(Re)new(ed) Israel In Christ

One of the trickiest, and controversial, topics of New Testament studies is the relationship between the New Covenant church and the Old Covenant people of Yahweh. Are they the same? Are they different? Does the former replace the latter? Here Russell Moore, in The Kingdom of Christ, tackles this hot topic in a way that, to my mind, does justice to the various ways the New Testament speaks of the corporate body of believers united in the Messiah, Jesus:

The “adoption” means that the Gentiles are joint-heirs-with the One who is the true Israel, the “firstborn” of God (Rom. 8:17, 29, KJV). It is not that God has “natural” sons-the Jews-and “adopted” sons-the Gentiles. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles find their identity in being conformed to the image of the Messiah, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29, ESV)… Thus, the New Testament applies to Jesus language previously applied to the nation-the “firstborn” or the “son of God” (Ex. 4:22-23; Matt. 2:15). The first “Israel” himself, the patriarch Jacob, promises preeminence and rule to a tribe of Israel, Judah (Gen. 49:4, 9-12). The apostle Paul applies this language explicitly to Jesus (Col. 1:18). This emphasis is more than incidental or fragmentary. The identification of Jesus with Israel-as her king, her substitute, and her goal-is everywhere throughout the apostolic understanding of the Old Testament promise. When the apostles speak of “promises” being fulfilled (as in, for example, the sermon in Acts 13), they are not speaking of abstract heavenly comforts. They are speaking specifically of promises made to Abraham and the nation of Israel. The old covenant looked forward to the day when the nations would see the vindication of Israel, through Israel’s resurrection from the dead and anointing with the Spirit (Ezek. 36:33-36). “My dwelling place will be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” Yahweh speaks through the prophet Ezekiel. “Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forever” (Ezek. 37:27-28, ESV). Israel, therefore, did not just long for a “Messiah.” The Israelites longed for a Messiah who would reign over a messianic age, the day when the nations would come to Israel (Isa. 60:1-14), when the ends of the earth would be given as an inheritance to the Son of David (Ps. 2:8-9; 110: 1 -7). They were waiting for the resurrection of Israel, the marking out of Israel by the Spirit, the drawing of the nations to Israel. They were waiting, in short, for the Kingdom of God.

This is why the apostles inquire of the resurrected Jesus as to whether this was the time when He would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6, ESV). Jesus answers their question by speaking of the power of the Spirit and the global task of the Great Commission (Acts 1:7-8). He was not changing the subject. He is the “Immanuel,” the temple presence of God with the people (Matt. 1:23; John 1:14; 2:19-21). Israel is indeed raised from the dead, but there is only one empty tomb. All who will be raised from death must he raised “in Him” (Rom. 6:3-10). The nations are indeed drawn to Israel, but they are drawn not to a geographic temple but to an Israelite man who, when lifted up, draws all the peoples to Himself (Matt. 2:1-11; John 12:20, 32). Israel is indeed anointed with the messianic Spirit, but only one Israelite receives the Spirit-and pours the promise out then upon all who are “in Him.” This is the reason Paul’s polemic against Jew/Gentile divisions in the early church centered so often on pneumatology [the doctrine of the Holy Spirit]. Those, whether Jew or Gentile, who bear the Spirit show that they “belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9-11). They are “joint-heirs” with the Messiah (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:6). What do they inherit? They inherit the specific inheritance of Jesus-they are “in Him.” And what does the resurrected Jesus inherit? The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Acts 13:32-33). Thus, when dispensationalists speak of the “future” of Israel, they should speak of it in terms of the “future” of Jesus-a future He promises to share with His “friends” (John 15:14-15).

This is not a replacement theology that teaches that God is done with the Jews (God forbid!). Rather, it is an expansion and inclusion model. The boundaries of Israel are radically expanded to all who are united to the one faithful Israelite, Jesus. Likewise, a reality of the New Covenant is that Gentiles are ingrafted and included to the people of God, fellow heirs to the covenants made with Abraham and his family (Eph. 2:11-21).

Justin [Martyr] identified all of the promises to Israel-both material and spiritual-as belonging to Jesus the Israelite-and therefore by legal inheritance to those who are united to Him as His “brothers” (John 20:17; Heb. 2:11). This is more resonant with the biblical text than the simple “replacement” language so often used by covenant theologians. God is not “replacing” one people with another.

Moore’s last line really sums up his point well:

Instead, Israel begins with one man, Jacob the son of Abraham and Isaac; and Israel culminates in one man, Jesus.


Posted on May 2, 2012, in Russell Moore, Theological Studies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Patrick Williams


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