Israel, the Church, and the Nations – Part 1

Norbert Lieth

It was important for the Apostle Paul to show that God in His faithfulness holds fast to His promises, and therefore also to His chosen people Israel. God remains absolutely trustworthy and faithful to His promises to the Church as well. Our lack of faithfulness cannot undo His faithfulness. A redemptive-historical and prophetic interpretation of Romans 9—11.

The Apostle Paul was appointed by God as teacher of the nations (1 Tim 2:7) and the Apostle to the Nations (Rom 11:13). He of all people is the one who brings us the deepest New Testament teaching about Israel’s past (Rom 9), present (Rom 10), and future (Rom 11). This teaching is more comprehensive than in any other apostolic letter. That should tell us something as Christians. After all, God is conforming us into the image of His Son (Rom 8:29) through Paul’s teaching (Rom 6:17).

“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1-3).—“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom 10:1).—“If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them” (Rom 11:14).

Seven things are mentioned in these verses: 1. Heaviness of heart; 2. Sorrow; 3. Accursedness; 4. Heart’s desire; 5. Prayer; 6. Any means; 7. Provoking jealousy in order to save.

An evangelist once told the story of a man who claimed that if he had been there when the disciples were gathering behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, he would have held the door open until the last second in the hopes that Judas, who had betrayed the Lord, might still come back. That may sound utopian (since things had to happen the way they did), but so much love is behind such a statement. It’s the same with Israel: things had to happen the way they did, but Paul was showing his love and his heart’s desire to save his people.

While it’s true that Paul was the Apostle to the Nations, he also cared about his own people. He longed for their salvation. We can see the attitude of Jesus in this: He gave Himself up, was judged in our place, and was separated from God. As Christians, we should also have and maintain this desire for our fellow human beings and for Israel. We are Christ’s ambassadors in this world. Therefore, we must not forget Israel.

Let’s consider some personal questions drawn from Paul’s seven statements. Are we experiencing sadness and incessant pain for our contemporaries, Israel, and the Arab world? Or have we already given up on them, viewing them only with a judgmental attitude? Does our love stretch as far as Paul’s? Are we ready to give up ourselves to bring the Gospel to the lost? Do we have the desire for salvation, and prayers for all people (1 Tim 2:1), in our hearts? Are we diligently seeking out ways and means to provoke jealousy in others so that they will be saved?

May we be prepared for these matters and awakened to these concerns.

“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5).—“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged” (Rom 3:1-4).—“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance [irrevocable]” (Rom 11:29).

God’s redemptive history with Israel began with a laugh: “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Gen 18:12). And God’s redemptive history with Israel ends with a laugh: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision” (Ps 2:2-4).

It’s amazing how God chose and used this people. Paul speaks of ten divine gifts that cannot be lost:

1. Israel is “the one who struggles with God.” “El” means God.

2. Sonship: Israel as a whole people possesses this. God caused Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go” (Ex 4:22b-23a).

3. Glory: God was present among His people.

4. Covenants: given to the Patriarchs.

5. The Law: given at Sinai. Paul wrote, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Gal 3:17).

6. They have been entrusted with the statements of God: The Word of God was handed down to us through the Jewish people.

7. Ministry: Israel, the priestly people; their worship services; also for the nations.

8. Promises: Countless made to the Patriarchs, the kings, and the people.

9. Fathers: Again, the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed Himself.

10: Christ: The Redeemer comes from this people, and He is divine in nature. “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22b).

Paul held fast to these irrefutable truths, and we should too. His protégé Timothy lived and worked in Ephesus at that time (1 Tim 1:3), and presided over the church there. Paul wrote to him about this subject: “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead 
according to my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8). Timothy obviously wasn’t going to forget, and certainly wouldn’t conceal, that Jesus comes from the line of David.

