the 'Israel of God'
Anyone who understands the symbolic meanings of these terms (Israel and Jerusalem) will have a much deeper understanding of the Bible and of God's purposes. For, most people confuse the terms in their minds and believe that Israel and Jerusalem are the same and that they refer the same people, which isn't true. So, what does the term Jew really mean? How do the Jews differ from the Israelites? How do the Israelites differ from the Hebrews?
Note that when John (the Apostle) spoke of the Jews, he usually meant just the people who lived in and around Jerusalem, not the people of Galilee, where Jesus did most of his preaching. For more information, see the Note, 'Jew'
IsraEl, which means 'Contender with God,' was the new name that God gave the faithful patriarch Jacob after he had wrestled all night long with an angel in order to receive a blessing from him. The account is found at Genesis 32:24-28, where we read: 'Jacob was all by himself when a man came and wrestled with him until the next morning. [Then, when the man] saw that he wasn't going to win, he touched the upper part of Jacob's thigh, and his thigh became numb as they wrestled. And [the man] told [Jacob]: Let me go, because the sun has come up! But [Jacob] said, I'm not going to let you go until you give me a blessing. Then [the man] asked, What's your name? And he answered, Jacob. And [the man] told him: Your name will no longer be Jacob. Rather, IsraEl will be your name, for you've grown stronger with God and mightier with men.'
Thereafter, his descendants were frequently referred to in the Bible as 'the IsraElites,' or, 'the children of IsraEl.'
Eventually, the children of IsraEl developed into thirteen tribes (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, ZebuLun, IsSachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, NaphTali, BenJamin, Manasseh, and Ephraim). For although IsraEl had just twelve sons, two tribes were created from JoSeph's two sons, since it looks like JoSeph (who was the eleventh son) was given the birth right (double portion) of the firstborn for bringing his father's family to Egypt while he was a ruler there and kept them from starving during the seven-year famine that came on that part of the world back in 20th Century BCE.
So, why do we call them 'the twelve tribes of IsraEl' when there were actually thirteen? Well, the thirteenth tribe was that of Levi, who were the priests and who weren't given a land inheritance in IsraEl. Rather, they were told that their inheritance (in lieu of land) was God, and their portion was to receive part of the sacrifices that were offered to Him.
Realize that IsraEl wasn't just a race descended from Jacob, for from the time of the Exodus down to the lifetime of Jesus and his Apostles, non-Hebrew converts were openly accepted as part of that nation. Even King David was descended from two non-IsraElite women, the Canaanite prostitute RaHab, and the Moabite Ruth. And the practice of accepting proselytes and intermarrying has continued to this day, to the point where the Jews of the Middle East are brown skinned, those of Ethiopia are black, and many from Russia are fair skinned and blond or redheaded.
Also, if you study the Scriptures, you will find that many IsraElites and Jews settled in Iran and Iraq and have become what many call 'Arabs' today. Then, quite a few Jewish Christians in the First Century left Judea and settled in the nations, probably marrying among their gentile (Christian) brothers and sisters, before the destruction of Jerusalem. And in the dispersion that came following the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, the non-Christian inhabitants of Judea (which included many intermixed non-IsraElites) were scattered throughout the whole world. And thereafter, during the Inquisition, many of these became 'Christian' converts and lost their IsraElite backgrounds altogether! So, quite a few of us 'people of the nations' are in fact (unknowingly) also from the stock of IsraEl! For more information on the results of DNA research of the Jews, see the linked article, 'The Genetic Bonds Between Kurds and Jews.'
Then, just who is IsraEl today, since there are probably none who are pure descendants of Abraham or Jacob? For if God is going to elevate just the literal nation of IsraEl (as some religions teach), then what percentage of Hebrew blood will He accept as being IsraElites (or Jewish)? Will He consider just those who have moved to Jerusalem to be the true Jews, or will He accept only those who are members of one of the many sects of Judaism, or just those with Jewish names?
Obviously, anyone who thinks that all Jews or IsraElites will eventually be converted has never really thought it all through, since no one can answer these questions. And we would have to ask: Will God then force righteousness upon all those among them who don't wish to be righteous?
