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The Bible and Israel (4)

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This article first appeared as a blog post on the Reformed Free Publishing Association's website and is part of a series on this subject by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor laboring with the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in the Republic of Ireland.

The Bible and Israel (4)

The purpose of these blog posts is to identify the true, chosen people of God—are the people of God the modern nation of Israel, or is it the church? We have seen already that believers in Christ, and therefore not unbelieving ethnic Jews, are the true children of Abraham.

Next we turn to the epistle to the Galatians. In Galatians 3, having proved that Abraham was justified through faith in exactly the same way as believers in all ages, Paul declares, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham…so then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (vv. 7, 9). On the other hand, the unbelieving Jews and Judaizers (and all those today, whether Jew or Gentile, who teach and believe in justification by works) are under the curse (v. 10), from which curse Christ has redeemed us (v. 13). Thus, “the blessing of Abraham [has come] on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (v. 14). 

Notice that—the blessing of Abraham has come upon the (believing) Gentiles, while the curse of the law rests upon unbelieving ethnic Jews (and Gentiles)!

Verse 16 is pivotal. To whom was the promise of Abraham made, and what was the promise? Consider these texts: “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7); “all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:15); "unto thy seed have I given this land” (Gen. 15:18); “and I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:7-8).

Did you notice the recurring word “seed” and the fact that “seed” is singular, not plural? Shamefully, modern translators of the Bible have obscured this truth by translating “seed” as “descendants.” But God does not make promises to Abraham’s descendants; he makes promises to Abraham’s seed. The fact that God makes promises to Abraham's “seed” and not to his descendants is highly significant, for it identifies for us the ones to whom God's promises are made.

God never promised anything to the mere physical descendants of Abraham, but to Abraham's seed. In Galatians 3:16 Paul identifies Abraham's seed: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Furthermore, Paul identifies the seed of Abraham as those Jews and Gentiles (and there is no difference any longer, according to verse 28) who belong to, and believe in, Jesus Christ: “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Do you see how earth-shattering and yet how wonderfully blessed that is? Paul explains it further in Ephesians 2-3. The Gentiles in Ephesus had, before their conversion, been “without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But now, because of what Christ had done in His life, death, and resurrection, “ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). Paul's conclusion is this: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (vv. 19-20).

In the Old Testament, Gentiles were outside, but there was a way in which a Gentile could inherit the promises of God’s covenant—he became a Jew, and if he was a male, he was circumcised. This happened to Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah the Hittite, for example. Therefore, the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s covenant is in itself nothing new. The “new” aspect in which Paul rejoices, and which Paul calls the mystery, is that Gentiles are equal with the Jews through faith in Christ. They no longer have to become Jews—they are equally God’s children as Gentiles. Paul explains this “mystery” in Ephesians 3: “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (vv. 4-6). Notice those words—a “fellow heir” is one who receives the same inheritance as all the other heirs; “a member of the same body” (or a “co-member”) is one who partakes of the same blessings as the other members; and a “partaker” is a co-partaker, for he shares in exactly the same promise as the Jews. By using this language, Paul means to nullify in the minds of his readers any notion of a difference between (believing) Jews and (believing) Gentiles. Unbelieving Jews, however, have no inheritance, neither an earthly nor a heavenly inheritance; they are outside the body; and they receive none of God’s promises.

In Galatians 3-4, Paul teaches that the Old Testament people of God (elect Israel) is essentially the same people as the New Testament church (consisting of elect Jews and Gentiles in one body). The apostle does this by means of an illustration in which he compares a child with a mature adult. The Old Testament people of God (elect Israel) was a child, who, although she was the heir of God's promises, was in her minority, and could not receive the promises until the time of her maturity (see Galatians 4:1). During her minority period (when she was legally a child) she was under the law, which acted as a schoolmaster (3:24), a tutor, and a governor (4:2). Such schoolmasters were not mere teachers in a schoolroom—they were appointed by the father of the child to control the child’s life down to the slightest detail. The father gave the schoolmasters, tutors, and governors authority to legislate for the child, to determine her diet and clothing, to determine her religious and moral life, and even to punish her for disobedience. That is how we must understand the Old Testament law—the law determined Israel’s life, so that she was hemmed in on every side by precepts and ordinances: “But before faith came—that is, before the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, came—we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Gal. 3:23).

Parents understand this. When your child is a two-year old, you determine their every move—you decide what they eat; you decide what they wear; you decide when they go to bed; you decide where they go; you protect them with barriers. But when a child matures, you give the child—for example, an older teenager—greater freedom: he determines his own schedule; he makes his own meals; he does his own laundry; he uses the car, and perhaps has his own car, for example. With freedom comes responsibility, however.

That is exactly Paul’s point. Old Testament Israel was a child kept under the law until she entered her maturity at the coming of Jesus Christ. When Christ suffered and died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and, crucially, poured out His Holy Spirit, He brought Old Testament Israel into the enjoyment of her inheritance. She no longer needs food laws, clothing laws, laws concerning sacrifices and other ceremonies, circumcision, and the temple, for she has the Spirit, the gospel, and the blood of Christ. Those laws that kept her distinctively “Jewish” pass away, never to return, because in her maturity she becomes the church of Jesus Christ made up of elect, believing Jews and Gentiles. Notice, however, when your two-year old grows up and becomes an eighteen year old, he matures—but he is essentially the same person. He is not a replacement person! Similarly, when Old Testament Israel grew up, entered her maturity, and became a free child of God, she was not replaced. The New Testament church of Jesus Christ is the same entity as the Old Testament people of God. Therefore, the church does not replace or supersede Israel (replacement theology or supersessionism), but the church is Israel—Israel in her maturity, Israel without the intolerable yoke of the law, Israel with the Holy Spirit! Therefore, the church must never seek to go back to her minority days—as if a teenager would go back to diapers—for she no longer observes the Old Testament restrictive ceremonial law. We do not keep the Old Testament feats; we do not observe Old Testament dietary restrictions; and we do not seek to be circumcised, for example (4:9-10).

The apostle is not finished, however, for he intends to explain who our spiritual mother is, namely “the Jerusalem which is above.” To that we turn next time, DV.

Last modified on 07 April 2018
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McGeown, Martyn

Rev. Martyn McGeown

Ordained: 2010

Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.

Website: www.limerickreformed.com/

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