Chapter Twenty: Israel and The Church

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A knowledge of “dispensational truth,” as it is often termed, is indispensable for the intelligent reading of the Bible. Yet many Christians seem to have hardly given it a thought.
God has been pleased to deal with men at different times in various ways. Fresh revelations of Himself and of His will have ushered in new modes of dealing with men, new dispensations.
“Dispensational truth” teaches us to rightly distinguish these changes, and to discern their nature, so that the salient features of each may not be obscured. The importance of this for us Christians is that we thereby learn the true character of the calling wherewith we are called from on high, and of the age in which our lot is cast.
Up to the time of Christ a dispensation ran its course in which the prominent feature was Israel, the chosen nation of the stock of Abraham. The period in which we live, from Pentecost to the coming of the Lord, is marked by altogether different features. Not Israel, but the Church is prominent in God’s thoughts today.
Before dwelling on the important distinctions between the two, let us be quite sure that we understand exactly what we are speaking about.
By ISRAEL we do not mean the Jews, the scattered nation as they are today, nor as they were in the time of our Lord, a remnant still clinging to their ancient capital, Jerusalem. We do not allude to them as they actually existed at any time, but rather to what that nation was according to God’s original plan for them.
When we speak of THE CHURCH we do not refer to any ecclesiastical building nor to any denomination, nor to any number of professed Christians banded together into what is called nowadays “a church.” We use the term in its scriptural sense. The Greek word rendered “church” simply means “called-out ones.” Those, who are called out of the world by God during this period of Christ’s rejection, are by this means, and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, banded together into God’s assembly, the church.
It may be helpful to notice that in Scripture the term “church” is used in three ways: —
Of these the last is the sense in which we use the word here; though, if we speak of the church as it exists on earth today, we obviously allude to it in its second aspect.
Be it remembered, however, that we refer, as in the case of Israel, not to what the church actually is, or has at any time been, but to what it is according to the original design and thought of God.
Having defined our terms, let us observe a few necessary distinctions.
1. John, the forerunner of the Lord, was the last of the long line of the prophets of the past dispensation. With him, God’s utterances under the old covenant reached their full stop. With Christ, the new utterances began. “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:1616The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16)).
The advent of Christ into the world was described by Zacharias as the coming of the dayspring (or, as the margin reads, “sun rising”) from on high. His appearance on earth heralded the dawn of a new day. Not that this new day was there and then inaugurated. The Lord Jesus had a mission to fulfill in the midst of Israel, and He must needs present Himself to that nation as their long-promised Messiah. Moreover, the broad foundations of purposed blessing must be laid amid the sufferings of Calvary. But when all this was past, when the Son of God had died and risen again, when He had ascended to heaven and sent down the Holy Ghost, then was inaugurated a dispensation that was new indeed, utterly different from all that had gone before.
2. The characteristic feature of the old dispensation was law, that of the new is grace. The giving of the law at Sinai ushered in the former. God formulated His demands upon men. He was to receive, and they were to give, that which was His due. The fact that failure came in immediately, failure so great as to amount to a total collapse, did not relieve men of their newly incurred responsibilities in the smallest degree. God, however, announced to Moses that He would have mercy (Ex. 33:1919And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19)), and withhold the threatened destruction in view of the coming of Christ. The law still held sway as “schoolmaster,” and continued so to do until Christ came (Gal. 3:2424Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)).
In Christ a power mightier than the law was present. The case of the sinful woman in John 8 beautifully illustrates it. Under the potent influence of grace, the hypocrites were convicted far more effectually than under law, and the sinner was forgiven, a thing which the law never professed to do. Now God gives and man receives. The new dispensation is marked by grace reigning through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:2121That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)).
3. The old dispensation centered round Israel, the new is connected with the church.
The law was given not to everybody, but to one nation, Israel. Upon that nation, therefore, God’s attention was focused. The privileges of the children of Israel belonged to them nationally rather than individually. God always had His own secret dealings with the souls of individuals, and these dealings came into greater prominence in the days of national apostasy. But at the beginning God took them up nationally without reference to the spiritual state of individuals, and their standing before Him was on a national basis.
On the other hand, there is nothing national about the church. Peter declared, corroborated by James, that the divine program for this dispensation is the visiting of the nations by God, “to take out of them a people for His name” (Acts 15:13, 1413And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. (Acts 15:13‑14)). God is now making an election from all nations, and those thus gathered out for His name compose “the church.”
