Does God Have Two Peoples in His Story?

Last night, I spoke in my local church and gave out a resource for study that charts out the “big picture” of the people of God in the Biblical narrative. A key point was to note that in the Bible, God has always only had one people group.

 

Check out this image (Right Click and Open in New Tab):

It has often been assumed that God has two separately distinct peoples that he is working with in the ‘big picture:’ the Church and the Jews. This image demonstrates that the people of God, both before and after the cross belong on the same line in the spectrum of time. God’s people both before and after the cross, are to be seen with continuity. The church is not a separate group from the Jews, but rather is composed of all of “faithful Israel”, both Jew and Gentile. All who chose to follow Jesus’ movement as the “renewed” or “true” Israel, remained on the line both before and after the resurrection. But uniquely, it is after Calvary (and Pentecost) when the Gentiles are given equal access to being part of God’s “chosen people.” Simultaneously to this, all Jews who don’t believe in Jesus as Messiah, have chosen to not be part of God’s family any longer.

 

Jesus sent out his disciples (see Matthew 10) to proclaim to the Jews of the first century that they need to align themselves with the Kingdom of God, or they would have to endure the great tribulation that was coming within “this generation” (Matthew 24). This great tribulation (national crisis) which Jesus prophesied about, came to fulfillment in 70AD with the destruction of the Temple and all of Jerusalem. All who believed the message of Jesus, remained part of the true people of God, with Jesus rather than a building as the true Holy Place (Temple). All who refused have chosen to become like the non-believing Gentiles, and have cut themselves out of God’s people. Now both Jew and Gentile believers form the “new Israel” in continuity with the old. God’s true Israel is no longer confined to the Holy Land in Israel, but to him, the whole world is now his Holy Land!!!

 

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that God now only deals with one human family (as opposed to having the church and the nation of Israel):

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3.28-29

 

The above passage gives us insight to who is actually part of Abraham’s family, and therefore a true Jew. It is not nationality that determines this any longer, but all who “belong to Christ” are “Abraham’s seed!” Therefore, the Christian family is in direct continuity with all of the faithful Israelites throughout history, and all that is promised to them in the Old Testament, are now the Church’s in the New Testament (composed of both faithful Jews and Gentiles). I think that the way that devout followers of Judaism fit into the picture is that Christ-followers are called to “woo” them so that they will be “grafted” back into God’s family (Romans 9-11).

This post reflects some random thoughts, but I don’t have this issue completely settled and ultimately may be surprised in the Last Day, for I am not the final Judge :-)

 

As you look at the above image or read these thoughts, what is helpful? What are some questions that you have? Does this image spur on any thoughts? Do you notice a framework within the image that explains the ‘big picture’ of God’s biblical story?

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  • http://timgoodbody.blogspot.com/ Tim Goodbody

    Hi Kurt,
    Interesting stuff.
    I wondered if you had seen this?
    http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=432
    (I don’t necessarily endorse all of it, just thought you’d like to see it)

    best wishes
    Tim

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Tim, thanks for the resource!

  • http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    Kurt,
    I quite enjoyed this post, especially as the nature of the people of God has played a central role in my studies for a number of years.

    The “two people of God” theology you reference, though pretty common today is really a creation of Dispensational theology. In fact despite the fact that they are often focused on for their eschatology I would say that for almost any Dispensationalist the Church/Israel distinction is actually the most defining and central aspect of their theological system. Ryrie for example pretty much admits that the rapture is necessary primarally because there are two plans for the two people.

    All in all I think the approach you are taking is one I could mostly agree with, though with a few differences and nuances here and there.

    The problem is that in much of Evangelicalism this question has been set up so that those in the Dispensational camp are given the understanding that their only alternative is Covenant theology (which also has issues, albeit different ones), and vice versa. So people look at the camp they oppose, imagine that is the only other option, and stay where they are even when it no longer seems that viable.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

    I believe you’re on a solid Biblical footing here, Kurt. You’re also likely to have taken/to take a great deal of heat for it! Keep the faith!

  • http://tonyctoday.com Tony C

    Very good fodder for thought Kurt. I, like you, want to study more on your premise.

    Something about the blind following of Christians when it comes to Jews doesn’t sit right with me. I’m by no means anti-semitic because God commands me to love all, but the Jews did/do reject Jesus.

    I like the diagram and found it helpful while reading your post. I hope you blog more on this subject.

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    I love the jewish people as you say… but i dont think that they are God’s people in the sense of their “chosen” status any longer. I think there is lots to learn about Christianity from our Jewish friends, but we need to be careful to not impose bad theology into our dealings with the nation of modern day Israel. More to come…

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

      Yeah, I have a hunch “no man cometh to the Father but by me” doesn’t actually mean “no man cometh to the Father but by the bloodline of Abraham, or me.”

      I do think Jesus’ mercy extends a lot farther than that of those who name his name. . .but salvation is definitely not hereditary for anyone.

  • http://errorsofdispensationalism.blogspot.com/ Joey Hill

    Thanks Kurt. I am a little too wordy or long winded when I write. I have a similar blog on this subject if you would be interested at errorsofdispensationalism.blogspot.com

  • Richard Hellman

    You are correct in saying we are one in Christ and there is neither Jew or Greek. Even though Israel is not a redeemed people I believe they are part of God’s plan when Jesus comes back. Who are the nations that go up to the New Jerusalem to eat the leaves of the tree of Life for healing. Obviously they are not the inhabitants of the city who I understand will be us who are the one in Christ. There may be one people of God now but there will be people with different standings in the New Heavens and New Earth. Your time line only shows one resurrection. Revelation speaks of two with a gap between them.

  • http://judeoxian.wordpress.com Seth “JudeoXian”

    Kurt,

    On some of your points, I heartily agree with. On others, I disagree.

    But first, I’ll readily acknowledge that the Bible’s treatment on the subject is highly nuanced and complex. Unfortunately, most systematic treatments on the subject are not much help. For the most part, most theologies are either dispensational (emphasizing distinction between Israel and the Church, often solely interested in premillenial rapture timelines) or covenantal (emphasizing the continuity between “OT Israel” and the “NT Church”). Often, the covenantal perspective morphs into replacement theology, that is, the Church has replaced Israel. I interpret your above post within this light. I think this is in error.

    It would be difficult to lay this all out in an organized manner, so I’ll follow your lead and just put some random thoughts out there for you to consider.

    1. Two peoples or one? I think the answer is both. Yes, God has one catholic (universal) church. All humanity is his, and in Christ he is creating “one new humanity,” of which certainly the Jews are a part. And while it is true that our status in Christ does not depend upon national origin or the “will of the flesh,” it does not negate the fact that we still have our own respective national identities. The Jewish people remain Jewish in Christ. And that nation has a unique relationship with God that no other nation can boast about, namely “the covenants”. Nothing in the NT or Paul negates these privileges (see Rom. 9:4-5). When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he wrote not to negate Israel’s covenantal status, but to affirm the Gentiles’ status alongside Israel through Christ. Gentiles are not Israelites, though we share in their promises as sons of Abraham. But that doesn’t make us Jews.

    Do a word study of all the occurrences of “Israel” in the NT. Most occurrences clearly refer to the Jewish people, as distinct from the Gentiles. If it is true that Israel is no longer clearly Jewish, then these occurrences are hard to explain.

    2. Unbelieving Jews cut off? I think Paul emphatically denies this in Romans 11:11-16. This certainly does not mean Jews are currently saved from their sins apart from faith in Christ, but the covenantal relationship they have with God still remains, and their future reconciliation remains the ultimate hope of the OT Prophets and Paul (11:15, 25-26). This would not be true if they were cut off from God’s family.

    3. I’d like to challenge your claim that the Holy Land is no longer holy. We learn from Leviticus and Numbers that there are levels of holiness. In ancient Israel, the Holy of Holies was, obviously, the holiest place. Then the Holy place, the courtyard, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, on and on, etc. Each location had a decreased amount of holiness, but holiness nonetheless, because of their proximity to the Temple. In the World to Come, it is as though this holiness will infuse the whole creation as God makes his dwelling with man. While it is true that Israel no longer has a Temple, nonetheless, this does not mean that Jesus came to profane the holiness of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. Rather, with tears and heaviness of heart, Jesus announced the destruction of the Temple and the Exile from the Land. He said that he longed to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they were not willing. The ensuing exile was certainly a punishment for sin, but certainly not a sign that God had divorced his people.

    4. Finally, in terms of eschatology, who knows? It cannot be for naught that more Jews came to faith in Christ in the 20th century than every other century combined. This was simultaneous with increased Christian awareness of the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and an explosion Christian missions to the Jews. The Holocaust tried to extinguish the Jewish flame, but in it’s wake were born the State of Israel, Vatican II, and a revolution in Jewish-Christian relations, leading to a rebirth of NT studies inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls and increased archeological activity in the land of Israel. Who knows if it’s the end, but something’s up. Two parts of one family are getting back together and slowly mending old wounds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chuck-McGee/1279964909 Chuck McGee

    “It is not nationality that determines this any longer, but all who “belong to Christ” are “Abraham’s seed!” Therefore, the Christian family is in direct continuity with all of the faithful Israelites throughout history, and all that is promised to them in the Old Testament, are now the Church’s in the New Testament (composed of both faithful Jews and Gentiles).”   Great post!!!Being a Jew was never about nationality, but always about being faithful to God.   


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