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"
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,
Gods 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 Churchs 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?
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 Gods 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.
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.