All Scriptures are quoted from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
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 ethnic national Israel (“according to the flesh”) and spiritual Israel (“children of the promise”). We’ve been making this distinction throughout this series. 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.
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 (“as concerning the flesh”), of the tribe of Judah. It was necessary that He be of the people of Israel in order to fulfill the covenant promises to Israel. The whole Old Testament pointed to Christ, who would fulfill all the promises and prophecies and blessings regarding Israel. Christ Himself is the true Israel of God. He is a nation of One. Only Christ is qualified to bear the name Israel, for only Jesus fulfilled the will of God for Israel perfectly. He fulfilled what they were not able to fulfill. As believers, we have our identification in Christ. Thus, the Church is spiritual Israel in Him. The Church is the prophesied Israel that Israel was to become in Him.
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:
Again, Paul is making a distinction between two forms of Israel. The first Israel he mentions is spiritual Israel, and the second one one is ethnic Israel. Ethnic Israel was but a type and shadow of what they were to become in Christ.
What Paul is saying is that being born into the nation of Israel, as an ethnic Jew, doesn’t make one a true Israelite in the eyes of God. In 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. The nation of Israel served their purpose in the plan of God. Christ and His Church is the complete end of God’s purpose for the nation 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.
Here Paul elaborates on what he said in the previous verse. Being of the natural seed (offspring) of Abraham doesn’t make a person his child in the eyes of God. We’re children of Abraham and “children of God” only through faith in Christ — we who “share the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Ro 4:16; Gal 3:6-9). Only those who are of the faith of Abraham – both Jew and Gentile – are of true Israel, which is the Church in Christ as a spiritual nation — “In thee shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal 3:7-9; Ro 4:17-18).
That true Israel in Christ is spiritual in nature, Paul confirms in another passage in this same book of Romans:
(Ro 2:28-29) – 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (NASB)
Here Paul identifies the true Jew in the eyes of God: those who are Jews “inwardly,” which is via regeneration (“by the Spirit”), which is through faith in Christ, which applies to both Jews and Gentiles. In other words, a true Jew is spiritual in nature, not ethnic. Therefore, we can only conclude that true Israel is spiritual in nature.
The true seed (offspring) of Abraham are not of physical lineage, but “of the promise” through Isaac. Only those who are of “the promise” are true children of Abraham and true children of God.
Paul identifies the “seed” (verses 7-8) even more directly and clearly in the book of Galatians, which is probably the key passage to our understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church:
(Gal 3:16,29) – 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. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.
In verse 8 (Ro 9:8), Paul says that the “children of the promise are reckoned for a seed” (counted as offspring). And here in this passage, Paul reveals that the seed mentioned in the OT, was actually and ultimately referring to Christ Himself. He is the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel.
Let’s look at the “promise” and “seed” of the OT that Paul was referring to:
(Gen 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:
(Gen 13:14-15) – 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.
(Gen 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.
(Gen 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.
(Gen 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 Israel. 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 as ethnic Jews.
However, Paul reveals that God actually had His Son in view — and all 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 actually referring to the Israel that would be rebirthed through Christ as a spiritual nation. This was God’s plan from the very beginning.
Something else I want to point out. Notice that land is involved in the Genesis promises, which was the land of Canaan. One of the reasons dispensationalists believe that God has a separate plan for Israel, apart from the Church, is because of this land promise. They believe that it must be literally and completely fulfilled to the nation of Israel in an earthly millennial kingdom.
However, as we’ve seen throughout this series, both Paul and Peter reveal that God fulfills His covenant promises to Christ and His Church. Therefore, regarding this land-promise, what’s in view here is the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth, the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-2). The land of Canaan was a type of the Eternal Kingdom. That is our true “everlasting possession.”