Who Is the True Jew?

I fully agree that in Ro 2:26-29 Paul is putting the uncircumcised gentile who “keeps the righteousness of the law” (obviously regenerate) on an equal footing with a ‘true Jew’. A true Jew is a regenerate Jew. As in other debated passages of this kind, Paul is not necessarily redefining Israel or Jews, since he clearly maintains that obvious distinction elsewhere. Rather, in what might appear to be a new re-definition, many hold that Paul intends nothing more here than his usual insistence that those who are Jews in name only are not to be reckoned as heirs unless they are also regenerated (the inward circumcision of the heart).

This is exactly the distinction Paul is making in such texts as Ro 4:14; 9:6. But since Paul so clearly identifies believing gentiles as “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Ro 8:17; Gal 3:29), some (I think not unreasonably), argue that Paul is indeed redefining the term, “Jew” in this context to include anyone who has the inward circumcision of the heart. I am one premillennialist who has no problem with that view, since, in my opinion, it is not crucial to the larger question. So who is a Jew?

Even if it is maintained that Paul is disqualifying the Jew who is only one outwardly from deserving of the name, and even if it could be certainly established that Paul is re-defining the term in this particular context to mean anyone who has the “inward circumcision of the heart, in the Spirit”, still, there are many contexts that will bear no such redefinition. Context determines usage.

Unlike many premillennialists who, because of abuse and misuse, are keen to avoid any reading that might lend support to so-called replacement theology, I am one among many premillennialists who believe that if gentiles can be reckoned as the true circumcision (Phil 3:3) and other such appellations once applied only to Jews (Ro 9:25; 1Pet 2:9-10), then it is no leap of faith for Paul to include regenerate gentiles among the true “Israel of God” (Ro 11:17; Gal 6:16; Eph 2:19). Whether anyone’s strong position will incline them to agree, it is only humility to see how easily these inferences can be made. For example, when we place Phil 3:3 side by side with Ro 2:29, it is difficult not to see the manifest parallel.

Phil 3:3: For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Ro 2:29: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Romans 2:29

If Paul can speak of an “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Cor 10:18), it becomes an almost necessary inference to understand that there must be an ‘Israel according to the Spirit’. While it may be reasonably argued that in some contexts Paul has included gentiles in his definition of what constitutes the true Israel of God, this bears nothing on the many other contexts in both testaments where a large remnant of Jews (unbelieving until that time), are yet predestined for future salvation on the basis of an abiding, irrevocable covenant election that remains outstanding and unfulfilled until “their fullness” (their full inclusion; Ro 11:11, 25-29). Will you concede that much?

I am not among those who believe that believing gentiles belong to some new, separate entity. It is rather the case that believing gentiles are “grafted in among them” (Ro 11:17), that is, into the “commonwealth of Israel”, which, in my view, is the living “Israel of God” (Ro 9:6; Gal 6:16). The living, and therefore persevering wild branches are one eternal body with the living Jewish branches that remain connected to the life-giving root of the good olive tree. So I’m miles from the usual dispensational position.

I see a continuity of one corporate, fully regenerate people of God, not only since Pentecost, but wherever saints (the remnant circumcised of heart) were ‘indwelt’ by “the Spirit of Christ” (2Cor 13:5; 1Pet 1:11). There is one fold and one Shepherd. This newly revealed (not newly existing!) “body of Christ” / “one new man” extends beyond the present age into, and all throughout, a yet future millennium.

Unlike dispensationalism’s two peoples of God, in our view, the penitent survivors of Israel will be no less the body of Christ on earth in the coming millennium, ‘brothers of the others’, albeit with a unique millennial stewardship for the sake of the covenant demonstration that God has reserved for that unique period. This poses no conflict with the one new man anymore than the abiding distinction of male and female, both in creation and the governance of the body of Christ, raises any question of disadvantage or inferiority. It is a question of stewardship and not of any presumed spiritual advantage or superiority.

After the body of Christ has been revealed (not newly existing, but newly revealed), the one new man (the regenerated man of the Spirit) exists without distinction or superiority in one place only, “in Christ”! Notwithstanding, the scripture itself recognizes an abiding distinction between Jew and gentile in the creation, just as there remains a distinction in the role of male and female in the natural order. This distinction is preserved, actually quite miraculously, across the ages for a very important purpose. That purpose is to publicly vindicate in open display God’s abiding, covenanted commitment to the “natural branches” “For this is My covenant with THEM when I shall take away THEIR sin ….”

