24 Distinctions Between Israel and the Church- Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer
24 Distinctions Between Israel and the Church
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer (Systematic Theology)
Though much has already been presented in the general introduction to Ecclesiology bearing on the distinctions which obtain between Israel and the Church, a partial summarization of this inexhaustible field of investigation is included at this point. Twenty-four contrasts are to be indicated in briefest outline and this will be followed by a recognition of the similarities which are present between these two important groupings of humanity.
I. THE EXTENT OF BIBLICAL REVELATION
With respect to primary application, Israel occupies nearly four-fifths of the text of the Bible, while the Church, with respect to primary application, occupies slightly more than one-fifth.
II. THE DIVINE PURPOSE
Because of a strange inattention on the part of many, it needs to be stated that there are two major divine purposes, both quite apart from that which concerns either the angels or the Gentiles. The distinction between the purpose for Israel and the purpose for the Church is about as important as that which exists between the two Testaments. Every covenant, promise, and provision for Israel is earthly, and they continue as a nation with the earth when it is created new. Every covenant or promise for the Church is for a heavenly reality, and she continues in heavenly citizenship when the heavens are recreated.
III. THE SEED OF ABRAHAM
In view of the fact that Abraham is not only the progenitor of the nation of promise but is also the pattern of a Christian under grace, it is significant that there are two figures employed by Jehovah respecting Abraham’s seed—the dust of the earth (Gen_13:16), and the stars (Gen_15:5; cf. Heb_11:12). The extent of this Abrahamic covenant is expressed in Rom_4:16: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” Aside from Ishmael’s line and the children of Keturah concerning whom there is no revealed divine purpose, the children of Jacob, or Israel, and without reference to Esau, are counted as the physical seed (cf. Gen_22:2; Heb_11:17) of Abraham; for with these God has made covenants respecting their earthly privilege. Contrariwise, the heavenly seed of Abraham are not progenerated by Abraham, but are generated by God on the efficacious principle of faith; and, because of the truth that this faith was exercised specifically by Abraham (Gen_15:6; Rom_4:1-3, 17-24), those of like faith are Abraham’s spiritual seed. It is written, “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal_3:9). A vital distinction is drawn by the Apostle between Israel after the flesh and that portion of Israel within Israel who are saved. Those who are saved are styled “the Israel of God” (Gal_6:16), and the statement that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom_9:6) is a reference to the same distinction. The use of these passages to prove Israel and the Church to be the same is deplored in the light of the truth which these Scriptures declare.
Israelites become what they are by physical birth. They are each one begotten of human parents and their inheritance is transmitted by human generation. Christians become what they are by spiritual birth. They are begotten directly by God and are therefore His legitimate offspring. Their inheritance is immediate in that each is a child of God.
Abraham is the head of the Jewish race, and they are properly designated as “the seed of Abraham.” Though born of Gentile stock, Abraham was set apart by God to the high honor of being the progenitor of the elect earthly people. Over against this it may be said of Christians, though when magnifying the element of faith they are called “Abraham’s seed” (Gal_3:29), God is their Father and by the Spirit they are joined to Christ and He, the resurrected Lord, is their new federal Head.
God has made unconditional covenants with His earthly people. He will yet make a new covenant with them when they enter their kingdom. That new covenant will govern their conduct and will supersede the Mosaic covenant of the Law (cf. Jer_31:31-33; Deu_30:8). This new covenant for Israel will be in four parts, but these four features are the present blessings of the Church. This heavenly people are sheltered under a new covenant made in His blood. It is individual in its application and everlasting. It guarantees every divine grace upon those who believe in Christ as Savior.
Israel belongs to the earth and to the world-system. Though above all nations in Jehovah’s reckoning, they are still in the world as one of its nations. Over against this and forming the strongest contrast is the fact that the Church is composed of all nations, including Israel, and sustains no citizenship here, but instead the believers are strangers and pilgrims.
VIII. DIVINE DEALING
The fact that, in the present age, Israelites, like Gentiles, are shut up to their individual responsibility respecting the claims of the gospel, doubtless misleads those who do not consider the wide range of human history which the Bible covers. They fail to realize that the present divine arrangement is exceptional and that God has in other ages dealt with nations—especially Israel—as a whole. The present arrangement is restricted to the one age in which responsibility is altogether personal.
The earthly people, though their estate may vary, are present in the earth in all ages from their beginning in Abraham on into eternity to come, while, as stated before, the Church is restricted to the present dispensation. The dispensation now operative itself is characterized by her presence in the world. It was introduced for her sake; and is therefore unrelated to that which goes before or that which follows.
Israel was appointed to exercise an influence over the nations of the earth (cf. Psa_67:1-7), and this she will yet do perfectly in the coming age; nevertheless there was no missionary undertaking and no gospel proclaimed. Israel maintained her self-centered worship. She faced inward toward the tabernacle or temple and all her benevolence was consumed on her own worship. However, immediately upon her formation, the Church is constituted a foreign missionary society. It is her obligation to face outward and to those of her company is given the task of evangelizing the people of the earth in each generation.
