This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
Who Are the Israel of God?
Our subject is ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH. If you look at the Bible objectively I think you’ll see that God speaks there of two peoples who are special. That those two peoples are Israel and the Church. Israel in a certain sense is the main theme, humanly speaking, of the Old Testament. And likewise the Church is the main theme of the New Testament. I think that makes it obvious that if we are not clear as to the identity of Israel and the Church, and the destiny of Israel and the Church, we’re going to have a very limited and incomplete understanding of the message of the Bible, because we’ll be confused and uncertain and maybe incorrect about two of its major themes. So the real purpose of these studies is to seek what God has to say to us about His two peoples: Israel and the Church.
I realize that when I say two peoples that will already start some of you wanting to argue with me. Well, just postpone the mental argument. I’m trying not to assume anything but I have to say something, and there’s really no way you can speak about his without offending somebody’s theological conceptions.
We’re going to follow this note outline which you have before you I hope. It’s divided into, I think, eighteen sections, and we have three sessions to cover the eighteen sections in. But especially in this first session we’re also going to be looking at the other two sheets which are headed, USE OF ISRAEL andISRAELITE IN THE NEW TESTAMENTand which are simply a complete listing of all the occurrences in the New Testament of the two words Israeland Israelite.
One good way to understand the Bible is to find out what it actually says. A lot of people speculate about what the Bible means but they don’t take the trouble to go to the text, to read it. So we’re going to spend a good deal of time looking at what the Bible actually says. I’ve already said that this is liable to be somewhat tedious. But I think it’s absolutely necessary.
There’s a parable about the man who built his house on the rock, which is familiar probably to all of us. And in the version in Luke’s gospel, I think, in chapter six Jesus says that in order to build on the rock “he had to dig deep.” Those words are used. In other words he had to dig away a lot of other things before he came to the rock on which he could build. I think this is very true of this particular theme of Israel to find out, to find the rock on which we can build. We have to dig away a lot of preconceptions, a lot of prejudices, and a lot of theological theories which may not be in line with the Scripture. And digging is hard work. I think that I can say that over the past year or so I’ve got a lot of blisters on my hands from that digging process. The message that I’m bringing you in this series is one that I’ve been investigating and studying for at least a year. I started to pray that God would make real to me the identity of Israel and the Church and what His plan and purpose for each was and God has been definitely opening my understanding and giving me a measure of understanding. I am quite confident I don’t understand all I should or all I could, but I do know I’m a lot less confused now than I was some years ago.
We’ll turn now to the outline, which you have. Section I there says, Both ISRAEL and the CHURCH derive their inheritance by DESCENT from ABRAHAM. I think that’s an important and a remarkable fact. In the course of history God chose one man and he gave him the name Abraham - it was not his name originally—to be the father of all His chosen peoples. An absolutely unique honor. There is no one else in the Bible on whom such an honor was conferred; no other human being. Let’s look at some Scriptures which just make this fact clear that both Israel and the Church owe their inheritance to Abraham. First we’ll look at the statement about Israel in Genesis chapter 15, I beg your pardon, chapter 17 beginning at verse 7. The Lord had appeared to Abraham and told him His new, or unfolded His plan. He says this,
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
The word that’s translated descendantsthere in Hebrew, is a singular word seed.In the old version of the King James, still seed. Sometimes it, we have to render it that way because there are some things that Paul says which he says it with singular and not plural. When you translated descendantsyou’re making it plural. That has a rather confusing affect on some statements of Scripture. I’ll pause and point some things out like this by reference to the original text. Verse 8,
“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
So everything that comes to Abraham’s descendants comes out of their relationship with him. It was with him and his descendants that the Lord made that covenant. And then missing out some of the intervening verses, we go on to verse 15.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. [Sarah means a princess.]
“And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”
Also the descent had to be from Sarah. It could not be from Abraham’s concubine, Hagar.
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a son be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child?”
And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” [Ishmael was the son of Hagar who was by that time about twelve years old.]
Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.
It’s very specific. It cannot be with Ishmael; it cannot be with the descendants of Hagar. It has to be with Abraham, with Sarah, with the miracle son Isaac and with his descendants. We don’t need to read further in that passage. If you wish you can look up the references later.
Now let’s look at the truth stated about the Church by Paul in Romans chapter 4 beginning at verse 9. He’s speaking about the blessedness of having sins forgiven. And he asks this question.
Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.
How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,
And the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Notice the phrase in the middle of verse 11, that he might be the father of all those who believe. And then we read on a little further.
For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. [You notice there they translated seedand not descendants.]
For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,
Because the law brings about wrath, for where there is no law there is not transgression.
