Here is a summary of the Bible study on Sunday.

The New People of God
In the Old Testament period, Israel was called "God's people." God's promises and covenants were made to the patriarchs, descendants and nation of Israel. So it seems God's plan of redemption was “nationalistic.”

However, it was never God's intent to limit his blessings and relationship to one ethnic people (that is, the descendants of Abraham). God said "all nations on earth" would be blessed through Abraham's offspring (Genesis 18:18; 22:18). That is why I have called God's promise to Abraham a "promise for the nations."

Jesus was a descendant of Israel. He came to the Jewish people. He said his mission was directed toward the "lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). However, the majority of Jews rejected Jesus. Still a number of them responded in faith and became his disciples – a believing "remnant" (small part) within Israel (Romans 9:6).

Everyone who followed Jesus was called a disciple, but Jesus chose 12 men to be especially close to him, and he focused his teaching and training on them.

The Church as God's People
One day, Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say I am?" They told Jesus what people were saying. Then Jesus asked them, "What about you? Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah (Christ), the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus affirmed Peter and told the disciples he would "build his church" on the foundation of Peter and the other apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the main foundation (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:19-20). The word "church" refers to the community of believers in Christ, or “the body of Christ.”

Peter later wrote a letter to Christians (including non-Jews) saying, "you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9, NIV). This description reflects the Old Testament description of Israel (Exodus 19:5-6). So Peter called Christians what Israel was called in the Old Testament.

So we can call the Christian Church “the new people of God.” This “newness” is based in the Church’s union with Jesus Christ who inaugurated the New Covenant.

The Church's Relationship with Israel

So how does "the new people of God" (the Christian Church) relate to Israel?

Ephesians 2:11-22 helps answer this question. In this passage, Paul says Gentiles (non-Jews) were formerly "excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). But now, through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have equal access to God. God's purpose was to “create in himself one new humanity out of the two" (2:15).

"Consequently, [Gentile Christians] are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of God's household" (2:19). Along with Jewish believers, Gentile believers are part of God's building or dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit (2:21-22).

So What About "Israel?"
If the “new people” are now God’s people, what is the status of Israel? Paul talks about this in his letter to the Romans (chap. 9-11). See the handout for a brief summary of Paul's teaching. I will mention two things here.

First, Paul says, "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (9:6). Not all ethnic Jews are truly God's people. Those who have faith in Jesus Christ are spiritual descendants of Abraham (Romans 4:13-24; Galatians 3:29), and those Jews who are spiritual descendants of Abraham are the true Israel. However most of ethnic Israel has rejected Christ.

Second, God has not abandoned ethnic Israel. God still has plans for Israel (Romans 11:25-32). (It should be noted that Christians disagree concerning this subject.)

In any case, the way of salvation is the same for all, whether Jew or Gentile. The way of salvation is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). And “the true people of God” are the people of faith.

The Purpose of God's People
Whether in the Old Testament or New Testament period, "God's people" have a particular purpose.

As God's "holy nation" and “royal priesthood” (Exodus 19:6: 1 Peter 2:9), God's people are to represent God and mediate his grace to others. In general, they are to know God and make Him known, that He may be glorified in all the earth.

Are you one of God's people? Are you a citizen of heaven? (Philippians 3:20) This citizenship is through faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone is invited. Do you need to trust in Christ?

If you are a Christian, you are one of God's people. You are a citizen of heaven. Thus you have tremendous privileges! You also have responsibilities. Reflect on question 4 in the handout, and ask, "What am I doing to fulfill God's purpose for me?"

As always, I am happy to hear your questions and comments, so please let me know.

Your Servant,

You may E-mail Jay & Michele Lester

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