Will the Real Israel Please Stand Up??
Typology-the doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols, esp. in scriptural literature.
What is the relationship between the Church and Israel in the era of the New Covenant? Are they seperate but equal? Will Christ come to rapture the Church and deal with Israel in the Great Tribulation? It’s believed so. Politicians even base support of Israel on Biblical passages. As Christians, we are told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).
Several entries back I mentioned that in the past year I’ve gone through a tremendous upheaval, a great paradigm shift in my theology regarding the end-times and the relationship between Israel and the Church. It is most definitely the greatest theological shift in my own personal life since my becoming a Calvinist in spring 2005. Remarkably enough, Romans 9 has played a central role in this shift as it did the earlier. The reason for this is that while I never noticed this, the support Romans 9 gives for predestination is based upon what I’m learning now, God’s dealings with the Jews and the Gentiles. So really my two great theological discoveries over the past three years have been inextricably linked rather than separate. I just never made the connection, but it was right there in front of me. Romans 9-11 gives the framework for Israel’s place in the world.
When Romans 9 begins, Paul has just finished an incredible exhortation to the Christians in Rome of God’s preserving love. He has reminded them that God is for us, therefore no one can stand against us (8:31). It is the God of the Universe, the Supreme Judge, who has declared us innocent. Who then shall bring any charge against us (8:33)? He noted that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39). NOTHING can sever Christ’s love for those whom he has died for. Paul then begins to speak of his own kinsmen, the Jews, in chapter nine. He describes a deep burden he has for them. He laments their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, wishing he could be condemned for their sake (9:3). They have such a rich history of being used by God. And it was “from their race, according to the flesh” that Christ came from (9:5-6). But now they have rejected him.
There’s a problem in this passage. Supposedly, nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. Paul has just painted this picture of this inseverable bond between Christ and his people. Yet God’s own people, the Israelites have been cut off. So…how can we trust that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” when this didn’t hold true for Israel? It’s like a husband promising never to divorce his wife under any circumstance whatsoever, even in the case of adultery. Sure he may get angry and have to deal harshly with her, but he’ll never ultimately divorce her. But then when she does commit adultery, he goes back on his word and divorces her. Now put yourself in the position of this man’s prospective new bride, who says that under no circumstance will he ever leave you. How can you trust that he means literally “under no circumstance?”
Obviously this isn’t what God has done, but of the readers of this letter, Paul is anticipating this sort of skepticism. To counter this possible objection, Paul unleashes a beautiful picture of the faithfulness of God which lasts for the next three chapters and ends with an exasperated declaration of the depths of God’s wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33-36). How can God be faithful in his promises to us if he wasn’t faithful in his promises to Israel? Paul’s reply is as follows: God HAS been faithful to Israel. None of his promises have failed for them. For there is another Israel, whose citizenship is determined not by race but by grace, to whom these promises are directed.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring.”
In this passage we see a dichotomy. We see “Israel” referring to two different people. Since Paul’s point is to try to prove God’s faithfulness to Israel, we can see that he is giving greater emphasis to the latter Israel when he mentions the descendants of Israel not necessarily belonging to Israel. There is Israel of the flesh and Israel of the promise. In other words, being a descendent of Abraham doesn’t make one a Jew in God’s eyes. You could be born an Israelite in Israel but that doesn’t make you an Israelite in God’s eyes. When we look at the nation of Israel today and its inhabitants and call them God’s people by virtue only of them being Jews, then we are out of line with Scripture. They might be Jews of the flesh, but that doesn’t make them Jews to God.
We see this same dichotomy from Jesus himself. In response to Jewish critics who said “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?'”, Jesus acknowledges their lineage to Abraham:
“‘I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’ They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did.'”
Jesus is doing exactly what Paul does in Romans 9 (and elsewhere): affirming his Jewish opponents’ descent from Abraham and denying it at the same time. “I know that you are offspring of Abraham…If you were Abraham’s children.” “This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father [obviously not Abraham here] did.” Such an obvious contradiction of terms demands a greater understanding of what it means to be a child of Abraham.