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. [Notice that again,] the father of us all
(as it is written, [and he’s quoting now from Genesis 17:5] “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;
At the time that God said, Ihave made you a father of many nations; Abraham still had no son through whom the promise could come. But God calls the things which don’t exist as if they did, because when God says it that settles it.
Look also in Galatians 3 verses 7 through 9 to start with.
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations [normally we would say Gentiles] by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”
So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
Bearing in mind that the word translated nationsthere is the word that also is regularly translated Gentiles—non-Jewish nations. And then at the end of that chapter, beginning at verse 26,
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul takes great pains to point out that all God’s elect people are elect because of their descent from Abraham. I think it’s worthwhile to ponder on that fact. I don’t believe any of us would have arranged things that way. And we need to unlearn some of our ideas and learn some of God’s.
God places a tremendous responsibility on certain individuals. If certain individuals had failed all of God’s purposes would have failed. Abraham was one. The Virgin Mary was another. If she hadn’t responded the plan of redemption would never have worked out. And who knows if you might be one of those people. Who know if one of us here tonight might be such a person around whom some tremendous purpose of God centers, and God in a certain sense has made Himself dependent on our faithfulness. That’s an astonishing fact, but I believe it’s Scriptural.
Now continued on that outline, picture Abraham as a friend of God. He’s called the friend of Godthree times and the Scripture references are there. I don’t think we need to turn to them. As far as I know he’s the only person in the Scripture to whom that title is given. It’s a very unique and honorable title to be the friend of God. What I want to point is primarily it is not a religious title. You know so many words that were good words have been so debased by religion that I hesitate to use them sometimes, like brethren. I mean, you know, it sounds so religious that you really hardly know whether you want to be a brethren or not. Some people don’t even know it’s got a singular. This has impressed me particularly because of living so much of the time in Jerusalem where we are continually in contact with the ultra-orthodox Jews whose idea of religion is to sit by the hour with their heads over a religious book, pouring over it, repeating prayers by rote, bending backwards and forwards, and the more they study the more holy they trust to become. Now I’m not belittling that. I’m not making fun of that, but their forefather, Abraham, didn’t do any of that. He lived in tents. He was a very practical man. He was an expert at taking care of sheep and cattle. If need be he knew how to fight because he rescued his nephew, Lot, by fighting at night which is the biggest test of your ability to fight. And I would say you wouldn’t think of Abraham as a religious person by contemporary standards, whether they’re Christian or whether they’re Jewish. He was a very natural kind of man.
His religious acts were natural. He just entertained the Lord because he was hospitable. And he provided a wonderful meal for Him—veal and curded milk. Which brings home the fact, of course, that he wasn’t kosher. Also brings home the fact that the Lord isn’t kosher. Now I do not say that to make fun of anybody. But I just somehow long for the simplicity of the patriarchs. Dear Lord, I am so tired of religion. Can’t we be natural? I have to point also Abraham became very wealthy by the standards of his time. So it isn’t necessary to be poor to be a friend of God. Some of you can heave a sigh of relief at that point. Although I’m sure you could be very poor and still be a friend of God.
Now we go on to the next section, number three where I state that God made two covenants with Abraham. This is a thing which is very seldom observed and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody else teach on it, though undoubtedly there must have been some that did. I think it helps us to understand many things if we see this. We’ll look at the first covenant first which is in Genesis 15 verses 8 through 18. We’ll need to look perhaps at verse 7 where the Lord makes a statement to Abram. He’s still Abram at this time.
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
And Abraham, or Abram, responds,
“Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
That was a question that must have occupied him a great deal. “You’ve given me all these wonderful promises. You’ve told me that I would be the father of nations. I don’t even have a son. How will I know?” It’s important for all of us to understand how God answered him. Very simply God answered him by making a covenant with him. And when God makes a covenant that’s His final commitment to do what He says. There is nothing beyond the covenant. That is the ultimate commitment of God to do whatever He’s promised. We need to see that because many Christians who believe in the new covenant in Jesus still are uncertain if God will fulfill His promises. God can do no more than give His covenant. When He’s done that there’s nothing further He can do by way of assurance of commitment. And he taught Abraham this lesson. “You want to know? I’ll make a covenant.”
And then He instructed him in a way that was understood in the culture of that time in the Middle East. He had to take certain animals, three years old, two different kind of bird, slay them, cut them in pieces, and in the course of it, the Lord in the form of a burning torch in the dark, dark night passed between the pieces. So cutting the covenant was cutting the animals that were the sacrifice and then together, passing between the pieces. Now there’s a lot more to be said about that but not here tonight.
