Bible, Teaching
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Who is Israel and who is the church?


How are Israel and the Church connected?  Photo: Jerusalem / Wikipedia/Berthold Werner

How are Israel and the Church connected? Photo: Jerusalem / Wikipedia/Berthold Werner

With all the focus on Israel in recent weeks because of Hamas attacks, it’s time to take a look at the relationship between the church and Israel. Some believe that God is done with Israel and that the church is the new expression of God’s kingdom on the earth — the church has replaced Israel. Along with this some believe, that since Israel failed to fulfill God’s purpose, the church is God’s second choice.

But is this what the Bible really says?

How does the church fit with Israel?

In order to understand this relationship, we need to first define who Israel is. In Romans 9:6-13, Paul digs into the Old Testament to show how God views Israel.

He opens with this stunning announcement:

“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” (Romans 9:6-7 NASV)

In a single verse Paul redefines Israel. He says that just because a person was born an Israelite, this does not make him or her a true Israelite. Certainly you can live in Israel and even have a Jewish passport, but that is not enough.

Paul states a person’s lineage or DNA does not decide if the person is a true Israelite. Paul then brings in Old Testament Biblical evidence to prove his case.

First. Paul looks at the unusual case of Esau and Jacob.

10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-12 NASV)

Both Esau and Jacob were naturally-born Jews. They were not only born of the same mother and father, but they were born at the same time — fraternal twins of Rebekah and Isaac.

Though both were clearly ethnic Jews, quoting from the Old Testament Paul shows that God loved one and hated the other. Esau was of the flesh and Isaac was the child of promise, the true Israel of God (Romans 9:8).

Quoting from Isaiah, Paul further explains this difference:

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved (Romans 9:27 NASV)

This remnant, a small portion of the Israel, were the ones in the Old Testament who looked ahead and believed in the coming Messiah and after Jesus’ arrival, they were the Jews who looking back believed Jesus was the Messiah.

The Olive Tree

In Romans 11, Paul uses the analogy of an Olive tree to further explain this:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree. (Romans 11:17 NASV)

Through history the Olive tree represented the true Israel of God. The unbelieving Jews, like Esau, were dead branches and broken off (v 20).

But then Paul says a second thing happened, God grafted gentile branches into this Olive tree because they believed in Jesus.

The prophet Amos spoke of a day when a remnant of Edom and the nations would be added to Israel (Amos 9: 11, 12).  And when the Holy Spirit moved on the gentiles in the book of Acts, the early church convened a meeting to discuss the gentiles’ relationship with the early church, which up to this point consisted solely of believing Jews.

In Acts 15, the Apostle James used the passage in Amos to show that the inclusion of Gentiles was part of God’s plan for Israel.

The church is simply a continuation of the true or believing Israel.

I like the way Pastor Loren Sandford describes this unusual relationship:

The church is therefore not a replacement for Israel, but an unbroken continuation of it! Nor is Israel on a separate track to redemption. The gospel is the power of salvation for the Jew first and also the Greek (Romans 1:16) and in Him there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female; all are one in Him (Galatians 3:28). The apostle followed that with Galatians 3:29, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

Natural Israel

Through all this Paul is very clear that natural Israel played a very important role in world affairs. It was through Israel that the scriptures were written and preserved. Natural Israel is still God’s beloved and at some future day Paul says, God will move in a powerful way in Israel and it seems there will be a massive acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah:

26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26, 27 NASV)

At this point they will be grafted back into the Olive tree (Romans 11:23).

Until that day, the nation of Israel serves as a critical prophetic sign post of end-time events.

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