God’s Israel

In the Old Testament era, Israel was that nation of men that descended from Abraham through his sons, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 17:19; 21:9-12). Jacob was renamed “Israel” (Gen 32:28), and from Jacob came twelve sons who became patriarchs of twelve tribes, or families, of Abraham’s descendants. These families famously became known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Though the most visible component of Israel’s identity was familial and marked in the flesh with the mark of circumcision (Gen 17:10-11), from the earliest times certain foreigners sojourned among the Hebrew tribes and began following the Hebrew religion and way of life. These gentile migrants lacked the ancestral link to Abraham that the natural-born descendants possessed, but they nevertheless were permitted to be circumcised (Gen 17:11-13) and assimilated fully into the native-born people of God by way of conversion:

“If a man from another country is living with you, and has a desire to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all the males of his family undergo circumcision, and then let him come near and keep it; for he will then be as one of your people; but no one without circumcision may keep it. The law is the same for him who is an Israelite by birth and for the man from a strange country who is living with you.” (Ex 12:48-49)

Gentiles who converted to the Hebrew religion in this way and sojourned among the tribes of Israel were grafted into the people of God and given full status as true Israelites. Many such naturalized citizens existed among the members of Israel, though the natural-born sons of Abraham always comprised a majority of the citizenry.

While racial decent from Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob, “Israel”) was central to identifying the members of the Israel in Old Testament times, God made it clear that all Israelites who disobeyed His covenant would be “cut off” from among the true people of God:
“He who is born in your house…must be circumcised. My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. The uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17:13-14)

Soon it became clear that other violations of the covenant also served to “cut off” individuals from among the people of God (Lev 18:29; Num 15:30-31; Ex 12:15,19; Ex 31:14; Lev 7:20-27; Lev 23:28-30). Such a person was at that point considered a heathen and not a child of Abraham. This practice of exclusion from the covenant society continued down to Ezra’s time (Ezra 10:8) and even to Christ’s day (Jn 9:22; Jn 12:42; Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:1-2,5,11-13).

In reality, conformity to God’s covenantal commands, above all else, determined one’s status as a member of Israel. Put another way, a person’s identity with Israel was derived from and maintained by obedience—-for the natural-born citizen’s privilege as Israel could be nullified through disobedience, and the foreigner’s status as an alien of Israel could be removed through obedience.

At times the issue of obedience became paramount for the nation of Israel. Scripture records numerous apostasies by–and subsequent excommunications of–seditious sons of Abraham. Examples may be multiplied: God struck down thousands of rebellious Israelites in the wilderness (Num 14:26-45; Num 21:5-9; Num 16:1-50), though the church was preserved and led to the Promised Land (Acts 7:38-45); In Isaiah’s day, apostasy became so rampant that Israel continued to exist through a small but faithful remnant (Isa 10:22-23; Isa 1:7-9; Rom 9:27-29); In Elijah’s era, the multitude of Israelites who worshiped the false god Baal was so great that faithful Israel narrowed to a mere seven thousand men (1 Kings 19:1-18; Rom 11:2-4). Lastly, at the close of the Old Testament age, Israel was again reduced to a small remnant of faithful elect ones (Rom 11:5). The Jewish Pharisees and temple rulers grew wicked to the point of killing God’s holy Messiah and apostles (1 Thess 2:14-16), and the people wanted Caesar as king instead of Messiah, the son of David (John 19:15). Then as in times past, true Israel survived and continued on through the faithful sons, while the unfaithful apostates were “cut off” from among the people.

The severe sedition and schism that took place in Christ’s generation between the faithful sons and the disobedient brothers was not without warning. As St. Peter testified to his contemporary Jewish brethren:
“For Moses said: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him you shall hear according to all things whatsoever he shall speak to you. And it shall be, that every soul which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.And all the prophets, from Samuel and afterwards, who have spoken, have told of these days.” (Acts 3:22-24)

THIS is exactly what happened in the first century.

As Moses and Peter had forewarned, the wicked sons of Israel of that generation were dramatically cut off at the destruction of Jerusalem, at AD 66-70. The disobedient sons received many dire warnings from Jesus the Messiah:
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…you are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell? Therefore behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Amen I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not? Behold, you house shall be left to you, desolate” (Matt 23:29,33-38)

Again the Messiah predicted the imminent destruction of the rebellious sons:
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

As a testimony to God’s providential care for his faithful remnant, the obedient sons of Abraham were miraculously spared and protected while the wicked sons were judged and destroyed from among the people. Addressing his beloved apostles and followers, Jesus said:
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles” (Luke 21:20-22).

Once the faithful nation of God’s elect were miraculously protected, the doom predicted for wicked brothers would commence. As Jesus forewarned:
“When therefore the Lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do unto those vine-growers? They said unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will rent out his vineyard unto other vine-growers, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus said unto them, Did you never read in the scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?’ Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.” (Mt 21:40-45)

And so true Israel—the sons of Abraham who followed the Messiah, as manifested by Providence and by history—was again preserved during a time of national apostasy and tribulation. As was the case in former times with Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah, countless apostates were cut off from among the people. But God’s elect Israel, the faithful remnant, triumphed and continued on, spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God to the entire world, in and through the Jewish Church.

Israel survived in the sect of the Nazarenes. They received with joy their promised New Covenant and obediently rejected all former biases against the non-Abrahamic families of earth so that Genesis 12:3 might finally be attained (Gal 3:7-9/Rom 4:13-18)—via the work of the Jewish Messiah. This sole surviving form of covenant Judaism is known worldwide as Christianity, the Jewish church gone global. The church always was the covenanted Israel, the church continues to be the covenanted Israel. The only difference is that the NEW covenant of Israel enabled Jewish fullness to be bestowed upon gentile people groups (Gen 12:3).