I have found it useful to compile a list (albeit partial) of passages that are relevant to discussions about Israel and the Church and related questions such as restoration to the land, etc.
The debate cannot simply be reduced to whether we interpret the Bible more, or less, ‘literally’. It’s a question of how the New Testament understands the Old Testament promises to have been fulfilled in Christ.
Here’s a list of relevant passages, with some notes appended.
Genesis 12:2-3 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Some interpreters argue that this promise to Abraham in v3 can be applied to modern Gentile attitudes towards the secular state of Israel. The Scofield Reference Bible says that these promises have been ‘wonderfully fulfilled in the history of the dispersion. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jew – well with those who have protect him. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle.’
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem Third International Zionist Congress in 1996 affirmed that ‘the Lord in His zealous love for Israel and the Jewish People blesses and curses peoples and judges nations based upon their treatment of the Chosen People of Israel.’
But the promise cannot be applied indiscriminately to the contemporary secular state of Israel. In Gal 3:14-16, Christ is said to be ‘the seed of Abraham’, and the promise of blessing is offered to Gentiles not on the basis of how well they treat the Jews but on their response to Jesus Christ.
We may turn to Mt 25:40,45 for a close NT parallel. Here, the same idea is applied to Christ and his disciples. The Lord so identifies with his chosen ones, that any attitude or action taken for them or against them he takes as taken for or against himself.
Genesis 17:7f “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
The covenant was eternal from God’s standpoint, but conditional from the human side. Isaiah 24:5 “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.”
Wright points out that many OT promises were ‘for ever’, and yet manifestly temporal in duration. Examples: the Aaronic Levites as priests, 1 Chron 23:13, and the descendants of David as kings, 2 Sam 7:12-16. Both have come to an end and are fulfilled in Christ.
Travis explains that ‘there are clear signs in the New Testament that that this…was no longer understood in a literal way. Peter takes the word “inheritance”, which generally in the Old Testament referred to the promised land (e.g. Psa 105:11), and uses it to refer to the Christian’s inheritance in heaven (1 Pet 1:3-5). The writer to the Hebrews speaks about the “rest” which had bee promised to Israel when they settled in the promised land under Joshua, but for him the “rest” means all that Christians are invited to enjoy in their present experience and in heaven (Heb 11:8-16). All this suggests that God is fulfilling his promise to Abraham in a way that goes far beyond his original promise of a land. Indeed, Paul says as much when he declares that God promised to Abraham and his descendant not “the land” but “the world” (Rom 4:13)!’ (p134)
Yet Travis adds that we need not conclude that the land of Palestine plays no part at all in God’s purpose for Israel. After all, whereas the NT insists that in Christ the Levitical priesthood has lost its literal significance, it does not make the same explicit claim about the land. It is reasonable to suppose that in God’s providence there is a continuing commitment to the land – for the identity and security of any people is bound up in their having a place of their own to live in. But this does not give the Jews an absolute right to the land, or permission to violate the completing rights of the Palestinian Arabs (who, after all, can also claim to be descendants of Abraham).
Psalms 37:11 ‘But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.’
The fact that it is ‘the meek’ who will ‘inherit the land’ indicates that the possession of the land was not unconditional, as most Christian Zionists insist. Moreover, the land always belonged to God and was never at the disposal of Israel for its national purposes. ‘The Jews remain tenants in God’s land. The ethical requirements for continued occupancy are clearly outlined in the Law’ (Sizer). See Lev 25:23; Ezek 33:25-29. And, in any case, see how the promise of Psa 37:11 is universalised by our Lord in Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth“, and by Paul in Rom 4:13 ‘Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world’. Eph 1:1-23 extends the inheritance of God’s people to the entire cosmos. Paradise restored is not a return to the land, but a new heaven and a new earth as the home of the faithful.
Psalms 122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
This is one of the ‘Songs of Ascents’ – The church is the new Israel. The significance of Jerusalem was that it was the place where the Lord was worshiped in his temple. The New Testament teaches that those who are in Christ are the dwelling place of God. They are, accordingly, the new Jerusalem and the new temple.
