The True Nature of Israel in Christ

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted. Words in brackets [  ] are provided for clarity.

 

Introduction

There’s much confusion about the true nature of Israel and the true nature of the Kingdom of Christ of the New Covenant. There’s much confusion regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church. Many see a plan of God for the nation of Israel that is separate from the plan of God for Christ’s Church. However, in Paul’s writings, especially in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, he sees one people of God. He doesn’t make a distinction between Israel and the Church. Indeed, he views ethnic, earthly Israel of the Old Testament continuing in Christ and His Church as a spiritual people, a spiritual nation, a spiritual Israel. He also reveals the Kingdom of Christ to be a spiritual kingdom, for we are a spiritual people. This passage before us is one of Paul’s key revelations about the true nature of God’s people.

 

Galatians 4:22-31

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid [slave woman], and one by the free woman. 23 Howbeit the son by the handmaid [slave woman] is born after the flesh [by natural descent]; but the son by the free woman is born through promise. 24 Which things contain an allegory [figurative or symbolic]: for these women are two covenants; one from mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage [slavery], which is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to [is like, corresponds to] the Jerusalem that now is [present Jerusalem]: for she is in bondage with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren [barren woman] that bearest not; Break forth and cry, thou that travailest not [not in labor]: For more are the children of the desolate [desolate woman] than of her that hath the husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh [by natural descent] persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 Howbeit what saith the scripture? Cast out the handmaid [slave woman] and her son: for the son of the handmaid [slave woman] shall not inherit with the son of the free woman. 31 Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid [slave woman], but of the free woman.

 

(Galatians 4:22-23) 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid [slave woman], and one by the free woman. 23 Howbeit the son by the handmaid [slave woman] is born after the flesh [by natural descent]; but the son by the free woman is born through promise.

Abraham’s first two sons were Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was birthed by Hagar, who was an Egyptian slave, and Isaac was birthed by Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God promised them a son (Isaac), with whom He would make an “everlasting covenant” (Ge 15:1-6; Ge 17:15-19). However, during the long wait for the fulfillment of that promise, being weakened in their faith, Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to have a son through her (Ge 16:1-4). Thus Ishmael was born as a result of sin, outside the will of God. Furthermore, he was born into slavery. On the other hand, Isaac was born according to the promise of God, and into freedom.

 

(Galatians 4:24-26) 24 Which things contain an allegory [figurative or symbolic]: for these women are two covenants; one from mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage [for slavery], which is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is [represents] mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to [is like, corresponds to] the Jerusalem that now is [present Jerusalem]: for she is in bondage [slavery] with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother.

“Hagar is [represents] Mount Sinai”

In order to help the Galatian church understand the true nature of salvation, Paul is going to explain what both Hagar and Sarah represent.

The law of Moses was given on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19 & 20), thus Hagar represents the Old Covenant of law, and therefore, slavery. Sarah represents the New Covenant of grace through Jesus Christ, as this was promised through Isaac. Hagar and Ishmael are a picture of slavery, while Sarah and Isaac are a picture of freedom. The law enslaves, but Christ frees.

Paul likens Hagar to the “present Jerusalem.” Meaning, that Hagar (and her son) represents the city of Jerusalem of their day, which was and is the seat of Judaism for all of Israel. That truth is a blow to the Jews, for they prided themselves on being sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, the true sons of Abraham are not according to natural lineage, but according to spiritual lineage, via faith in Christ, the “faith of Abraham” (Ro 4:13-17; Ga 3:7-9). Even though the people of Israel are actually through the bloodline of Isaac, Paul places them in the bloodline of Ishmael to make the point that Israel, under the Old Covenant, are slaves (“in bondage”), just as much as Ishmael himself was a slave. In other words, the ethnic people of Israel are not regarded by God as true Israel, but true Israel are those who come through the spiritual line of Isaac by faith. The point is, the bloodline of Abraham and Isaac (and Jacob) is the equivalent of the bloodline of Ishmael, because a slave is not a son, but a true son is free. Accordingly, all the people of Israel according to natural descent, are slaves — and are neither sons of Abraham or sons (children) of God. Paul talks about this very same subject in Romans Chapter 9:

 

(Romans 9:6-10) 6 But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: 7 neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed [regarded as offspring]. 9 For this is a word of promise, According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. 10 And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac

It’s the spiritual offspring of Abraham and Isaac that makes someone a true Jew and and a true son of God (children of God). This applies not only to Jews via natural descent, but also to everyone who are of the “faith of Abraham” (Ro 4:13-16; Ga 3:7, 9, 14). In Christ, both Jew and Gentile become a spiritual people of God, a one people of God.

 

(Galatians 4:26) 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother.

