One of the central themes of the Bible is God’s promise that he would make a great people for his praise, and the fulfilment of that promise. Key Scriptures are Gen 12:1-3 (God’s promise to Abram), and 1 Pet 2:9f (the declaration that the followers of Jesus constitute ‘a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…the people of God’.
Back in Gen 1-2, God’s purpose for his people was ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:28), to ‘rule’ and ‘subdue’ the earth (Gen 1:28) to ‘cultivate’ and ‘keep’ the garden (Gen 2:15), and to live in community with one another (Gen 2:18-25). It is clear to that his purpose was to live in fellowship with himself – this being forfeited after the catastrophe of the fall (Gen 3). Sin not only banishes from the presence of God: it also hampers our ability to fulfil God’s vocation for us, Gen 3:17-19.
Now we see that Abraham and his offspring will be God’s means of rescuing humanity and restoring it to its original purpose, Gen 12:1-3. The limiting of God’s purpose to people of a single ethnicity was neither absolute (think of Rahab, Ruth, Uriah) nor, we may infer, was it intended to be permanent.
Just as the physical building could never fulfil all of God’s purposes regarding his dwelling with his people, so the Israelites could never fulfil all of the purposes regarding the people of God. The original promise to Abraham makes it clear that the blessing is to extend to ‘all the families of the earth’, Gen 12:3.
‘Just as the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon were temporary provisions that looked forward to the fulfilment in Christ, so also the restriction of the people of God to the choosing of Abraham and his family must be viewed in terms of a temporary provision.’
Jesus as the fulfilment of the people of God
Virtually every title and attribute that is applied in the OT to Israel is applied in the NT to Christ. He is the true Adam, the prophet who is like Moses and yet is greater than Moses, the Son of God. He is the promised ‘seed’ of Abraham, Gal 3:16. He achieves what Israel was called to do: he is the ‘faithful witness’, Rev 1:5; 3:14. He is a ‘light to the Gentiles’, Lk 2:32; cf Jn 8:12; 9:5.
Jesus’ followers as the people of God
If blessing to the nations has come in Christ, then he sends his disciples to gather those nations in, Mt 28:19. His people enjoy so many titles that belonged in the OT to Israel. 1 Pet 2:9 has already been referred to. According to Paul, the NT people of god are ‘the true circumcision’, Phil 3:3; ‘God’s chosen people’, Col 3:12. Abraham is ‘the father of all who believe’, Rom 4:11; cf. Gal 3:29; Rom 2:28f; 1 Pet 3:6.
‘In the NT, then, being a descendant of Abraham and Sarah is not determined by one’s ethnicity, but one’s faith.’
Jesus regarded as members of his own family ‘whoever does the will of God’, Mk 3:35.
We also see that Israel’s role and purpose are fulfilled by the NT people of God. Israel’s mission is their mission. They are to be ‘the light of the world’, Mt 5:14. Note that Isa 42:6 and Isa 49:6, applied to Jesus in Lk 2:32, are applied to his people in Acts 13:47.
Furthermore, the promises that God would dwell among his people (Lev 26:11f; Ezek 37:24-28) are applied by Paul to the presence of God by his Spirit among his NT people (2 Cor 6:16).
The consummation of the people of God
All of the purposes relating to the people of God find their consummation in the New Jerusalem. Here we have not only a description of a city, but also a people, focusing on the imagery of a bride, Rev 21:9. This people is drawn from every nation, Rev 21:24,26; cf. Rev 7:9.
Based on: Rob Dalrymple, These brothers of mine: a biblical theology of land and family and a response to Christian Zionism. Sipf & Stock, 2015. Chapter 6.