New Horizons

A Continuing Purpose

Michael Craddick

Does God still have a plan for the Jewish people? Does he have a design that continues to this very day—and beyond? Or has God cast the Jews aside, rejecting them and replaced them with the church as God's "chosen people"?

Such questions have been at issue in the church of God throughout the centuries. Numerous theologians at various times have developed opposing theories. There have been many attempts to understand and explain the tenacious unbelief of the majority of Jews. Why do they refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah? Also, there is the question of the church's relationship to them. In essence, the question is: If God has indeed called the Jews, why do they persist in their unbelief? And, how should the church relate and respond to them?

God's Design for Israel

It is this very issue that the apostle Paul addresses in chapters 9 through 11 of his letter to the Romans. "I say then, has God cast away His people?" (Rom. 11:1). Paul comes at this question from a perspective that is most natural, considering all he has been saying in chapters 1 through 8. In them, he has been establishing that our salvation depends entirely on the grace and the promise of God.

"But then," someone would ask, "what about Israel? They, for the most part, have rejected God's salvation. So has God abandoned Israel, in spite of all his covenants and promises? And if that is so, what confidence should we have that the same thing will not happen to us someday?"

These are the questions that the apostle addresses in chapters 9-11. In so doing, he establishes two major theses. First, God has not cast off Israel (that is, the Jewish people). Second, their rejection of God's salvation through Christ is part of his overall plan of redemption for the whole world. That is, "through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:11). The point of the words "to provoke them to jealousy" surely is that "the Lord is not finished with the Jews. God has a plan involving his people Israel which sweeps right through to the end of the ages."[1]

Charles Hodge, in his commentary on this verse, writes, "The stumbling of the Jews was not attended with the result of their utter and final ruin, but was the occasion of facilitating the progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles."[2] It was our sovereign Lord's design that the Jewish Messiah would be rejected by Israel, his own people, and would therefore be proclaimed throughout all the earth as the Savior, to everyone who believes.

Gentiles Grafted into Jewish Remnant

But God has not utterly and finally rejected Israel. The apostle's own answer to his question, "Has God cast away His people?" (see also 1 Sam. 12:22; Ps. 94:14), is a most emphatic "Certainly not!" (Rom. 11:1). What proof does he offer? There is a remnant—a remnant that has not rejected their Messiah.

In the Old Testament, not all the people of Israel were among those who truly believed in the testimonies of God as recorded in Scripture. The prophets spoke of a remnant through whom God would fulfill his promises. Paul proclaims that he is part of that remnant. Those who believe from among the Gentiles are "grafted in" among the Jewish remnant (Rom. 11:17).

The church of Jesus Christ is not a new Gentile phenomenon, even though the vast majority of its members are now Gentiles. Rather, it is a "new creation," made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. It is a body that is organically and spiritually connected to, and is an outgrowth of, the original people of God. True, the Israel of God has been extended to include those from among all nations who are called by the Father, but the Jewish "root and fatness" (Rom. 11:17) were not replaced or uprooted just because unbelieving branches had been pruned off.

Furthermore, this "grafting in" of the Gentiles was part and parcel of the original purpose of God in the calling of Israel. So then, "the salvation of the Gentiles, far from proving that God had rejected Israel, in fact proved the opposite. God was still in the business of saving and restoring Israel."[3] God has been doing what he said he would do! In his wonderful and surprising design, the taking of the gospel to the Gentile world has as its ultimate goal the ingathering, or restoration, of the Jewish people to the community of faith, the church of the First Born.

Our Attitude toward the Jews

Now we must consider what the relationship of the church to the Jewish people should be. Has Israel been forsaken, save for a remnant? Paul emphatically proclaims that this is not the case. "Concerning the gospel they [that is, the Jewish people] are enemies for your [that is, believers'] sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" (Rom. 11:28).

God is telling us that although the Jews may seem to be your enemies, as far as the progress of the gospel is concerned (resulting in it coming to the Gentiles), nevertheless they are beloved by God. John Murray writes, " 'Beloved' thus means that God has not suspended or rescinded his relation to Israel as his chosen people in terms of the covenants made with the fathers. Unfaithful as Israel have been and broken off for that reason, yet God still sustains his peculiar relation of love to them."[4] He will never break his covenant. God is faithful to his own love.

Therefore, what should we, the church, think about the Jews? Charles Hodge answers, in the light of Romans 11:

The mutual relation between the Christian church and the Jews should produce in the minds of all the followers of Christ,—1. A deep sense of our obligations to the Jews as the people through whom the true religion has been preserved, ... vers. 17, 18. 2. Sincere compassion for them, because their rejection and misery have been the means of reconciling the world to God, i.e., of extending the gospel of reconciliation among men, vers. 11, 12, 15. 3. The banishment of all feelings of contempt towards them, or exultation over them, vers. 18, 20. 4. An earnest desire, prompting to prayer and effort, for their restoration, as an event fraught with blessings to them and to all the world, and one which God has determined to bring to pass, vers. 12, 15, 25, etc.[5]

The Church's Duty to Israel

Hodge's last point, that the church should have an earnest desire to pray for, and should make efforts toward, the restoration of the Jewish people, brings us to the important point of application. Since God has not utterly rejected his ancient people Israel, what should the church do? Does the church have a duty to Israel? I would humbly submit that she does.[6]

What, then, is the church's duty to Israel?[7] It is to love them—in the same manner that God loves them. Does this mean, as some would have us believe, that we are to support the modern state of Israel, right or wrong? Absolutely not! This is not, I believe, the sort of love that the Scriptures would exhort us to. Rather, we should love the Jewish people with the goal of their salvation and their restoration to their Lord, who loves them eternally.

This is the way our Lord loves them. He saw their sin and rebellion, and he disciplined them for it. However, he was not content to leave them to their own devices, to leave them in their sins. And neither should we! He continually called them to repentance and faith. And so should we! We must show them in Jesus the Messiah who fulfills their historic Scriptural faith. We must proclaim to them that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

The greatest joy of a child of God in this life is to be like the Lord. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts us to "be imitators of God." Our Lord wept over the Jewish people:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matt. 23:37-39; cf. 2 Cor. 3:16)

Paul likewise grieved and agonized over the hardness of heart of his own people:

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites. (Rom. 9:1-4)

Dare we do any less?

Endnotes

[1] William Still in the CWI Herald.

[2] Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), p. 361.

[3] Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (London: Marshall Pickering, 1992), p. 171.

[4] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 101 (emphasis added).

[5] Hodge, Commentary on Romans, p. 381.

[6] See the Larger Catechism, Q/A 191. See also the section "Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon" in the Westminster Assembly's Directory for the Publick Worship of God.

[7] I would refer the reader to the sermon by Robert Murray M'Cheyne, "Our Duty to Israel," in Memoir and Remains of R. M. M'Cheyne (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1978), p. 489.

Mr. Craddick, a member of Grace OPC in Vienna, Va., works with Christian Witness to Israel. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 1996.

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