Israel and the Church, Part 3: Ephesians, Etc.

Theme Party for August 13 (’14), by Daniel Hoffman


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Google Image searched “Remnant,” got this; hope you like it.

We’ve been considering the relationship between Israel and the Church. In two posts, which you can read here and here, I argued that insofar as they carry the Abrahamic blessing, Israel and the Church are the same. They are the ekklesia, the called-out ones, the assembly of the Lord, the holy people, the saints. More precisely, the Church is Israel’s baby; or better, Israel grown up. Jesus’ first mission was to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Accordingly, he went around Judea and Galilee gathering an elect remnant of Israel around himself, a remnant seen first of all in the twelve disciples. Twelve disciples for twelve tribes. Even after the ascension, all those in the Upper Room at Pentecost were Jews. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 was explicitly addressed to the Jews—to Israel according to the flesh— and thousands of them believed. The situation was rather like that in Isaiah’s time, when the bulk of the people were hardened in stubborn unbelief and were not going to be heir to any promises at all except the covenant curses (Deuteronomy 28). As at that time there would be a remnant preserved, so would there be in the first century, under the terms of the New Covenant. Paul himself, “an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1) was one of this remnant. The thing is, with the blood of the New Covenant, Christ by his death had broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile so that the Gentiles could join Abraham’s family and inherit the promises like a true son, like Isaac, without becoming Jews. This was the mystery that the gospel revealed: That the Gentiles are fellow-heirs. The gospel revealed that God was far more gracious than anyone had realized.

And here we are today, looking at the passage which provided me with that “dividing wall” metaphor. That passage is Ephesians 2:11-22. For convenience, I’ll post it here:

11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesus_Theater

Ephesus.

The first thing to notice here is that these Gentile Ephesians were indeed once alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. “Commonwealth” there is a political term. The Greek word has everything to do with citizenship, politics, national life, etc. Whatever national aspects Dispensationalists want to maintain for Israel, it’s clear that Gentiles are now part of it. The “commonwealth” of Israel is what the Gentiles were formerly excluded from, but no longer. They were aliens to the covenant promises. They used to be cut off from Israel by way of commandments and ordinances. But that time is past. There are still promises for “Israel”, but “the uncircumcision” now has a perfectly equal interest and share in them. I fail to see how any other conclusion can be gathered from the above passage. The believing Gentiles are now “fellow-citizens” with the saints and members of the household of God. There is one holy people, one nation, one polity, and believing Gentiles are part of it with believing Jews. As we saw in last week’s post, whatever hopes we may yet hold out for unbelieving Jews, under the New Covenant they are biblically regarded as Ishmaels.

This passage in Ephesians mentions the “household of God,” and that brings us to Hebrews 3:1-6, which says this:

1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

There is only one house. It’s a house in which Moses is a servant, and Jesus is the builder and the Son, the heir and owner. If you hold fast your confession of Christ, you belong to the same house in which Moses was a servant. It’s a household because covenants deal in households. When the covenant of circumcision was instituted, Abraham’s whole household was circumcised, and none of the hundreds of them were his descendents except Ishmael. The household remained the same household in the New Covenant, but the boundaries were redefined. It was always the household of faith, but now faith must be directed explicitly to the Son.

The Ephesians passage above also refers to “the saints.” That is a technical term. The saints are the holy people, the sanctified covenant community, which is Israel. Witness Exodus 19:5-6,

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.

Witness also, if you would, 1 Peter 2:9-10,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The Exodus passage is addressed to Israel, and 1 Peter to the elect exiles of the dispersion. Even if Peter were speaking there most directly to Jews, the fact is their status as a chosen race, a priesthood, saints, and God’s own inheritance are all equally descriptive of the Church. Peter in any case addresses himself to the elect remnant of Israel, and it is with them that the believing Gentiles have been made fellow-citizens and members of God’s household. John speaks of the Church in the same way: “And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). Texts could be multiplied, but I hope the point here is clear.

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