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Israel and the Bible
An examination of Scripture reveals concepts that Christians have not assimilated in their understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church.

The New Covenant with Israel

Many people, who have had a Christian upbringing, as I did, were probably taught about Israel and the Jewish people in the same way I was taught. Teachers in a Christian school, or a Sunday school, or in a catechism class, or maybe even at Home would say to you: "The Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, deals with the old covenant God made with Israel; the New Testament, the second part of the Bible, deals with God's new covenant made with Christians, with the Church."

And the Church said: "There is only a future for the Jewish people when they convert to Christianity … " But then came 1948.

One was given the impression that Israel had been God's chosen people until the moment that they said "no" to Jesus. And then this new people of God took their place: all those who believe in Jesus. This new people of God, the Church, is made up of everyone who believes in Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, Dutch or Chinese, white or brown or black, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman (see Ephesians 2:11-21). Everyone who believes in Jesus is welcome.

And in all of that there is truth, of course, but almost automatically the thought arose that the Jewish people, Israel, had ceased to be the chosen people of God, that God had rejected His first-born son. The Church said: "They, the Jews, rejected Jesus and are therefore no longer God's chosen people. And although it is very sad, if you want to know what happens to people who turn against God and His Anointed One, then take a look at the Jewish people. It is awful, all those centuries of persecution of the Jews but, after all, they murdered Jesus and are now are being punished by God. Didn't they themselves say, ' … Let His blood be on us and on our children?' (Matthew 27:25). Yes, it's all very sad, what has happened to the Jews, but isn't it their own fault? It's a warning to us all!"

This is how many Christian people have talked and thought, and still do today!

God is not particularly involved with the Jewish people, they say, except as they receive His punishments and judgments, while the Christian Church receives His rich blessings. "Just look," they say, "at how the Church has grown since the time when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. It has rolled back the Roman Empire from within and pushed heathen darkness further and further away in Europe. Christian civilizations have sprung up in the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, in Russia and America, in Australia and Africa, and wherever missionaries have gone. The Church is blessed, and Israel is cursed by God!"

And the Church said: "There is only a future for the Jewish people when they convert to Christianity, and then they will become part of the Church and they will more or less loose their Jewish-ness."

But then came 1948.

In 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel independent. The astonished world then saw the Lord God, as in Old Testament times, fight for His people Israel against overpowering enemies who again and again, in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, set out to destroy Israel. And the centuries old theological house of cards that the Church had built collapsed.

The Church was confronted with many questions, such as:

Is Israel 's returning to their land a fulfillment of biblical prophecy?

Is God perhaps still involved with the Jewish people, with Israel?

Is the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and with Moses and Joshua, perhaps still valid?

Does the Lord still remain faithful to those covenants?

Are there two covenants that remain simultaneously in effect? Are there two peoples of God?

Where does that leave us, the Christian Church? What is our position with God? Because, isn't it true that for the most part, Israel still does not believe in Jesus? So how can the Lord still bless them? How does it all fit together? What is the connection between the Old and the New Covenant, between the Old and the New Testament? Are there two covenants that remain simultaneously in effect? Are there two peoples of God?"

Questions like these continue to keep the Church and theologians occupied.

With whom were all the covenants actually made?

The Church has told us that the Old Covenant was made with Israel and that the New Covenant was made with the Church. How remarkable, then, that Paul, speaking about Israel, his brothers after the flesh, and summarizing all the blessings that are theirs, says that theirs are the covenants (see Romans 9:4) plural! Not just the Old Covenant, but also the covenants, plural, indicating both the Old and the New Covenant, and some other covenants as well!

Where does he get this idea about the New Covenant?

He gets it from Jeremiah 31:31–34, where the prophet says—and let's look at it again: " … The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a New Covenant [With whom? With the Church? No!] with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all will know Me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

So the New Covenant was to be made with Israel!

Music of the future?

When was this new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah made? Or does it still have to be made with the Jewish people, as some people think? Is it 'music of the future'?

Let us look at the Lord Jesus' own words at the Last Supper: " … He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way, after the supper, He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is [what?] the New Covenant (!) in My blood, which is poured out for you' (Luke22: 19-20)."

