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Volume 7, Issue 4: Similitudes

The Church is Israel?

Douglas Wilson

The only thing I don't understand," I said, "is how you can say that the Church is Israel today. I have always been taught that God had one purpose for Israel as His earthly people in the Old Testament, and another purpose for the Church as His heavenly people in the New Testament."

Martin leaned back in his chair and took a sip from his coffee. "I know. I was taught the same thing."
"What made you change your mind . . .?"
"It may sound cheap to put it this way, but . . . Bible reading, actually."
"You just read the Bible, and mysterious gnostic things happen in your head?"
Martin laughed. "No. Bible reading and Bible study."
"Let me put it another way," I said. "Can you show me, can you prove from the Bible that the Church is Israel?"
Martin nodded.
"Well?" I said.
He smiled. "The proofs take three basic forms. The first is that the teaching of the New Testament requires it. The second is that the illustrations of the New Testament require it."
"Go on," I said.
"And the third is that this is the theology that personally works best for me."
We both laughed. "No, seriously . . ."
"The third reason is that the promises and commands given to Israel in the Old Testament are naturally applied to the Church, without explanation, in the New Testament."
"Well," I said, "if you can back all this up, that would really be something. And totally unlike anything I have ever heard before."
"Okay," Martin said. "Look up Ephesians 2:11."
When I had found it, Martin sat back in his chair and quoted--"`Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands--that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.'"
He stopped,and I looked up.
"Now, what does that say?" he said.
"It says that the Gentiles who used to be apart from Christ have now been brought near to Christ."
"No. They have not been brought near to Christ. They have been brought near to something else in Christ, and by the blood of Christ. What is that something else?"
I looked at the page again, and stared for a minute. "They used to be aliens and strangers. And now they are not."
Martin nodded. "Good. Aliens to what and strangers to what?"
"Aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. I have never seen this before. And I have read this passage a hundred times."
"So because of Christ, Gentiles are no longer aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and no longer strangers to the Old Testament covenants of promise?"
"Yes," I said. "That's what it teaches."
"The illustrations are just as powerful," Martin said. "Look at Galatians 4:1-7, and then Romans 11: 15-27."
I found both, and read them both aloud. Martin followed along in his Bible.
"Okay." I said. "Now what?"
"Consider the nature of these illustrations. In Galatians, Paul compares the Jewish nation to an underage heir, indistinguishable from a slave. But now, in these days of fulfilled promise, that same heir is grown up and has come into his inheritance. His name as a child was Israel. His name now is the Church. But Paul is clear there is no change of identity from the older covenant to the new."
"What about Romans?" I said.
Martin continued. "In Romans, Paul gives the illustration of an olive tree. If Israel and the Church are completely different entities, then what are they doing as fellow branches in the same tree? A difference between them requires two olive trees. But there is only one tree. Same sort of thing in John 15."
"I understand what you are saying." I said. "But we don't have much time left. What about your last point? Can you make it quickly?"
Martin smiled. "No. But I can make it at treetop level. Christian pastors are to be paid because an old covenant ox is not to be muzzled. Gentile children at Ephesus are told that the commandment given at Sinai contained a promise for them. Abraham is the father of all who believe, whether circumcised or not. Moses chose to follow Christ, and refused the treasures of Egypt. In other words, Moses was a Christian. The children of Israel in the wilderness tempted Christ, the Rock from whom they drank, and the first-century Christians are admonished not to be like them."
I threw up my hands. "Hold on, hold on! Can we talk about this more next week?"
Martin laughed. "Fine. Next week."

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