By T. A. McMahon
Tom: Christ was born “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). He was called “King of Israel” and “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2, etc.), and He acknowledged both titles (John 1:49-50; 12:12-15). He did not renounce His claim to David’s throne even though His own people (as the prophets had foretold) “despised, rejected” (Isaiah 53:3) and crucified Him (Psalm 22:12-18; Isaiah 53:5; 8-10; Zechariah 12:10). All four gospels declare that “King of the Jews” was the accusation placed on the cross (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19). Here is Mark’s account of Israel’s rejection of her king and demand for His crucifixion:
But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?…But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him. (Mark 15:9-13)
The Hebrew prophets had foretold that Christ would rise from the dead and that He would come again to establish a kingdom that would never end (1 Kings 2:45; 9:5; Isaiah 9:7; 53:10-12; Jeremiah 17:25; Daniel 2:34-35; 44-45; 7:14, etc.). Christ has fulfilled only the first part, rising from the dead and ascending to the Father’s right hand. If the remainder of those prophecies is to be fulfilled (and they must be, or God has lied) there must be a future restoration of the Kingdom to Israel as the disciples believed (Acts 1:6), as Peter affirmed (Acts 3:19-26) and as Christ acknowledged (Acts 1:6-7). Israel’s future repentance, redemption and restoration are foretold often (Ezekiel 39; Zechariah 12, 13, 14; Acts 5:31, etc.). Paul prayed for Israel’s salvation (Romans 10:1) and declared that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
If the Muslims and other nations in the world would understand these prophecies concerning Israel’s right to her land and honor them and the God who gave them, there would be peace in the Middle East and throughout the world. Instead, they will persist in their desire to destroy Israel, resulting in Christ’s intervention from heaven to rescue Israel at Armageddon and to destroy Antichrist, his followers and kingdom. Most Israelis themselves do not believe that God gave them their land and are trading it for a fool’s “peace” with an enemy who has sworn to exterminate them.
Knowing that Israel would reject and crucify Him, Christ said He would build a new entity, the church. The word “church” or “churches” (ekklesia in Greek, meaning “called out”), occurs about 114 times in the New Testament. No Hebrew word in the Old Testament is translated “church” in the KJV. Pertaining to Israel, the major comparable words in Hebrew are edah, mowed, and qahal, translated as “assembly” or “congregation.” Although Acts 7:38 refers to “the church [congregation of Israel] in the wilderness,” the Bible makes a clear distinction between Israel and the New Testament church. The latter consists of both Jews and Gentiles and did not exist before Christ’s death and resurrection. He continues to build that church even now. It was established by Him and specifically for Him: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Here we have an obvious claim by Christ that He is God. Israel had been chosen by God. Who, then, but God himself, could establish another congregation of believers in addition to and distinct from Israel? Christ’s statement regarding the church is similar to what He said to the Jews who “believed on him,” and it has the same awesome implications: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
The Jews must have been stunned. How could this one dare to use such terms as “my word” and “my disciples” and claim to set His followers free? Was it not God’s word they were to follow, and were they not Moses’ disciples? Was He claiming to be greater than Moses – even equal to God? Whatever it meant to be His disciple, He was obviously starting something new.
Nevertheless, no one imagined that this miracle-worker intended to dispense with Israel and replace her with some other entity. That heresy would come from Roman Catholicism; and many of the Reformers would be unable to extricate themselves from it, in spite of their clear understanding of salvation by grace through faith. The belief that the church replaces Israel remains today among Roman Catholics, among those of Reformed theology such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, and among many charismatics as well.
In its infancy, the church was composed only of Jewish believers. They had difficulty believing that Gentiles, too, could be saved through Christ and be in the church, even though the Old Testament prophets had laid that foundation (Psalm 72:11,17; Isaiah 11:10; 42:1-6; 49:6; Malachi 1:11, etc.). And even when they understood the “mystery” revealed by Paul “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:3-6), some of them tried to subject the Gentiles to the Jewish law. In effect, they were erroneously making the church an extension of Israel (Acts 15:1).
Gentiles are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). When a Gentile is saved and is added by Christ as a “living stone” to the church under construction (1 Peter 2:5), he doesn’t come under the Jewish laws and customs of the old covenant. And when a Jew is saved and added to the church, he is set free from the Jewish law (the “law of sin and death”) and its penalties (Romans 8:1). Both the Gentile and the Jew who enter the church through faith in Christ are thereafter under a higher law, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2). Indeed, Christ has become their life, living out through them this new standard of holy conduct – something that was unknown in Israel even to her greatest prophets (1 Peter 1:10-12).
