The Bible and Israel (5)

Having proven that the church is the same entity as Israel, the main difference being the spiritual maturity (or majority) of the former and the spiritual immaturity (or minority) of the latter (Gal. 3-4), the apostle Paul addresses the issue of motherhood—who is the spiritual mother of the believer, whether Jew or Gentile; and who is the spiritual mother of the unbelieving, carnal Jew?

Paul uses an allegory to illustrate this spiritual truth in Galatians 4, in which allegory there are two covenants, two Jerusalems, two mountains, and two kinds of sons of Abraham. First, there is “the Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children” (v. 25). This refers to unbelieving Judaism, whether in Paul's day, or in the modern state of Israel, and it refers to all persons (whether Jews or Gentiles) who seek salvation in the law of God and not through faith alone. A large number of members of the visible church, including the reprobate among the baptized children of believers in true churches, are offspring of the “Jerusalem which now is.” They are, to use Paul’s language, “in bondage,” that is, in the spiritual bondage of sin and death. They are “born after the flesh” (v. 23; see Romans 9:6-8) and, therefore, persecute the true children of God, who are born “after the Spirit” (v. 29). Even today, adherents of false religion persecute God’s children: thus they follow in the footsteps of their spiritual father Ishmael, and not in the footsteps of Isaac. These children of the bondwoman Hagar (vv. 30-31) are, like Hagar and Ishmael, “cast out” (v. 30). When Israel rejected Christ, there was a great casting out of the children of Hagar, and great gathering in of the children of Sarah.

Second, there is “Jerusalem which is above:” she is “free, which is the mother of us all” (v. 26). This heavenly, spiritual, true Jerusalem gives birth to children who are “the children of promise” (v. 28). We (that is, all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of ethnicity) are children of the free Jerusalem, not children of the Jerusalem in bondage (v. 31). There are echoes here of Psalm 87, in which Psalm we sing, “And of Zion it shall be said, this and this man was born in her” (Ps. 87:5). In Zion are born not only Jews, but also Gentiles—Rahab (Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia: “this man was born there” (v. 4). “The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah” (v. 6).

Have you been born in Zion—not in earthly Jerusalem, but in the heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem? If you have, you enjoy all the blessings of Zion, God’s covenant fellowship, the promise of a rich inheritance, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, even if you can trace your lineage back to Benjamin himself, and even if you are a baptized member of a true church, you were not born in Zion—and you are a stranger to all the blessings of God. Instead, you are still in bondage to sin and death with the earthly Jerusalem and her children.

John develops this idea also in Revelation, where he identifies Jerusalem with the church. In Revelation 3:12 Christ commands John to write about “the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down from heaven.” That Jerusalem is the church, which becomes clear in chapter 21: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband” (v. 2). The bridal imagery immediately reminds the reader of the church in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere. John becomes explicit in verse 9, “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” What does John see—Jerusalem! “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10). The Lamb’s wife is the church; the church is the city of Jerusalem—the true, heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem, and our spiritual mother.

Paul has one more thing to say before he closes his epistle to the Galatians: “and as many as walk according to this rule, peace upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). What does Paul mean (and more importantly what does the Holy Spirit mean) by “the Israel of God” here? To answer that, we need to examine the text carefully. First, Paul pronounces a benediction (a blessing of peace and mercy) upon “as many as walk according to this rule.” The word “rule” is canon, which is a rule, standard or measuring rod. The immediate context, as well as the argument of the entire letter, demands that the rule be that of making no distinction in the church between believing Jew and Gentile, a rule which Paul defends vigorously in this letter. The rule is this great truth, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (v. 15); the rule is the conviction not to glory in anything except the cross of Christ (v. 14). Believers walk according to that rule, while the Judaizers, who glory in the flesh (v. 13), walk contrary to it.

