by Dan Bergman |
“It’s a Jewish thing.” This was printed on Frank’s shirt below a Star of David with a cross in the center. Frank garnered lots of attention (both good and bad) from his Jewish neighbors, which was his intent. He was trying to communicate a radical idea to them, and to challenge their thinking about Jesus and Christianity. This “radical” idea is that every blessing of salvation that you and I hold dear has its origin and foundation in the Jewish people and in the Hebrew Scriptures! Do you realize this incredible truth?
THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT
What is the New Covenant?
The prophet Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31-34) to his people that another covenant was on the horizon:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The New Covenant is a covenant that God said He would make in the future with Israel and with Judah. It would be completely separate from the Mosaic Covenant (the Law). This New Covenant would give three things to the Jewish people:
1. They would have God’s law written in their hearts.
2. They would have a personal relationship with God.
3. Their sin would be forgiven once and for all!
In an upper room in Jerusalem, some 600 years after the prophet Jeremiah penned God’s promise of a New Covenant, Jesus the Messiah told His disciples that His own blood is what would make this “New Covenant” possible. This is why the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus’ blood as “the blood of the everlasting covenant.” 1
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN FOR THE CHURCH?
As mentioned in the previous article, the church is nowhere to be seen in these verses! No one can truly say that this is a covenant given to the church. It is for a literal and physical Israel! This is why Paul referred to the church as a mystery! In gaining a proper perspective of the New Covenant, we as church-age believers will arrive at perhaps a clearer understanding than ever before of what it means to be “grafted in” and “the seed of Abraham by faith.” We will better understand the mystery that is the church, and be able to better expose the error of those in the replacement theology camp, who falsely try to prove that the church is the new Israel. Understanding this New Covenant in context will help all of the other pieces of this puzzle that is the church, fall into place.
The New Covenant is for Israel right? Groups that hold that the church has replaced Israel are forced to read the church into Jeremiah 31. How do they do that? They say that in this passage, “Israel” refers to the church. Cornelis Venema, president of Mid-America Reformed Seminary explains the “traditional reformed view” regarding this thought, that “Israel and the church are not two distinct peoples; rather, the church is the true Israel of God.”2 The Roman Catholic Church, among many others view “the Church” as “the new Israel.”3 Groups like this have a false view of the church, as replacing Israel. According to Sam Storms, who is a part of the ministry “Desiring God” and endorses replacement (reformed) theology, the New Covenant’s beneficiaries being Israel and Judah was fulfilled in those present at the Lord’s Supper, who were of those two houses. He also states that “…anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is now the “seed” of Abraham and thus an heir according to the promise. In other words, the church of Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God.”4
Pastor Josh Tinkham who planted a Reformed Baptist Church through the Southern Baptist Convention put it this way, “Those who partake of this New Covenant are the elect of God whom Paul calls in Galatians the Israel of God.”5
The only time the phrase “the Israel of God” is used in the Bible is Galatians 6:16. This verse actually differentiates between Israel and the church! Paul had just finished talking about how that being Jew or Gentile avails nothing in regards to salvation. He then says, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Emphasis added).
Paul wishes for peace and mercy upon believers, and upon Israel! There is no inkling here whatsoever that “the Israel of God” here, is the church! He also makes a difference between them in 1 Corinthians 10:32, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.”
Much of what is taught within the replacement theology movement reads things into the Scripture that are never said. Things like “a saved Gentile is a spiritual Jew,” and that “a Gentile believer is now the new Israel” from Romans 9:6 which states “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”
Dr. Michael Brown well states the error of these interpretations:
“Unfortunately, many of those who are familiar with this passage are not familiar with what comes next, and so they miss the whole point Paul was making. They also misinterpret this verse as if Paul were saying here that Gentile believers are Israel (something he never says; in fact, in Romans 11, he states the opposite).
Instead, Paul was making a spiritual observation, pointing out that God’s faithfulness continued to be manifest in the remnant within Israel, like the 7,000 who didn’t bow the knee to Baal, to use imagery that Paul takes up in Romans 11:1-5.
But here is what so many Bible teachers miss. Paul then speaks of Israel 10 more times, and every single time, he is referring to the nation as a whole, the natural children, not to the Israel within Israel, the spiritual children. (Don’t take my word for it; keep reading from Romans 9:8 to the end of Romans 11).”6
Israel is Israel, and the church is not. That is not to say however, that the church does not glean spiritual blessings from the Abrahamic and New Covenants.
SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS, NOT PHYSICAL
As mentioned above, Romans 9-11 make a stark black and white contrast between Israel and the church. There are however, passages that say that the church is connected with Abraham. How? And to what extent? Let’s look at Galatians 3.
“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. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
Galatians 3:6-9 (Emphasis added)
Okay, let’s get this clear. Israel is not the church, and the church is not Israel. A believer does not become a (spiritual) Jew when he accepts Christ. The Gentile does, however, gain access to the righteousness of God which is by faith in Abraham’s promised Seed, Jesus! What is the connection that Gentile believers have with Abraham? It is that “all nations” of the world would be blessed through him! Period. Now let’s examine the end of the chapter.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:28-29
Did you lose your gender when you got saved? That sounds like a silly question but it illustrates my point. Paul is not saying you cease to be a man or a woman, or a Jew, or a Gentile when you get saved! He is saying that none of that has any bearing on your position IN CHRIST. Salvation is no less available to a man than a woman, or to a Gentile than a Jew. Praise God!
I have a Jewish father and a Gentile mother. Where do I fit in? Some would say that I’m Jewish. Some would say that I am most certainly not, especially within Orthodox Judaism. Wherever I stand in that regard, I am glad that I can be saved just as much as any Jew or any Gentile! That is what this verse is teaching!
The promise spoken of is that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. Abraham’s seed by faith is a separate and distinct designation from the literal seeds of Abraham as the nation of Israel. It is a spiritual blessing to any who are non-Jewish, to now have a relationship with the God of Abraham by faith!
A GUEST AT THE TABLE, NOT THE NEW HOST
Gentiles are now fellowheirs and partakers with Israel. What does this mean?
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Ephesians 3:1-6
There are two different Greek words used for “partake” in our Bibles. The word used in Hebrews 2:14, where it says that believers are “partakers of flesh and blood,” is the Greek word “koy-no-neh’-o” – which means to share with others or have commonly, such as the term koine Greek (common Greek). This is not the word used here in Ephesians.
The Greek word in Ephesians is “sum-met-ekh’-o” – which means to share or participate. The difference between these two words was explained to our director, Mark Robinson, by a Greek man who used both of these words in his native tongue. He used the example of inviting friends over for dinner. He said all in his home would partake of all of the hospitality offered, whether they be the host or the guest. This is koinoneo – which is not the word in Ephesians. The guests who do not normally belong would partake as foreigners who are visiting. This is the word summetecho. It is how the Gentile believers are partakers of the promise.
How are the Gentile believers partakers? Well, those three promises ingrained within the promise of the coming New Covenant are now available on a spiritual level to all who would trust Christ! Do you realize how valuable this is? I believe a correct understanding of this concept doesn’t demean a Gentile’s blessing, but rather elevates it! They are now children of God, and partakers of the promise!
Paul mentions in Romans 11 this very same concept, illustrated with an olive tree. He says “For if thou (Gentile believers) wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, (Jewish people) be graffed into their own olive tree?”7 He says to “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear…” 8
Gentiles share in the benefit and blessings of the Jewish people in having a personal relationship with the God of Israel, having their sins forgiven, and having God’s own Spirit indwelling their hearts! This is all possible through the New Covenant, which will ultimately be completely fulfilled in the Jewish people at the second coming of Jesus when they, as a nation accept Him as their Messiah/King. It will bring the Abrahamic covenant to fruition in totality!
IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME
Was Israel commissioned to keep the Lord’s Supper? No. This was a command given to the church. In an amazing way, it emphasizes what the church’s place is in the New Covenant by celebrating an event that is intrinsically grounded in God’s relationship with the Jew – Passover.
When Jesus the Messiah took that Passover cup, He said “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you 9 …this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” 10
Those three promises of Jeremiah’s New Covenant (as well as the future literal fulfilment) are all made possible by the shed blood of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. His blood was shed for you! Whether you are Jewish, or Gentile, won’t you trust Him today and enjoy the spiritual blessing of forgiveness of sin?
1. Hebrews 13:20
3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 877, p.233
7. Romans 11:24
8. Romans 11:18-20
9. Luke 22:20
10. 1 Corinthians 11:25
Rev. Dan Bergman
Campus Ministries Director