The Real Jewish People
One of the most important tools in interpreting the Bible as I’ve come to learn is the principle of typology. A “type” is a prefigurative symbol and the Old Testament is filled with them. Furthermore, the New Testament is filled with anti-types, the fulfillments of things prophesied of in the Old Testament. The OT is shadow, the NT is reality. As such, the Old Testament must be interpreted by the New, not vice versa. The OT temple for example was a type whose antitype is Jesus Christ. After the Jews scoffed at Jesus’ saying that if the temple was destroyed that he would rebuild it in three days, John interprets his words for us: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). The journey of the Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land is typological of the life of the Christian and the Church at large. The story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery consists of exodus, wilderness, and conquest. The story of the Church consists of salvation (exodus from sin), wilderness (the present but temporal state of the believer, consisting of danger and God’s daily provision), and conquest (resurrection and reigning with Christ in his heavenly kingdom). Paul acknowledges our present state of wandering in a wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10, declaring that the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness happened as an example for us (verse 6). The Book of Hebrews spends most of chapters 3 and 4 looking towards the wilderness experience of Israel for the purposes of how to live now, thus indicating a new wilderness experience for God’s people.*
As the wilderness experience for the Israelites ended in conquest of the land promised to Abraham by God (Book of Joshua), so the Church’s wilderness experience ends in conquest of the antitype of the land promised to Abraham: the world. The literal patch of land in the Middle East was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Joshua 21:43)**, but it only served to shadow a greater land promised to Abraham’s descendants. Paul interprets the Abraham’s land as follows:
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
The New Covenant renders the Old obsolete (Hebrews 7:18), and us such we must begin to see typological promises in terms of their antitype fulfilments. Paul does exactly this with the land God gives to his people. The land no longer refers to a patch of land in the Middle East. This typological land was a means to an end. Israel, “the center of the nations” (Ezekiel 5:5), “the center of earth” (Ezekiel 38:12) was a land bridge between Africa, Europe, and Asia, consequently the ideal location for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world quickly. O. Palmer Robertson writes “With this place as its point of origin, the gospel of Jesus Christ could travel at the fastest possible speed to the ends of the earth. This land, crafted by the One who shaped the continents, was designed from the beginning not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of reaching the world with the gospel.” Paul again paints this worldwide picture in Ephesians 6 in which he recites one of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:12 is the commandment which says “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Here’s what Paul writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:1-3). That’s from the English Standard Version. A more accurate translation of the Greek word “land” used in Ephesians 6:3 can be found in the New American Standard Bible and King James Version, which translates “land” as “earth.”
At this point it is worth remembering the dichotomy mentioned earlier between Abraham’s offspring and Abraham’s REAL offspring. Romans 4:13 does more than just broaden the scope of Abraham’s land, it also shows us who is to inherit it: his offspring. So who are the Children of Abraham? Here are their characteristics:
“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.”
In God’s eyes, being a Jew has nothing to do with physical heritage. True circumcision (True Judaism) is a matter of heart, not of flesh. If you’re not a Jew inwardly, then ultimately you are not a Jew at all. In Revelation, John writes to both the Church in Smyrna and the Church in Philadelphia warning against those who say they are Jews but are not. He calls them the “synagogue of Satan,” saying that they lie about being Jews. Now here’s a really practical question: how could someone possibly believe themselves to be a Jew unless they were Jewish by birth? These are real Jews that Revelation is talking about, whose heritage has done nothing to save them. My point is this: there is no special virtue for the Jewish people on account of them being Jewish according to the flesh. Furthermore, the New Testament belabors the point that “Jew” has a new definition. Paul writes to the Galatians:
“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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Under Christ, the line of distinction between Jew and Gentile has been completely removed. Christ has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). The Gentiles, who were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” have now “been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13). In Romans 11, Paul describes Jews and Gentiles as both being branches of the same olive tree. In Philippians, Paul tells the Gentile church that “we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). It’s here that we get the most concise picture of True Judaism. It is those who worship by the Spirit of God. Remember the words of Jesus:
“‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’
This is Christianity. This is New Testament Judaism. To be a Christian is to be a Jew in GOD’S eyes, not the world’s. Paul stresses this over and over and over again in his letters. Concluding his letter to the Galatians, he again makes the point that there is nothing inherent in your flesh that makes you approved in God’s eyes (i.e., being circumcised). Only by Jesus can one be truly circumcised. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15). This “new creation” according to Paul in another letter is the fruit of being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The prevailing theology in America today is that Jews and Gentiles are both accepted by God, yet distinct. While both approved, God has different destinies for the Church and for Israel. But Scripture gives no room for such a belief. God does not bless such distinctions. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
The Israel of God
“The Israel of God”…Why does Paul use these words? If “Israel” refers strictly to national Israel, why does he not just say “Israel”? Could it be that there is another Israel? Based on the dichotomies Paul and Jesus both use, absolutely. Paul contrasts Israel with the Israel of God.
