The Distinction between Israel and the Church
Over the past three months we have been studying the Church. We have discovered how one becomes a part of it, its function in the world - globally and locally, and our responsibility to follow the Biblical pattern of involvement in and commitment to a local church fellowship. This month I want to examine the distinction between the Church and Israel.
Israel, Gentile Nations and the Church
In the big picture of the Bible, we discover there are three groups repeatedly referred to. They are, Israel, the Gentile nations, and the Church. Israel is a national people, referred to as the Jews. They are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those called Gentiles are all non-Israeli people. The Church (as discussed in the past three lessons), is made up of believers in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. A failure to make the distinction between these three groups has resulted in error and the inability to correctly understand the Bible.
For example, if a passage of Scripture is speaking to a group of Gentiles about a specific time, place, or event, its application may not focus on or apply to either the nation of Israel or the Church. If Jesus is speaking to a group of Jews, the application of event, time, or place may not apply to either the Church or other Gentile peoples.
When reading any piece of literature, it is understood by the average reader that context and audience is critical to the interpretation and understanding of a story line. Innumerable errors in Biblical interpretation have been made by simply failing to see this one distinction.
The Church is made up of both Jew and Gentile.
The Bible tells us that both Jew and Gentile are invited into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Gentile).” (Romans 1:16) Those who respond to the Gospel and believe are made a unique entity in the world: the Church. Paul put it this way when speaking to a group of Gentiles. “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision (Gentile) by what is called the Circumcision (Jew) 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. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints (Jews) and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple (the Church) in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11-22) In Christ we are told, “There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one (Church) in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
When a Christian fails to make the distinction things get confusing.
The Law Given to the Jews
There are no verses in the Bible that indicate the Law of Moses was ever given to the Gentile nations. It was given to the Jews, by God, from Mount Sinai after the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt. The Law became the standard and “schoolmaster” to the Jewish Nation and was administered first by Moses, then Priests, Judges, Prophets, and Kings, et al. Gentiles who desired (by choice) to enter a relationship with God through the law and Nation of Israel were called “proselytes,” and were made subject to the law of Moses. Particular procedures were written in the Mosaic code to make provisions for these people. However, they were not given total equality with, or direct promises relating to, all God intended for the Nation of Israel.
Having this understanding let me provide an illustration.
When a placard or monument inscribed with the 10 Commandments is removed from a classroom, public property, meeting place or courthouse, many Christians cry, “foul,” “persecution,” or “discrimination.” Rightly so! However, many are viewing the removal of the 10 Commandments as a “Christian” issue and censorship of the Christian faith. Their reasoning is based on a misconception and failure to see the distinction between the Church and Israel. However, the persecution in its fullest and truest form is anti-God and anti-Semitic (anti-Jew), not anti-Christian. Certainly no Christian desires to see this form of persecution and censorship. However, Christians who miss this being anti-Semitic more than anti-Christian, do so because they have failed to see the distinction between Israel and the Church.
Three Fundamental Areas of Concern
When a Christian sees the distinction between Israel and the Church, many fundamental errors are remedied. Three primary areas of concern are, the Gospel, (also involving ecclesiology – the study of the Church) eschatology (study of the end times), and Israelology (The study of Israel - a subject often overlooked in most systematic theology texts).
In The Gospel (an Illustration)
A fundamental tell all in “Replacement Theology” is found in the doctrines of salvation. Those groups who teach a gospel of works or integrate the principles and/or practices of the mosaic code have failed to make the distinction and have in fact polluted the truth of the Gospel. For example, if a church or group is required to keep a “Sabbath Day,” to maintain dietary rules, or observe certain feasts et al. to attain righteousness or to remain righteous, the “Gospel” they embrace is polluted by error. (See Colossians 2:14-17)
In Eschatology – Study of the End Times (an Illustration)
Misunderstandings about the timing of the Rapture, (or failure to recognize it at all), the Tribulation Period, and the Millennial Reign of Christ, prevail among those who miss the distinction as well. As an example, there is no pre-tribulation rapture for the Jew. They are looking for the coming of Messiah at the end of the Tribulation when He makes Himself known to them. The Church knows the Lord today and is prepared to be “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” prior to the Tribulation. (1 Thes. 4:17-18)
In Israelology (an Illustration)
Dave Hunt explains,
“Israel is the major topic of the Bible, occupying most of its pages. The many prophecies concerning its past, present, and future are vital in understanding God’s Word. Sadly, they are ignored, explained away, or simply rejected by the vast majority of professing Christians, a growing number of whom insist that Israel has been replaced by the Church.” This doctrine is labeled “Replacement Theology.”
The Church has in no way replaced Israel. The many promises God has made to Israel will yet be fulfilled. Were it any other way, God would have broken His promises, violated His word, and failed at righteousness. He Himself said, “Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever." (Jeremiah 31:35-36) In other words, Israel shall not cease being a nation before the Lord as long as the sun, moon, and stars are in the heavens.
How we view Israel in world affairs affects our understanding of the times. How we see land for peace “deals,” wars and skirmishes, and other prophetic signs, filters our understanding of Israel and the Church today. The developing scenario described in the Bible about the rise of the Antichrist, his kingdom, the final days leading up to Jesus’ return, and ultimately His reign upon the earth are all affected by our understanding of Scriptural distinctions between the Church and Israel.
Without this distinction the Gospel is seriously affected. It may mean the difference between the truth and error; life and death. My prayer is that we all see the faithfulness of God to Israel and to the Church. His promise kept to them is assurance of His promise kept to us.
God invites all, Jew and Gentile alike, into the Church - through the provisions He made by the shed blood of Christ Jesus the Lord.
May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to study His Word.
Paul D. Van Noy, Pastor
Candlelight Christian Fellowship