COMMENTARY: Should the Church Be Called “Spiritual Israel”?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 |  Brian Hennessy

I’d wager the overwhelming response to that question by Christians who love and support the State of Israel would be, “yes!” And if pressed to differentiate between a “spiritual Israel” and a “physical Israel,” I feel certain most would say the physical one is Jewish and the other is not. 

Such is the state of confusion that abounds in the body of Messiah today regarding this important issue. Because if that popular understanding is true then it robs the Jewish people of ever becoming spiritual Israel, the Messianic community of God. And it robs non-Jewish Christians, aka the “church,” of ever being revealed as the “wild olive branches” grafted into that very same Messianic community. Are not non-Jewish believers also physical beings promised an equal share in Israel’s inheritance through faith in Messiah? “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).

So let’s take a look at this spiritual/physical thing that I believe has been the root cause of so much confusion over the centuries. The Biblical passage that addresses the issue most directly is found in First Corinthians. It reads: “The spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven... And just as we have borne the image of the earthy (man), we will also bear the image of the heavenly (man) (1 Cor. 15:46-48).

What these verses teach is that the physical man and the spiritual man, like love and marriage, go together as a horse and carriage. From God’s point of view, we need both if we want to be part of the Israel of God. By necessity, the physical must come first. We must first be born of physical seed into this world. But then we must also be birthed again by a spiritual seed – i.e. God’s Spirit – to be counted among His chosen people. That can only happen when God through His mercy removes our sinful heart of flesh through faith in Yeshua and we receive “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 36:26). 

However, the church has traditionally separated God’s spiritually regenerated people – the “Christians” – from those deemed to be his physical people, the Jews. This is due to the influence of Greek philosophy on early Christian thought.  To the Greeks, physical earthly matter was evil, something to escape by severe bodily discipline or death. While the spiritual was the ideal state that we all hoped to attain in the afterlife. 

But the truth is the spiritual and the physical should be viewed simply as two progressive stages of human life on earth that is now possible, thanks to Yeshua’s sacrificial death. Before Messiah came we were all just carnal beings void of spiritual life due to Adam’s sin. But now that “earthy man,” whether born Jewish or German, has the potential of growing into the fullness of the “heavenly man,” who is Messiah. 

However, because we’ve been taught for so long that the physical and the spiritual are  incompatible realities, it is now distorting how Christians view our relationship to the Jewish State of Israel today.  

This teaching, which inspired Replacement Theology, erred when it pushed the legitimate fulfillment of Old Testament types and shadows in Messiah too far (a favorite tactic of the Enemy). It over-spiritualized the New Covenant. It taught that the Jews also were a type and shadow that had been replaced by Christians as God’s new chosen people.  And that the land promised to Abraham’s seed was just a metaphor for life in heaven – now identified as the Kingdom Of God. 

As more and more Christians have awakened to see God never rejected the Jewish people, nor abandoned His land promise, a great skepticism has arisen about all things said to have been fulfilled in Messiah. So that even those things that were truly fulfilled in Yeshua are being abandoned. And there is a rush to embrace many of the commandments of the Old Covenant as a way to retrieve the Hebraic roots of our faith. 

The Lord’s Supper, the New Covenant fulfillment of the Passover memorial, is being ignored in favor of the Jewish Seder meal. Our total spiritual rest in Yeshua has given way to resting again from manual labor on the Saturday Sabbath. And the understanding that the body of Messiah is now God’s new temple on earth is being replaced by a longing to see a third Jewish temple arise with animal sacrifice and a reinstitution of the Levitical priesthood. 

We need to clean out that corruptive piece of Greek leaven from our understanding and see the spiritual and physical are not mutually exclusive. But that both are required by God as He brings forth a new holy race on this earth, a new Adam. A place where our holy God can literally dwell in our midst by His Spirit through Messiah.

It’s true that right now only those in Messiah are experiencing this new abiding spiritual relationship with God. But unbelieving Judah’s time to receive her spiritual inheritance is rapidly approaching. When that happens there will be a corporate unveiling of “the one new man” (Eph. 2:15).  Both the physical Jew and physical non-Jew will graduate to become one people in the glorified body of Messiah. No longer to be thought of as two different kinds of Israels with different inheritances. But one Israel of God.

And then “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26) – both physically and spiritually.

Brian Hennessy is the author of Valley of the Steeples

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