All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Having already dealt with numerous New Testament passages regarding Israel and the Church, I think it’s good that we consider an Old Testament passage. All along I’ve been saying that we can’t understand the OT apart from the NT, and here’s a good example how to interpret the OT according to a NT understanding
As we look at the key phrases in this passage, we’ll see that the NT uses these same phrases (or similar) to refer to the Church in the New Covenant. The Old Covenant has its fulfillment in the New Covenant. The OT was a type and shadow of the NT. Everything in the OT had Christ and the Church in view.
1 In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount. 3 And Moses went up unto God, and Jehovah called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: 6 and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
As you’ll see, the NT writers applied OT terms and phrases to the NT Church:
children of Israel
house of Jacob
kingdom of priests
mine own possession
among all peoples
brought you unto myself
“children of Israel”
Throughout this series, we’ve been learning that the NT views Christ and His Church as the fulfilled or completed Israel, and is now regarded as True Israel or New Israel. The Church doesn’t replace Israel, it’s the continuation of it:
(Romans 2:28-29) – 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
A true Jew is one “inwardly,” that is, a spiritual Jew in Christ. Together, all believers (both Jew and Gentile) make up True Israel, which is spiritual in nature. Corporately, they make up spiritual Israel, which is the Church. Christ’s Church is the New Israel of the New Covenant. Only those who have been born-again through faith in Christ are regarded as “children of Israel” in the eyes of God.
(Galatians 3:7) – 7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.
Abraham is the Father of Israel. Therefore, those who are “children of Israel” are children (or sons) of Abraham. Here Paul identifies those who are “of faith” (in Christ) as the true “sons of Abraham,” or children of Israel.
(Romans 9:6-8) – 6 But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: 7 neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.
(1 Peter 3:6) – 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose children ye now are, if ye do well, and are not put in fear by any terror.
Not all children of ethnic Israel are true children of Israel. Only those who are of the spiritual seed (offspring) of Abraham are true children of Israel. We become spiritual children of Abraham through faith in Christ. Thus Paul identifies Israel of the New Covenant as spiritual Israel, in Christ — which is the Church:
(Ephesians 2:13-16) – 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
(Read Ephesians 2:11-22)
In Christ, as a corporate body (both believing Jews and believing Gentiles), are a new creation. All national and race distinctions that “divide” us, are removed in Christ. We are a brand new creation, where there are no Jews or Gentiles, but a whole new spiritual race. Together, we are “children of Israel,” which in Christ, is spiritual in nature.
(Galatians 3:16, 27-29) – 16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. 28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.
As I’ve said before, this is a key passage that provides the true identity of Israel. The “seed” (offspring) of Abraham that was spoken of in the OT was actually Christ. Thus He is true Israel. As believers in Christ, we are “Abraham’s seed.” Thus the Church is spiritual Israel through our union and identification with Him. People-distinctives have been done away with in Christ, and we are now “one man in Christ Jesus” as the Church.
(Revelation 7:4) – 4 And I heard the number of them that were sealed, a hundred and forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel:
(Revelation 21:12) – 2 having a wall great and high; having 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:
Considering who the NT writers identify as the true Israel of the New Covenant, identifying who John is talking about in the above Revelation passages, becomes obvious. These tribes of Israel are not to be taken literally, but as symbolic of the Church.
For Paul (and Peter below) to identify the corporate body of believers in Christ as true Israel (spiritual Israel), it would be inconsistent for John to identify them to be the ethnic nation of Israel of the OT.
“house of Jacob”
“House of Jacob” is equivalent to “house of Israel,” for Jacob was Israel, as God named him. It was through his lineage that the twelve tribes of Israel came into being, which together, made up the nation of Israel.
These key phrases have real significance, as they take on an elevated meaning in the NT. They all refer to Israel, but not to national Israel, but to spiritual Israel, all those who are in Christ.
(Hebrews 3:1-6) – 1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus; 2 who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also was Moses in all his house. 3 For he hath been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house hath more honor than the house. 4 For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God. 5 And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken; 6 but Christ as a son, over his house; whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end.
Moses was a type of Christ, who was faithful over “his house,” as the leader of the nation of Israel. Jesus was faithful to the Father, as also Moses was. However, Moses was an imperfect type of the perfect Leader who was to come. Just as Moses was an imperfect type of Christ, so was Israel an imperfect type of the perfect Israel that was to come in Christ, which is the Church.
The writer of Hebrews compares the “house” of the OT to the “house” of the NT. The house of the OT was national Israel, and the house of the NT is the Church: “but Christ as a son, over his house; whose house are we” (He 3:6). [also Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pe 2:4-5; 1 Pe 4:16-17]
New Testament believers in Christ, as a corporate people, are spiritual Israel. The Church is the NT “house of God” (He 10:21). That national Israel has its continuation as a spiritual nation, is clear from passages like this one.
(1 Peter 2:3-5) – 3 if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: 4 unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, 5 ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 2:8-9) – 8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Note the terms Peter uses to describe the Church:
Peter uses phrases that normally describe the nation of Israel, and he applies them to the Church. Paul and Peter and the writer of Hebrews all view Christ and the Church as being the fulfillment and continuation of Israel.
These verses in 1 Peter leads right into the next three key phrases of our text:
“holy nation; kingdom of priests; mine own possession”
[Compare Exodus 19:5-6 with 1 Peter 2:5,9]
We see the phrase “holy nation” from our Exodus text being used by Peter to describe the Church.
The phrases “kingdom of priests” and “mine own possession” from Exodus are also used by Peter to refer to the Church: holy priesthood, royal priesthood, God’s own possession.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Peter had Exodus 19:1-6 in mind, and was applying it to the Church as the fulfillment of it.
“among all peoples”
We see in the OT that Israel was chosen by God from “among all peoples” of the world. We see in the NT that believers in Christ have been chosen from among all the peoples of the world. That of course describes the Church. God chose His Son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the world, and we as believers have our election in Him.
“brought you unto myself”
As God brought the people of Israel to Himself, so does He bring us to Himself under the New Covenant through Christ:
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19) – 18 But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
(Ephesians 1:5) – 5 having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
(Ephesians 5:27) – 27 that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
In the New Covenant of Christ, it’s “the Church that God presents to Himself,” consisting of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. One body in Christ. One people in Christ. One holy nation in Christ. One spiritual nation in Christ.
Peter and Paul and the writer of Hebrews clearly understood, and taught, that Christ and His Church are the fulfillment of all the OT promises and prophecies regarding Israel. This passage in Exodus is just one example of that.
Israel wasn’t replaced by the Church. On the contrary, the whole OT looked forward to the time when Israel would be reborn in Christ as a spiritual nation (Eph 2:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). In Christ all national and people distinctives are done away with. In Christ we are all one. We are a whole new creation, a whole new entity, a whole new race (1 Pe 2:9). Israel no longer has its identity as a nation of this world, but as a “holy nation” in Christ (1 Pe 2:9), which is not of this world:
(Ephesians 1:3) – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: