Sun, May 03, 2015
Israel and the Church
by Aaron O'Kelley
Series: Biblical Theology
Definition of terms:
Israel = a national-political-ethnic entity; a corporate people elected by God
Church = God’s new covenant people
Spectrum of views: Covenant theology has seen Israel replaced by the church; Dispensationalism has seen two different destinies for them. There are views in the middle. Mine is a Progressive Dispensational view.
Disciples’ question in Acts 1:6; Note Jesus’ response: he does not deny the premise of their question. He implies that there is a future for Israel, a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, to come.
The Problem: Israel’s Unbelief (Romans 9:1-5)
- Why address this problem here? Paul’s gospel is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16); he needs to demonstrate the continuity of his gospel with the OT.
- Paul’s hypothetical wish to be accursed for Israel’s sake indicates the plight of Israel: they are accursed, cut off from Christ.
- But this seems to stand at odds with their privileges: adoption, glory, covenants, giving of the law, worship, promises; they are the descendants of the patriarchs and the nation from whom Christ came.
- Eph. 2:12: “remember that you [Gentile believers] were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The promises were made to Israel, not to us.
- Has the word of God to Israel failed?
Paul’s Defense of His Gospel in Answer to the Problem (Romans 9:6-11:35)
Paul’s answer proceeds in four steps:
I. The Election of a True “Israel,” 9:6-29
- The word of God has not failed (9:6); why not? Because God never promised that every single individual Israelite would be saved.
- There has always been a winnowing process of God choosing his own people to inherit the promise and rejecting others: Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau.
- Two possible objections: (1) God is unjust (Paul’s answer in vv. 14-18); (2) God cannot hold responsible those who have not been chosen (Paul’s answer in vv. 19-23)
- God’s sovereign election extends to Gentiles as well, though he does not call Gentile believers “Israel” here (vv. 24-29).
II. The Unbelief of Present Israel, 9:30-10:21
- The gospel has brought about a surprising reversal: Gentiles are being saved while most of Israel remains in unbelief. This section is something of a detour from the main argument.
III. The Preservation of a Remnant of Israel, 11:1-10
- God has not rejected Israel; two examples demonstrate the point:
(1) Paul himself is an Israelite and a believer in Christ.
(2) God preserved 7,000 men in Elijah’s day.
- But broadly speaking, Israel as a nation has not obtained the blessing it sought; only the elect received it, but a hardening has come upon the majority.
IV. The Salvation of Future Israel, 11:11-32
- vv. 11-16: Is this hardening upon the majority a permanent hardening? Did Israel not only stumble at the gospel but fall away from it forever? By no means!
- God has used Israel’s failure to bring salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn will lead back to Israel again.
- Two times Paul indicates that Israel will believe in the future, and when they do, the blessings that will result for the world will far surpass what we experience even now (vv. 12, 15).
- vv. 17-24: The olive tree: broken branches = unbelieving Israelites; wild branches grafted in = believing Gentiles. The promises were not made to us, but we are “grafted in” to them by faith.
- This is the sense in which the NT rightly applies “Israel” language to the church as a whole: Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:3. In the present age, believing Gentiles are a better expression of “Israel” than Israel is.
- But note carefully: believing Gentiles do not replace Israel. Wild branches are grafted in, but the tree is not replaced.
- vv. 25-32: Who is “all Israel”? It must be the nation as a whole that will be converted to Christ at or near the time of the second coming.
- Israel will experience national salvation, which will result in blessing for the world (Gen. 12:3).
1. God has one new covenant people (the church) made up of believing Jews and Gentiles from all ages. (Eph. 2:14-16)
2. The promises of the OT were made to ethnic, national Israel.
3. Believing Gentiles are heirs of the promises in Christ, but that does not mean ethnic, national Israel has been left behind.
4. In the future, Israel as a nation will be saved in fulfillment of God’s promises, which will in turn result in greater blessings to the nations.
- God always does the surprising thing to magnify his grace; when they have nothing to commend them, he chooses Israel to be his people. But then, when the Messiah comes, he surprisingly hardens Israel to welcome in the Gentiles. Then, at the end, when we might have written off Israel, he will welcome her in again in fulfillment of his promises.
- No wonder Paul ends in 11:33-36 the way he does.