The Lord Jesus, a flesh and blood Jew, surrounded by his Jewish disciples, pointed to the signs of the new covenant. There was not a single Gentile in sight. At that moment He was establishing the New Covenant with Israel; His broken body and His poured-out blood are the signs of the New Covenant, which speaks of redemption and forgiveness of the sins of the world, the sins of Jews and non-Jews alike. It is important to note that everything up to this point has been a totally Jewish affair.

Later, at the Feast of Pentecost, only Jews and proselytes (non-Jews who had converted to Judaism and thus had become Jews) were present in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit was poured out (see Acts 2:11 ). " … Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5, 9-11). Like the Last Supper, Pentecost was a totally Jewish affair … Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—"we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

With this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon 120 (when we take the figure mentioned in Acts 1:15) of the probably over 1,000,000 million Jews who were present in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of 'Shevouoth' the New Covenant is sealed. The signs are the broken body and the spilt blood of Jesus, and through revelation by the Holy Spirit what Jesus has done for us can be applied to our lives in a very personal way. But, again, it still is an inner-Jewish affair: the New Covenant made with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.

When do we Gentiles come in?

We have to wait till Acts 10. Then the Gentile Roman centurion, Cornelius, to the utter amazement of the circumcised believers and even of Peter himself, saw the Holy Spirit poured out upon the heathens: " … While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message." The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. "For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God." Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (Acts 10:44 -47).

What a difference it would have made if Romans 11 had been read carefully and preached in the Church throughout the ages!

Upon Gentiles! The Holy Spirit upon non-Jews! From that moment on, non-Jews, Gentiles were added, engrafted.

Later, Paul starts to grasp what had happened there at the house of Cornelius, and since then everywhere among the Gentiles when the Gospel is preached and people believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. He begins to see that these people were like new branches being grafted onto the old root: " … After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more … " (Romans 11:24). They were entering into the New Covenant made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Cut off from their Gentile roots, and grafted onto the new root. What a difference it would have made if Romans 11 had been read carefully and preached in the Church throughout the ages!


We Gentiles are engrafted. We are not at the core—they are. They do not have to come to us, to the Church; God in His grace added us to them. Into their New Covenant. Engrafted. Be careful, Paul warns the Gentile Christian believers, you do not carry the root, but the root carries you: " … do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you … " (Romans 11:18).

By God's grace, you Gentiles are permitted to share in their New Covenant! Isn't that wonderful? God is our Covenant God as well! We are engrafted into a New Covenant. He will be faithful and keep His Covenant promises, despite our unfaithfulness. He is a God who elects. If He can be faithful toward a disobedient Israel and keep His promises to them, He can and will be faithful to His so often disobedient Church and keep His promises to her as well. There is hope for you and me! Despite our unfaithfulness and disobedience.

Someday in the future, God will do this for "all Israel" as well. He used the prophet Jeremiah to announce that the New Covenant would be for the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Paul is clear that once God's work of grace among the Gentiles has been completed, He will save "all Israel." Then the Deliverer will come from Zion, and He Himself will turn ungodliness away from Jacob and take away their sins (see Romans 11:25-27).

Zechariah says: " … And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication (the Holy Spirit). They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son" (Zechariah 12: 10). All Israel shall be saved!

Christian church, and Christian community, do not be arrogant, but fear!

Paul says to us: Be glad, therefore, Gentiles, that God for a time, has set aside His own Jewish people—branches were broken off (see Romans 11:19 -20) in order that you might be grafted in. But He will continue to be with Israel, He will reattach the broken off natural branches to the olive tree, because He is faithful to Himself and to His covenant(s). It will not be hard to graft these Jewish branches into their own New Covenant! Paul says: "After all, if you (Gentiles) were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these (the Jews), the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree" (Romans 11:24).

Christian church, and Christian community, do not be arrogant, but fear! Be astounded at the grace of God toward you. Note that He will remember His grace and will never neglect His faithfulness with regard to Israel . For the Jewish people are coming home! Israel is reborn as a nation! And that means that the Saviour is on His way! In His own way and in His own time, the Messiah will reveal Himself to His Jewish brothers and sisters.

Rev. Willem J.J. Glashouwer is president of Christians for Israel International.

Originally published in Israel and Christians Today, Winter/Spring 2004.




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