The English noun, “people” can mean two different things. Often it means “a number of individuals”, “persons”. But in many cases, it is a collective noun, and means “a group of people, a nation”. To illustrate, in Acts 15: 14, the expression “a people” appears; and in Acts 28:26, “this people”.
When we say, “the people of God”, we are not talking about the individual, but about the collective. It is not just the chosen and called and faithful individuals: it is God’s “holy nation”, His “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9), His “family” or “household”:
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…” (Ephesians 3:14-15)
Dispensationalists dichotomize the church and Israel, claiming that they are two different peoples of God, with two different destinies.
“Dispensationalists profess a definite distinction between Israel and the Christian Church. For dispensationalists, Israel is an ethnic nation consisting of Hebrews (Israelites), beginning with Abraham and continuing in existence to the present. The Church, on the other hand, consists of all saved individuals in this present dispensation—i.e., from the “birth of the Church” in Acts until the time of the rapture. (Wikipedia article “Dispensationalism”)
But Scripture contradicts their claim. There, we find that there is but one family or household of God, consisting of all the saints who are already in heaven and those that are still on earth. There is no division according to “dispensation” hinted at.
The unity of the people of God in all ages is indicated in many different ways in Scripture. When, for example, it is said in Romans 4:11-12 that Abraham is “the father of all who believe”, it means that all believers, circumcised and uncircumcised, belong to the same household of faith.
When God took Israel out of Egypt and brought them into covenant with himself, he said that they would be His people, and He would be their God. These are the two sides of the covenant. We cannot have God for our God and not be at the same time His people. Hence, we find the identical language once used of Israel (Leviticus 26:12) in words addressed to the church:
“And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:15-18)
There is no place in Scripture where it says that there are two peoples of God, and to use the singular with the definite article is to imply that there is only one. Otherwise, it would be necessary to say, “one of the families”, or “this family”, or to use some qualifier to distinguish which people of God one is talking about at the moment. Some Dispensationalists distinguish God’s “earthly wife” and His “heavenly bride”. In fact, in the case of plural marriages in the Bible, both wives and all their progeny still constituted one family. Jacob himself is a perfect example. The one nation of Israel came from his two wives and their two handmaids (his concubines).
But God is not a bigamist. He only has one wife, the true and spiritual Israel, comprised of the faithful in all ages. The believing Jews with whom Christ established the New Covenant in His blood, along with all believers, are the true bride of Christ – the body of which He is head and savior (Ephesians 5:23).
That body eventually became predominately a Gentile body, but it is the true heir of spiritual Israel in the former times. It is in some ways new; but it is not so new that there is no continuity with the old. Jews who believe in Christ from now on will be incorporated into the mainly Gentile church, just as the Gentiles were at first joined to a primarily Jewish church.
Paul tells us plainly in the much-avoided ninth chapter of Romans that there is but one chosen and called people of God, made up of Jews and Gentiles.
“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26)
Paul tells us plainly in Galatians 3:6-8 that believing Gentiles are the children of Abraham:
“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
“They which are of faith” surely includes all the believing Jews of the Old Testament times and the Gospel times. But it also includes those who are not Jews — all the nations that have been and will be blessed in faithful Abraham. Doesn’t it sound as though all of us together constitute one people of God, the true “children of Abraham”?
Perhaps the strongest proof of the unity of God’s people is found in the greatest theological treatise ever written, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:16-24)
What does the olive tree represent? The answer is not far to seek. As the subject under discussion is the destiny of national Israel, it stands to reason that the olive tree represents Israel. The root of Israel is the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The nation derives its holiness from its fathers (verse 16). It “is beloved for their sakes” (verse 28). It was planted in the days of the patriarchs; and it still stands today.
But the tree is distinct from national Israel, for it has had some of its natural branches cut off, and branches from a wild olive tree grafted in. National Israel would include all the natural branches, and would not include anything else. The natural branches all grew out of the stock of the tree, but these were cut off because of unbelief (verse 20). They stand for those who were “not Israel”, though they were “of Israel”. (Romans 9:6). And the branches grafted in are the Jews (verses 23-24) and Gentiles (verses 17-18) who have believed the gospel, those who “stand by faith” (verse 20). The analogy is complex; but if we begin by identifying various parts of the analogy from the context, we can draw the following conclusions:
The root = the patriarchs (verses 16-18, 28)
The natural branches:
Those not cut off = believing Jews since the time of the patriarchs (verse 17 — only “some of them were cut off”).
Those cut off = unbelieving Jews (verses 7, 20)
the branches grafted in:
first, believing Gentiles (verses 11-17)
second, believing Jews at the restoration of Israel (verses 11-12, 15, 23-31)
What then does the tree represent? It can only be spiritual Israel; for to be in it is to be saved, and to be cut off from it is to be lost. Those who are in it are believers only. Its roots are the patriarchs, who lived by faith — particularly Abraham, who is the father of all those who believe. Its natural branches are the Jews, because they are the natural seed of Israel. The branches taken from the wild olive tree are Gentile believers. The event represented by the natural branches being grafted in again is the restoration of Israel, which Paul saw as future.
So, the good olive tree of Romans 11 can only be one thing: it is the true, spiritual Israel of God, consisting of Abraham, the father of all who believe, and all his spiritual seed in both testaments of Scripture. It is the one people of God, the “children of the promise”, the “election of grace”, the “household of faith”, the redeemed of all ages, the universal church, the Israel of God.
For this church Christ died. In Him alone is there salvation, for Jews and Gentiles alike. There is no second program for the Jews, culminating in a thousand year Jewish Kingdom after the coming of Christ, in which Christ reigns from Jerusalem. When Jesus comes the second time, in glory, it will mark the end of human history and the beginning of the eternal state; not a temporal kingdom ending in a great rebellion:
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1Co 15:20-28)
To God be the glory!