Who Is the True Israel? – Part 3

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

As I explained in part 1 and part 2, I wrote this series of articles on Who is the True Israel because of the recent rise of Christian antisemitism.

After careful examination, study, and contemplation, I’m convinced Replacement Theology is the root of such Christian antisemitism. That’s why in the part 1, I briefly described Replacement Theology, and then I explained Romans 2:28-29, which has historically been used to promote Replacement Theology.

In part 2, I continued examining the New Testament verses that have been frequently misinterpreted, which have given rise to Replacement Theology. Namely, Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 6:15-16.

In this article, I expound upon Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 and Romans 11:28-29.

Revelation 2:9 and 3:9

Jesus said told the church of Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). One chapter later, Jesus essentially made the same statement to the Philadelphian church, saying to them, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you” (Rev. 3:9).

Who is the “synagogue of Satan” that Jesus addressed? Rick Wiles, the founder of TruNews, took these two statements Jesus made two-thousand years ago and interpreted it to mean the Jewish powerbrokers supposedly responsible for singlehandedly destroying the moral fabric of America. The Anti-Defamation League wrote,

In one noteworthy example of TruNews infusing their attacks on Zionists with classic anti-Semitic tropes, Wiles agreed with cohost Kerry Kinsey that the U.S. is controlled by the “Jewish lobby,” and then went on to claim that the “Israeli lobby” and the “synagogue of Satan” are responsible for the decline of American culture. “The power of the Israeli lobby in America is the most detrimental force in America,” Wiles said during a March 2019 episode. “Our culture has been decimated. Through abortion, pornography, the sexual liberation movement, filthy, raunchy movies, television shows, vile, violent rap music and hip hop…All of it owned by the synagogue of Satan…Who has brought the abortion, the homosexuality, the sexual liberation movement, the vile movies…Who has attacked our Christian culture, who has filed lawsuits to remove crosses and Bibles? Who has done it? The synagogue of Satan.”[i]

Essentially, Wiles said the corruption of America lies solely at the hands of powerful, wealthy, influential, and evil Jews, who Wiles called “the synagogue of Satan.” Are there some powerful, wealthy, influential, and evil Jews who are instrumental in the moral degradation of America? Yes. But there are also Gentiles who are equally responsible.

Basically Wiles, like some other teachers, take Jesus’ statements from two-thousand years ago and interpretate these to mean all Jews who reject Jesus Christ and perpetuate evil are part of a morally deranged group of Jews termed the “synagogue of Satan.”

I believe this is a gross and harmful misinterpretation of Scripture that wholly misses Jesus’ point and misrepresents God’s heart.

So, what did Jesus mean by the phrase, “Who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan”? There are two possible ways to interpret this.

1. First-century Gentiles who posed as Jews and persecuted the church.

In the Roman Empire, there was a certain level of religious tolerance, and individuals were generally allowed to practice their own traditional religions if they did not pose a threat to the state. This meant practitioners of ancient religions often received exemptions from participating in certain Roman pagan temple rituals. Joining a synagogue provided a legal and social framework for individuals who didn’t want to worship pagan deities and perform pagan rituals.

This background in mind, some scholars believe Gentiles would join a synagogue for the religious exemption. These were not Jews but Gentiles, even though they claimed to be Jews. By joining the ancient religion of Judaism, these Gentiles were exempt from participating in many of the Roman pagan temple rituals.

According to this interpretation, the main instigators of persecution in Smyrna and Philadelphia were these Gentiles posing as Jews. That’s why Jesus said they “say that they are Jews and are not, but lie” (Rev. 3:9). Proponents of this view see a similar phenomenon with the black Hebrews of today.

2. First-century ethnic Jews who persecuted the church.

Some interpret Jesus’ statements to mean there was a synagogue in Smyrna and Philadelphia, comprised of ethnic Jews, who were persecuting the church in these two cities. When Jesus said, “Who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie” (Rev. 3:9), this was essentially what Paul said in Romans 2:28-29 to the Jews. Except Jesus’ statements were a much stronger rebuke.

You can think of Jesus’ statements similar to the way “RINO” is used in American politics. For those unfamiliar with this term, “RINO” stands for “Republican in Name Only.” It describes a member of the Republican Party who doesn’t hold to core conservative principles and is not loyal to the party’s platform. The term criticizes Republicans who are deemed too moderate, liberal, or compromising on certain issues. A member of the Republican party, who demonstrates their lack of commitment to conversative principles, is often labeled a “RINO.” Though “RINOs” are members of the Republican Party, they don’t embody the conservative principles for which the party exists.

Similarly, Jesus, who was Jewish and will always be Jewish, was essentially saying to these ethnic Jews, “Though you are physical descendants of Abraham, you are not Jewish in the ultimate sense. A true Jew is one who has been circumcised in their heart by the Spirit. Therefore, you are not a Jew in the ultimate sense of what God originally intended for the children of Abraham.”

The phrase synagogue of Satan is similar to Jesus’ rebuke of the Jews when He called them children of the devil (John 8:44). Every Jew, and for that matter Gentile, who is not born again, is a child of the devil.

Though I think either interpretation is valid, I lean more toward the second interpretation.

Romans 11:28-29

Paul wrote, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice [election] they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28-29, emphasis mine).

This verse captures the perfect balance of how a believer in Jesus Christ should view unbelieving Jews. Yes, from the standpoint of the gospel, they are enemies. They have rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The cross is an affront to them. The ultraorthodox Jews are especially antagonistic toward believers. Yet, as Paul so beautifully wrote, from the perspective of election, God has chosen Israel and the Jewish people. Even in their unbelief and hostile rejection of Jesus Christ, they are still “beloved for the sake of the fathers.” The Lord still loves the Jewish people deeply because of the faith and obedience of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land of Israel and the Jewish people are still chosen and beloved because of the faithful lives of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Israel’s other faithful prophetic witnesses.

When seeking to understand the mystery of Israel (Rom. 11:25), it’s vital to realize there are different types of election mentioned in the New Testament. Of course, there is election to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But consider the other purposes for election, which simply means choosing. For example, Jesus Christ is the Chosen One of the Father (Luke 9:35). The Lord chose the twelve disciples to be His apostles (Luke 6:13). Paul was chosen by God to be His apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Mary chose intimacy with Jesus as the most important thing (Luke 10:42). Jacob was chosen to be the patriarch through whom the Abrahamic Covenant would continue (Rom. 9:11). God has chosen certain angels for specific missions (1 Tim. 5:21). Peter wrote his first epistle to the elect of Israel who were part of the diaspora (1 Pet. 1:1). And as Paul wrote in the passage we are examining, Israel is God’s elect because of their faithful forefathers (Rom. 11:28).

If you fail to carefully examine the context, you will make the grave mistake of misinterpreting a passage, assuming it is referring to election to salvation when the author was referring to an entirely different subject. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why election has been so misunderstood throughout church history. Though election to salvation is obviously talked about in the New Testament, it is spoken of far less than many scholars believe.

When Paul said Israel is elect for the sake of the fathers, he doesn’t mean they are elected to salvation. He makes this point extremely clear in Romans 9. Instead, Paul was referring to the promises and blessings of Israel’s covenants. Namely, the Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant.

The Abrahamic Covenant, which is “an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7, 19), promised the descendants of Abraham, through the lineage of Isaac and Jacob, a plot of land in the Middle East (Gen. 12:1-7; 13:14-17; 15:7-21; 17:8); descendants like the dust of the earth and the stars of heaven (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:4-5; 17:4-6); and a great nation that would bless the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:3, 18:18, 22:18).

The Davidic Covenant, established between the Lord and King David, promised him and his lineage an enduring dynasty (2 Sam. 7:11-13). This includes an eternal throne and kingdom that Jesus Christ fulfills as King of kings and Lord of lords (2 Sam. 7:13,16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14). Perusing the Old Testament prophets, it’s clear the Davidic Covenant fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ is a pivotal part of biblical prophecy.

Keep in mind Paul said Israel is still God’s elect after spending three chapters describing how they were cut off from the rich root of the olive tree due to their unbelief. Though they are not elected to salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ, they are elect based upon God’s unfailing covenants, which contain national blessings and promises, even though they have for the moment rejected their Messiah. That’s why Paul said clearly, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). When God calls an individual or a nation, He never reverses course, changes His mind, removes gifts, or revokes a divine purpose, even if the individual or nation fails.

In Conclusion . . .

Everything I wrote can be summarized with this diagram below.

Let me quickly explain this picture. First, there is National Israel, represented by the blue circle. National Israel is comprised of unbelieving and believing Jews throughout history to the present day, including the Jewish Messiah Jesus. To National Israel belongs national promises and blessings through the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. These promises and blessings depend wholly upon God’s faithfulness to fulfill His word. These do not depend upon Israel’s faithfulness.

Next, there is Jesus Is Israel, represented by the green circle. As the true Israel, Jesus Christ is what God intended the Jewish nation to be like from the beginning. Christ is the one to whom the promises and covenants were ultimately speaking about. All the promises of God are yes and amen in Him.

Believing Israel, represented by the intersection of the blue and green circle, is the Israel within Israel. These are the messianic Jews who believe in Jesus Christ and are saved by faith in Him. These messianic Jews are heirs to both Israel’s national promises and Israel’s spiritual promises in the New Covenant. To keep it simple, the New Covenant promises include a new spirit, a new heart, the indwelling Spirit, the law written upon the heart, forgiveness of sins, and the ability to know God intimately (Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 36:26-27).

Believing Gentiles, represented by the blue oval, are grafted into the fullest and ultimate expression of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ. Believing Gentiles are not the true Israel. Nor have we replaced Israel. Rather, we are grafted into Israel. Believing Gentiles are partakers with Messianic Jews of Israel’s spiritual promises outlined in the New Covenant.

This in mind, are believing Gentiles ever called true Jews in the New Testament? Absolutely not. Is the church, mostly compromised of believing Gentiles, ever called the true Israel? Once again, there answer is clearly no.

Ideas have consequences. Wrong ideas about the true Israel and the true Jews have had devasting consequences throughout church history. I’m convinced Gentile Christians could potentially repeat history and persecute the Jews, especially as we head deeper into the end times, if we don’t understand the key verses I outlined in the article. Never forget that all who attempt to lift the heavy stone Jerusalem in the end times “will be severely injured” (Zech. 12:3). Gentile Christians are not exempt from this warning.

[i] https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounder/trunews-and-rick-wiles-end-times-anti-semitism-and-anti-zionism, referenced on 11/9/2023.

Bryan Kessler