As we previously mentioned, understanding who we are in Christ has significant impact upon our unity and in return upon taking the nations for Christ. Even though the enemy unites under the banner of identity, we shouldn’t refrain from doing so also. We need to establish our identity in Christ as new creatures who represent a new creation, a creation which broke into this world through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstborn of all creation and especially of this new creation which He established at His resurrection. We are today a new creation in Him, and new things have come, and the old things are gone (2 Corinthians 5:17).
One reality that we’ve lost in the last few hundred years is exactly what this new creation identity brings. While we all agree (but perhaps have a different interpretation) that we are the chosen, the holy ones, the predestined, those who have received redemptions, forgiveness and who have experienced the riches of God’s grace and finally who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, we seem to have forgotten what this entails. These promises under the New Testament flow from what we learn in the OT. The New Testament writers didn’t invent new language to express the identity of God’s people. The Old Testament grants us a sneak peak into what we will experience under the New Covenant, but, of course, in a new way. The enhanced view comes to us in the form of further clarity from the New Testament Scriptures. Under the new creation, the centrality of the blessings is not focused upon many individuals but upon a Son. He is the recipient of these blessings and in return, in Christ, we receive an expansion of these said OT blessings. Being in Christ, means that we identify with everything that comes with it. The New Testament is filled with examples of this identity and the expansive nature of the blessings. I want to take some time to explore these realities in hope that you will consider this. Take into consideration how the people of God are identified and how that relates to the Old Testament.
What I’m about to write is certainly controversial and might go against the grain of what I’m attempting to accomplish here. While I agree that we can disagree on this topic and remain brothers committed to the mission of Jesus, I believe that this topic is still significant enough to ponder. Believing this will create more accord as a holy nation, a royal priesthood of believers who are together promoting the worship of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I want to write about the people of God united. So, I’ll just bite the bullet and pray for an audience to at least consider this theme. I begin with the contentious question of what do the scriptures, especially in the New Testament, have to say about Israel.
WHAT MAKES ISRAEL, ISRAEL?
A definition of the term “Israel” to the modern 21st century Christian, is closely associated with the state of Israel in the middle east. The citizens living in this country are considered the people of God, part of a nation which was “reborn” in 1948 after the United Nations approved a plan to officially declare Israel as an independent state. When we examine the term “Israel”, it’s important to also consider an ancestral and theological definition, and while land mass is important, we need to take it a little further. We must ask ourselves what attributes define ‘Israel” both in terms of their past markers under the Old Testament and most importantly, how they are identified in the New Testament. The question of the substance and features that make up Israel are significant to any description. While there are MANY defining features that identify Israel, we will address some of the most important that relate to both OT and NT identity. We want to address characteristics that are unique to Israel such things as that they were recipients of God’s law, with a unique priesthood, a unique temple and especially, they were given the land of Israel with its citizenship. With that said, we now turn to the most significant and unique trait which is that they are the descendants of Abraham and partakers in the Covenant Promises.
HEIRS OF THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM
God’s covenant with Abraham is the most crucial part to the discussion of the identity of Israel and I believe our identity as well. An Israelite is defined primarily by his/her lineage to the patriarch Abraham and in return to the covenant that Yahweh made with him (Romans 11:1). So, first and foremost, an Israelite is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) and who finds an ancestral association with the 12 sons of Israel. They are of this patriarchal offspring whom God made the promise to bless through a covenant. The covenant promises are found in Genesis 12:1-7 where we read:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives
And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who [c]curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”… 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
We see that there are three main promises in this text pledge by God in the covenant. Abraham and his descendants were to: (1) inherit the land, (2) He would make Abraham a great nation and (3) Nations would be blessed through him. Later, in Genesis 15, God confirms this covenant promise with Abraham through the ceremony associated with ratifying a covenant (Genesis 15: 1-21). This was the seal to guarantee that God would bring about these promises. In this section, God tells Abraham that his descendants would be like the sands of the sea and once again, He reiterates that he would possess the land (vs. 5-7). When Abraham asked for a validation to these promises, God confirms His words by swearing an oath and ratifying the covenant with Abraham (v.18). The significance of the cutting of the animals was to demonstrate what would happen to someone who didn’t fulfill their part of the covenant. It is saying “May the same be done to Me and more also if I fail to keep My promise”.
When we finally get to Genesis 17, we begin to see a further expansive revelation of the promise.
