In our first blog post, we demonstrated the status of Israel as a nation is not a political but a theological and exegetical matter. Whatever your political views concerning the Middle Eastern “peace process,” the Bible clearly defines who or what Israel is. We also demonstrated that, while many Christians, mostly of premillennial dispensational persuasion, view the “land promise” to Abraham as yet to be fulfilled, Abraham himself understood it very differently, although he never possessed the land, “no, not so much as to set his foot on” (Acts 7:5). He, despite living in the Old Testament, “spiritualized” the land promise (Heb. 11:13-16), and so should we.
The Teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ—Who is a Jew?
When Christ, and before him, John the Baptist, arrived on the scene, Israel was under Roman occupation. Many of the Jews expected the Messiah to come, to expel the infidel Romans, and set up an earthly, carnal kingdom in Jerusalem. Many premillennial dispensational Christians still expect the same thing—after the church has been taken away in the so-called rapture! In fact, leading premillennial dispensational theologians teach that Christ’s initial purpose in coming to Israel was to offer to the Jews an earthly kingdom. When they rejected Christ’s offer and even crucified him, God used it for the salvation of the Gentiles, saving the Gentiles through the blood of the cross. Presumably, then, if the Jews had accepted Christ’s offer, there would have been no cross!
John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner to the Jews, exactly because the people needed to be prepared spiritually for the arrival of the Messiah. The people of Israel had become carnal, unbelieving, and self-righteous, a people proud of their ethnic heritage who had to be shaken out of their security and called to repentance. John said to the Jews of his day: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). Ethnic Jewishness, warned John, is no indication of salvation or participation in the kingdom of God. Jesus is even more explicit: “If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham... Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:39, 44). Jesus even declared to fruitless Israel, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). What that other “nation” was will be explained in future blog posts.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, neither of whom could be labelled as anti-Semitic, teach that to be a physical descendant of Abraham does not make one a true child of Abraham or a true Jew. “Jewishness” is a spiritual, not an ethnic or a political, concept.
The Teaching of Paul—Who is a Jew?
Paul, another who is no anti-Semite and who is apostle to the Gentiles makes the same kinds of assertions. In Romans 2:28-29, Paul writes, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Take Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel. According to Paul’s—and the Holy Spirit’s—definition of a Jew, Netanyahu is not a Jew. Take the most prestigious, most religious, most orthodox Rabbi who teaches in the leading synagogue of Jerusalem. That rabbi is not a Jew either. Take, on the other hand, a Christian who has never been to Israel, who has no Jewish blood whatsoever, and who is a “Gentile of the Gentiles.” He is, according to Paul’s—and the Holy Spirit’s—definition in Romans 2:28-29 a true Jew. Reader, whatever nationality or ethnicity you may have, if you believe in Jesus Christ you are a Jew! You will inherit all the promises of Abraham, while the ethnic, but unbelieving, physical descendants of Abraham shall be cast out.
Listen to the words of Jesus: “I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12).
In Romans 9, Paul addresses the question: If God promised to save Israel, and if salvation is found only in Christ, why have so many Israelites stumbled at the gospel and perished? Paul's response is not to deny God’s promise, but to clarify or define the meaning of Israel. When God promised to save “Israel,” what did he mean? “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect, for they are not all Israel which are of Israel. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children, but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom. 9:6-8). Do you see what Paul is teaching here? There are two kinds of people. First, there are the “of Israel.” These people belong in an external sense to the family of Abraham, to his descendants, and to the nation of Israel. Second, there is “Israel.” These people are the elect, the chosen of God, and the ones to whom God promises and gives salvation. The ones who are merely “of Israel” do not really belong to Israel. They are not Israel, writes Paul.
In other words, none of the reprobate in Israel were truly Israel; they were not counted for the seed; and they were not Jews—when they perished, Israel did not perish. When David’s son Absalom perished, an Israelite did not perish, for Absalom did not belong to Israel, even though he was a physical son of David! The same truth applies in every age. The reprobate Jews living in Jerusalem today are not Israel; they are not the children of God; they are not Jews.
In Philippians 3:2-3 the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles writes, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” By these terms, the apostle refers to the unbelieving Jewish heretics who taught that salvation depends on circumcision and on keeping the Law of Moses. Paul does not call them “Jews.” He calls them “the concision,” which is an allusion to the word circumcision—it means mutilation! The circumcision of unbelieving Israelites, and especially of the Judaizers, is not a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith (see Romans 4:11), but is a worthless mutilation of the flesh, of no spiritual value whatsoever! Paul defines who the truly circumcised are in verse 3: “for we are the circumcision,” where the pronoun “we” is a reference to all believers in Jesus Christ. In the context of Philippi, it is a reference to Gentile believers in Jesus Christ: “We—Gentile believers in Jesus Christ—are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Thus, unbelieving “Jews” are really mutilators of the flesh, while believing Christians, of whatever ethnic origin, are Jews, for they (unlike the so-called Jews) have the spiritual reality of which circumcision was a sign and seal—they have the righteousness of faith and they are circumcised in the heart, or regenerated.
One other passage from Paul is Colossians 2, in which passage the apostle counters those who sought to persuade the Gentile Christians in Colosse to be circumcised. Notice how he argues—you are already circumcised, he says! The unbelieving Jewish heretics urged physical circumcision, but the Christians in Colosse had “the circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). Christ himself had circumcised the Colossians with an inner, spiritual, cleansing circumcision—why, then, should they seek physical circumcision? If Christ had put away “the body of the sins of the flesh” (v. 11), they did not need the Jew’s knife to cut off the flesh of their foreskin! Besides that, they had water baptism, which was a sign and seal to them of the washing away of their sins by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ (v. 12). Without the Jewish rite, they were “complete in [Christ]” (v. 10).
Are modern unbelieving Jews, living in the modern state of Israel, any different from the evil workers and concision mentioned here in Philippians 3 or the heretics alluded to in Colossians 2? Not at all! Indeed, the application is broader—all who teach and promote justification by works, of whatever religion or church, are dogs, evil workers and the concision; while all who embrace justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone are the true circumcision, the true Jews, the true Israelites, and truly Israel!
The Teaching of the Book of Revelation—Who is a Jew?
In Revelation 2-3, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ sends messages to seven churches existing in Asia Minor in the first century AD, churches consisting of believers from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. To the church in Smyrna the ascended Christ declares, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). To the church in Philadelphia Christ says something similar: “Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:9). Here, then, is the assessment of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: the unbelieving Jews lie when they claim to be Jews. They are not Jews, but they belong to the synagogue of Satan, the accuser of the brethren and the adversary of God.
These words are not anti-Semitic—they are holy, inspired scripture! A true Jew is a believing Christian, circumcised in the heart, and, therefore, he is a true child of Abraham. To that question—the identity of the true children of Abraham—we turn next time, DV.
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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