Laying Down the Law Part 3
Who is real Israel?
We continue this morning with our series entitled Laying Down the Law. In the first couple of weeks we noted that Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the elect of God, they were the chosen race – chosen to be his children and to be in covenant relationship with Him.
About 1500 BC God made a covenant with Israel – the Mosaic Covenant. That covenant was essentially blessings for obedience to the 613 commands of the Law of Moses and curses for disobedience. We saw that the Law of Moses was inextricably linked to that covenant, which we now call the Old Covenant because after Israel was under that covenant for about 900 years a prophet named Jeremiah came along and said that one day God was going to make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Then 600 years after that Jesus came on the scene and said, that New Covenant that Jeremiah promised is fulfilled in me; I’m here to deliver it.
Remember our main point in week one: The Law was for a particular people for a definite time. It was for the people of Israel; it began with Moses and it ended with Christ. We pointed out last week that the law didn’t exactly end in its entirety at the cross. At the cross it was rendered obsolete and the new covenant age had broken in, but the covenant and thus the law remained in effect for another 40 years. There was a time of transition, from Ad 30 to AD 70 when the covenants overlapped.
Now, we did point out in week one that we were not recipients of or participants in the Mosaic Covenant, thus we were never under the Law. I pointed out the need to pay attention to audience relevance – to whom was the text written? Who was the intended recipient, the original audience? We were careful to point out that Israel was the recipient and participant in the OC in the Law. We also want to be consistent in our approach to the NC. Jeremiah 31:31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. God promised the NC to the very same people that he gave the OC, namely the House of Israel and the House of Judah.
Again, Israel is the focus. 600 years after this promise, Jesus came to deliver. Jesus was born in Israel, under the Law of Moses (covenant with Israel), began his ministry in Israel, preached to Israel, picked 12 disciples who descended from Israel. He commissioned those disciples and sent them on mission. Where? Israel. Matt 10:5-6 5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. (Go to the circumcision; don’t go to the uncircumcised. Preach to Israel)
Matthew 15:21-27 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
I want you to see a couple of things here:
Jesus was sent only to Israel
Israel, who called themselves the circumcision, saw those outside of Israel, or Gentiles, as dogs.
We see 2 people groups: Jews and Gentiles.
Jews are those who are chosen by God to be his treasured possession, also known as the circumcision.
Gentiles are outside of Israel; they are “the uncircumcised; they are the dogs.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry he made it very clear that he was sent to Israel and at the Last Supper when he took the cup and said in Luke 22:20 “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you” He wasn’t in a room full of uncircumcised, Gentile dogs. He was in a room full of Israelites.
So if we are consistent in our approach we will see that the covenants both old and new were for Israel. Now that seems to exclude you and me from the covenant. If we define Israel consistently as the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then we are not recipients or partakers in the NC.
But that seems problematic because over half of the books in the NT are letters written by an apostle whose sole mission was to evangelize and bring the blessings of the NC to non-Israelites. These letters were written to churches made up primarily of non-Israelites. Now, keep in mind that all of these letters were written during the time of the overlap of the ages, the time of transition between the OC and NC.
And during that forty year transition period, God was in the process of redefining Israel. Since the NC was expressly stated as being with Israel and yet we have many non-Israelite individuals partaking in the NC, our question this morning in response will seek to answer the question of how exactly God was redefining Israel.
Our question this morning is who is real Israel?
The transition into the new era didn’t actually begin with Christ, but with his forerunner, John the Baptist, who set the stage for Jesus’ ministry. In a very powerful scene we have JTB preaching in the wilderness of Judeaand saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you withwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
There is a major theme going on here. A line drawn in the sand where we see something seemingly unprecedented. Someone is telling descendants of Abraham that they need to be careful about putting too much stock in their bloodline, in their ethnic lineage.
There was always two groups: the in group (Israel) and the outsiders (everyone else – Gentiles). JTB is saying some of you who think you’re on the inside are really on the outside.
He goes on to evoke the imagery of separation of good and bad by using winnowing language. Wheat and chaff.
Jesus follows John’s lead on this separation talk. Usually it is shrouded in parables.
(PARABLES ON THE KINGDOM – SEPARATION AT THE END OF THE AGE)
But there is one passage in which Jesus is just as – well, perhaps more explicit than John was.
Turn with me to John 8 and let’s get a peek at a conversation that Jesus has with some of these biological descendants of Israel, these offspring of Jacob who were Israelites, those who considered themselves the circumcision.
John 8:31-47 31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
Wait a minute!!! David, I thought you said that Israel was the chosen people of God, the people who were God’s treasured possession, those who belong to God. How then is it, then, that Jesus is telling these Israelites that they don’t belong to God? In essence, Jesus told these descendants of Jacob, these descendants of Israel that they did not belong to God, they belong to the devil.
How then is it, then, that Jesus is telling these Israelites that they don’t belong to God?
That is a great question. At face value, one would walk away from this passage with the following conclusion: Just because somebody is an Israelite by birth and bloodline, it doesn’t mean that they truly belong to God. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh and a great number of the “people of God” rejected Him.
