Are Israel and the church the same thing? Does God still have a plan for Israel?

Question: "Are Israel and the church the same thing? Does God still have a plan for Israel?"

This topic is one of the more controversial in the Church today, and it has significant implications regarding the way we interpret Scripture, especially in regard to the end times. More importantly, it has great significance in that it affects the way we understand the very nature and character of God Himself.

Romans 11:16-36 records the illustration of the olive tree. This passage speaks of Israel the (“natural” branches) being broken off from the olive tree, and the Church (“wild” branches or shoots) being grafted into the olive tree. Since Israel is referred to as branches, as well as the Church, it stands to reason that neither group are the “whole tree” so to speak, but rather the whole tree represents God’s workings with mankind as a whole. Therefore, God’s program with Israel, and God’s program with the Church are part of the outworking of His purpose among men in general. Of course, this is not intended to mean that either program is of little significance, because as most commentators have noted, more revelation is given in the Bible regarding God’s programs with Israel and with the Church than any of God’s other dealings!!

The best way to interpret Scripture is with the Scripture itself, so with that in mind, recall that in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (the Jews), that that the Jews would possess a land, and that nation would be blessed above all other nations, and that all nations would be blessed out of Israel. So from the beginning God reveals that Israel would be His chosen people on the earth, but that His blessing and working would not be limited to them exclusively. Galatians 3:14 identifies the nature of the blessing that would come to all the other nations in addition to Israel. It says: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” All the nations of the world, then, would be blessed by Israel, through whom would come the Savior of the world.

God’s plan of redemption is built upon the finished work of Jesus Christ, who came from the line of David, who is himself a physical descendant of Abraham. Of course, Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for the sins of the entire world, not just the Jews! Galatians 3:6-8 states “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Finally, Galatians 3:29 says, “And if ye [be] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” When you put all of this together, what it is saying is not that believers become Jews (the physical descendants of Abraham), but that in Christ, they are counted righteous by faith in the same way that Abraham was (Galatians 3:6-8). Verse 29 tells us that if people are in Christ, (believers, members of the Church), then they are partakers of the blessing of Israel and all nations in the redemptive work of Christ. In this sense, believers become the spiritual descendants of Abraham. In summary, believers do not become Jews, but may enjoy the same type of blessings and privileges as the Jews.

Now, this does not contradict or nullify the revelation given in the Old Testament. What took place in the Old Testament is still valid, in that God’s relationship with Israel as a chosen people points to the work of Christ as a Redeemer of the whole world. The Old Testament contains the Mosaic Law, which is still mandatory for all the Jews (the physical descendants of Abraham) to follow, because they have not yet accepted Christ as their Messiah, who would do what they could not do—fulfill the Law in all its details. As New Testament believers, we are no longer under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13), because Christ has taken that curse upon Himself on the cross. The Law served two purposes, first to reveal the problem of unrighteousness, and mankind’s inability (on his own merit) to do anything about that problem, and to point us to Christ, who fulfills the Law. His death on the Cross completely satisfies God’s righteous requirement of perfection.

It must be remembered that God’s promises are not made invalid by the acts and unfaithfulness of man. Nothing we do is ever a surprise to God, and He does not need to adjust His plans according to the way we behave. No, God is sovereign over all things—past, present and future—and what He has foreordained for both Israel and the Church will come to pass, regardless of circumstances. Romans 3:3-4 explains that the unbelief of the Jews would not nullify His promises concerning them: “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’"

One final thought, promises made to Israel are still going to be kept to them in the future. The “clock” for that has been temporarily stopped, and only God knows when those things will come to pass. However, we can be sure that all God has said is true and will take place, because of His character and consistency. Earlier it was mentioned that how one views Israel and the Church has implications on the interpretation of Scripture, and here is why: It is not possible for the Church to fulfill or expect to have fulfilled for them the promises made to Israel. So, as one reads Scripture, it is absolutely essential to follow the pattern set by Scripture itself and keep Israel and the Church separate.

Recommended Resource: Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie.

Related Topics:

What is dispensationalism and is it Biblical?

What is Covenant Theology and is it Biblical?

What is the Abrahamic Covenant?

What is replacement theology?

What is premillennialism?

Return to:

Questions about Theology

Return to: Home

Are Israel and the church the same thing? Does God still have a plan for Israel?