Their covenanted election, and the sovereign power manifested in their corporate salvation will be put beyond all question for a thousand years of open display, as God makes of this people the great object lesson of history. In the salvation of ‘all Israel’ (in the sense that Paul intends that phrase), God is vindicating openly and publicly in the sight of all nations His very purpose in first setting Jacob apart before birth or before behaviour. This was “in order that the purpose of God might stand, not of works but of Him who calls” (Ro 9:11, 16). There it is! God has preserved the visibility and abiding distinction of the Jewish race for this one primary purpose. That purpose is to show in them His ability to bring in, finally and forever, the very people He first brought out (Num 14:11-21).

This He will do by bringing them to the end of their power in the final time of unequaled trouble (Deut 32:36; Dan 12:1, 7), and to the place of regeneration by faith, thus securing their ability to remain safely and permanently in the Land without further threat of the curses of the broken covenant. Only by an ‘everlasting righteousness’ (Dan 9:24; Jer 32:40), that is NOT their own (Isa 45:25; 54:17; Jer 23:5-6), extending not only to a remnant, but to ‘all Israel’ (regenerate Israel) “unto children’s children” (Deut 30:6; Isa 59:21; 65:23; Eze 37:25). Only then can Israel keep their covenanted Land forever in abiding safety and peace. Only by such an eternally secure righteousness can the abiding threat of covenant jeopardy be overcome forever. The thousand years is set apart to mark and make much of this open spectacle of covenant fulfillment.

Only a righteousness that is forever can possess the Land forever. This is the point that God is determined to press upon the nations in an open, visible, undeniable display of sovereign, electing grace and power that will continue unabated for one thousand years before concluding His purpose for this earth in the final perfection of new heavens and new earth. He has a point to make through the Jewish people that is dear to His heart. It is a point that is directed against all forms of pride and self righteousness. How? “They will look upon Him whom they pierced (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Rev 1:7). When?  “From that day and forward” (Eze 39:8, 22, 28-29), “they will all know Me from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer 31:34).

Not only will the penitent survivors of the last tribulation all know Him “from that day and forward”, but this uniformity of salvation will continue “unto children’s children, without fail or exception throughout all their succeeding generations. Sound fantastic, unheard of, inconceivable? Read it there in the scriptures (Isa 4:3-4; 45:17, 25; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; 61:9; 65:23; 66:22; Jer 31:34; 32:40; Eze 20:40; 37:25; Zeph 3:13, et al).

This is what Paul means when he says, “and so then (when the Deliverer comes to turn away ungodliness from Jacob), ALL Israel shall be saved.” Then will an all-holy nation of penitent survivors be “born in one day” (Isa 66:8; Eze 39:22; Dan 12:1-2; Isa 59:20-21; Zech 3:9; 12:10). Now begins the millennial demonstration of the everlasting covenant that still stands irrevocably with THEM (i.e., the “natural branches”; Ro 11:25-29), thus fulfilling a vast host of OT promises connected to an inviolable, eternal covenant promise that must be fulfilled on this earth with this people (Daniel’s people) in particular (Dan 2:44; 12:1).

This great revelatory seeing of Jesus (not by mere sight, of course, but by the Spirit of revelation, as with Paul on the Damascus road) will secure for the surviving remnant of Israel the everlasting righteousness of the everlasting covenant that is now, according to the revelation of the mystery, available to every penitent believer in the resurrected Jesus. Yet, this revelation must at length break upon the understanding of a final remnant from among the natural branches. This is in order to fulfill all that God promised to that nation in particular. This takes place at no sooner time than the return of Jesus to raise the dead (Dan 12:1-2; Mt 24:29-31). This is the “set time” that He has chosen to “favor Zion” (Ps 102:13). It is the time that His people will have been made “willing in the day of His power” (Ps 110:3).

You are right about some things that dispensationalists are wrong about, but I believe you need to much more carefully consider whether you may be wrong about some things futurists (not necessarily pre-trib dispensationalists), may be right about. It’s the old tendency towards “guilt by association” that tends to toss out the baby (at least parts of the baby) with the proverbial bath water.  It is no wonder that Paul calls this a “mystery” (Ro 11:25), as it will invariably elude prideful self reliance. They will never see rightly who do not approach the revealed mysteries of God with genuine fear and trembling. I’m sure you agree.

Speaking of my intelligence, it may interest you to know that the last grade I finished was the 9th. I can’t imagine charging you, or any other earnest believer honestly seeking the harmony of scripture, with “tickling their intellectual fancies”. :-)

Cordially yours in His great name,

Reggie Kelly

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