Copyright © Tim Warner
The Old Covenant
In the following diagrams, above the center line represents Israel, and below the line represents the Gentiles. Notice, in figure 1, Israel under the Old Covenant is divided into believers (light green) and unbelievers (tan). While the Scriptures still recognize all of the physical descendants of Jacob as ‘Israel,’ there is clearly a distinction to be made between the faithful remnant of Israel and the majority of the nation that rejected God and His covenant all throughout their history, [1 Kings 19:13-15,18, Malachi 3:13-18, Matthew 23:29-33].
The New Covenant
The New Covenant was made with Israel, but only a small remnant embraced it by accepting Jesus Christ, [Matt. 26:27,28, Romans 11:1-5]. The faithful remnant of the Old Testament were justified at the time of Christ’s death. His sacrifice retroactively atoned for the sins of the OT saints who died in faith, [Hebrews 9:15]. They are therefore joined with us ‘in Christ,’ [Hebrews 11:39,40]. Notice, in figure 2, the angled line represents the end of the Old Covenant. There was a gradual passing away of the Old Covenant over a period of 40 years (one generation), from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in AD30 until the destruction of the Temple in AD70.
The writer of Hebrews wrote that the Old Covenant was made ‘obsolete’ by the New Covenant, and that it was in the process of passing away, [Heb. 8:13]. This was written shortly before AD70. So we have an overlapping of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant for one generation. Gentile believers are also included in the New Covenant, represented by the light blue section below the center line.
Things to Come – Tribulation, Day of the Lord, Millennium, Eternal State
At the end of the age, a brief period of ‘great tribulation’ will overtake the world. There will be three classes of people affected. In figure 3, the light pink represents unbelievers, both Jew and Gentile, that will suffer through this period. The light blue represents Christians in the tribulation. And the dark blue represents a remnant of Israel that will receive special protection and provision by God, even though they do not as yet believe the Gospel. [See: Rom. 11:25-29, Rev. 12:6,13-16].
The ‘Day of the Lord’ follows the tribulation. This is the day of Christ’s return. The hot pink section represents the remnant of unbelieving Israel that God supernaturally will protect in the tribulation. This remnant will resist the Antichrist, and be saved in a moment, when they see Jesus returning in power, the partial blindness being removed from their eyes, [Zech. 12:9,10 & 13:1, Joel 3:14-16,21, Rom. 11:26,27]. The Bible says this remnant of Israel will be 1/3 of the surviving nation at the end of the tribulation. The rest will be destroyed, [Zech. 13:7-9, Zeph. 1:4-18, Mal. 3:13- 4:3]. (The 2/3 destroyed are probably those who worshipped the Anti-Messiah). The red sections represent those who will be destroyed at Christ’s coming, both Jew and Gentile.
The purple sections represent both believing Israel and believing Gentiles. During the Millennium both will be under the full realization of the New Covenant (all of Israel will know God, having their sins forgiven [Jer. 31:33,34]), as well as the Davidic Covenant, when Jesus will rule the nations from Jerusalem, [Jer. 33:14-17].
The white section in the ‘Millennium’ represents a remnant of Gentile mortals who will survive the Battle of Armageddon, and enter the Millennium, [Zech. 14:16,17, Isa. 14:1,2]. These are the ‘nations’ that Christ will rule with a ‘rod of iron,’ [Rev. 19:14-16]. This remnant will spawn the great army that will rebel against Christ at the end of the Millennium, [Rev. 20:7-10]. The dark grey section represents the Last Judgment of the dead unbelievers.
Traditional dispensationalists use the word ‘Church’ to distinguish believers between Pentecost and the rapture from all other saints. This contemporary dispensational meaning is absolutely contrary to biblical and historical usage. The Greek word ‘eklessia’ is NOT used in the Bible exclusively of New Testament believers. Steven referred to Israel as “the church in the wilderness” in Acts 7:38. The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 22:22 (from the LXX), and used the Greek word ‘eklessia’ for congregation [Heb. 2:12]. Furthermore, the LXX – Greek translation (200BC) of the OT used by the Apostles and the early Christians – uses the word ‘eklessia’ many times in reference to the people of God in the Old Testament. Therefore, the early Christians who used this translation would NOT see this word as having exclusively post-Pentecost / pre-rapture connotations!
