“Not all of the people of Israel are the true people of God.” (New Contemporary Version)
“For it is not everybody who is a descendant of Jacob (Israel) who belongs to [the true] Israel.” (Amplified version)
“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” (New International Version)
The New Testament verse that is most often given as a “proof text” that Israel is still God’s chosen people is Romans 11:1-2 where Paul the Apostle, a Jew, says, “Has God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away his people which he foreknew.” But wait… keep reading and we see Paul “contradict” himself starting in verse 15 where he states that the nation of Israel has indeed been broken off and cast away! So what can we say? Does Paul contradict himself, or does he mean something else.
In Romans 11:2 Paul says that God has not cast away “His people which He foreknew.” The proof of this is in the very next sentence, “For [because] I also am an Israelite.” In other words, the proof that God has not cast off this people is that God is still saving Israelites. I like the way the Amplified Bible puts it, “Has God totally rejected and disowned His people? Of course not!”
So, no, they as a people group are not totally cast off from His presence. God is still blessing them with gifts because of His promise to Abraham, and God is still reaching out to all who are Jews after the flesh calling them to accept salvation through Jesus.
The central metaphor God has given us as an example of his relationship with his people is that of a marriage covenant. So in order for the New Testament Christian church to understand their position and relationship with God we must ask: is God still married to Israel as his chosen people?
The Pharisees once asked Jesus his opinion about divorce. His answer was that from the beginning of creation God made a man and a woman and joined them together. The two individuals became one new spiritual entity. He puts this out there as the ideal for marriage. This is the perfect will of God for holy matrimony. But Jesus acknowledged the law in which God through Moses allows for divorce for spousal infidelity. (See Matt. 19:9 and Mark 10).
Spousal infidelity is the only legitimate grounds in God’s eyes for divorce between believers. If God has given us marriage as a metaphor for his relationship with his people, what then is happening when his people go after other gods? Isn’t that breaking the bonds of the covenant? Isn’t that infidelity? God speaks through Jeremiah in exactly these terms. “Surely as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD. A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the LORD their God” (3:20-21). This is the same message God delivers through Hosea and in Ezekiel 16 and elsewhere in the old testament.
Finally, Jesus himself comes in the fullness of time to his own people, and their eyes were so blinded that they couldn’t see their own God in the flesh, and once again they rejected him. But Jesus wasn’t surprised. “Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner… Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:42-43). Paul quotes Isaiah, who he says is very bold, “I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:20-21). The wisdom of Solomon foresaw this. “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded… Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer” (Proverbs 1:23-28).
Because they continually rejected him God finally relieved himself of this unfaithful wife. “He, that being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). But God is a god of love whose plan for humanity is to have relationship with him – a relationship so intimate it’s compared to a marriage! God so loved the world that he willingly came in the form of a man, prophesied of from the first sin, knowing that he would be rejected, crucified, and slain for the sins of the world, willingly because of his great desire to have relationship with us.
Yet our God is a god who keeps his word. How can he enter into an intimate marriage relationship with all the people of the world when he is already in a committed covenant with the specific nation of Israel? Will God cheat on his bride, Israel? No. He must find a way to keep his covenant word, yet save the world at the same time. God is faithful…
Israel’s unfaithful behavior freed God to divorce his first wife and marry another. Yes, God has divorced himself from Israel. “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce” (Jeremiah 3:8). Yet at this darkest hour, with God standing on the steps of the courthouse, with the ink still wet on his divorce papers, Paul sees reason to rejoice. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom 11:33). What causes this outburst of praise? The preceding verse: “For God hath concluded them all [Jews and Gentiles] in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” God put everyone on the same level so that the invitation to be his bride could go out to the whole world, and now both Jew and Gentile can become the new bride of Christ, the people of God.
God made a way where there was no way. God, who promised to Abraham that his descendants would be his people, was able to fulfill his heart’s desire for the whole world to be saved. And he didn’t have to break his word to do it! All of God’s promises are true. His promises are contracts, covenants with clauses and caveats. It’s as if God said, “I will never leave you or forsake you – but if you leave me I will leave you. I must be true to myself” (See Joshua 24:20, 2 Tim. 2:12-13, Ezekiel 18). God’s covenants are just like a marriage. It stands only when both parties uphold their marriage vows. It is holy as long as the covenant remains unbroken. But once broken by one the other is no longer bound.
So God was able to make a new covenant with a new nation, a new people, a new bride. Paul states that the “breaking off” of Israel was the reconciliation of the world (Rom. 11:15). Christ said that he was the vine, and we are but the branches. If we abide in him we partake of the life that flows out from him and into us. If we partake of Christ who is ever living then we shall have life everlasting. If we do not have Christ’s life we have no life at all and are dead and reserved for the judgment of God’s wrath (John 3:36). The good news is that because God has concluded us all, both Jews and Gentiles, in unbelief he can now have mercy on us all. We all can become the Bride of Christ, the People of God.
As new testament believers in Jesus, are we not now called the people of God? (2 Cor 6:16, 1 Peter 2:10). If so, then we are of the true Nation of Israel, not because of our ancestry, or because we have a drop of Abraham’s blood in us, but because we have been grafted into the true vine, Christ, the divine.
In Galatians 6 Paul says that in Christ there is no more circumcision or uncircumcision. There is no more Jew or Gentile. There is only a new creation, which he calls The Israel of God (vs 15-16). This is what he means when he writes in Romans 9:6, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.”
For the Jews as well as the Gentiles there is only one way of salvation: the everlasting gospel of faith and belief in the Lordship of Jesus and his perfect sacrifice for our sins.