The following post is adapted from comments I made in a Facebook discussion, wherein I was interacting with a number of Dispensationalists.
Dispensationalists understand “Israel,” as presented in Scripture, as only ever
having one strict meaning: a meaning entirely dependent on ethnic and
biological identity. This "Israel means Israel" approach by
Dispensationalists gives me deja vu of debating Arminians. Arminians-arguing against the doctrine of Particular Redemption-often repeatedly pound the
point that: "Christ died for the world! He died for all! World means world! All means all!
Everybody knows what those words mean!" And the Reformed apologist says:
well, we have to derive the meaning from the text of Scripture itself, not pre-suppose what
the words mean.
Arminian would say, concerning the assertion that "world" and
"all" aren't universal in the way they imagine, that Reformed
theologians are making God out to be a liar or a con artist when He uses those
The Dispensationalist claims that "Israel means Israel" and that to suppose that the term "Israel" may sometimes include those who are not ethnically Jewish is to present God as a liar or a con artist.
is not a liar or a con artist.
explains, "But it is
not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are
descended from Israel."
and covenantally, incorporation of believing Gentiles into covenantal Israel is
presented in the New Testament, in the ingrafting language of Romans 11. Romans
11:26 and Galatians 6:16 refer to the Church as Israel. This becomes especially
clear when one traces the arguments leading to these verses.
Dispensationalist objects that these verses may be considered “ambiguous”. But
where is the single verse that unambiguously states that God is one is essence,
while three in person? Contextual reading and synthesis are always necessary. When
we look for evidence of Christ's deity, we do not limit ourselves to verses
that say the three words: "Jesus is God". Another way that we prove
the point is by looking to verses that use titles for Christ that are only
proper for God. In the case of the Church–in a sense, through union with
Christ–being identified with Israel, we see that the Church is called by names
that are only fitting for Israel. Exodus 19:6 tells Israel: "you will be for me a kingdom of
priests and a holy nation.”
1 Peter 2:9 tells the Church: "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." The Old Testament–in
passages like Hosea 2, Isaiah 54, and Ezekiel 16–calls Israel the bride of the
LORD. In the New Testament, we see the
Church as the bride of Christ.
The LORD is not a bigamist.
Galatians 6:16 it is clear what the Apostle is doing in the argument leading up to that
verse (erasing the distinction between Jew and Gentile regarding God’s
promises), and therefore clear what the phrase “Israel of God” means in that context. On the other hand, I do think that some
Reformed writers tend to identify Israel as the Church without adequate
attention paid to the necessary Christological step. Just as we are only–in
any sense–sons of
God through our union with the Son of God, we are only–in a certain sense–Israel through our union with the
One in whom all of God's covenant promises are fulfilled.
is the true Israel. As the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology notes:
"Matthew makes this point dramatically in his
opening chapters, first by applying the Exodus verse Hosea 11:1 to Jesus (Matt
2:15), and then by telling the story in a way that makes Jesus re-enact
Israel's history: the Exodus from Egypt (2:19-20), the crossing of the Red Sea
(3:13-17), the temptations in the desert (4:1-11), even the arrival at Mt.
Sinai to receive the law (5:1-2). Perhaps most pointedly, it is Jesus on whom
the Spirit descends (Matt 3:16), although the prophetic expectation was of an
outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel (Isa 44:2-3; Eze 36:25-27). Where Israel
had failed the temptations in the desert, Jesus now remains faithful to God.
"Here, at last, is a Son in whom God is truly pleased
(Matt 3:17). 'I have not come to abolish [the law and the prophets], but to
fulfill [them]', he claims (Matt 5:17): part of the meaning of this must be
that, in Jesus, we see at last Israel's true response of obedience, worship,
"John develops the same thought, but from a
different angle: he presents Jesus as the temple, the focus of Israel's life,
the place where sin is dealt with and prayer is truly offered and heard (John
2:19-22; 8:34-36; 16:23-24). Paul's approach to the same idea is to see Jesus
as the seed of Abraham, the one who truly and supremely inherits the covenant
promises given to Abraham (Gal 3:16, 19). Israel fell under the curse of the
covenant (Gal 3:10, quoting Deut 27:26), but the promise of blessing is not
made void, because Jesus stepped into the position of those 'born under the
law' to 'redeem' them (Gal 4:4-5), and so the promises are realized in
established that Jesus is the true Israel, the same principal applies as with
other truths for those who are united to Christ. Jesus is God's Son; in Him, we
are sons, seated with Him in the heavenlies. Jesus is the high priest; in Him,
we are a kingdom of priests. Jesus is the temple; in Him, we are the temple (1
Cor 3:16). Jesus is the true seed of Abraham; in Him we–even those of us who
are not biologically descended from Abraham–are Abraham's descendants.
says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the
moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves
the Lord of hosts is His name:
this fixed order departs
from before Me,” declares the Lord,
offspring of Israel also will cease
from being a nation before Me forever.”
God is faithful to His people: "the offspring of Israel.” That "the offspring of Israel" would include ingrafted
Gentiles was definitely somewhat a mystery in the Old Covenant administration,
but there were certainly pointers to this fact, even within the Old Testament.
God tells Abraham, "all
the peoples on earth will be blessed through you," Jesus' own family line includes four Gentile women
(or women with Gentile connections) who become grafted in to the covenant line,
and–in His ministry–Jesus points to OT examples of Gentile faith in order to
rebuke ethnic Jews who believed that they could presume upon their heritage
while rejecting Him.
Dispensationalist often asserts that the non-dispensationalist is
"painting God as a promise-breaker.” (I’ve personally had this charge
leveled against me on more than one occasion.) But consider: what promise do
Dispensationalists imagine that non-dispensationalists think God has broken?
I said to you, ‘I'm going to give you twelve crisp one dollar bills next
next Sunday comes–I say, 'Forget twelve dollars; I'm giving you one hundred
and forty-four thousand dollars! In fact, I'm giving everybody in your church
one hundred and forty-four thousand dollars!' If I gave out that gift, no reasonable person would
charge me with promise breaking. (You could imagine how ridiculous the
objection would sound: 'Oh, no: you didn't give just me just twelve dollars; you're obviously untrustworthy!')
if–in the storyline of Scripture itself–we see an escalation of God's promises
by which all believing Jews AND believing Gentiles [those who reject Christ–whether
ethnically Gentile or Jewish–can expect nothing but fiery judgment] receive
the promises of the New Covenant in Christ, culminating in inheriting the new
heavens and new earth,
then no reasonable person will charge God with promise-breaking just because
the promise turns out to be even better than what was previously [typologically: Heb 4:8-11]
people–ALL of God's people–receive Christ Himself and every New Covenant blessing in Him.
"[God] did not spare
His own Son, but gave Him up for us all: how will He not graciously give us all
8:32) As Charles Spurgeon wrote: "As the Anointed Redeemer of Israel,
Christ Jesus holds nothing distinct from His Church, but all that He has He
holds for her."
Labels: Reformation Theology