Identifying “The Israel of God”
HOTLY debated is the question: Does the State of Israel as established in Palestine May 14, 1948, and now in its fourth year of existence, constitute a fulfillment of Bible prophecy? In an article entitled “What the Jews Believe”, appearing in Life magazine, September 11, 1950, Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, president of the largest rabbi organization in the world (Central Conference of American Rabbis), made this statement: “With few exceptions religious Jews today believe in the restoration of Israel and the ultimate redemption of mankind. To most liberal Jews the solution of the historic Jewish problem through the founding of the commonwealth of Israel is a step toward the fulfillment of the democratic and Messianic aspirations of prophetic Judaism.” The editor of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call, Percy Ruhe, said “he believes the return of the Jews to Israel is an important part of the attainment of the Old Testament prophecy. ‘Not until it is accomplished can we expect the millennium—the thousand years of peace,’ . . . he concluded”. (June 10, 1950) Both Jews and Gentiles are very much interested in this subject. Both Jews and Gentiles who are open-minded, honest and sincere may easily obtain the correct answer to the question by examining the holy Scriptures and the actual events which have occurred.
It was the great Jewish prophet Moses that warned the Israelites in these words: “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, JEHOVAH THY GOD; then . . . Jehovah will scatter thee among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth.” (Deut. 28:58, 59, 64, AS) A Jewish prophet greater than Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, repeated this dire warning, saying: “These are days for meting out justice that all the things written may be fulfilled. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.”—Deut. 18:18, 19; Luke 21:22, 24; John 1:45; Acts 3:20, 22, 23, NW.
Both Moses and Jesus were true prophets and what they declared came to pass. In 70 (A.D.), under siege by surrounding Roman armies, Jerusalem came to her most frightful and terrible end. Her temple was destroyed, over 1,100,000 of her inhabitants died (according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus), the city was utterly desolated, some 97,000 were taken captive, and those that escaped were scattered to the four winds. Thus, as a nation, Jehovah cast the Jews off; no longer were they God’s chosen people. Only a small faithful remnant continued to have His blessing, and it was with these that Jehovah formulated and instituted a “new covenant”, the old Law covenant having been fulfilled and taken out of the way.—Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-13.
THE TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD
With the passing out of the old, the new covenant was made with those who become spiritual Jews. This meant that not only natural-born Jews, but also non-Jews could be brought into this new covenant arrangement and thus become spiritual Jews. Fleshly descent from Abraham’s loins, consequently, does not reckon one as belonging to Abraham’s “seed”, to whom the promises are made. Not circumcision in the flesh, but circumcision of the heart proves a person to be a true Jew in God’s sight. (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4) You see, righteousness was imputed to Abraham before he underwent any surgical operation on his flesh. (Gen. 17:9-14, 23-27) So also, those that become spiritual Israelites, having the same faith Abraham had, are justified because of such faith. They are then begotten with God’s spirit, and thus become spiritual children, part of God’s new nation, indeed true Judeans, that is, praisers of Jehovah. The name Judah means “praise”.—Gen. 29:35, AS.
You still have some doubt about this? Or does it seem rather deep to understand? Well then, listen to what a Jew who was circumcised after the flesh says, no less a one than he who had been at one time a very prominent Pharisee, Saul by name, who was later called Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ. Writes Paul: “For 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.” (Gal. 6:15, 16, NW) Note that he calls uncircumcised non-Jews Israelites. To these same Gentile Christian converts he writes telling them they are Abraham’s seed: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” “Jerusalem above,” he says, was pictured by the freewoman Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and is their mother. Hence he classes them with Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, saying they “are children belonging to the promise the same as Isaac was”.—Gal. 3:28, 29; 4:26, 28, NW.
THE IDENTIFYING MARK OF CIRCUMCISION
Paul speaks of one who is “a Jew in name”, and then shows that if that one transgresses the law his “circumcision has become uncircumcision”; and, conversely, if “an uncircumcised person keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, his uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision”. Paul’s conclusion is therefore this: “He is not a Jew that is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew that is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.” (Rom. 2:12-29, NW) So one may be a Jew in name and circumcised in the flesh, yet if he fails to meet God’s requirements he is no part of the “Israel of God” but becomes as an uncircumcised Gentile in Jehovah’s sight. On the other hand, one outwardly a Gentile may be counted by faith as a Jew inwardly, a spiritual Israelite.
Pursuing this argument farther, Paul explains that Abraham was “the father of all those having faith while in uncircumcision”, that is, Gentiles “in the uncircumcised state”. (Rom. 4:11, 12, 16, NW) Still farther along he says: “Not all who spring from Israel are really ‘Israel’. Neither because they are Abraham’s seed are they all children, but, ‘It is in Isaac that your seed shall be called.’ That is, the children in the flesh are not really the children of God, but the children by the promise are counted as the seed.” If God chose to bring non-Jews into spiritual Israel, “whom he called not only from among Jews but also from among nations, what of it? It is as he says also in Hosea: ‘Those not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved “beloved”; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God”.’”—Rom. 9:6-8, 24-26, NW.
At Philippians 3:2, 3 (NW) Paul, who was both a natural and a spiritual Jew, distinguishes between natural Jews who merely have fleshly circumcision and those of the real circumcision, the ones who are Jews inwardly, whether of the natural nation of Israel or of other nations: “Look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are those with the real circumcision, who are rendering sacred service by God’s spirit and have our boasting in Christ Jesus and do not have our confidence in the flesh.”
SPIRITUAL ISRAEL IS A HOLY NATION
Thus it becomes plain that spiritual Israel is a new nation in which the separating wall between Jew and Gentile has been destroyed, enabling both together in this “Israel of God” to grow into “a holy temple for Jehovah”. (Eph. 2:11-22, NW) The “living stones” from all nations that are built up into this “spiritual house” are all together called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession”.—1 Pet. 2:4-10, NW.
The number making up this royal priesthood and holy nation which is to reign with Christ in heaven is fixed at 144,000, by Revelation 14:1-5. They are spoken of as the ones “purchased from the earth”, “the ones that keep following the Lamb,” the ones “purchased from among mankind” by Christ’s ransom. No one will argue that this class of joint heirs with Christ is made up exclusively of natural Jews, Israelites after the flesh, with no other nations represented in Christ’s body or church. Hence, when we read of this class of 144,000, “the slaves of our God,” as coming from Israel, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, we know that spiritual Israel must be meant. (Rev. 7:1-8, NW) It could hardly be natural Israel, since there is no indication that that many accepted Christ during the time this class was being selected. Moreover, it would hardly have worked out that exactly the same number from each tribe would have responded to the call, since some tribes were far more populous than others. And here is an important point: the tribal records of natural Jews did not survive the long period during which these 144,000 were being selected, so no record of tribal descent would be available for classifying them on any such natural basis.
So here too we see a spiritual Israel is meant, and the equal number from each tribe shows a well-balanced organization, with no partiality in choosing being shown. This grouping into twelve divisions of equal numbers balances well with the twelve foundation stones on which appear the names of the twelve apostles. (Rev. 21:14, NW) Also, when Israel left Egypt they were accompanied by a “mixed multitude” of non-Jews; and here in Revelation 7:9 these spiritual Israelites have associated with them a “great multitude” from all nations.—Ex. 12:38.
The majority of Israelites after the flesh stumbled over Christ Jesus as Messiah, and for that reason they are shown as being cast off, away from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, no longer associated with them in God’s kingdom, but in their places men from nations to the east and west and north and south come to be associated with what these patriarchs symbolize. (Luke 13:27-30) Jesus said those not in union with him were cast out, like trimmed-off branches that dry up and are burned. (John 15:6) Paul showed that many of the natural branches, the Jews after the flesh, were pruned off the theocratic tree and wild branches were grafted in to take their places; meaning by this, the formerly alienated Gentiles that became a part of the “Israel of God”. Then with these Gentiles grafted in, Paul adds, “In this manner all Israel will be saved.” Further showing the grounds on which natural Jews were ousted from being any part of the seed of Abraham and the “Israel of God”, Jesus disowned rebellious ones by saying: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham. . . . You are from your father the Devil.”—John 8:37-44, NW.
Now it follows that God is not dealing with two Israels today, one fleshly and one spiritual. Which of the two, then, does Jehovah assemble to bestow his restoration blessings upon? Is it the republic of Israel which is now ruling Palestine’s population of 1,400,000, or is it spiritual Israel composed of only 144,000? The facts presented in the following article fully answer these very important questions.