By his death, Jesus formed one covenant community – “one new Man” – based on faith in him, not ethnicity – Ephesians 2:11-22.
Paul was adamant. Now, “in Christ Jesus,” no longer can there be “Jew or Gentile.” He has “broken down the middle wall of partition” that once separated Jew from Gentile, “that he might reconcile them both in one body for God through the cross.” Having voided the “law of the commands in ordinances” that separated them, he is “creating in himself one new man.”
Prior to his self-sacrificial death, the Gentiles, the so-called “uncircumcision,” were alienated from the citizenship of Israel, “strangers from the covenants of promise” and without hope. However, those who were “afar off” have been “brought near…by the blood of the Messiah,” made members of God’s one covenant people. Therefore, both Jewish and Gentile believers, through “one Spirit,” now have access to the same heavenly Father – (Ephesians 2:11-22).
The implications of Paul’s words are profound. Among other things, they demonstrate that Gentiles are now participants in the covenant of Abraham. Circumcised or not, believers are heirs of its promises. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles become “fellow citizens and members of the household of God…having been built together into the habitation of God in Spirit.” Similarly, to the church at Galatia, he wrote:
- “But now that the faith comes, we are no longer under a custodian, for you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” – (Galatians 3:25-29).
Jewish or Gentile, the believer is no longer under the custodianship of the Law, including the ordinance of circumcision that divided Jew from Gentile. Now, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, all are one “though faith in Christ Jesus” and heirs of Abraham.
Thus, one’s standing before God and membership in His people are not dependent on gender, nationality, or biological descent. What matters is how anyone responds to Jesus. Gentile believers are “grafted into the root,” and that “root” is Abraham. The “wild branches” are grafted in because of their faith. In contrast, unbelieving Jews, though the “natural branches,” are cut off because of their “unbelief” – (Romans 11:11-24).
When God confirmed His covenant to Abraham, He promised to make him the “father of a multitude of nations.” Thus, the Gentiles were always included in the promises.
Moreover, He promised to “establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant.” These words raise the question – Who is the seed of Abraham?
Once again, Paul provides clear answers. The “seed of Abraham” is none other than Jesus, therefore, the “children of Abraham” include all men and women who exercise faith in him. And “in him,” they inherit the covenant promises:
- “Know therefore that they who are from faith, the same are sons of Abraham, and the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles from faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ Therefore, all they who are from faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham” – (Galatians 3:7-9).
The original covenant always envisioned the inclusion of the Gentiles. The formation of Israel from the loins of Abraham was only an initial stage in God’s larger redemptive program. But now that the plan has been implemented in Jesus, to return to the ethnic and national divisions of the earlier but incomplete revelation amounts to regression.
At Sinai, Yahweh summoned Israel to become his peculiar possession, a priestly kingdom tasked with mediating His light to the nations. “All the earth” was His, not just the nation of Israel or the tiny territory of Canaan. Israel was called to bring the “nations” to Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God, and not to alienate them from Him:
- “Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then you will be my own possession from among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you will speak to the children of Israel” – (Exodus 19:5).
Peter applied this very passage to the largely Gentile congregations “in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”:
- “But you yourselves are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, who were no-people, but now are the people of God; who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” – (1 Peter 2:5-10).
Thus, the calling given to Israel has now fallen to the church. And inclusion in the one “people of God” is based on belief, faith in Jesus, and what God has done in him. In contrast, exclusion results from unbelief and disobedience.
The book of Revelation is quite specific about the identity of “saints,” the men and women who qualify as members of the “saints.” And it uses the same language from Exodus that Peter did.
By his blood, Jesus “loosed us from our sins and made us a kingdom, priests for his God.” In the vision of the “sealed scroll,” all creation declared Jesus, the “Lamb,” worthy because “by your blood, you purchased for God men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and made them for our God a kingdom and priests; and they are reigning on the earth.”
Later, this same group is found exiting the “great tribulation” to stand before the “Lamb” and the “throne,” namely, the vast “innumerable multitude” from every nation, tribe, and people redeemed by the blood of the “Lamb” – (Revelation 1:4-6, 5:9-12, 7:9-17).
As for the original promise of land for Abraham and his “children,” according to Paul, Abraham has become the “heir of the world,” the kosmos, the Greek term that often includes the entire earth and even the universe. Thus, the promise was never limited to Canaan – (Romans 4:13-14).
And in Revelation, that “land promise” is actualized in the city of “New Jerusalem,” in the “new heavens and new earth.” Overcoming believers will become “pillars” in the true and greater “sanctuary of God” located in that city, and not in Ancient Jerusalem. There, they will drink from the “river of water of life” and eat from the “tree of life.” The curse of sin and death will be no more, and the “saints” will serve God and the “Lamb” forevermore – (Revelation 3:12, 22:1-4).
What the New Testament teaches is fulfillment in Jesus. All the promises of God find their “yea and amen” in him. His previously hidden “mysteries” are revealed in Christ. He did not abandon the promises to Abraham – he has fulfilled them in His Son. Jesus is both the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world, and in him, God has made His salvation available to all men and women and on the same basis – The “faith of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, there can be only one people of God.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, the church has been riddled with divisions over doctrines, leadership, political opinions, and many other issues. Compounding the problem is our human tendency to identify Christianity with specific nations, races, political ideologies, and even economic theories. Let us hope the day will come, and soon, when Christ’s prayer will be answered – “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, and that the world may believe that you sent me.”