Sarah (and her son), on the other hand, represents the “Jerusalem that is above” (Heavenly Jerusalem, New Jerusalem – He 12:22; Rev 21:2). In other words, Sarah (as the wife of Abraham) represents true Jerusalem (true Israel). She is our “mother,” which means we are her spiritual children. This Heavenly Jerusalem is the Church in her glorified state (He 12:22-28; Rev 3:12, Rev 19:7; Rev 21:2), for the Church is a spiritual entity. In Christ we are a spiritual people and a spiritual kingdom (Col 1:13; Rev 1:6).

I would like to add, that I think Paul’s comparison of the “present Jerusalem” with the “Jerusalem that is above” (Heavenly Jerusalem; New Jerusalem), indicates that God has no future plan for the nation of Israel apart from the Church, especially when we consider what Paul says about it in verse 30, which we will address when we get to it. The earthly Jerusalem of the OT was a type of the spiritual Jerusalem that was to come in Christ. In other words, the earthly Israel was a type of the spiritual Israel in Christ, which is His Church, of whom He is Head (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18).

 

(Galatians 4:27-28) 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren [barren woman] that bearest not; Break forth and cry, thou that travailest not [not in labor]: For more are the children of the desolate [desolate woman] than of her that hath the husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.

This is a quote from Isaiah 54:1. I will give you the quote within the context:

(Isaiah 54:1-8) 1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah. 2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. 3 For thou shalt spread aboard on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. 4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth; and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. 5 For thy Maker is thy husband; Jehovah of hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. 6 For Jehovah hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, saith thy God. 7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. 8 In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer.

Chapter 53, of course, is the chapter about Christ and His crucifixion, which leads right into this passage. Thus, the salvation of the world is the context in which Isaiah 54:1-8 is given.

While Israel was in Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, Israel was barren and desolate. They were not flourishing like other countries, which can be likened to a “married wife,” who was being cared for by her husband. Because Israel had forsaken God, and had declined into such great wickedness, God “forsook” them and “hid His face” from them, and brought their enemies upon them.

However, it would not always be that way. Looking to the future, verse one says:

(Isaiah 54:1) 1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah.

This is the verse that Paul quotes here in Galatians 4:27. While Israel was at one time “barren” and “desolate,” she would one day flourish with many children of faith — the “faith of Abraham” (Ro 4:16; Ga 3:7). Therefore, the children that these passages are referring to, and what Paul is talking about, are those who become true “sons of Abraham” (Ga 3:11) through faith in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. People from all over the world become a part of spiritual Israel through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are all “children of promise.” These are all a part of the “Jerusalem that is above,” those who are “free.”

No longer is the earthly city of Jerusalem the focus of God’s plans. They’re still “barren” and “desolate.” Jesus confirms this:

(Matthew 23:37-38) 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Jesus was obviously referring to their coming destruction in AD 70, but He was also referring to their spiritual desolation. It was their spiritual desolation that led to the other.

The Jerusalem of this world remains “desolate.” When the Bible refers to Jerusalem in such a manner, it refers to all of Israel. Jerusalem was and is the capital of Israel and the seat of their religion. To talk about Jerusalem is to talk about Israel.

Likewise, when the Bible refers to the New Jerusalem, it’s referring to all of God’s people. It’s this Jerusalem that is now central in the plan of God.

 

(Galatians 4:29) 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh [by natural descent] persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also it is now.

As Ishmael “persecuted” or “mocked” Isaac (Ge 21:8-9), so did the Jews persecute Christians in Paul’s day, who are “born after the Spirit” (Jn 3:6-8), who are “born of God” (1 Jn 5:1). It’s slaves persecuting those who are free. Paul’s point is, it makes no sense for the Galatian people to follow a belief system that keeps them in slavery, and one that identifies them with those who persecute believers in Christ.

 

(Galatians 4:30) 30 Howbeit what saith the scripture? Cast out the handmaid [slave woman] and her son: for the son of the handmaid [slave woman] shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.

(See Genesis 21:8-14).

The “son of the slave woman” is Ishmael, plus those who are in his line, whom Paul associates with the “present Jerusalem” (Ga 4:25) — which represents all of Israel, of which the people are in slavery under the Old Covenant law system.

The “son of the free woman” is Isaac, plus those who are in his line through faith — both Jews and Gentiles, who have been set free in Christ.

Jews, who are “born by natural descent” and into “slavery,” are transferred out of the earthly “present Jerusalem,” via faith in Christ, and are thus, “born of the Spirit” and become citizens of the “Heavenly Jerusalem” as members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. There is no glory in the earthly Jerusalem or the earthly Israel, because there is no glory apart from God. Where does Paul say we see God’s glory? In Christ and in His Church:

(Ephesians 3:21) 21 unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.

The Church in Christ, is not a temporary thing of this world, but lasts “unto all generations,” indeed, “forever and ever.” Therefore, Israel of the OT was a type of the glory that she was to become in Christ and His Church, as a spiritual people and a spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:5, 9).

