“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34, 35).
My last post was about whether or not the nation of Israel has any ‘Divine right’ to the land of Palestine. In this article I want to pursue the related idea of whether Jews (the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) have any special place in the purpose of God. This is obviously the key issue in the controversy over any national right of Israel to a particular land. It is the most basic element in the claims of Zionist Jews and their fundamentalist Christian supporters: the Jewish nation is God’s chosen people, made by God to be above all of the other nations and peoples of the earth; all nations must serve the Jews, and whoever opposes them opposes God Himself.
That viewpoint is so distorted, though, that one has to cry out in astonishment to Christians or Jews who hold such a view: “for you are still carnal [of the flesh]” (1 Corinthians 3:3)! My previous article pointed out that the Biblical story of the choosing of Abraham and his descendants should not be construed as literal history, and the land given to them was symbolic, or metaphorical. The key point of that story, though, was that Abraham and his descendants were being set apart as God’s witnesses to the nations, in order to – by their testimony – bring all the nations into the kingdom of God, and thereby into God’s blessings on an equal basis with themselves. God wasn’t setting up a national hierarchy, with one nation superior to all others. When the physical descendants of Abraham broke God’s covenant through disobedience, and failed to be a testimony to the nations of God’s righteousness and justice, mercy and kindness, then God cut them off from His blessing – as their own prophets testified.
Hosea, in chapter one, gave symbolic names to his children indicating that Israel would be called “not pitied” and “not my people” because of their disobedience. The point here is that it is not one’s genetic lineage that makes him part of the ‘people of God’, but one’s belief in God as manifested by an obedient life. The Hebrew prophets were clear in showing that it was never a violation of God’s covenant with Abraham when He removed unbelieving and disobedient descendants of Abraham (physically speaking) from the covenant blessings. The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 illustrates the point beautifully (Paul refers to it in Romans 11). Elijah complained to the LORD that he was the only person in Israel still loyal to God, and the Israelites were seeking to kill him. The LORD responded that Elijah was mistaken; there were still 7000 in Israel who refused to worship Baal. These 7000 would be spared by God while the rest (the unbelievers) were cut off from God’s blessing and destroyed – despite their verifiable claim to be genetically pure descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The prophet John (“the Baptist”), when castigating his Jewish hearers for their sinful departures from obedience to God’s covenant and calling on them to repent before God cut them off (he said: “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” – Matthew 3:10), made this very interesting statement in verse 9: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”! He was using the metaphorical and hyperbolic language of the Hebrew people to refer to the fact that all of creation ‘sings praises’ to God; trees ‘clap their hands’ and mountains ‘skip like lambs’ in joy at God’s presence and blessings. So metaphorically speaking, the very stones believe in and praise God, and are therefore children of Abraham (children of his faith) in contrast to the disobedient physical descendants whom God was about to cut off from His blessings. Here it is made plain that not only must Jews be believers to be the true ‘people of God’, but there can be children of Abraham who have no physical connection to him at all. The only thing that matters is obedient faith, such as Abraham illustrated.
Jesus taught this truth when he said (in Matthew 21:43): “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom”. The physical Jewish descendants of Abraham were to be disinherited, and another nation (the ‘nation’ of believers from ALL nations – including the remnant of believing Jews) would inherit the promises forfeited by the (national) Jews. (This was equivalent to John’s prophecy that the axe was at the root of the Jewish ‘trees’ and was about to cut them down).
Paul taught this same truth. For instance in Romans 2: 25-29 he said this: “Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart – it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.” Genealogical descent and physical circumcision simply make no difference as to whether or not one belongs to God’s ‘Israel’, or ‘chosen people’; it is totally a matter of the heart, manifested through obedience to the law of God written on the heart, and includes those who are not physically Jews as well as those who are physically Jews.
Paul again taught this important truth in Galatians 3:26-29 – “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Those who believe in the message Jesus Christ taught and lived, and have come to God by means of that faith, are all heirs of the covenant with Abraham, no matter of what race or gender. All receive the ‘land’ promised to Abraham, which is a heavenly land, not earthly (Hebrews 11:16).
Once again, Paul taught this same thing in Ephesians 2:11-14 – “So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” According to Paul, Gentiles who had once not been partakers of the blessings of Israel, the covenant people of God, are now partakers of all of the blessings of that covenant through believing and obeying the teachings of Jesus, God’s anointed (which by means of a beautiful metaphor is said to be ‘putting on Christ’ in the passage in Galatians quoted above ). The ‘blood of Christ’, meaning his willing submission to God all the way to death, has revealed to us that God loves humanity and calls on us to be reconciled to Him. (This is not the ‘vicarious atonement’ so popularly believed; it means that in order to show to us that God bears us no ill will, and seeks only our blessing, Jesus as His representative to us was willing to take all of the enmity and hatred men bore to God, ‘turn the other cheek’, and say “forgive them, Father, because they don’t know what they’re doing”. He endured all of our hatred, and still proclaimed peace to us. If you have never hated God, how much more willing should you be to believe Jesus’ message of peace with God!)
The fact of the matter, then, is that God has never blessed a people based on their physical descent, doesn’t now, and never will. That is why Peter’s new understanding of God, quoted at the beginning of this article, is of such importance. Peter had once believed the carnal distortion of many Jews that those who are Jews by physical descent from Jacob were a ‘special’ people to God, separate from the ‘unclean Gentiles’. He told the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28). And so he said (as quoted at the start of this article): “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation ANYONE who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34 and 35). The nation of Israel has no special claim on God’s favor, and never will! With the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the dispersal of the Jewish people throughout the nations, in 70 AD, God has torn down the ‘first tabernacle’ with all of its outward trappings (land, Temple, sacrifices, and other regulations of worship) in order to open the way to the ‘holiest of all’ (Hebrews 9). You may be sure that God will never ‘rebuild’ that ‘first tabernacle’ with its outward ordinances and land. Anyone holding to the Zionist illusion should disillusion himself, and set his eyes on that ‘spiritual, heavenly country’ which is the inheritance of those in every nation who fear God and do what is right. This includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and anyone else who truly loves and serves God. They show the law of God and of his anointed written on their hearts, even if it is not recognized intellectually. It is they who are the true ‘children of Abraham’ and receive the covenant promises.