|ISRAEL, SPIRITUAL |
The church, one gathering of all believers under the lordship of Christ as the continuation of God's work with Old Testament Israel. This is in contrast to most references in the Old Testament to religious or secular assemblies or to those in the New Testament that designate a local congregation of Christians, but never in any way mean a building.
Israel is the name given to the descendants of Jacob and to the grouping of people in the twelve tribes coming from Jacob's sons. In Old Testament times they constituted the people of God, for He chose them as His own for faithful service. Scripture is clear that Christ came to earth to establish His heavenly kingdom as a substitute for the Jewish kingdom that had failed (Matthew 21:43). Throughout the New Testament the church is spoken of as the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is presented as an actual entity ruled by God, a spiritual acceptance of the rule of God, or Jesus Christ, the One fully in submission to God and a personification of the kingdom. Paul distinguished between genealogical Israelites and the true “Israel of God,” God's people, those who believe the good news and receive the peace and mercy of God (Galatians 6:16). Spiritual Israel, the Christian church, has supplanted the Jews as the elect people of God (Romans 9:6-13;
1 Peter 2:9). Spiritual Israel includes Jews who believe in Jesus. Christians are divided as to the fate of Israel. This centers on interpretation of passages such as
2 Corinthians 3:16.
Such interpretations seek to understand the mystery of divine election which began with Israel and climaxed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The history of divine election includes Israel's disobedience by depending on human achievement rather than divine mercy which led to their rejection of Jesus, and will climax in the salvation of “all Israel” (Romans 11:26). The point at which interpretations differ is the meaning of all Israel. Is spiritual Israel the church, Israel of all generations from Abraham to the end of time, Jews at the end of the ages, or the remnant of believing Jews included in the church or brought into the church in the last days? Many interpretations have been made. What is certain is that God in His grace of election opens the door to salvation by faith to all people regardless of the race or tradition out of which they come.
J. William Thompson and Trent C. Butler