This is the second in a short series on Israel in the Bible. This is being written against the backdrop of populistic dispensationalism. Israel has an important role in the Bible. But that role is confused by many evangelical Christians. And when you confuse such a large portion of Scripture, you have a serious problem on your hands.
In the last article I pointed out the centrality of Israel to dispensationalism. Let us continue our study of this matter
Old covenant Israel is continuous with the new covenant church, which is the fruition of Israel. Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith expresses it, Israel is “a church under age” (WCF 19:3). Quite appropriately, then, New Testament Christians may even call Abraham “our father” (Ro 4:16) and the old covenant people our “fathers” (1Co 10:1), clearly evincing a spiritual genealogical relation.
Employing another figure, Paul says we are grafted into Israel (Ro 11:16–19) so that we become one with her, partaking of her promises (Eph 2:11–20). Jesus teaches that Gentiles are other sheep which must be brought in to make “one flock” (Jn 10:16). In fact, the Lord appoints twelve apostles to be the spiritual seed of a New Israel, taking over for old covenant Israel’s twelve sons. John incorporates the names of the twelve tribes (representing the old covenant community) and the twelve apostles (representing the new covenant people) into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12, 14).
Dispensationalists strongly object, asserting that “the Scriptures never use the term Israel to refer to any but the natural descendants of Jacob.” Nevertheless, Scripture applies old covenant terms to new covenant citizens: we are the “seed of Abraham” (Ro 4:13–17; Gal 3:6–9, 29), “the circumcision”(Ro 2:28–29; Php 3:3; Col 2:11), “a royal priesthood,” (Ro 15:16; 1Pe 2:9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; cp. Ex 19:6), “twelve tribes” (Jas 1:1), “diaspora” (1Pe 1:1), the “temple of God”(1Co 3:16–17; 6:19; 2Co 1:16; Eph 2:21). These terms clearly reflect Israel’s covenantal identity.
The Jews’ descent from Abraham was a source of great Jewish pride and circumcision was the Jew’s distinguishing covenantal mark. Yet the New Testament applies these images to Christians. Peter designates Christians as “stones” building up a “spiritual house” (1Pe 2:5–9). But he does more: he draws upon several Old Testament designations of Israel and applies them to the church. He calls Christians: “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1Pe 2:9–10; Ex 19:5–6; Dt 7:6). He and Paul call Christians “a peculiar people” (1Pe 2:10; Tit 2:14), which is a familiar Old Testament designation for Israel (Ex 19:5; Dt 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4).
If Abraham can have Gentiles as his “spiritual seed,” why may we not envision a spiritual Israel? In fact, Paul applies the name “Israel” to Christians: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). The “and [kai]” preceding “Israel of God,” is probably epexegetical, so that we should translate the passage: “mercy upon them, that is, upon the Israel of God.” Dispensationalists see Galatians 6:16 applying to Jewish converts to Christ, “who would not oppose the apostle’s glorious message of salvation.” But such is surely not the case, for the following reasons.
Galatians’ entire context opposes any claim to a special Jewish status or distinction: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26–28). In the new covenant Christ does away with all racial distinctions. Why would Paul hold out a special word for Jewish Christians (“the Israel of God”), when he states immediately beforehand that we must not boast at all, save in the cross of Christ (Gal 6:14)? After all, “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15).
Paul explains this “new creation” in detail in Ephesians 2:10–22, where God merges Jew and Gentile into one body, the church:
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph 2:13–16)
Dispensationalism demands two groups and repairs Paul’s broken down barrier by making of the one new man, two.
Blame It on the Brain?
Sub-title: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience
by Edward T. Welch
Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, Alcoholism, Homosexuality.
Research suggests that more and more behaviors are caused by brain function or dysfunction.
But is it ever legitimate to blame misbehavior on the brain?
How can I know whether my brain made me do it?
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
As Poythress points out, the church is not a “straight-line” continuation of Israel. It fulfills Israel through Christ. All God’s promises are “yea” and “amen” in Christ (2Co 1:20). Since we are all the sons of Abraham through Christ (Gal 3:29), we receive God’s full blessings through him (Ro 8:17; Eph 1:23; Col 2:10).