Visible or True Israel

Working with the visible and invisible concept of the church from the last post (1 John 2:19), I want to now see how scripture applies this distinction to Israel and later to covenants. It’s important to grasp this invisible/visible, spiritual/physical, or internal/external scope of scripture because without it many things can become confused.

In summary what I defined so far was that the visible church is the physical people and their external activity that we see in church each week. Because we cannot see the internal spiritual heart of each person, we say that the invisible church are those we see each week who are born again by the Holy Spirit. On one hand they overlap, and on the other hand they are totally separate groups because some in the physical visible church may not be saved (although they may outwardly be doing everything those who are saved are outwardly doing).

I belabor the point as both review and emphasis because although the above is agreeable to most, once it is applied to the people of Israel, it sparks debate. So as applied, as simply as possible: Physical, political, ethnically visible Israel is not the same population as Spiritual, invisible, saved Israel. Romans 9 touched on this in the last post. We also see it repeatedly in John 8:44 as Jesus’ rebukes the religious leaders saying they are not of Abraham, but of their father the devil. Jesus cannot be speaking in physical terms, because they really are direct descendants of/from Abraham, so His context or perspective must be as one who can see their hearts and declare that from a spiritual/invisible point of view, they are not of His sheep, and in effect (related to Romans 9) they are not “true Israelites”.

In the Old Testament we encounter the same understanding of this biblical concept. Hosea 2 is used within the context of Romans 9 as proof that as salvation is being spread to Gentiles, it was something God had in mind all along when:

“As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

So we are to understand that as the Gentiles are not God’s physically identifiable people, God via salvation, by the same grace and faith, will call the Gentiles His people and His beloved.

My main point in all of this is that as we encounter God’s relationships with Israel in the OT we need to be careful in our discernment of them being viewed as true or false Israelites (physical descendants or spiritual believers. Does God speak to them as His Children and protect them via His promises or do they face justice and His wrath. If under the Abrahamic Covenant God assumes all the penalties for not keeping the covenant, then Israel as a whole should never face discipline or judgment, but as they do, the remnant that always remains are the true Israel of God’s promise and grace.

Many throughout church history have seen this visible and invisible view to God’s dealing with people in all ages and have concluded, in line with the New Testament language, that the saved in all ages are the same and thus the terms of Israel, true Israel, the Church, Saints, God’s people, the Elect… are all interchangeable. There is resistance to this as some incorrectly call this idea “replacement theology”. The confusion rests completely in this idea of there being a visible and invisible, or true Israel. The mistake is not that the physical church replaces national/physical Israel, but that all the promises of God to Israel (as true or spiritual Israel) now fully belong to the church in this time, which is not a replacement because there is no transfer but they always belong those who are saved by grace through faith in all ages. This is why the church in the NT can be called names from the OT that belonged solely to Israel and Israel in the OT can be called the church in its youth.


1 Comment

Filed under New Testament, Old Testament, Theology

One response to “Visible or True Israel

  1. preacherwin

    Good post and this is also where 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 fits in. As I mentioned to you once before, I’d love to have you teaching with me in Kiev one day if the Lord sees fit to open those doors for you. In the meantime, thanks for another good post.

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