Moreover, in connection with the church God begins with the individual. It is composed of those who have personally been set in right relations with God. Only as forgiven, and as having received the Spirit to indwell them, do they become members of the one body, and “living stones” in the spiritual house.
4. Connected with Israel was a ritualistic worship, the value of which lay in its typical significance. The church’s privileges are connected with the eternal realities themselves, with the substance rather than with the shadows. Her worship does not consist of sacrificial offerings, symbolic ceremonies, and the like, but is “worship in spirit and in truth.”
5. Israel’s blessings and privileges were largely of an earthly and material order, the church’s are heavenly and spiritual.
In the Old Testament instructions were given as to the way in which the children of Israel should return thanks to God when they were actually in possession of the Promised Land. They were to take the first of all their fruits and set them in a basket before the Lord their God, with an acknowledgment of His goodness on their lips (Deut. 26:1-111And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; 2That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name there. 3And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us. 4And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God. 5And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: 6And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: 7And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression: 8And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: 9And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. 10And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: 11And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you. (Deuteronomy 26:1‑11)).
Is the Christian to approach God in this way? On the contrary, when Paul wrote to the Ephesians as to the heavenly inheritance of Christians, far from speaking of material things, he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:33Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)).
How complete the contrast!
6. While Israel’s destiny is to be the channel of blessing to all nations, during the golden years of the millennial age, the church’s destiny is association with Christ in heaven. Isa. 60 well describes the future of Israel. Rev. 19 and 21, under various figures, present to us the destiny of the church as “the Lamb’s wife.”
Was there a definite time when God’s ways with
Israel ended and when the church period began?
Two qualifying remarks must, however, be made.
Firstly, that though God’s ways with Israel reached their great climax in the cross, He, nevertheless, continued certain supplementary dealings with them until the death of Stephen, and perhaps even until the destruction of Jerusalem. Nor were the full designs of God as to the church made known in their entirety at the very outset of the present age. They were gradually revealed through the apostles, particularly through Paul, though the church itself began its corporate existence as stated.
Secondly, that God’s ways with Israel have only ended for a time. Later on, in a day still future, they will be resumed, and the glorious promises made to that favored nation be literally fulfilled. Israel has been sidetracked, as it were, while the church occupies the rails. When the church has been transferred to heaven, Israel will again be brought out upon the main line of God’s dealings.
In Acts 7:3838This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: (Acts 7:38) Stephen speaks of “the church in the wilderness.” And the headings to many Old Testament chapters refer to the church. Does it not appear from this that the church was in existence before Christ came.
Israel was undoubtedly “the assembly in the wilderness.” Is there anything in this which would warrant our identifying Israel with the church of the New Testament? No more than the use of the same word in Acts 19:4141And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:41) warrants our confounding the church in that city with the unruly mob of Diana’s worshippers.
The application to the church of prophetic utterances in Old Testament headings of chapters (which are no part of the original text) is due to the mistaken views of well-meaning men.
But the mistake is a serious one, because it is by the confusion of Israel with the church that men have sought to justify the introduction into Christianity of Jewish elements and principles.
Were not such men as Abraham, Moses, and Elijah in the church? Does it not put a slight upon these honored men to deny them a place therein?
What was God’s object in calling out Israel into the special place they occupied?
Further, they were to preserve in the world the stock “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (Rom. 9:55Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:5)).
What is God’s object and purpose in connection with the church?
The church is Christ’s body (Eph. 1:2323Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:23)). Therefore in it He is to be expressed; just as your body is that in which you live and express yourself.
It represents Him here during the time of His rejection and personal absence in heaven. Satan has got rid of Christ personally from the earth, but He is here as represented in His people. To touch the church, or any who belong to it, is to touch Him. Do not His own words to Saul imply this: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” (Acts 9:44And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4)).
It is God’s house, the only house He has upon earth at the present time. God will not be turned out of His own world! He dwells, therefore, today in a house which no Nebuchadnezzar, no Titus can burn to the ground, and which no Nero, no Torquemada has been able to destroy.
Can you enumerate some of the blessings we Christians have, which even the best in Israel had not before Christ came?
The knowledge of God as Father, fully revealed in Christ, is one of the greatest of these blessings. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)).
Another blessing is, instead of promises, we have the fact of accomplished redemption. The promissory bank note has been exchanged for the fine gold of the finished work of Christ.
Much more might be added, but these four facts will serve to show the wealth of blessing that belongs to the Christian.
Shall we not thank God that our lot is cast on this side of the cross of Christ?