I will confess at the outset that I have not developed this idea much yet in my mind, so I am most certainly open to correction, and would not be surprised if someone who thought longer and deeper on this subject is able to sway me off this point. On the flip side, I think where I am going with this post is true and I would not post it if I didn’t think it was right. Also, I am certain that this idea is not novel at all, and that many (though I couldn’t name them) have believed exactly what I am going to say.
I posted on this topic before at The Tenth Letter… and that posting can be read here. I have no intention of rehashing that post, let me simply say that in that post I rejected the idea that ethnic Israel is the currently the covenant people of God, while also rejecting the idea that the Church has ‘replaced’ Israel. Now I am not sure if where I am going today strengthens or weakens my argument at The Tenth Letter… but it definitely relates to the post.
We know that the covenant was laid forth to the offspring of Abram in Genesis 12, and at the point we first see the rise of what would be the nation of Israel.
Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV) Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:7 (ESV) 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
These passages often get used to promote the national policy of supporting Israel at all cost, and they are some of the passages that dual covenant people will look at in support of their view. Now clearly these passages by themselves with no commentary, especially in the English translation, justify that view. It seems that to dishonor the nation made from Abram is a surefire way to be cursed, and that the offspring of Abram are the rightful heirs of the promised land, and the promises associated with that land.
The problem however is that the scripture itself does offer commentary on this passage, and Paul, writing to the Galatians gives us the proper understanding of the text.
Galatians 3:16 (ESV) 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Paul clearly expounds the meaning of the text, and informs us that the offspring of Abram referred to in Genesis 12 was NOT the nation of Israel, but was Christ himself. Paul essentially performs a bypass from Abraham all the way to Christ. The covenant that was made prior to the Law being given on Sinai was a covenant made to the offspring of Abram, but that offspring was not Israel (Jacob) and His sons, it was Christ Himself. The question that we must then raise is “What about Israel then?” Has Israel been replaced by the Church? No, what we see is that Israel has been replaced by Christ himself. Israel itself was a type of Christ, Christ came to redeem Israel and to fulfill the covenant made with Abram. Christ indeed is a “blessing to the nations” and those who curse Christ indeed will be cursed.
As you play out the ‘Israel replaced by Christ’ line of thinking a plethora of other scriptures come in line as well. For instance when you look to the famous 53rd Chapter of Isaiah, a new picture is allowed to emerge. Israel traditionally interpreted the suffering servant passages (and many do this today) to be referring to the nation of Israel itself. The idea to the Jews is that Israel itself is the suffering servant of God. Of course as Christians we quickly write that notion off and affirm that the suffering servant prophecies refer not to Israel but to the Christ, but I think we are too quick to write off the Jewish claim. What I contend is that the Rabbis who taught regarding the suffering servant and Israel were spot on to claim that the text referred to Israel, yet where they went wrong was to not see that the Messiah Himself would be the fulfillment of Israel. That the Christ Himself would take upon Himself the role of Israel! When Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, it did not simply mean that He would do what was required by them, but that He would actually be the lone recipient of the entire body of covenant promises made to Israel as He was the lone fulfiller of Israel’s side of the covenant.
Let this line of thinking permeate you reasoning on the entire Old Testament, as well as the New Testament passages referring to Israel and the whole picture seems to come into focus. Jesus alone is the person of the covenant. Jesus in some sense ‘replaces’, though I think that is a bit of a bogus term, Israel. Now with that in mind look back to Genesis 12:1-3 above.
The families of the earth receive great blessing, not from the people of Israel, but from Christ. The intention of God with the people of Israel all along was producing the Christ. We see this recur later when we see the promises made to David’s son, and how the commentary on those passages in the New Testament let us know that the son which was being referred to was not Solomon, but was Christ Himself. The entire thing is constantly pointing to Christ.
While this topic is a touch complex it hits home in a lot of unexpected ways. For instance, in baptism we are united to the life of Christ in His death and resurrection, in a very real sense (no mere symbolism) Baptism unites us unto Christ as a people of the covenant. Our union to Christ is not different than a proselyte becoming a part of Israel in the Old Testament. By circumcision new converts and their families were marked as the offspring of Abram by their union with Israel, by baptism we are marked as the Children of Abram by our union with Christ (who is Israel.)
Curious what others may think about this. Personally I think this clearly the argument that Paul makes throughout his Epistles, not that the Church has replaced Israel, but that Christ Himself is Israel.