Jesus, Israel, and the Church: A Brief Overview

Recently, a famous Christian pastor made some comments at a conference about eschatology that caused quite a stir among some pastors and blogs. Since then, much coffee has been brewed and consumed over theological debate and discussion, and many keyboard strokes laid down regarding Israel’s relationship to the Church. Here is my humble contribution to the discussion.

The Church as God’s New Humanity (Eph 2:10-18)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— [12] remember that you 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. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

This title for the church (i.e. a “new humanity”) shows its continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament. It seeks to explain how the Gentiles receive the blessings of God without submitting to either circumcision or the Mosaic law. The answer, of course, is tied to Jesus Christ as the ‘last Adam’ and the ‘true Israel.’
Jesus as the Last Adam

Jesus replaces Adam, ‘the first man’ of the ‘first creation’ as ‘the new man’ of the ‘new creation.’ Adam stands as our representative. Because of his sin, he corrupts the first creation. However, Jesus, as our second Adam, also stands as our representative and inaugurates a new creation (Rom 5:18-19; 6:5ff; 2 Cor 5:17). What is true of individual Christians as God’s ‘new man’ / ‘new creation’ is also true of Christians corporately. Paul speaks explicitly of God’s creation of ‘one new man’ in Christ that is distinct from both Jew and Gentile. This ‘one new man’ is God’s ‘new humanity’ in Christ (Eph 2:10-18). Paul claims that this ‘one new man out of two’ (Eph 2:15) is the ‘mystery’ made known by revelation (Eph 3:3-6). This ‘one new man out of the two’ that God created in Christ (Eph 2:15) is the ‘church’ (Eph 3:10).
Jesus is the True Israel

The New Testament understands Jesus Christ to be the ‘true Israel’ and therefore all who entrust themselves to him, whether ethnically Jewish or Gentile, are Abraham’s ‘children of promise’ – they are ‘true Jews,’ and ‘Abraham’s seed.’ Examples:

1) Jesus replaces Israel as God’s Son (Hos 11:1; Matt 2:14-15).

2) Jesus replaces Israel as the ‘true vine’ (John 15:1 – see Ps 80:9-16; Isa 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Jer 2:21; 12:l0ff; Ezek 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Hos 10:1-2).
3) Jesus succeeded as the true Servant of God where Israel failed. Jesus reenacts Israel’s history: the exodus from Egypt (Matt 2:19-20), the crossing of the Red Sea (Matt 3:13-17), the temptations in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and the arrival at Mt. Sinai to receive the law (Matt 5:1-2), and He receives the expected out-pouring of God’s Spirit (Matt 3:16; cf. Isa 44:2-3; Ezek 36:25-27), showing that Jesus is truly the Son with whom God is pleased (Matt 3:16). John also uses the great images for Israel in the Old Testament for Jesus and His disciples (the good shepherd and the flock in 10:11-16 and vine and the branches in 15:1-5).

4) Jesus replaces Israel as Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:16). To be a part of the people of God, you must be a child of Abraham. Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 runs like this: becoming Abraham’s descendent is not realized in connection with the Mosaic law but in connection with Jesus (cf. Gal 3:7). Why? Because Jesus is the promised ‘seed’ (Gal 3:16) through whom God would bless the nations (3:8). Paul’s conclusion: “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). Through Christ the covenant is fulfilled and those who become a part of the people of God do so through Him, thus they too are part of the fulfilled covenant. The true people of God (Israel) is seen in the Church (both Jews and Gentiles – Gal 3:6-9, 6:16; Rom 2:28-29), though God has yet to finish His work with ethnic Israel as well (Romans 9-11).

Summary

Gentile Christians have not been added to an already existing entity, namely Israel. The entity (the Church) is new. And in this new entity, Gentiles are fully equal heirs with the Jews. The church is not simply an extension of Israel – it is a new body, a new entity, it is ‘one new man’ (Eph 2:15). However, because Jesus Christ is the authentic Israel, the true seed of Abraham, and because Christians are “in Christ,” what was true of Israel as God’s people becomes true of the church as God’s people. Thus, Paul can call the church ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal 6:16), i.e., the true spiritual Israel.

8 thoughts on “Jesus, Israel, and the Church: A Brief Overview

  1. Pastor John says:

    thanks for the comment. i had a great theology prof in seminary who helped lay out this kind of biblical theological approach. i will check out what you’ve done on your site. john

  2. John Meade says:

    John – I graduated from SBTS this past December. I am currently in the PhD OT program with Dr. Gentry. We are not working on biblical theology together, though I like to pick his brain from time to time. I took three Wellum classes, and I enjoyed his material thouroughly. Anyways, it is good to meet another kindred spirit in biblical theology. Talk to you later.-John

  3. oxysmoron says:

    Well done! Thanking Jesus.

    I have put this link up on a blog. Don’t recieve much traffic, yet your work here is just another addition of confirmation for me… as well as for others who are seeking to understand.

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