Those who walk according to that rule, therefore, are partakers of the apostolic blessing of peace and mercy. All those who walk against that rule, by making in the church a distinction between Jew and Gentile, are strangers to the blessing of God, and partakers of his curse (1:8-9; 3:10, etc.).

Now, what about the Israel of God? If Paul meant to bless unbelieving, carnal, earthly Israel, as she existed as a nation in his day, he would be violating his own rule. How could Paul pronounce the apostolic blessing of peace and mercy upon unbelieving Israel? The meaning is clear: the Israel of God is (as we have seen in studying many passages of this epistle) the church. The Israel of God is the body of believers made up of Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the phrase “and the Israel of God” is simply a further explanation of the phrase “as many as walk according to this rule” and could be translated, as the Greek word kai is often translated, “even the Israel of God.”

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and thus you walk according to this rule, God’s peace and mercy rest upon you, for you—and not the carnal, unbelieving, secular nation of Israel—belong to the Israel of God. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, but you trust in your own works to be all or part of your righteousness before God, you are under the curse of the law: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22).

To this there remains an objection—does not the word of God state that Israel is a nation forever? How then can the Christian reject the modern nation of Israel? To that we turn next time, DV.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Other articles:

The Bible and Israel (1)

The Bible and Israel (2)

The Bible and Israel (3)

The Bible and Israel (4)

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The Bible and Israel (4)

The purpose of these blog posts is to identify the true, chosen people of God—are the people of God the modern nation of Israel, or is it the church? We have seen already that believers in Christ, and therefore not unbelieving ethnic Jews, are the true children of Abraham.

Next we turn to the epistle to the Galatians. In Galatians 3, having proved that Abraham was justified through faith in exactly the same way as believers in all ages, Paul declares, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham…so then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (vv. 7, 9). On the other hand, the unbelieving Jews and Judaizers (and all those today, whether Jew or Gentile, who teach and believe in justification by works) are under the curse (v. 10), from which curse Christ has redeemed us (v. 13). Thus, “the blessing of Abraham [has come] on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (v. 14). 

Notice that—the blessing of Abraham has come upon the (believing) Gentiles, while the curse of the law rests upon unbelieving ethnic Jews (and Gentiles)!

Verse 16 is pivotal. To whom was the promise of Abraham made, and what was the promise? Consider these texts: “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7); “all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:15); "unto thy seed have I given this land” (Gen. 15:18); “and I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:7-8).

Did you notice the recurring word “seed” and the fact that “seed” is singular, not plural? Shamefully, modern translators of the Bible have obscured this truth by translating “seed” as “descendants.” But God does not make promises to Abraham’s descendants; he makes promises to Abraham’s seed. The fact that God makes promises to Abraham's “seed” and not to his descendants is highly significant, for it identifies for us the ones to whom God's promises are made.

God never promised anything to the mere physical descendants of Abraham, but to Abraham's seed. In Galatians 3:16 Paul identifies Abraham's seed: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Furthermore, Paul identifies the seed of Abraham as those Jews and Gentiles (and there is no difference any longer, according to verse 28) who belong to, and believe in, Jesus Christ: “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Do you see how earth-shattering and yet how wonderfully blessed that is? Paul explains it further in Ephesians 2-3. The Gentiles in Ephesus had, before their conversion, been “without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But now, because of what Christ had done in his life, death, and resurrection, “ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). Paul's conclusion is this: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (vv. 19-20).

In the Old Testament, Gentiles were outside, but there was a way in which a Gentile could inherit the promises of God’s covenant—he became a Jew, and if he was a male, he was circumcised. This happened to Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah the Hittite, for example. Therefore, the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s covenant is in itself nothing new. The “new” aspect in which Paul rejoices, and which Paul calls the mystery, is that Gentiles are equal with the Jews through faith in Christ. They no longer have to become Jews—they are equally God’s children as Gentiles. Paul explains this “mystery” in Ephesians 3: “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (vv. 4-6). Notice those words—a “fellow heir” is one who receives the same inheritance as all the other heirs; “a member of the same body” (or a “co-member”) is one who partakes of the same blessings as the other members; and a “partaker” is a co-partaker, for he shares in exactly the same promise as the Jews. By using this language, Paul means to nullify in the minds of his readers any notion of a difference between (believing) Jews and (believing) Gentiles. Unbelieving Jews, however, have no inheritance, neither an earthly nor a heavenly inheritance; they are outside the body; and they receive none of God’s promises.