Isaiah 2:2f In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
‘The mountain of the Lord is a symbol of the coming kingdom of God, in which a purified and restored Zion is destined to play a crucial role…In this context “Zion” itself takes on symbolic significance. There may well be a literal new Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth, but it will far exceed anything that could fit within our current concept of “city”. It will be the home of all the redeemed from the beginning to the end of human history, Isa 35:10; 51:11; Rev 21-22.’ (Webb)
Isaiah 40:1-2Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem understands this passage to define ‘biblical responsibility toward the Jewish people’. In the words of director Jan Willem van der Hoeven, ‘We don’t believe in conversion, we don’t want to make the Jews into Christians.’ He explains that the Jewish religion needs to modify itself on one point only – the identity of the Messiah.
As Steven Sizer explains, ‘the ICEJ interprets this passage as mandating political and practical support for Jews, encouraging them to…settle the land God promised to Abraham, including the Occupied Territories.’ But, as Sizer says, the ‘comfort’ spoken of in Isa 40 is achieved by the preaching of forgiveness through atonement. ‘ reductionist and materialistic interpretation of this important passage obscures the ultimate comfort for both Jew and Gentile which has been revealed in the incarnation, atonement and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus.’
Isaiah 62:6-7 I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
‘The historical Zion (Jerusalem) opens out into the city of God of the last days, the kingdom of God come to earth. There is continuity; the new will emerge from the old. But there is also discontinuity. The new will be so different from the old that it will require, and be given, “a new name”, 2b-5, 12).’ (Webb)
Jeremiah 31:31-32 “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. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
Ezekiel 36:24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land'”.
It is claimed that this is a literal return to a literal land. But is what follows also literal – King David on the throne, the rebuilding of the temple, and the offering of sacrifices? Surely not – this is a highly spiritualised account of the Messianic kingdom, begun now, and consummated in the hereafter.
Charles Hodge states: ‘The argument (for a restoration to the land) from the ancient prophecies is proved to be invalid because it would prove too much. If those prophecies foretell a literal restoration, they foretell that the temple is to be rebuilt, the priesthood restored, sacrifices again offered, and that the whole Mosaic ritual is to be observed in all its details.’ (Systematic Theology)
Hosea 1:10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.
This passage is taken by some (e.g. Ryle, in Coming Events and Present Duties) to predict the gathering and conversion of national Israel in the last days. But Paul applies this to both Jews and Gentiles, Rom 9:24f, as does Peter in 1 Pet 2:9f.
Commenting on vv10-11, Calvin says, ‘[F]or so long a time has passed away since their [the sons of Israel] exile, and dejected and broken, they dwell at this day in mountains and in other desert places; at least many of them are in the mountains of Armenia, some are in Media and Chaldea; in short, throughout the whole of the East. And since there has been no restoration of this people, it is certain that this prophecy ought not to be restricted to seed according to the flesh. For there was a prescribed time for the Jews, when the Lord purposed to restore them to their country; and, at the end of seventy years, a free return was granted them by Cyrus. Then Hosea speaks not here of the kingdom of Israel, but of the Church, which was to be restored by a return, composed both of Jews and of Gentiles.’
Amos 9:11-15“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things…I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.
This might be taken as a prediction of the restoration of ethnic Israel to their homeland. However, the passage is cited by James in Acts 15:16f as referring to the coming to faith of Gentiles in his own day.
Zechariah 2:11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.”
Even in the Old Testament, the true Israel is both more than (as here) and less than (as in Elijah’s remnant) ethnic Israel.
Zechariah 14:4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.
This verse is sometimes taken to mean that our Lord’s return will be to the precise spot mentioned. It is thus taken as proof that the physical city of Jerusalem has abiding significance in the purposes of God. But this needs to be set alongside other scriptures that teach, for example, that ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7): this rather counts against a return to a particular geographical spot.
Matthew 1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.
‘The New Testament opens with a genealogy of Jesus in which Matthew is saying in effect: ‘If you wish to understand Jesus, you must see him as the completion of this story’. He structures it schematically into three double sevens of generations-the implicit form thus supporting the explicit message of completeness and fulfillment. His name was to be Jesus, because he was to ‘save his people’ (1:21). He came from Bethlehem, the expected birthplace of the coming ruler of Israel, and his infancy is portrayed with a ‘Moses-Egypt’ typology that points towards a new exodus. These are only the opening shots in a continuous salvo on the same theme throughout Matthew.’ (Wright)
Matthew 3:9 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.”
