The Israelification of the Church:
False Traditions We Cling To
by Gerald R. Thompson*
We all have our traditions, especially religious and church traditions, which can be a good thing, or a bad thing. On the one hand, Paul commended believers to uphold the spiritual traditions he delivered to them. Although, presumably these were mostly doctrines or teachings, and not so much practices, rituals or ceremonies. Plus, they were worth keeping because they were from God, and not from men. (Col. 1:25).
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Cor. 11:2). So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Tim. 2:15).
However, Paul wasn’t a fan of mere human tradition, even if it was religious. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8). For His part, Jesus was very critical of the Jews of His day, for failing to properly distinguish between God’s commandments (or traditions from God) and merely human traditions.
“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! … thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mk. 7:8-9, 13).
He even quoted from Isa. 29:13 to hammer home the point that the Jews were condemned by their own holy scriptures, which they claimed to be following. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Mk. 7:6-7).
Which makes this a perfect occasion for a little Christian self-examination. When Jesus criticized the Jews for their religious traditions, Judaism itself was about 1,500 years old. The Church is now about 2,000 years old. Human nature being what it is – fallen, and unchanging – is it possible Christians have substituted merely human traditions for the Word of God any less than the Jews did? Now, don’t assume that just because Christians have the Spirit of God within them, it overrides human nature – it does not – if the apostle Paul is any example. (See Rom. 7:14-25).
Unfortunately, churches today – your church, every church – is full of religious traditions which in reality are merely the commandments of men, but are taught as doctrines coming from God. And up until now, you’ve been perfectly comfortable with them. Prepare to become uncomfortable.
One of the most fundamental ways Christians have invented human traditions resulting in the nullification of the commands of Christ and sound doctrine, is in the Israelification of the Church. By which I mean, taking the Church and viewing it, organizing it, and operating it, according to the pattern God laid down for ancient Israel, which He intended to only ever apply to them. Or in other words, blurring the clear distinctions between Israel and the Church, which God designed to be completely unlike each other.
Compounding the error, Christians have for a long time taken these many things which do not belong, and treated them as an essential part of Christian faith and practice, even to the point where today, Christianity itself is unrecognizable apart from them. These are the false traditions to which we cling, to the point where even if someone points out they have no valid part in true Christianity, people staunchly cling to them in the name of orthodoxy and refuse to let them go.
Many commonly observed Christian traditions you may love and cherish are based upon a false blurring of the distinctions between Israel and the Church, and in doing so contradict scripture. Let’s start by examining why these distinctions, and distinctions in general, are so important.
What kind of Christianity do you believe in? Biblical Christianity, or Churchianity – the religion of the organized church? Your instinctive response will likely be to take offense – of course I believe in biblical Christianity, the real Christianity. I don’t believe in fake religion. Oh no? Are you sure? You may believe in the real gospel and the real Jesus, but what about all the other stuff you have been told all your Christian life that supposedly goes with it? Have you ever been to an altar call, observed Christian sacraments, believed in predestination, or practiced tithing? Do you just follow the crowd, or do you think for yourself? Mm-hmm. We’ll see.
Look at these three sets of scriptures, and see if you can detect a pattern.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (Gen. 1:6). And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. (Gen. 1:14).
“Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine.” (Num. 8:14). “Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezr. 10:11).
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous …. (Mt. 13:49). Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Mt. 25:32).
It would seem that with God, there’s a whole lot of separating goin’ on. First, in the creation account, God made certain fundamental physical distinctions. Then with Israel, God made separations both between Israel and everyone else, and between the Levites and all other Israelite tribes. Finally, we see that at the end of history, God will separate the righteous from the wicked.
Notice some things about these distinctions God has made. For instance, all of these distinctions are permanent. God will never reverse or undo any of them. Even the primordial vapor canopy which fell to the earth as rain in the Genesis flood was replaced by the atmospheric clouds we have had ever since (i.e., separating the waters from the waters,’ or waters above from waters below).
Also, God has never given people the authority to ignore, or to blur, these distinctions. Thus, the Jews can never eliminate the Levitical distinctions, nor will the distinction between Jews and Gentiles be abolished. (Ah, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.) And woe to anyone who blurs the distinctions between the righteous and the unrighteous, or between good and evil. (See, Isa. 5:20).