And then we read at the end of that process in verse 18 of Genesis 15,
On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the rive of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—
Very precise. The river of Egypt is not the Nile generally speaking. It’s what‘s called the Wadi of Egypt, which is about half way across Sinai as a definite location, to the great river which is the Euphrates. So those were the eastern and western boundaries of the land that God committed Himself to give to Abraham’s descendants. And then He names ten Gentile nations, which at that time occupied the land. We don’t need to read their names.
Now I want to point out that this covenant was fulfilled when Abram’s descendants, Israel, entered the land under Joshua and occupied it. That’s all that had to happen for that covenant to be fulfilled. In other words, that covenant was fulfilled through the covenant of the Law. But it was not the last nor was it the most significant covenant that God made with Abraham. We go back now to Genesis 17 where we’ve already been once, and we look in verses 1 through 8 first of all.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am the Almighty God; [or I am Almighty God. In Hebrew El Shaddai.] walk before Me and be blameless.
“And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
Notice there’s a difference immediately. The first one was merely aconvent. This is Mycovenant.
Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.
“No longer shall your name be called Abram [which means exalted father], but your name shall be called Abraham [father of a multitude];for I have you a father of many nations. [And notice again as Paul says, he says, “I’ve made you even before it happens.]
“I will make you exceeding fruitful; and I will make nations of you and kings shall comes from you.
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
And then we read a little further in this same chapter, from verse 9,
And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”
And the keeping of the covenant is symbolized or signified by the practice of circumcision. We don’t need read all those verses to economize in time. Now this second covenant was not fulfilled when Israel entered the land under Joshua, but it was fulfilled in the Messiah, whose name significantly in Hebrew is the same as Joshua. Joshua-Joshua, Jesus-Jeshua, which is ordained of God.
Now notice the differences between these covenants. First of all the first covenant was acovenant. The second covenant God calls Mycovenant. This is the one I’m really interested in. It’s like when He got the first He said, “Let’s get over with this and get to what’s really important.” The first covenant had no provision for Abraham at all. It didn’t provide him with anything. But the second covenant provides for Abraham first and for his descendants after him. “To you and to your descendants after you. The first covenant was not everlasting. There is no use of the word everlasting. The second covenant, it specifically emphasized more than once, it’s an everlasting covenant.
The first covenant was sanctified by the blood of animals. The second covenant had no visible sacrifice, but the sign of circumcision involved the blood of Abraham and his descendants. It was a prefiguring of the fact that the blood of the second covenant would have to come from the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. So there are four major differences. I think in dealing with Jewish people it’s important to be able to point that out. If God had only made the first covenant He would now have no further obligation to Abraham. He didn’t commit Himself to anything for Abraham in the first covenant.
I don’t know—some of you may have heard this story, but in the year 1947 when my first wife and I and our family were still living in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was in a state of uproar, an undeclared war was on the streets and there were snipers on every corner and bombs continued to being placed in houses and you never knew who would shoot at you from where next, I had to go into an electric supply store in Ben Yahuda Street, right in the middle of Jerusalem to buy an electric bulb. And there were about a half a dozen people in the store busy with their various activities. And somebody said, “Terrible time.” Being very unwise and rash I said, “Well, I’m all right. I have everlasting life.” And a man said to me, “In our Bible it doesn’t say anything about everlasting life.” So I said, “Well, what about Genesis 17:8,” and I was able to quote it in Hebrew because I had been studying it. So I quoted Genesis 17:8 in Hebrew and the entire store became absolutely silent. Nobody said anything. Nobody moved. And you see what I said, “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you were a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession.” I said, “Up to now Abraham has only received in this land just enough space to be buried in. There’s no resurrection, that can never be fulfilled.” And I’ve never been able to un-convince myself of that you see.
All right, now then we are going to go on and look at three pictures of Abraham’s seed. The first one is in Genesis 13 verse 16. Abram has separated from Lot. Let me just make these observations. There’s a very interesting a kind of enacted parable. The name Lotmeans what? Who knows what Lot means? A veil. Lot was the carnal and while he was with Abraham he was a veil that kept Abraham from seeing what was promised him in faith. But it says, “After Lot was separated from him God said to him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look north and south and east and west. All that you can see I will give to you.’” God did not say that to him until he and Lot had separated.
One of the things that’s impressed me, it so happens that Ruth and I are reading the story of Abraham right now, or have been in Hebrew every day. One of the things that struck me about Abraham and I think the Lord has got something to say to me and maybe to some of you about that, is that Abraham’s problem was not that he didn’t do what God asked. He did everything God asked. His problem was he did more than God asked. And every morehe did was a disaster.
