Question: I disagree with your statements in the December  TBC distinguishing Israel from the church. Paul teaches us in Ephesians:2:11-22 that the church and Israel are “one”...one grouping of believers....Romans 9-11 describes Israel...[as] those people of all times, places, lands, nationalities, and ethnic groups who have had faith in God....Israel is not “God’s earthly people” [as you describe her] but God’s spiritual people, His people of faith...all believers everywhere....God’s promises of land that your article referred to do not, in fact, promise His earthly people physical land. Instead, they promise His spiritual people a spiritual country...heaven.
Response: We have dealt with this in the past so I won’t go into details. You are spiritualizing away the truth of Scripture. Paul refers to “my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites...whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (Rom:9:3-5). The word flesh cannot be turned into spirit. That the people of Israel after the flesh (the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) have existed throughout history and still exist in the present is clear. Their history is given in the Bible, including their very real possession of the promised land for centuries, their being cast out of it and scattered around the world, their persecution and their preservation—along with hundreds of clear prophecies of their return. If Israel is a spiritual people—all true believers everywhere—then what is that specific nation of Israel whose history the Old Testament gives in detail and which is the subject of most Old Testament prophecies? That Israel still exists today as a distinct people and nation and is once again in possession of part of the land she was promised and once possessed in full is a fact which every news report confirms. Try to tell the Arabs that those are not the Jews living in Israel today!
Israel is described in the Bible as a distinct nation among the nations of the world. Israel as a nation and the Jews as a people are distinguished from all other peoples in hundreds of verses such as “I will give...unto you...a land....I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people....And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lv 20:24-26); “[T]he LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Dt 7:6); “And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee....And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the nations whither the LORD shall lead thee....ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth unto the other” (Dt 28:10, 37, 63, 64); “Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations ...He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock....It shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever” (Jer:31:10, 40); “And thou [Gog and Magog, et al.] shalt say, I will go up...upon the people that are gathered out of the nations....And thou shalt come up against my people Israel...in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me” (Ezk 38:11-16), etc., etc., etc.
Zechariah 12, 13, and 14 surely refer to Jerusalem as a “cup of trembling” for all nations in the last days, to Israel being attacked by all nations of the earth, to Christ coming to the Mount of Olives to rescue His people and all Israel seeing Him and believing on Him. You cannot spiritualize Israel without doing violence to history, the present facts and the Bible.
Furthermore, if Israel is the church, then why does Paul say, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel, is that they might be saved” (Rom:10:1)? To be in the church one must already be saved. That he means saved in the sense of John:3:16, Acts:16:31 and Rom:1:16 is clear: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom:10:3).
Nor does Ephesians:2:11-22 teach “that the church and Israel are ‘one’,” as you state. It clearly says that the Gentiles are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,” but that through Christ they become part of “the household of God.” The message is not the oneness of Israel and the church but the fact that both Jews and Gentiles (as individuals through faith in Christ) are made “one new man.” There is a new entity, the church, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph:2:20).
The church came into existence only after Christ’s incarnation and glorification. If Israel was already the church, Christ would hardly have stated that it was yet to be built in the future: “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Identifying Israel with the church requires such a spiritualizing of Scripture that its entire meaning is changed and the major promises concerning the return of Christ to Israel to establish His kingdom on the throne of His father David become mere allegories.