So, how will the promises of God concerning IsraEl be fulfilled? Well, realize that Christianity is just an extension of the true IsraElite worship of God. And although the first offering to become Christians was made just to the Jews (which include non-Jewish Samaritans and gentile proselytes); when the majority of them rejected the offer, God pruned them out of the tree of IsraEl and grafted in non-IsraElite converts, making them the new IsraEl of God. Paul went to great lengths to explain this. For he wrote (at Romans 11:17, 18): 'Therefore, if some of the branches were broken off so that you wild olives could be grafted in, you have become sharers in the fatness of that olive [tree's] roots. But don't start cheering because those branches [were removed], for if you find yourselves doing that, remember that you aren't supporting the roots, they're supporting you!'
So notice that when people of the nations became Christians, they were grafted into the olive tree of IsraEl. And like people of the nations who in the past became IsraEl (such as RaHab and Ruth), Christians become native IsraElites by adoption.
That non-IsraElites could become IsraEl was explained to the Prophet Ezekiel by God (at Ezekiel 47:21-23), when He said concerning those who would be restored to the land: 'You must divide this land among the tribes of IsraEl, and you must throw lots for yourselves and for the foreigners who live among you that have given birth to sons in your midst. For they will be yours as native-born sons among the sons of IsraEl, and they will eat with you and receive an inheritance in the midst of the tribes of IsraEl. They will live among the tribe that made them converts, along with others who have been converted, and you must give them an inheritance.'
Also notice what Paul wrote concerning the gentiles at Ephesians 2:19: 'As the result, you are no longer strangers and aliens; you are fellow citizens among the Holy Ones and fellow members of the House of God.' And again at Ephesians 3:6: 'People of the nations will be fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise (in the Anointed Jesus) through the good news.'
The fact is; because of their willingness to be persecuted and die for their beliefs back in the First Century, many true IsraElites and Jews will actually hold prominent positions in the Kingdom of God. And as IsraEl was made up of a huge crowd of non-IsraElites who became IsraEl starting from the time of the exodus; converts to the true worship of God today – regardless of their race – do in fact become IsraEl, which means, 'Those Who've Contended (or wrestled with) with God.'
The problem that most people have with understanding how non-IsraElites become IsraElites today, is that they view Christianity as a non-Jewish religion, which it never was! For during the seven years that started with Jesus' first coming until the conversion of the first gentiles (Cornelius and his household), the Kingdom hope was only offered to Jews. And thereafter, except for a brief period when Peter did so, only Paul and his companions preached to the non-Jews. But even then, according to all the accounts, they first started their preaching at Jewish synagogues! So Christianity has always been just an extension of the Jewish race, way of life, and religion. And all true Christians have in fact become Jews by adoption!
The fact is: Those who insist that the Jews will receive a reward different from that of their gentile brothers are making themselves like those Jewish Christians who opposed Paul back in the First Century by insisting that the gentile converts had to be circumcised and follow the Old Law! So they are the same as the 'false brothers' of whom Paul spoke in Galatians Chapter Two, since they are taking Christians out of the New Sacred Agreement with Jesus and putting them back under the Old Law that was given through Moses.
JeruSalem, which means 'Two-fold (heb. Ieru) Peace (heb. Shalom),' eventually became the capital city of the land of IsraEl. It was the place that God Himself selected, and it was situated on and around two joined hills (Zion and MoriAh) in the land that was allotted to the tribe of Judah. During the time of AbraHam, this city was just known as Salem (Peace), and it's where AbraHam met with the ancient king-priest of that city, MelchiZedek, when he gave him a tenth of all that he had captured from the kings who had carried away his nephew Lot. And Mount MoriAh was apparently where AbraHam attempted to offer his son IsaAc as a sacrifice to God. Therefore, it was a fitting place to put God's Temple.
As the capital city of the entire nation, the royal palaces of the kings of IsraEl were located in JeruSalem; and since the Temple of their God Jehovah was located there, it was also the home of many of the Levite Priests in the line of Aaron and Moses. As the result, JeruSalem became not only the city of the king, but it was also the only center of worship in the land, where the whole nation had to go to attend the festivals and to offer their sacrifices and tithes.
However, from the beginning there seems to have been a division between the tribe of Judah and the other tribes, which was only resolved temporarily during the reigns of David and Solomon. Then, after the reign of Solomon, ten tribes left the rulership of the line of David and formed their own capital (which was moved a couple of times), and they soon fell away from the worship of Jehovah. At that time, the ten-tribe kingdom became known as 'IsraEl,' and the kingdom of the combined tribes of BenJamin and Judah became known as Judah, or in English, 'the Jews.'