God said when He took him out of Ur of the Chaldeas, “Leave your family.” Abraham left but he took Lot with him. He had no right to take Lot with him. If you read the story, Lot became the answers to the Moabites and the Amonites which are in the center of Jordan today, a great part of the problem of the chosen descendants, Israel. Then at the advice Sarah, he decided he’d help God by getting a son from Hagar. The son that was born was Ishmael. For four thousand years Ishmael and his descendants have been a major problem for the promised descendants of Abraham. And I think probably most committed Christians are in much greater danger of doing too much than of doing too little.
What’s one of the hardest things in the Christian life? Waiting. It’s much easier to work than to wait. Waiting takes much more faith. In order to receive the promised child Abraham had to wait twenty-five years. Well, after thirteen years, after twelve years, he got tired of waiting and he tried to help God. And for the next thirteen years God didn’t speak to him. That’s a lesson. I’ve got another series coming and I’m going to bring out the same lesson again. Really.
All right, so here’s the first statement about the seed of Abraham in Genesis 13 verse 16. God says,
“I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.”
And in 28:14 He says the same to Isaac, no to Jacob. Genesis 28:14.
“Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south;” [and so on].
That’s the first picture. Let’s look at all three pictures and then comment on them. Genesis 22:17, we get two other pictures of Abraham’s seed. The Lord is speaking from heaven and he says,
“in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore;…”
And the other reference is simply to Hebrews 11:12 where the writer of Hebrews quotes that passage and says,
Therefore sprang there of one, and him as good as dead, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—and as the sand which is on the seashore, innumerable.
So we have these three pictures of Abraham’s seed. A kind of progressive; the dust, the sand of the sea, the stars of the heaven. Now I’m going to suggest to you a way to understand this. There are some pictures that can be interpreted more than one way. I would suggest that the dust of the earth in itself speaks only of those who are his descendants by physical descent, regardless of their faith or their relationship to God. We could view it as including Ishmael although this promise in Genesis 28 was made to Jacob and obviously did not include Ishmael.
There’s certain things about dust. First of all it’s not cohesive. It doesn’t stick together. It just flies anywhere, settles anywhere. Second it has no special place. Whereas the other two, the sand and the stars, each had a special place. So you could say that the dust represents those who were descended, but maybe lost their identity. Just got scattered, became dust, they’re somewhere but we don’t know where they are. Maybe we’ll never know.
Then we have the sand of the sea. And I suggest that that typifies the preserved nation of Israel. This thought came to me while we were living in Israel this past summer, and certain things are very real to you when you’re living in Israel. They become a little shadowy when you leave. I began to think about what does the sand of the sea do? And I came up with these two suggestions. The sand resists the ceaseless pounding of the waves. It’s very remarkable if you think about it. If you think of the tremendous force of the waves of the sea. They batter away at the sand but when it’s all finished, the sand is still there. Second the sand divides between sea and dry land. It is the boundary. And I suggest that historically, and even today, that’s true of Israel. They’ve been battered by the pounding waves of the sea for two thousand, but they’re still there. What’s happened to the waves? They’ve dissipated, but the sand is still there. It’s very remarkable really. And when I started to think about it I thought why does sand stay there? The answer is God put it there.
Second the sand divides between the sea and the dry land, and really Israel is God’s means of dividing the nations. I am convinced that the nations are going to be judged by how they’ve aligned themselves for or against Israel. So again, they’re the dividing line, and though all the force of persecution and hatred may come against them ceaselessly, at the end of it all they’re still there.
Then what about the star of the heaven? Well obviously they are on a much higher plane. I suggest that that represents those descendants of Abraham who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ. And they too have a function. If you go back to the first time that the stars are mentioned in Genesis chapter 1 verses 16 and following.
Then God made two great lights [that’s the sun and the moon]: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.
God set them [that’s sun, moon and stars] in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,
To rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness.
So there were three functions: to give light, to rule, to divide. Those are three functions of the Church. To give light in a dark world, to rule and to divide. Again we are the point of division. People are either for us or against us. If you just look for a moment in Philippines 2:15 and I’m going to read it from the New International Version because it’s a direct reference to this passage. Philippines 2:15. We’ll read verse 14.
Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe,
as you hold out the word of life…
So there Paul very clearly pictures the believers in Jesus Christ fulfilling the function of the stars. So I suggest that these three pictures of Abraham’s seed; the dust, the sand, and the stars, each predict the destiny of part of Abraham’s descendants.
