Israel and the Church – [Galatians 3:16; 28-29]

 

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless noted otherwise.

 

(Galatians 3:16) — 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.

(Galatians 3:28-29) — 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.

 

Introduction

If there’s a single verse in the New Testament (NT) that unlocks our understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church, it’s Galatians 3:16. If there’s a single verse in the NT that reveals the true identity of Israel in the New Covenant, it’s Galatians 3:16. What it reveals is that Christ Himself is true Israel. Coupled with Galatians 3:28-29, Israel is revealed to be a spiritual nation in Christ, which is the Church. In Christ, Israel is completely transformed. In other words, Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church as a spiritual people and a spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:4-10). This is what was always in view in the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures.

Just as one people in Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob) was called by God, so is one people in Christ called by God. As Abraham was the father of an ethnic nation in Jacob, so is he the father of a spiritual nation in Christ. He’s the father of both. It’s perplexing to me that Christians get upset over the idea that Israel has its end in Christ, as though they’re being cheated out of something. They can’t accept the idea that Israel continues in the form of a spiritual nation. Opponents may respond by saying “it’s not a matter of being cheated, it’s just not what the bible teaches.”

However, those who believe that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, base this idea on their understanding of OT scriptures, which then requires them to make assumptions in the NT. Over and over the NT reveals Israel to be a spiritual people in Christ, a new creation in Christ where all people distinctions are done away. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, for we are all one in Christ. We are a new entity, a whole new people in Him (Eph 2:11-22). To limit that truth simply to salvation, is to miss the grand revelation and fulfillment of the biblical mystery relating to Israel. Indeed, it’s to remain in that mystery. It’s to miss the whole point as it relates to Israel and their Messiah.

Maintaining an OT view of Israel, prevents one from seeing what the NT actually teaches about the identity and purpose of Israel. We have to understand that national Israel was a vehicle, not a destination, not an end in itself. Sound theology begins with a right understanding of the NT, which is then used to interpret the OT. To do this in reverse is a pathway to serious biblical error. If we place our focus on the NT, where it belongs, we walk away with the understanding that the Church in Christ is the fulfillment of Israel.

 

Discussion of Galatians 3:16

(Galatians 3:15-18) — 15 Brethren, I speak according to the custom of men: Even with a covenant between men, once it has been confirmed, no one makes it void or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He did not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘and to your seed,’ which is Christ. 17 Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God is not annulled by the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, so as to make the promise of no effect.”

 

In regard to covenants, to make his point clear, Paul gives an example from everyday life. A covenant or a contract between men, once the deal is done, no one can legally add to it or make it void. In the same way, God made His covenant with Abraham on the basis of faith (Gal 3:6-9). For 430 years, before the law came, Abraham and his descendants received salvation according to faith. Paul’s point is, that the law, that came 430 years later, couldn’t void out the covenant that God made with Abraham. Thus salvation has always been on the basis of faith.

 

(Galatians 3:16) — 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.

 

The “promises” of blessing and salvation (Ge 22:17,18) were made to both Abraham and to his “seed,” which is in the singular, referring to “Christ,” and not to the descendants of Abraham in general. Through faith in Christ, we become the spiritual “seed” of Abraham in Him — and not according to human descent, as Paul says in Gal 3:29:

 

“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.”

 

Paul also says in Gal 3:26 that we are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

All the promises to Abraham and to his descendants (Israel) are fulfilled in Christ. In other words, the true seed of Abraham is not by way of human birth, but by way of Christ, through faith in Him. Jews could not claim to be true Jews just because they were born in the natural line of Abraham, as Paul plainly taught:

 

(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.

(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.

(Romans 10:12) — 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call upon Him.

(Galatians 3:28) — 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

 

And to that, Jesus agrees:

(Revelation 2:9) — I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they art not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

(Revelation 3:9) — Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

 

How Paul could make it any clearer, that there is “no distinction” between Jews and Gentiles. We are all “one in Christ Jesus,” through our common faith in Him.