Nevertheless, most references to IsraEl during the time of Jesus and his Apostles no longer carried the meaning of a separate nation, for after JeruSalem was rebuilt (with the blessings of the Persian king), people from all the tribes had returned there (although most were of the tribes of BenJamin and Judah). And when they referred to the prophecies about their nation, they usually spoke of it as IsraEl.
Then a few decades later, note what Paul wrote at Romans 9:6-8: 'But God's word didn't fail, because not all who came from IsraEl are really IsraEl, nor are all of AbraHam's seed his children. For [it's written]: That which will be called your seed will come through IsaAc. However, [IsaAc's] fleshly children aren't the children of God… the children of the promise are that seed.'
So as you can see, Paul explained that the Christian Congregation – which included many gentiles – had become IsraEl. For more information on this subject, see the Note, 'God's Chosen People.'
So did God reject the literal nation of IsraEl in favor of a spiritual nation? Yes, He even prophesied that He would at Jeremiah 31:36, 37,
where He said,
'If these Laws before Me should cease to be,
Then the race of IsraEl will no longer stand
As a nation before Me
Throughout the rest of their days. …
If the skies can be raised even higher,
And the floor of the ground can be lowered,
I can reject IsraEl's offspring …
For all the things that they've done.'
(Note: There is some conflict between the words found in the Hebrew text and the Greek text, so they are rendered as having opposite meanings in different Bibles. However, we have translated them as shown above because it is more consistent with the thoughts of both verses 35 and 36. For while both verses indicate a rejection of IsraEl in the Hebrew text, as does verse 35 in the Greek text, the Greek text of verse 36 says that god will not (gr. ouk) reject IsraEl, and we suspect that the word 'not' was added by early Septuagint translators because they couldn't imagine that God would ever reject them. And some modern translators have chosen to translate both texts as indicating that God would never reject the race of IsraEl because this idea better reflects the teachings of the particular sect for whom their Bible was written.)
So when the Old Sacred Agreement was fulfilled through the death of Jesus, the race of IsraEl ceased to 'stand as a nation' before God… they were rejected 'for all the [bad] things that they've done.'
There are at least four places where the term IsraEl is used symbolically; one is found in Matthew, one in Galatians, and the other two are found in the Revelation. And it is at Galatians 6:16 that Paul first used the term 'IsraEl of God' to refer, not to the fleshly nation, but to the Christian Congregation.
Then at Revelation 7:4 we read: 'And I heard how many of them had been sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand from among every tribe of the sons of IsraEl.'
What did this mean? Well, if you read the surrounding verses there in Revelation, you'll see that this scripture is talking about a special group of people that is chosen out of symbolic IsraEl; twelve thousand from each of the tribes. And we know that the term IsraEl is used symbolically here, because the names of the tribes listed thereafter aren't the same as those of the original twelve tribes of IsraEl.
Notice (in verses 5-8) that the names of these symbolic twelve tribes were Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, NaphTali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, IsSachar, ZebuLun, JoSeph, and BenJamin. So, two tribal names (the Priestly tribe of Levi, which was never listed as one of the original twelve, and the tribe of JoSeph, which was represented in IsraEl by the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh) were added, and two were deleted (Dan and Manasseh). And this is the clue that these groups of 12,000 each were taken from symbolic IsraEl (the Christian Congregation), not the literal nation.
Then, what is the purpose of this group that is selected from among symbolic IsraEl? Well, notice that these 144,000 'chosen' ones were called 'the slaves of our God.' So some have suggested that their choosing is for the purpose of serving in heaven with Jesus, where they are to be judges, kings, and Priests over 'the twelve tribes of IsraEl' from among whom they had just been selected. This conclusion was drawn from what Jesus had said to his eleven faithful Apostles in the Promise that he made with them for 'a Kingdom.' For there (at Matthew 19:28) we read: 'I tell you the truth, in the rebirth – when the Son of Man sits down on his glorious throne – you who have followed me will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of IsraEl.'
So, who are these symbolic twelve tribes of IsraEl that they will judge? Revelation 7:4 gives us the clue when it says that 12,000 will be selected from among (gr. ek) each of these twelve tribes. Therefore, it could be that such specially-favored ones will be selected from among them for the purpose of judging all who are party to the New Sacred Agreement (for more information, see the document, 'The New Covenant').