Now we come to the crucial issue which is stated there very simply. Number 5, Israel and the CHURCH are TWO DISTINCT ENTITIES:(See list OF OCCURRENCES OF “ISRAEL/ISRAELITE” in the N.T.) “Israel” occurs 69 times; “Israelite” occurs 5 times, which makes a total of 74 times. Now if you read most translations you will not discover where it is Israelite and where it’s Israel. Because for instance in the King James it says, men of Israel.But what it says in the Greek is Israelite men.And I think all the other translations probably follow the same. It doesn’t make any difference. I’m simply explaining why we have the two words, Israelthe collective name for the nation; Israelitethe name for a member of that nation. Like you can have Britain and then British, but they both actually have the same reference.
Now this is where it could be tedious. It depends what kind of a person you are, because we are going to rather briefly look at all seventy-four occurrences. I don’t believe that a lot of ideas could ever have taken root in the Church if the Church had bothered to do this. How many of you have ever done it? Okay. Now I’m not holding that against you, it’s just pretty evident it’s not the kind of thing most people do. If you want to know the truth about something one good way is to choose the word that best describes it and look it up in the concordance. By the time you’ve finished that some of your ready-made ideas may be have to be set aside, see.
All right, now I’m going to read my outline at the same time as we go through the list of occurrences. I want you to note where it says note the following. Are you there? Yeah. All right. In at least seventy-one cases there is no reasonable doubt that the New Testament use of Israel is the same as the Old Testament use. Now I cannot personally convince you of that. You’ll have to go through the occurrences for yourself. In a way I’m going to do something rather unwise because I’m going to focus on the possible exceptions which will make you think that they are much more significant than they really are. But my suggestion to you is that out of those seventy-four occurrences, in seventy-one there is no reasonable doubt that the word Israelin the New Testament is used in precisely the same way as in the Old Testament. You take it percentage wise, that’s approximately ninety-six percent of the occurrences of Israel match up with the Old Testament. Anything else, if there is anything else, is extremely exceptional. And we could not build a theory on four percent exceptions. We could recognize them as exceptions. We couldn’t reasonably build a theory on them.
Now the next statement that I make is that nine cases are direct quotations from the Old Testament, and each one of them is indicated on your list of occurrences by an asterisk. So you can go through them. What I say there is that in each case, without any exceptions, the use of Israel is the same in the New Testament as in the Old Testament. So there we have a hundred percent pattern for interpreting from a New Testament standpoint the prophecies of Israel in the Old Testament. There is only one way authorized by the example of the New Testament, and that is to give Israel the same meaning as it had in the Old Testament. And I say this sets a New Testament pattern for interpreting Israel throughout the Old Testament.
There are two particular cases you might want to look at. Now they’re numbered. you see for ease of reference. Turn to Number 20 where Simeon is blessing the infant Jesus in the temple. You remember he took Jesus up in his arms and blessed Him. And of Jesus he said this,
“…A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
It’s cited from Isaiah. Now you’ll see there that in that verse Israelis used to distinguish that nation from the Gentiles. It is not used as a synonym for anything else. It’s used to distinguish it from everything else. Okay?
The other use you might want to look at is Number 69, which is a quotation in Hebrews 8 verse 8 where the Lord says in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31,
“…I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel….”
Now it is logically impossible to interpret the house of Israelthere as the Church, because we only become the Church when we have entered into the new covenant. But here God is speaking about a people who are already Israel.Although they haven’t entered into the new covenant, He says “I will make a new covenant with them.” I want you to see that not only does the New Testament give to Israelthe same meaning as the Old, but it gives it a meaning which cannot be used as a synonym for any other group.
All right, now we’re going on to the second page of the outline. Here is where I am being deliberately unwise. And here is where if you had a damp towel it would be to tie it around your head. I’m going to deal now with possible exceptions and I find three out of seventy-four. The first is Number 52 and 53. Two numbers because the word occurs twice in that verse. We’ll turn to the verse which is Romans 9:6 which has probably given origin to more confusion than almost any other verse in the Bible. Now Romans 9, I have to say, is a difficult chapter. I’m a trained logician. I enjoy logic and I realize most people don’t have that training. But Romans 9 is dealing with one of the thorniest theological problems in the Bible which is predestination, divine election and so on. And it comes out very strongly on the side of divine election. You say, “Well then, Paul was a Calvinist and not a Armenian.” You know what I believe? I believe he was both. You see I believe most of the great theological controversies which have separated the Church, there’s been right on both sides. Each side quotes the Scriptures that support them and ignores the Scriptures that are against them.
