The name Israel was first bestowed on the patriarch Jacob after he had wrestled with the angel and prevailed. Consequently the angel, who was in fact God, said to Jacob: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen 32:28). (Israel means a “prince” or “one who prevails with God”).
The name “Israel” was thus also given to the offspring of Jacob: “Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt….Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher….Joseph” (Ex 1:1-5). So the descendants of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, were known as the twelve tribes of Israel.
This entailed certain special blessings and great privileges conferred on the Israelites. “…Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom 9:4-5).
The True Israel
The TRUE Israel or seed of Abraham must come through Isaac, Abraham’s son. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom 9:6-8).
John the Baptist rebuked and warned the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptisms, saying to them: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt 3:7-9).
So what determines whether one is a child of Abraham? Paul answers that question: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal 3:7).
It was because of unbelief that many of the Israelites fell in the wilderness, and were not permitted to enter the Promised Land. “For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:16-19).
But true faith must be in Jesus, the Son of God in his divinity and seed of Abraham in his humanity: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29).
Only Christians, then, are recognised by God as Israel. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…..ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar [separated] people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet 2:5, 9-10).
So we see that Israel is not saved just because they are Jews. Salvation is by faith in Jesus, the true seed of Abraham: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).
On one occasion, for example, a woman of Canaan, a Gentile, came to Christ, beseeching Him to heal her daughter: “But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24).
When she persisted in her request, and fell down to worship Him, “…he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt 15:26-28). Thus, by her persistent faith, this woman, although a Canaanite, showed that she was really a true child of Abraham.
Likewise, while dining with a tax collector named Zacchaeus who had earlier demonstrated faith in him, Jesus said: “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:9-10). Whether or not Zacchaeus was a physical descendant of Abraham we’re not told (he most likely was), and it is irrelevant, because he became a true Jew by his faith in Christ.
Modern “Christian Zionists”, such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and many others like them, literally refuse to preach the Gospel to the Jews because, they say, the Jews are already God’s people by virtue of their being the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac. But, contrary to this false gospel, Jesus sent the apostles to preach the gospel of salvation to national, physical, Israel. Israel needs the gospel every bit as much as the Gentiles; but Israel was to receive the gospel before the Gentiles.
“These twelve sent Jesus forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:5-6).
And as he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ last instruction on earth was reiterated to the assembled Church: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
National Israel Has Rejected Christ
When the Jews rejected Paul’s preaching of the gospel, we’re told: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
It’s clear that had not the Jews as a nation rejected Christ, they would still have maintained their intended position as God’s holy nation and children of God, and as God’s light-bearers to the world. But on account of this rejection, they were rejected as God’s special and particular people, and others took their place. This new people (the Gentiles) now, as spiritual Israel, bear the name of Israel in common with those who were first called by that name, i.e. national Israel.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Jn 1:10-11).
When Jesus told the parable of the tenants (Matt 21:28-45), the Pharisees understood that Israel was the subject of it. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them” (21:45). Indeed, when Jesus asked them what the owner of the vineyard would do because the tenants killed the owner’s Son, they replied: “He will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons” (21:41). And Jesus confirmed their statement: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (21:43).
And in the same discourse, in Matthew chapter 22, Jesus said the same things in a similar way with another parable; and he spoke of the anger of the offended king against those who made light of, and rejected, his invitation to the wedding of his Son, and who had killed the king’s servants; and he said: “But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (22:7); and the king sent his servants out to bring in all and sundry to the wedding. Clearly, this refers to the Jews’ rejection and murder of Christ and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem and the nation by the Roman legions in 70 AD; and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the assembled believers in Jerusalem, and the spread of the gospel with great power.
The New Israel
And the Church was born. Peter, as I showed above, referred to the Church as the new Israel, attributing to the Church all the names by which national Israel was called (1 Pet 2:5-10).
Paul says of the Church, that it is “…the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
And he states its pre-eminence in the economy of God for all time: “….To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord…..Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph 3:10, 21).
Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, also tells us that “the commonwealth of Israel” and the Gentiles now constitute the one people of God: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us: Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace….Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:13-15, 19-22).
Another figure that Paul uses to show the amalgamation of national Israel and the Church to become one new Israel is an olive tree. “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches…. because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith….And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again….blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved…” (Rom 11:17-18, 20, 23, 25-26).
In the light of all this, then, how can anyone insist that the Church will be raptured away and Israel left behind; and that Jesus will reign from a new Jerusalem as the centre of an earthly Davidic empire, with a new temple, with animal sacrifices performed by a Levitical priesthood, and with the whole Levitical law reinstituted, and that for a thousand years?
The New Jerusalem
The present heavens and earth are to be destroyed by fire (2 Pet 2:7-10; Rev 21:1). John the apostle, in a vision, said: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth….And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God….And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel….And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:1-3, 12, 14). “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it” (Rev 21:24).
“This city, the New Jerusalem, will be for all the nations of the saved; and yet all who enter therein will enter through the gates on which are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, from which it is evident that all who are saved will belong to Israel. The name Israel will be perpetuated in the new earth state, and very appropriately so, because of its meaning. All who share in that future home of the saved will be overcomers – princes and prevailers with God (Rev 3:12; 21:7). Christ recognized this division of the saved into twelve nations, in selecting His apostles. He chose twelve. He recognized it again when to the twelve He said: “Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). And the apostles, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, themselves recognized it, when, to fill the place of Judas, who fell, they appointed another, in order to preserve the proper number, twelve.” (“Bible Readings for the Home Circle”, New, Revised, and Enlarged Edition, undated, published by The Stanborough Press Ltd., Watford, Herts, UK.)