A Clay Jar

Encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:12 NIV)

What is the Relationship Between Israel and the Church?

What is the relationship between ethnic Israel and the Church? On the surface, it seems like it should be a pretty straightforward answer. But the more time I have spent with this question, the more challenging I have found it to be. There are several schools of thought in regard to this relationship, but I have personally found all of them to be somewhat lacking and unsatisfying.

The intent of this post is twofold. First of all, it is an attempt to focus on my own thoughts. I find that writing them down, especially for public consumption, forces me to think more clearly. And, secondly, I suspect that I am not the only person who finds this discussion somewhat confusing. Hopefully, I will be able to add some clarity to the debate, although that may be asking too much.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes


It will likely be helpful to start with a brief description of these entities. Knowing clearly who they are will help in our understanding.


In the Old Testament, Jacob is given the name Israel after wrestling with God. This name is later used to refer to his descendants and the united kingdom formed under Saul, David, and Solomon. The name Israel is then used for the northern tribes during the period of the divided monarchy. The southern tribes took on the name of the dominant tribe, Judah.

But more generally, the name Israel is used to refer to God’s chosen people, at least in the Old Testament. God made a covenant with Abraham concerning his descendants. God later established a covenant with Israel at Mt Sinai. In this covenant, God promises that Israel would be his elect people if they would obey the terms of the covenant. Later, God established a covenant with David, that he would always have a descendant on the throne of Israel. 

Israel is generally considered to be made up of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But there were many other peoples that joined with Israel and were assimilated into the nation. Ruth, the great-grandmother of David, is but one example of this assimilation. Even in the Old Testament, Israel is much more than just the descendants of Jacob. Israel is the covenant people of God, regardless of their physical ancestry.

The Church

The Church is a term used to describe the New Testament covenant people. It is composed of all those who, through faith, have come into a relationship with Jesus. Membership in the Church crosses all ethnic lines.

The Church started as a Jewish sect, a part of Israel. But by the time the New Testament closed, the Church had reached out well beyond the confines of ethnic Israel. The inclusion of Gentiles into the Church was not without controversy. There were those Jewish believers within the Church who advocated that the Church remain Jewish. That the Gentiles coming into the Church must also be active participants in Jewish rituals and practices. 

While the Church started under the umbrella of Israel, at some point, that ceased to be true. It seems not to have happened in an instant. But over a period of time, the Jewish part of the Church declined in influence. As this happened, and the Church became predominantly Gentile, Israel and the Church came to be recognized as two separate entities.

Israel and the Church

So what is the relationship between Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament? Has the Church replaced Israel in God’s plan? Are Israel and the Church both covenant people that God has different purposes for? Or is there some other relationship between them?

The Church Replacing Israel

This appears to be a pretty common view and is called Replacement Theology or Supersessionism. Some form of supersessionism seems to have been the dominant view of the Church throughout most of its history. In this view, the covenant with Israel is no longer in force due to their disobedience. And instead, God has established a new covenant with those who make up the Church.

This new covenant was foretold by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34). The author of Hebrews quotes this passage from Jeremiah (Heb. 8:8-12) and then says that the old covenant is obsolete and will soon disappear. This seems to be the most explicit passage that would indicate a replacement of covenant people in God’s plan. But Jesus also points to this in Matthew 8:10-12 and Matthew 21:43 when he teaches that the kingdom of God will be taken from the Jews and given to others.

But balanced against this is Paul’s discussion of the Jews in Romans 9-11. Especially in the 11th chapter, he makes it clear that, although the Jews have mostly fallen, there will come a time when they will be restored (Rom. 11:25-32). While that does not seem to directly indicate a dual covenant path, it is clear that God has not permanently rejected Israel, even if, at the current time, they have rejected him.

The Church and Israel as Two Distinct Peoples

A second view on the relationship between Israel and the Church is that proposed by dispensationalists. As I understand it, they see Israel as the ethnic nation of Abraham’s descendants. While the Church is composed of all saved individuals in the current church age. This church age is thought to have started around Pentecost and will extend to Christ’s return for his church. Some, although not all, will allow for some overlap; for ethnic Jews who have been saved and are a part of both.

In this view, all of the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Israel will be literally and physically fulfilled. Israel will be restored to its land as an independent kingdom. And not just as a minor player on the world stage. They will be a dominant world power and will be greatly blessed by God. Numerous passages in the prophets point ahead to this time and are considered unbreakable promises by God to Israel.

This view has become pretty popular over the past two centuries, especially among evangelical Protestants. But I struggle with the idea that God has put Israel on hold during the church age, and will then get back to them, once the Church is removed from the world. I do not see anything in the Bible that would really support this idea of two separate covenant peoples.

Israel and the Church as One People

A third position is what some call Fulfillment Theology. This understands the Scripture to proclaim a single covenant people. And I find this the most in line with the Scripture. I do not believe that the Church has replaced Israel. Instead, I believe that Israel has expanded from its mostly ethnic base as Abraham’s physical descendants to a broader base. And the story in Acts is one of this expansion from an ethnic people, who largely reject Jesus, to a multi-ethnic people believing in Jesus.

Acts begins with Jesus’ followers being all Jewish and considering themselves to be a part of Israel. And not just a part of Israel, but the Israel that the prophets had looked forward to. The difference between these early believers and the rest of the Jews was that they had come to know the foretold messiah and were following him.

As time went on, the gospel reached out beyond ethnic Israel. Starting with Phillip’s mission to Samaria and then to the Ethiopian. Then Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, followed by those fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem who took the gospel to Gentiles in Antioch. And then God called Paul and Barnabas to intentionally take the gospel out into the greater Gentile world of the Roman empire.

Was God’s Covenant with Israel Conditional?

I frequently hear, or read, from people who declare that the covenant that God established with Israel at Mt. Sinai was unconditional; that it would always be in effect. But was it?

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5-6a NIV)

The verses above constitute what I understand to be the basis for the covenant. And notice that it says “If you will”, “then I will”. That seems very conditional to me. I am not arguing here that God has abandoned Israel. But clearly, Israel did not keep their end of the agreement. And Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34) seems to look to that as he foretells the establishment of a new covenant after Israel had broken the old one.

Scriptural Support for One Body

The focus in the Old Testament is on the ethnic nation of Israel. Most of the effort of the prophets was directed at turning the hearts of Israel back to their God. But there are hints in the prophets that God’s plans extends beyond just Israel.


[God] says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV)

Isaiah 49:6 seems more explicit than most passages. Here the servant’s (Jesus’) light goes beyond Israel to the Gentiles. His salvation is reaching out to the ends of the earth. God is interested not just in Israel, but all people, to the ends of the earth.


I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23 NIV)

This passage from Hosea seems to be talking about a restoration of the Jews to God’s favor. Yet in Romans 9:24-26 Paul quotes from this passage and includes the Gentiles in those who were not loved or God’s people, yet who now are.


Jesus expresses that his mission is to the lost house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). And he seldom interacts with people outside of Israel. And yet, in Jesus’ final commission to his disciples, both in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, the expectation is that they would go into all nations making disciples. It seems that at his death, the mission of Christ spread out to the whole world. No longer just ethnic Israel. But now to all the nations. John 3:16 applies to everyone, not just to some.


In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul very explicitly declares that Christ has made one new humanity out of Jew and Gentile. That they are now fellow citizens and built on a single foundation to become a temple to God. This appears to be a union between the two rather than two distinct peoples. It is not that Israel has been replaced. But, rather, the barrier that kept the Gentiles out has been removed.

In Romans 9-11, Paul addresses the issue of Israel. What is the current place of the Jews in God’s plans? Paul starts by making it clear that just because someone is a Jew that does not make them a true Israelite (Rom. 9:6). God chooses who he will; those who respond in faith (Rom. 10:9-10). Paul uses the Old Testament prophets (Rom. 9:25-29) to demonstrate that God’s call extends to both Jew and Gentile; they are both objects of God’s mercy. Of course, not all Jews or all Gentiles experience God’s mercy. Only those who have attained God’s righteousness by faith.

Paul concludes this passage by comparing the Jew and Gentile in God’s plan. In Romans 11:11-24, Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree. A tree whose root was holy, thus making its branches also holy. Currently, some of the Jewish branches have been broken off, and Gentile branches grafted in. But Paul’s expectation is that God will ultimately graft unbelieving Jews back into the tree.


In Exodus 19:5-6 God said to the Jews gathered at Mt. Sinai, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is the distinctive role of Israel and descriptive of their unique covenant relationship with God.

Peter then mirrors that statement but applies it to his Gentile audience. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, he says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I don’t believe this is a matter of the Jews losing their place. Rather, Israel has been expanded to include both believing Jews and Gentiles.


In Hebrews 8:8-12 the author quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. This passage refers to a new covenant that God would make with his people, with the house of Israel and Judah. Israel had been unfaithful to the old covenant, so God was going to establish a new one with them.

The author of Hebrews follows that quote by saying, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). He seems to be saying that the initial covenant established with Israel at Mt. Sinai is now obsolete and that the new covenant is now in effect. A covenant that Hebrews indicates is not just for ethnic Israel, but for all believers.


