Did “Spiritual" Israel
The reason Jehovah wants us to “test the
inspired expressions to see whether they originate with [him]” is to make sure
that our understanding of the truth is not based simply on some opinions that
might sound plausible and are then defended by trying to make the scriptures
harmonize with them. (1 John 4:1) This is the case with our present
understanding of the New Covenant. The Society teaches that only “spiritual
Israel” is in the New Covenant on the basis of their idea that fleshly Israel
was replaced by “spiritual Israel.” Here are some examples of what the
Watchtower has said on this:
“This promised Seed was also a mediator, effecting between his followers and his heavenly Father a new covenant that replaced the old Law covenant. (Hebrews 8:10-13; 9:15) On the basis of this new covenant, the fledgling Christian congregation replaced the nation of fleshly Israel, becoming a spiritual Israel, a spiritual “Abraham’s seed” along with Jesus, and stewards of ‘the things revealed.’” —w86 5/15 pp. 12-13; “The Things Revealed Belong to Us” (emphasis mine)
“THE Son of God has superseded the prophet Moses, who was the mediator of the law covenant between God and natural Israel. Jesus Christ has become the appointed Mediator of Jehovah’s foretold new covenant. This covenant was made with the nation that replaced ancient natural Israel and is a spiritual Israel, ‘the Israel of God.’” —w84 9/1 p. 13; Lining Up With “Jehovah’s Mind” as Now Revealed (emphasis mine)
After Jesus’ death, Jews who accepted him as the Messiah and became his disciples came under a new covenant, which replaced the old Law covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13) Under this new covenant, they—and non-Jewish believers who later joined them—became part of a new, spiritual nation that replaced fleshly Israel as God’s special people. —w92 6/1 p. 12; A Free People but Accountable. (emphasis mine)
The idea that “natural Israel” was
replaced by “spiritual Israel” is commonly taught by the Society. Here are some
• "In 33 C.E., Jehovah's favor had been transferred from earthly Israel to spiritual Israel, the Christian congregation, 'a nation producing the fruits' of the Messianic kingdom."—w06 7/1 p. 25 "A New Dedicated Nation"
• “...the Christian congregation was also God’s ‘field under cultivation,’ his spiritual vineyard, rooted in Christ Jesus and bearing fruit to God’s praise. (1Co 3:9; Joh 15:1-8) As such it had replaced the nation of Israel in God’s favor.” —it-2 p. 576 Paradise
• “...because the natural Jews as a nation showed the same attitude as Esau, they were replaced by spiritual Israel.” —w03 10/15 p. 29; Jacob Appreciated Spiritual Values
• “In 33 C.E., the Israel of God replaced fleshly Israel and became Jehovah’s ‘servant,’ his ‘witnesses.’” —w98 2/1 p. 17; Greater Blessings Through the New Covenant
• “The 144,000-strong little flock is ‘the Israel of God,’ which has replaced natural Israel in God’s purposes.” —w95 2/15 p. 20; “Have No Fear, Little Flock”
• “Nevertheless, James’ inspired expression indicates that in Jehovah’s sight the Israel of God had completely replaced the 12 tribes of natural Israel.” — w95 7/1 p. 12; Christian Witnesses With Heavenly Citizenship
• “The law arrangement was but a ‘shadow of the good things to come,’ it was merely a ‘tutor leading to Christ.’ (Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:24, NW) As it was replaced by a ‘new system of things,’ so natural Israel was replaced by spiritual Israel.” —w56 8/15 p. 488; Were the Ten Tribes Lost?
The Society's reasoning regarding the new covenant goes something like this: Since Jehovah made a covenant with natural Israel at Mount Sinai, with Moses as the mediator, and natural Israel has been replaced with "spiritual" Israel in God's favor and purpose, therefore it is only with "spiritual" Israel that God has made the new covenant which replaced that old covenant.
The question obviously arises: Did “spiritual" Israel replace natural or fleshly Israel in Jehovah’s favor and purpose? The correct understanding of this is vital in understanding the purpose of the new covenant and identifying the parties involved. Let us therefore take a look and see whether this idea is supported by Scripture.
The covenant Jehovah made with Abraham included three promises: (1) “I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. And (2) by means of your seed (3) all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.” (Gen. 22:17,18)
1. Jehovah would make a great nation out of Abraham
2. The promised seed would come from Abraham’s line of descent
3. All nations of the earth would bless themselves by means of that seed
Let us consider how Jehovah kept his covenant with Abraham.
Jehovah blessed and multiplied Abraham’s seed “like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore” by means of his sons Ishmael, Isaac, and the six sons by his second wife Keturah. (Gen. 25:1,2,12,19) But it was by means of Isaac that Jehovah promised the seed would come. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob, and Jehovah chose Jacob as the one to carry on the lineage of the promised seed. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel and he in turn had twelve sons. (Gen. 32:28; 35:10; 46:8-27) Those twelve sons became the great nation of Israel with whom Jehovah made the Law covenant at Mount Sinai, with Moses as the mediator.
