As I scanned my Facebook feed this morning, I noticed a barrage of posts hailing Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They weren’t hailing it for political reasons, but Biblical ones. The Jews, they argue, are God’s chosen people and God has earthly promises for them alone as a separate plan of redemption from His plan for Christians. This move of the US embassy, for them, marks a step closer to the fulfillment of those promises and Christ’s return.
Moving the embassy may or may not be a great political move. I’m not qualified to speak into that. But I would like to press on Christians supporting this move purely from a redemptive-historical (God’s plan of redemption over history) point of view. God has one plan for one group of people, the church.
Genesis to Revelation is one progressive, continuous story about God’s pursuit of His people who have rebelled against Him. God lays the foundation for this plan with Abraham promising that through him all nations would be blessed (Genesis 18:18, 22:18). This promise follows his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel and through whom this nation would come about.
The plan from the beginning was that God would redeem all types of peoples through Jesus Christ and the seeds of that redemption were planted in Israel. It was through the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David that the Messiah would come. There was never a shift of plans. It was always a continuous, predetermined plan that would, one day, go global (Romans 4:11, Matthew 28:18-20).
Theological problems arise when we fail to see the continuity of God’s plan in the Bible. One of these problems is this large division between God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the church. God’s plan has always been for one people, the church. God made a covenant with Israel (we call this the Old Covenant) and this physical covenant was always intended to be a forerunner to the better spiritual New Covenant. The ‘oldness’ of the Old Covenant is that not all the people in it were true believers (Jeremiah 31:32, Romans 9-11). Many in Israel did not believe resulting in a people of God made up of both believers (or remnant) and unbelievers.
Jeremiah addresses this problem prophesying that one day God would provide a New Covenant comprised of believers only. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is why Paul, speaking of the New Covenant, says,
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:6-8).
Paul explains that the believing remnant of Jews was preserved, but all unbelieving Jews were cut off and believing gentiles were grafted into this Jewish remnant (Romans 11:17-18). We don’t have two groups of people, but one: the church containing both Jew and gentile. Michael Horton says, “Thus, it becomes clearer that we are not dealing with two peoples but one (Ephesians 2:11-22) and not with a displacement of Israel, but its enlargement.” The true Israel is not the nation that physically descended from Abraham, but those who believe in Christ.
There are not two plans, one for Israel and one for the church. There is one plan for one people that has been building over the millennia.
What about the promises?
The promises continue! We don’t have to figure out which promises are for Israel and which are for the church because there is only one group of recipients: the church. What, then, do we do with the promise in Romans 11:26 that God will save “all Israel”? It seems clear that one day, there will be a large scale conversion of ethnic Jews to Christ and in Paul’s words, they will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24). But this is no separate plan! They will believe in Christ and join the church! Still one plan for one people.
What about Israel today?
Israel is a hugely important historical site because the seeds were laid there for the redemption of the world. There are no longer priests there, though, making sacrifices for us because we are a ‘royal priesthood’ with full access to God through Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5). There is no longer a temple there where God’s presence dwells because we are now that temple and in us dwells God the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). God’s chosen people are no longer those physically descending from Abraham, but those who believe the promise given to Abraham (Romans 9:6-8). God’s favor is no longer limited to the nation of Israel, but expanded to God’s “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), the church, made up of every tribe, tongue and nation.
The embassy move is a political matter, not an eschatological (end times) one. So, I will leave that decision in the hands of those more educated in world affairs. As we, Christians, watch the news coming from Israel, we should remind ourselves of the grandness of God’s plan for the redemption of His people, the thousands of years He worked to bring that plan about and the penalty He took on Himself in the Israelite, Jesus Christ, that we might be redeemed.