From the lips of John the Baptist comes this assertion – so often found in the New Testament – that the true children of Abraham are not co-terminous with his physical descendants.
Matthew 8:11f “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
‘The surprising and presumably shocking fact is that he used texts that in their Old Testament context referred to the ingathering of Israel and applied them to the ingathering of the Gentiles instead. Thus, for example, Matthew. 8:11f. is an allusion to texts such as Isaiah 43:5f., 49:12 and Psalm 107:3, while Mark 13:27 picks up Deuteronomy 30:4 and Zechariah 2:6. In this way Jesus actually appears to redefine and extend the very meaning of the ‘restoration of Israel’ in terms of the Gentiles. Paul does the same thing in Romans 9:24f., when he takes Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, which clearly referred to Israel in context, and applies them to gentile believers.’ (Wright)
‘The remarkable thing here is that the description of people coming “from the east and the west” alludes to passages such as Isa 43:5f and Psa 107:3 which speak of Jews returning from exile. Yet here is Jesus applying it to Gentiles, included among the people of God. The Jews’ exclusive status as people of God is ended. The privilege of belonging to that people is open to all – Jew and Gentile alike – who have faith in Jesus.’ (Travis, p129)
Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
In Dan 7, it is Israel who rules over the nations; here it is the twelve followers of Jesus who sit in judgment over the twelve tribes of Israel. ‘This remarkable transfer of imagery graphically illustrates the theme of a “true Israel” of the followers of Jesus who take the place of the unbelieving nation, a theme which runs through much of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel, cf. Mt 8:11-12; 21:43.’ (France)
Matthew 21:43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
This is ‘the most explicit statement in Matthew of the view that there is to be a new people of God in place of Old Testament Israel.’ Note the singular, ‘a people’: this is not the Gentiles as such (that would require a plural), ‘but a people of God derived from all nations, Jew and Gentile, who now, as 1 Peter 2:9 makes clear, constitute the “holy nation, God’s own people”, which was Israel’s prerogative according to Exodus 19:5f. Thee is thus both continuity and discontinuity: the reign of God continues, and remains focused on a “nation”, but the composition of that “nation” has changed, not just by the replacement of its leaders, whose failure the parable has highlighted, but by the new principle of belonging which has been set out in Mt 3:8-10 7:15-23 8:11-12 12:39-42 21:28-31 etc; it is a nation which produced fruits, not one whose membership is automatic.’ (France)
Citing this passage, Travis says that ‘the role of the Jewish nation as the people of God was being transferred to the people who accepted him as Messiah.’
Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
According to Stephen Sizer, The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem narrows this to a mandate for providing material support rather than evangelistic witness to the State of Israel.
But ‘these brothers of mine’ are Christ’s disciples, and he is here teaching that he will take deeds of kindness or cruelty to them as if they were done to himself.
Luke 3:8-9 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe 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.”
The true children of Abraham are defined, not by their national descent, but by their repentance and good fruit.
Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Luke 14:15-24 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I have just got married, so I can’t come.’ “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ” ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”
Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
This is the one passage in the NT that seems to speak of the return of Jerusalem to the custody of the Jews. However, our Lord says nothing here about what would happen to Jerusalem at the end of the period spoken of. The view of Hendriksen (citing Greijdanus & Lenski in support) is that the period of oppression of Jerusalem will last until the end of the age, the theme to which our Lord now turns, in vv25-28.
Travis remarks that although Jesus taught that the OT prophecies concerning the Kingdom of God were fulfilled in his own ministry, there is nothing to suggest that he expected a time when the Jews would have political independence in Palestine. And although the present text does speak of the trampling down of Jerusalem until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, it does not say that Jewish sovereignty will be restored at that time. It is consistent with the general tenor of Jesus’ teaching that the fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles would be followed by the parousia.
John 4:21-23 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
Our Lord here teaches that access to God now has nothing to do with any specific earthly location, including Jerusalem.
John 8:39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did.”
The preaching of Peter
‘In his Pentecost sermon Peter identifies what is happening on that day with the prophecy of Joel which, in chapters 2 and 3 had included restoration for Israel in the climactic Day of the Lord (Acts 2:16-21); later he sees the promise to David of an eternal kingdom explicitly fulfilled in Jesus and his resurrection and exaltation (2:29-36). In his Temple sermon he stresses the fulfilment of prophecy and goes on to call for repentance so that the promised restoration may fully come, which he sees as now available to all nations in line with the promise to Abraham (3:18-26); he makes the same point more briefly before the Sanhedrin (5:29-32).’ (Wright)
Acts 3:23Anyone who does not listen to [Christ] will be completely cut off from among his people.