It is no surprise, therefore, that God expects us to recognize the distinction between good and evil, just as He instructed the Jews. “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Lev. 10:10). “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (Eze. 44:23).
The Lord gave very similar instructions to Christians:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2).
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12).
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:14).
The whole point of spiritual discernment is to distinguish right from wrong, what is consistent with God’s will from what is not. You are probably familiar with the scripture, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mt. 19:6). Allow me to suggest there is an equally valid biblical principle, based on the scriptures quoted above, that what therefore God has separated, let not man join together. Nor blur the distinctions between them. Nor confuse them with each other, nor say they are the same thing when they are not.
Perhaps you think I’m fussing too much about the Israel v. Church distinction. But some distinctions are fundamental, and the failure to make them is a big deal. Such as by blurring the distinctions between genders, you get me? Or blurring the distinctions between nations (nations without borders, one world government, etc.). What do you think – are these distinctions a big deal? Are you sensing a human tendency here, a sinful tendency, to blur distinctions God has made?
Scripture is very clear, which is to say God has expressly said, that He made mankind male and female. (Gen. 1:27). God does not need to ever say, in so many words, now don’t ever confuse these two with each other, or devise multiple additional genders. He expects us to use logic and reason to understand that these things are fixed (they never change), and God never gave people the authority to undo anything He has made.
Similarly, because God (not people) made the nations, He expects us to come to the same kind of conclusion that this is not something people can ever undo or disregard. (Gen. 11:8, Acts 17:26). Even though the nation of Israel was formed centuries after the Babel dispersion, nonetheless the general principle still holds that God did this – not people – and it is not something people can ever undo or disregard. Consider this text from Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, … “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 31:35-37).
Thus, as long as the sun, moon and stars remain, Israel will continue as a nation and the Jews will not be cast off – meaning, these things will last forever. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But as we will see later on, people have been disregarding Israel ever since the prophet Jeremiah. You might say there is a longstanding tradition of disregarding the uniqueness and special position of Israel among the nations. But false beliefs do not become true just because they are held by very many people for a really long time. Mere tradition is not authoritative. God’s word, however, is.
Let’s start with a brief review, for clarity: what is Israel, what is the Church, and in what ways are they the same or different? (I assume you already have some familiarity with these concepts, so I am only providing a quick summary of each distinction here.)
1. Civil Nation v. Spiritual Body. Israel is referred to both as a kingdom and nation throughout scripture, beginning with Exo. 19:6. Israel also had a civil constitution, namely, the Ten Commandments, the text of the national covenant (Exo. 34:27-28). Israel further had a king, and a physical territory, with physical national borders, where its government reigned and its laws were enforced. Thus, the relationship between the people of Israel was as fellow citizens, not fellow believers. Despite having a centralized religion, Israel was never a community of faith.
The Church, however, has none of those things – king, civil constitution, physical territory, etc. The Church is only ever referred to as the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23, Col. 1:18, 24), in the nature of a voluntary association, or perhaps a nonprofit membership corporation. In other words, the Lord gave us a Church without borders, or if you will, a Church without dominion. It has no God-given physical presence, but is spiritual only, which is why it is often referred to as being invisible. And this is a good thing, because Israel was only ever able to be a light, or an example, to the Gentile nations, but the Church can penetrate (or infiltrate) all the nations around the globe.
Strictly speaking, the Church is never referred to as a kingdom either, at least not in an earthly sense. Sure, the New Testament is full of references to the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. But by definition, the kingdom of heaven is not of this earth – it is spiritual only, not an earthly kingdom as Israel was. Which is why Jesus expressly said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn. 18:36). So it is impossible that the Church should ever be considered an earthly nation or kingdom.
Don’t take 1 Pet 2:9, where Peter wrote to believing Jews (1 Pet 1:1) that they were fulfilling Exo. 19:6 by becoming a holy nation, as a reference to the Church in general. That verse does not miraculously transform the Church into a nation, nor make Exo. 19:6 applicable to Gentiles. Plus, we don’t want to read Peter as contradicting Jesus, do we?
