The Scriptures have always been consistent in calling Israel God’s son, “even my firstborn” (Exo. 4:22). Note that calling someone one’s “firstborn” implies that there would be other children. As we noted earlier in this chapter, Hosea 11:1 says, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” There are also numerous examples of individual Israelites being called God’s children, such as
- Psa. 73:15 – “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of your [God’s] children.”
- Psa. 103:13 – “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”
- Pro. 14:26 – “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge.”
- Isa. 30:1 – “‘Woe to the rebellious children,’ declares the LORD, ‘Who execute a plan, but not mine, And make an alliance, but not of my spirit, In order to add sin to sin.’”
The same sort of language is used in the New Testament to describe all who put their faith in Yeshua as Messiah, Savior, and Lord, whether Jew or Gentile:
- John 1:12 – “But as many as received him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God to those who believe in his name.”
- John 11:52 – “. . . and not for the nation only, but in order that he might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
- 1Jn. 3:1-2 – “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
- 1Jn. 3:10 – “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
- 1Jn. 5:2 – “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”
- Rom. 8:16-17 – “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Paul goes into detail about the Gentile’s relationship to Israel in Romans 11:24, where he write, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” The olive tree symbolizes Israel.1 When Paul speaks of the Gentiles being “grafted in,” he is speaking of them being added to Israel’s “family tree,” just as my brother and my daughter were added to my family tree by adoption. Likewise, in Ephesians 3:6, we read, “the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Paul uses both the language of adoption (“fellow heirs,” Eph. 3:6) and of immigration and receiving citizenship (2:19). The latter should be understood in light of Paul’s own Roman citizenship: Paul’s parents or grandparents had purchased Roman citizenship, which Paul had inherited (Acts 22:25-28), granting him legal privileges and protections above and beyond most Roman subjects. Paul’s parents did not cease to be Jews when they became citizens of the Roman Empire (cf. Rom. 11:1). In the same way, Paul considered it natural that those who had become fellow heirs and fellow citizens of the Kingdom along with those born of Israel did not need to sacrifice their own peoplehood, ethnicity, and culture in order to do so, whether they be Romans, Greeks, or even barbarians like the Scythians (Col. 3:11). Today, one does not have to cease being an American, Japanese, Nigerian, Chilean, etc. in order to covenant with Israel’s King and be a citizen, rather than a subject, in the World to Come.
But neither must one cease being Jewish, cease from keeping the Torah delivered by Moses, cease from circumcising one’s sons, or cease even from the extra-Biblical traditions of the Jewish people (Acts 21:20f). We’ll explore how that error has actually put the Church in the position of preaching a false gospel to the Jewish people at a later date. In the next post, however, we’ll look at what the Bible says about the inclusion of the Gentiles.
1Some will argue that the olive tree of Romans 11 represents the Messiah. Insofar as the King of Israel may be considered one with Israel (as indeed we argue below), there is no objection. However, to suppose that the olive tree represents only the Messiah begs the question of how those Jews who never believed in Yeshua at all could be natural branches in him that were broken off (Rom. 11:19-20). Moreover, if the tree is Yeshua, what is the root? Rather, the olive tree represents the nation of Israel (as in Jer. 11:16 and Hos. 14:6), the root represents the Patriarchs (cf. Rom. 11:28), and the branches their descendents.