Israel and the Nations: A Theological Opinion, Part 2
Continuing with our series on Israel and the nations, I want to move to our second statement.
Gentile simply means a member of the nations. When a member of the nations comes to faith, he does not become Jewish. He continues to be a member of his or her nation, but has complete access to all the heavenly benefits found in Yeshua.
What is the ecclesia?
I have heard many believers say that now that they believe in Yeshua, they are Jewish. However, I do not think that this is what Scripture teaches. This is the beautiful mystery of the New Testament Ecclesia (often translated church). I don’t like to use the word church for two reasons:
The English translation of the Greek Ecclesia is not church, but assembly. It is simply a mistranslation. (see video on the subject here)
In our modern culture, the word church tends to speak of something completely non-Jewish (with steeples, etc.), while the one new man (Eph. 2:15) is made up of both Jews and the nations.
It is important to note that when Paul uses the term ecclesia, it is not an ecclesia, but the ecclesia. Ecclesia was a common word in his culture, but he ‘branded’ it for something specific. For example, in Richmond where I grew up, we have the Coliseum. In Rome, there was the ancient Colosseum. However, the word coliseum simply means “a large theatre or stadium,” from the word ‘colossal.’ Both in Rome and in Richmond, they took a common noun and made it a proper noun. If I have tickets to a concert in Richmond, I say, “I am going to the Coliseum,” not “I am going to a coliseum.”
One New Man
So Paul is saying there is a new thing, called The Assembly or Gathering. And this Gathering is different in so many ways. It is unique in that it is NEW and it is a UNITED assembly of Jews and Gentiles.
In Ephesians 3, Paul uses the word mystery four times to describe God’s marvelous plan for the nations. He says that this revelation, that has now been revealed to God’s holy apostles and prophets, was a secret in times past.
“The mystery is that, through the Gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Messiah Yeshua. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Messiah, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” (Eph. 3:6, 8-9)
First, we see that non-Jewish believers become heirs with Israel, not in place of Israel. Second, despite our unique callings, we are one body. Third, Gentiles share in the promise in Messiah—there is equal access to “the boundless riches of Messiah.”
What was the mystery?
“in Himself one new man from the two [Jews and Gentile], thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2:15-18)
So God has created a new thing—the Assembly—comprised of Jews and Gentiles. In the Assembly, both groups are reconciled to God and both have access to the Father by the Holy Spirit. There is no hierarchy. Yes, there is leadership (Eph. 4:11ff), but there is no inherent status based on ethnicity or gender or race. All have equal standing in the Assembly, but not the same calling.
Is there Jewish calling?
As stated before, men are still men and women are still women. No one argues that. But when it comes to Jews and Gentiles, it gets a little stickier. For those believers of Jewish background that maintain there is a calling connected to that, it could be an offense to those who feel that we are saying that Jewish status is better status (which we are not saying!). Still, Paul maintains that the unique calling on Israel remains. Romans 11:29 he says this calling it “irrevocable.” In Acts 13:47 he sees the calling on Jewish believers to be connected to Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, to “be a light for the nations.”
What is a Gentile?
The question is, are Jews still Jews and Gentiles still ethnically Gentile in the New Covenant? Before I answer that, it is important to note that the word Gentile (in Hebraic thought) can have two meanings. The positive meaning is simply a member of the nations. The negative meaning is heathen or pagan—someone outside of God’s covenant. In the context of Ephesians, Paul uses both meanings.
So, the same Paul can say both, “You who were formally called Gentiles,” when referring to the negative usage. And “I am writing to you Gentiles,” (Rom. 11:13) when using it in a positive way.
He makes an amazing statement regarding access to the Gentiles in chapter three:
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Messiah Yeshua.”
If Paul’s intent was that the Gentiles who come to Yeshua are now Jewish, then that would not be a mystery. At the time, there were a myriad of Gentiles throughout the Roman world that attended synagogue and many went through a formal conversion to Judaism. The mystery of the New Covenant, about which Paul is so excited, is that in Yeshua, there is no need for conversion to Judaism, but merely conversion from death to life.
“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Col. 1:13)
Is there anywhere in the New Testament where Paul specifically refers to a Gentile believer as a Jew? No. And yet, before going into the Temple, he circumcises Timothy (who was Jewish through his mother, but not raised as a Jew). He doesn’t circumcise Titus. Why? Because he is not ethnically Jewish.
One in Messiah
Clearly, the Jews are still Jews as shown in part one of this series. The mystery is that in Yeshua, Jews are still Jews and Gentiles are still Gentiles (or Greeks are still Greeks, and Brazilians are still Brazilians, etc.). And yet, our oneness in Messiah is so awesome, that we can say when it comes to access to God, there are no Jews or Gentiles, male or female, slave or free…we are one in Messiah.
Paul was not ethnically Roman, but he did enjoy all the benefits of being a Roman citizen. That is the mystery of the Gospel of which Paul speaks in Ephesians three, that believers from other nations become “co-heirs” and “members of God’s household” without becoming ethnic Jews. Believers from the nations enjoy all the benefits of citizenship in God’s household, just as if they were ethnically Jewish, though they are not. That is good news! And the truth is, being a new creation is far higher than being ethnically Jewish.
That is Paul’s meaning in Romans 2:28-29, when he says:
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”
This is hyperbolic speech. Like when Yeshua said to hate your family or cut off your hand. It wasn’t literal, but because it is the word of God, we struggle with hyperbole. Paul isn’t saying that ethnic Jews are not Jews. He is saying the one who truly pleases God is the one born again—with the circumcision of the heart.
Value in Circumcision
How do we know this? Because, in the very next verse, Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way!” Circumcision through the Abrahamic covenant ties the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Non-Jews were not part of the physical Abrahamic covenant, but can be part of the greater Abrahamic covenant through Yeshua. But the New Testament does not cancel the physical Abrahamic covenant—which never promised eternal life. The land of Israel and many blessings? Yes. But eternal life is only through Yeshua.
This is why Paul was going nuts when Gentiles were being taught that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. He is shouting in Galatians that there is no greater benefit than salvation and salvation is free. There is no higher status than “born-again”.
Lastly, if all Gentiles are suddenly Jews when they get born-again, who are the members of the great multitude in heaven?
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev. 7:9)
The great Assembly of God, the One-New-Man, the Household of God, that great Olive Tree, is made up of regenerated Jews and regenerated members of the nations.