2. Physical Temple v. Spiritual Temple. Just as Israel had a prescribed physical territory for civil purposes, Judaism had a prescribed place for God’s presence for religious purposes. Once the law was given and the nation established, God instructed the Jews to construct a place for Him to dwell among them, first in a moveable tabernacle (tent), then in a permanent temple building. The tabernacle and temple were literally the dwelling place of God, the house of the Lord,’ for God was not out walking among His people, nor did He indwell them with His Spirit.
But it was always don’t touch, don’t get too close, only certain people can approach at specified times, etc. In other words, God’s presence among His people always kept them at a distance, physically separated from Him. This was more of God’s presence than what any other nation had, but it was a far cry from a personal relationship between God and each individual Jew. Access was restricted, and in order to gain access to God, a Jew had to physically go to the temple, and then only through a human mediator between God and men, that is, a priest.
In the New Testament, God took an entirely different direction. When Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for sins, He did so in no earthly temple, but entered the holy place in a heavenly temple. (Heb. 9:11-12). In doing so, He threw open access to the presence of God to all who believe, no longer restricting the presence of God to a specific place, at special times, or only to certain people. To symbolize this, the veil in the Jewish temple restricting access to God was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion. (Mt. 27:51).
Thus, the Lord gave us a Church without a physical building. With Christ, the Spirit of God indwells every believer, and every believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 6:19). The presence of God among Christians is distributed and diffused, not centralized. Consequently, Christians never have to go to a particular place to find God, nor to obtain His grace. Rather, He dwells in the heart of every believer. God’s house is His people, not any human creation.
3. Levitical Priesthood v. Universal Access. The Jewish temple system required certain people to be devoted solely to its operations. The priests were the ones designated to perform the sacrifices, ceremonies and rituals of the temple. They alone had access to the presence of God. They were intermediaries – go-betweens, and in a sense, gatekeepers – who stood between God and the people. Whatever grace God extended to the Jewish people was delivered to them by and through the Levitical priests in their administration of the ceremonial law.
However, when Jesus sacrificed Himself, He became a new high priest on the order of Melchizedek, bypassing the Levitical priesthood in its entirety. But Jesus did more than just bypass the hereditary system of Israel, he obsoleted all human gatekeepers between God and the people. Jesus, as God, is able to function as the sole mediator between God and men. (1 Tim. 2:5). Thus, all believers have immediate and direct access to God through Jesus, without the need to go through anyone else on earth. In this way, God gave us a Church without any human mediators, or priests.
This makes sense, and it is a good thing. If there is no physical temple in Christianity, why on earth would the Church need the specialized people whose sole function is to perform ceremonies in the temple which isn’t there? What this does is empower every individual believer to be more effective in doing the work of the Church without needing to get approval or receive instructions from the gatekeepers – or worse, wait for them to do the job. Believers can act on their own, praise God!
Thus, there are no gatekeepers in Christianity. There is no such thing as a special group, or segregated class, of people that believers must go through to get to God or obtain His grace. Each and every believer is fully capable of approaching God on their own, of seeking and obtaining forgiveness of sins, of performing whatever rituals or ceremonies they think will honor God, and of obtaining His grace and favor, all without help from anyone else. If anyone at your church claims the grace of God flows through them to you, they are misleading you.
4. Hierarchical v. Egalitarian. Everything in ancient Israel was organized in a hierarchical fashion. The king was at the top, and he was chosen by God. Under the king were the military commanders, the judges and other officials. The entire nation was divided into tribes, and each tribe had a hierarchical system of judges who were chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens, etc. On the religious side, the priests were at the top, but even they were divided into orders, with the high priest being over all of them. Underneath the priests, supporting them, were the Levites, one full tribe out of twelve, and there was a further division of labor among them.
The priests and Levites were selected on the basis of physical ancestry – no one could opt in, or opt out. The duties and authorities of the priests and Levites were all prescribed by law, as were the religious festivals, rituals and ceremonies. Access to God, to the temple, and to the ceremonies and rituals were tightly regulated and limited, and followed the religious hierarchy.
Quite unlike the typical Jew, the average Christian is a co-equal beneficiary of the Great Commission, such that every believer can exercise the full authority of the Church. Each believer can choose how to fulfill the mission of the Church as God leads them individually, and not according to what someone has selected for them or what they have been born into. There are no priests or Levites (or their equivalents) in the Church. In other words, God gave us a Church without an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and without a bureaucracy. Which is supposed to position the Church to be nimble, easily adaptable, and free of any entrenched interests.
