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The Old Testament tells the history of the nation of Israel and of God's dealings with that nation. The New Testament reveals God's dealings with the church or "spiritual Israel." There has been much confusion regarding Israel's role as a type of the church. In this paper, I will discuss why the church can be called "spiritual Israel", and how this relates to the unity of the church.
Before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples asked a question of Jesus:
Acts 1:6-8: "Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;'" ...
In answer, Jesus points them toward the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. To understand what Jesus means, we should consider part of Peter's speech in Acts 2:
Acts 2:29-33: "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, ... Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, ... This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God," ...
David foresaw the resurrection of the Christ. Christ is of the fruit of David's body according to the flesh. Peter tells us that Christ has been resurrected and exalted to the right hand of God, and thus, figuratively, sits on David's throne.
But, has Christ restored the kingdom to Israel? I think he has done so. Has he restored the kingdom to national Israel, or to spiritual Israel -- that is, the church?
The New Testament speaks of the unity of Christ and the church:
"For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. ... So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' [Gen. 2:24] This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
The relationship between Adam and Eve as husband and wife is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church. Let me paraphrase this scripture:
Just as a husband is head of his wife, so Christ is head of the church. A husband ought to love his wife as he loves his own body, and to nourish and cherish her as he does his own flesh. For in a marital union, a husband and wife become one flesh. So it is with Christ and the church: in the figure of marital union, Christ and the church are one flesh; that is, one body. As Paul says: "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of his bones."
The church is depicted as Christ's body, and is also identified in scripture as spiritual Israel:
Rom. 2:29: ... "but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God."
Rom. 4:16: ... "Abraham, who is the father of us all" ...
Gal. 3:7: "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham."
Gal. 4:26: ... "but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all."
Heb. 12:22-23: "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, ... to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven," ...
Gal. 6:15-16: "But in Christ it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that counts but the power of new birth. To all who live by this principle, to the true Israel of God, may there be peace and mercy!" [Phillips]
Phil. 3:3: "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh," ...
Col. 2:11: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands," ...
Eph. 2:11-13: "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh ... that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ."
Eph. 2:19-20: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone," ...
When the Apostle Paul, in his letters to the saints, refers to them as the faithful sons of Abraham, the circumcision, and as members of the commonwealth of Israel, he is referring to spiritual Israel. His mention of the "Jerusalem above" as the "mother of us all", and his identification of the "heavenly Jerusalem" with the "church of the firstborn", show that the saints are members of the "household of God", of which Christ is the "firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). This is that church which has been "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets".
So, if we admit the existence of a spiritual Israel, what of the nation? We must ask the question which Paul asks: "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?" (Rom. 3:1). Paul tells us of the advantage of the Jew in a later chapter of the book of Romans:
Rom. 9:4-5: ... "who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen."
This surely is a weighty list of advantages! To elaborate these specific points in connection with the advantages of the nation:
"From whom, according to the flesh, Christ came" ... The incarnate Christ was an Israelite. What an honour to the Jewish nation that the Saviour of the world should be born of them according to the flesh. And he was born into their nation for an important reason. To them had been entrusted the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2), and from the Old Testament scriptures we, and those long before us and down through the ages, have proof that Jesus is the Christ. And Christ himself learned of God's plan for his life through these same Old Testament scriptures [see Luke 24:44].
"Of whom are the fathers" ... We have only to read of the importance of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), Joseph, Noah, Moses, David, etc., in the gospels and the epistles, to understand this advantage. [See Acts 2, 13; Romans 4; 2 Cor. 3; Galatians 3-4; Ephesians 2; Hebrews 11; James 2; 1 Pet. 3, etc.] The fathers wrote the Old Testament, and served as types for the understanding of New Testament truth.
In the "service of God", we have types of Christ's sacrifice and several aspects of it, as outlined in the Book of Leviticus, and expounded by the writers of the New Testament. (For example, see 1 Cor. 5:7; Ephesians 5:1-2 and Hebrews 10:1-10.)
In the "giving of the law" we also learn spiritual truth. Paul tells us that "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)
Also, in relation to the ten commandments, there are, in the New Testament, many spiritual parallels. For example, in the commandment to keep the sabbath day holy, we learn:
(a) the sabbath, as a memorial of creation (Gen. 2:1-2; Ex. 20:8-11) reveals the power and deity of God (Romans 1:28).
(b) The sabbath typifies salvation by faith (Hebrews 4:9-10).
"The covenants, ... and the promises" ... Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, explains that the Gentile believers, by the blood of Christ, have been brought near to the covenants of promise, as have the believing Israelites (Ephesians 2:11-18). And "all the promises of God in Him [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). One such promise made to Abraham has been fulfilled in Christ: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29). This is why Paul tells us that the Gentiles [the "wild olive tree"], along with those who are Israelites by birth [the "natural branches"], have a share in the "good olive tree" [spiritual Israel] only through faith in Christ [the root] (Romans 11:17-24).
"The glory" ... The countenance of Moses once reflected the glory of God, but this was a temporary glory which eventually faded away (2 Cor. 3:7,13). The saints now mirror the glory of the Lord by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This glory will continue to increase -- "from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18) -- until the first-born saints wear a glorious body, even as Christ does (Phil. 3:20-21).
In 2 Cor. 3:6-11, we read of the superior glory of the new covenant (the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness) in contrast to the glory of the Mosaic covenant (the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation). The Mosaic covenant, associated with fleshly Israel, is "passing away", whereas the new covenant, associated with the church (spiritual Israel), "remains". The new covenant "exceeds much more in glory".
"The adoption" ... The Israelites, as members of the chosen nation, were the adopted children of God according to the flesh. The saints are now God's adopted children: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16).
These seven advantages of the nation of Israel are of great significance for all, and are the reason Jesus says:
John 4:22-24: ... "for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Thus, the importance of the nation of Israel is an historical one which typifies the role of the church as spiritual Israel. The church, under Christ, is that body through whom mankind, by faith, will be brought into the knowledge of God. It is even as the angel said to Mary:
Luke 1:31-33: "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son; and He will be called Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His forefather David; and He will be King over the House of Jacob for the Ages, and of His Kingdom there will be no end." [Weymouth]
[All scriptural references are taken from the NKJV unless marked