The True Israel of God
Some Bible verses about God’s covenant with the Jews and “one new man” can seem confusing. For example, who is “the Israel of God”? Is there such a thing as “spiritual Israel”? Is it different from physical Israel?
These are big questions, and probably impossible to answer in one short article. But we can definitely look at some Biblical truths that will point us to the answers. And more than anything, I hope they spark a great thought process (and maybe conversations).
So, what do we know about “the Israel of God” from the Bible?
Some Christians interpret such verses in their own favor, to mean they’ve become the true Israel of God. It is not uncommon for the Church to claim that they are the real offspring of Abraham or spiritual Israel.
Interesting fact: the phrase “spiritual Israel” never appears in the Bible. Other verses can appear, at best, ambiguous, and at worst, encourage thinking of replacement.
Interpreting Scripture about Israel
One simple key, however, can demystify much of the dilemma: Context can be everything!
A truism of sound Bible interpretation (or interpretation of any communication) is that text without context is pretext. By definition “context” refers to that which accompanies or goes with text. “Pretext” means that which misleads or conceals.
Those who are passionate about truth will discover they can usually demystify most difficult verses about Israel and one new humanity simply by carefully studying the context of those verses. Sadly, not doing so often leads to pretext.
“Abraham’s offspring” in Romans 9
Romans 9:6-8 states: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel…but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” These verses are often used as an argument for replacement theology.
But the immediate and obvious context of Romans 9:6-8 is, of course, that it follows the previous verses. So, it’s important to recognize what Paul writes in verses 1-5. He is explicit about ethnic Israel’s ongoing, covenant-based inheritance, calling and destiny.
Beginning with verse 6 and through the end of chapter 9, he then explains how, despite Israel’ sin and national rejection of Messiah, her calling and destiny still stands. He does this by explaining the historical role of Israel’s remnant.
Meanwhile, Paul does not intend verses 6-8 to comprise a thought unto itself. Those verses, therefore, cannot be rightly interpreted in isolation from the rest of his explanation
Physical Israel: Descended from Israel
The apostle’s main explanatory point in Romans 9:6-29 is that through history, only a remnant within Israel has stayed faithful to God. They were chosen by grace and engaged personally in His full covenant blessing.
Yet that remnant served–and still serves–to maintain the election and destiny of the whole nation. Paul is saying those who are descended from Israel, which are Israel and are Abraham’s offspring, are the faithful remnant of physical Israel.
In other words, faithful Messianic Jews are the “Israel” that is spiritually as well as physically descended from Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). They are the children of the promise and are fully/truly Abraham’s children.
From Abraham to All Nations
Paul is not specifically referring here to Gentiles who follow Yeshua and therefore consider themselves Abraham’s spiritual offspring. However, that could be a sound, secondary application–in balance–for other ethnic nationalities.
While not physically Jewish, Gentile Christians do inherit all the spiritual blessings of following in the faith of their spiritual father, Abraham. What they don’t do, is disinherit the Jews from their covenant promises!
At the next level of context, Romans 9:6-8 is an essential part of Paul’s master treatise on Israel that starts with Romans 9:1 and ends at 11:36. Within that treatise, the apostle consistently uses “Israel” to refer to physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
What does Paul mean by “Israel”
Paul’s writings as a whole repeatedly confirm that while one in Messiah, physical Israel (faithful or not) is in fact Israel as we know it. And physical Gentiles (faithful or not) remain Gentiles.
At the broad contextual level, both Old and New Covenants as a whole teach the same truth.
Let’s rejoice that Gentiles needn’t become Jews to enjoy eternally the goodness of God! In Messiah, there’s neither Jew nor Gentile when it comes to right standing with God, our Creator and Lord. We receive His blessing regardless.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God…For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33, 36).
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