Acts 10:34f Peter said, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
There is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. Both are accepted as equal in the kingdom of God. God does not show favouritism, and therefore the Jew cannot presume to enjoy a favoured or exclusive status.
Acts 15:16-17 ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’
This is a quotation from Amos. But ‘whereas Amos was referring to the rebuilding of the Jewish state and the welcoming of Gentiles into it, James said this prophecy was being fulfilled as Gentiles entered the church of Jesus the messiah.’ (Travis, p127).
Romans 2:28f 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.
Romans 4:16Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring-not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Romans 9:3-5I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen.
Theirs is the adoption as sons [the adoption of the nation as the people of God, Ex 4:22 Deut 7:6 14:1 Ho 11:1]. Theirs the divine glory [the shekinah, Ex 16:10 Ex 24:16-17 Ex 29:43 Ex 33:18-22], the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen.
Romans 9:6Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Romans 11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
‘In Romans 9-11 [Paul] is agonising over the destiny of Jews who have rejected their messiah. And he expresses the conviction that a substantial number of them will respond to Christ: God has not cast off his ancient people for ever. Otherwise his faithfulness would be in question…[But] Paul gives no hint here of a political future for Israel, any more than Jesus did. It is the recognition of Jesus’s messiahship which concerns him…Paul’s exposition here does not imply any distinctive dealing of God with the Jewish race at a future date – for example after the rapture when, according to some theories, Jesus will come to remove Christians to the heavenly world. Paul’s whole argument right through Romans is that “there is not difference between Jews and Gentiles” (Rom 10:12; cf 1:16f; 2:9-11; 3:22f). There is one Lord, and one gospel for all, one way of salvation – the way of faith…When Jews turn to Jesus in large numbers, they will come to him through faith, during the present course of history. And the return of Jews to Palestine – although it happens under the providence of God, and although it could be the prelude to a spiritual turning of Jews to Jesus – is not in itself a specific fulfilment of biblical prophecy.’ (Travis, p132f)
Romans 11:25-29I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Some (David Pawson, for example) jump straight from the assertion that ‘God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable’ to the conclusion that, since the land was one of the most obvious gifts under the old covenant, ethnic Israel has a continuing God-given right to it. But the context does not even hint at the land, but rather, at the beginning of this section, refers to God’s gifts as ‘the adoption as sons; the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises; the patriarchs, and the human ancestry of Christ. And Paul makes it plain that God’s promises to Israel are, and will be, fulfilled only in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 11:26-32).
2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
2 Corinthans 6:2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
This quotation is from Isa 49:8. Paul ‘applies to the (mostly Gentile) Christians at Corinth words originally addressed to Jews in exile in Babylon.’ (Travis, p131)
Galatians 3:14-16 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no-one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds”, meaning many people, but “and to your seed”, meaning one person, who is Christ.
Galatians 3:28-29There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Christ is Abraham’s seed, and those who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed too.
‘There could hardly be a clearer statement of the fact that the church of Christ is the people of God in continuity with the people of God in the Old Testament.’ (Travis, p132.
Galatians 4:26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
Galatians 6:16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
F.F. Bruce writes: ‘Whether the expression ‘the Israel of God’ in its one appearance in the NT (Gal. 6:16) denotes believing Jews only, or believing Jews and Gentiles without distinction, is disputed; the latter is more probable, especially if the expression is to be construed in apposition to ‘all who walk by this rule’. But that the community of believers in Jesus, irrespective of their natural origin, is looked upon as the new Israel throughout the NT is clear. They are ‘the twelve tribes in the dispersion’ (Jas. 1:1), ‘the exiles of the dispersion’ (1 Pet. 1:1), who are further designated, in language borrowed from OT descriptions of Israel, as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Pet. 2:9).’ (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., art. ‘Israel of God’)
Ephesians 2:11-22 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. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Margaret Brearley asserts that ‘Christianity was clearly not designed to replace Judaism’. Alluding to Eph 2:19, she says that ‘the Church, God’s Gentile worshipers, vitally needs God’s Jewish worshipers, for together we are the “household of God”‘. But this is unwarranted, for Paul speak emphatically in this passage of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in so far as they are followers of Jesus Christ, who is the chief cornerstone of the one building.
