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 (5)
Having proven that the church is the same entity as Israel, the main difference being the spiritual maturity (or majority) of the former and the spiritual immaturity (or minority) of the latter (Gal. 3-4), the apostle Paul addresses the issue of motherhood—who is the spiritual mother of the believer, whether Jew or Gentile; and who is the spiritual mother of the unbelieving, carnal Jew?
Paul uses an allegory to illustrate this spiritual truth in Galatians 4, in which allegory there are two covenants, two Jerusalems, two mountains, and two kinds of sons of Abraham. First, there is “the Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children” (v. 25). This refers to unbelieving Judaism, whether in Paul's day, or in the modern state of Israel, and it refers to all persons (whether Jews or Gentiles) who seek salvation in the law of God and not through faith alone. A large number of members of the visible church, including the reprobate among the baptized children of believers in true churches, are offspring of the “Jerusalem which now is.” They are, to use Paul’s language, “in bondage,” that is, in the spiritual bondage of sin and death. They are “born after the flesh” (v. 23; see Romans 9:6-8) and, therefore, persecute the true children of God, who are born “after the Spirit” (v. 29). Even today, adherents of false religion persecute God’s children: thus they follow in the footsteps of their spiritual father Ishmael, and not in the footsteps of Isaac. These children of the bondwoman Hagar (vv. 30-31) are, like Hagar and Ishmael, “cast out” (v. 30). When Israel rejected Christ, there was a great casting out of the children of Hagar, and great gathering in of the children of Sarah.
Second, there is “Jerusalem which is above:” she is “free, which is the mother of us all” (v. 26). This heavenly, spiritual, true Jerusalem gives birth to children who are “the children of promise” (v. 28). We (that is, all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of ethnicity) are children of the free Jerusalem, not children of the Jerusalem in bondage (v. 31). There are echoes here of Psalm 87, in which Psalm we sing, “And of Zion it shall be said, this and this man was born in her” (Ps. 87:5). In Zion are born not only Jews, but also Gentiles—Rahab (Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia: “this man was born there” (v. 4). “The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah” (v. 6).
Have you been born in Zion—not in earthly Jerusalem, but in the heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem? If you have, you enjoy all the blessings of Zion, God’s covenant fellowship, the promise of a rich inheritance, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, even if you can trace your lineage back to Benjamin himself, and even if you are a baptized member of a true church, you were not born in Zion—and you are a stranger to all the blessings of God. Instead, you are still in bondage to sin and death with the earthly Jerusalem and her children.
John develops this idea also in Revelation, where he identifies Jerusalem with the church. In Revelation 3:12 Christ commands John to write about “the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down from heaven.” That Jerusalem is the church, which becomes clear in chapter 21: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband” (v. 2). The bridal imagery immediately reminds the reader of the church in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere. John becomes explicit in verse 9, “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” What does John see—Jerusalem! “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10). The Lamb’s wife is the church; the church is the city of Jerusalem—the true, heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem, and our spiritual mother.
Paul has one more thing to say before he closes his epistle to the Galatians: “and as many as walk according to this rule, peace upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). What does Paul mean (and more importantly what does the Holy Spirit mean) by “the Israel of God” here? To answer that, we need to examine the text carefully. First, Paul pronounces a benediction (a blessing of peace and mercy) upon “as many as walk according to this rule.” The word “rule” is canon, which is a rule, standard or measuring rod. The immediate context, as well as the argument of the entire letter, demands that the rule be that of making no distinction in the church between believing Jew and Gentile, a rule which Paul defends vigorously in this letter. The rule is this great truth, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (v. 15); the rule is the conviction not to glory in anything except the cross of Christ (v. 14). Believers walk according to that rule, while the Judaizers, who glory in the flesh (v. 13), walk contrary to it.
Those who walk according to that rule, therefore, are partakers of the apostolic blessing of peace and mercy. All those who walk against that rule, by making in the church a distinction between Jew and Gentile, are strangers to the blessing of God, and partakers of his curse (1:8-9; 3:10, etc.).
Now, what about the Israel of God? If Paul meant to bless unbelieving, carnal, earthly Israel, as she existed as a nation in his day, he would be violating his own rule. How could Paul pronounce the apostolic blessing of peace and mercy upon unbelieving Israel? The meaning is clear: the Israel of God is (as we have seen in studying many passages of this epistle) the church. The Israel of God is the body of believers made up of Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the phrase “and the Israel of God” is simply a further explanation of the phrase “as many as walk according to this rule” and could be translated, as the Greek word kai is often translated, “even the Israel of God.”
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and thus you walk according to this rule, God’s peace and mercy rest upon you, for you—and not the carnal, unbelieving, secular nation of Israel—belong to the Israel of God. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, but you trust in your own works to be all or part of your righteousness before God, you are under the curse of the law: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22).
To this there remains an objection—does not the word of God state that Israel is a nation forever? How then can the Christian reject the modern nation of Israel? To that we turn next time, D.V.
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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