Christ our Israel

'Of Israel'

Israel is a term for the redeemed community of earth. In Romans 11, Paul says that we Christians are grafted into Israel. In Exodus 12:38, we are told that ‘a mixed multitude’ went out of Egypt with the Israelites, joining the Exodus to the land of promise. Most of these would have been Egyptians who decided to abandon the feeble deities of their native land to follow the true God’s living faith. They had effectively joined Israel. Likewise, Ruth the Moabitess, joined Israel. Israel was not a mere racial group, though it was predominantly the genetic pool of Jacob’s twelve sons, but a wider community of saved people. Conversely, Paul writes in Romans 9 “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel”. Salvation was for the children of the promise, not the flesh. In other words, one who was physically Hebrew but a rejector of Israel’s God was not true, spiritual Israel. I, though a gentile by birth and a Christian by faith, am a part of God’s great Israel.

'In Christ'

‘In Christ is an expression used by the New Testament to describe the union between saved and Saviour. Many times in Romans, Paul uses the expression. For example, in 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He lives in me and yet my life is hid with Him on high. I partake of Him when I eat the Lord’s supper, and His Spirit dwells within me. As a Christian therefore, my salvific state may be described as being of Israel as well as in Christ.

Historical Israel frequently failed in its God-given ministry of being a light to the gentiles. Too often, it allowed the surrounding gentile nations to shine their dark lamps into Jacob's bright halls. Although Jonah successfully brings truth to a pagan land, he is noted for his reluctance and few others venture out of the land with evangelising zeal. All too often they worshipped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the moon and the stars. They themselves became subject to God’s judgement, most graphically when the Babylonians were permitted to destroy the great temple of Solomon.

Christ the New Israel

Might not Christ Himself be a new Israel, just as He is a new Adam? This is not to say that God rejected the Jews nor that His purposes for ethnic Israel are over. Yet Christ came to undo the failures of the past and renew the inadequate ministries of others. Christians are both in Him and of Him. We are His people as well as His indwelt vessels. There are several parallels between the earthly life of Jesus Christ and the earthly activities of Israel, which I think lend credence to the idea.

Christ departed Egypt for the land of promise

Out of Israel, God called His son. The young Christ child returned to Judaea on Herod’s death, echoing the exodus 1500 years previously.

He crossed the sea

Christ walked on the water of Galilee, not unlike Moses’ passing through the Red Sea out of Egypt. Both are met with a degree of disbelief by their followers, yet both demonstrate that huge expanses of water are no barrier to God’s great redemptive purpose.

The desert Wanderer

Christ spent 40 days in the desert, mirroring Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. Yet He remained faithful and ungrumbling; though He was sorely tested, He remained fit to enter the promised land, unlike the disbelieving ancestors of Moses' and Joshua's day.

He drove the Canaanites out of the land

By defeating Satan in the wilderness and driving out numerous unclean spirits, He better drove out the ‘Canaanites’ than physical Israel under Joshua. Satan, as ‘god of this world’, very much represents ‘the nations’ who were to be expelled from the holy land.

He cleanses the temple

For much of the period of the kings, the temple was stocked with idols and pagan paraphernalia. Though there were reformations under Josiah and Hezekiah, such times did not last. Christ expelled the merchants and the money-changers, the first-century’s vessels of godlessness. Though both physical temples were shortly afterwards destroyed, Christ rightly removed sin from its midst, something most Judean rulers were not inclined to do.

He had twelve disciples

There were twelve Hebrew tribes, though some were lost in Mesopotamia, never to return. Even before the exile, many were lost to paganism, especially those in the north, some of whose people sought refuge in the relatively godly Judah. This is why we now refer to ‘the Jews’ as a collective term for Israel rather than the Hebrews or Israelites. Christ calls twelve men to follow Him, even though he had at least seventy other followers, and many women beside. By calling a dozen men to follow Him,  He is re-establishing and concluding the tribal system. In the New Jerusalem, the twelve tribes and twelve apostles are written on the foundations and gates.

He fed 5000 in the desert with miraculous food

As a new and greater Moses, He fed Israel miraculously when food for so many was clearly not available. Similarly, God provided manna and quail to Moses’ generation.

He is the Son of God

This is a name given to Adam in Luke 3:38, for he was created directly by God with no prior lineage. The title is given to Israel in Exodus 4:22, in which Moses is commanded to tell pharaoh that “Israel is My son, My firstborn”. Whereas Adam and Israel essentially failed to fulfil the functions and dignity of divine sonship, Christ Himself fully honoured both its call and its office.

My salvation is bound to Christ. In Him, I am a member of greater Israel, the timeless, boundless community of the redeemed. I am no physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yet in Christ I am fully grafted into the Israel of God.