In fact, the rule in the Church, the body of Christ, is this: no one is in charge; all Christians are equal with each other; and there is no division in the body. (1 Cor. 12:20-27). According to these verses, each member of the body, though different in form and function, has the same care for each other, rejoices and suffers together, etc. This assumes an overall equality among members of the Church. The lack of division in the body (that is, between Christians) further speaks to the lack of any hierarchy within the body – no one is superior or inferior to the others. There is no ascending ladder of access or authority. There is no layer of middle management in God’s Church.
5. Periodic Covering v. Permanent Forgiveness. In ancient Israel, complying with the ceremonial law offered only a covering’ for sins, rather than complete forgiveness. That is, none of the sin offerings, Days of Atonement, or other religious ceremonies of the Jews had a permanent effect. None of them lasted for the rest of a person’s life when done once, but had to be forever repeated, at least annually if not more often. Obedience to the ceremonial law meant continual compliance that never ended. A person under the Jewish law was neither fully paid up spiritually, nor spiritually free, as it were. (Heb. 10:1).
As a result, a Jew is forever in danger of falling out of compliance. And because all people continually sin, every Jew needed to continually seek a fresh covering for their sins. This, of course, kept the priests and Levites busy assisting people complying with the ceremonial law. The ceremonial law gave the priests and Levites purpose – without it, they would have nothing to do.
Christ, on the other hand, paid the price once for all, so that all believers in Him would obtain a permanent, or eternal, forgiveness of sins. (Heb. 7:27; 10:10). As a result, believers are freed from all repetitive rituals and ceremonies as a means of securing their forgiveness going forward. (Acts 13:38-39). Rather than being constrained by rules and regulations for religious conduct, Christians have liberty to exercise their own consciences about what things they should or should not do. Thus, the Lord gave us a Church without a ceremonial law. What we have instead is Christian liberty.
Further, it means that for Christians, there are no prescribed holy days, no designated feasts, and no prescribed rituals that they are morally bound to observe. (Col. 2:16). “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:20-23).
6. Law v. Grace. The people of Israel were bound to obey the national laws, not merely as a moral obligation, but as a legal duty subject to civil law enforcement up to, and including, capital punishment. Is there anything in the Church comparable to the legal system Israel had? Not really.
The Church has no government branches, so it can exercise no governmental powers. Without legislative power, the Church cannot impose any rules on believers. Without an executive branch, it has no law enforcement authority to compel obedience. Each local church can implement rules of the organization, but these are temporal rules only, not spiritual rules. Thus, Church judgment and discipline is limited to dissociation. In other words, God gave us a Church without spiritual rulers. In distributing various spiritual gifts and offices among believers, God never established a pecking order or chain of command.
Further, God gave us a Church without laws. As Paul said twice, “All things are lawful for me.” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). This must apply to all believers, not just Paul, which means it applies to the whole Church. Some of you are no doubt thinking that the authority of scripture requires some admonitions (such as the selection of elders and deacons) to be treated as rules Christians must obey. However, authoritative is not the same as legislative. Just because God said something through the authority of the Spirit, does not mean He was necessarily making any laws.
We know that Jesus is both the Head of the Body and the Logos, the Word of God. When Jesus is king of the world, in the future, the word of the law will go forth from Zion (i.e., from Jesus). But now, Jesus is the proverbial nobleman who went to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. (Lk. 19:12). When Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3), He did not at that point start making rules, because He had not yet received His kingdom. Just because He speaks with authority, does not mean He speaks as a lawmaker. And no writer of the N.T. was appointed a lawmaker, either. The Church has no lawgiver, and you can’t have laws without one.
Scripture is very clear, that the Church is under grace, not law. (Rom. 6:14-15). What do you think that means? That salvation is of grace, but Church worship and practice are under law? What possible sense would that make? That we are free to accept Jesus, but then we are immediately bound by rules and regulations? Jesus came to bring liberty (Lk. 4:18), but that was only to get us in the door, and once in, it was a bait and switch? What kind of Christianity is that?