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.”3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” 9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
It states that you will be the father of a multitude of nations (v.4 & 5) and kings will come forth from you (v.6). This promise was also made to Jacob (Genesis 35:11) and to those who would fulfill these promises extending to the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:8-10). The sign of this covenant would be circumcision (Genesis 17:14) and strict obedience to “keep” this covenant was essential (Genesis 17:9).
So, the first attribute that we identify in what makes Israel, Israel, is that they are descendants of Abraham, and heirs of the promises of Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant is the foundation behind their identity.
Physical Fulfillment of the Covenant?
Was God faithful to fulfil these promises. Did Abraham’s seed multiply, to make nations from him, for kings to come from him and most importantly in giving his descendants the land? Or are we awaiting the fulfillment of the physical accomplishment of these promises even today? The scriptures seem quite explicit in stating that these promises were, in fact, fulfilled in history. The Old Testament era saw the fulfillment of the promise to multiply them as the sand on the sea. This was fulfilled in both the Old Testament (1 Kings 4:20) and in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:12). King David and his descendants were recipients of the promise of kingship from the covenant. The most controversial is the promise of the land. Many today still await God giving Israel the landmass that was promised. The scriptures, however, are clear that the land promises that were assured to Abraham and his descendants were received. We read in Joshua 21:43-45 that God gave all the land to Israel that He had sworn to give them.
So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass
We also read in Nehemiah that:
“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. 8 “You found his heart faithful before You And made a covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, For You are righteous. (Nehemiah 9:7-8)
The physical promises that God made to Abraham in His covenant were fulfilled and the Lord was no longer obligated to further fulfill any of the stipulations. But we know that even after these promises were given, there was still a future accomplishment to come communicated in the scriptures.
The Expansion Fulfillment -Galatians 3:16
Paul deals with the recipients of the blessings of the Covenant that God made with Abraham in Galatians 3:16. He states that Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. In an absolutely amazing commentary, Paul attributes the covenant blessings as being promised to one seed, not a multitude of seeds. That seed is explicitly identified as our Lord Jesus Christ. The central inheritor of this covenant’s blessing is Christ, but Paul then makes another extraordinary statement at the end of this chapter in that There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29). Paul’s viewpoint is that those who are “in Christ” through faith, the same type of faith that Abraham exhibited in the offering of Isaac, these are the descendants (or seed) of Abraham and an inheritor of the promise (Galatians 3:6-7). In these texts, God proclaimed that the Gentiles would be the recipient of the promises of Abraham through the pledge that all the nations would be blessed in him (Galatians 3:9). It wasn’t physical descendants (regardless of one’s ethnicity, social status, or sex), but those who were of the same faith as Abraham.
But doesn’t the OT say that the promises are for believing physical descendants of Abraham only? It is true that in the OT, we are only told that the believing physical descendants of Abraham would receive the covenant promises BUT that’s why Paul said as clearly as he could in Ephesians 3:4-6 that Gentile inclusion as co-heirs is the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, but now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29). The promises that were Abraham’s that were fulfilled in Christ are not awaiting a physical fulfillment in the future by a return to the land or a rebuilt temple, these are granted to both the Jew and Gentile who is in Christ.
If the physical promise was fulfilled under the Old Testament, and Christ & the Church are the recipients of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant under the New Covenant, and the New Testament says nothing of these physical covenantal promises being given to Israel in some future millennium, then there is no distinction between the people of God. The New Covenant saints, both Jews & Gentiles, are in fact descendants of Abraham and in return, Israel.
The Jews in the New Testament
The Jews in the days of Jesus were adamant that their righteous standing before God was through their lineage to Abraham. They continuously brought up Abraham as the source of their justification before God when challenged by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33). The Lord rebuked them for their presupposed righteous standing because being descendants of the great patriarch meant nothing except that they possessed his faithfulness. Jesus warns that this lineage really had no significance if they didn’t do the works of Abraham. He tells them do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. (Matthew 3:9). Their desire to kill the Son of Man was evidence that they didn’t follow Abraham who obeyed God’s truth (John 8:39-40).The rebuke for their assumptions takes on a very different tone when the Lord states I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12). The non-believing descendant of Abraham would never see receive the promises of Abraham.
 The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant & His Kingdom, Samuel Renihan, Founders Press, 2019, Page 90
 Kingdom Come, Sam Storms, Page 190.