Israel – Part 4
We continue our study of end time prophecies and Israel in ‘End Time Delusions’:
Beware of the half truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half. –Author Unknown
Have you ever been hit so hard on the head you started seeing double? From what I have studied, the Christian world needs a compassionate bonk on the head with the truth of the New Testament. Then more Christians would start seeing double about the subject of Israel. According to Paul, there are two Israels. The proof? The Jewish apostle wrote, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). In this chapter, we will discover that there is an “Israel after the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18) and an “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), composed of both Jews and Gentiles who have personal faith in Jesus Christ, God’s true Messiah.
Paul wrote, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-7). Paul’s argument is that because Abraham was a man of faith, only those who have faith are his spiritual children. We might call this the concept of “faith lineage”. This truth is like a key that can open a lock in our heads. Once the lock is open we can understand the shocking principle of two Israels.
John the Baptist understood and boldly preached “faith lineage”. When a group of tricky Pharisees and Sadducees came to question John’s right to baptize, the wilderness prophet astonished them by shouting, “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:9-10).
Those Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t have real faith like Abraham did, yet they claimed to be his children. John the Baptist exposed this delusion. “Don’t think that!” he thundered. John then laid the “ax” to the root of the trees by saying that if they didn’t bear “good fruit” through faith in God like Abraham did, they would be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (verse 10). Clearly natural lineage alone is not enough. Without faith and a spiritual connection with the Almighty, those Jews were doomed.
Jesus Christ taught the same truth. A certain group of Jewish people once said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus responded, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). They also claimed to be Abraham’s children, but they lacked true faith. By saying, “If you were Abraham’s children,” Jesus denied their claim. Christ continued, “But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father” (John 8:40-41).
“We have one Father – God,” they countered. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me….You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:41-42, 44).
What an atomic text! Jesus was talking to some Jewish people who claimed to be Israelites, the children of Abraham, yet they were only following God outwardly, not in heart. Jesus said they weren’t really Abraham’s children at all because they lacked true faith and were following lies. Their lineage actually went back to satan, the first liar. Soon we will separate God’s truth from satan’s lies when we look at what Revelation really teaches about Israel, the 144,000, Mystery Babylon and Armageddon.
Jesus Christ also taught “faith lineage” in John chapter 1. A spiritually-minded Jew named Nathanael was wondering whether Jesus of Nazareth was really his Messiah. Retiring to a favorite spot under a fig tree, he prayed about the matter. Soon a friend introduced him to the Savior. When Jesus saw Nathanael, He joyfully declared, ”Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (John 1:47).
Nathanael had a natural lineage that went back to Abraham. Yet he had more. In his spiritual life, he had gained victories over guile, which means deception. When Jesus discerned Nathanael’s spiritual lineage to Abraham and Jacob, He called him “an Israelite indeed.” Just as Jacob himself had become a spiritual Israel, even so had Nathanael become “an Israelite indeed.” He was part of God’s true spiritual Israel.
Just as there are two Israels, even so are there two kinds of Jews. There are Jewish people in the flesh and Jewish people in the Spirit. In words of warning to certain Jews who were breaking the Ten Commandments, Paul wrote, ”Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God….For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man (a Gentile) keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?….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” (Romans 2:17, 25-26, 28-29).
Did you catch that? Someone who is “called a Jew” because he is a physical descendant of Abraham, and yet who lives as a lawbreaker, is “not a Jew”. His “circumcision has become uncircumcision”. To God, he is a Gentile. And the believing Gentile, who through faith keeps “the righteous requirements of the law,” his uncircumcision is “counted as circumcision”. To God, he is a Jew. Thus John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and Paul all agree – natural lineage is not enough. Whether or not someone is “an Israelite indeed” depends upon one’s faith and spiritual character. Paul summarized, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Anyone today can become one of these “Jews”, no matter who their earthly parents are.
These concepts of “faith lineage”, Jews being counted as Gentiles, and vice versa, lead us to one of the biggest issues facing the prophecy-minded Christian world. This issue is at the core of prophetic interpretation. In it, we are faced with two options. One is the truth, the other a lie. One leads to Heaven and the other, possibly, to hell.
The big question is, “What about the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament?” If we conclude those promises must be fulfilled to “Israel after the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18), then we must conclude that Jerusalem and the modern Jewish nation will eventually become the epicenter of the final battle of Armageddon. But if we conclude that those promises can legitimately be fulfilled to God’s Israel in the Spirit, then we must re-study the Book of Revelation to discover how its end time prophecies apply to true Christians – Jewish or Gentile – who love Jesus the Messiah with all their hearts.