One of my favorite verses that really makes this all click is Romans 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
What does that mean? I thought earlier you said Israel means anyone who descended from Israel.
It means that just because somebody is an Israelite by birth, by blood, by ethnicity, by descent, it doesn’t mean that they truly belong to God. Israel was and is God’s chosen people, the elect, those who belong to the Lord, His treasured possession. Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
“all who descended from Israel” = Jacob’s biological descendants.
Israel = God’s chosen people.
In other words, not all Jacob’s biological descendants are God’s chosen people.
Let me put it another way: “not all who are ethnic Israel are true Israel” or “not all who are ethnic Israel are spiritual Israel”
Is this just a new idea that Paul came up with? Is this just a NT idea? In Rom 11 he says no, it’s always been this way and shows us from an example in the OT. Rom 11:1-6 1I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. (In other words, God didn’t say I’m rejecting all the biological descendants of Jacob. I, Paul, am one of them and I’m his) Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3“Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (In other words, God chose 7,000 who truly belonged to Him. In the midst of all ethnic Israel, 7,000 were true Israel, spiritual Israel; the rest rejected God, but those 7,000 whom God had chosen truly belonged to Him.) 5So too, at the present time (first century between 30 & 70 AD) there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
In other words, it has always been this way. God has always had the right, the power and the prerogative to chose, to elect those who would be His, those who would belong to Him.
· He chose Abram. Abram had 2 sons;
· God chose Isaac. Isaac had twins;
· God chose the younger…as it is written: Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.
· Jacob’s name became Israel. His descendants were known as the Israelites.
· God chose that nation of people out of all the nations on earth.
· Within ethnic Israel there was always a remnant of true spiritual Israel who truly belonged to God. Paul says, so too, at the present time (first century) there was a remnant chosen by grace.
13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people (ethnic Israel) to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Ethnic Israel’s rejection of the Son of God has brought salvation to believing Gentiles. 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17If some of the branches have been broken off (unbelieving ethnic Israelites), and you (believing Gentiles), though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others (believing Jews) and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
So, in Paul’s illustration, the olive tree is Israel, made up of branches that represent believing and unbelieving ethnic Jews. Those ethnic Jews who believe in Jesus are the remnant chosen by grace. Those ethnic Jews who don’t believe in Jesus are branches that are cut off. The Gentiles who hear the message and believe are unnatural branches that get grafted into the Olive Tree and are a part of True, Spiritual Israel.
So, back to the question “Who is real Israel?” Who is real Israel? Who is a true Jew?
Who is Spiritual Israel? It is not those who are simply descendants of Abraham, descendants of Jacob aka Israel that make up the chosen people of God. True Israel is God’s elect and chosen people made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.
Now, remember what we said earlier about ethnic Israel’s term for themselves. They called themselves “the circumcision” because of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants that was perpetuated through the covenant with the Israelites – the Law of Moses. Ethnic Israelites (or Israelites according to the flesh) called themselves the circumcision and they called Gentiles “uncircumcised” and dogs.
Flip with me to Ephesians 2:11-14 Therefore, remember that formerly, you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves the circumcision – that done in the body by the hands of men – remember that at that time, you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For He himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.
No longer foreigners to the covenants of the promise, but partakers.
No longer excluded from citizenship in Israel, but fellow citizens.
No longer uncircumcised dogs but members of his household, children of God, part of the true Israel.
Christ has made the two one. True Israel is made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles.
There is no longer two different people groups based on ethnicity; there is no longer Jew and Gentile.
The 2 people groups on the earth now are believers and unbelievers, regardless of ethnicity.
Who is real Israel? Those in Christ: Believing Jews and Gentiles.
Flip with me to Romans 2:28-29 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men but from God.
Just as Israel is redefined in Christ, circumcision is redefined in Christ.
Circumcision is circumcision of the heart – it’s spiritual and inward. A man is not a Jew just because he is one outwardly. A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, spiritually. Those who are the circumcision are not just those who are circumcised outwardly, but rather those who are circumcised spiritually, inwardly, in the heart, not according to the Law, but according to the Spirit.
Again, believing Jews & Gentiles, who are sealed by the Spirit, changed inwardly by the spirit, circumcised in the heart by the Spirit, are the circumcision.
The true circumcision consists of believing Jews and Gentiles.
Who is real Israel? Simple answer: believers.
That is how we reconcile the fact that the NC was originally promised by Jeremiah to the House of Israel. Yes, Israel, but not Israel as Israel had defined herself for the 1500 years before Christ. Because not all who descended from Israel are Israel.
Israel was being redefined in Christ. Many Israelites according to the flesh were cut off due to their unbelief and many non-Israelites were grafted in due to their faith. Many unbelieving Israelites were shown to be chaff when they were burned in the fire in AD 70. Many believing Israelites were joined together with believing Gentiles as the true Israel of God to enjoy the Kingdom in the New Covenant age as God’s New Covenant people.
We, through faith, like those in the first century join the family of God, become the children of Abraham, become the spiritual circumcision, and partake of the glorious New Covenant as the New and true Israel of God.