In Galatians 3-4, Paul teaches that the Old Testament people of God (elect Israel) is essentially the same people as the New Testament church (consisting of elect Jews and Gentiles in one body). The apostle does this by means of an illustration in which he compares a child with a mature adult. The Old Testament people of God (elect Israel) was a child, who, although she was the heir of God's promises, was in her minority, and could not receive the promises until the time of her maturity (see Galatians 4:1). During her minority period (when she was legally a child) she was under the law, which acted as a schoolmaster (3:24), a tutor, and a governor (4:2). Such schoolmasters were not mere teachers in a schoolroom—they were appointed by the father of the child to control the child’s life down to the slightest detail. The father gave the schoolmasters, tutors, and governors authority to legislate for the child, to determine her diet and clothing, to determine her religious and moral life, and even to punish her for disobedience. That is how we must understand the Old Testament law—the law determined Israel’s life, so that she was hemmed in on every side by precepts and ordinances: “But before faith came—that is, before the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, came—we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Gal. 3:23).

Parents understand this. When your child is a two-year old, you determine their every move—you decide what they eat; you decide what they wear; you decide when they go to bed; you decide where they go; you protect them with barriers. But when a child matures, you give the child—for example, an older teenager—greater freedom: he determines his own schedule; he makes his own meals; he does his own laundry; he uses the car, and perhaps has his own car, for example. With freedom comes responsibility, however.

That is exactly Paul’s point. Old Testament Israel was a child kept under the law until she entered her maturity at the coming of Jesus Christ. When Christ suffered and died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and, crucially, poured out his Holy Spirit, he brought Old Testament Israel into the enjoyment of her inheritance. She no longer needs food laws, clothing laws, laws concerning sacrifices and other ceremonies, circumcision, and the temple, for she has the Spirit, the gospel, and the blood of Christ. Those laws that kept her distinctively “Jewish” pass away, never to return, because in her maturity she becomes the church of Jesus Christ made up of elect, believing Jews and Gentiles. Notice, however, when your two-year old grows up and becomes an eighteen year old, he matures—but he is essentially the same person. He is not a replacement person! Similarly, when Old Testament Israel grew up, entered her maturity, and became a free child of God, she was not replaced. The New Testament church of Jesus Christ is the same entity as the Old Testament people of God. Therefore, the church does not replace or supersede Israel (replacement theology or supersessionism), but the church is Israel—Israel in her maturity, Israel without the intolerable yoke of the law, Israel with the Holy Spirit! Therefore, the church must never seek to go back to her minority days—as if a teenager would go back to diapers—for she no longer observes the Old Testament restrictive ceremonial law. We do not keep the Old Testament feats; we do not observe Old Testament dietary restrictions; and we do not seek to be circumcised, for example (4:9-10).

The apostle is not finished, however, for he intends to explain who our spiritual mother is, namely “the Jerusalem which is above.” To that we turn next time, DV.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Other articles:

The Bible and Israel (1)

The Bible and Israel (2)

The Bible and Israel (3)

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Gospel Truth of Justification (5): Polemical

The apostle Paul, after addressing the churches of Galatia in verses 1-5, immediately administers a rebuke to them with the expression, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6, 7).

