A gracEmail subscriber asks whether “true Israel” today consists of both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews from all nations) who are part of Christ’s kingdom and his spiritual body.
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On this subject the Bible presents a variegated picture and we must include the complexity if we accurately describe that biblical picture. There is a larger sense in which Abraham is “father” of all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles (Rom. 4:11-12), and all believers are Abraham’s spiritual “descendants” and “heirs” (Rom. 4:16-18; Gal. 3:29). All who trust in God as Abraham did are blessed along with Abraham the believer (Gal. 3:8-9). By believing the gospel, Gentiles who had always been outsiders to God’s covenant now become his “chosen race,” his “holy nation,” part of “the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10). They are like branches cut from a wild olive tree and grafted into the stock of a cultivated olive tree.
At the same time, Gentiles remain Gentiles and Israel remains Israel. Through the ancient Hebrew prophets, God foretold that Jesus would renew the covenant and fulfil God’s promises to Israel — but also bestow divine mercy and salvation on the nations (Isa. 49:5-6; Rom. 15:8-9). Jesus therefore restores faithful Israel (Jews) to God, but he brings the nations into fellowship with God as well (Amos 9:11-12). This two-part program set forth by the Hebrew prophets provides the theological context for Paul’s missionary method of preaching “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10; see this principle in practice in Acts 13:44-48 and 28:23-28).
Some within the early church (which at first consisted entirely of Jews) insisted that Gentiles who wished to be saved through Jesus were required also to become Jews by being circumcised and pledging to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1; Galatians). At just the right time, however, the Holy Spirit led the church in conference to recognize in the conversion of Gentiles the fulfillment of the messianic program set out by the Hebrew prophets — specifically the words of Amos 9 — and to conclude that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be saved (Acts 15:13-29).
Spiritually considered, an authentic Jew is a physical descendant of Abraham but he is more than that. He is also a person of the faith of Abraham, a Jew “inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29). Such Jews, in contrast to Jews who do not believe, are “the true circumcision” (Phil. 3:3) and the “Israel of God” (Gal. 3:16). It is right for us to say that “the people of God” consists of Jews and Gentiles together, as does “the body of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-18; 1 Peter 2:9-10). However, believing Gentiles remain Gentiles — they do not become “spiritual Jews” or “spiritual Israel.” Because Jesus came to save all nations, that is well enough.