So just what is the relationship between Israel and the church today? Clearly, they are not synonymous, at least on the surface. Over the past two millennia, they have existed side by side, but as distinct peoples. But in Romans 11:25-32, Paul makes clear that the alienation that exists between the two will ultimately be healed. God has not abandoned ethnic Israel and still has a plan for them.

But what is that plan? How will they be saved? Does God have one way of salvation for Gentiles and another for the Jews? I find nothing in the Scripture that would indicate that. We all are saved by faith in the blood of the crucified Jesus.

A Faithful Remnant

As I understand the Scriptures, the church is the faithful remnant of Israel, expanded to include believing Gentiles. Most of ethnic Israel is in rebellion against God, like they have been throughout most of their history. But in the end, that rebellion will come to an end, and the Jews will accept their Messiah and be grafted back into the olive tree (Rom. 11:24). And so all Israel will be saved, both Jew and Gentile.


The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

If you have found value in this post, please consider subscribing to A Clay Jar so that you don’t miss any other posts. 

4 thoughts on “What is the Relationship Between Israel and the Church?”

  1. Above you state that Israel and the Church are not synonymous.If you are talking about unbelieving Israel that is true. Those from the nation who are in unbelief cease to be part of Israel. They are “cut off from among the people,” and circumcised from the nation. But believing Israel and the Church (expanded to include Gentiles) ARE synonymous. And when the rebellion of the unbelieving of Israel comes to an end, they will be included back into the believing remnant and become part of the Church, one people with the Gentiles. God promised to save and bless Israel, but that Israel was NEVER the entire nation and ALWAYS included Gentiles. And Paul quotes the Old Testament where it says that though they be like the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved. God never considered the whole nation His people Israel, but only a believing remnant. So the “all Israel” of Romans 11 cannot be anything more than that remnant. Nor does it say that their salvation happens at the end of time. The remnant was being saved in Paul’s day and has continued to be throughout this age. And what defines “Israel?” Is it DNA? How much? Even Jesus had Gentile blood and DNA. Does God care about DNA, or does He care about faith? Did God make promises to Israel based on DNA or based on faith? Does God love Israel more than any Gentile?
    I think it is a mistake to think that just because the Church is mostly Gentile, that it is distinct from Israel. Israel is still the root and the foundation of the Church. The foundation of any building is always much smaller that the entire building. And the root of any tree is always much small than the tree itself. In Revelation, the 144,000 make up the walls and gates of the city, and the nations walk by its light and the kings bring in their glory. And according to the writer of Hebrews, it is the city which Abraham looked for, and the one that we have already come to. I think most in the Church believe that the 144,000 and super-evangelists who witness during a future tribulation. But how can that be true if the city was already being built in Paul’s day? They can be none other than the “all Israel,” the remnant saved between Jesus’ two comings. Jerusalem above, not below.

    • I am not sure where you see a disagreement with what I wrote. The last paragraph of the post says.

      “As I understand the Scriptures, the church is the faithful remnant of Israel, expanded to include believing Gentiles. Most of ethnic Israel is in rebellion against God like they have been throughout most of their history. But in the end, that rebellion will come to an end and the Jews will accept their Messiah and be grafted back into the olive tree (Rom. 11:24). And so all Israel will be saved, both Jew and Gentile.”

      • I wasn’t really disagreeing, just clarifying. When mentioning “Israel” I think it’s important to clarify whether we are talking about believing Israel (synonymous with the Church) or ethnic Israel (not synonymous). Also, Scripture seems to indicated that unbelieving Israelites cease to be Israel while believing Gentile become Israelites. The first are “cut off from among the people,” while the second are grafted IN. The fulness of the Gentiles comes in to Israel. Yet a remnant of unbelieving Israelites will be saved. I don’t think there is any indication that the entire nation will be saved, though. “…and so, all Israel will be saved” does not indicate WHEN this will happen, but HOW it will happens. The phrase “kai houtos” never indicates time, but manner. In this way (by God hardening a part of Israel and grafting Gentiles into the remnant) all Israel (Jew and Gentile) will be saved. Israel’s “fulness” can never refer to more than a remnant because Isaiah states that only a remnant will be saved.
        So do you believe in a future Millennium where Israel reigns over the nations?

        • I am content to leave the number of ethnic Israelites who will be saved in God’s hands.

          I do not believe that there will be a literal Millennial kingdom on the earth at some time in the future. I believe that Christ is reigning over his kingdom now and forever. His kingdom and reign will be more fully realized when he returns, but it has existence now while we wait for that return.


Leave a Comment