John Calvin, commenting on verse six of this opening chapter of Galatians, observes that the apostle Paul’s “greatest severity of language is directed...against the false apostles.”[1] Writes Calvin,

He [Paul] charges them [false apostles] with the additional crime of doing an injury to Christ, by endeavoring to subvert his gospel. Subversion is an enormous crime. It is worse than corruption. And with good reason does he fasten on them this charge. When the glory of justification is ascribed to another, and a snare is laid for the consciences of men, the Saviour no longer occupies his place, and the doctrine of the gospel is utterly ruined (emphasis mine, AJC).[2]

In defense of the truth of justification by faith alone, the apostle Paul used polemics. In Galatians 1:8, the inspired apostle Paul pronounces a curse upon them which “preach any other gospel unto you than that which we preached unto you.” He states again emphatically in the next verse, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

Polemics is the activity of identifying, opposing, fighting against, and destroying false teachings, either in doctrine or walk. It is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The word itself comes from the Greek word polemos, meaning “war.” That the true church militant carries on war against false teachers and their teachings should not surprise or offend members of the church. God declared this war. In the garden of Eden God declared, “I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This war has been ongoing since the beginning of time. In the New Testament, Satan continues his attack upon the church, so that Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He attacks the church, as Paul warned the elders of Ephesus upon his departure (Acts 20:28-30), by sending “grievous wolves...in among you, not sparing the flock.” Jude exhorts the beloved to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). Why? “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4). The apostle Peter warns the saints that as “there were false prophets also among the people....there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Knowing the truth and defending it is of utmost importance to Reformed believers, especially officebearers, for as Calvin observes, “To know what are the leading points of the gospel, is a matter of unceasing importance,” for “when these are attacked, the gospel is destroyed.”[3]

(Protestant) Reformed officebearers, upon signing the Formula of Subscription, vow that they “heartily believe” the doctrines contained in the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and Canons of Dordt to be in full agreement with the Word of God.” Further, they “promise...diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.” Moreover, they “declare”....that they will “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine”—particularly those doctrines condemned at the Synod of Dordt—but that they are “disposed to refute and contradict these, and...exert [them]selves in keeping the church free from such errors” (emphasis added).[4]

Equally clear is the section of the Church Order, a minor confession, dealing with the responsibilities of the officebearers of the church. Article 18 states, “The office of the professors of theology is to expound the holy scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors” (emphasis added).[5] Article 55 of the Church Order, following upon Articles 53 and 54, which require of professors, ministers, elders, and deacons that they subscribe to the Reformed confessions, reads, “To ward off false doctrine and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family-visiting.”[6]

The author, in penning the contents of Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, is necessarily polemical. The author, holding the office of professor emeritus of theology in the Protestant Reformed Churches, is bound by the Reformed confessions and the Church Order. To avoid polemics in writing on the truth of justification by faith alone would be a shameful dereliction of duty.

The author is also properly polemical. First, in the book he addresses particular errors which are a genuine threat to God’s people. Second, Engelsma addresses serious, confessional, and fatal errors. None of the errors are imagined or invented. Third, the author in his polemics is fair, allowing the advocates and defenders of false doctrine to speak for themselves. He does not “put words in their mouths,” nor does he take their words out of context. Their positions are given ample space and accurately cited. Finally, in refuting heresies, the author is motivated by love for God and the glory of his name. He writes,

Nothing, not even impenitent idolatry or sodomy, would so defile the heavenly choir as th[e] attribution of the glory of salvation to the saved sinner. To the redeemed in heaven forever, as to the saints now on earth, comes the effectual call, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him” (Rev. 19:5). From the great multitude in heaven, as from the true church in the world today, comes back the response, “Let us...give honour to him” (v. 7) (p. 331).

Next time, a brief summary of the heresies and errors refuted and why this defense of justification by faith alone is necessary.

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[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998) 1:29.

[2] Calvin, 1: 31.

[3] Calvin, 1:31.

[4] Formula of Subscription, in Confessions and Church Order, 326.

[5] Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, in Confessions and Church Order, 386.

[6] Church Order, in ibid., 397.

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This article was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (1): Timely

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (2): Comforting

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (3): Comforting and Confessional

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (4): Instructive

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