Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 16, 1964
NUMBER 49, PAGE 3,11b

True Spiritual Israel

David Lawrence

The words "Israel" and "Jew" are used in different senses in the New Testament, particularly in the Roman letter. A failure to rightly divide these usages leads to erroneous interpretations of some passages. Note the following scriptures as evidence that there are two Israels:

"Behold Israel after the flesh...." (1 Cor. 10:18a) "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)

"....For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:" Rom. 9:6b)

Thus the two Israels are Israel after the flesh and spiritual Israel. To the first God made certain unconditional promises through Abraham, ancestor of both Israels. These promises involved giving to Abraham's fleshly descendants the designated land, and the making of his descendants into a great nation, (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:18-21) These unconditional promises were fulfilled in the days of Joshua when fleshly Israel occupied the land as a nation. Note these passages from Joshua:

"And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein....There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass." (Joshua 21:43,45)

"And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth; and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof." (Joshua 23:14)

God's unconditional promises to fleshly Israel were fulfilled. The nation of Israel, according to the flesh, soon demonstrated that it was unworthy of further goodness's from God. There is nothing further which God owes to fleshly Israel.

The other promises (Roman 9:4), it would appear, were intended for true spiritual Israel, or those who could be rightly considered the faithful people of God. Foremost among these promises would be that one made through Abraham, recorded several places in the book of Genesis, first enunciated in 12:3: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." That true spiritual Israel is here designated as the recipients of the promise is evident from these passages:

"....that he (Abraham) might be the father of all them that believe, though they he not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised, For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect." (Romans 4:11b-I4)

"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. 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." (Romans 9:6b-8)

"And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)

Thus it is seen that the promise involved individuals who would be faithful and righteous in the sight of God, and not fleshly Israel. The promise was not fulfilled until the time of Christ and the coming of the gospel. Now spiritual Israel is made up of those who "are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," and "have been baptized into Christ." (Gal. 3:26, 27)

Paul discusses Israel at length in the eleventh chapter of Romans. He illustrates the spiritual Israel of his day (and ours: the church) by a comparison to the seven thousand who did not bow the knee to Baal in the days of Elijah. (Rom. 11:4) Were these seven thousand not the true spiritual Israel of that day? He says in verse one that God has not cast away his people which he foreknew (verse 2). Which Israel is meant here? Fleshly Israel had indeed been cast away, not because God so willed, but because they had rejected God. (Jeremiah 3:8) God's true people, spiritual Israel, is designated here. God will never cast them away, for they, by definition, are those who never cast God away. Those who were Jews in the flesh in apostolic times and were numbered among spiritual Israel were those who believed and obeyed the gospel of Christ. The apostles and early Jewish disciples were such. Thus when Paul states in Romans 11:26 "so all Israel shall be saved," we understand that he means spiritual Israel. Indeed all spiritual Israel shall be saved so (in this manner, that is, by Christ). None among spiritual Israel of any age shall be lost, for it is they who comprise God's people. Let a man apostatize, and he is no longer a citizen of this Israel. The premillennial position that Christ shall return and reign a thousand years during which the fleshly Jews will all be converted is based, among other things, on a failure to distinguish between fleshly and spiritual Israel.

The spiritual Israel of today, the church, is spoken of as a remnant:

"Even so at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." (Romans 11:5) This remnant, a small portion of something originally larger, is the anti-type of another remnant-promise made to spiritual Israel of an earlier day.

"Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved." (Rom. 9:27, from Isaiah 1:9)

Many of the Jews came to enjoy Babylonian life and remained there. But God allowed the few who loved him and his ways, a remnant, the spiritual Israel of the post-exilic days, to return to Jerusalem. All writers of the Old Testament of that day save one mention this remnant and its return, thus the fulfillment of the promise. For examples read Hag. 1:12, 14; 2:2; Zech. 8:6.

Today the church of the Lord is a remnant according to the election of grace. Small in number, this group perseveres as those who do not bow the knee to Baal, who faithfully serve God and his righteous purposes, who make up his chosen people. This people is chosen of God because they have chosen to follow him — a requirement of his true people, foreknown (predestined, Eph. 1:5, 10) regarding character and works before the foundation of the world. Any who chooses to do so may become a part of true spiritual Israel by compliance with the law of pardon: hearing the gospel, believing it, repentance and baptism. So long as he conforms his life to the predetermined pattern for spiritual Israelites he shall remain so. He is the true Jew (Rev. 2:9; 3:9), and he belongs to the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16)

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