Which "Israel" Are You Talking About?

Church Family: Well, what about the Jews? Has God rejected His people (Rom. 11:1)? They were God’s chosen people, right? If you look at Israel today as a nation, they have clearly fallen away from God by rejecting Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Is this not a failure on God’s part? Why is this even important for us to understand? Because, if God has failed on His covenant promises to Israel how can we still trust Him? How can we be sure that God will not fail us too? This is the main point of Romans 9-11. Paul wants us more than anything to understand that God is still for us and nothing can separate us from His love and faithfulness (Rom. 8:31-39) even if Israel has rejected Jesus Christ, the stumbling stone (Rom. 9:32-33). These are difficult chapters. As we have been going through these chapters, it is important for the sake of clarity to stop and notice how Paul uses the term “Israel” to describe four different types of people.

1- In Romans 9:6-8, Paul uses the term “Israel” to describe the group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are the Israel “according to the promise”. He says, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." Here Israel “according to the flesh” means all ethnic Jews. Paul is differentiating ethnic Jews from the Israel “according to the promise.” Paul clarifies in Romans 11:1-6, that this faithful group of ethnic Jews, from Israel “according to the promise” is the “remnant, chosen by grace” (Rom. 11:6). Then again, Paul calls this group “the elect” (Rom. 11:7) who obtained “a righteousness based on faith” (Rom. 9:30-33).

2- Paul also uses the term “Israel” to refer to non-believing Israel who do not trust in the Lord for their righteousness. Unbelieving Israel continues to pursue a self-righteousness based on works to fulfill the law (Rom. 9:31-32; 10:21). This is the vast majority of the entire corporate nation of Israel in Paul’s day as well as ours. This unbelieving disobedient Israel exists throughout the Old Testament. Paul also refers to this group in Romans 11:1-10.

3- Paul also uses the term “Israel” to refer to the entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethnic Jews, those who trust in the Lord and those who do not (Rom. 11:2).

4- Paul also uses the term “Israel” to distinguish all of those who believe in Jesus for their righteousness, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles. This meaning is clearly implied in Romans 11:11-24, when Paul teaches about the one olive tree with both Jewish and Gentile branches. He also refers to Israel this way in Galatians 6:14-16. Paul uses the name Israel for the entire believing community that follows Christ. This Israel is the Church, spiritual Israel.

Keeping these distinct uses of the term “Israel” will help you more clearly understand the difficult chapters of Romans 9-11, which will allow the amazing promises of God to pour forth. These amazing chapters are filled with the epic story of how God is still working to fulfill HIs loving promises to His people, Jew and Gentile. Let us be about pursuing Jew and Gentile, sharing the Gospel, knowing that God has a plan for both to be brought into His Kingdom in a powerful way.

See you Sunday, as Israel #4, Steve

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