And why would Christianity need judging? Well, just as the early nation of IsraEl proved unfaithful; the majority of those who have called themselves Christians through the ages have also proven unfaithful. We know that the Christian Congregation will be judged, because Peter wrote at 1 Peter 4:17: 'The time of judgment has come, and it's starting with the House (or IsraEl) of God.'
Will all the faithful eventually be called IsraEl? That's a good question, because the name IsraEl originally implied someone who wrestled with and became stronger with God. And like Jacob, the faithful may also have wrestled with God to receive a blessing. So it seems likely that they will also be referred to as IsraEl.
Notice that Paul wrote at 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2: 'Now, I don't want you to miss this point, brothers: All of our ancestors were under the cloud and they all passed through the sea; so they were all baptized into Moses (because of the cloud and the sea).'
So according to Paul, coming through the Red Sea symbolized baptism. And if we can assume this to be true, then the deliverance of IsraEl from Egypt represents the huge decision each Christian makes when he or she leaves 'the world' (unrighteous 'Egypt' where they lived as slaves) and gets baptized.
Therefore, the IsraElites who left Egypt seem to picture all who are baptized and who claim to be Christians, regardless of their future destiny (whether they will live as spirits or humans). And while some have concluded that only 'the vast mixed company' who left Egypt with IsraEl pictured those who won't live in heaven with Jesus; the Bible shows that these people of various races were actually under God's Law and His Sacred Agreement. So they became (and were in fact) IsraEl, since they were never again referred to as a separate people after entering the Promised Land (although the Gibeonites who joined IsraEl after they entered the Promised Land did later retain their separate status).
So, while we don't wish to be dogmatic, it appears as though the 'twelve tribes of IsraEl' that Jesus' chosen ones will judge don't represent 'the world' of mankind in general, as some have concluded. But rather, they appear to represent all who are baptized and who claim to be in a covenant relationship with God.
Then, who are the ones that will judge this 'IsraEl?' Well, notice that the job of the Levite priests (small 'p') was to live among the IsraElites and serve as their judges who provided spiritual leadership. However, from among them there was also the line of Priests (capital 'P') from the families of Aaron and Moses who were chosen to serve before God inside His Temple. So perhaps this is a picture of how God plans to handle such matters in the future. Although there will be 'priests' who will serve as earthly judges and spiritual leaders, there may also be 'Priests' who will 'judge the twelve tribes of IsraEl' in the presence of God. For more information, see the subheading, 'Priests that May Have Been Types of Heavenly Life in the linked document, 'God's Promise of an Inheritance.'
The thing that makes JeruSalem different from IsraEl, is that JeruSalem represented the government and Priesthood that was over IsraEl. And while IsraEl may represent a group of both the faithful and unfaithful, symbolic JeruSalem seems to represent its righteous government.
Could there be five JeruSalems? Notice that there is:
1. JeruSalem the earthly city.
2. A JeruSalem that represented by the heavenly rule over God's people in Paul's day. For notice what he wrote about this city at Galatians 4:26, 'But the JeruSalem above is free and she is our mother.'
3. A 'holy city' (JeruSalem) that will be persecuted in the first part of 'the Lord's Day.'
Notice that Revelation 11:1, 2 tells us: 'And they're going to trample the Holy City under their feet for forty-two months.'
This likely represents what will happen to those who take the lead among the Christian body (IsraEl) here on the earth in 'the last days.'
4. A future earthly JeruSalem that may be real or just a symbol of righteous government at that time. For after the thousand-year reign of Jesus, when the Opposer is released, the armies of Gog of Magog are going to attack that 'loved city.' Notice what we read about this at Revelation 20:7-9: 'Now when the thousand years are completed, the Slanderer will be freed from his prison. Then he will go out and mislead people in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and bring them together for a battle. And there will be as many as the sands of the seas. They will march across the earth and surround the camp of the Holy Ones and the loved city.'
5. The 'New JeruSalem' that is spoken of at Revelation 21:2, where we read:
'I also saw the Holy City, New JeruSalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It had been prepared as a bride who is dressed for her husband.'
Notice that although this city comes from heaven, it doesn't seem be the same as the 'JeruSalem above' that Paul spoke of at Galatians 4:26 because it is referred to as the 'New JeruSalem,' so it likely hadn't been formed back in Paul's day (when he spoke of JeruSalem as 'our mother'). Nor does it appear to be the same as the JeruSalem that is attacked by Gog of Magog, because it comes 'down out of heaven from God' after Gog of Magog is destroyed.
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