If modern ethnic Jews are not the true People Israel, then who is? The covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 was declared to be an everlasting covenant. For God to resend such a covenant would show fault with God. One can also not have a covenant without members. So who is the covenant with?
As already stated, the recipients of the promise are those who share the faith of Abraham. Christ was the one ultimately faithful to God, and mediator of the covenant. The faith of Abraham included a faith in God and his promised seed, Christ the mediator. This would mean that true Israel are the people on earth today that have such a faith, and they are those in the true church. True Israel today is Christ’s Church.
Calling the Church Israel can raise certain objections..
Charles Ryrie, a Revised Dispensationalist, polemically declared “the church does not rob Israel of her blessings.” Is saying the church is Israel robbing Israel of her blessing? First, lets look at how Scripture talks about Israel and the church:
PAUL IN EPHESIANS 2
Saying the Church is Israel is not just a matter of inference. Paul writing to Gentiles in Ephesus wrote:
Ephesians 2:12 – Remember you were once without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [author’s translation]
Paul then makes a pivot,
Eph 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [ESV]
The “near” and “far off” were a common Rabbinic way of referring to Jews and Gentiles. Peter uses the same terminology in speaking to a Jewish audience in Acts 2:38-39, saying the message of Christ is for “you” (Jews) and “those who are far off,” namely the Gentiles. Paul here uses the far off image to illustrate its elimination. Those who were far off, now are brought near – a term for Israel. Paul explains how this is accomplished:
Eph 2:14-15 For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, [ESV]
The unique nature of the Mosaic Israelites has been taken away. As we saw, this unique quality was not ethnicity, but Paul explains it as the law of commandments, that most commentators see as the ceremonial law of Moses. This allows Paul to make a statement to the Gentiles that was implied in 2:13:
Ephesians 2:19 – You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the other saints in God’s household. [Author’s translation]
Notice the language parallel to 2:12:
2:12 – Remember you were once without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel,
2:19 – You are no longer strangers and foreigners (aliens), but are fellow citizens with the other saints in God’s household.
The phrase in 2:12 is “τῆς πολιτείας τοῦ ᾿Ισραη`λ ” translated “the citizenship of Israel.” The root of the word “πολιτείας” or “politeias” (transliterated in English) is “polis,” where we get the English word politics. Compare that to 2:19’s word: “συμπολῖται” or “sumpolitai” translated “fellow citizens.” In the common Koine Greek usage, the term denotes individuals who share citizenry or are fellow citizens of a given nation or city. Paul teaches in Ephesians 2, once the Gentiles were alienated and separated from the citizenship of Israel by the Law, which was an offense to outsiders. Now that Christ has fulfilled the law and broken down that wall, now Gentiles are free, with ethnic Jews, without submitting to the Mosaic Law, to be fellow citizens of Israel. One way of describing the entrance into Christ’s church, for Paul, is citizenship in Israel.
The church as Israel explains the consistent application of the standing and appellations of Israel to the church, such as Peter telling Christians they are “a holy nation, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) echoing the same description of OT Israel in Ex 19:6. Paul in Ephesians 5 calls the church the Bride of Christ, echoing the same description of Israel as Bride in Ezk 16:4-14 and Hosea. Rather than concluding that God is a polygomist, we see that the Bride is one and the same. Israel is the Bride, the Church is the Bride, because the Church is Israel.
ROBBING ISRAEL OF BLESSING?
Does this mean, as Ryrie declared, that the church is robbing Israel of the blessing promised to her? The truth is that every single Christian, dispensational, covenantal and those Christians that are totally clueless that this is even a debate, takes promises given to Israel and appropriates them as promises to them, Christians in the church.
A simple example exists in the practice of taking Old Testament promises as comfort to a Christian. If Israel is not the church, then a Christian has no business appropriating promises like:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [ESV]
Gen 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. [KJV]
Jos 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” [ESV]
All of these are comforts to Israel. Do you appropriate these words as words of comfort? You should, for if you are a Christian, then you are of Israel.
Beyond merely taking devotional comfort from God’s promises, there is a very serious and grave reason for seeing the church as Israel. If we are not the house of Israel, we are lost and without hope. (I am not saying dispensationalists say this, but that their reading has the following conclusion if applied consistently) During the Last Supper Christ took the wine and offered it to the disciples saying: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). When we partake of communion, we declare that we are recipients of God’s forgiveness through Christ’s blood and partakers of the new covenant. Where did this language of new covenant come from? Every Jew familiar with Scripture would have Jeremiah 31 ringing in their eyes when the words “new covenant” were spoken, the long awaited fulfillment of prophecy. But if we are not Israel, forgiveness offered in the cup is not for us, for Jeremiah 31 says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (Jer 31:31) The covenant is made with Israel, and if we are not Israel, then we are not partakers of Christ’s new covenant. The church then does not rob Israel of her blessings, for the church is Israel, and so cannot rob itself.
This is not to say dispensationalists deny the gospel or something, but that the implications of dispensationalism’s divorce of Israel and the church cannot be consistently maintained and applied without confusing their own distinction of Israel and the Church and clouding the clarity of Scripture’s presentation of the gospel. The ingrafting of Gentiles into Israel makes us all the more thankful that Christ has made provision by fulfilling the law and bringing us who were far off near, bringing us who were separated from the promise of the new covenant into the citizenship of Israel, heirs to the promise.
To clarify, this also does not mean that the church replaced Israel. Replacement theology is entirely different than covenant theology. Replacement theology does not see the church as Israel, instead it agrees with classic dispensationalism that Israel and the church are separate peoples, but sees one as discarded and one as replacement. The church is the story of a great number joining Israel, not replacing her. As Abraham’s covenant is an everlasting covenant, it cannot be discarded without invalidating the Word of God. As we have explored that Scripture does not present heredity as the essential element, but faith, then Israel is the people who share the faith of Abraham, not his genes. Indeed before Hebrews 11 lists the great saints of the Old Testament, it declares:
Heb 11:1-2 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. [ESV]
As was in the Old, so is in the New. By faith do people of the New receive their commendation, too. By faith, the People of God receive the promise of the covenant.
But does this mean that Christians have some sort of right to the land of Canaan? Isn’t that the heart of the Abrahamic covenant? Next, we will look at the land promise in Part 4.