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Hebrews 8 – The Relationship between Israel and the Church: An Analogy

Hebrews 8 – The Relationship between Israel and the Church: An Analogy

The quotation and application of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8 encourages us to consider the relationship between Israel and the Church.  Jeremiah 31:31-34 clearly and emphatically speaks of the recipients of the New Covenant as Israel (“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”; vs 31; cf vs 33; ESV translation used throughout).  The New Testament, however, broadens the application of the covenant to the church, including Gentile members therein (Matt 26:28 and parallels; 1 Cor 11:25; cf. Rom 11:27; 2 Cor 3:6).

Does this mean the church has replaced Israel?  Or is the church now spiritual Israel?  To put it another way, do any literal, physical promises remain to national Israel, or are they all fulfilled in Christ and the church?

On the one hand, we read texts like Romans 9:6-7a, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  This text (and others like it) seems to indicate that being “Israel” is not a matter of national descent, but spiritual belief.  Indeed, the authors of Scripture apply many phrases, metaphors and words used to describe national Israel in the OT to the people of God (the church) in the NT (look no further than Gal 3:25-29 for an example).

On the other hand, we read texts like Romans 11:25b-26a, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved.”  This text (and others like it) seems to uphold a distinction between national Israel and the Gentile nations.  Though the authors of Scripture apply may phrases and metaphors used of Israel to the church, it seems that God still has a plan for ethnic Israel (look no further than Rev 7:1-8 for an example).

So what do we say in response to this?  Is the church the new, spiritual Israel?  Or does God still have a plan for ethnic Israel that has not yet been fulfilled in the church?

This short blog entry cannot solve this problem here.  But perhaps a simple analogy may help as we think through these complexities.

Evangelical Christians believe in the triune God.  God is one; yet God is three unique, distinct persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three-in-one, the triune God.

Why do Christians believe this essential doctrine?

Some passages clearly indicate the unity of God.  “YHWH is one,” so says Deut 6:4.

Yet other passages clearly indicate that the Father is fully God (Eph 4:6), Jesus is fully God (John 1:1-4) and the Holy Spirit is fully God (Acts 5:3-4).

One of the evidences that Jesus is fully and truly God is that the Old Testament takes many verses used of YHWH and applies them to Jesus (compare Matt 3:3//Isa 40:3; Heb 1:8//Isa 9:6).  In their excellent book, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Jesus Christ, Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski use the acronym “H.A.N.D.S.” to demonstrate Jesus’s deity: The NT accords Jesus the Honors (Matt 14:33), Attributes (Heb 1:3), Names (John 8:58-59), Deeds (John 1:3) and Scripture (Titus 2:13) due to God alone.

Now, for the analogy to Israel and the church.

When we see such a phenomenon, we don’t say, “Jesus replaces YHWH of the OT.”  We say, “Jesus is God/YHWH, and yet He is also distinct from the other members of the Godhead/Trinity.”

The NT accords to the church many of the same verses, metaphors, phrases and words that Israel enjoys in the OT.  Yet we see passages that indicate a distinction between Israel and the church.  How should we explain this?

I certainly wouldn’t use the term “Trinity” or “Triune” (or in this case, Di-une) to describe Israel and the church.  But perhaps in a similar way that we see both a unity and distinction between members of the Godhead, we ought to see a unity and distinction between Israel and the church.  The unity is more spiritual than national in nature, with the church and Israel enjoying many of the same blessings of the OT covenants and promises (Heb 8).  The distinction can be seen with the difference between God’s plans for Israel and the church, especially in relation to the future fulfillment of some of the elements of these covenants and promises (e.g., land promise).

My thoughts here are admittedly germinal and undeveloped, but I can’t help but see some similarities in how texts are applied from the OT to the NT in relation to Jesus/YHWH and the church/Israel.  I would welcome feedback and thoughts on this issue.

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