In his letter to the Romans, Paul answers this question emphatically: Of course not! (Romans 11:1) As far as his natural heritage is concerned, the apostle Paul was a Jew who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, a heritage greatly esteemed among the Jews. From this tribe had come Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Samuel 10:20-24). The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were the only two tribes to return to Israel after the Exile (Ezra 4:1). He was of the party of Pharisees and studied under Gamaliel who thoroughly trained him in the law of his ancestors (Acts 22:3). His calling from the Lord was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
We should remember that the Jews hated Paul.(See 2 Corinthians 11:24-26) He was considered a traitor to Judaism…However, in spite of all this, Paul still felt great sorrow for the Jewish people, to the point of being willing to be placed under God’s curse, if it would help his brothers, his own people, his own flesh and blood—the people of Israel.
He loved his own people, the Jews, so much that he said he would even give up his own salvation if it would lead them to the Lord. However, even with such great love for his people, God did not call Paul to the Jews but to the Gentiles. (See Galatians 2: 6-8)
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 KJV)
Paul knew Israel alone received the glory, the covenants, the Law, the instructions for tabernacle worship, and the promises. Next was the Temple worship which was a symbolic portrait of the Tabernacle which explains the revelations concerning God’s plan for man. They are the patriarchs, the prophets, and, ultimately, they are the human source of Jesus Christ. The promises of redemption are to be fulfilled by their Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. Israel alone is referred to by God as “My son.”
It was only the Jewish people that experienced the Shekinah glory, which means “the glorious presence of God.” The glory was visible in the pillar of fire that led Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. (See Exodus 13:21; 33:9; 40:36-38 Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; 9:3; Numbers 12:5; 14:14) The covenants are theirs and those who teach that God has broken His covenant with the Jewish people are teaching a false doctrine.
Some churches started teaching that the Jews had murdered the Messiah and were therefore beyond any hope of salvation. With this misappropriation and corruption of the Gospel came the erosion of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. For example at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE a deliberate decision was made to sever the Church from its Jewish heritage—for instance Passover was replaced with the pagan festival of Easter, and the birth of Christ was celebrated at another pagan festival which became known as Christmas. The New Covenant, it was said, belonged to the Church and the Old Covenant, which they claimed had been abolished, belonged to Israel.
In other words the Church had replaced the nation of Israel as far as God’s promises were concerned. It was taught and it is still taught by some that where the Old Testament speaks of the promises and blessings of God for Israel, ‘Israel’ should be taken to mean ‘the Church’; and where it speaks of judgment and curses, then Israel should be taken to mean ‘Israel’. And the receiving of the Law which is called the Torah…the written Word of God was given to the Church, but the Word was given to the Jewish people thousands of years before the Gentiles knew it existed. This is what we call “Replacement Theology.”
Israel in God’s Plan
Paul’s letter to the Romans is crucial in understanding the place of Jews. The Gentiles were tempted to think that they were the new Israel, having replaced the Jewish people, in God purposes. When Paul wrote the book of Romans to the Church in Rome in about 54 A.D, he rightly pointed out that Israel rejection was not final. I am really surprised that you don’t really hear many preachers, teachers, or pastors, preaching the chapters of Romans 9, 10, and 11. In chapter 11 Paul has to remind his readers that God has not finished with the Jews, just because they had rejected Him.
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. (Romans 11:1-4)
Paul then tells the Gentiles not to be proud because the Jews were cut off so that the Gentiles will be grafted in.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
Furthermore, he says that we shouldn’t be ignorant of this mystery lest you should be wise in your opinion. What mystery was he talking about?
A hardening (insensibility) has temporarily befallen a part of Israel to last until the full number of the in-gathering of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved. As it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins…… And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (See Romans 11:1-36 NKJV)
Merrill Bolender in his book, When the Cross became a Sword points out the major differences between the “wild olive branches” and the “natural” branches:
The “wild olive branches” are the Gentile Christians from the New Testament era to the present time who were grafted into the olive tree. They did not have the same perspective as the Hebrew believers….They could not fully appreciate or identify with the Jews and the Jewish Scriptures, written by the Jews, to the Jews in a Jewish culture. To truly understand the Old and New Testament Scriptures, one needs to interpret the Scripture from a Hebraic perspective. The “natural branches,” or the Jewish people, understood Scripture from a Hebraic perspective. Their roots were grounded in the Jewish festivals, the Jewish community, and the coming Jewish Messiah who would fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies. The early New Testament Church was made up of Jewish people, with their roots still established in the fertile soil of the first-century Judaism. The Jewish Apostles who wrote the New Testament were intimately familiar with Judaic customs and traditions. We as the Church need to recapture the richness found in the roots of the Jewish olive tree. Our perspective needs to be that of that Hebrew people. This will enrich our view of Jesus and of the Scriptures.
The Forever Covenant God has with Israel
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you [with abundant increase of favors] and make your name famous and distinguished, and you will be a blessing [dispensing good to others]. And I will bless those who bless you [who confer prosperity or happiness upon you] and curse him who curses or uses insolent language toward you; in you will all the families and kindred of the earth be blessed [and by you they will bless themselves (Genesis 12:2-3 AMP)
……..God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. (See Genesis 17:1-22)
In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore. And your Seed (Heir) will possess the gate of His enemies, and in your Seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed and [by Him] bless themselves, because you have heard and obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:17-18)
With regards to the covenant, Paul makes it very clear about the future of the nation of Israel when he cities the conclusion of Isaiah 59, in verse 27 which again refers to the New Covenant mentioned by Jeremiah:
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV)
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews who did not identify himself but must have been well versed in the Old Testament, gives an exposition of this New Covenant exactly as it as originally written, insisting that it is a covenant with house of Israel and the house of Judah.
When God speaks of a new [covenant or agreement], He makes the first one obsolete (out of use). And what is obsolete (out of use and annulled because of age) is ripe for disappearance and to be dispensed with altogether. (Hebrews 8:13 AMP)
The mistake the Church made over the centuries was to try and rob the nation of Israel of the covenant which had been graciously and unconditionally promised to her by God. As we’ve already mentioned, this is known as Replacement Theology and it’s been the main cause of anti-Semitism. The Scripture clearly tells us that God chose the Jews (His own people) to be the people through whom the rest of the Gentile world could find salvation:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 KJV)
Neither Israel nor the Church deserves God’s grace. Both Israel and the Church are totally dependent on God’s unmerited free supernatural grace. That is why Paul tells us that it is by the grace of God that we Gentile Christians have been grafted into the olive tree and therefore we become partakers of the New Covenant. Yes, the Jewish people are witnesses of God’s amazing grace. And the same grace is available to all of us, whether we are Gentiles or the Jews. God set the Jews aside and put them under discipline because of their disobedience, but He did not cut them off from His grace. He intends to bring them back home. The prophet Hosea says,
This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. (Hosea 3:4-5)
There is another key to the Jews significance. They continue to serve today as a chosen witness of God’s grace. This is manifested in their very existence, for the Lord tolerated for so long a people who were stubborn and rebellious, therefore they continue to be witness of what it means to have a relationship with God. Their history reveals that when we are faithful to the Lord and His Word, He blesses us; when we are unfaithful, He disciplines; and when we repent, He forgives, forgets and starts blessing again. This is the constant cycle that is clearly patterned in almost all the Scriptures.
Jesus Christ the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua is the divine, eternal Son of God, who became a member of the human race by virgin birth. He led a sinless life, died on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, was buried and rose again in bodily form from the grave on the third day. He ascended into heaven, whence He will return to earth in person, to judge the living and the dead. Everyone who repents of sin and trusts in the sacrifice of Jesus receives forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.