XI. THE DEATH OF CHRIST
That nation which demanded the death of Christ and who said by their officials, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” is guilty of that death; yet they will be saved as a nation on the ground of that sacrifice. On the other hand, a present and perfect salvation to the praise of God is the portion of the Church through the offering of the Lamb of God.
XII. THE FATHER
To Israel God is known by His primary titles, but not as the Father of the individual Israelite. In distinction to this, the Christian is actually begotten of God and has every right to address Him as Father.
To Israel, Christ is Messiah, Immanuel, and King with all that those appellations imply. To the Church, Christ is Savior, Lord, Bridegroom, and Head.
XIV. THE HOLY SPIRIT
Only in exceptional instances and for unusual service did the Holy Spirit come upon an Israelite, and the Spirit withdrew as freely as He came, when the purpose was accomplished. The strongest contrast is to be seen here, in that the Christian is indwelt by the Spirit; in truth, he is not saved apart from this relation to the Spirit (Rom_8:9).
XV. A GOVERNING PRINCIPLE
For fifteen centuries the Law of Moses was Israel’s rule of daily life. It is written: “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Psa_103:17-18). Unlike this, the members of Christ’s Body, being wholly perfected in Him, are under the beseechings and directions which grace provides.
XVI. DIVINE ENABLEMENT
The law system provided no enabling power for its achievement. That system is declared to have failed because of the weakness of “the flesh” to which it was evidently addressed (Rom_8:3). To the Church, however, as certainly as superhuman requirements are laid on her members, so certainly supernatural power is provided for every demand. It is on this account the Apostle could say “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” The reason, of course, is that “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom_6:14).
XVII. TWO FAREWELL DISCOURSES
Several days before His departure from the world, Christ addressed a farewell discourse to the nation Israel which contemplated her future and that in its relation to His return (Mat. 23:37-25:46). Quite removed from this and wholly different in all its features, Christ, the night before He was put to death, gave His parting message to the Christians. When these two addresses are contemplated side by side, it is seen that the widest distinctions are indicated between Israel and the Church.
XVIII. THE PROMISE OF CHRIST’S RETURN
As seen in His words specifically addressed to Israel, Christ returns to her as her King in power and great glory, at which time she will be gathered from every part of the earth by angelic ministration and into her own land (Deu_30:1-8; Jer_23:7-8; Mat_24:31). Over against these great events promised to Israel is the return of Christ for His own Bride, when He takes her with Him into heaven’s glory (Joh_14:1-3). The contrasts between these two situations may be drawn out to great lengths and with equally great profit.
Isaiah declares, “But thou, Israel, art my servant” (Isa_41:8). Though individuals in Israel attained to great usefulness, as did the prophets, priests, and kings, yet they never reached a higher distinction than that they were the servants of Jehovah. Contrariwise, the individuals who compose the Church are forever in Christ and are members in the family and household of God.
XX. CHRIST’S EARTHLY REIGN
Those of the elect nation are appointed to be subjects of the King in His earthly kingdom (Eze_37:21-28), while those who comprise the Church are to reign with the King as His Consort in that kingdom (Rev_20:6).
The nation Israel had a priesthood. The Church is a priesthood.
As a nation, Israel is likened by Jehovah to His wife—a wife untrue and yet to be restored (Jer_3:1, Jer_3:14, Jer_3:20; Eze_16:1-59; Hos_2:1-23; Isa_54:1-17; cf. Gal_4:27). In marked distinction to this situation respecting Israel, is the revelation that the Church is to Christ as one espoused and to be married in heaven (2Co_11:2; Rev_19:7-9).
It is clearly predicted that Israel must come into judgment (Eze_20:33-44; Mat_25:1-13); but it is as clearly declared that the Church will not come into judgment (Joh_5:24; Rom_8:1, R.V.).
XXIV. POSITION IN ETERNITY
In his enumeration of the inhabitants of the new Jerusalem the writer to the Hebrews asserts that there shall be those present who are identified as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Such can easily refer to the saints of the Old Testament who, while in this life, were styled just men. This designation occurs upwards of thirty times in the Old Testament and always with reference to those who were in right relation to God. In the same enumeration of the inhabitants of the new Jerusalem there is recognition also of the “church of the firstborn” (Heb_12:22-24).
In concluding this extended series of contrasts between Israel and the Church, it should be observed that, in certain respects, there are similarities between these two groups of elect people. Each, in turn, has its own peculiar relation to God, to righteousness, to sin, to redemption, to salvation, to human responsibility, and to destiny. They are each witnesses to the Word of God; each may claim the same Shepherd; they have doctrines in common; the death of Christ avails in its own way for each; they are alike loved with an everlasting love; and each, as determined by God, will be glorified.