And I personally believe, I’m not going to do it, that it’s logically possible to find an interpretation which admits both truths. Really you have to if you believe the whole Bible. If God says “Choose,” it ridiculous if you can’t choose, isn’t it? Like saying blow you nose if you don’t have a nose to blow, I mean that, that…it’s a waste of words. All right. It may be a little earthy.
Let’s look at the Scripture now. I’m reading from the New King James, not because I’m particularly advertising that, but it has some advantages. Romans 9:6—where are we?—Yeah.
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.
Now historically that’s been interpreted many times to mean that there are some people who are Israelwho are not descended from Israel. I don’t believe it says that and I don’t believe it means that. I like here, the NIV translation of that verse and I’m not responsible for the NIV. I’ve got nothing to do with the authorship or the translation. Romans 9:6.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
By putting the “not” there at the beginning, what are they saying? It’s not adding to those who can be classified as Israel, it’s reducing the number. And I believe that’s the true meaning. It doesn’t give us legitimate grounds for giving the title Israelto anybody not descended from Israel. What it’s saying is there are some who are descended from Israeland still don’t merit the title Israel. Why? Because their descent is only natural and Paul goes on to quote the statement made by God to Abraham, “In Isaac, the child of promise shall your seed be called.” So he says only those who have embraced the promise have the real right to be called Israel. But he is not suggesting that anybody who would not otherwise be called Israelshould be called Israel. You see? Let me read that again. “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”
Okay. I don’t know whether I can think of an example. I was thinking on the way in the car. Some of you know I have many grandsons, about something like forty. And what I was trying to think in the car is if I could say this. Not all my grandsons are Jewish, which is true. Most of them are but not all are. But that doesn’t mean that any people who are not my grandsons become my grandsons. Do you see what I’m saying? All I’m doing is limiting the application of the word Jewishto a certain category of my grandsons. Did you get that? Does it make sense to you? You didn’t. Well let’s say it again. I have about forty grandsons and because I have adopted daughters who are Jewish, and some who are not Jewish, by Jewish law those who are born of Jewish mothers are Jewish. But those who are not born of Jewish mothers are not Jewish. So I can say not all Derek Prince’s grandsons are Jewish. But I’m not saying that Derek Prince has more grandsons who wouldn’t have been grandsons otherwise. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s a de-limiting for those who are titled to a certain label, but it doesn’t extend the label to anybody else. Thank God, because I think I’ve got enough.
All right. Now we’ll go on because the next example, I believe, ties in with this. The next example is Number 66. All right? Galatians 6:16. Now we need to read Galatians 6:15.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
What Paul is saying is the only thing that really matters in Christ is being a new creation. Whether you are circumcised or uncircumcised is unimportant. Then he says,
And as many as walk according to this rule [the rule being the only thing that matters is a new creation], peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Now it’s been tradition to say the Israel or Godare the Church, including all Gentile believers. The NIV translation is so convinced of that, that it translates it differently. I don’t whether you have ever noticed this. The word andmust occur many thousands of times in the New Testament. It’s one of the commonest Greek words chi, Kappa Alpha Iota.And I would venture to say that not more than once in five hundred times is it translated even. Normally it’s translated and. And if I talk about the two ladies sitting in front of me, Ruth and Prudence, I’m talking about two people. Isn’t that right? I mean andindicates they’re not identical. But if I say Ruth, evenmy wife, then I’m talking about one person but describing her by two different terms. So if you say, “…peace and mercy upon them, those that walk according to this rule, andupon the Israel of God,” we’re speaking about two different groups. But if you say, “…peace and mercy be upon them, even, the Israel of God,” then you’re using two different terms to describe the same group.
Now generally speaking, much Christian theology has taken that route. So much so that the NIV which is basically a good translation, doesn’t translate that word and.It translates it even. Galatians 6:16,
…peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, eventhe Israel of God.
Now with all due respect, I want to suggest that that translation is based on theology, not on linguistics. Only theology would make people translate that word in that context evenand not and. And you’ll find, as far as I know, there’s not a single other translation that translates it even.But this translation does us a service, because it points out if you don’t translate it eventhen you’re talking about two groups, which is what I believe. I don’t have any problems. See I believe those that walk according to this rule are all Gentile believers. They never got circumcised, they didn’t have to worry about circumcision, they just came in by being a new creation. This Israelof God are the same people spoken about in Romans 9:6, those who are not merely descended from Israelbut have the faith which qualifies them for the title. Okay?