Amidst all the types on the Old Testament and their fulfillments in the New, is it so inconceivable that God’s Old Testament people themselves are a shadow of a much greater nation of God? Again, this is not the common interpretation of popular American theology and a common scare tactic used by its opponents such as John Hagee is to label this as “Replacement Theology,” as in the Church has replaced Israel, which in turn makes you anti-Semitic. But I’ve said nothing here that Scripture has not. The Church is Israel fulfilled. Jews are by no means excluded. It consists of Jews and Gentiles. It is for all who profess the name of Christ. This is not “replacement” but “expansion.” Unfaithful Jews have been broken off the vine and Gentiles, by faith in Christ, are being grafted into the olive tree that all who believe in Jesus, regardless of their lineage, may grow together into a holy temple for the Lord (Romans 11, Ephesians 2:21).
Below is a brief list of the commonalities of God’s people, both under the Old Covenant and God’s people under the New, which underscores the type/anti-type, shadow/fulfillment aspect of the people of God. It must be mentioned though that being a “type” of God’s chosen nation does not negate the reality of their relationship with God, nor of sin and salvation. God’s people, in both testaments, have been saved by grace through faith alone. Some of the implications of this I’ll touch on at a later date.
A Comparison of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church
1. Chosen though the Least
“‘For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,'”
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”
-1 Corinthians 1:26-27
2. A Holy Nation
“‘and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…'”
“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.”
-1 Peter 2:9
3. Israel Promised a New Covenant:
“‘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.'”
Christians as the Recipients of the New Covenant:
“…’This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'”
-Luke 22:20, see also Hebrews 8
4. Israel called out of Egypt
“‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.'”
True Israel (Jesus) called out of Egypt
“And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'”
5. God to Dwell Amongst Israel
“‘And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.'”
The Promise Applied to Christians
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
-2 Corinthians (6:16-18), 7:1
6. Healing by a Raised Serpent
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
Healing by a Raised Man
“‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.'”
7. Israel Fed in the Wilderness with Manna from the Sky and Water from the Rock
Exodus 16-17. I ain’t writing all that out.
Christ is True Manna and True Drink for His Wilderness Nation
John 6:22-59, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
*The idea of a return of God’s people to the wilderness can be found in the Prophets and thus was a widespread expectation throughout Israel. Ulrich Mauser writes “Since the Messiah was believed to arise in the wilderness and gather the people there, the Judean desert was repeatedly the scene where Messianic movements were gathering, although the various movements apparently had different political colours.” He goes on to note that in all of Josephus’s accounts of Messianic risings, “the wilderness is invariably the place to which the pretenders lure their followers.” This is most likely what Jesus was referring to when he warned the disciples “‘For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So if they say to you, “Look, he is in the wilderness,” do not go out. If they say, “Look, he is in the inner rooms,” do not believe it.'” (Matthew 24:24-26)
**Joshua 21:43 is a good illustration of how we should use Scripture itself to interpret Scripture. More on this later.