No one can establish himself in that sacred temple; he must be placed there by Christ alone. The living stones that He is building together to form the eternal temple do not fall in and out of the structure. We are in Christ and eternally secure.
The church is Christ’s body, nourished by Him. Believers are spoken of as branches in the true vine, depicting a continual flow of life and nourishment from Him to them. Christ is the head of the body, which is therefore directed by Him and not by a priesthood or hierarchy of men in some earthly headquarters. The headquarters of the church is in heaven. Yet today’s denominations (like the cults) all have their earthly headquarters and their traditions. They have become organizations instead of being content with being part of the organism, His body.
In the church “There is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]…[but all are] one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). Gentiles do not become Jewish, but Jew and Gentile have become “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). Through the cross, Christ “abolished” the “ordinances” that had separated Jew and Gentile. Therefore, we can confidently affirm that Gentiles are not to adopt those “ordinances.” Would one of Christ’s own adopt something that God has abolished?
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians was written to correct the error of salvation partly through Christ and partly through works. A “works salvation” is the error of every cult, and Roman Catholicism has developed her system of religious ritual and works to the ultimate. In all of his epistles Paul comes back to the theme that salvation is all of grace and nothing of works. Herein is a major difference between Israel and the church: for the former, eternal life came through keeping the Law; for the latter, eternal life comes by faith.
The old covenant offered life to the righteous who kept the Law: “this do and thou shalt live” (Deuteronomy 8:1; Luke 10:28). But no one could keep the Law, for all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Under the new covenant (available from Adam onward), “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his – for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Human pride insists upon becoming righteous on its own – an impossible task. Paul mourned the fact that his people Israel, though they had “a zeal after God,” yet “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom 10:3) through the new covenant.
So it is with all the cults. Roman Catholicism, for example, attempts (through the sacraments, suffering, and works) to make its members righteous enough for heaven. It is the error of the Pharisee who proclaimed his righteousness to God and was not heard, whereas the publican, who acknowledged his unworthiness, was justified (Luke 18:10-14).
One had to belong to Israel (with some exceptions) to be saved; but one must be saved (with no exceptions) in order to belong to the church. The church is not a vehicle of salvation. Making that claim is a major error of most cults such as Mormonism and Roman Catholicism. Each claims salvation comes through their church. In fact, salvation is for those outside the church and only then can one become a part of it.
Salvation has always been and still is the same for both Jew and Gentile; but God’s plans are different for Israel than for the church. Jews (like Gentiles) who believe in Christ prior to His Second Coming (when He makes Himself known to Israel and all Israel is saved) are in the church. Jews who come to faith in Christ only when He appears to rescue them in the midst of Armageddon will continue into the millennial kingdom on earth, and Christ will reign over them from the throne of David. Many Gentiles will be saved at that time also, but “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
The Galatian problem remains (in varying degrees) within some so-called Hebrew-Christian or Messianic congregations today. There is often a tendency to imagine that a return to Jewish customs (even by Gentiles) makes for greater sanctity. Extrabiblical traditions are honored, for example, in the Seder ceremony at Passover, as though inspired of God.
Scripture alone must be our guide to the exclusion of manmade traditions, which Christ condemned (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:9-13), as did the apostles (Galatians 1:13-14; Colossians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18). Traditions developed over the centuries have led to great error within both Catholicism and Protestantism.
We must ever remember that Christ intended for the church to be something new and separate from Israel. It would neither partake of nor interfere with God’s promises to His earthly people, promises that will be fulfilled in their time. The church would be separate, too, from Israel’s religious ordinances. Here, again, the cults have gone astray.
Mormonism, for example, pretends to have both an Aaronic and Melchisedec priesthood. Roman Catholicism claims to have a sacrificial priesthood that offers Christ continually as a sacrifice upon its altars. On the contrary, in the church every believer is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) and the sacrifices offered are “praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” and “to do good” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
In fact, there are no longer any propitiatory sacrifices offered for the forgiveness of sins because the church was made possible by the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. That sacrifice is never to be repeated because it paid the full penalty demanded by God’s justice and made it possible for God to “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Consequently, “there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).
Israel broke the covenant God made with her. She demonstrated that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Her sacrificial system could not take away sin, but looked forward to the unique “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The establishment of a “new covenant” with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31) is foretold. Animal sacrifices had opened the way for the Jewish high priest into the earthly sanctuary, which was patterned after the heavenly reality (Hebrews 9:1-10). When Christ died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38), ending the animal sacrifices. Now we have a “great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14), who, “by his own blood…obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12, 24).
