THE TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD
When God called Abraham and entered into a covenant with him, the Jewish nation did not exist. Thus, the covenant God gave to Abraham was not based on a worldly nation or a people of a certain ethnic descent or nationality but the promise was to Abraham and his seed – not seeds as in many but seed as in one. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘And to seeds, as of many; but as of one,’ and to thy seed, which is Christ.” Gal. 3:16. This is the same seed, i.e., Christ, that God had promised in the Garden of Eden, the seed that would ultimately crush the head of Satan.
The promise to Abraham was the promise of the coming Messiah. In Him, i.e. Christ, all nations of the earth would be blessed. God called Abraham and his descendents to be the depository, so to speak, of this promise. If they would believe this promise and live in God’s covenant, they would be joined to the Messiah and His covenant blessings and they in turn, by bearing witness to this faith and covenant, would be a source of blessing to other nations who did not know of this Messiah and covenant. The promise was the promise of Christ the Messiah. The covenant was based in Christ, not in a people, ethnic group or nationality. The descendents of Abraham would participate in the promise if they would believe God’s promise and live in His covenant. The Promise, Covenant, Seed was Christ. Abraham and his descendants were the package God chose to market the Covenant, so to speak. The world would not be blessed by a particular nationality but by Christ who would descend through them. When they, as a whole, rejected the Messiah, God chose the Church as His package.
This same covenant of grace found it’s ultimate fulfillment in the coming of Christ of which the Church partakes today as the New Israel. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal. 3:27-29. What could possibility be clearer that the Church is the new Israel of God. The old Israel was ended with the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem when the veil of the temple was rent in twain, the sacrifices of the temple ceased and Christ said, “Behold your house is left to you desolate.”
In the Old Testament the Church was composed of those who embraced and lived in the covenant by faith. It is the same for the Church of the New Testament. Just as our participation today in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with our nationality or ethnic heritage, so it was in the Old Testament. The descendents of Abraham participated in the covenant, not because of their nationality but because they embraced the covenant God revealed to Abraham. If Christians turn and reject Christ they are no longer Christians. The same was true for the Jews under the old covenant.
Later, after the covenant had been established, Jacob a descendent of Abraham who embraced the covenant, after wrestling all night with an angel, was given the name Israel which means struggler with God or upright with God. Thus Israel denotes those who are in a covenant relationship with God, not people of a certain nationality. It had nothing to do with them being Jews, it had everything to do with the fact that God chose these descendents of Abraham to be the depository of his covenant, which was based on faith in his promises.
Eventually Israel came to think of their relationship to God as being based in their nationality as Jews and their keeping of the law that God had revealed to Moses. This was their downfall.
Those today who see the Jewish people as the chosen people of God simply because they are Jews are making the same mistake. This wrong understanding resulted in the Jews thinking of their relationship to God as being based on their physical descent rather than their faith in God’s promises and being in covenant relationship with God through faith in the Messiah.
We see this mentioned in a number of passages in the Scriptures.
In the 8th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus had a long conversation with some of the Jews. They were looking for a physical kingdom and a physical king and basing their relationship to God on their nationality and the law just as many today still do when they refer to the Jews as God’s chosen people. Thus, when Christ came in humility and spoke of his death, the Jewish people as a whole rejected him as the Messiah.
In John 8 beginning at verse 23 when the Jews rejected His talk about His death, Jesus said to them:
“Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. 24) I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. 30) As he spake these words, many believed on him. 31) Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32) And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
[Notice that they were not already his disciples by virtue of simply being Jews. There is nothing here to suggest they are his chosen people. They have already abandoned God’s covenant and are therefore lost in their sins. Only those who embraced the covenant by believing in him were true descendents of Abraham. Their physical descent contributed nothing.]
33) “Then they [the Jews who did not believe in him] answered him, We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man; how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” [They think they are God’s chosen people by virtue of physical, national descent.]
34) “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 36) If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. 37) I know that you are descendents of Abraham; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. 38) I speak that which I have seen with my Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39) They answered and said to him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40) But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God; this Abraham did not do. 41) Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. 42) Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God: neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43) Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44) Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him…47) He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God…56) Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57) Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58) Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.”
