I believe that all Christians should stand with Israel. The very name “Christian” is undermined when we fail to do this, and standing with Israel is central to our faith.
Going further, I believe that all Christians should be united for Israel.
Proposal: The Israel that is beloved in the eyes of God, and which has significance for His people, is not a political nation in the Middle East. First and foremost, Israel is Jesus. Secondly, Israel is the church (the body of Christ), because we abide in Jesus and He abides in us. He extends this name, this status, and this reality to His followers.
Basis: Matthew, Luke, and John are among the New Testament authors who demonstrate that what was said of ancient Israel in the Old Testament is now said of Jesus, our Savior. Isaiah, at least once, made the same connection.
Testimonies of Isaiah and Matthew
In Exodus 4:22, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me.”’” In Hosea 11:1-2 we read, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” Who is Israel here? Clearly it’s that ancient nation that was established after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.
Yet look at how this verse is applied in Matthew 2:14-15, according to Matthew’s commentary here. An angel warns Joseph, the father of Jesus, to flee to Egypt with his family, because Herod was going to seek to destroy Jesus: “And he [Joseph] rose and took the child [Jesus] and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called My son.’”
Only 40 verses into the New Testament, we see that what was said of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is now said of Jesus. By strong implication, Matthew communicates that Jesus is true Israel. Matthew does this to prove to his mainly Jewish audience that Jesus is the Lord’s servant spoken of throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Isaiah, we see quite a number of times when God describes the nation of Israel as “My servant” (e.g. Isaiah 41:8-10, 44:1-3).
“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:8-10).
“Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant; And you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:1-3).
Isaiah, speaking as a prophet on behalf of God, also repeatedly describes the coming Messiah as “My servant.” Matthew refers to these prophecies several times in his book, and we will look at a couple of those instances in just a moment. First, though, let’s examine an instance where Isaiah referred to God’s servant as “Israel,” when He was clearly describing Jesus:
“And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.’ And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:3-6).
Albert Barnes (1834), Adam Clarke (1831), John Gill (1746), The Geneva Study Bible (1599), Jamieson/Faussett/Brown (1882), Matthew Henry (1708), The Pulpit Commentary (1880’s), and John Wesley (1754) all stand in agreement that Isaiah was speaking here of Jesus, and that Isaiah referred to Jesus as “Israel.” See their commentaries on verse 3, verse 4, verse 5, and verse 6.
Coming back to Matthew, we see in chapter 8 that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and that same evening He heals many other sick people and casts out many demons. Matthew says this fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of a wise servant (Isaiah 52:13) who would sprinkle (or startle) many nations (52:15), suffer and be rejected (53:3), and carry our griefs and sorrows (53:4):
“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider” (Isaiah 52:13-15). “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).
“Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them. When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses‘” (Matthew 8:14-17).
In Matthew 12:15-21 we see Jesus withdrawing from a synagogue after He heals a man there with a withered hand. He heals others who followed Him, but tells them not to make Him known. Matthew says this fulfilled what was prophesied in Isaiah 42:1-3, where Isaiah described God’s chosen servant as delighting His soul, having His Spirit, and bringing justice to the nations:
“But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust‘” (Matthew 12:15-21; quote of Isaiah 42:1-3).
Luke follows the same pattern as Matthew. He speaks of the nation Israel as God’s servant (Luke 1:54), speaks of David in the same way (Luke 1:69), and then records Peter speaking of Jesus as God’s servant (Acts 3:13, 26):
“He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:54-55).
“And [God} has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:69-70).
“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go… To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:13, 26).
In Acts 8:26-39, Luke records the story of Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch on the road out of Jerusalem. Philip finds him reading the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7-8 about God’s servant who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and have His life taken away. Philip confirms to him that this servant is Jesus.
About a week ago, PJ Miller at Sola Dei Gloria posted an article titled, “Jesus Came to Fulfill What Israel Failed to Achieve.” At the beginning of her post, she pointed out several Scriptures from the Old Testament where Israel was referred to as God’s “vine” or “vineyard”:
“You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (Psalm 80: 8-9).
“’Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard; I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.’ The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in” (Isaiah 5:3-7).
“I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).
Then when Jesus came, He declared that He is the true vine:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1-6).
What the nation of Israel was, Jesus is, and He will never become degenerate or bear bad fruit.
Isaiah also speaks of “a light to the Gentiles” and “a light to the nations,” and John reveals that Jesus is “the true light” and “the light of the world”:
“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6-7).
“Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:3-6).
“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world“” (John 1: 6-9).