7. Inheritance v. Faith. Biblically speaking, no one can decide to become a Jew. You are either born a Jew, or you are not a Jew. A person can convert to Judaism, as a matter of religious preference, but that does not make them a Jew rather than a Gentile. God’s promises to Abraham and the covenant made with him only applied to Abraham’s biological descendants. In other words, Jewishness (or membership in the biblical nation of Israel) is something that is inherited. The sign of circumcision was given to physically mark Jewish baby boys. Choice and consent (of the baby) were irrelevant.
All Jews are covered under the Covenant of Law, the covenant with Israel delivered by Moses at Mt. Sinai. Who is covered by the covenant is predetermined by ancestry and biology. Strictly speaking, participation in the Mosaic covenant is not a faith-based relationship, but a legal relationship based on inheritance. Participation in the religious ceremonies of Judaism never required faith – only obedience. There is no presumption that any person is forgiven or saved, merely because they are a Jew and/or they obey the Mosaic laws.
Membership in the Church, the spiritual body of Christ, on the other hand, is obtained by the exercise of individual choice, belief or faith. (Rom. 10:9). True, this exercise of faith is sometimes referred to as being born again, but it has absolutely no relation to ancestry or lineage. And unlike physical circumcision, which is performed by the will of a child’s parents, the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29) is an inward marking of the Holy Spirit which only comes via the faith of the believer. Thus, God gave us a Church based solely on faith, not ancestry. And of course, this is a wonderful thing, because it makes salvation available to everyone in the world.
This faith-based relationship is exclusive. Without faith, you aren’t a member of the Church. Your parents could not choose to make you a Christian, and you cannot choose to make your child a Christian. Nor is being a Christian something that anyone can inherit, or pass down from one generation to another. Every person must choose for themselves, and only for themselves. “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself.” (Eze. 18:20). Nothing in Christianity is based on physical ancestry, family groups, or parental choice.
8. Corporate v. Individual. The Jews are referred to as the chosen people of God numerous times in scripture. But because this choice on God’s part traces back to before Jacob/Israel was even born, it means that God did not choose the Jews individually, but as an extended family group consisting of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For that reason, God has always dealt with the Jews corporately – as a group. Blessings, curses, salvation, and dispersion were and are imposed corporately.
Thus, the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants have always applied to the Jews as a group. Which is to say, no one can opt in or out of any of these individual covenants – they are a package deal. They are a package in the sense that to be a participant in one covenant is to be a participant in all of them. They are also a package in the sense that they apply to all Jews equally regardless of individual consent. Anyone born a Jew is a participant in all three covenants, end of discussion.
Similarly, the new covenant with Israel foretold in Jer. 31:31-34 (when all Israel is saved – see Rom. 11:26) will apply to the Jews as a group. True, when the Jews pass through the Tribulation, God will winnow them out so only the worthy will survive as a remnant. But when salvation is extended to them, it will not be on an individual basis, but as a group.
This is in stark contrast to the New Testament, in which salvation through Christ is extended on an individual basis only. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Jn. 5:1). Sure, there are statements in Acts to the effect that, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (E.g., Act. 16:31). But that just means every member of the family chose to believe on that day – not that one person was choosing salvation for another person. God gave us a Church based on individual choice, not affiliation with a group. Which of course makes it available to anyone in the world.
9. Physical v. Spiritual. Everything about the nation of Israel can, in a sense, be characterized as physical, or earthly. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, or as a judgment, but simply as a statement of reality. Israel had a physical territory, a physical kingdom, and an earthly dominion. Its laws were physically enforced. Its members were defined on the basis of physical ancestry. Its religious ceremonies took place in a physical temple, with a physical altar, and were often accompanied by animal sacrifices or other physical offerings.
It is understandable that God would deal with the Jews in a very physical or tangible way when it came to rewards and punishments, and also implement them corporately. Thus we see in Dt. 28:1-14, for example, God’s blessings for the obedience of His laws. Take the time sometime to see what these blessings are: physical, economic, and prominence as a nation. Then the rest of the chapter describes in even more detail God’s curses for the disobedience of the Jews, which once again relate to health, wealth and stature as a nation. A physical nation, with physical promises of land and offspring, has physical blessings for obedience and physical curses for disobedience.
