As we previously looked at the topic ‘Who is Israel’ earlier, I thought this teaching from John at Aletheuo might be of interest to someone.
1 ”I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. John 15:1-6 (NKJV)
The answer to the question in this title is something hotly debated in Christian circles, and yet it is a debate that should be dead and buried in my opinion, because the answer is as clear as the nose on your face. So who is the Israel of God, you ask? Quite simply it is the same One who is the True Vine spoken of in the opening text, namely Jesus Christ. It is at this point that, if you run to Google to test what I’ve said, you will find yourself opening a can of worms that you may never have realised was even there. It shouldn’t take long before some learned scholar from the likes of Dallas Theological Seminary, attempts to convince you that Israel is always national Israel, and whoever disagrees is at the very least a “replacement theologian”, and at worst the spawn of Satan himself.
If you are someone like myself, who is now returning to this article via a scenic Google led trip through the heart of this debate, you will be acutely aware at how those on both sides of the argument begin to put solitary words (such as “kai” used in Gal 6:16) under the microscope, to highlight how their opinion who Israel is, is the correct one. You will undoubtedly have also been led through numerous other verses of Scripture, interpreted in seemingly opposite ways, until you are left none the wiser to the answer. Or at least how it can be determined positively. If that is you, welcome back from your trip, and now experience the delightful simplicity of allowing the Bible itself to offer you the interpretation you seek.
When seeking to understand the Scriptures, there is undoubtedly much benefit in having a sound grasp of the historical context, and a good grasp of the original languages. However if we consider these things to be the greatest key to understanding God’s Word, of which many theologians today actually do, then we may find ourselves on shaky ground. The reason being that our knowledge of history is highly subjective, reliant upon the knowledge offered by other sinful men, and is likely to change dramatically with the next historic discovery. And considering we no longer have the complete and original autographs of Scripture intact, along with the fact that the original language is no longer used today, we have similar problems as a result. So although these methods are undoubtedly helpful and necessary tools in theology, it would be foolish of us to deny their shortcomings, and our need to have a greater method of interpretation as our foundation, on which we are able to build using the tools aforementioned.
Just as with any method of interpretation, this method of interpreting the Scriptures has its own presuppositions. Yet the wonderful thing is, they are presuppositions that are not only clearly backed up in Scripture itself, they also help us to cast aside interpretations that may otherwise seem quite reasonable to us. Before I conclude this post by showing you how I come to the answer I did at the outset, I will highlight a few of the presuppositions I’ve mentioned, in order to show how I have drawn the conclusion I have. Regardless of where you might stand yourself, I would ask that you would consider these things when drawing your own conclusions too, that is of course if you agree they are correct.
1. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), and as such is the One who is able to interpret what He has said. In other words, regardless of the human author attributed to writing the text, it is God Himself by way of His Holy Spirit, who is the Author of ALL Scripture (2 Tim 3:16).
2. Jesus Christ is not only the Word made flesh, but He is also the Creator (John 1:3, Col 1:16), who is the Beginning and the End of all things (Rev 1:8). He is not a bystander waiting for the truth to be revealed, but He is the Author of all truth, creating all things and knowing the end from the beginning.
3. Jesus Christ in not simply a Character within the Scripture, but He is the focal point and the core of ALL Scripture, from beginning to end. Whilst it is true that Jesus Christ as fully Man entered His creation at a specific point in history as the Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world, as fully Divine His foreknowledge pre-exists even the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Nothing has taken Him by surprise, even in the fall of man in Adam, to the way He was rejected by those descended from Jacob in the flesh. For this reason, the whole of the Scripture, both New and Old Testaments, point to Him as the focus of it all (Luke 24:44-45).
4. Because of the all encompassing way in which Christ is the embodiment of the whole of Scripture, and because in His Divinity He is eternal, immutable and all knowing, this truth can be applied to our understanding of Scripture itself. We can see it as ONE whole, with ONE author, and without contradiction, even if in our fallen state we have to strive to achieve this goal. The bottom line being that, if in our efforts to seek the true meaning of the Biblical text we fail to see Jesus Christ and His Kingdom front and centre, then the chances are that our interpretation is to be found wanting.
5. My last point is something that is most likely to be a bone of contention with regards to the subject of this post, and it is that the ultimate truth conveyed by Scripture is of a spiritual nature and not a mortal one. The natural is what we see and experience first, which then passes away to bring in the spiritual reality (1 Cor 15:42-49). We learn from Scripture that what is mortal cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50), because it is a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). What this means in reality, is that if we continue to look for the ultimate truth of Scripture in this mortal world, we are looking for it in a different place than where Scripture reveals it to be.
One of the primary arguments of dispensationalism, whose system of interpretation distinguishes between Israel and the Church, is that many of the promises made by God to Israel in the Old Testament remain unfulfilled, and therefore there must be a future point in time where those promises are fulfilled in the earth. Without going into unnecessary detail, the conclusion of this system seems to be that the Church cannot inherit the promises of God made to Israel, because God is faithful to His promises, and therefore the Church cannot simply replace Israel in the grand scheme of things. This is one of those things that, whilst at first glance may seem to be a reasonable conclusion to make, when allowing the Scripture to interpret its own meaning as I’ve laid out above, it is found to be a conclusion built upon faulty foundations. In fact, to some degree or another (depending on the type of dispensationalism held to), that system of interpretation transgresses every single one of the points I’ve outlined previously with regards to our understanding of Scripture.