The Israel Of God
he first time I saw this phrase, drawn from the book of Galatians, it resonated in my Spirit to the degree that I realized the LORD was speaking to me in a way that is profoundly prophetic.
These words were written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Galatia, and when I came to understand the circumstances of just why the Holy Spirit moved on Paul to reference the Christians as “the Israel of God,” I learned a very valuable lesson. It is my desire to share this teaching with the reader. Certainly, a bit of context is in order.
Due to the religious conditioning which has come to dominate most of the denominations and Christian fellowships over the last century, most believers see themselves as members of the so-called “church,” as opposed to the unique title Paul used to describe the saved in the following passage:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [being an Israelite] availeth anything, nor uncircumcision [being a Gentile], but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
To phrase this in the simplest language possible, the Apostle Paul is saying being Jewish is worth nothing, and being Gentile is worth nothing, because whatever you were before, in Christ you are now “a new creature,” and this new body of believers is called “the Israel of God.”
The Gospel That Paul Preached
To see how Paul could come to believe the Christians have somehow become Israel, we must go back to the earliest days of his ministry, and this is found in the book of Acts. Because Paul was an expert on the prophets, after he was converted to Christianity, he realized he understood many things that were prophesied about Christ, and he found himself teaching the Christians such things in Antioch in Pisidia.
As in other cities, he continued to receive huge resistance from the Jews, largely because they accurately perceived this new religious development threatened their standing as the chosen of God. This was also because of what had occurred in Caesarea. Shortly after Paul encountered Christ, and began to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, Peter went into a trance sent by the LORD, in which he was told to preach Jesus to the Gentiles. Up until that time, the disciples had preached exclusively to the Jews:
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled…preaching the word to none but the Jews only” (Acts 11:19).
However, when word reached the disciples the Holy Spirit had baptized a group of Gentiles in Caesarea in the presence of Peter, and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had glorified God that the Gentiles were to be included in the salvation of Jesus Christ, the scattered Christians began to preach to the Greeks, with great success.
“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed” (Acts 11:21).
Everywhere the Christians went, they would preach to the Jews first, and then the Gentiles. Although they did see periodic conversions to Christ among individual people of Jewish descent, a significant turning point occurred when Paul was in Antioch and the Gentiles came to the LORD in wholesale numbers.
Paul concluded his sermon in the synagogue to the Jews by quoting a rather pointed verse from Habakkuk, who prophesies how the Jews will not only refuse to hear the truth concerning Christ, the prediction also hints that their rejection will be related to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the salvation of Yahweh:
“Behold ye among the heathen [read Gentiles], and regard, and wonder marvelously, for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (Habakkuk 1:5).
At Antioch, Paul had preached to the Jews first, because Jesus had said from the very beginning that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When it became self evident the LORD chose to include the Gentiles in His New Covenant with the house of Israel, Paul and the other Apostles responded with joy:
“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
The Gentiles Are Born Again As Israel
As the door of salvation opened to the Greeks, the Romans, and other nations of the world, some of the Jews responded to the New Testament of Jesus Christ; but most refused to allow the Spirit of the Lord to move them into the place they needed to go to receive salvation. Oddly enough, at Antioch, the text does not record any firm Jewish rejection of the Gospel when Paul first presented the way of salvation to them. It was as if there was no reaction at all.
Surely Paul sensed this apathy in his Spirit, for the lengthy account in Acts tells us he closed his sermon with a very abrasive paraphrase of the previously cited verse from Habakkuk:
“…therefore…through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins…Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:38,40,41).
Antioch was clearly a turning point, for it was there that Paul began to connect the prophecies concerning Israel’s rejection of the Gospel with the inclusion of the Gentiles to the house of Israel. The reader will recall that it was in Antioch when, after preaching Jesus to the Jews,
“…the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together…” (Acts 13:42).
The Gentile Prodigal Son Is Received By The Father
It is at this stage that we see the element of envy seems to crystallize the as-yet unspoken Antiochian hostility towards the Gospel. As Paul preached to the entire city, we see how the Jews were moved with jealousy at the explosive popularity of Christianity:
“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:45).
As usual, Paul’s reaction was to again cite from the prophets, but this time, he quoted a prophecy concerning Israel, and applied it to the Christian believers – a clear indicator he saw the body of Christ as what he would later call “the Israel of God.”
“…it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou should be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:46,47).
Paul is quoting from Isaiah, and the verse in question is, without a doubt, speaking of what the prophet calls “the preserved of Israel,” who are to be “a light of the Gentiles.” With this citation, Paul makes a profound public declaration concerning the doctrine of the identity of Israel, as he plainly identifies this prophecy as applying to the believers in Christ – the “us” in the verse – in sharp contrast to the Jews who Paul says have “judged [themselves] unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13:46).
What this means quite simply is that Paul understood, and publicly stated, that the promises made to Israel were fulfilled in the body of Spiritual “Israel,”an identity he referred to as “us” – i.e. the Christians. To put it bluntly, the Christians are the only saved Israel seen in the New Testament.
The transition concludes when Christ rejecting physical Israel, joins with the Christ rejecting physical Gentiles, to attack the single Spiritual entity that was born again as Spiritual Israel.
“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them they were ware of it, and fled….” (Acts 14:2,5,6).
You Must Be Born Again
The reconfiguration of Israel was complete, for what could be called Spiritual Israel, or Born Again Israel, comprised of former Jews and former Gentiles, was being attacked by physical Jews and physical Gentiles, who had joined together to oppose the Gospel.
At this point, it’s useful to remind the reader that the New Testament cogently tells us that there is no difference between physical Jews or physical Gentiles in Christ:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
This means that if any man is not in Christ, he is what he was – an unsaved Jew or an unsaved Gentile. We note that the two components of Anti-Israel, comprised of Christ rejecting Jews and unregenerate Gentiles form one body – those who are not saved. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see the two components of “the Israel of God,” comprised of former Jews and former Gentiles who now form “a new creature” -- those who are saved.
Because most Christians have been taught they have become members of the so-called “church” (a word that simply means an assembly), the Roman Catholic concept of the “church” replacing Israel came about. The Rapture Cult, realizing the Old Testament promises to Israel must be fulfilled in Israel, then came up with the idea of rotating salvation (the “church” is saved, gets raptured, and then Israel gets redeemed), but both systems are fatally flawed.
No matter how you slice it, the only saved entity in Scripture is Israel, and the Apostle Paul clearly articulated the body of Christian believers is one body, comprised of former Jews and former Gentiles, who have been born again as a new creation – The Israel Of God.
-- James Lloyd