God has one people, not two. It is not that the church has replaced Israel, but that God has made one people out of all who are in Christ – both Jews and Gentiles.
Ephesians 3:6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-
It is we, says Paul, who are the true covenant people of God, Rom 9:24-26 1 Pet 2:9-10. The thought is not of the physical mark but of consciousness of being the new Israel, Gal 6:16, in contrast to Israel ‘after the flesh’, Gal 2:7-12.
Colossians 2:16-17Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Colossians 3:12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Who, according to the New Testament, are God’s ‘chosen people’? Followers of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, who make up his body, the church.
‘Basic to its argument is that in Jesus Christ we have in reality all that was equally reality for Old Testament Israel. The reference to ‘shadows’ (8:5 etc.) does not imply that all the great phenomena of Israel’s life (such as land, law, temple, priesthood, monarchy) were unreal or only a kind of pretence.29 They were indeed real factors in the relationship which then obtained between God and his people. Moreover, they were filled, by the promise and the prophecies, with extended meaning in the light of what God would do in the future for and through Israel. Hence, to talk of what we have in Christ being ‘better’ (as Hebrews repeatedly does), is not just ‘replacement theology’, disparagingly so-called. It is more like ‘extension theology’. In the same way the new humanity in the Messiah must be understood not as a radically new Israel, but rather as Israel redefined and expanded.
‘Hebrews’ affirmations of what ‘we have’ [in Christ] are surprisingly comprehensive. We have the land, described as the ‘rest’ into which we have entered through Christ, in a way which even Joshua did not achieve for Israel (3:12-4:11); we have a High Priest (4:14, 8:1, 10:21) and an altar (13:10); we have a hope, which in the context refers to the reality of the covenant made with Abraham (6:13-20). We enter into the Holy Place, so we have the reality of tabernacle and temple (10:19). We have come to Mt. Zion (12:22) and we are receiving a kingdom, in line with Haggai 2:6 (12:28). Indeed, according to [p.19] Hebrews (13:14), the only thing which we do not have is an earthly, territorial city!’ (Wright)
Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
The Old Testament revelation is the shadow, the New Testament revelation is the substance. The Old Testament revelation from God often came in shadow, image and prophecy. In the New Covenant that revelation finds its consummation in reality, substance and fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 8:6-13But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “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. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” By calling this covenant “new”, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear.
The quotation is from Jeremiah 31:31f.
Hebrews 10:1 – The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
Hebrews 10:4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 11:8-10 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 12:22-24But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The one sacrifice of Christ completes and fulfills all the sacrifices of the Mosaic system
James 1:1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
James is writing a general letter to many Christian churches yet he is evidently viewing Christians as the successors to and fulfillment of the twelve tribes of Israel.
1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
1 Peter 1:4 …an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.
This is an echo of God’s ancient covenant with Abraham. God had promised to Abraham and his descendents that they would receive as their inheritance the land of Canaan. The New Testament does not replace or annul this promise, but expands it immensely. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham himself looked forward to another country, a better country, a heavenly country. And we – Jewish believers and Gentile believers together – are inheritors of that same promise.
1 Peter 2:5 You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Here is ‘a host of “Israel” terms [which] is applied to Peter’s congregations in Turkey, which included both Jews and Gentiles…Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple (Eze 40-48) is thus fulfilled not in some future literal temple in Jerusalem (as some believe) but in the church, where God’s presence is now focused, nd his people offer sacrifices not of blood but of praise and obedient service.’ (Travis, p131)
1 Peter 2:9-10But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
‘Wright’ = Chris Wright, “A Christian Approach To Old Testament Prophecy Concerning Israel,” P.W.L.Walker, ed., Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God. Cambridge: Tyndale House, 1992. Pbk. ISBN: 0951835610. pp.1-19. Available at http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/jerusalem_wright.pdf
See also: Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon? IVP, 2004.
R.T. France, ‘Old Testament Prophecy and the Future of Israel: a Study of the Teaching of Jesus’, Tyndale Bulletin 26:1975, pp.53-78. Available online here.
Stephen H. Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, 2nd ed., chapter 4.