So Paul is saying, “Peace be upon all Gentile believers and upon the Israelof God.” That’s those Israelites who have embraced, by faith, their Messiah. Let’s look in Romans 3 where we get, I think, a similar comparison, verse 30. We can’t go into the context. Time doesn’t permit. Paul says,
since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Now I see there the same two groups but mentioned in the opposite order. “The circumcised who are justified by faith” are those Jews who have remained in faith and embraced the Messiah. The uncircumcised are the Gentiles who never got circumcised and just got to God through faith without circumcision. You see what Paul is really saying is it’s not enough to be circumcised. You’ve got to be circumcised by faith. And if you’re circumcised by faith, the same faith will lead you to recognize and receive the Messiah. Otherwise your circumcision was a mere outward ritual which lacked the true inner meaning.
Now I suggest to you—I hope this isn’t arrogance—that this interpretation does justice to all Scriptures that are relevant to the normal meaning of the words that are translated and agrees with all the remaining usages in the Bible. You see if you want to say the Israelof God are the Church, I can demonstrate to you beyond a shadow of doubt you’re using that phrase in a sense in which it is never used elsewhere. You have a one-time use of the phrase, which is not supported, by any other uses in the Bible, Old Testament or New. My instinct tells me don’t follow that kind of interpretation which is a once only interpretation unless it’s necessary.
There is, in the way that I’ve explained it, there are two different ways that Paul uses Israel. The first is just like in the Old Testament. It’s just the same. But he also has a way in which he says really you should restrict the use of the word Israelto those Israelites who are believers in the Messiah. He never suggests you should add it to Gentiles. But we have to add that if that is so, he only did it twice and he uses Israeltwenty-six times. So again it’s a very small proportion. It’s an exception on which we could build no rules.
Okay. Now we come to the third question, which is Number 73, which is in the Book of Revelation. Well when you get to Revelation you have a number of methods of interpretation all competing with one another and at that point I tend to drop out of the competition. I have to admit there are things in Revelation I do not know how to interpret. I don’t get embarrassed about that. It makes it exciting waiting for the time when the Lord will reveal. I heard a dear friend of mine, a Bible teacher John Ray, I don’t know whether any of you know him. He said, “It’s got to be exciting when we get over in the other side and we are able to come out with all our questions.” He said, “I’m looking forward to that.” He said, “I don’t expect to get them all answered here.” All right, Revelation 7 verse 4,
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:
Okay. Who’s the tribe of the children of Israel? Well let me say your guess is as good as anybody elses. But there are two other places in Revelation where Israelused. The references are here. And each of the other places it’s used in precisely the same way that it was used in the Old Testament. So if this third use in Revelation is different, it’s the exception. And I wouldn’t say more. But whatever way it’s used, you’ve got to find a way in which it permits you to identify twelve tribes. Because the Scripture goes on to name twelve tribes. So I hope we haven’t confused you by these statements. You’re going to have to look at the Scriptures for yourself.
Now I want to go to the bottom of the page before we close this session and God helping me and you helping me we’ll do it. I want to look at other related uses. These are not possible exceptions, but they raise questions and they are indicated by a plus sign in the margin. The first one is Number 63, which is 1 Corinthians 10:18. Paul says,
Observe Israel after the flesh…
Well it’s very obvious that actually he’s using the word Israelthere in the same way it’s used in the Old Testament. But the phrase “after the flesh” raises a question. What did he mean by that? What would be the alternative? Presumably “after the Spirit.” Now I suggest to you that this is explained they way I’ve already explained. “Israel after the flesh” are those who are Israelites by natural descent, but not necessarily by faith. And if you look back to the opening verses of the chapter you’ll find that Paul is taking Israelin the wilderness as an example of unbelief and disobedience. And he says don’t be like them. They did not enter the Promised Land. Why? Because of unbelief. So they were Israelites outwardly, but they lacked the true inner requirement which is faith. So Paul says they’re Israelbut only after the flesh, which is in line with the other passages that we’ve looked at: Romans 9:6, Galatians 6:16.
Then the second questionable use, or the use that raises a question is Number 67, Ephesians 2:12. Now Paul is speaking to Gentiles who have become Christians. He’s reminding them of their condition before they came to Christ. He says remember and then verse 12,
that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Let’s look at the phrase “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” Again it’s very obvious that Paul uses Israelin the same way as the Old Testament because these Gentiles were not part of Israel. So it’s not an exception in any sense but it raises question of what’s implied when he says well at that time “you were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.”The implication is, “now you are not aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. You are no longer strangers.”
