Spiritual Israel
By Eddie Cloer

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy"
(1 Peter 2:9, 10).

Not long ago, in one of my New Testament survey classes at Harding University, I spoke of Christ's coming into this world in "the fullness of time." Immediately a student's hand went up, and a young man asked with eager interest, "What does 'the fullness of time' mean?" I turned to Galatians 4:4, 5 and read Paul's words about Christ's birth: "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

I explained that "the fullness of time" was the time that God in His eternal wisdom and forethought had appointed as the ideal time for Christ to come into the world as our Savior. To say it differently, divine planning and preparation preceded the Savior's birth. His coming was not a brief thought that flashed into our heavenly Father's mind and was rashly and impulsively acted upon; rather, His coming was intricately blueprinted in the mind of God before the foundations of the world were laid. When the necessary events took place, when the world was ripe for this divine intervention, Jesus was born. Appropriately, Paul called that juncture in history "the fullness of time."

The entire Old Testament period-the Patriarchal and Mosaical dispensations of time-formed a prelude for the coming of the Messiah. In the Patriarchal period, God chose Abraham and Jacob to be His servants through whom He would create a nation that He would call His own. He elected to call this nation "Israel," the name which He had given to Jacob. In the Mosaical Age, God brought His chosen nation under His law, which He revealed through Moses at Mount Sinai. He taught them to worship Him and to live as His holy people. Yet, all of God's actions during the Old Testament period were really the groundwork, the prearrangement, for bringing the Messiah into the world at "the fulness of time." Someone has said, "The story of the Old Testament is the story of a nation, and the story of the New Testament is the story of a Person."

Since the story of the Old Testament is the story of the nation of Israel, and since the creation of this nation was God's advance work for the bringing of the Messiah into the world, we should not be surprised that Paul referred to the Lord's church as the Israel of God: "And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). Nor are we surprised that Paul figuratively depicted the church with terms taken from God's covenant relationship with ancient Israel: "For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). This depiction of the church as "Israel" should be highly significant to us, for it tells us that Christians are spiritual Israel today and have been set apart as God's own possession even as was ancient Israel!

Perhaps the most concise affirmation in the New Testament that the church is New Testament Israel is 1 Peter 2:9, 10. As Peter explained what it means to be a Christian in 1 Peter 1:22-2:10, he referred to the Christian's conversion (1:22-25), conduct (2:2, 3), and calling (2:4-10). He concluded by asking his readers to rejoice in the truth that Christians are God's chosen people, His true Israel.

Focus on Peter's reference to Christians as the Israel of God in 1 Peter 2:9, 10. This comparison confirms our special relationship with God and our special calling from God; it gives us reason to rejoice in the spiritual blessings that are offered to us in Christ. These verses will teach us that we are spiritual Israel.

A CHOSEN RACE

In describing the church as spiritual Israel, Peter first said that Christians are "a chosen race" (1 Peter 2:9). They have been elected, picked out, and set apart. They are God's divinely selected race of people, called out from all the peoples of the earth.

God had told Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). Again, He said of Israel, "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine" (Exodus 19:5).

However, in this last age of human history, Christians, not fleshly Israelites, are God's chosen race. The old Israel led to, formed the foundation of, and found fulfillment in the new Israel, the church. Paul said it was God's predetermined choice that all who enter Christ would be His chosen race of people:

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,... Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11).

We have all had the disappointing experience of being left out, skipped over, or ignored. We have watched as others have been nominated or selected while we were completely passed by or left until last. Some of us went through this frustration as children when teams were chosen for a game; either others were chosen ahead of us, or we were by-passed entirely and left to keep score with grace. Some of us have lived through this type of ordeal as a list was read, with the honored ones being named first. We listened expectantly, only to hear our names read last and mispronounced. Episodes like these depress us and stay with us for a long time as haunting memories, crushing our self-image and convincing us that we are "nobody." These unpleasant circumstances treat us as poorly as the psychiatrist did the unfortunate man who came to him pleading, "Doc, I have an inferiority complex, and I don't know what to do about it." After the psychiatrist spent several sessions analyzing the patient, he told him, "Man, you don't have an inferiority complex; you're just inferior!"

That we are God's Israel today
is a mighty truth-one so powerful
that it supercharges us with
hope and assurance
....

Situations in which people are passed over usually develop because too much emphasis is placed on the abilities people have, how people look, how smart people are, or what people own. Consequently, when this happens to us, it is devastating, for it says to us that we are not talented enough, good looking enough, smart enough, or that we do not possess enough.

