I always like to keep my theology simple, if possible. I think sometimes theologians who study the Bible get so caught up in their own hypothesizing that they make certain truths out to be more complicated than they really are. I think some theologians have erred in regard to the Bride of Christ, by making a distinction between “the church” and “other saints” such as Old Testament saints and tribulation saints. I think all believers, past, present, and future are really part of the Bride of Christ. There are no separate levels, or classes of Saints; we are all one.
There are many otherwise good theologians who use verses like the one below to subtly undermine the unity of all believers:
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God” (Revelation 19:9 NIV).
Some theologians, when writing about the passage above, claim that it teaches that there are two classes of believers present here: the “bride” and the “wedding guests.” I think these theologians are taking some of Christs’ analogies about marriage too far. I believe that the true Biblical picture represents complete unity among the saints. There are not separate classes of “bride” and “wedding guests.” all believers are part of Christ’s bride.
Indeed, the New Testament is very explicit that God views Jewish believers and Gentile believers the same way. All those who have been washed in the blood of Christ (which is anyone who has come to true faith in God at any time) are united in Christ:
”So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
Here there is no Gentile or Jew,circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Clossians 3:11).
Now, some critics might argue that the verses above refer only to Jews who came to faith in God by believing in Jesus after the gospel was revealed; it does not apply to Old Testament Saints. I disagree. The Bible teaches unity between Old Testament and New Testament Saints. All of us will be resurrected together in the last days and by unified. Concerning the Old Testament saints the writer of Hebrews says:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Furthermore, it is not fitting for us as Christians to try to demote Jewish believers to the status of “wedding guests,” since God Himself often referred to Israel as His bride or wife in the Old Testament. See for example Isaiah 54:5, Jeremiah 3:14, Hosea 2:16-20. Unfortunately, many Christians try to teach theology in a way that separates the blessings of the church from the blessings of Israel, and in fact elevates the spiritual standing of contemporary believers over Old Testament believers. Obviously this is motivated by selfishness and jealousy. The Bible teaches us that Jewish and Gentile believers are all part of the same tree. In fact, the Jews are the original components of that “tree,” and the Gentiles are “wild olive branches” that have been grafted into the tree (Romans 11:15-26). We who are Abraham’s spiritual descendants should rejoice that we will get to be united with Abraham’s descendants of the flesh, as many of them who are also obedient to God in faith. I think that all this dissecting and over-analyzing of Scripture passages for the purpose of making some special distinction between them and us is dangerous. All humans who have ever come to faith in God, dating all the way back to Adam and Noah, are only saved by the blood of Christ and are one in Christ. Let’s not get bogged down in some complicated theology that attempts to make one party of saints look slightly better than another.
The rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jews and His acceptance by the Gentiles shows both the kindness and sternness of God. The fact that many Jews have fallen from grace illustrates the judgment of God against those who forsake their godly heritage and fall into religious hypocrisy. On the other hand, God’s grace towards Gentiles shows that God is kind enough to save anyone who will turn to them, no matter how bad their past is.
It is necessary for us Gentile Christians to keep in mind both the kindness and sternness of God, otherwise, we too will fall into religious hypocrisy and be “cut off” from God the way that many Jews have been:
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NIV)
This is a very real threat that far too many Christians ignore. Many Christians believe (wrongly) that God is through with the Jews and has replaced them with “the church.” Yet some of them worship in a church that is not the church, not possessing true repentance or faith in Jesus Christ, having already fallen from grace the same way that many first-century Jews did. Those so-called Christians who take it for granted that God loves them at the expense of the Jews, need to realize that God has never given up on the Jews. The same God who is great enough and loving enough to save formerly pagan Gentiles, is certainly strong enough and loving enough to bring the Jewish people back to Himself:
And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Romans 11:23-24).
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either (Romans 11:17-21 NIV).
The Apostle Paul is saying here that those of us who have come to faith in Christ have no right to despise the Jews for having generally rejected Christ. We are warned here “do not be arrogant, but tremble”! The same God who plucked out the Jewish “branches” and grafted in Gentile ones, is fully capable of reversing the process. Indeed, in some cases this has already happened. Some forms of Christianity have become so conceited and full of antisemitism that they have left the faith. Many so-called Christians are ignorant of the fact that they themselves have been “broken off because of unbelief” and are not part of the true Church. Let us remain humble so that this does not happen to us. Let us pray for revival and repentance among the Jews so that they may return to God. God has enough love for the both of us.
Some people see Jews and Christians as antagonists, the two sides struggling against each other to seek God’s blessing. But if we read Paul’s letter to the Romans carefully, we see that Paul considers Christians to be team-mates, not enemies, of the Jews. The goal of the church is not to destroy Israel, but to encourage Israel and compel them to return to God. The Gentile Church needs to take on the role of urging their Jewish team-mates to strive harder for excellence.
It is unfortunately true that most Jews have rejected Jesus, and have therefore rejected God. It is the Gentiles, not the Jews, that have provided the most converts to Christianity. And yet, the Gentile church was never intended to replace Israel so as to steal God’s blessing from them, rather the Gentile Church has a mission to help restore Israel to God as the Apostle Paul wrote:
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them (Romans 11:13-14).
Many generations of Christians have been taught to hate the Jews because they are the ones who crucified Christ. But this attitude has absolutely no basis in the New Testament. The Gentile Church needs to recognize that the restoration of the Jews to God is good for everyone:
For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches (Romans 11:15-16).