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
This is a somewhat different case, as even leaders in the Christian Zionism movement often identify at least Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6 as Messianic prophecies about Jesus. For example, David Parsons, the Media Director for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), acknowledges that “Isaiah is speaking about a person of “light” – undoubtedly the promised Messiah.” Yet he goes on to say that “Israel has carried this magnificent light for generations.”
Wikipedia notes that various Jewish Rabbis during the 19th and 20th centuries began to revive the idea that the Jewish people are “a light unto the nations.” Then David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s primary founder and first Prime Minister, spoke of Israel as “a light unto the nations,” as did Benjamin Netanyahu in a 2010 speech at the Herzliya Conference, “Israel’s center stage for the articulation of national policy by its most prominent leaders.”
Daniel C. Juster, a pastor of 27 years, the co-founder of Messianic Jewish Biblical Institute, and the founding president of the (mainly US-based) Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation, authored a book in 2007 titled “The Irrevocable Calling: Israel’s Role As A Light to the Nations.” Juster says this in his own review of the book:
“It is written to answer a question. The Book of Romans tells us that the ‘gifts and call of God (to Israel) are irrevocable.’ However, few seem to know what this is. This book seeks to answer that question in terms of the priestly and intercessory role of the Jewish people and their inheritance of important specific promises such as their inheritance of the Land of Israel.”
It’s one thing when non-Christian, secular government leaders look to a political nation to be a light to the world rather than Jesus, but another matter when Christians do the same.
Similarities Between the Nation of Israel and True Israel, Jesus
The end of PJ Miller’s recent post also featured a list of similarities between ancient Israel and Jesus:
- In the Old Testament, a young man named Joseph had dreams and went into Egypt to preserve his family alive (Genesis 45:5). In the New Testament we find another Joseph, who likewise had dreams and then went to Egypt to preserve his family (Matthew 2:13).
- When the young nation of Israel came out of Egypt, God called that nation “my son” in Exodus 4:22. When the baby Jesus came out of Egypt, God said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Matthew 2:15.
- When Israel left Egypt, the people went through the Red Sea. The apostle Paul says they were “baptized unto Moses … in the sea.” 1 Corinthians 10:2. Jesus was also baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” and immediately afterward God proclaimed Him, “My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:15-17).
- After the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness” for 40 days (Matthew 4:1, 2).
- At the end of their 40-year wilderness wandering, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. At the end of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, He resisted Satan’s temptations by quoting three Scriptures-all from Deuteronomy.
- In Psalm 80:8, God calls Israel a “vine” that He brought “out of Egypt.” Yet Jesus later declared, “I am the true vine.” John 15:1.
- In the Old Testament, the name “Israel” first applied to one man, to Jacob. It represented Jacob’s spiritual victory over sin. Even so, in the beginning of the New Testament we discover that Jesus Christ is the new Israel who came “out of Egypt.” He is the one victorious Man who overcame all sin – A New Nation
At the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God had His perfect, new, spiritual and eternal Israel in His Son, Jesus; and the imperfect, old, natural, generally unfaithful, and temporary nation of Israel was marked for judgment, though God did save a remnant out of that nation. Nearly 40 years later judgment came, and it passed away in the sight of man. The majority of that nation was cut off from God’s people for their rejection of Jesus, true Israel, (Acts 3:22-23). The shadow (OT Israel) gave way to the sustenance and the fulfillment (Jesus). Israel didn’t cease. It just continued in Jesus. The fulfillment is here. The shadow doesn’t need to come back.
Because Jesus is the Israel of God, those who belong to Him are one with Him, and through Him we are also the Israel of God, as Galatians 6:16 says:
“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:14-16).
(See this article for an excellent explanation of why Galatians 6:16 uses the phrase “the Israel of God” to refer to the Church.)
What about the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament? Are they reserved for national Israel, as many claim, to be fulfilled only or primarily among ethnic Jews and/or national Israel? The apostle Paul, in Galatians 3, is clear. Jesus is singularly the recipient of all of God’s promises (verse 16), and He extends those promises to His followers (verse 29), who are all one in Him regardless of ethnicity, gender, etc. (verse 28):
“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:16, 28-29).
Does Paul leave any room for those who are outside of Christ to be heirs of the promises? No, he doesn’t, not even for unbelieving Jews. Nor did Jesus (see, for example, John 8:31-47). We are collectively Abraham’s offspring only because Jesus is singularly Abraham’s offspring, and He makes us one with Him. As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:20, all of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Jesus. What are they outside of Jesus? Meaningless and void.
I stand with Israel because He is my Savior, Lord, and Redeemer.