What is involved? Well the NASB and the King James and the New King James all use the word commonwealth. The NIV says, “you were aliens or excluded from citizenship in Israel.” So we’ve got the two alternative translations—commonwealthor citizenship. And Paul is saying to these Gentiles, “Before you believed in Christ you were excluded from citizenship in Israel. You were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” Does that mean that they have now become Israelites? Not at all. It means they have got citizenship in Israel or they’ve become part of the commonwealth. And I give two clear examples there to prove that you can have citizenship in Israel without being an Israelite. All the Arab citizens of the state of Israel today prove that. They have citizenship in Israel. It doesn’t make them Jews. Okay?
If you take another example which applies to places of my origin. You can belong to the British Commonwealth without being British. Both New Zealand and Australia are members of the British Commonwealth. You tell an Australian he’s British and look out! Okay? So I hope I’ve opened a way for a possible understanding of those Scriptures that does not involve calling someone who’s not an Israelitean Israelite.I don’t believe the Bible ever does that.
If I can convince you of that you’ll find the Bible a much easier book to read. A whole lot of theological problems dissolve. And a whole lot of complicated ways that we have to interpret Biblical prophecy are not longer relevant. We can take it as meaning what it says.
Okay. One final hurdle to get over and that is who is a Jew? Interestingly enough this question is very controversial in Israel today and lot of different answers are given. All right. Romans 2:28 and 29.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh;
but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
The point of the word praiseis, as you probably know, the name Jewcomes from the name Judahand Judahmeans praise. So he’s saying if you’re going to be a real Jew, you have to be a real Jahuditeand if you’re a real Jahuditethe key is praise, so your praise has got to come from God. If you go back to the chapter which the sons of Leah are mentioned, her fourth son was named Judahbecause she said, “I will praiseGod for him.”
Now I read an article by a dear British Bible teacher who took these two verses and said, “All of us who believe in Jesus, circumcised with the circumcision of the heart, we’re all Jews.” Well, I would have to stand on my head in a dark corner to believe that. You see, you cannot necessarily take one use of a word in Scripture, detach it from all the rest and say this is what it means. You have to look at the other uses.
Well, the word Jewoccurs nearly two hundred times in the New Testament. And I cannot find a single place where it could be interpreted as meaning Christian. Not one. In fact it would make nonsense of most of the passages in the New Testament where the word Jewoccurs. So in my opinion it’s undesirable to adopt an interpretation here which goes directly contrary to nearly two hundred other passages in the same New Testament.
Let’s just look at one passage to take an example and you can find many. 1Corinthians chapter 10 verse 32, Paul is writing to Gentile believers and he says,
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God.
Now suppose that Jewis synonymous with Christian, then he’s saying, “Give no offense to the Christians or to the Greeks or to the church of God,” which is nonsense, because whatever Jews are they’re not the same as the church of God. But the Christians are the church of God. See what I’m saying? You could find fifty other passages, which would be nonsensical, if you interpreted the word Jewas meaning Christian. So what does Paul mean? Well I’ll turn again to the NIV. Romans 2:28 and 29.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical;
Now let’s be honest. They’ve put in onlyand merely.But I think they’ve made it mean the right thing.
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.
So again if you accept that interpretation, what Paul is doing there is not extending the use of the word Jewto Gentile. What he’s doing is restricting it to those who are inwardly circumcised. It’s exactly the same in its essence as is used as the Israelof God. You understand?
Now with that process of interpretation I have made sense of every single disputable passage in the New Testament without, as far as I know, violating other New Testament uses. So we get the fact that ninety-six percent of the time, at least in the New Testament, the word Israelor Israeliteis used in precisely the same way as in the Old Testament, including nine Old Testament quotations in which in every case the meaning is not changed. There are about two or three disputable cases. Two relating to the use of Israel, one relating to the use of the word Jew. Whatever they are they’re a tiny minority. You could interpret them as being exceptions that go against the other rule. I don’t think it’s necessary to do that. I think it means simply that in certain cases where the context makes his meaning absolutely clear and there’s no risk of misunderstanding, Paul says if you really want to use the word Israelright, then a true Israeliteis one who is circumcised in the heart, one who being circumcised in the flesh in faith had the faith necessary to apprehend the Messiah. Same with the word Jew.
Okay, now a man convinced against his will, somebody said, is an unbeliever still. And a lot of people are so determined about this issue that if they’re convinced it’s against their will and they will not really change. It isn’t my business to change anybody. I’m quite prepared to leave that to the Holy Spirit. But I want to point out to you that if you are able with conviction to accept the outline that I’ve presented to you, then you can in a certain sense heave a sigh of relief when it comes to interpreting the Old Testament, you don’t have to use allegories, you don’t have to use complicated systems of symbolism, you can just take it as meaning plain what it says. And if there’s one thing I like, it’s plainness and simplicity. Amen!