It seems as if everyone has an opinion on “Who is Isra'el?” “Who is the Church?” “Are they the same thing?” “Does God still have a plan for Isra'el?” I am no different in that I also have a strongly-held opinion that drives my understanding of my identity, my responsibility to God’s covenant, and my place in God’s family.
No one is perfected in his views. In truth, all of the differing views must logically carry some weight of truth to them, so I greatly appreciate a forum such as this where we can present our differing views in a Spirit of love and mutual respect, even in the midst of our disagreements. We all need each other. May God grant us grace as we continue to study his Word for greater and greater insights from the text.
So here is what I hold to. I will try to be succinct:
I will answer the two questions head on and then attempt to substantiate my answers from the text.
Q: Are Isra'el and the Church the same thing?
A: Well…yes…and no. Isra'el exists on two levels: National Isra'el, and Remnant Isra'el. The Church exists within Remnant Isra'el, and Remnant Isra'el exists within National Isra'el. I will flesh this out with verses below…
Q: Does God still have a plan for Isra'el?
A: Absolutely. Messiah is the head of Remnant Isra'el, and even though National Isra'el doesn't have faith in Yeshua yet, nevertheless, God the Father is still going to bring National Isra'el to her knees in repentance someday.
Paul sets up the Olive Tree example in Rom. 11:11-24. In Rom. 11:16, he teaches that if the root is holy then the branches are holy. I take the Olive Tree to be the family of Isra'el and the root to be the Patriarchs. The “holy” aspect is Paul teaching the set-apartness of the Patriarchs from the rest of the world unto God, making his offspring (all the tree’s branches) also set apart from the world unto God.
Abraham the “nourishing root” is the exemplar of faith for all of his “branches,” but especially for the Remnant who live among the other “unsaved natural branches,” and for the grafted in branches, because of his faith in the Promised Word of the LORD (Gen. 15:6). The root cannot be Yeshua (Jesus), because Paul teaches elsewhere in this book that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Messiah (Rom. 8:38, 39), yet branches get broken off from this tree (Rom. 11:17-21). Also, Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to suppose that they support the root (Rom. 11:18). This makes no sense if the root is Yeshua, for no Christian in history has ever made such a supposition.
The branches being broken off are some of the members of National Isra'el, whom God prunes because of lack of faith in Yeshua (Rom. 11:19, 20), in order to make way for Gentile Christians who demonstrate faith in Yeshua. IMPORTANT: these “wild olive branch” Gentiles are grafted among the Remnant of Isra'el, not into National Isra'el. Notice Paul does NOT say how the Remnant came to be in the tree. That is because, like Paul himself, they were born into their own Olive Tree. Remnant Isra'el are natural branches that graduated to faith in Yeshua—also a son of Abraham—making them the Remnant that still dwells in the same Olive Tree as National Isra'el.
In the pruning of natural branches (some of the unsaved Jews), Paul doesn't say they are completely cut off from Isra'el, because if they, like believing Jews and Gentiles, place their faith in Yeshua, they too can be grafted back into their own Olive Tree, but this time it will be as Remnant Isra'el (Rom. 11:23, 24). In fact, Paul goes even further to suggest that since the gospel is essentially a culturally Hebrew concept engrained in the lives of the Hebrews and transmitted through the Scriptures they revere, then it is more natural for a Jew to believe in a Messiah than it is for a “wild olive branch” to believe in him (read Rom. 11:24 and catch the meaning of the “wild by nature,” and “contrary to nature” illustrations).
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