They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen[Romans 9:4-5]
Who or what is Israel?
Is it an ancient kingdom or merely a place on the map? Is it a peculiar people chosen by God, or something more? Are the Jews to be understood as the same as Israel or distinct? Has the church replaced Israel and inherited all her covenant promises, or does God have a different plan for Israel altogether?
One thing is sure. Israel is at the very heart of holy Scripture and represents one of the most essential threads that runs through God’s great story of redemption, and yet for most Jews and Gentiles alike — Israel remains a mystery. Even within the “ekklesia,” there are as many different views about Israel as there are denominations. To be such a primary component of God’s story, Israel may be the most misunderstood and confused concept in all of the Bible.
I have been following Jesus Christ for over 25 years — serving as a pastor/teacher in the local church for over a decade — and yet I am only beginning to get a handle on the Biblical identity of Israel. For the very first time in my life, I believe I am starting to understand God’s definition of Israel and furthermore how it pertains to my own spiritual identity.
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.[Galatians 6:15-16]
For years I have read my Bible like there are two sets of rules and two distinct identities for two completely different groups of people — Israel (Jews) and the church (mostly Gentiles). Some go as far as drawing a hard line between the God of Israel as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures and the God of the church as revealed by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
But nothing could be further from the truth. While there are clear nuances and complex theological concepts revealed in Scripture, no such distinction exists. Unfortunately, this false dichotomy has caused unnecessary confusion and created an identity crisis in the church. We have forgotten our roots and consequently have lost our way. Israel is the key in finding our way back to the full revelation of Jesus Christ and the eternal purposes of God.
There is one God and one Savior — Jesus Christ — who has come to redeem for Himself one people from all mankind through one Spirit, and Israel has always been in the heart of God as the very apple of His eye.
But the LORD’s portion is his people,[Deuteronomy 32:9-10]
Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
It is as though I have discovered a trove of lost treasure in the word of God, and this discovery has brought God’s word to life like never before. Just to give you a flavor of what I am talking about, consider the following Biblical truths.
The God of Israel entered into covenant with the people of Israel and promised the kingdom of Israel in the land of Israel. Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel who came to redeem people from all nations into the commonwealth of Israel. All who believe in the Messiah of Israel are now members in the household of Israel, enjoying the blessed privileges of Israel, having inherited all the covenant promises of Israel in Christ.
Furthermore, when Jesus Christ returns to earth, He will reign as the King of Israel from the capital city of Israel — Jerusalem — ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel and allotting the promised land of Israel to all who believe. In the coming Kingdom of Israel, all of God’s people will observe the Sabbath and the feasts of the LORD as princes and priests of Israel.
As you can see, Israel is not only foundational to our past but also significantly essential to understanding our spiritual identity and our ultimate destiny.
Over the next several weeks, I will begin unpacking this ambitious task of identifying Israel from a Biblical worldview, and I will begin with Israel the person — the patriarch Jacob.