So we see how being Jews by nationality was of no benefit because they saw the kingdom of God as a worldly and physical thing and thus rejected the Messiah. They could no longer be called God’s chosen people even as the Jews today who reject him cannot be called God’s chosen people. The promises of God given to Abraham ceased to have any fulfillment in them when they rejected him as we see in the words of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem as he set his face to go to the cross and said, “O Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you under my wings as a chicken gathers her chicks but ye would not. Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” The promises of Abraham no longer pertained to them. They were forsaken as God’s chosen people because they rejected God’s Son as the Messiah. THE COVENANT WAS NOT BASED ON A PEOPLE BUT ON CHRIST AND WHEN CHRIST IS REJETED THERE IS NO COVENANT! Not long after this, in 70 AD, Jerusalem was invaded and destroyed. The Jews were slaughtered and the temple was destroyed. These were all signs that the promises given to Abraham would no longer pertain to them but only to those who embraced the covenant in Christ through faith in the Church, the new Israel of God and the new Jerusalem.
St. Paul spoke of this in his letter to the Romans, chapter 4:
11) “And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also…13) For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14) For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.”
St. Paul uses the term law to express an understanding of the Jews which based their relationship to God on their nationality and their keeping of the Jewish laws. He says clearly that their relationship to God has nothing to do with their nationality or physical descent or being possessors of the law but rather on faith in the promises of God in Christ. This, he said, is what Abraham believed and only those who believe this are true descendents of Abraham.
In Romans 2: 28-29 St. Paul states it again, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly: neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Once again, what could be clearer?
Later, St. Paul answers those who in effect say, “But if the Jews are no longer the chosen people then God has changed and is not faithful to his promises given in the Old Testament.” But this contention is based on seeing the promise in the Old Testament as based on nationality, which it wasn’t. Thus St. Paul said, “ It is not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all of Israel, which are of Israel: Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Rom. 6-8 How many times does he have to say it so clearly?
Here we see again that the chosen people of God are those who embraced God’s covenant through faith in the Messiah and not those who are merely physical descendents called Jews.
The fact that the Jews do not continue to be reckoned as the chosen people of God merely by virtue of their nationality is emphasized again in Romans 11:21 “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” Here St. Paul is talking about how the Jewish people had been cut off from God’s grace by their rejection of God’s covenant in Christ as a warning also to the new Israel.
The promise to Abraham and his descendents was conditional. God told them that He would be their God and He would bless them but only if they embraced His covenant and lived as His covenant people according to all that He would lay out for them. God was clear in His warnings. If they turned away from His covenant and in unbelief of His promises turned to the false gods of the other nations, God would inflict severe punishment on them. We see this happening repeatedly in the Old Testament as God allows the surrounding pagan nations to take them into captivity and slaughter them and enslave them, depicting that apart from their embrace of God’s covenant they are not heirs to God’s promises.
In the New Testament all the promises of God that had been given to Abraham and his seed are fulfilled in Christ and now belong to the Church, the new covenant people, the new chosen people as St. Paul said in Galatians 3: 9 “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” And again in verse 14: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” St. Peter taught the same thing in I Peter 2:9 when he spoke of the church as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, a holy nation; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. “ These are Old Testament covenant words, once applied to those who embraced the old covenant and now applied to the Church.
Thus all the promises given to Israel of old will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Just as the animal sacrifices and all the temple rituals found their fulfillment in Christ, so the promises to Israel in the Old Testament now find their fulfillment, not in physical land in the nation of Israel, but in the New Jerusalem, the city not made by hands whose builder and maker is God; the one St. John the Revelator saw coming down from God out of heaven. The promised land is possessed by the Church, now and in eternity. It is the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who still look for an earthly kingdom, fall into the same mistake as the Jews that caused them to reject Christ as the Messiah and which will lead many to embrace the Anti-Christ because they are looking for a millennial kingdom on earth.
The title “chosen people of God” has always pertained to those who believed in and embraced God’s promises in Christ. It never was based on some physical or ethnic descent. There is no basis at all for applying the promises of God to a physical nation. In fact, such a concept contradicts the Scriptures that tell us that God is no respecter of persons, that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that no one can come to the Father but by Christ.