Is the Church Spiritual Israel?
By Let Us Reason Ministries
We now come to something that is crucial and needs to be defined to understand the new covenant. Is the Church Israel? For if it is, we are obligated to keep Sabbath day at least in a general sense. If the Church is not Israel then what sense would there be to keep the Sabbath. In the Scripture we find the Church is not Israel the nation, but a separate entity under an entirely new covenant. Israel is called the wife of Jehovah in the Old Testament, while the Church is called the bride of Christ in the New Testament. This shows distinctions in how God relates to each, and how each group is related to God. The word Israel is always descriptive of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was Jacob whose name was changed to Israel and had 12 sons that became the nation of Israel. It is the physical posterity of Jacob that is Israel, this is what makes one Jewish.
Many transfer the promises and the covenants of Israel to the Church, but there is absolutely no reason to do this. The Church is not spiritual Israel. Look up this phrase; you’ll never find the term or concept in the Bible. There are only two verses that are used to validate this view, both are unsupported when they are read in their full context.
There was no Church in the Old Testament because there was no incarnation, no revelation of the Son, nor his sacrifice that broke down the middle wall of partition that separated the Jews from the Gentiles (Eph.2:14). For the Church is made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles, not so for Israel.
Gal.3:29 says that those who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed. The seed of Abraham does not mean one is Israel. It means those who are justified by faith are spiritual descendants of Abraham but this does not make them descendants of Jacob, who is Israel. They partake in the spiritual blessings that come through Israel. While there are two different groups of people who can be descendants of Abraham one of which is the Arabs, they do not share in the promises of Jacob. Only Israel is descended from the physical posterity of Jacob. God had specially promised to Israel salvation and the believing Jews received it through the gospel. But Paul explains that not all the natural descendants of Jacob were embraced in this “Israel;” for that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). As Paul already declared in an earlier chapter: “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28, 29). The seed which is Israel is from Jacob and the apostle and other writers make a clear distinction between this and Abraham’s seed.
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel” ( Rom. 10:16). They have not all responded to God’s call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This is foretold by Isaiah, who is quoted by Paul in Rom. 9:27; that only a remnant of the natural descendants of Jacob would obtain the salvation of God. “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the remnant hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7).
Gal. 3:7 “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Being a son of Abraham does not make one a Jew, being a son of Jacob does, so a gentile can be a son of Abraham. But Jew’s are a son of Abraham and of Jacob.
As Paul stated in Rom. 4:11-16, the children of Abraham, are those who have the faith of Abraham, whether by their natural birth they were Jews or Gentiles. This is detailed in Galatians 3 and 4; Gal. 3:26 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” both Jews and Gentiles are spiritual brethren in the body of Christ.” The apostle says, to Gentile believers: “And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). So those who accept the Gospel both Jews and Gentiles are of Abraham’s seed, but only those who are physically Israel are from Jacobs seed.
The other verse is Gal.6:16 where Paul is addressing both believing Jews and Gentiles in the church “As many as walk according to this rule (Gentile believers) and upon “the Israel of God.” This can be made clear by the preceding verses v.12-13 where Paul is tackling the topic of circumcision and the Jews influence to have the gentiles circumcised. He then tells us the mandatory rite of the Abrahamic covenant is not applicable to the believer but it is the cross that is necessary to make a new creation. In its context this term means Jews who are believers, who believe salvation is by faith in Christ contrary to what the Judaizer’s were teaching that the law was needed also. Those (Jews) who obey this are the Israel of God (the remnant). Paul also addresses this in Rom.9:6-8 that there are two Israel’s, one that consists of Jews and the elect, the true Israel which are the physical posterity and also have the faith of Abraham, they are the Israel of God mentioned in Gal.6. As Paul states, ” for they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom.9:6). There is also “Israel” after the flesh found in 1 Cor.10:18. The Church is never called spiritual Israel or is a new Israel replacing the old. Nor does it say believers become Jews. Both gentiles and Jews participate together in the New Covenant. as Eph. 2 addresses the middle wall of partition being broken down and God making a new entity. The church is neither Jew or Gentile but consists of both. The two put together make one “new man,” a third entity that is not Israel nor gentile. The word Israel is used 73 times in the New Testament, not once is it used for the Church.
Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Notice that the whole chapter is addressing the Jews. Within Paul’s theme of the book of Romans he addresses mankind that can be outlined in 3 portions. The whole world is under condemnation of sin1:18-3:30; then he addresses the Gentiles 1:18-2:16; He addresses the Jews 2:17-3:20.
According to Paul’s specific aim in this portion of the letter, not all the descendants from Jacob are Israel; as he states on 9:6 “They are not all Israel who are Israel.” Not all who are named Jews are truly Jews, the true Israel of God (the Jews) are those who believe in the Messiah. Rom.2:17- 20 starts with the greater responsibility the Jews have. He points to the law that was not given to the Gentiles but the nation of Israel, and they have the responsibility of knowing God.
It never says anything about a gentile being a spiritual Jew but is explaining that one is really Jewish not by the keeping of the law, but having a born again experience. Paul is directing the teaching of the promised new covenant specifically to the Jews who believe, although the Gentiles are included. Paul is not teaching Gentiles become spiritual Jews but not all Jews are true Jews. There are Jews who believe and the Jews who are in unbelief. Just as it is put in other areas of a remnant among Israel, the true believers and a non-remnant, believing Israel as the Israel of God.
A believing Gentile becomes a spiritual son of Abraham which is an inheritor of the spiritual blessings God promised to the Jews, they are grafted into the covenant he made with Israel.
As for Israel, the Jews, Jer.30:18, 31:8 “Behold I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the ends of the earth.”
Isa.43:5 “I will bring your descendants from the east and gather you from the west…”
It is a nation that is being gathered today for the tribulation in their original homeland Israel, they are gathered first in unbelief until that fateful day where in Romans 11 Paul says they will all be saved, after the fullness of the gentiles has come in. The Church (made up of both Jews and Gentiles) and is dealt with differently than the nation of Israel, God obviously has a different plan for both.