How do you define Israel? The Land?
In Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum survey Dispensational and Covenant Theology’s take on Biblical covenants (disagreeing on major points with both) and conclude that Christ is the true Israel, the Son who keeps covenant with God and that believers, who are in Christ and beneficiaries of his inheritance, are the recipients of all God’s promises (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7; Eph. 1:14), including the land promised to Abraham’s descendants – believers are the true spiritual seed of Abraham. They conclude that just as God’s promises are no longer tied to national Israel, the land promise is not limited to geographical Israel. In light of Christ’s fulfillment of the old covenants and his ushering in of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13) the inheritance of true believers (both Jew and Gentile) is not limited to geographical Israel, but rather extends to the new heavens and the new earth.
So, bottom line …
- “Israel” is all true believers in Christ.
- The land promised is ultimately all of creation.
Gentry and Wellum argue that the “land” in the Old Testament functions as a “type” or “pattern” of something greater – it refers to all of creation. Below are ten of their points (which they discuss in much greater depth and detail than I present):
- The covenant made with Abraham had both national and international implications – Abraham’s “seed” blessing is to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. Gen 17:5-8; 22:15-19; Gal. 3:6ff; Rev. 7:9).
- The “geographical borders of the land are not consistent and precise (Gen. 15:18-21; Ex. 23:31ff; Deut. 1:7; 11-24; Josh. 1:2-4)” – they are never seen in Scripture as “permanently fixed.”
- The Apostle Paul noted that the land promise made to Abraham should be understood as eventually encompassing the world – understood, in the context of Romans 4:13, as the entire created order.
- The Apostle Paul “develops the Old Testament emphasis on the land in terms of our inheritance (Col. 1:13-14) and our adoption, viewed salvifically and cosmically.”
- The author of Hebrews claimed that Abraham was anticipating something more permanent than a temporary piece of land (Heb. 11:8-16).
- The new heaven/new earth language in Revelation 21-22 is taken from Genesis 1-3 and thereby suggests that the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise to Israel is linked back to Eden and forward to the new earth. In this sense, the land promised to Israel is seen as a partial restoration of all that was lost through Adam’s disobedience and points to the future restoration described in Revelation (Also see Romans 8:18-25).
- The promise of land has been fulfilled in Israel’s history more than once and so the question is raised of its ultimate comprehensive fulfillment.
- The prophets are “clear that a return to the land will include incredible realities” – “in the dawning of a new creation.” For example, the prophets’ descriptions of the historic city of Jerusalem “takes on overtones of a city that is larger than life” – ultimately identified with the people of God – without walls – where God’s glory dwells (Zech. 2:1-5; Hag. 2:9). The new Jerusalem takes on the “borders of the entire creation (Isa. 65:17-66:21).”
- “Christ who is Lord over the whole world, inherits as a result of his work, the entire world. ‘He is the Messiah of Israel but his rule also extends far beyond the borders of the original promised land (eg., Phil 2:10; cf. 1 Cor. 3:22-23; Eph. 1:10).’”
- In Jesus, “the last Adam and true Israel, our inheritance is nothing less than the new creation – already arrived via the new covenant “in individual Christians (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-10) and in the church (Eph. 2:11-21)” “consummated when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation in its fullness (Rev. 21:1-22:21).
As you can image this discussion has major prophetic and political implications, but I’m hoping you will see in the land promise the glory of God whose promises are all yes in Christ.
Praying you will see the fulfillment of God’s promises, that culminate in Christ, throughout the storyline of the Bible, in the unfolding of history, and in your own life.
Gentry, Peter J., & Wellum, Stephen J., Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, pp. 703-716.
Gentry and Wellum argue that all God’s covenants (The Covenant with Creation; the Covenant with Noah; The Covenant with Abraham I & II; The Israelite, Mosaic, Covenant – see Exodus and Deuteronomy; The Davidic Covenant; The New Covenant – see Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, & and Daniel’s Seventy Weeks) contained both unconditional, unilateral and conditional, bilateral elements.