The Bible and Israel (3)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Having identified the significance of the nation of Israel and having explained the meaning of Jew in the Bible, we move on to another important question—who are the children of Abraham?
Abraham is the father of the faithful, that is, the spiritual father of those who believe. Obviously, the Jews, as they call themselves, claim Abraham as their father: they boast physical and religious descent from him. This was so in the days of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ, but they both repudiated the claim of the unbelieving Jews: “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). “If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). Paul makes the same assertion in Romans 9:6, 8: “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel… 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.”
Within Israel, even in the days of Christ, there were children of Israel or children of Abraham. And they were found in the most unlikely places! About Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, Jesus declared, “he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9); about a crippled woman, whom he healed on the Sabbath, Jesus testified, “this women, being a daughter of Abraham...” (Luke 13:16); about Nathaniel, Jesus exclaimed, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47), clearly implying that not all Israelites were Israelites indeed—some were Israelites in name only! Others, such as the high priest, Caiaphas, or Judas Iscariot, and indeed the majority of the citizens of Israel, were not children of Abraham, Jews or Israelites at all! The same thing is true of the citizens of the modern State of Israel.
The apostle Paul develops the concept “children of Abraham” or even “seed of Abraham” at some length, and makes it very clear that the children or seed of Abraham include all those who belong to Jesus Christ and who make up what we call in the New Testament the “church.” For this reason—wonder of wonders—believing Gentiles are also children of Abraham and partakers of the promises of Abraham!
We begin in the book of Romans. We have already seen that Paul restricts the term “Israel” to the elect Jews, excluding the reprobate from the number (Rom. 9:6-8). In verse 23 of the same chapter, having developed the subject of election and reprobation at some length, Paul writes, “that [God] might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.”
Now, notice how Paul proves his point that God elects and calls his people from the Jews and Gentiles. He quotes from the prophet Hosea: “As he saith also in Osee” (v. 25). This is a quotation from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10: “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:23). “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10).
How shall the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea? The answer is—by the gathering of the Gentiles!
Peter also quotes Hosea in 1 Peter 2:10, applying it to the gathering of the Gentiles. In other words, believing Gentiles gathered with believing Jews into the church in the New Testament age are called “the children of the living God” (v. 26) and “the children of Israel” (v. 27). The ethnic, unbelieving Jews, no matter what their genealogical pedigree might be, are not the children of God, not the children of the promise, not Israel and not Jews!
I hope you are beginning to see the implications of this. Whatever God may have promised the Jews in the Old Testament, he did not (emphatically he did not) promise that to the reprobate, unbelieving majority in Israel, the “of Israel,” but only to the elect; and if a person can legitimately claim to be a Jew, an Israelite, an Israelite indeed, a child of Abraham, as all believing Christians can do, as we have seen, he or she can legitimately claim all the promises of God. And we do! No promises were ever made to the reprobate carnal seed; and therefore the reprobate carnal seed has no right to expect any blessings from God.
But does this mean that God has finished with the Jews, those whose ethnicity is Jewish? No, for Romans 11 teaches that throughout the New Testament age God is gathering a remnant of elect, believing Jews. Paul himself is proof of this, for he was an ethnic Jew (v. 1). God's decree of election and reprobation is being worked out among the Jews: “there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (v. 5); “the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded [hardened]” (v. 7). Throughout the New Testament age, elect Jews and elect Gentiles are engrafted into the organism of God, which is fundamentally Christ himself (see John 15).
Paul explains God's purposes with the physical descendants of Israel: “blindness [or sovereign hardening] in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (vv. 25-26). This does not mean that after the Gentiles have been gathered, God will return to his “programme with the Jews” (which supposedly has been postponed for some 2,000 years), but that in the way of gathering the elect Gentiles and (at the same time) a remnant from the Jews “all Israel shall be saved.” The word “so” in verse 26 does not mean “then,” but “in this way.” Romans 11 says nothing about a reconstituted Jewish state, a rebuilt temple or a mass conversion of ethnic Jews just prior to the second coming of Christ. Believing Jews and Gentiles together make up the church of Jesus Christ throughout the New Testament age. There is not, and there never shall be, another way of salvation.
Before we leave the book of Romans, we examine chapter 4. There, explicitly, Paul teaches that the uncircumcision (a term used of the Gentiles) are the children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. Abraham is “the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised” (v. 11). In fact, Paul repudiates the notion that those who are “of the law” (those who rely on their obedience to the law to be saved, i.e., unbelieving Jews) are the heirs of the promise: “if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect... Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (vv. 14, 16).
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? You are a child, a son or a daughter, of Abraham, and therefore a child of God. Unlike the unbelieving, Christ-rejecting, ethnic Jews, we may legitimately claim Abraham as our father, and with him we may claim all the promises made to him (including inheriting the world, v. 13).
Next time (DV), we continue our explanation by examining Paul’s teaching on the seed of Abraham in his epistle to the Galatians.
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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