Israel and the Church

 

The concept of a restored national Israel during the Millennium comes because of a literalism imposed on the Scriptures—the Dispensational hermeneutic which declares the promises of God to Israel must be fulfilled literally.  The Reformed Christian is safe in stating the principles of Biblical interpretation come from the Scripture itself.  We contend also, that the promises of the land and the numerous people have been fulfilled literally, but were only a shadow of the true “Promised Land,” the new Heavens and new Earth—the City of God.

 

The conflict between these two systems of interpretation finds their greatest tension concerning the concepts of Israel and the Church.  This literalism makes necessary the 1,000-year reign, understood as the time when God will resume His “program” for Israel.  It is believed that the temple will be rebuilt, and animal sacrifice will be resumed then—a rite that was only pointing to fulfillment in Christ.   Dispensationalist John Whitcomb makes this claim based on the “literal distinction” between Israel and the Church:

“Just because animal sacrifices and priests have no place in Christianity does not mean that they will have no place in Israel after the rapture of the Church; for there is a clear distinction made throughout the Scriptures between Israel and the Church.”

 

Is this distinction clear?  It is the contention of the Reformed theologian that the true Church is part of the Israel of God—the elect for whom Christ died from Old Testament, New Testament, Last Day periods, both Jew and Gentile; this is clear.

 

JESUS’ TEACHING

  1. It is possible to be Abraham’s descendants and yet not His children.

John 8:29-44—The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” [30] Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. [32] Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  [33] They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” [34] Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. [35] Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [37] I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. [38] I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”  [39] “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. [40] As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. [41] You are doing the things your own father does.”  “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. [43] Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. [44] You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

 

Jesus hears these Jews “who believed him” say that they are Abraham’s descendants.  Their faith was not a saving faith.  Jesus states that He knows they are Abraham’s descendants, but they still want to kill Him because they have no room for His Word.  “Abraham is our Father,” they cry.  Jesus says that if Abraham were their father they would be like Abraham—believe and obey, implied, but Jesus tells them they are determined to kill Him.  They are doing the things their father does.  At this point, they claim none less than God as their Father.  Jesus, after showing that though they are descended from Abraham, they don’t have Abraham as father, now says in essence that God is not their father either.  If God were their father, they would love Him.  Who is their father?   Jesus declares they belong to their father the Devil.  Note:  they are physically descended from Abraham, but they are not Abraham’s children.  NOT ALL ISRAEL IS ISRAEL, so teaches Jesus.

 

  1. Those claiming to be Jews, but are not, According to Jesus.

 

Revelation 3:7-10–“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. [8] I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. [9] I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. [10] Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

 

Revelation 2:8-10“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:   These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. [9] I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

 

Paul’s Teaching

  1. Outward circumcision means nothing; a true Jew is circumcised inwardly.

Romans 2:28-29—A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. [29] No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

 

So, according to Paul, if a man is only outwardly circumcised—he more than likely is going to a synagogue and claims Abraham as his Father, but if he is not inwardly circumcised, he is not a Jew.  Please hear this, like Jesus, Paul says an ethnic Jew isn’t a Jew necessarily.

 

A true Jew is one who is inwardly circumcised, a circumcision of the heart done by the Spirit.  Could this definition of a Jew be fulfilled by a Gentile believer baptized into Christ in a New Testament Church?  Yes.

 

  1. This inward circumcision is for Gentiles too.

Colossians 2:11-12—In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, [12] having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

 

Speaking to Gentile believers, Paul says they have been circumcised, how, when?  By Christ, implied here is the work of the Spirit, when they were baptized.  Water baptism is an outward expression of Christ’s work by the Spirit to circumcise the heart.  By the way, this work of the Spirit was also accomplished in Old Testament believers too.

 

Ezekiel 36:24-28—” ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. [26] I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

 

This was literally fulfilled when the Jews went back to Israel after the exile.  Ezekiel 37 then gives us the vision of the valley of the dry bones in which bones come together and then flesh appears on the bones and these bodies come to life by the power of the Word and Spirit, a picture of regeneration and a return of Israel to the land.  Indeed, a far greater gathering is envisioned, one that still awaits all Israel—Jew and gentile alike to a far greater land—the New Heavens and Earth.

 

What is a Jew?  According to Jesus, one who follows and loves Him.  During His earthly ministry He stated clearly that those claiming to be Abraham’s descendants were in fact not Abraham’s children, but the Devil’s.  To Gentile churches He notes that there those who claim to be Jews, but they are not really Jews—ethnic and religious lineage notwithstanding.  According to Paul, the outward sign of circumcision means nothing.  A true Jew is one circumcised inwardly by the Spirit—even if such a one is a Gentile.  How about that, Jews who are not Jews and Gentiles who are Jews; friends this is the Bible’s teaching.  A group of Jews are considered part of Israel, are they not?  True Israel is comprised of true believers, both Jew and Gentile.

 

For further instruction on matters of Last Days, end-time Prophecy, Click to see the Sunday School course on Eschatology PDF.