Progressive dispensationalists see the word ‘church’ (when used in the universal sense) in the biblical and historical context. Therefore, the universal ‘Church’ today is all saints of all ages, and includes ALL who’s names are written in heaven [Heb. 12:23].
Some, no doubt, will object that Jesus referred to “my Church” in the future tense [Matt. 16:18]. This is true. However, the building of Jesus’ ‘Church’ is in reference to the Old Testament believers being brought under the blood of Christ after the crucifixion [Heb. 9:15]. The very first act of Jesus after His crucifixion was to gather the OT saints into the New Covenant. This occurred prior to Pentecost. Both Jew and Gentile from all dispensations must be brought under the New Covenant in order to partake of eternal life.
The ‘Church,’ from a New Testament perspective, includes all saints who possess eternal salvation. Paul wrote of “those in heaven” (OT saints) and “those on earth” (NT saints of the first century) as being joined together “in Christ” [Eph. 1:9,10]. That this joining of both the Old Testament and New Testament saints had already occurred when Paul wrote is seen from his use of the present tense when referring to this united group of saints as “the whole family” in both heaven and earth named after Christ [Eph. 3:14,15].
All of the natural descendants of Jacob are seen as physical ‘Israel’ in the Bible. Progressive dispensationalists (PD) do not believe that Gentile believers replace Israel, and usurp Israel’s promises and covenants. PDs continue to distinguish Israel as a nation to whom God has made many promises that will be literally fulfilled. Therefore, Israel is made up of both believers and unbelievers of all dispensations.
However, we must recognize that, while the covenants of God to Israel are unconditional (they will be realized by physical Israel no matter what individual Jews do), participation by individual Jews is conditional. Under the Old Covenant, individual Jews could either believe God and obey Him, or they could reject God’s covenant and follow other gods (which many did). Likewise, once the New Covenant was introduced by Jesus, some Jews partook of the covenant by trusting Jesus, and some did not. At the end of the age, Israel’s partial blindness will be removed and the remnant of Israel will believe and be restored to partake on both the New Covenant and the Davidic Covenant (Millennial Kingdom). Gentiles who believe the Gospel do not become ‘Israel,’ but only partake of Israel’s covenants through being ‘in Christ’ [Gal. 3:14,16.29].
There are a few places in the New Testament that refer to ‘spiritual Israel’ (Jews who are saved from all dispensations) as separate from physical Israel. The best illustration of this concept is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Here Paul shows that to be a true ‘Jew’ in God’s sight, it is not sufficient to merely point to one’s heritage and the sign of circumcision. In Deuteronomy 30:6, God said He would also circumcise the hearts of the Jewish people.
6 And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
Likewise, God sometimes referred to the rebellious Jews as “uncircumcised in heart” [Lev. 26:41, Jer. 9:26]. Stephen repeated this accusation when addressing the Sanhedrin as “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart,” [Acts 7:55]. Paul’s point was that the unbelieving Jews were “uncircumcised in heart” and this alienated them from the true Israel (the descendants of Jacob with whom God had fulfilled His promise in Deut. 30:6 to circumcise their hearts). Jews with “circumcised hearts” accepted Jesus as Messiah in Paul’s day. Those with “uncircumcised hearts” did not.
Jesus also denied that the Scribes and Pharisees were “spiritual Israel,” denouncing them as “of your father the devil” [John 8:39,44]. In the seven letters of Revelation, Jesus used even stronger language than this to deny that the Jews who persecuted Christians were truly of ‘Israel’ in God’s sight, denouncing them as “of the synagogue of Satan.” [Rev. 2:9 & Rev. 3:9]. Finally, Paul spoke of the ‘Israel of God’ as a distinct entity within the Church [Gal. 6:15,16].