Is the Church the New Israel?

Old Testament- Israel

New Testament- Church

Genesis 12:1-3  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gal 3:7  Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Gal 3:9  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Gal 3:14  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:29  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Genesis 26:1-5  Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,   because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Galatians 4:21-28  Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Genesis 17:12-13  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Philippians 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Exodus 19:5-6  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Hosea 2:21-23  “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'” 1 Peter 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 9:24-25  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'”

Ezekiel 16:4-7  And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Ephesians 2:4-7  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “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, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

 

Hebrews 8:6-13 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  or I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

 

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Looking for a City

 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  Hebrews 11:8-10

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.  Hebrews 11:13-16

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12:22-24

This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:27-29

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:12-14

When I sense the need for food for the soul I often turn to Hebrews. A theme that I have frequently meditated on is “the city” in Hebrews.

Dispensationalists are fond of saying that Israel was God’s earthly people, while the church is God’s heavenly people. But like so many other Dispensational teachings, such a notion is flatly contradicted by the New Testament. Yes, Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. And yes, there is a land of promise. But Abraham did it because he was looking for the eternal city- not any on earth.

Such a desire characterized all the Old Testament faithful. Even those who lived their entire lives in the “promised land” desired something better: a heavenly country. They clung to the promise that God was building them a city. Think about it, if living in the Promised Land was the ultimate blessing of God, what need was there for faith? If they already had all that God promised, why look forward to anything else?

The church too, as sons of Abraham by faith (Rom. 2:28, 29; 4:11-16; Gal. 3:7-9, 13-14), “seek the city that is to come.” Yet the church has the awesome privilege of partaking of the blessings of that city spiritually now. The church, as she gathers for worship, is not alone. She is not isolated. The church gathered for worship is spiritually joined by angels and the souls of the departed in the great heavenly worship of God.

“The city” is the result of the fall. I like to say the first city was founded by a murderer and it went downhill from there (Gen. 4:17). The city is a feeble substitute for the relationship, provision, and security that man once had in God. As kooky as one-world government conspiracy theorists are, there is a biblical foundation to such concern. When men seeks to unite, it is for the purpose of uniting against God.

But God redeems the city. In His grace he is gathering together a multitude from every nation, tripe, people, and language. With one voice they will all join together saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” This is the city that people of faith long for. This is the city that people of faith anticipate as they gather together to worship.

 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:2-3

Does the Church replace Israel? Look to Jesus

Jesus Christ is:

the truth (John 14:6)
the substance in whom all the promises and shadows have been realized (Col. 2:17)
the true prophet, priest, and king
the true servant of the Lord
the true expiation (Rom. 3:25)
the true sacrifice (Eph. 5:2)
the true circumcision (Col. 2:11)
the true Passover (1 Cor. 5:7)

Therefore his church is:

the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29)
the true Israel (Heb. 8:8-10)
the true people of God (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:17; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 21:3)
the true temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; 2 Thess. 2:4; Heb. 8:2,5)
the true Zion and Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22)
the true religion (John 4:24; Rom. 12:1; Phil. 3:3; 4:18)

Nothing of the Old Testament is lost in the New, but everything is fulfilled, matured, has reached its full growth, and now, out of the temporary husk, produces the eternal core. It is not the case that in Israel there was a true temple and sacrifice and priesthood and so on and that all these things have now vanished. The converse, rather, is true: of all this Israel only possessed a shadow, but now the substance itself has emerged. The things we see are temporal, but the invisible things are eternal. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics III, p. 224)

Acts 28: Our Fathers, Your Fathers, and Jewish Unbelief

Acts 28 contains something of a provocative phenomenon that I see borne out elsewhere in the New Testament.

In 28:17, Paul, a believer, speaking to a generally neutral audience, begins his address with:

After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

Note the phrase, “our fathers.” From Luke’s preface—“the Jews”—and Paul’s use of “our people” and “customs of our fathers,” it is obvious that the ethnic connection between Paul and his audience is in view here. Contrast this with Paul’s phrasing at the conclusion of his address:

And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive’” (Act 28:25-26).

