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The Israel of God (1f)

The Israel of God - Part 1, #6

In Galatians 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). How so? The Old Testament people of God (elect Israel) was a child, who, although the heir of God's promises, was in her minority, and could not receive the promises until the time of her maturity. During her minority period (legally as a child) she was under the law (a schoolmaster, 3:24; tutors and governors, 4:2). With the coming of Jesus Christ the same minor child (elect Israel) matures into the church of Jesus Christ. The church does not replace or supersede Israel: the church is Israel in her maturity, having thrown off the yoke of the law, and having entered into the enjoyment of her inheritance. That is why, for example, elect Israel in the Old Testament did not enjoy the fullness of the Spirit and many other blessings purchased by Jesus Christ and poured out upon His people from His exalted position at God's Right Hand (see Acts 2:33).  

Later in the same chapter Paul uses an allegory to illustrate a spiritual truth. In Paul's 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 to 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. These are the ones "born after the flesh" (v. 29) who persecute the true children of God. These are the children of the bondwoman, Hagar (vv. 30-31) who are "cast out" (v. 30). Second, there is "Jerusalem which is above" and she is "free, which is the mother of us all" (v 26). The heavenly, spiritual, true Jerusalem of above 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! (v. 31).

Thus Paul identifies as the children of Abraham, the children of Jerusalem, the children of the free all those (and those only) who believe in Jesus Christ. All others, even if they have an impeccable ethnically Jewish pedigree, are cast out as children of the flesh, not counted for the seed.

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 speaks 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 in this letter. In Christ circumcision is nothing (v. 15; see also v. 6, as well as 2:11-21). As many as walk according to that rule 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 denied the blessing of God. Thus there is no blessing for the Judaizers, but the anathema or curse (1:8-9; 3:10, etc).  

Now, what about the Israel of God? If Paul meant unbelieving 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) the church, that is, the body of believers made up of Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the phrase "and the Israel of God" is a further explanation of "as many as walk according to this rule" and could be translated, "even the Israel of God" (the Greek word kai can mean "and" or "even" in the NT).                                                                                                       To be continued ….

Last modified on 16 March 2014
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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.


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