Who is Israel?
Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2:25–29 emphasis added)
Beginning any discussion of <Israel> in prophecy requires identifying the referent for the naming expression that roughly translates into English as "to prevail” or “to have power with the Almighty (God)." Israel can, thus, be said to mean Prevailer with God, the naming expression assigned to the patriarch Jacob after he wrestled all night with his deity, the God of Abraham.
Jacob’s descendants, a portion of the physically circumcised progeny of the patriarch Abraham, applied this naming expression to themselves. They still, roughly four millennia later, apply this identifier to themselves even though the Apostle Paul wrote,
It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Rom 9:6–8)
It is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband." Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Gal 4:22–31)
What Paul declares denies legitimacy to the natural sons of Isaac when it comes to using the identifier <Israel> to name themselves as children of promise; for after the nation's liberation from bondage to Pharaoh, the nation didn't prevail with God but rebelled against Moses and the Lord their God. Nevertheless, the natural descendants of Isaac through Jacob clung to the naming expression through the age of the Judges and through the unified kingdom under kings Saul, David, and Solomon.
However, following the division of the kingdom after Solomon's death, the name <Israel> was retained by the ten-tribe northern kingdom of Samaria until drought and captivity by Assyria dispersed these tribes, who then, historically, identified themselves as descendants of Isaac through using some variation of Sacs.
The identifier Israel returned to the southern kingdom of Judah and to Jerusalem when Assyria took the northern kingdom captive, a reality not acknowledged by the Christian Identity Movement or by theological descendants of Herbert Armstrong, but nevertheless the reality of Scripture. For consider what the prophet Ezekiel records concerning what the Lord said to him in vision following the defeat of the southern House of Judah by the Chaldeans in 606 BCE:
Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house … has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, “What are you doing?” Say to them, This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it. Say, I [Ezekiel] am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them. They shall go into exile, into captivity. … And I will bring him [the prince] to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there. And I will scatter toward every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. … Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink water with trembling and with anxiety. And say to the people of the land … concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink water in dismay. In this way her land will be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it. And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall become a desolation … . Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, “The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing”? Tell them therefore, … I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel. But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision. For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. … I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it." …
Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, “The vision that he [Ezekiel] sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.” Therefore say to them … None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed. (Ezek 12:8–28 emphasis added)
The Lord identified the house of Judah as the rebellious house of Israel, with Ezekiel’s prophecies to be then fulfilled forthwith, not centuries later … as far as the Lord was concerned, during the days of Nebuchadnezzar those natural descendants of the patriarchs who dwelt in Jerusalem and in the cities of Judah or who had been taken to Babylon from Jerusalem formed the rebellious house of Israel. So this rebellious house included both Israelites that remained in Jerusalem and the exiles from Jerusalem in Babylon—
The Apostle Paul acknowledged that he was an Israelite, a person of Israel.
Thus, the name <Israel> pertained to the rebellious house of Jacob’s physical descendants that dwelt in the vassal polis of Jerusalem as seen in the twelfth chapter of Ezekiel, especially in verses eight through thirteen. Hence, when Jerusalem was razed in 586 BCE, the name Israel applied to the circumcised nation in Babylonian captivity, and then to the remnant that returned after seventy years to build a scaled-down temple in Jerusalem. The northern kingdom (the so-called lost ten tribes) did not, after going into Assyrian captivity, en masse apply the naming expression to itself although the two-house doctrine that developed in English speaking nations during the 19th-Century has so identified northern Europeans. This doctrine claims, possibly with justification, that northern Europeans are the primary descendants of the ten lost tribes, with the English-speaking nations being the principle descendants of the half tribes Ephraim and Manasseh. This doctrine claims that the circumcised remnant that returned to Jerusalem from Babylon wrongly identified itself as Israel. However, the doctrine has a problem for, again, the Apostle Paul clearly identified himself as an Israelite by birth (Rom 11:1).
The two-house doctrine has a second and usually unrecognized problem: first-language English speakers use the /sh/ phoneme and can pronounce <Shibboleth> (from Judges 12:6); first-language French speakers, however (because of the nasalization inherent to the language) avoid the /sh/ phoneme and therefore cannot say <Shibboleth>, saying instead <Sibboleth>. So if any European people are descendants of the ancient tribe of Ephraim, these descendants would be the French. But–a large caveat, no Indo-European language speaker will truly hear and pronounce the Hebrew letter <’Ayin>, but will instead pass over the character, treating it as a silent letter; hence Joshua in Hebrew is written as Jesus [’Iesou] in Greek. The same would apply to Shibboleth.
Paul identified coverts from the nations [Gentiles] as wild olive branches, and not as natural branches from lost tribes. But the two-house doctrine (two houses of Israel) proclaimed by the Christian Identity Movement as well as by splinters of Herbert Armstrong’s ministry makes the claim that the nations is or can be a referring expression for the dispersed lost tribes. So to narrowly restrict Israel as an identifying signifier for only the birth descendants of the northern kingdom contradicts Scripture. And to teach that endtime biblical prophecies about Israel pertain principally to the English speaking nations is particularly heinous; for the prophetic calamities that happen to endtime Israel will occur because of theology, not biology.