Many Christians want to make a distinction between Israel and the Church, but there is NO DISTINCTION. The only two classes of people in the eyes of God, are those who are in Christ, and those who are not. The true seed of Abraham and the true sons of God, are those who are in Christ. Thus the Church is New Israel in Him. The nation of Israel has no inheritance except what they have in Christ. Israel loses its identity as an ethnic nation, and gains it in Christ as a spiritual nation. Jesus alluded to this in the parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18. In verses 16-18 of that passage, Jesus said:

 

(Luke 20:16-18) — 16 He will come and destroy those tenants, and will give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, ‘surely not!’ 17 But He looked upon them, and said, what then is this that is written, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the cornerstone?” 18 Every one that falls on that stone shall be broken to pieces; but on whomever it shall fall, it will crush him as dust. (ASV updated)

 

The nation of Israel was and is unfaithful. That is why Jesus came and “destroyed” Jerusalem in AD 70. He “gave the vineyard to others.” That is, the promises and blessings are given to those who place their faith in Him, both Jew and Gentile. Again, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew:

 

(Matthew 23:37-38) — O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones those that are sent to her! How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (ASV updated)

 

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the house of Israel was left “desolate” and deserted. Peter, too, confirms the same thing about Israel and the Church. He refers back to what Jesus taught in the parable of the wicked tenants in 1 Peter:

 

(1 Peter 2:4-10) — 4 unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, 5 you 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. 6 Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he who believes on Him shall not be put to shame. 7 For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the cornerstone; 8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: to this they were also appointed. 9 But you are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (ASV updated)

 

Peter understood Israel’s unfaithfulness and rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. He also understood God’s rejection of them. Listen to the terms Peter uses to describe the Church:

 

spiritual house

holy priesthood

spiritual sacrifices

elect race

royal priesthood

holy nation

people of God

 

These are all Jewish terms used to describe the Church. There is absolutely no question that Peter understood that true Israel is the Church in Christ. The Church is the continuation of Israel as a spiritual nation in Christ, who is Himself true Israel, a nation of One. All the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ, who is Head of the Church.

Again, the terminology Peter uses are clearly Jewish, which he uses to describe a spiritual nation, which are applied to the the Church. National Israel was a type and shadow of the spiritual nation they were to become in Christ. Israel has its identification in Christ in the form of the Church, where we are all one people in Him, where all ethnic and national distinctions are removed.

Therefore, God does not have a plan for the nation of Israel apart from the Church. They are one and the same.

 

(Galatians 3:28-29) — 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.

 

In Christ there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek (Gentile). There isn’t even any distinction between male and female. In Christ, we are “all one.” True Israel is the company of all believers in Christ, which is the Church. The true seed of Abraham is Christ (Gal 3:16) and those who are in Him (Gal 3:26-29). All believers in Christ are “sons of God,” and “heirs” of everything that is involved in “sonship” and as members of true Israel, the elect of God.

 

Parallel passage to Galatians 3:16; 28-29:

(Romans 9:1-8) — 1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5 whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. 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.

 

In this passage Paul is making a distinction between national Israel (“according to the flesh”) and spiritual Israel (“children of the promise”). The nation of Israel was a type of the spiritual Israel that they were to become. They have their end, their completion, their fulfillment, their continuation in Christ as a spiritual nation.

 

Verse by verse (Romans 9:5-8):

(Ro 9:5) — 5 whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

 

Jesus was of the nation of Israel Himself (“as concerning the flesh”), who was of the tribe of Judah. It was necessary that He be of the people of Israel in order to fulfill all things relating to Israel. The whole OT pointed to Christ, who would fulfill all the promises and blessings and prophecies regarding Israel. He is the prophesied Israel. He is true Israel, a nation of One. As believers, we have our identification and election and union in Christ. Thus the Church is spiritual Israel in Him.

 

(Ro 9:6) — 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:

 

As we’ve discussed, Paul is making a distinction between two different types of Israel. The first Israel he mentions is spiritual Israel, and the second one one is national Israel. What Paul is saying is that being born into the nation of Israel, doesn’t make one a true Israelite in the eyes of God. Under the New Covenant, God no longer recognizes national Israel. He only recognizes His Son, through whom they have their continuation as a spiritual nation. In Christ, national Israel disappears. God sees all of us only through His Son — as one people of God.

 

(Ro 9:7) — 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.

 

Here Paul elaborates on what he said in the previous verse. Being of the natural seed of Abraham doesn’t make a person his child in the eyes of God. We’re children of Abraham only through faith in Christ, which also makes us the true “children of God.”

 

(Galatians 3:6-9) – 6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. 7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. 9 So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.

 

Only those who share the faith of Abraham are children of Abraham. Thus only those who are of the faith of Abraham, are of true Israel, which is the Church in Christ (“In thee shall all the nations be blessed” – Gen 22:18).

