In the same way, the Kingdom of God, the redemptive activity and power of God, is working in the world today through the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is the fellowship of disciples of Jesus who have received the life of the Kingdom and are dedicated to the task of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom in the world. Philip went to Samaria preaching "good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). Paul went to Rome and preached first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, the Kingdom of God (Acts 28:23, 31).
There are very few verses in the New Testament which equate the Kingdom with the Church, but these very verses support our conclusions. Revelation 5:9-10 reads, “Thou wast slain and by they blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” This song of the twenty-four elders identifies all of the redeemed as a Kingdom. Do we not therefore have the Scriptural precedent to identify the Church with the Kingdom of God? Only in this sense: the redeemed are a kingdom because they shall reign upon the earth. They are not a kingdom because the members of the Church are the people over whom Christ exercises His reign. They are not a kingdom because the Church is the sphere or realm in which the blessings of the redemptive reign are to be experienced. The Church is a kingdom because it shares Christ’s rule. The Kingdom of God in this verse is not the realm of God’s reign; it is God’s reign itself, a reign which is shared with those who surrender themselves to it.
The Church therefore is not the Kingdom of God; God’s Kingdom creates the Church and works in the world through the Church. Men cannot therefore build the Kingdom of God, but they can preach it and proclaim it they can receive it or reject it. The Kingdom of God which in the Old Testament dispensation was manifested in Israel is now working in the world through the Church.
There is therefore but one people of God. This is not to say that the Old Testament saints belonged to the Church and that we must speak of the Church in the Old Testament. Acts 7:28 does indeed speak of the “church in the wilderness”; but the word here does not bear its New Testament connotation but designates only the “congregation” in the wilderness. The Church properly speaking had its birthday on the day of Pentecost, for the Church is composed of all of those who by one Spirit have been baptized into one body (I Cor. 12:13), and this baptizing work of the Spirit began on the day of Pentecost.
While we must therefore speak of Israel and the Church, we must speak of only one people of God. This is vividly clear in Paul’s illustration of the olive tree in Romans 11. [here Ladd explains the relationship of the church to Israel then sums up] It is impossible to think of two peoples of God through whom God is carrying out two different redemptive purposes without doing violence to Romans 11.
This present state of the olive tree, however, is not God’s last work. Paul writes, “and even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in , for God has the power to graft them in again… Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in , and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:23, 25f.). The final form of the olive tree will not be one whose branches are largely wild, i.e., Gentiles. Israel – the natural branches which were broken off because of unbelief – is yet to believe and be grafted again into the olive tree. Here is another “mystery,” another redemptive purpose of God which was not disclosed to the prophets but which has now been revealed through the apostles. The hardening of Israel and their rejection from the people of God is only partial and temporary; it will last until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. God has a purpose to bring salvation to the Gentile peoples and He has used the unbelief of Israel to bring about the accomplishment of this redemptive purpose. But when His purpose with the wild branches has been completed, He will turn again to the natural braches; the veil will be taken away from their eyes (II Cor. 3:16) and they will believe and be grafted again into the people of God. Thus “all Israel will be saved.”
It is quite impossible in light of the context and the course of Paul’s thought in this passage to understand “all Israel” to refer to the Church. There is, to be sure, a very real sense in which the Church is Israel, the sons of Abraham, the true circumcision (Gal. 3:7; Rom. 2:28; 4:1, 12, 16). However, this does not mean that God has fore ever cast off Israel after the flesh. Paul emphatically denies this. There is first of all a spiritual remnant – natural branches which were not broken off because they received Christ (Rom. 11:1-6). But secondly, there is to be a greater turning to the Lord on the part of Israel after the flesh, of such proportions that Paul can say that “all Israel,” i.e., Israel as a whole, will be saved.
This future salvation of Israel is reflected in a few sayings of our Lord. As he was weeping over Jerusalem not long before His death, He cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brook under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:37-39). Jerusalem, symbolic of Israel, had rejected the prophets whom God had sent, until finally, God sent His Son. Jesus longed to gather Israel into the blessings of God’s Kingdom but Israel would not hear; the Son was rejected. Therefore judgment rests upon Israel and the Holy City is to be destroyed. The judgments of God’s Kingdom have often been manifested in history. However, this desolation of Jerusalem which was historically accomplished in A.D. 70 when the temple was destroyed and the city ravaged by the Romans is not to be the final word. It will be the last visitation of God to Israel until that day comes when Israel will recognize Christ as her Messiah and will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Israel is yet to be saved.
Again, in Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse which forecast both the historical destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age, we read that Jesus said of the Holy City, “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The divine judgment is to rest upon Jerusalem and upon the Jewish nation until the “times of the Gentiles,” i.e., the divine visitation of the Gentiles is accomplished. When God’s purpose for the Gentiles is fulfilled, so this verse implies, Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down. There will be a restoration of Israel’ “all Israel will be saved.”
It is impossible in this study to enter into the question of how this restoration and the regrafting of Israel into the people of God is to be accomplished. The New Testament has very little to say about the way in which God will effect this end. One fact, however, is very important: so far as the New Testament is concerned, the salvation of Israel is an essential part of God’s single redemptive purpose. The work of God’s Spirit in the formation of the Church and the future divine visitation of Israel by which the natural braches are regrafted into the olive tree ought not to be seen as two separate and unrelated purposed but as two stages of the single redemptive purpose of God through His Kingdom. There is a single olive tree, and there is one Kingdom of God. The final stages of the reign of God in Christ by which He will put all His enemies under His feet (I Cor. 15:25) will include the salvation of Israel after the flesh. The people of God through whom the Kingdom of God is working in This Age is the Church which consists largely of Gentiles; but the people of God in whom the Kingdom will come to its consummation will include Israel (Rom. 11:12). But there is one Kingdom and there is one people.
Too often in our study of the relationship between the Kingdom of God, The Church and Israel, we lose sigh t of the fact which is for us of primary importance: the Kingdom of God which will finally bring salvation to Israel and which will bring Israel into the Kingdom has brought salvation to us who constitute the Church and has brought us into God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is working in the world through the disciples of Jesus Christ who have surrendered to the demand of the Kingdom and constitute the new people of God, the Church. The Kingdom of God has invaded the realm of Satan in the person and mission of Christ to deliver men from the bondage of darkness; and the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the powers of darkness continues as the Church bears the good news of God’s Kingdom to the nations of the earth.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman