Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 3 of 3)

If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this finalIsrael Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christ part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people.  The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.

The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track).  Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).

Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself.  Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.

First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).  Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.

God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed.  The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.

Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.

Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11).  The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.

At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”

Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National ChristFourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers.  Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.

And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved.  Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews.  “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26).  Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.

The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.  Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.

Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11.  These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh.  Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?

English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

A Biblical View of Election

I am known as a Calvinist, and the church where I pastor is known as a Calvinist church.  This phenomenon is interesting to me because I don’t use the term Calvinist in my preaching, and the church I pastor is Cedar Grove Baptist Church, not Cedar Grove Calvinist church.  I think the reason folks want to hang the title Calvinist around our necks is that we speak of things like election and predestination.

We speak of election and predestination not because we are from the strange planet Calvin and, thus, somehow alien to real Christianity here on earth.  No, we speak of election and predestination because these concepts are clearly taught in the Bible.  I often hear people saying that they “don’t believe” in predestination.  I encourage them not to say that; it only proves a level of ignorance regarding what the Bible teaches.

The Bible speaks of election and predestination.  In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus teaches that at His return, He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.  Clearly, the language of the elect is used, and it is used in reference to a particular people and their salvation.

Other passages which speak of election include Mark 13:20, 27, which speak of Christ shortening the days of trial for the sake of His elect.  In fact, Mark 13:20 clarifies what it means to be one of God’s elect; it means those whom He has chosen.  In Romans 8:33, the elect are promised an unshakable security.  If God holds no charge against the elect, then who is going to be able to condemn them?  No one.  Surely, many Christians cling to eternal security, but the Scriptures tie such security to God’s grace in election.

Many more passages in the New Testament speak of predestination.  Acts 2:23 states that Christ was turned over for execution according to the predetermined plan of God.  In 4:27-28, the text is even more plain in stating that everything Herod and Pilate (and the Jews and the Gentiles) did was according to the predestined purposes of God.  It is worth noting that the statement on predestination in 4:28 is made during a prayer for confidence.  The disciples were being threatened, and they needed to know that their trials were not outside of God’s control in order to speak boldly in the face of such threats.

Perhaps the best known verses related to predestination and election are found in Romans 8:28-30.  These verses are known as the “Golden Chain” of salvation because they lay out the entire chain of events which lead ultimately to the believer’s glorification with Christ.  First in the chain is foreknowledge, then predestination, then calling, then justification, then glorification.  They all hang together as one chain forging together the links of salvation.  The chain, of course, is anchored in Heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Beyond being the golden chain of salvation, this chain is also the chain of security for the believer, anchoring him to Jesus forever.

Two issues usually arise at this point in the discussion.  First, there is the issue of foreknowledge.  Once folks see the numerous texts related to election and predestination, they realize there must be some explanation for these texts.  They may hope that an explanation will make the discomfort of predestination go away.  So, for instance, when I was a Sunday School teacher teaching through Romans, I went to my pastor and asked about the predestination mentioned in Romans 8:30.  His reply was that the term meant simply to say that God knows who will choose.  I was placated, but not satisfied because the text clearly uses both terms: foreknowledge and predestination.  It makes better sense to say (as Ephesians 1:4 does) that foreknowledge refers to the concept of God’s choice of individuals to predestination.  In other words, God has the individual in His mind, then He predestines that individual to Christ.

The simplicity of this understanding of foreknowledge is made even more plain by the Apostle Paul later in the book of Romans.  Romans 9:10-16 is clear that God’s choice of an individual comes without reference to any merit in the ones who are chosen.  In this passage, there are 2 twins in Rebekah’s womb, Jacob and Esau.  Verse 11 states that before either one had done anything good or bad, God made his choice of Jacob over Esau to receive the covenant blessing.  And, to make perfectly clear what is intended, the text goes on to say that this dynamic was put in place “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”  In other words, election is a matter of God’s choice, not ours.

At the conclusion of the matter, Romans 9:16 summarizes, “So that it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”  So clear is this message communicated that your response to it is anticipated by Paul.  He replies, “You will to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault?  For who resists His will?’” (Rom 9:19).  On the contrary, Paul says, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”

The text is clear.  It is our wounded pride that gets us so confused.  We know all the good we have done.  We know that we made a decision.  We know that we made choices.  We know how much better we have fared since deciding to follow Jesus.  We know how poorly life has gone for our friends and family who have rejected Christ.  And we are right about all of these things.  However, God has not left us in a place of boasting—even in the least little bit—for any of these things.  We were as dead spiritually as any sinner who ever lived.  We must see that the only distinction between us and any other poor sinner is grace.  God is the difference (See Ephesians 2:4-5).

Some will still insist on our  merit—at least a little bit.  They will insist that God chooses us because He knows that we will choose Him, thus negating the whole notion of God being free to exercise His will.  Understanding foreknowledge as being related to our foreseen merit is an undermining of the gospel of grace.  Ephesians 1:3 – 2:10 is written to make the point that God is the author of our salvation: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not in any way merit salvation.  Admit it freely.  You are not saved by any foreseen merit in you.  You are saved by grace without any merit.  You don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.  It is given by God.  That way, no Christian gets to boast that he made the right decision and chose the wise course.  Any wise choices we made toward salvation are the outgrowth of God’s grace given to us.

Second, the assertion is often made that election is tied to nations, not individuals.  While it is true that the Lord said to Rebekah that there were two nations in her womb (Genesis 25:23), it is emphatically not the case that his choosing Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with salvation or the covenant (as some scholars assert).  The truth of the matter is that Esau was made into a nation, but he was not chosen for the covenant promises to Israel.  In fact, he traded his birthright claim to the covenant and could not later find repentance for that sin.  His heart was too sin-hardened (Hebrews 12:16-17).  The writer of Hebrews views Esau—the individual person—as rejecting something of high value and failing to repent for it.  Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews view Jacob and Esau as individuals, not nations.  The election of one and not the other had clear implications for these individual men.

So, the biblical doctrine of election gets right at the heart of the gospel and speaks a message to us from Genesis through Revelation.  God has people who will be saved.  They will be saved through the preaching of the Word (as in Acts 13:48).  Therefore, we are to preach the Word to all nations because Christ has purchased people from all nations with His blood.  Their future is certain, as is ours, by the will of God.

I understand that such teaching may literally rock your world and shake your foundations.  Please do not fear.  When the world shakes—and even crumbles—it allows you to see the solid rock of Jesus on which you are actually standing.  The more clearly you rest in Jesus Christ alone, the more unshakable you will become.  I am convinced that God has revealed such glorious truths to us so that we can stand, unshakable and immovable, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Take your time to think through, pray through, and study through these things.  If I can answer questions for you, I will.  At least, I will try to answer them.

Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9).