The Apostle Paul, instructed in Hebraic verse and in particular, in the Psalms, understood the key of David, which has a physical presentation of a thing or a concept [the visible things that are] revealing and preceding the invisible things of God as darkness precedes light, with the 24-hour day beginning at sunset (going into darkness) so that night hours—darkness—twist or turn into the light or hot portion of the day, this portion call day. This is the pattern seen in the Genesis “P” creation account, which has night preceding day. This is the embedded structure of Hebraic thought-couplet poetry in which the initial presentation of a thing or an idea is physical, of the community, of the outside of the individual, and the second presentation of the same thing or idea is spiritual, of the individual, of the inner self. This is the presentation of the Commandments as Matthew’s Jesus gave them, with murder [committed with the hand] becoming anger [committed with the heart] (Matt 5:21–22), and with adultery [committed by the body] becoming lust [a thought of the mind] (vv. 27–28), the Law thereby moving from regulating the acts of hands and bodies to regulating the desires of the heart and the thoughts of the mind.
Because Paul understood the movement of the Law from regulating the outside of a person to regulating the inside, Paul counseled the holy ones at Corinth to deliver the man who lay with his father’s wife to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh, while knowing what Moses had prescribed for such a situation: “If a man lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Lev 20:11).
In the physical, a man who had sexual relations with his mother or stepmother was to be—along with the woman—stoned to death, but in the spiritual, the man is returned to the Adversary for the destruction of the man’s fleshly body: the man was to again be consigned to indwelling sin and death, and by extension, to the second death in the lake of fire for this person had tasted of the goodness of God and had, through unbelief, rejected that goodness.
Therefore, Paul established a dual-referent theology in which the first referent was physical and the second referent was spiritual, with Moses as the mediator of the first Covenant forming a shadow and copy of Christ Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant. And in Paul’s dual-referent theology, the outwardly circumcised descendants of Abraham narrowed by the promises given (that is, narrowed to Isaac, and then to Jacob by two promises) forms the physical referent while the holy ones descended from Christ Jesus though the indwelling of the spirit of Christ [pneuma Christou], the last Abraham (Gal 3:29), form the spiritual referent and are the heirs that inherit heaven as their promised land.
The Apostle Paul expressed his dual-referent theology in two oft-cited passages:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18–20)
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit [pneuma]. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. (1 Cor 15:42–48 emphasis added)
In Paul’s dual referent theology, endtime Israel is both the natural descendants of the patriarchs, seen in John’s vision [post Second Passover] as the 144,000 of the twelve named tribes [Dan excluded] and the spiritual descendants seen as both the seven named churches and as the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9). So for Paul, there is a natural Israel and a spiritual Israel and thus a two-track fulfillment of endtime prophecies concerning Israel.
The disasters that befall endtime spiritual Israel do so because of the greater Christian Church's rebellion against God; however, the disasters that will befall spiritual Israel will be foreshadowed by disasters befalling natural Israel, in particular, befalling the modern nation-state of “Israel,” these disasters probably including nuclear annihilation.
So to read a prophecy about Israel that seems to have been fulfilled in the physical remains to be fulfilled in the spiritual … prophecies are not about good things that happen, but about disasters that befall a people or a land, with Jeremiah telling Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon,
Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet. (Jer 28:7–9)
God doesn’t need to prophesy good news to a people or a land, but bad news so that, perhaps, the people or the land will repent, mending their ways as Nineveh did when Jonah prophesied destruction for the great city. Unfortunately, Christians within greater Christendom will not mend their ways prior to the Second Passover liberation of a second Israel [liberation from indwelling sin and death], nor will the vast majority of greater Christendom mend ways, bitterly repenting of its unbelief, after the Second Passover. Instead, most of Christendom will rebel against God 220 days into the Affliction, being spiritually as Israel was in the wilderness when the promise of entering into God’s rest stood (Num chap 14).
The physical or natural referent for endtime Israel will suffer disaster not because of any “national rebellion” against a political power as occurred in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, but because this natural nation has consistently maintained its righteousness before God without exercising true righteousness that would cause this nation and people to love God more than the people love the idol of monotheism. Hence, the natural nation and people of Israel collectively but unintentionally transgress the First Commandment. Only when the natural nation professes that Jesus is Lord and acknowledges that the Father raised Jesus, the Father’s Beloved, from death will natural Israel replace unbelief with belief of God.
The national boundaries [borders] of nations, except for natural Israel, were not and are not today established by God, but rather, have been established by men and assemblies of men. However, ideological or theological boundaries are established by God, and it is theological boundaries that are transgressed when greater Christendom attempts to enter into God’s presence on the day after the Sabbath. And in attempting to enter into God’s presence on the day after the Sabbath, the rebelling endtime Church compounds its problems through an open insurrection against God.
Therefore, anyone or any collective that attempts to limit the naming expression <Israel> to descendants of the circumcised nation that developed in Judea following the return of a remnant from Babylon to build a second temple in Jerusalem suffers from spiritual blindness and is guilty of blasphemy against the spirit. Any such person or collective is as wrong as those who advance the two-house doctrine that will have both houses being physical peoples and physical nations.