Paul here is repeating the prophetic statement he made back in verse 12, that all of us will be blessed when the Jews return to God. Furthermore, the root of the church is with Israel. God sent His revelation first of all to Moses and the Old Testament prophets, and then later on He sent Jesus as a Jew to preach the Gospel, die on the cross, and raise up disciples among the Jews. All of the earliest Christians were Jews. Now the gospel has spread among the Gentiles, but we must not forget where it came from. If God gives up on the Jews, and forgets His promises to them, will He not then give up on the Church as well and forget His promises to us? Fortunately, we believe in a God who does not change. He will sustain both Israel and the Church, so that the Devil will fail in his attempts to destroy both of them.
Some Christians claim, wrongly, that God has pretty much given up on the Jewish nation because they have given up on God. The Jews, they claim, have been replaced by the Church. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The Apostle Paul hints at a day which will bring the “full inclusion” of the Jews:
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring (Romans 11:11-12).
God’s desire for the Jews is that they would repent and be saved (Matthew 23:37) just as He desires all humans to be saved (I Peter 3:9). But in His wisdom and power He has allowed the Jews as a whole to “stumble” for awhile. Most of them have brought condemnation on themselves by rejecting Jesus. However, God intends to use this to accomplish good. This loss for the Jews results in “riches for the Gentiles,” because now the gospel, which was rejected by most Jews, has gone out to the Gentiles and many of us of pagan ancestry have been converted to Christ. This salvation for the Gentiles was always due to God’s love for them, but it serves the double purpose of making the Jews “envious,” which will eventually result in their returning to God. There is a day coming when both the Gentile nations and the Jewish nation will be converted to Christ, and then we will see the “greater riches” that will result from the “full inclusion” of the Jewish people in the Church.
Life is full of choices. The most important choice you can make is the decision to become a real Christian. You need to decide to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus for salvation. If you decide not to do this you are accepting the status quo, which is separation from God because of your sins. God will justify you or condemn you based on the decision you make in regards to Jesus Christ.
Those who choose to become true believers have nothing to brag about. God does not accept us because we are inherently “better,” or “holier” than others. Rather He accepts us on the basis of unearned grace, and forgiveness of our sins. We have no cause to boast. We are simply horrible sinners who have recognized that we need God’s mercy. We cannot even take credit for our decision to repent and believe. This decision was the result of God working in our hearts, so He gets the glory for it. God actually chooses or “elects” people to be saved:
What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.” (Romans 11:7-8).
We see here in this passage above that God, in His power and justice and wisdom, chooses some to be saved and not others. God “elected” some of the Jews to be saved, but others were condemned to disbelief. So we cannot brag because of the decision we made to accept Christ. The point is that God gets all the credit for every good decision we make.
However, that is not to say that God does not care about the unelect. God loves all people and wants them to be saved. The fact that the majority of the Jewish race is condemned is not God’s fault as Jesus said:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37).
So we see that God is great in His mercy and wants all people to be saved, even though He only chooses some and not others. How does all this make sense? I don’t really know the answer to it. But here are two truths that I stand by firmly, even though they seem to contradict each other.
1. I cannot take any credit for my decision to trust Christ. All the glory goes to God.
2. God loves all people and doesn’t want any of them to go to hell (II Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9). Humans are fully responsible for their own condemnation.
True believers are saved completely by grace. They did not in anyway earn their salvation by their own good works.
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:5-6 NIV)
In the context of this passage, Paul is speaking of the salvation of the Jewish people. He is saying that most of them have rejected Jesus, but there is a remnant that is “chosen by grace.” These Jewish believers, like Gentile believers cannot work for their salvation, it is God’s free gift.
God has not, as some have claimed, given up on the Jewish race. There have always been some Jews who have believed in Jesus (Yeshua) for salvation:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. (Romans 11:1-5)
Paul, in this passage, quotes from the Old Testament to show that God has always kept for himself a remnant of believing Jews. In the days of Elijah there were only 7,000 believing Jews left out of hundreds of thousands in the Northern kingdom of Israel. Nevertheless God was not done with Israel. God is not done with Israel today. He has preserved for himself thousands of believing Jews. There will come a day the Jews left on the Earth will turn to God and repent of their sins (Isaiah 4:3-4, Ezekiel 20:43, 39:29, Hosea 2:20 Romans 11:26). Then it will be clear that God has never forsaken them, he has preserved them all along.
In the Torah, God tells Moses that he would be accepted by the Gentiles while the Jews rejected Him:
They made me jealous by what is no god
and angered me with their worthless idols.
I will make them envious by those who are not a people;
I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. (Dueteronomy 32:21)
God is condemning the Jewish people here for their continually attraction to idolatry. They preferred to worship false gods instead of the one true God who saved them. So God will provoke them to jealousy by turning His love to “those who are not a people,” that is to say, a scattering of people who do not belong to a single ethnic group. Indeed this has happened. The Christian religion transcends ethnic boundaries to an extent that Judaism does not. God has made a new spiritual nation nation out of those who were not a nation.
It is important for Christians to preach the gospel through their actions. The gospel is not just something that we talk about with our mouths, it is something that we ought to live out with our lives. Living the gospel is often referred to as “life style evangelism.” We need to live as if we are redeemed sinners, displaying faith, love, and hope, in everything we do.
But living like a Christian is not enough. We need to speak the words of the gospel too. No one will ever get saved by lifestyle evangelism alone. The godly example that we display through our lifestyle will never be able to get anyone to believe in Jesus if they do not already know who Jesus was and what He did for us. People can attempt to copy the grace and forgiveness by which we live our lives, but they will ultimately fail if they do not know that the source of our grace and forgiveness is the blood of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. So in addition to living the gospel we need to talk the gospel.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17 NIV)
People cannot believe in God if they do not know who God is. Not everything that people call “God” is the one true God. That is why we need to tell people about the real God, and about His Son Jesus Christ Whom He ordained to be the Savior of the world. Even Jesus Himself, when He came to Earth, did more than just perform good deeds: he spoke the Word of God:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).