Who is Israel?

Israel in the Old Testament serves as a type for the redeemed people of God from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9). God is not just the God of the Jews; He is the God of the Gentiles, also (Rom 3:29). He is the God of Israel (Ps 68:35), the Holy One of Israel (Ps 71:22), but who is Israel?

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome and distinguished between ethnic Israel (the Jewish people) and spiritual Israel (true circumcision, see Phil 3:2). In Romans 9:6–8, part of his larger contribution regarding ethnic Israel (Rom 9–11), Paul argued that the children of God were the children of promise, not the children of flesh (Rom 9:8). In this, he is aligned with the apostle John, who wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:12–13).”

True faith makes one a true Israelite. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, “Therefore be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham (Gal 3:7). Jesus rebuked the Jews at Jerusalem, who claimed they were children of Abraham. Their works, especially their desire to kill Jesus, were not consistent with Abraham, the friend of God and man of faith (Jn 8:38–39). When these same Jews claimed to be children of God, Jesus corrected them, claiming they were children of the devil (Jn 8:41, 44).

How can children of Israel be children of the devil? This is precisely Paul’s point in Romans 9:6b-7, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but through Isaac your descendants will be named.” The name, “Israel,” belongs to the line of covenant believers continuing from the Old Testament era, through the New Testament times, and throughout church history.

Those who follow in the faith of Abraham are heirs of the promises made to him some five to six hundred years before Moses brought the Law of God to the Israelites (Rom 4:12–14). The Law was never a means of salvation, nor could it render righteousness in those who possessed it (Rom 4:15). Salvation comes by God’s grace, through His gift of faith (Eph 2:8–9), and it is not by deeds of righteousness done in the flesh (Titus 3:5).

Faith was a gift given to Abraham, and it is a gift granted to those who receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit at regeneration (Mt 3:11; Gal 5:22). Isaac was born of the Spirit, and he suffered persecution at the hands of Ishmael, his half-brother, a man born of mere flesh (Gal 4:28–29).

The promises of God made to Abraham, passed to Isaac, not Ishmael. These promises were sealed with an oath and covenant. The same was true in the case of Jacob and Esau. The believers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob trusted the word of promise, spoken by God in covenant form. These anticipated the coming seed (singular) of Abraham, who would cut the covenant with His own precious blood. Christ Jesus is the singular seed (Gal 3:17).

The apostle captures this idea in summary form, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal 3:29).” All believers in God’s Word, Christ Jesus, are joint heirs with Christ, being heirs of God (Rom 8:17). Just as Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so these believers are sons of God. Jesus is our elder brother, the firstborn (primacy). We are the church of the firstborn, righteous before God because of the blood of the new covenant (Heb 12:22–24). Jesus serves as the Mediator of a new covenant (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 9:15), typified by the Old Covenant. The old is the type, and the new is the anti-type. This is not a replacement; but it is a fulfillment.

God calls Jesus, “My Servant, Israel (Is 49:3),” and His task is to gather Israel to God (Is 49:6). He is bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). Thus, we can see Christ is the head of the body, the church (Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18, and it is the church that the apostle Paul calls, “the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).”

Israel (the Head) is building Israel (the body), and Israel will number as the sand of the seashore or the stars of heaven. The church of Jesus Christ, being the true circumcision, the true Israel of God includes a remnant of Jews and a remnant of Gentiles. These are believers, the children of promise, the children of Abraham, and the children of God…Israel, His beloved.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

October 4, 2021

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher