Who Is The Israel Of God? – Part 3

Fig tree

Now let’s see what the New Testament says about the people of Israel. All of the epistles were written after Jesus was rejected by His people. Yet, even that was not enough for God to reject them. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans:

I ask then, did God reject his people? May it never be! For I also am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God didn’t reject his people, which he foreknew. … Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. … I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness? … For if the rejection of them is the reconciling of the world, what would their acceptance be, but life from the dead? .. . For I don’t desire you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, so that you won’t be wise in your own conceits, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved. Even as it is written, “There will come out of Zion the Deliverer, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

– Romans 11:1-2, 5, 11-12, 15, 25-26

Paul confidently says God did not reject His people which He foreknew. God knew from the beginning they would reject Him. But Paul looked forward to the day when all of Israel would repent and turn back to God. This will not happen until after the last Gentile is saved (when the “fullness of the Gentiles” comes in), and then they will come to faith. In the meantime, Israel is experiencing a temporary ‘partial hardening’ that makes them enemies of the gospel to this day… yet they are still beloved of God:

Concerning the Good News, they are enemies for your sake. But concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

– Romans 11:28-29

Just as God loved us while we were still His enemies, God loves Israel while they are His enemies. And because God does not revoke His calling, He will fulfill His promises to the seed of Jacob.

We can see Paul had great hope for his people. His desire and prayer for all of Israel was that they would be saved (Romans 10:1). If Paul believed God had abandoned Israel, he would not have said this.

What about the other disciples? What did they believe?

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority.

– Acts 1:6-7

The early disciples also believed God had not abandoned His people. They expected their earthly kingdom to be restored in their lifetime. Jesus did not respond to their question, “No, you misunderstand. Israel shall never be restored.” Instead He said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Israel would be restored… eventually.

Nathanael called Jesus the King of Israel (John 1:49), not just the king of Judah. The people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem also called Jesus the King of Israel (John 12:13). These people were recalling what the Old Testament prophesies said about the Messiah: how He would rule over all of Israel, not just one tribe.

…Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. … Say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; … My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my ordinances, and observe my statutes, and do them…. and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.

– Ezekiel 37:15-26

Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: Yahweh our righteousness.

– Jeremiah 23:6

The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 in foretelling of a new covenant God would make with Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8:7-13). God would bring all of Israel (some of every tribe) into this covenant. God can only fulfill this promise to the same people to whom it was made.

If, as supersessionism says, the Church has replaced Israel, what then has happened to the original Israel? Supposedly, they have been abandoned by God. This is where we get the myth of the ten lost tribes: After the Assyrians conquered them, the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh and Ephraim were cast out of the land and scattered throughout the world. But we can see from the New Testament that this is not so. Jesus told His disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). Jesus was not speaking of one tribe, but all of them. The priests in New Testament times were of the tribe of Levi. Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36) was of the tribe of Asher. If her tribe was not lost, there is no need to believe the others were either. 1

One more thing to think about: During the census in Luke 2:1ff, everyone had to go to their city to be registered. Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because he was of the tribe of Judah through David. If the ten tribes were gone, did all of the Jews living in the northern lands travel south to Judah and Benjamin, leaving their property unprotected?

I think it quite possible that most of the 12 disciples, having lived in the area of Galilee, were descendants of one or more of the northern ten tribes. The prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2 speaks of Jesus’ ministry in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, implying that would still be their tribal lands when the prophecy was fulfilled.

So, both the old and new testaments declare God has not abandoned Israel. He still has a plan for His chosen people. But it is not enough to have clear proof-texts for this. We must also look at the scriptures supercessionist claim say otherwise. Do they really say God is done with Israel? Do they contradict what we’ve already seen? This is what we will look at next.

Notes:

  1. Remember when Elijah complained to God that he was the only one who had remained faithful to God? But God told him there was still a remnant of 7000 men in the northern kingdom that had not bent the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant was also present during king Asa’s reign (2 Chronicles 15:9), and during king Hezekiah’s reign (2 Chronicles 30). God has always preserved a remnant.

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