I believe this “casting out” most certainly symbolizes God’s casting out of earthly Israel from the plan of God regarding His people. In other words, God has completed His plan for them, which is completed in His Son and His Church. They served their purpose by being the avenue through which Christ came into the world. This is why the focus of the New Covenant and of the NT Scriptures, is squarely on the revealed Christ and the revealed Church in Him, which was formally a mystery of the OT.

Paul confirms this “casting out” interpretation where he says that the “the son of the handmaid [slave woman] shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” The “son of the free woman” refers to Isaac and to all who are born spiritually into his line by faith in Christ, making them the true sons of Abraham. The fact that this includes Gentiles and not just Jews, reveals that the Israel of the New Covenant is not an earthly people (even if we’re talking about believing Jews), but a spiritual people, an Israel that is a whole new creation in Christ (Ga 6:15-16; Eph 2:15).

Paul makes it clear that earthly Israel will not share the “inheritance” with the children of the “free woman,” which includes believing Gentiles. The idea that the nation of Israel still has a place in the plan of God, requires a “two Israel” theology — namely, earthly Israel (according to dispensationalism) – where the nation of Israel finally embraces Jesus as their Messiah – and spiritual Israel, which consists of those who are in the spiritual line of Isaac through faith in Christ. It’s those of the spiritual line who are the true offspring of Abraham. Regardless of the fact that Israel exists in the world today (as in Paul’s day), in God’s eyes, and theologically, there is only one Israel, namely Christ. The Church is spiritual Israel in Him. Old Testament Israel continues in Christ and His Church as a spiritual people and a spiritual nation.

So then, what Paul wants the Galatian church to understand, is that what they’ve been deceived into believing, makes them a part of a people and a religious system that has been “cast out” by God, and has nothing to do with their salvation. Paul says that Hagar is “like the present Jerusalem,” and is “cast out.” Hagar represents Israel, of which Jerusalem is the capital and seat of Judaism. That city has been cast out forever, that is, they no longer have a special place in the plan of God. The only city that is in view now is the New Jerusalem, which is Christ’s Church in her glorified state.

In addition to what we’ve already discussed, that this “casting out” is forever, is confirmed by what the writer of Hebrews says:

(Hebrews 12:22-24) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  (ESV)

That was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, this earthly Jerusalem is nowhere in view in the book of Hebrews. Yet, the Jews and dispensationalists believe that there will be an earthly kingdom someday, which will have earthly Jerusalem as its capital. Its glory and significance is in the past. It’s the “Heavenly Jerusalem” that radiates the glory of God. And we must keep in mind, Heavenly Jerusalem is the Church in her glorified state.

In the same passage the writer of Hebrews adds this:

(Hebrews 12:28) “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” (ESV)

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, and written by a Jewish Christian. If anyone would have understood the true nature of the Kingdom of Christ, it would have been them at that time in history. Yet, you will not find a single indication that they were looking forward to an earthly kingdom. On the contrary, what the writer focused on was our eternal kingdom. If the nation of Israel had an earthly kingdom to look forward to, it seems reasonable there would be a reference to it in this book, of all books of the NT. Instead what we find are references to the “heavenly” kingdom (He 1:3, 8, 13; He 8:1-5; He 9:24; He 10:12, 34; He 11:10, 14-16, 35; He 12:2, 22-28; He 13:14). Paul too looked forward to the “heavenly kingdom” (2 Ti 4:18; 2 Cor 5:1-2). In fact, in the last chapter of Hebrews, the writer says:

(Hebrews 13:14) “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (ESV)

For the Jew, their great hope is a future earthly kingdom that will have their Messiah as King. Yet, here the writer of Hebrews says that what they seek, is “the city to come,” because “here we have no lasting city.” It’s reasonable to conclude that the Jewish Christian writer of this book, and the Jewish Christians he was writing to, understood the kingdom of Christ to be an eternal kingdom (in the “new heaven and new earth” – Rev 21:1-2), and not a kingdom of this world. Jesus Himself said that His kingdom “is not of this world” (Jn 18:36).

To be clear, the Kingdom of Christ is now (Col 1:12; Rev 1:6), which is His Church. We are a spiritual people, thus, we are a spiritual kingdom. However, the Church continues “forever and ever” (Eph 3:21) and Christ will always be its Head and King. God dwells among His people and always will (Jn 14:17-23; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22; Rev 21:1-3; Rev 19:6-10). The Kingdom of Christ/God – which we are citizens of now – continues throughout eternity.

 

(Galatians 4:31) 31 Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid [slave woman], but of the free woman.

Paul concludes his discussion by telling the Galatian church that we (in Christ) are not children of slavery that comes through the law of the Old Covenant, but that we are children of freedom that comes through promise, which had Christ in view. Paul wants them to realize that we’ve been set free from the law through faith in Christ, and thus, there is no sense in returning to what He has set us free from. Furthermore, Paul also reveals that there is no future for earthly, nation of Israel — thus, there is no sense in giving themselves to something that has ended in the plan of God. They were to give themselves to that which lasts forever, and that is their salvation in Christ as members of His Church — true Israel in Him.