Both Israel and the Church are referred to in Scripture as God’s Bride. But, there are other names they share.
Both Israel and the Church Are Called God’s Chosen People
Prior to giving Moses the Ten Commandments, God gave these words to Moses and instructed him to deliver this message to the Israelites:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6 (See also Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Psalm 135:4)
God worked on Israel’s behalf; He chose them for himself. Peter applies the description of Israel found in Exodus 19 to the Church:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
Both Israel and the Church Are Called God’s Holy Nation, Priests and a Treasured Possession
Both Israel and the Church are called out of humanity at large to be a treasured possession, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. God certainly could have described Israel and the Church using different terms, but the fact that he did not is significant. This is one reason for the teaching that the Church is a continuation of Israel, a continuation of the ingathering of a people of God in his redemptive plan.
Because of her idolatry, God said to Israel, “you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea1:9). But Hosea also speaks of a future time of restoration when Israel and Judah are reunited under one ruler (v10). God, through Hosea, promises a future for Israel when they will again be his people:
I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:23
The New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament a lot, oftentimes, as noted above, applying to the Church verses originally addressed to Israel. I don’t believe these verses teach a Replacement Theology as some have suggested, but they do seem to indicate that God views his redeemed people as a whole. For example:
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
and, “In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,only the remnant will be saved. Romans 9:22-26
Romans 9:24-25 applies Hosea 2:23 to the Gentiles. Not all Israel is saved, only the remnant. Paul is saying that not only is there hope for apostate Israel, who, because of disobedience were placed outside of the people of God, but there is hope for the Gentiles who were heretofore naturally outside the people of God (1 Peter 2:10). God calls to himself a people out of both groups.1
Jesus Is the Good Shepherd
I suppose one could still argue that the use of the same names for the Church and Israel does not disprove there are two groups of chosen people. The Bible, however, seems to go out of its way to say that there is no such distinction. Jesus appears to have settled the question in his declaration that he is the Good Shepherd.
God is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 40:11). It is interesting that Jeremiah, in the context of God gathering the remnant of his flock, speaks of the righteous Branch of David who will rule as King and bring salvation:
“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. Jeremiah 23:3-6
We know this Savior and King from the lineage of David is Jesus (Matthew 1:1; Revelation 17:14; 19:16; 22:16; 1 Timothy 6:15).
Jesus Said Israel and the Church Shall Be One Flock
Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd who will not only gather the remnant of Israel, laying down his life for them, but will also shepherd and die for sheep not of the Jewish pen:
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. John 10:14-16
Not only does God call his people out of both groups – he makes those he has chosen into one entity, one flock. Thus, it makes little sense to say that Israel and the Church are distinct and will spend eternity separated from each other with one group in heaven and the other on the New Earth.
This series of three articles has made the case that there is one people of God who has one Husband and one Shepherd and one King. Israel and the Church are not completely different entities with different eternal destinies. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian and not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. But those who truly are the elect, the chosen, share a common destiny.
The assumptions we start with when interpreting prophetic Scripture impact the conclusions we reach. If, when reading prophecy, we imagine that every occurrence of the word Israel refers to a national, ethnic entity with a future different from our own, then we are bound to err. But what other assumptions might lead us to conclusions about the future that are inconsistent with the way God deals with his people throughout the Bible? Upcoming articles exploring God’s Redemptive History will address some of these assumptions.
- Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (1988). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 370