“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles … were … separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:11-12
When reading this statement by Paul, in his mind, being separated from Christ means being separated from the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants of promise. They are all one in the same. The promise made to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets, is the same promise we Gentiles inherit through faith alone in Christ alone. We are grafted into the Vine, which is Christ. We become a part of Israel, that is, God’s saved people for all time. There is no segmentation of Israel versus Gentiles. Christ has brought that wall down and we are the same: Israel, the people who have believed God and are reckoned as righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Another, Christ.
In Romans 9:6, Paul says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed [failed the Israelites that is, for the unbelief of a large majority of them]. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” So those who are ethnic Israel do not necessarily make up true, saved Israel. Okay, that much is clear. Who is this Israel Paul speaks of then? It depends on what you’re speaking of. True Israel, or spiritual Israel, is God’s people for all time. The Gentiles have been grafted through faith into this true Israel, the saved people of God. The same Israel that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were a part of is the same Israel we belong to through faith alone in Christ alone. God never promised to save every single physical child of Abraham.
In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul says, “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” God chose Isaac not Ishmael. Isaac was the child of promise. There is a lineage, but it is spiritual in nature, rooted in God’s work and choice, not in physical lineage, nor in good or bad we’ve done in our lives. God doesn’t ever promise to save every single person in the world ultimately either, on the basis of the end of Revelation, the final results. He saves His chosen people.
God saves the children of promise (those whom He has sovereignly elected and predestined, Romans 9:16). And all of this was all finally, ultimately and perfectly accomplished through the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. God’s saving work is not segmented between testaments. It is a whole work, accomplished and fulfilled in Christ. Jesus died for His people for all time. Ethnic Israel, God’s people in the Old Testament, is a physical, visible people, but not by reason of logic His spiritual, saved people that He is redeeming together over the course of time. Paul wanted to blow that idea out of the water in Romans 9. And surely he does.
For Paul, the “Scriptures” he used consisted of the Old Testament only. Of course, the Lord produced many New Testament books through his very Spirit-inspired words that are indeed God’s inerrant Word. But in context, Paul’s argumentation for the Gospel rested authoritatively in a right interpretation and understanding of the Old Testament. In Acts, when Paul would go and reason in the synagogues, he used the Old Testament, knowing full well that it all spoke Christ and His saving work. Some believed, many didn’t. The promises of covenant Paul mentions in Ephesians 2:11-12 are brought to fruition and fulfillment in Christ alone. The hope that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets hoped for was Jesus Christ Himself. It had not fully been revealed to them. They only saw glimpses and dim revelations of what was to come. But in Christ, especially for a Pharisee of Pharisees like Paul, it all made sense now. It was all tied together.
We see this imagery in the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain with the disciples He had taken with Him. Who was standing there with Him, whom Peter wanted to setup tents for? Moses and Elijah, the former representing the Law, the latter the Prophets. Those who believed the words of God in the Old Testament, like Noah, Abraham and Isaiah, are reckoned as righteous because of their faith. So now, the surest, fullest and final revelation from God for salvation is Jesus Christ. Believe in Him alone and you will be saved, just as the people of old were. We are all one people. That is why we are called children of Abraham when we believe in Christ for salvation.
It is by God’s great mercy and grace alone we Gentiles have been made apart of His kingdom and people. We were at one time separated from the eternal inheritance of Israel, but are now a part of it because of the work of Christ bringing us in. We believed in Him because of the cross. We were raised to new life in Him because of the resurrection. All things are from Him and through Him and to Him, to Him alone be the glory. We are reckoned as righteous because of the perfect intercession of our great High Priest, Jesus, the King of glory. He alone is the hope of all God’s people for all time and has secured our salvation perfectly by His blood.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” Hebrews 1:1-2
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17