Definition: As commonly used today, the term refers to people of Hebrew descent and others who have been converted to Judaism. The Bible also draws attention to the fact that there are Christians who are Jews spiritually and who make up “the Israel of God.”
Are the natural Jews today God’s chosen people?
That is the belief of many Jews. Says the Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971, Vol. 5, col. 498): “CHOSEN PEOPLE, a common designation for the people of Israel, expressing the idea that the people of Israel stands in a special and unique relationship to the universal deity. This idea has been a central one throughout the history of Jewish thought.”—See Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Exodus 19:5.
Many in Christendom hold similar views. The “Religion” section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (January 22, 1983, p. 5-B) reported: “Contrary to the churches’ centuries-old teachings that God had ‘cast off his people Israel’ and replaced them with a ‘new Israel,’ he [Paul M. Van Buren, theologian at Temple University in Philadelphia] says churches now affirm that ‘the covenant between God and the Jewish people is eternal. This amazing reversal has been made by Protestants and Catholics, on both sides of the Atlantic.’” The New York Times (February 6, 1983, p. 42) added: “‘There is a fascination on the part of the evangelical right with Israel and a belief that everything Israel does must be supported, because God is on Israel’s side,’ said Timothy Smith, a professor of theology at Johns Hopkins University and a Wesleyan evangelical.” Some in Christendom expect the conversion and ultimate salvation of all natural Israel. Others take the view that there has always been an inseparable bond between God and Israel, so they reason that it is only the Gentiles who are to be reconciled through Christ.
Consider: Following the Babylonian exile, when Israel was restored to its land, the people were to restore true worship in their God-given land. One of the first projects undertaken was the rebuilding of Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem. However, since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., the temple has never been rebuilt. Instead, in the former temple area stands an Islamic shrine. If the Jews, who say they are under the Mosaic Law, were today in Jerusalem as God’s chosen people, would not the temple devoted to his worship have been rebuilt?
Matt. 21:42, 43: “Jesus said to them [the chief priests and the older men of the Jews in Jerusalem]: ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone that the builders rejected is the one that has become the chief cornerstone. From Jehovah this has come to be, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? This is why I say to you, The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.’”
Matt. 23:37, 38: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”
Does God’s covenant with Abraham give assurance that the Jews continue to be the chosen people of God?
Gal. 3:27-29: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (So, from God’s standpoint, it is no longer natural descent from Abraham that determines who are Abraham’s seed.)
Will all the Jews be converted to faith in Christ and attain to eternal salvation?
Rom. 11:25, 26: “I do not want you, brothers, to be ignorant of this sacred secret, in order for you not to be discreet in your own eyes: that a dulling of sensibilities has happened in part to Israel until the full number of people of the nations has come in, and in this manner [“this is how,” TEV; “thus,” CC, By; Greek, houʹtos] all Israel will be saved.” (Notice that the saving of “all Israel” is accomplished, not by conversion of all the Jews, but by the ‘coming in’ of people from Gentile nations. Some translators render verse 26: “And then after this the rest of Israel will be saved.” But A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament [Edinburgh, 1937, G. Abbott-Smith, p. 329] defines houʹtos as meaning “in this way, so, thus.”)
To arrive at a correct understanding of what is recorded at Romans 11:25, 26, we should also take into account these earlier statements in Romans: “He is not a Jew who is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.” (2:28, 29) “Not all who spring from Israel are really ‘Israel.’”—9:6.
Is it necessary for Jews to put faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved?
Isaiah 53:1-12 foretold the death of the Messiah ‘to bear the sins of many and to make intercession for the transgressors.’ Daniel 9:24-27 connected the coming of the Messiah and his death with ‘making an end of sin and forgiving iniquity.’ (JP) Both passages show that the Jews were in need of such intercession and forgiveness. Could they expect to reject the Messiah and have the approval of the One who sent him?
Acts 4:11, 12: “[Regarding Jesus Christ, the apostle Peter was moved by holy spirit to say to the Jewish rulers and older men in Jerusalem:] This is ‘the stone that was treated by you builders as of no account that has become the head of the corner.’ Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” (Although the nation of natural Israel no longer enjoys special divine favor, the way is open to individual Jews, as it is to people of all nations, to benefit from the salvation that is made possible through Jesus the Messiah.)
Are the events taking place in Israel today in fulfillment of Bible prophecy?
Ezek. 37:21, 22, JP: “Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all.” (Israel today is not a nation under a king of the royal line of David. Theirs is a republic.)
Isa. 2:2-4, JP: “It shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ . . . And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (In Jerusalem today, where the temple was formerly located there is no “house of the God of Jacob,” but, instead, an Islamic shrine. And there is no move on the part of Israel or its neighbors to “beat their swords into plowshares.” They depend for survival on military preparedness.)
Isa. 35:1, 2, JP: “The wilderness and the parched land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice, even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the LORD, the excellency of our God.” (Remarkable reforestation and irrigation projects have been successfully undertaken in Israel. But its leaders do not give credit to the Lord God. As a former premier, David Ben-Gurion, said: “Israel is determined . . . to conquer the desert and make it flourish by the power of science and the pioneering spirit, and to transform the country into a bastion of democracy.”)
Zech. 8:23, JP: “In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (To what God does the prophecy refer? In the Hebrew language his name [יהוה, commonly translated Jehovah] appears over 130 times in this one book of the Holy Scriptures. Today when someone uses that name, do people conclude that the person must be a Jew? No; for many centuries, superstition has caused the Jewish people as a whole to refrain from ever uttering God’s personal name. The upsurge of religious interest concerning natural Israel today does not fit this prophecy.)
How, then, are events in modern-day Israel to be viewed? Merely as part of global developments foretold in the Bible. These include war, lawlessness, cooling off of love for God, and the love of money.—Matt. 24:7, 12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5.
Among whom do the prophecies about restoration of Israel have fulfillment today?
Gal. 6:15, 16: “Neither is circumcision anything nor is uncircumcision, but a new creation is something. And all those who will walk orderly by this rule of conduct, upon them be peace and mercy, even upon the Israel of God.” (So “the Israel of God” is no longer determined on the basis of conforming to the requirement laid upon Abraham for all the males of his household to be circumcised. Rather, as stated at Galatians 3:26-29, those who belong to Christ and who are spirit-begotten sons of God “are really Abraham’s seed.”)
Jer. 31:31-34: “‘Look! There are days coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant . . . And they will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, “Know Jehovah!” for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” (That new covenant was made, not with the nation of natural Israel, but with the loyal followers of Jesus Christ to whom hope of heavenly life was being extended. When instituting the Memorial of his death, Jesus gave them a cup of wine and said: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood.” [1 Cor. 11:25])
Rev. 7:4: “I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.” (But in the verses that follow, mention is made of “the tribe of Levi” and “the tribe of Joseph.” These were not included in lists of the 12 tribes of natural Israel. Interestingly, while it is said that people would be “sealed out of every tribe,” the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are not mentioned. [Compare Numbers 1:4-16.] Reference must here be made to the spiritual Israel of God, to those whom Revelation 14:1-3 shows will share with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom.)
Heb. 12:22: “You have approached a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels.” (Thus it is not to earthly Jerusalem but to “heavenly Jerusalem” that true Christians look for fulfillment of the promises of God.)