Paul says that the “children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.” Let’s look at the promise and seed of the OT that Paul was referring to, which our text in Galatians has in view (Gal 3:16, 28-29):

 

Promises/Seed:

(Genesis 12:3,7) — 3 and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 7 And Jehovah appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land:

(Genesis 13:14-16) — 14 And Jehovah said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward: 15 for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. 16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then may thy seed also be numbered.

(Genesis 17:5-10,19) — 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee, throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said unto Abraham, And as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised…….19 And God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

(Genesis 21:12) — 12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy handmaid; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

(Genesis 22:18) — 18 and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

 

All these passages are what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the promises and seed of Abraham/Isaac. If all of these passages are read in their respective contexts, in isolation of the NT, we would naturally understand them to be referring to Abraham and to his natural offspring (seed), that is, those born into the nation of Israel.

However, Paul reveals that God actually had His Son in mind….and those who would place their faith in Him (the Church). This is a perfect example why we should not try to understand the OT apart from the NT. We come to wrong interpretations when we do that.

So what does all this mean? It means that when God gave those promises to Abraham and to His offspring (seed), He was really referring to Christ as true Israel, and to His Church as spiritual Israel in Him. In other words, Israel was rebirthed in Christ as a spiritual nation. That is their full end in Christ. God’s plan for that nation is, therefore, totally fulfilled. This was God’s plan for Israel from the very beginning.

 

Summary / Elaboration

The “promises” of Galatians 3:16, refer to the promises made by God to Abraham (Isaac and Jacob) and to his “seed” (Genesis 127; 13:14-16; 15:5-6; 17:5-8; 17:19,21; 26:2-4; 28:13-14; Ex 32:13).

When we read those promises in the OT, it appears that God is referring directly to the natural seed (offspring) of Abraham. However, in the NT, Paul reveals the identity of the seed that God was actually referring to — which was Christ. Here is a case where we need the light of the NT to interpret the OT for us. We cannot try to understand the OT apart from the NT. We MUST interpret the OT according to the light of the NT.

Ultimately, and quite literally, the promises were spoken, not to national Israel, but to Christ, through whom spiritual Israel was birthed. Consider again that in the OT we see the promises being made to national Israel. However, the NT reveals that it was Christ who was actually in view. Therefore, we can come to no other conclusion other than that Christ is true Israel, and that Israel is now a spiritual nation in Him, which is the Church.

To elaborate, the promises were spoken to Abraham. That’s significant because it’s only through Abraham that salvation comes to the world. It was through the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that Jesus came into the world. But also, only those who are of the faith of Abraham are regarded as true offspring of Abraham. Paul deals with this in detail in Romans 4:

 

(Romans 4:11-18) – 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them; 12 and the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision. 13 For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if they that are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect: 15 for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. 16 For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were. 18 Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be.

 

Paul reveals that the true seed or offspring of Abraham are not those who are of his physical lineage, but those who share his faith. So we see that the promises made in the OT were really referring to Christ and to all those who share the faith of Abraham, which make up the Church. This is the grand revelation of the NT regarding Israel.

All things considered, there can be no doubt that natural Israel was rebirthed as spiritual Israel in the Person of Christ and His Church. We may not be able to fully understand all the theology behind this spiritual rebirth of Israel, but I suggest the following as a partial explanation:

Consider the fact that Jesus Himself was an Israelite, of the tribe of Judah. Jesus fully embodied the Jewish faith. He fulfilled the will of His Father to perfection. He was the perfect Jew of national Israel. Thus as the perfect Jew, as the very Messiah and King and Savior of Israel, He fully represented Israel in every detail. As the perfect representative of national Israel, He died and was raised to new life for His people, fulfilling all for them what they could not do for themselves. He died as a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was raised as Israel Himself — as the true and pure Israel, having accomplished all the will of the Father regarding Israel and the promises associated with them.

In other words, the promises to Israel were ultimately given to Christ, for He is the one and only perfect fulfillment of all that the people of Israel were to be. Thus, Jesus is in every way the true Israel of God. When Jesus rose from the dead, Israel became a spiritual nation in Him. The pure line of Israel flows in and through and from Christ. Only the spiritual children of Abraham are regarded as true children of Israel, which consists of all believing Jews and Gentiles, for in Christ there is no distinction among God’s people.