Jehovah promised that the seed, by means of which all nations would bless themselves, would come from Abraham’s offspring, through Isaac and Israel (Jacob). Did that mean that the seed would be the entire nation of Israel? No! The nation of Israel was going to produce that seed. The Bible tells us: Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It says, not: “And to seeds,” as in the case of many such, but as in the case of one: “And to your seed,” who is Christ. (Gal. 3:16)
This promised seed that appeared at Jehovah’s due time turned out to be Christ Jesus, the Messiah. He was the seed Jehovah originally foretold in the Garden of Eden when passing sentence upon the rebel Satan the Devil, who would “break up the works of the Devil.” (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8) But there was another aspect concerning the promised seed that was only revealed once the seed had arrived. Jehovah had also purposed that the seed would have close associates, as close as a figurative bride. (John 3:29; Rev. 21:9) The apostle Paul speaks of those who would be “in union with Christ,” the seed, he himself being among them, and the number of which had been determined by Jehovah “before the founding of the world,” which number the apostle John reveals would finally total 144,000. (Eph. 1:4,5; Rev. 7:4; 14:1,3)
It was Jehovah’s sincere desire that if the nation of Israel, Abraham’s natural children, would prove obedient and faithfully keep the covenant he had made with them, then he would choose the entire number of the 144,000 exclusively from among them. These members, all chosen personally by Jehovah, would become his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” yes, “the Israel of God.” (Ex. 19:5,6; Dan. 7:13,14, 18, 22, 27; Gal. 6:16) They would belong to God, being distinct from the nation of Israel as a whole, for they would be "bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb," and be "a kingdom and priests to our God . . . to rule as kings over the earth." (Rev. 5:9,10; 14::1-4)
The first members to be chosen for “the Israel of God” as the foundation were the twelve apostles, all natural offspring from Abraham. (Luke 22:29,30; Eph. 2:20) At Pentecost the number increased to 120 when they received the holy spirit as evidence of their anointing. Over the following years and centuries Jehovah would continue to choose individuals and give them the responsibility to feed his household of worshippers. In this way Jesus would be with his disciples “until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:45; 28:20; compare John 21:15-17) The Scripture shows that the last members to be chosen, to fulfill the complete number of 144,000, would be shortly before the outbreak of the great tribulation. (Rev. 7:1-4)
Was “the Israel of God” ever going to replace “natural Israel” in God’s favor and purpose? That brings us to the third point.
Jehovah’s promise to Abraham included that all nations of the earth, “all the families of the ground,” would be blessed by means of the seed. (Gen. 12:2,3)
The covenant that Jehovah made with Israel at Mount Sinai, with Moses as the mediator, was for the purpose of producing the promised seed. It was “our tutor leading to Christ,” and “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Gal. 3:24,25; Heb. 10:1) Once the covenant had served its purpose Jehovah had all along intended to replace it with another covenant, a better one. (Heb. 8:6,7, 13) Why? Because part of the covenant that Jehovah had made with Abraham included “all the families of the ground,” the nations. (Gen. 12:3) People of the nations, non-Jews, were also going to bless themselves by means of the seed. “Now the Scripture, seeing in advance that God would declare people of the nations righteous due to faith, declared the good news beforehand to Abraham, namely: ‘By means of you all the nations will be blessed.’ Consequently, those who adhere to faith are being blessed together with faithful Abraham.” (Gal. 3:8,9) Therefore, once the seed had arrived Jehovah was going to replace the old covenant, which he had made exclusively with the children of Abraham, with a new covenant that would now include people of the nations who would also have faith like Abraham. And the mediator of that new and better covenant would be the promised seed, Jesus Christ, in whom they exercised faith.
From this it is clear that the time would come when Jehovah would no longer make a distinction between a Jew and a Gentile, even if the Jews had been faithful. Because on the basis of the ransom, all those exercising faith in Jesus would now be acceptable to God equally. Wasn’t that the purpose of the promised seed in the first place, to provide a ransom for all of Adam’s offspring who had been sold into sin and death? It is just as the Scripture says, “For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)
The only distinction between Jews and people of the nations that would have continued forever would have been in connection with the “Israel of God.” Had the Jews remained faithful to Jehovah and the covenant then all the members of the 144,000 would have been Jews, Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentiles would still have become Jesus’ disciples but none of them would have been chosen and anointed by Jehovah to become part of the Israel of God. Cornelius might still have been the first Gentile to become an uncircumcised disciple of Christ but the choosing for the heavenly calling would not have been his. (Acts chapter 10)
As it turned out, due to their rebelliousness and lack of faith Jehovah lopped off some of the natural branches that would make up the Israel of God, and grafted in wild branches which he chose from among the Gentiles. (Rom. 11:17-26) From Jehovah’s standpoint it would have been unthinkable to make up the Israel of God with branches that lacked faith in the seed, with whom they would be in union, while ignoring people of the nations who had such faith as Abraham’s. That is why Paul explains that “those who adhere to faith are the ones who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7) After having lost their special distinction status with God, Jehovah also started to choose from among the nations members to include in the Israel of God. (Ex. 33:16) “And in this manner all Israel will be saved,” the full number of 144,000. (Rom. 11:25,26)
As is clear from the foregoing, the Israel of God never replaced natural Israel. To claim otherwise is to betray a lack of understanding of God’s purpose. The only replacing that took place is the fact that some of the 144,000 symbolic branches (natural Jews) were broken off the domestic olive tree (the Israel of God) and wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted in their place. The tree remains the same. It still has 144,000 branches. It is still the “Israel of God” even though some of the members were chosen from among the Gentiles. But, as the apostle Paul explains this is perfectly in harmony with God’s own law, and his promise to Abraham, for the ones who are really considered sons of Abraham are those who have faith like that of Abraham.