Paul deals with this explosive issue in Romans 9:2-8. His words require careful thought. Sorrowfully, Paul wrote about his Jewish “countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (verses 2-4). God did make promises to Israel in the Old Testament. Yet what if some Jews do not have true faith in Him? Can God fulfill His promises to an unbelieving Israel after the flesh? If not, has His Word failed?
Paul’s answer to these important questions is vital: “Not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (verse 6). Notice that the truth of two Israels is Paul’s assurance that God’s Word will not fail. Look carefully: “They are not all Israel [the Israel of God] who are of Israel [of the Jewish nation].” Thus a Jew can be of the Jewish nation, and yet not be part of the Israel of God. Now here’s the explosive question: To which Israel will God fulfill His promises?
Paul continues, “Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham: but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called’” (verse 7). Since not all physical descendants of Abraham are automatically God’s true children, therefore His promises are for those “in Isaac”. Abraham had two sons. The first was Ishmael, who was born after the flesh. The second was Isaac, who was born when Abraham had faith in God’s promise (see Genesis 16:1-3, 15;21:1-3; Romans 4:18-21). In Galatians 4:22-31, Paul shockingly reveals that Ishmael represents unbelieving Jews, while Isaac represents Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ! “Now we, brethren [as believers in Christ], as Isaac was, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:28). The “children of promise” are those who “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). Therefore, the Israel that is “in Isaac” is the Israel of God in the Holy Spirit. Paul concludes, “That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” (Romans 9:8, emphasis added). “Counted as the seed” means that, although some may be Gentiles, they’re in.
Here is an eight point summary of Paul’s rather detailed reasoning:
1. God made promises to Abraham and his seed (Galatians 3:16).
2. Abraham’s seed would continue “in Isaac” (Romans 9:7).
3. Isaac was born when Abraham had faith in God’s promise (Romans 4:19-21).
4. Isaac represents everyone who believes in Jesus and who receives the promise of the Holy Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:14; 4:22-28).
5. All who have faith in Jesus Christ – Jews or Gentiles – “are counted as the seed” (Galatians 3:14; Romans 9:8; 10:12).
6. This seed is “the Israel of God” in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16, 29; 6:14-16).
7. God will fulfill His promises to this Israel (Galatians 3:29; 4:28; 6:14-16).
8. Thus God’s promises to Israel have not been made of “no effect”, even though some Jewish people don’t believe in their own Messiah (Romans 9:6-8).
Here we have the answer to the issue that means so much in prophetic interpretation. The Bible is clear. God will fulfill His Old Testament promises to those “in Isaac”, that is, to any human being who follows Abraham’s example and who becomes part of His Israel in the Spirit through faith in the Messiah. Thus the issue is not race, bloodline, genealogy, or ethnicity, but personal faith – a faith available to all (see Romans 10:12). Those who are only “the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” (Romans 9:8). We should not expect God to fulfill His promises to unbelieving Israelites of the flesh (or to lips-only Christians of the flesh for that matter), unless, of course, they individually become true believers in the Messiah.
Let’s look at one more controversial section before we close this chapter. What about Paul’s question, “Has God cast away His people?” (Romans 11:1) These words are being quoted around the world to prove that God has not cast away any Israelites of the flesh. How can we explain this? First of all, the same chapter does describe “the casting away” of some Jewish people who don’t believe (verse 15). Second, notice Paul’s answer to his own question: “Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham.” Thus Paul uses himself as an example to prove that God has not “cast away His people”. Who are “His people”?
In the next three verses, Paul refers to Israel’s apostasy in the days of Elijah. God told His prophet, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (verse 4). In Elijah’s time there were also two Israels. One followed Baal, the other followed God. Then Paul made this pointed application. “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (verse 5). Just as in Elijah’s time there was a faithful remnant of Israel, even so in Paul’s time there was also a faithful remnant of believing Jews, who, like himself, had been saved by grace. Based on the context of Romans 11:1-5, it is this faithful remnant of Israel, made up of Jews like Paul, which God has certainly not “cast away”.
Soon we will see this exact issue in the Book of Revelation. As in the days of Elijah, we are now in the midst of a terrible apostasy. Yet today God has His ‘seven thousand’ who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. They are His faithful remnant, His Israel in the Holy Spirit, who rely on God’s power instead of their flesh. Like Elijah, they will be on the side o