By Berry Kercheville
At the time of this writing, I am in a secluded place in Florida (if I told you where, I would have to send a “hit man” to your house). I am writing a book I have been preparing for the past eight years. I have planned to call the book, “For the Equipping of the Saints.” The book will have two main parts, the first discussing our identity as God’s people, and the second describing how a local church is to function together to fulfill God’s identity purpose. Therefore, since I do not have time to write a separate article, I decided to submit an excerpt both today and Thursday. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you will pray for me as I write.
Remember those three promises to Abraham and his offspring? Yes, you know it. It has been drilled in you since Sunday school days: Nation, Land, and Offspring. But how did you understand those promises? If you are like me, you believed that the nation and land promises were fulfilled in the physical nation of Israel, while the offspring promise was for us. But I want you to see that this understanding diminishes the picture of God’s purpose for us and our identity. As I have briefly mentioned earlier, the nation and land promises were fulfilled in the physical nation of Israel in only a limited way.
Nation Promise: Physical or Spiritual Israel?
It is not difficult to see that the physical nation as a whole was never God’s true Israel. Paul says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Rom. 9:6-7). In other words, they are not all God’s true Israel nation who are of Israel, the physical nation. In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul gives an allegory in which he refers to physical Israel as those “born of the flesh” and compares them to Hagar, Mt. Sinai, bondage, and the “Jerusalem which now is.” But the spiritual nation came from Sarah and Isaac, born of the Spirit and are the “Jerusalem above which is free and the mother of us all.” If God’s nation promise was only fulfilled in the physical nation, it was a big failure! How many hundreds and hundreds of years did Israel exist as a nation that was under the rule of a foreign power? Their subservient position profaned God’s name when the nations boasted that their gods were more powerful than Yahweh. God could not make them his nation, as Paul quotes from Isaiah, “All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Rom. 10:21).
In fact, even in Isaiah God bemoaned the fact that because of Israel’s rebellion he was unable to fulfill in them the nation promise:
“Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.” (Isaiah 48:18–19 ESV)
Clearly the physical nation failed, and as Paul argues in Romans 9-11, their only hope to be a part of God’s nation or kingdom promise was to come to Christ. Thus Paul says, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). We, the spiritual people of God, are the fulfillment of the nation promise because the whole purpose of the promise was for God to make a holy people who would “proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The kingdom of the Messiah is repeatedly described in the prophets as the means by which God would restore Israel and make them the “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” God had promised (Exodus 19:5-6). Look at Amos 9:11-14, quoted by James in Acts 15:13-18.
“After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things” (Acts 15:16–17 ESV)
James agrees that the “tabernacle of David that had fallen” was now “raised up and rebuilt as in the days of old.” In Christ, we are the restoration of the nation promise and are fulfilling what God intended for his holy nation, to glorify his name in the world. Israel failed; if we are truly God’s nation, we will not fail!