Jesus, the true Israel, and the identity of the people of God

I hate that I have to write this. For, if there is any strand of thought that pervades the new testament, this does more so. What is the one thing that sets apart the people of God from the rest of the world? Is it being a physical descendant of Abraham? Is it circumcision? Is it faith in Jesus? Are Israel and the church two separate people of God? I am utterly bewildered these questions still exist, given that most Christians accept Pauline theology. Nevertheless, due to modern day Christian television, there seems to be an endless sea of voices that confuse us on these matters. To begin I will lay a foundation and then go into some of the more Pauline implications. My hope is that, in the end, you will see the “mystery that’s been hidden from the foundation of the world “. I have, heretofore, shown how Jesus completes the Old Testament and how it all pointed to Him. I must now talk about Israel. Why did God choose Israel? What, exactly, were they chosen for? That is to say, what was their purpose? To answer this question we go back to Genesis. God creates Adam in His image and tells him to rule all creation. Adam was made to be the bringer of God’s righteous rule to the whole earth. He didn’t obey God though and, in his disobedience, He became a slave to corruption. So the very next story we read is about Cain, a son of Adam, killing his brother Abel. It doesn’t get any better with time either, blood thirst begets blood thirst until we read in Genesis 6 that God is grieved to His heart for making man. Noah was the only one blameless in His sight, so He decides to start over and destroys everything with a flood. Nevertheless, men forget and forsake God and by chapter 9 they’re trying to build a tower in rebellion against God. It is in this context that God calls Abraham in order to bless him and, in blessing him, bless the world. A part of this blessing was a plot of land in Canaan. What is the significance of Canaan? It was a trade route that every nation passed through. It is apparent that Israel was supposed to be the beginning of a movement to bring back God’s loving reign in the world. They, again, failed. They fall so far into idolatry that they make their own children “pass through the fire”, another way of saying they burned their children to demons. God goes as far as to say it never even came into His mind they would do such a thing. God has not forgotten His world or His people though. He constantly assures them that a day is coming when He will act against the enemies who have captivated His creation and His people. Daniel, while in captivity in Babylon, reads the prophet Jeremiah and sees the time is about to come for Israel to go back to their homeland. He prays and fasts and after a time an angel comes to Him and tells Him there will be 70 weeks of years before God finishes the plan He had in separating Israel from the beginning. He then tells us when God’s chosen one will be cut-off inaugurating the new people of God and ending the sacrifices. About 450 years later Herod is visited by men from the east who ask where the Messiah is supposed to be born. Herod was so scared of their visit and that he might lose his power that he tries to kill Jesus. They realized the time was almost fulfilled, but failed to stop the plan of the Lord of all the earth. Jesus was here, the plan for restoration had begun. All have, heretofore, failed to keep the charge of God and rule His world with love, justice, and mercy. Jesus is obedient though and, in His death and resurrection, he inaugurates the kingdom of God. That is the rule of God in all of creation. All creation, not just a small part or one family. This is something the disciples did not even understand, for they ask, “is now the time you will restore Israel…”, Jesus, however, tells them that they will go into the world and be witnesses for Him. They still didn’t quite get it though, Peter receives a vision where he is told to eat all kinds of unclean things and he refuses, God then tells him not to call dirty what He has deemed clean. As odd as this vision was it is interpreted to him that he should not look down on the gentiles because they were to be a part of God’s people. This is the context of the circumcision argument and the council of Jerusalem. James quotes a passage from the old testament that shows Jews and gentiles, together, honoring God. I wanted to make this one post, but it’s getting long. So next time I will go over the Pauline letters and the message they are trying to convey.

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