatically mean they were of the line of faith being true descendants of Abraham and Isaac. Ishmael is the greatest example. Rather, true Israel was to follow in the footsteps of faith, just as Abraham and Isaac had done as well.
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well. (Romans 4:11)
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7)
Therefore, in the new covenant, God had constituted a new people of faith that were to be new creations in Christ. Whether Jew or Gentile, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, one must become a new creation and incorporated into Christ by faith. Christ is the great Israel and those who are in Christ are the Israel of God.
Here is the link to my next article in this series.