Christians, according to Peter, are God's chosen race. This is true, he said, not because we are the most talented, the best looking, or the smartest, or because we have the most, but because we are loved by God, have responded in faith and obedience to God's will, and have become His children, His church. Our status with God has resulted from God's mercy, not from our money or from human merit. Peter said, ". . . you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:10). Paul told Titus, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). In our baptism into Christ, we received the mercy of God and became part of His chosen race.

That we are God's Israel today is a mighty truth--- one so powerful that it supercharges us with hope and assurance which harassing circumstances and an unfriendly world cannot take from us. For example, it should infuse us with confidence and boldness in prayer to God. We can approach His throne with confidence at any time of need or whenever we wish to praise and thank Him. It should inspire us to live in God's strength, for being God's chosen people implies that God's storehouse of spiritual blessings is never closed to us (Ephesians 2:18).

Let us rejoice that we are His chosen race!

A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD

Second, Peter said that the church is "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). Christians are God's priests today. As one body, they compose a kingdom of priests.

In Old Testament times, God provided His nation with access to Him through Levitical priests. He chose for the priests to come from the family of Amram from the tribe of Levi. They offered the sacrifices of the people to Him, and they led Israel in worship to Him in all the prescribed ways listed by the law of Moses.

God told the tribe of Levi, "... I am your portion and your inheritance. . . ." (Numbers 18:20). The Levites were given the honor of serving God uniquely in worship, in service, and in life. They were given access to God and an intimate relationship with Him.

Peter said in 1 Peter 2:9 that the Levitical priesthood is no longer in effect, and a new priesthood has been chosen by the Lord. Through the redemptive work of Christ, He has appointed His church as His Christian Age priesthood.

Not only has God called His church a priesthood; He has called it a "royal" priesthood. The church is a kingdom of priests or kingly priests. John wrote from Patmos to persecuted Christians, "And He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father;. . (Revelation 1:6). Peter also said, "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). The Christian can go directly to God through the assistance of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:27) and through the intercessory work of Jesus, our Mediator and great High Priest (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:26, 27). A Christian does not go to God through any intermediary other than Jesus Christ. He can stand before God as God's priest and make his appeal to God through Jesus Christ without the aid of ordained human priests, departed saints, or angels.

The word "priest" in Latin means "bridge-builder." The idea of a bridge illustrates the role of a priest during the Old Testament period. The priest was a kind of spiritual bridge between God and man. He brought God's will to man, and he offered man's requests to God. God went to the people through the priest, and the people went to God through the priest. How different it is today in the Christian Age! When one becomes a Christian, he becomes, at the moment of his entrance into Christ, a priest of God.

Our position as priests of God should compel us to be consecrated to God's work and to utilize this sacred position He has given us to live in His fellowship. As the priesthood of God, we have a place of high privilege before God.

Let us rejoice that we are "a royal priesthood"!

A HOLY NATION

Third, Peter said that Christ's church is "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9). Figuratively speaking, the church is God's nation of people, a kingdom of people exclusively consecrated to Him.

Israel, as God's chosen nation, was called to holiness. Through Moses, God told Israel, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus l9:2). He further told them, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). With this call of Israel to holiness in mind, and even quoting perhaps from Leviticus 19:2, Peter told the readers of his letter, "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy"' (1 Peter 1:15,16).

Christians, God's nation of people, are to be like God. He is holy, and we are to be holy, imitating Him as dear children and reproducing in our personalities and actions our Father's likeness (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

The word "holy" simply means "set aside for sacred use." As applied to Christians, this word means that God's people have been set apart for undivided devotion and service to Him.

A Christian has citizenship in two nations-one in which he dwells and in another one to which he is devoted. He lives in this world as a citizen of the earth, but his governing citizenship is in the nation of God, a spiritual, heavenly kingdom. Paul wrote, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20).

As a Christian thinks of how he is a citizen of God's holy nation, he is at once comforted and challenged -----comforted by His relationship to God and challenged by the heavenly calling that this relationship implies. Our conduct on earth, Peter said, should reflect at all times our citizenship in heaven. Holiness is to extend to every aspect of the Christian's life. Peter said, " ...be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (1 Peter 1:15). What we do, think, and say should reflect who we are.

One mother would always say to her children as she sent them to school or to some other activity which would separate them from her for a while, "Now remember who you are." She was hopeful that her reminder of who they were would motivate them to live up to that image, that their behavior would be in harmony with their belief. If Christians will remember who they are, God's holy nation, they will be constrained to live holy lives.

Let us rejoice that we are "a holy nation."