When it becomes clear that the majority are rejecting the message of Jesus Christ, Paul suddenly separates himself from the audience by the use of “your fathers.” Paul did have a socio-ethnic connection with his audience, but he had discovered a far greater connection to be sought: the bond of the Spirit in uniting all believers to God through Christ. When it became apparent that his hearers were rejecting Christ, Paul disassociated himself with them by the provocative use of “your fathers.” “Your fathers” serves to identify Jews as unbelievers and also indicates it had been a common phenomenon throughout the nation’s existence. In the New Testament, when believers address unbelieving Jews, the phrase “your fathers” is a way of indicating separation from God’s grace.

In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:47-48 Jesus condemns the Pharisees for following the example of “your fathers” in condemning the prophets. Just as the fathers of the Pharisees—Old Testament Jews—had persecuted the prophets, their sons—the Pharisees—persecuted Jesus. In addition to these passages and Acts 28:25, Hebrews 3:9 also uses “your fathers” to warn against following the example of Old Testament Jewish unbelief.

But Acts contains an even clearer example than Paul’s address in chapter 28. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 demonstrates the same pattern, but magnified. While he is seeking to persuade them, Stephen uses the term “our fathers” eight times (7:11, 12, 15, 19, 38, 39, 44, 45). But by the end of Stephen’s speech, when it is clear the Sanhedrin is opposed to the gospel, Stephen suddenly switches terms:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered… (Act 7:51-52)

Once again, “your fathers” is used to indicate Jewish unbelief. Not just Jewish unbelief in the gospel, but Jewish unbelief throughout the nation’s existence. There was always a portion of the Jewish population that resisted God.

The primary application of this bit of linguistic minutia is that God is no respecter of persons. King David has eternal life because he trusted in the Lord. King Ahab has eternal death because he forsook the Lord. The ethnicity of each man did nothing to determine their eternal state.

Why are these things important? Such teaching is important because of what I would call lazy dispensationalism. One of the rotten fruits of dispensational teaching has always been its fuzziness on Old Testament salvation. Its better representatives—Ryrie, Walvoord, MacArthur etc.—have done their best to correct this; but at the pew-level I would hazard the guess that most dispensation-taught Christians operate under the general impression that the vast majority of Old Testament characters were saved. In its worst forms, this has also led some to believe that Jews might also be saved today without trusting in Jesus Christ. In more moderate forms, it has led to the belief that Jews are “almost” saved, and might need just a little nudge to add Christ to their traditions.

Jesus and the apostles constantly battled similar forms of this aberrant theology. Many Jews thought they had God’s favor simply because of their race. To them the message was that every man enters the world with the devil as his father, not God (John 8:44) and that Abraham was justified before God as a Gentile, not a Jew (Rom. 4:10). Others thought that Gentiles had to become Jews to be saved, or act as a Jew to remain saved. The foolishness of such thinking was condemned by the church (Acts 15:10) and Paul (Gal. 3:3).

The use of “our fathers” and “your fathers” is not a strict Shibboleth; nevertheless it is a repeated pattern that serves to emphasize that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jew and Gentile alike must enter the kingdom through him. There is no other way.

Who is a true Jew? Revelation 2:9 & 3:9

I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9

Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie–indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Revelation 3:9

Twice in the letters to the seven churches of Asia, Jesus mentions a group of people identified as, “Those who say they are Jews and are not.”  As if that statement were not perplexing enough, both times rather incendiary descriptions are added to this group: they are synagogues of Satan, liars, and will worship at the feet of Christians.  Immediately a very large section of American evangelicals are put on the defensive.  Here, in the same breath, we have mention of Jews, liars, synagogue of Satan, and God humbling said group.  The antisemitism bullets are ready to be fired!

But let us divorce the phrase “those who say they are Jews and are not” from the context in an attempt to take some of the passion out of the exegesis.  Just looking at that phrase alone what can we determine about the group?

What does it say?

The first thing that needs to be determined is, “What does the phrase actually imply?”  What is the truth that is assumed by the phrase?  In an attempt to further remove any prejudices, put the phrase in other terms.  If you heard someone say, “he says he is a professional baseball player, but he is not,” what could you safely assume?  I believe you could safely assume two things:

  1. There really is such a thing as a professional baseball player:  such a person actually exists.
  2. The person making the claim is not truly a professional baseball player.