What do Christians get – land and offspring? No, eternal life. What is their reward in this life – health, wealth and world prominence? No – more like the promise of persecution and trials. Along with spiritual gifts, fruit of the spirit, and spiritual armor. Consider the beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12) – what exact blessings did Jesus promise to believers? The kingdom of heaven – not heaven on earth. Comfort – emotionally, not a comfortable standard of living. Inheritance of the earth – but only after the resurrection. The other blessings are all spiritual as well – righteousness, mercy, to see God, the kingdom of heaven, etc. In other words, God gave us a Church with spiritual blessings only.
Same analysis for Mt. 19:28-29: “You who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The phrase in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne is, of course a reference to the Millennium, after the resurrection – not in this mortal life.
10. Restoration of Israel v. Reigning of the Church. This distinction between Israel (physical) and the Church (spiritual) carries on beyond the present age into the future. Granted, in eternity when the New Jerusalem is revealed, what people commonly call heaven, all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will share in the same heavenly estate. But before then, during the earthly kingdom of Christ, commonly called the Millennium, the nation of Israel and the Church will still be treated in very different ways. And before you can understand what I’m referring to here, you need to get over the hurdle placed in your way by the teaching of many churches that denies the Millennium will be physical, historical and earthly.
As for the Church, when Jesus returns all believers past and present will be caught up in the air to meet Him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. All believers will be transformed and given new, immortal bodies to replace their mortal ones. They will no longer marry or reproduce, and will never die. They will return to the earth with Jesus to rule and reign for 1,000 years. This is what is meant by the promise to inherit the earth. It is not a promise of personal riches or offspring in the meaning of the original Dominion Mandate, but is more like an assurance that we will lack for nothing when that time comes. God gave us a Church with a kingdom future.
As for Israel, the Old Testament is full of promises that when Messiah returns (the Second Coming), a remnant of the Jews will survive the Tribulation, they will be regathered in their ancestral land, they and the land will be healed and made very fruitful, and their historic enemies will be destroyed. Thus, God gave Israel a future physical restoration. These Jews will be ordinary, mortal human beings, who will marry, have kids, and die just as people do now, though they may live much longer. They will also – every one of them – be spiritually saved by the special act of God. This is known as the Messianic Era, the restoration of Israel that the disciples asked Jesus about in Acts 1:6.
Also, Jerusalem will become the world capital for both political and religious purposes. (Eze. 34:26-30; Mic. 4:1-3). Can you say world prominence? In keeping with the corporate nature of Israel, the Messiah will both save the Jewish remnant as a group, and act as a national deliverer. This deliverance and restoration will very much be physical and material, and is for the nation of Israel alone. Gentile nations and the Church will witness these things, but not directly be part of them.
No Resemblance Whatsoever
What can we say, then? Israel and the Church are completely different from each other. They are the opposite of each other in every possible way. Is it conceivable that God would have constituted both Israel and the Church in this way so that they could be blended or merged? That God would have intended for them to become indistinguishable from each other, impossible to separate? Or that God would be pleased by the efforts of people calling themselves Christians to emulate the pattern of Israel when God Himself declined to follow it? God forbid.
It is impossible that a nation, defined by biological ancestry and governed by a covenant of law, should have any common ground with a spiritual body, based on individual faith and governed by grace. It is inconceivable that God would so construct the Church with the goal of combining it in any fashion with the Jewish system laden with much unwanted baggage, such as a physical temple and human priesthood, which are the trappings of an inferior and obsolete system.
It is a simple, undeniable fact that ancient Israel was a nation with all the normal attributes of being a nation – a king, territory, dominion, government, laws and law enforcement. It also had genealogical and tribal attributes that are absolutely crucial to understanding what Israel was. Reflecting this, Judaism was a centralized religion with an ecclesiastical hierarchy, a built-in bureaucracy, legally regulated worship and religious rituals, limited access to God, and all the accoutrements that went with these things (altars, implements, clothes). None of which things were part of the manner in which God constructed the Church.
The scripture says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). And I ask, what partnership has imperfection with perfection (Heb. 8:7), or sin with grace (Rom. 5:20-21)? Any partnership between Israel and the Church is an unequal yoking that could not possibly hold. The distinctions between them matter greatly.