Who Is the Israel of God?

Who Is the Israel of God?

The term “Israel of God” is found in the final chapter of the Book of Galatians. In fact, it’s the only place in the Bible where it is found. But of whom was Paul speaking? Was he applying the term to the entire biological Jewish nation? Or was he limiting it only to those Jews who had come to believe in Yeshua? Or, was Paul using the term to describe all believers, the whole ecclesia – Jews and non-Jews alike?

It is my belief that Paul was without a doubt speaking of the entire saved congregation of believers. The whole ecclesia was the “Israel of God.” The same ones he had included elsewhere under the term – “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:11).

And here’s what convinced me.

Throughout this whole letter to the Galatians Paul is anguishing over the activities of his new non-Jewish converts. He had learned they were being seduced by some Jewish disciples into submitting to the rituals and holy days prescribed under the Mosaic Law. At one point, he cries out, “who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1).

After laying out all the reasons for why they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing, Paul wraps up his letter with this final statement. “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15,16).

Based on the entire focus of his letter, I think we can safely eliminate unbelieving Jews as being included in the term “Israel of God.” Unbelievers are not within the scope of his concern here. Only believers, and how we should live under the new covenant of grace. So, it makes no sense to think he was including unbelievers in his final prayer of blessing. And since we know the first half of that blessing was for all believers “who walk by this rule,” that leaves just two candidates to be defined as “the Israel of God.” Either they too are all believers. Or  they are just Jewish believers, as some want to believe.

The argument put forth by those who insist the “Israel of God” is just for believing Jews hangs on the word “and.” They argue that by inserting the conjunctive Paul was clearly differentiating between two groups of believers. By their definition, the first group, those “who walk by this rule” (of living by the Spirit and not Law), must therefore be just non-Jews.

But we know there were many Jews included in the first group – starting with Paul. It was only those Jews (and those new converts they had persuaded) who were not walking “by this rule.” They were  insisting that circumcision and the Law’s precepts were still necessary for the followers of Messiah.

Therefore, the argument that the word “and” is connecting two different groups of believers is a false argument. Paul was speaking of the same group in two different ways – going from the particular to the general. To use an analogy, if Paul were George Washington, his conclusion could be stated this way: “And let God’s peace and mercy be upon all citizens who abide by the Constitution of the United States, and upon our whole constitutionally-founded country of America.”

The only division that existed among believers at that time was caused by those who did not want to abide by Israel’s new God-approved constitution, the New Covenant. They wanted to continue under the former governing statutes. So, Paul was simply blessing those who had correctly discerned how to live by God’s New Covenant “rule” of walking by the Spirit. And then praying for the well-being of this whole nation, including those chosen ones who were yet to be added, which he terms “the Israel of God.”

That’s why I believe the “Israel of God” is the “commonwealth of Israel.” Which is “all Israel.” Which includes both Jewish and non-Jewish believers.” Which is the ecclesia. Which is the body of Messiah.

But we could ask, what prompted Paul to use the term “Israel of God?” Were their two Israel’s in Israel? One of God, and one not? Yes. He explained this in his letter to the Romans: “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel [Jacob] (Rom. 9:6). What did he mean? Simply that not every child who exited the womb of an Israelite mother had been chosen by God to be included in the inheritance promised to Abraham. These he called “children of the flesh.” The ones chosen were “children of promise.”

In other words, God had left to Himself the prerogative of choosing which children of Abraham would be His. And which ones wouldn’t be. As the Psalmist wrote: “He chooses our inheritance for us, the glory of Jacob whom He loves” (Ps. 74:4).”

As examples of those not included in the Israel of God were Ishmael and Esau. Isaac and Jacob were among those who would receive the promised inheritance. And if anyone had a problem with that truth, Paul told them to chew on this: “Who are you O man who argues with God. Does not the potter have the right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Rom. 9:20).

We see then that the “Israel of God” was not something that just started in the first century. No, God had been selecting this blessed group of Abraham’s seed from day one. Like Abraham, who Paul terms “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11), they are known only through their faith. Which meant there was always a faithline within the bloodline. It included all those who lived before Yeshua who had believed in him via the types and shadows. Many are listed in Hebrews Eleven. And it included all those who believed after he came through the eye-witness accounts of his miracles and resurrection as recorded in the Bible.

The real puzzling factor in all this, however, was how to account for the inclusion of believers pouring in from among the nations who were obviously not Jewish. That’s when Paul ripped the covers off one of the biggest revelations of the New Testament. One that has sailed right over our heads for 2000 years. One that showed the Jews aren’t the only ones wearing spiritual blinders.

At the end of the ninth chapter of Romans Paul defines the Israel of God this way:

“And He [endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He called not from among Jews only, but also from among the nations. AS HE SAYS ALSO IN HOSEA, ‘I will call those who were not My people, My people, and her who was not beloved, beloved.’ And it shall be in the place where it was said to THEM, ‘you are not My people,’ there THEY shall be called ‘sons of the living God.” (Rom. 9:25,26)

When Paul told us that the non-Jewish believers were the very ones to whom Hosea’s prophecy applied, he revealed our identity. We were the redeemed descendants of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel who had assimilated among the nations. The ones who had been missing for over 700 years.

Could this really be true? Could we really be THEM? Well, didn’t the prophecy say they’d be called “sons of the living God?” And aren’t we? And didn’t Paul also tell us, “If you belong to Messiah, you ARE Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Paul had called God’s restoration of Israel a “mystery.” A hidden truth. But as Yeshua told us, “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed” (Luke 12:2). It just took another two millennia to pull the covers off this one.

That’s why I can joyfully say to you, whether you are Jewish or not, if you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, and that God raised him from the dead – “welcome to the Israel of God!”

 

One Reply to “Who Is the Israel of God?”

  1. A great introduction to the “Israel of God” our apostle Paul speaks about in his closing words to the Galatian. This conversation adjoins our other studies of the “Commonwealth of Israel”. In the spirit of the missing theological category, Israelology the “Israel of God” brings added perspective to the former more well known names, “Body of Christ”, “household of God”, “household of faith”, and those who belong to Christ, the promised “Seed of Abraham”. All of these are bringing fresh insights into how people of all nations are apprehended in the New Covenant.

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