A PECULIAR PEOPLE

Fourth, Peter said that Christians are "a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9, KJV). The NASB has "a people for God's own possession," which more clearly translates the Greek phrase. The point is that Christians are God's private property, His own possession; and, in this sense, they are peculiar God said to fleshly Israel through Moses, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). He likewise said to them,

And the Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He shall set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken (Deuteronomy 26:18,19).

This beautiful concept of being a people which belongs to God is applied by Peter to Christ's church, as he said that now, in the Christian dispensation, the church is the people of God's own possession. Paul made a similar application of this phrase in Titus 2:14, when he said that Christ "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds."

A few years ago, my family was with me in Washington, D.C., for a gospel meeting. During that week, the brethren took us to some of the many historic sites in that famous city. One of my most vivid memories is that of visiting the theater where the beloved President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Because of the significance of the man, I was deeply impressed by the site. The museum below that site reminded me that insignificant, worthless items take on tremendous value when they are owned or used by a renowned person. A shoe which has little actual value is kept in a glass case and is of inestimable worth because it was worn by Lincoln on the day he was killed. Something trivial became a priceless treasure because of who owned it.

We Christians may not be worth much when taken by ourselves, but when we are seen as the people of God's own possession, a people owned and used by God, we really go up in price! It should do much for our self-worth, our sense of value, to realize that God has made us, out of all the people of the earth, His own possession.

Picture a young boy walking with his mother into a toy shop to buy a toy. As he scans the toys for sale, his eyes focus upon a broken sailboat which has pasted on it, "To Be Sold As Is." The sailboat is worth little "as is," but it becomes his choice. He pays the paltry price for it. As soon as he gets home, he goes to work on it. After putting a little glue here, a new piece of wood there, and a new coat of paint all over it, he can say to his boat, "I have bought you. I have repaired you. Now you are truly mine!" In a similar way, Christians belong to God. He has bought us with His Son's blood, He has remade us in our conversion to Him, and He is continually changing us as we walk with Him. Now He can say in redemptive splendor, "These are truly My own people." Every person who is converted to Christ is elevated to the high and wonderful status of being a person of God's own possession.

Let us rejoice that we are "a peculiar people."

CONCLUSION

The church, therefore, is spiritual Israel, the Israel of God today. We are a chosen people just as Israel of old was chosen. We have a priesthood today even as Israel did in Old Testament times. As Israel was God's holy nation, the church is God's holy nation today. Even as God called Israel to be a people of His own possession in the days of old, today, in the Christian dispensation, God regards Christ's church as His chosen possession.

On the fourth Thursday of each November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day. While we understand that the New Testament nowhere commands that one particular day be a day of thanksgiving, it does picture thanksgiving as a daily spirit, a continual attitude. Thanksgiving in the New Testament is not an appointed day; it is a disposition. Paul characterized Christians as "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God ' even the Father" (Ephesians 5:20). When we consider the blessings that Christians have, we can easily see why the New Testament says that every day should be a thanksgiving day. As "a chosen people," "a holy nation," "a royal priesthood," and "a people of God's own possession," we are blessed indeed and should make our way through each day singing, "Count your many blessings, name them one by one."

If you are not a Christian, you are missing out on the highest and greatest blessings which God offers to man. Now that you have seen the privileges God has bestowed upon His church, will you allow God to make you part of it?

QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
AND DISCUSSION

  1. Give a brief explanation of the phrase "the fullness of time."
  2. How did the Old Testament period of time prepare the world for the coming of Christ?
  3. How can Christians be referred to as God's chosen race?
  4. Our status with God is based upon God's mercy and upon our faith and obedience.
      Compare this with a status which is based upon merit.
  5. What part did the priesthood play in the Old Testament law?
  6. Who were the priests in Old Testament times?
  7. What does the word "royal" convey in connection with "priesthood"?
  8  In what sense is the church a "holy nation"?
  9. Describe how a Christian is a citizen of two nations.
10. Define the expression "a peculiar people."
11. What blessings come to your mind when you think of Christians as being God's special people? 
12. How do we enter spiritual Israel today?

For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; deductive; textual. Subject: The church. Theme: The church as New Testament Israel. Title: Spiritual Israel. Preaching or Teaching Portion: 1 Peter 2:9, 10. Proposition: (Declarative; didactic) The church is spiritual Israel of the New Testament. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: How? Key Word: Ways. Major Points: I. A Chosen Race; II. A Royal Priesthood; III. A Holy Nation; IV. A Peculiar People. Sermonic Objective: (Edificational) To motivate Christians to rejoice in their relationship to God in the church.