A common belief among Christians is that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, a plan that is distinct from the Church. In particular, that there will be a millennial kingdom upon the return of Christ, where God once again turns His attention to Israel (Dispensational Premillennialism – DP). But is this what the Bible really teaches? Especially important, is this what the New Testament (NT) teaches? Does it teach a kingdom where the Jerusalem temple will be rebuilt, and where there will be a return to animal sacrifices? That idea alone should be a red flag. In fact, I think it destroys the credibility of the DP position. The writer of Hebrews agrees!
Yet many Christians still cling to this belief that there will be a 1000 year kingdom in this present world. This belief is based almost entirely on the Old Testament (OT), because they take a very literal approach, and use their understanding of it to interpret the NT. This is a backwards way of interpreting God’s Word. New Testament understanding must lead the way for interpreting the whole Bible.
I’ve done a lot of writing on this subject, and I normally use a lot of Scripture and make a good study out of it. However, in this article I will just provide references. It would be highly beneficial for you to read the other studies on my website under “Israel and the Church,” in conjunction with this article. It will provide a more thorough understanding. Consider this an introduction.
In this article, I discuss two different forms of Israel that the Bible presents. One is ethnic Israel or national Israel. The other is spiritual Israel, which is the focus of the NT. I make the case that Jesus fulfilled God’s purpose for ethnic Israel, thereby becoming, solely Himself, Fulfilled Ethnic Israel, or simply Fulfilled Israel. This title is not in the Bible, but is used as representative of what Jesus accomplished in regard to the nation of Israel. I will also talk about Spiritual Israel, and how it relates to Christ—the Fulfilled Ethnic Israel.
Jesus is perfect Israel, a nation of One. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He completely and perfectly fulfilled the will of God. He completely and perfectly fulfilled the covenant promises (and prophecies) relating to Israel (Ga 3:16,19,28-29). He accomplished what the people of Israel could not. He lived as the perfect Jew and died as the perfect Jew and rose from the grave as the perfect Jew. He alone has the right to be called Israel, to be Israel. He alone holds the honor of that title. He is literally a nation of One. Ethnic Israel ended with the perfect ethnic Israelite (who came through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). In other words, there were no offspring through Him in His likeness.
When Christ ascended, He left behind Him – in His place – the spiritual version of Israel, which is the Church (in Christ) — the New Israel of the New Covenant (1 Pe 2:4-10). For all practical and theological purposes, the ethnic nation of Israel ended with Christ. God’s purpose for that nation was and is fulfilled in Him. The nation of Israel today, and the Jews in the world today – since the time of Christ – remain as the imperfect version of Israel. They find their completion and perfection in the perfect Christ, who is the perfect Israel. Christian Jews today refer to themselves as “completed Jews,” and that is exactly what they are. They are complete in Christ. In their union with Him they are now citizens of spiritual Israel, which is the Church.
Furthermore, everyone (both Jew and Gentile) who place their faith in Christ become citizens or members of spiritual Israel. We are all one in Christ (Ga 3:28-29). All ethnic distinctions are done away with in Him. Together, we are a new creation in Christ, a whole new entity, a whole new people (Eph 2:13-16). When we place our faith in Christ, we become not only children of God (Ro 9:8; Ga 3:26) – as members of His family – but also spiritual offspring of of Abraham (Ro 4:11-12,16-18; Ro 9:6-8; Ga 3:7,29), as spiritual Israel (both corporately and individually).
What we must understand is that there is a difference between Christ as Fulfilled Israel, and spiritual Israel (the Church) in whom Christ dwells, both individually (Ro 8:9-11) and corporately as Head (Eph 1:22-23). Jesus, having ascended back into Heaven, now lives in and through His people as true Israel (Jesus). Thus we are spiritual Israel in our union with Him. Although all ethnic distinctions of this world are done away with in Christ, we as citizens (members) of spiritual Israel, can be rightly called spiritual Jews (Ro 2:28-29; Ga 3:28-29), which is not of this world. This distinction between Jesus as true ethnic Israel (Fulfilled Israel) and we as spiritual Israel in Him, is a significant key to understanding God’s plan for Israel in the New Covenant. For this reveals that God’s plan for the nation of Israel is now complete in Christ and His Church.
To elaborate, upon faith in Christ, individuals are born (born again) into the spiritual line of Abraham (Ro 9:6-8; Ga 3:7,28-29) and enter into union with Christ, who is the chosen of God (Lu 9:35). Together, we are the corporate spiritual offspring of Abraham, which is the Church, which is spiritual Israel of the New Covenant. In other words, the ethnic nation of Israel was reborn as a spiritual nation in Christ, as spiritual offspring of Abraham (1 Pe 2:4-10; Ga 3:7,28-29). Individually, just as the natural offspring of Abraham were ethnic Jews in him, so are the spiritual offspring of Abraham spiritual Jews in him, through faith in Christ (Ga 3:26-29) and in our union with Him. Just as Abraham was the corporate head of ethnic Israel, so is Jesus the Corporate Head of spiritual Israel. Thus we see that Abraham and Israel served as a type of Christ and the Church—the New Israel of the New Covenant. But they were more than a type; they actually had (have) their fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church as a spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:5,9).
By perfectly fulfilling the will of God and the covenant promises relating to Israel (Ga 3:16,19), Jesus Himself became (revealed to be) true ethnic Israel. He embodied all that Israel was meant to be. He is, thus, Fulfilled Israel. Yes, I realize that the title “Fulfilled Israel” is not in the Bible. But the covenant promises made to Israel, ultimately and actually, had Christ in view, not the nation of Israel (Ga 3:16,19). Therefore, the title “Fulfilled Israel” applied to Jesus, is accurate. It’s just a way to describe what Jesus accomplished in regard to Israel. Accordingly, God’s purpose for the nation of Israel is complete in Him. God’s plan for the nation of Israel is one hundred percent finished.
Interpreting OT Israel
So what do we do with the Old Testament prophecies that seem to indicate a future plan for the nation of Israel? We view them for what they are—as types and shadows of Christ and His Church. They’re fairly easy to see once you become aware of it and are tuned to it. Much of the book of Revelation is written in symbolic and figurative language. Likewise the OT, as it applies to the future of Israel. Again, we must allow the light of the New Testament to reveal the meaning of the Old Testament.