One thing I would say without looking at the whole superstructure, which time simply does not permit, is the really foreign thought that God is fishing for DNA in order to mediate His salvation. That someone named Kelly, for example, is saved, not strictly because of the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, and response of faith to God’s great, “whosoever will” extended to all nations without discrimination, but because my physical lineage has some surviving genetic element that can be traced back (or that can only be assumed on the basis of what I believe) to one of the supposedly lost ten tribes of Israel (see David Baron’s excellent little pamphlet by that title). That just doesn’t square with the mystery that Christ is revealed ‘in’ gentiles, without discrimination, and that gentiles of “every” tribe, tongue, and nation are equally made Abraham’s seed through faith alone. Such a thesis is suspicious from the start!
Yes, I believe and affirm that God preserves an ethnic distinction from among the natural branches precisely in order to demonstrate and set on public display His covenant word to Israel for the vindication of His sovereignty in divine election, and for the instruction of the nations and the fallen order of principalities and powers through what He has purposed to show through them. A preserved remnant from among the natural branches will indeed be born in a day (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9) and gathered from all nations, never to be invaded again. That is sure and certain! Until then, they are made sufficiently distinguishable as a distinct ethnic race precisely in order to show in them the discipline of the covenant and to test the hearts of all nations concerning this blinded people who, though momentarily enemies of the gospel, are NONETHELESS BELOVED, and are to be so regarded, to the chagrin of those nations who have laid malicious, unfeeling hands on God’s afflicted in their pitiable ghetto condition, a presumption that will be much required in that day.
But this Pauline insistence that the covenant cannot be fulfilled in its complete scope apart from their return is a vast remove from the presumption that the salvation of Christ is somehow mysteriously operating among the nations on the principle of some hidden DNA. Interesting, is it not? That such a genetic connection is conveniently hidden under the radar of a Hitler? Do we put confidence in a genetic connection that is so hidden as to escape the costly identification with the nation that is marked off by a special divine discipline that has pursued the Jewish people across the millennia, that was to be a public instruction to all the other nations? (Amos 3:2). No, to find the Israel that is set apart for both a discipline of ultimate astonishment and an age concluding salvation, in order to trace the people of that well foretold history, one must follow the trail of tears and blood! That’s where you’ll find the people of the double curse who are destined for the double glory on a restored millennial earth!
A uniquely severe covenant curse attaches to this people of the high, but failed calling, as history has so conspicuously witnessed in its unrelieved, ever repeated cycles of judgement and persecution that must continue to the day of the Lord. This supposed hidden DNA, on the other hand, is able to conveniently escape the peculiar corporate suffering that has been the long witness of a continual divine pursuit that does not end till ‘that day’, the day of the Lord.
Due to its obscurity, this genetic connection is also able to escape Satan’s persecuting attentions. Shall we believe that it has only now been discovered, just in time to distinguish itself by its beliefs and its teachers for such a time as this? I don’t think so! It all smacks of pride to even look, or need to look, for some distinction that is other (for how could it be more?) of the inheritance of all things that is secured to even ‘the least of these’ who put simple faith and trust in Christ, and worship God in the Spirit with no confidence in the flesh.
What person from any nation could possibly profit by being distinguished as a descendant from one of the tribes that were taken into captivity by Assyria in the 8th century B.C.? Who needs it? According to Paul in many places, such a thing would count for nothing (Gal 6:15). It is pride to even investigate the evidence one way or the other. Even if it were true, it’s the last thing the flesh could need. All such vanity should rather be fled than pursued.
Therefore, in all simplicity, the only requirement, which is no small requirement, is that one be born again. This requires no prior virtue, since there isn’t any acceptable virtue outside of Christ, and nor any advantage through physical descent, except as God has determined before the world began to bring certain ones to faith. For that very cause, and to give His election a visible outward form for the sake of instruction, Israel exists in a visible way as an unbelieving nation precisely to make that demonstration through them, not on the basis of works but of Him who calls (Ro 9:11).
As also their special discipline is a reminder that whether in faith or unbelief, the covenant of both requirement and promise remains with them, as they show through their history the fearful truth of Jesus’ dictum that to whom much has been given (privilege, gift, stewardship), much more is required.
Obviously, or what should be obvious, regardless of belonging to a called and set apart nation, there is no personal benefit of the blessing of the covenant, or the inheritance of the New Covenant unless one is born again. Instead, there is only the special liability and exposure to covenant wrath if a Jew is NOT born again. I don’t see this special discipline on gentiles in general, as I would certainly expect if they belonged to the elect seed of either of the houses of Israel.