The new covenant that Jehovah promised to conclude “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” was to replace the Law covenant he had made at Mount Sinai with the natural children of Abraham. It was to be a better covenant in that God’s laws would be written on the hearts of his people, and it would be the means by which he would forgive their error and sins permanently. That, of course, was made possible by the ransom Jesus provided, who became the mediator of the new covenant. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13) The apostle Paul explains how the “blood of the covenant” that Moses mediated at Mount Sinai made forgiveness of sins possible for all those included in that covenant, but not permanently. (Heb. 10:4) Then he further reasons how the blood of the Christ is of much greater value in cleansing us of our sins and consciences from dead works "once for all time," "perpetually," in order “that we may render sacred service to the living God.” (Heb. 9:13-22; Heb. 10:1-3,11-14) This “blood of the covenant,” Jesus said, would be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins,” not just for the house of Israel and the house of Judah but for all who exercise faith in the ransom. (Matt. 26:28) “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” —John 3:16.
Suppose the nation of Israel as a whole would have proved faithful to Jehovah and the covenant, and millions of them accepted Jesus Christ as the promised seed and their Messiah when he arrived, the way Jehovah wanted them to, how would matters have turned out different?
As we have already seen, Jehovah would not have changed the number of members of the Israel of God. He had determined that “before the founding of the world.” That number did not depend upon how many Jews would prove faithful in the end. There still would have been only 144,000 chosen ones, although all of them chosen only from among the Jews. And there would still have been only twelve Jewish apostles. (Rev. 21:14)
But what about the rest of the millions of faithful Jews, had they remained faithful? Would they now suddenly find themselves outside a covenant, seeing that the old Law covenant was destined to come to an end? Rather than being in a new and better covenant they would now be without any covenant at all if they were not among the 144,000, that is, if we are to believe that only the Israel of God is in the new covenant.
That scenario is totally unscriptural and it is based mainly on the idea that natural Israel replaced “spiritual Israel.” As I have tried to show, that idea is not found anywhere in God’s Word, but rather contradicts what is actually taught. The new covenant, of which Jesus is the mediator, includes all his disciples who exercise faith in him. The “blood of the covenant” makes possible forgiveness of their sins, as Jehovah promised, and he grants them a clean conscience. A person is brought into the new covenant at the moment of his baptism. Apart from being in the new covenant we cannot “render sacred service to the living God,” as Paul tells us. (Heb. 9:14; 10:22,23)
The great crowd that comes out of the great tribulation and have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (blood of the covenant) are obviously included in the new covenant, although they are not part of the 144,000, for they are seen before the throne of God “rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple. And the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them.” (Rev. 7:14,15) Under the old covenant it was impossible to render God any sort of sacred service in his temple, or anywhere else for that matter, without being in the covenant with him. How can anyone today render God acceptable sacred service in his temple unless he too is in the covenant with God? And the fact that God will spread his tent over them signifies that he will be with the great crowd and protect them the same way as was foreshadowed by the tent, or tabernacle, in the wilderness, when he was with his covenant people by means of his mediator Moses. This does not mean that the great crowd is in heaven anymore than those in the wilderness were, for we are told that the tent of God is with mankind. (Rev. 21:3,4)
Today Jehovah deals with his people through the greater Moses, Christ Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. (1 Tim. 2:5,6) That is why it concludes by saying that "the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes." (Ex. 17:2-6; Rev. 7:16,17) May you prove to be among that great crowd of happy worshippers of Jehovah who "come out of the great tribulation."
I avoid using the expression "spiritual" Israel because it is nowhere found in the Scriptures. It seems that whenever we adopt a terminology that is not used in the Bible we get to define it to mean and include whatever we want it to, and that can cause confusion, even making God's word invalid, as in the case with "spiritual" Israel replacing natural Israel. The scriptural term “the Israel of God” is much more specific, and avoids any confusion as to its identity and purpose. It also restricts us from reading more into it than what the Scriptures allow. —Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 15:6-9; 1 Corinthians 4:6; .