So returning to the text we can safely assume two things:

  1. There really is such a group as Jews:  true Jews.
  2. Those making the claim to be Jewish are not truly Jews.

To paraphrase a T-shirt– there is a Jew, and you’re not him.

What could it mean?

So who are these people who say they are Jews but are really not?  I can think of three broad options:

  1. They are Gentiles who for some reason claim to be Jews.  Perhaps they do not really want to worship the Emperor, so they seek exemption under the umbrella of Judaism.  Maybe in Smyrna and Philadelphia there was some economic incentive to be Jewish.  For whatever reason, this group refers to Gentiles calling themselves Jews.
  2. They are ethnic Jews who are not practicing their faith according to Scripture.  Whether intentionally or not, they are practicing an apostate form of Judaism.
  3. They are ethnic Jews who have misidentified what being a true Jew is.  This is somewhat different than the second category.  These people practice an orthodox faith, yet the orthodoxy itself flawed.

What is the question?

In all of this, the real question is, “What is a true Jew?”  The statement under examination, “those who say they are Jews and are not,” is based on the fact that true Jews exist.  By condemning the “false” Jews, Jesus acknowledges the “true” Jews.  But who might Jesus say is a false Jew and a true Jew?

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a clear answer to this question in the text.  So might the Scripture answer this question elsewhere?  Does the Bible speak about this true vs. false Jew dichotomy in other places?  In fact Scripture addresses this subject in various places and diverse manners.

Both Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8 record John (the baptizer) assailing ethnic Jews with the statement, “…and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”  This certainly leads in the direction of asserting that there is more to being a child of Abraham- hence, a Jew- than physical genealogy.  At the very least, John asserted that being a physical descendant of Abraham merited his audience members nothing with God.

While I assume this is what John meant, I know it is what Paul thought.  At the end of Romans 2 we read, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  If this is not the jackpot, it is certainly a very handsome consolation prize.  Paul is seeking to answer the very question we are asking, “What is a true Jew?”  A true Jew is not a physical child of Abraham, but a Spiritual child of God.  It is not the physical circumcision made by man that counts, it is the heart circumcision made by the Spirit that matters.

Paul returns to a variation of this theme in Romans 4:11-12.  Again the question is, “Who is a true son of Abraham?”  Again Paul answers that physical circumcision is meaningless, but that whoever has the faith that Abraham had can claim Abraham as “father.”  This is also the argument of the entire chapter of Galatians 3.  The precise statements include:

Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”   So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (3:7-9)

that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (3:14)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (3:26, 29)

In Philippians 3:3 we see more about this circumcision of faith, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh…”  Again we see that physical descent is meaningless (no confidence in the flesh).  Writing to the church, Paul says they are “the circumcision.”  What makes Christians in Philippi “the circumcision?”  Their relationship with the Trinity: they worship God, in the Spirit, while rejoicing in Christ Jesus.

Summary and Conclusion

So a true Jew is:

  1. Not necessarily a physical descendant of Abraham (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Rom. 2:28; 4:11-12; Phil. 3:3).
  2. Someone who has the same faith Abraham had (Rom. 4:11-12; Gal. 3).
  3. Which faith includes a work of the Holy Spirit circumcising the heart (Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3).
  4. Which heart circumcision brings one into worshiping relationship with the Holy Trinity (Phil. 3:3) by way of one’s union with Christ (Gal. 3:26, 29).

What Scripture makes abundantly clear in the New Testament is that true Jews are more commonly known to us as Christians.  If you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ to worship God, you are a true Jew.

So who are “those who say they are Jews and are not?”  While the first option above was Gentiles claiming to be Jews, I find it completely irrational and cannot find anyone who seriously suggests it as an interpretive option.  As for options 2 and 3, there is not much difference since both deal with ethnic Jews: the same people addressed and rebuked in Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3; and Phil. 3:3.  Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 speak to and rebuke the same false Jews: all those physical sons of Abraham who have no relationship with God.  Those who say they are Jews and are not are still with us: worshiping on Saturday in the synagogue, denying the Lord who bought them.  Many Evangelicals call them Jews, the apple of God’s eye, God’s chosen people, etc.  Jesus simply says they “are not.”

Praise God for the circumcision not made with hands.