Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Israel: An Unbelieving People of God, Part 3 By Steve Lehrer

Israel in The New Testament

The Gospels

Beginning with the Gospels we find a New Testament pattern in which Jesus and the Apostles go first to the Jews who reject salvation and then they turn to the Gentiles. In the introduction of the Gospel of John this pattern is clearly revealed:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:11-13).

The constant emphasis in Scripture is that although the Israelites were born into the people of God by “blood” or physical descent, that does not get them into the kingdom. There is a reconstitution of the people of God moving from physical descent or those related to Abraham by blood to spiritual descent or those possessing the faith of Abraham irrespective of physical descent.

In Matthew chapter 8 when Jesus is talking to a Roman centurion, the soldier expresses his trust that Jesus has the authority to simply speak and it will be done. That is, he expressed his conviction that Jesus was God Himself. Jesus goes on to compare the faithfulness of this gentile to the unfaithfulness of Israel:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10-12).

The “sons of the kingdom” are the nation of Israel and to be “cast out into the outer darkness” is eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 22:13) given to all unbelievers who rebel against God. D.A. Carson writes concerning this passage, So the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ are the Jews, who see themselves as sons of Abraham…, belonging to the kingdom by right…But Jesus reverses roles (cf. 21:43); and the sons of the kingdom are thrown aside, left out of the future messianic banquet, consigned to darkness where there are tears and gnashing of teeth- elements common to descriptions of gehenna, hell.[3] Matthew is plain that the majority of Israelites are going to face God’s eternal judgment because they have rejected Him. In this passage Matthew clearly states that the Israelites will be replaced in the kingdom of heaven by a people who actually love God.

The Children of Abraham in Galatians

In the book of Galatians “the children of Abraham” are redefined as all those who place their trust in Jesus Christ, that is Spiritual Israel, rather than those who are simply related to Abraham by blood. The book of Galatians is written to professed believers in Asia Minor who were in danger of going back under the Mosaic law by redefining the Gospel to include both trust in Jesus and obedience to the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. So Paul begins to explain to them that they completely misunderstand the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Law. In chapter three and four he explains in some detail the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, and their relationship to one another:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith (Galatians 3:6-9).

The contrast in this passage is between law and faith. Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness. This is biblical shorthand to say that Abraham gained acceptance from God not by anything that he did, that is not by obedience to the law, but by taking God at His word. Now, we have the first mention of “sons of Abraham” in the book of Galatians in verse 7. But this definition of who the sons of Abraham are should cause us to wonder. The impression we get from Genesis 17 is that the children of Abraham are those who are physically descended from Abraham, the Jews:

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:3-8).

There is nothing in the context of Genesis to lead us to understand the descendants or seeds of Abraham to be anything other than those who are physically related to him. But now in Galatians we find that the children of Abraham are all those who are “of faith.” Make no mistake about it, this is God’s inspired interpretation of who the children of Abraham really are.

Later in the book of Galatians Paul refers to Genesis 12:7 and the Abrahamic promise:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

Now this should strike us as a very strange statement given that in Genesis 15:4-5 God tells Abraham that the promise of a seed is “plural”:

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars- if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be.”

Again we have a clear redefining of terms by God through Paul in the book of Galatians. Paul is interpreting the physical picture given in the Old Testament and showing us the Spiritual reality to which it pointed. The Abrahamic Covenant is the revealing of God’s plan to save a people. Isaac as “the seed of Abraham” is the key to the promise given to Abraham. But of course that promise extends to all of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Therefore, through Isaac the children of Abraham are as many as the stars in the sky. In the same way, God uses one seed, that is Jesus Christ, to save a Spiritual people and make them His own. Jesus Christ is the one seed that God brings into the world to save a people, and those who are united to him by faith become seeds or children of Abraham. We find this explicitly stated in Galatians chapter 3 verse 29:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.

So the children of Abraham are redefined as being all those who trust in Christ, rather than all those who are physically descended from Abraham.


As we have seen, Scripture clearly identifies the Israelites as an unbelieving people. There always has been a small remnant of believing Israelites, but they exist as the exception rather than the rule. If our theological system does not allow us to identify the Israelites as primarily unbelievers, then it is our system that needs to be retooled to agree with God’s Word.

[1] Lane, W.L., Hebrews 1-8 (Word Biblical Commentary 47a) Waco, Texas: Word books, 1991, page 83.

[2] Ibid., 84.

[3] Carson, D.A., “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary 8, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984, pages 202-203.

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