It is impossible to be “in Christ” and not also be “in Israel”. That’s why it is only in Him, the One seed, that the promises are yea and amen, nowhere else. This is only remedied through the new birth, nothing else. I see the church as ‘the Israel within Israel’ in continuity with the remnant according to the election of grace and the elect of all ages. To be newly revealed does not mean that the church is newly existent. The body of Christ exists wheresoever the Spirit indwells a believer, as it was nothing less than “the Spirit of Christ” who was “IN” the saints and prophets of old (1Pet 1:11). As Jesus would reprimand Nicodemus for his failure as a teacher to recognize that it is only by the Spirit that the nation will one day be born in a day in order to inherit the kingdom of God, how then could it be any different for the individual? So the new birth and the indwelling of the Spirit is not new, though its eternal basis in the blood of the everlasting covenant has come more fully to light in Christ.
In short, it is the new birth that holds together the whole redemptive drama. The physical-visible side of the promises only serve to underscore its necessity. The promise is not made on the basis of any virtue or natural advantage where the physical descendants of Abraham are concerned, obviously, and that’s precisely the point. Israel exists to destroy all boasting, simply because Israel exists (as a set apart, visible, corporate entity) to show the sovereignty of God’s electing grace in a people prone always to wander and slide back from the high standard that cannot be met except by the Spirit of Christ, who is only given on the basis of the holy exchange and imputation, which had its operation through the Spirit even before the mystery of how this would be accomplished, and its eternal basis in the blood of Christ would be revealed.
Since the revelation of the mystery of the gospel, there has been a notable change in the stewardship of responsibility, and this recognition of dispensational change does not make one a dispensationalist, of course, but all schools of thought, if they are Christian, will necessarily recognize a dispensational distinction of some kind. Since the revelation of the mystery, identification with Israel is no more through circumcision or any other such thing. That is why the gentile believer has been loosed from these things. “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb 7:12). If this were not so, the freedoms that the Jerusalem council pronounced for gentile believers would have been a breach, not merely of Jewish custom, but the stewardship of responsibility enjoined on everyone living under that dispensation.
The identification is in the Spirit of Christ. That is why one born of the Spirit should be more burdened and touched with what touches Israel, even in its unbelief, than even the natural Jew or home born Israeli. Israel is not be made jealous because we keep all the laws they do, but because, quite conspicuously apart from Kosher observance and the works of the law, the light and love of Israel shines through believing gentile faces towards all men, but most appropriately to the Jew first. This is God’s leverage to reason with His disobedient but no less elect people that the promised Spirit is received not through the law but through faith.
We must not rob God of this very leverage of demonstration by seeking to accommodate ourselves to any human presumption that suggests that Christ is not sufficient, or that His / the Spirit’s work depends on anything in man or that man can do. This is the upshot of NT revelation as I understand it: The only thing that God can accept is what He does in us and through us by His Spirit (Gal 6:15), not as a means unto but as the sure results of an already secured salvation, even the salvation of the everlasting covenant promised to Israel and received by whosoever will in Christ.
Again, to be in Christ is to be in Israel. No outward forms are its proof but the new heart, which, of course, will show itself in love and good works. Hence, you need not become anything other than a Christian in order to receive all things and full identification with Israel, and not the Israel of God only, but also the Israel that is in pain to be delivered for whom we travel till Christ be formed in them, since it is only in them, as a distinct ethnic race in the earth, that the covenant of grace will be finally and openly vindicated in the sight of all nations.
This is the clear teaching of the NT. We tend to complicate it: In Him are all things and He is the head and we are complete in Him. It’s that simple. To be in Christ is, in a sense, to be ‘already there’ seated with Him in heaven, being already delivered from this ‘present age’ (Gal 1:4), enjoying even now the first-fruits of the kingdom and foretaste of the “powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5).
What I’d really like to talk about, and what I’m writing about occasionally, is the glories of the everlasting covenant that Christ has made sure to every believer now, as He will to ‘all Israel’ in that day. When we’re in Him, its a sealed deal. When we’re in Him, we’re automatically in both houses! We don’t need to sweat which house we belong to. We’re in His house forever! Where else is there?
I close with this admonition and warning to us all, which I suspect may be most especially applicable in these discussions:
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Chris (2Cor 11:3).
In brotherly love, Reggie