When Israel took upon itself guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 27:25), it also crucified itself as a selected paschal lamb, penned in Judea on the tenth day of the first month (Josh 4:19), and sacrificed to the Law (2 Cor 3:6). This nation did not prevail with God, but rejected the Logos [’o Logos], born as a man. It became a spurned nation, just as was the circumcised nation that left Egypt spurned and refused entrance into the Promised Land. And as the physically uncircumcised children of the nation that left Egypt crossed the Jordan to enter God's rest (Ps 95:10-11 & Josh 5:2-7), the physically uncircumcised (but spiritually circumcised; that is, circumcised of heart) children of heavenly Jerusalem [the Jerusalem that is above] enter into God's rest behind ’Iesou. Therein is the previously unrecognized parallel: the spiritually circumcised but physically uncircumcised nation of Israel that left sin (Rom 8:2) in the 1st-Century as the holy nation of God (1 Pet 2:9), returned to sin/lawlessness and was sent into captivity in spiritual Babylon: this nation of Israel was as the man with his Father’s wife, in that this nation of Israel was delivered to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh. And this nation has been in spiritual bondage to lawlessness ever since, with a mere remnant of saints having left Babylon to rebuild the temple—disciples are the temple of God—in the Jerusalem above.
The Church Universal outwardly maintains its inner lawlessness through its observance of the eighth day as its Sabbath. Like the circumcised nation of Jesus' day, it will be sacrificed on a second Passover to the Law, for it has not, under the covering of the garment of Grace, practiced walking upright before God. Thus, it, like Cain and like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, will kill its righteous brother, and for doing so, it will experience the second death.
Concerning his people, the Apostle Paul wrote,
God has not rejected the people whom He foreknew … at the present time there is a remnant [of Israel] chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened … did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean … for if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. … I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel [both referents] will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all. (Rom 11:2-32 emphasis added).
Throughout the above passage, Paul identifies the circumcised nation of his ancestry as <Israel>. This nation of Israel stands in linguistic opposition to the nations or Gentiles. Therefore, from Paul's perspective, the natural nation of Israel is composed of the descendants of the remnant of Judah that returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple. Israel is not the lost ten tribes, or the descendants of the northern kingdom. To teach a doctrine that has Israel being some other physical nation than the one Paul identifies as such makes the person a false teacher, or false prophet.
However, from the perspective of the New Testament, the doctrine of election enters the discussion. The firstborn of Abraham was Ishmael, but the firstborn of promise was Isaac. Of the sons of promise, Esau the firstborn was hated [that is, not respected] whereas Jacob was loved. Ishmael was circumcised, as was Esau. So physical circumcision is not the mark of election. Rather, being of promise and being loved are the markers that separate Israel from other descendants of Abraham. Thus, whereas natural Israel has temporarily rejected God so that the fullness of the nations can come to God, Israel will return to God when this fullness of the nations rebels against God upon the man of perdition being revealed (2 Thess 2:3). The full inclusion of Israel occurs during the first half of seven endtime years of tribulation—occurs when the lawless one attempts to change times and the law (Dan 7:25).
The Sabbath remains the signifier denoting that Israel knows the Lord sanctifies the nation (Exod 31:13), and during the first half of the Tribulation, Sabbath observance will separate who is of God from who is of the warring kings of the South and the North.
Within the spiritually circumcised descendants of Abraham are firstborn sons of bondage [spiritual Ishmaelites], and not-respected sons of promise [spiritual Edomites] (not respected because they have sold their spiritual birthright for physical promises). The beloved spiritually firstborn son of promise, apart from Christ Jesus being the first of the firstfruits, is spiritual Israel, the holy nation of the Father. It is this nation that is recovered from death upon the second coming of Christ Jesus.
Whereas the nation of physically circumcised Israel in Egypt was called the firstborn son of God (Exod 4:22), with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, none of this nation entered God’s rest. Instead, their uncircumcised children crossed the Jordan and were immediately circumcised. These uncircumcised children entered the Land Beyond the River that is God’s rest, and these children of the nation that left Egypt equate to the third part of the little ones that the prophet Zechariah references (chap 13, v. 9). Again, this third part of humanity will be spiritually like the first Eve’s son Seth. This third part of humanity will not be born from above until the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all flesh when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of the Most High and of His Christ. Thus, this third part is not liberated from indwelling sin and death until the middle of the seven endtime years. And this third part will not have sinned in the heavenly realm for they had no life in this realm. So when they are born from above, they will be born empowered by the Holy Spirit so that they are able to overcome the flesh. They will be saved if they endure to the end because they are born sinless, and again, they will have been empowered to overcome sin from their spiritual birth. All they must do is endure. Salvation is, for this third part of humanity, this simple. But they will, in enduring, be refined as silver is refined (in fire) and tested as gold is tested (under pressure), the reason why the Messiah doesn’t immediately return when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of Father and Son.
(To be continued.)
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."