Israel was given a land on earth (Genesis 12:1; 13:15; 15:18-21; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Leviticus 20:24, 25:23, etc.), her destiny is tied to it, and she will never cease to exist there (Jeremiah 31:35-40). Numerous prophecies promise her restoration to her land, with the Messiah, upon His return, ruling her from the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:10-16; 1 Kings 9:5; Isaiah 9:6-7; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Luke 1:31-33, etc.). The promise is clear that God will pour out His Spirit upon His chosen people, after which they will never pollute His holy name again, and He will never again hide His holy face from Israel (Ezekiel 39:7, 22, 27-29; Zechariah 13, 14).
Israel must endure forever (Jeremiah 31:35-38) or the prophecies of the Bible and Christ’s promises to her could not be fulfilled. Christ referred to the cities of Israel in existence at His Second Coming (Matthew 10:23), proof enough that the church has not replaced her. As further proof (though not needed), Christ promised His disciples that they would rule over Israel with Him in His millennial kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30).
The church cannot fulfill the prophecies to Israel, never having belonged to a specific land nor having been cast out of it or returned to it. Rather, the church comes “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The hope of the church is to be raptured to heaven (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonian 4:16-17, etc.), where we stand before “the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10) and then are married to our Lord (Revelation 19:7-9) and are eternally with Him wherever He is (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
That being the case, in love with our Bridegroom and longing to see Him face to face, let us hold the things of earth lightly and live for eternity. Let us please Him alone, not following men or organizations but by faith allowing our Head to nourish, sustain, and direct us and to live His life through us to His glory.
Question: I disagree with your statements in which you distinguish Israel from the church. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:11-22 that the church and Israel are “one” . . . one grouping of believers. . . . Romans 9-11 describes Israel as those people of all times, places, lands, nationalities, and ethnic groups who have had faith in God. . . . Israel is not “God’s earthly people” (as you describe her) but God’s spiritual people, His people of faith . . . all believers everywhere. . . . God’s promises of land that your article referred to do not, in fact, promise His earthly people physical land. Instead, they promise His spiritual people a spiritual country . . . heaven.
Response: You are spiritualizing away the truth of Scripture. Paul refers to “my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants…whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (Romans 9:3-5). The word flesh cannot be turned into spirit. That the people of Israel after the flesh (the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) have existed throughout history and still exist in the present is clear. Their history is given in the Bible, including their very real possession of the promised land for centuries, their being cast out of it and scattered around the world, their persecution, and their preservation – along with hundreds of clear prophecies of their return. If Israel is a spiritual people – all true believers everywhere – then what is that specific nation of Israel whose history the Old Testament gives in detail and that is the subject of most Old Testament prophecies? That Israel still exists today as a distinct people and nation and is once again in possession of part of the land she was promised and once possessed in full is a fact that every news report confirms. Try to tell the Arabs that those are not the Jews living in Israel today!
Israel is described in the Bible as a distinct nation among the nations of the world. Israel as a nation and the Jews as a people are distinguished from all other peoples in hundreds of verses such as “I will give…unto you…a land…. I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people…. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24-26); “[T]he Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6); “And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee. . . . And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. . . . [You] shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth unto the other” (Deuteronomy 28:10, 37, 63, 64); “Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations . . . He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. . . . It shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever” (Jeremiah 31:10, 40); “And thou [Gog and Magog, et al.] shalt say, I will go up…upon the people that are gathered out of the nations. . . . And thou shalt come up against my people Israel . . . in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me” (Ezekiel 38:11-16), etc., etc., etc.
Zechariah 12, 13, and 14 surely refer to Jerusalem as a “cup of trembling” for all nations in the last days, to Israel being attacked by all nations of the earth, to Christ coming to the Mount of Olives to rescue His people and all Israel seeing Him and believing on Him. You cannot spiritualize Israel without doing violence to history, present facts, and the Bible.
Furthermore, if Israel is the church, then why does Paul say, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel, is that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1)? To be in the church one must already be saved. That he means “saved” in the sense of John 3:16, Acts 16:31, and Romans 1:16, is clear: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Nor does Ephesians 2:11-22 teach “that the church and Israel are ‘one,'” as you state. It clearly says that the Gentiles are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” but through Christ they become part of “the household of God.” The message is not the oneness of Israel and the church but the fact that both Jews and Gentiles (as individuals through faith in Christ) are made “one new man.” There is a new entity, the church, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
The church came into existence only after Christ’s incarnation and glorification. If Israel was already the church, Christ would hardly have stated that it was yet to be built in the future: “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Identifying Israel with the church requires such a spiritualizing of Scripture that its entire meaning is changed and the major promises concerning the return of Christ to Israel to establish His kingdom on the throne of His father David become mere allegories.