Additionally, it was important for the Apostle to show that God in His faithfulness holds fast to His promises, and therefore also to His people: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). God remains absolutely trustworthy and faithful to His promises to the Church as well. Our lack of faithfulness cannot undo His faithfulness.

“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” (Rom 9:6-7).

It’s peculiar: devout Orthodox Jews think that any Israelite who believes in Jesus is no longer a Jew. But the Bible says that exactly the reverse is true: Only the one who believes in Jesus is a true Israelite.

Paul stresses that the Word of God hasn’t become obsolete. Israel hasn’t been sweepingly rejected, as one might think in light of the people’s blindness and their scattering. Unbelievers can’t cancel out God’s faithfulness (Rom 3:3). But the Apostle makes a plain distinction, explaining that there is a difference between Israel according to the flesh (Abraham’s natural descendants) and Israelites according to the Spirit (who originate in God’s promise and Abraham’s faith, and can point back to Isaac: Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). The promise of Isaac ultimately leads to Jesus.

There are Israelites after the flesh simply because they didn’t believe. Too many find themselves under God’s displeasure. “They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut 32:5). The same could be said of the people of Jesus’ day; namely, the Pharisees, scribes, and elders who rejected Jesus.

John the Baptist had said earlier, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father” (Matt 3:9a). And Jesus told the leaders of the people, “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you” (John 8:37). Whereupon He questioned their sonship, saying, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (v. 39b). They were sons of Abraham according to the flesh, but not according to faith.

This also applies to today’s unbelieving Israelis. They are just as lost as any other person without faith in Jesus. Spiritually, they aren’t really Israelites. But there are Israelites who are both; that is, according to the flesh and according to the faith of Abraham. Consider Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon and Hannah, the disciples, later converts to Jesus from among the people, and current messianic Jews. They are the true Israel within Israel. This means that the true Israel at present is Israel according to the promise, not Israel according to the flesh.

As born-again children of God, we are an inextricable part of the heavenly Father’s family. But we too are asked to test 
our faith: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor 13:5). The question we have to ask ourselves is: Am I a Christian in name only, or am I truly a born-again believer? Am I living out my faith according to my belief in Jesus?

Paul continues this subject, repeating some points and providing additional justification: 

“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. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:8-13).

“For 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” (Rom 2:28-29).

Regarding the salvation of God’s children, the following is true: “That is…” It is not the children according to the flesh who are God’s children, but the children of the promise, and faith in that promise. Circumcision of the heart is the evidence of their belief, so it is a matter of the heart. The leaders of the people, for example, have invalidated God’s Word through their sanctimonious traditions: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt 15:6b). They emphasized external appearances—tradition and ritual—over the condition of the heart. They were depending on the letter of the law, and weren’t living in the spirit of the new covenant in Christ.

As for the nation’s calling, God’s sovereignty applies. In considering this, it was important that Romans 9:10 was included: “And not only this…” —This passage concerns the nation’s election beyond spiritual sonship. Therefore, Rebekah, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob are mentioned.

God didn’t choose the one who was to bear His promise on the basis of being the firstborn, but according to the principle of His divine will. The older should serve the younger. The people that Jesus would call forth were not from Esau, but from Jacob. Their deeds played no role in this selection; when both children were still in the womb, knowing neither good nor evil, this election had already been fixed (Rom 9:11-12). Esau actually possessed the birthright, and Jacob was the deceiver. But God chose in reverse order. It didn’t come from works, but from divine appointment. Regarding this (and not addressing the issue of eternal life) God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:13).

Hate in this context doesn’t mean that God couldn’t stand Esau, but that He had deprived him of the privilege of furthering the people’s progress toward the Messiah. Both were later blessed by Isaac in faith: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Heb 11:20).

Election always occurs through pure grace (Rom 11:5). Works in service of the Lord do have value, but it shows unbelief to think that performing them is a means to gain God’s favor. A person can’t decide to become in any way worthy of being chosen; that wouldn’t be election through grace.

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28).

News from Israel - 01/2022

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