‘Israel’ needs definition: I’m here talking about God’s elect people, his promise to Abraham and his choosing of Jacob and his descendants and their identity and calling to be his holy people, faithful to the covenant and Torah.
When we come to consider the identity of ‘Israel’ today, we must do so through a Christological lens. For this is how the NT is written – it is fundamentally a theological reflection on the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in light of Israel’s story as told in her scriptures.
Jesus is Israel’s Messiah; the king who announces and demonstrates in power the that the kingdom of God has come; his healing of the sick, raising of the dead, purifying lepers and casting out of demons are all signs that the eschatological rule of God is here in the present. Jesus is the anointed Son of God, the fulfilment of all the hopes of Israel. He alone brings forgiveness and salvation.
Jesus re-enacts exodus around himself; the baptism – Spirit- temptations narrative highlights that he is God’s beloved Son are all strong echoes of Exodus: (passing through water followed by 40 days in the desert). Jesus chooses 12 disciples; he reforms or reconstitutes Israel around himself. He is even the fulfilment of the Torah – obedience to God is measured in faithful response to his teaching. He is the one with the authority to reinterpret and apply the Torah (Mt 5-7). For John he is the eternal Logos.
Jesus explicitly announces judgement on the Temple. It would be replaced by worship centered on the resurrected Lord (1 Cor 8:6). He is one greater than the Temple (Mt 12:6). John tells of Jesus who is the temple (Jn 2:19-21). Luke records in Acts 7 how the significance of the Temple is relativised in light of the coming of the Righteous One; “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”. And in the eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, the temple is not a building but the presence of God and the Lamb.
The exalted Christology of the NT reinforces the picture of Jesus, the Lord, the one greater than Solomon, greater than David, the very presence of God himself having come to his Temple in the holy city. He comes a suffering servant, to die for the world. The entire book of Hebrews is a Christological reflection on how Jesus far surpasses anything or anyone that has come before – including priesthood, temple sacrifices, prophets like Moses and the tabernacle.
In his resurrection, Jesus is the vindicated Son of God. It is the risen Lord who sends the Spirit, fulfilling the hope of the OT prophets like Joel. It is through faith in Jesus that the gift of the life-giving Spirit is received. Life comes in him, not through the Torah. A new community of the Spirit is formed in Christ – a community, the household of God, that stands in continuity with Israel. Those in Christ are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) – whether Jew or Gentile it does not matter. It is the Spirit-filled community which is the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16).
Israel is reconstituted around the Messiah; Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slave and free are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Food laws are relativised (Mk 7:19). In other words, the boundary markers of Israel are redrawn and widened. Paul’s writings grapple with this theme in depth. Those in Christ are children of Abraham and heirs of the promise. The Torah is good but could not give life: its very purpose is fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. Its commands are kept by life in the Spirit (Rom 8:4).
So it’s clear that there are deep themes of both continuity and discontinuity from old to new covenant; issues revolving around the relationships between Israel, Torah, land, Temple, church; Spirit, Messiah.
How do you put those relationships together?
Your answer to that question will shape how you see (among other things) the status of modern day Israel.
Comments, as ever, welcome