When we say, “the people of God”, we are not talking about the individual, but about the collective. It is not just the sum total of chosen and called and faithful individuals: it is God's “holy nation”, His “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9), His “family” or “household”:
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named...” (Ephesians 3:14-15)
Dispensationalists dichotomize the church and Israel, claiming that they are two different peoples of God, with two different destinies. But Scripture contradicts their claim. There, we find that there is but one family or household of God, consisting of all the saints who are already in heaven and those that are still on earth. There is no division according to dispensation hinted at.
The unity of the people of God in all ages is indicated in many different ways in Scripture. When, for example, it is said in Romans 4:11-12 that Abraham is “the father of all who believe”, it means that all believers, circumcised and uncircumcised, belong to the same household of faith.
When God took Israel out of Egypt and brought them into covenant with himself, he said that they would be His people, and He would be their God. These are the two sides of the covenant. We cannot have God for our God and not be at the same time His people. Hence, we find the identical language once used of Israel (Leviticus 26:12) in words addressed to the church:
“And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:15-18)
There is no place in Scripture where it says that there are two peoples of God, and to use the singular with the definite article is to imply that there is only one. Otherwise, it would be necessary to say, “one of the families”, or “this family”, or to use some qualifier to distinguish which people of God one is talking about at the moment. Some Dispensationalists distinguish God's “earthly wife” and His “heavenly bride”. In fact, in the case of plural marriages in the Bible, both wives and all their progeny still constituted one family. Jacob himself is a perfect example. The one nation of Israel came from two wives and their two handmaids.
But God is not a bigamist. He only has one wife, the true and spiritual Israel, comprised of the faithful in all ages. The believing Jews with whom Christ established the New Covenant in His blood, are the true bride of Christ – the body of which He is head and savior (Ephesians 5:23).
That body eventually became predominately a Gentile body, but it is the true heir of spiritual Israel in the former times. It is in some ways new; but it is not so new that there is no continuity with the old. Jews who believe in Christ from now on will be incorporated into the mainly Gentile church, just as the Gentiles were at first joined to a primarily Jewish church.
Paul tells us plainly in the much-avoided ninth chapter of Romans that there is but one chosen and called people of God, made up of Jews and Gentiles.
“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26)
For Peter, all humanity is comprehended in two groups, “the house of God”, and “them that obey not the gospel of God”. Obviously, there is no second “people of God” in his mind.
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)
This next text requires more explanation:
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (Hebrews 3:1-6)
In Hebrews 3:2, we read that “Moses was faithful in all his house”. But whose house? Not his own, for we read in verse 5, that he was a “servant” in that household. No, the house referred to belongs to “Him that appointed him” (verse 2). It is the house – the family – of God. This is confirmed by the Old Testament text quoted from, where God says, “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.” (Numbers 12:7)
But Christ is “a son over His own house” (verse 6), the one He built (verses 3,4), in which Moses was a servant. And true believers are members of that household (verse 6). There are not two different households here – Moses' and Christ's – but one House of God that runs through both dispensations.
Here is another proof from the same book:
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it... Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:1-9)
Paul has just said that the “rest” spoken of by David was not fulfilled by Joshua when he had led Israel into the land, and settled them there. He concludes that the particular rest of which he was speaking “… remaineth... to the people of God.” It was first promised to Old Testament Jews, and yet he says that it remains to be entered by Christians who live in New Testament times. If there were two peoples of God, it would not at all follow that the rest would be automatically transferred from the one to the other. But there is only the one, and whatever has been promised to them, must be fulfilled to them. There can be no mistaking this “people of God” for the nation of Israel, for the people that Paul is exhorting to enter into that rest are Jewish Christians under persecution from the unbelieving nation. And if one tries to limit it to Jewish Christians, he thereby runs into the truth that believing Jews and Gentiles are one body in Christ. “The people of God” therefore, must be understood of all believers in all ages.
Perhaps the clearest proof of the unity of God's people is found in the greatest theological treatise ever written, Paul's Epistle to the Romans.
“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:16-24)
What does the olive tree represent? The answer is not far to seek. As the subject under discussion is the destiny of national Israel, it stands to reason that the olive tree represents Israel. The root of Israel is the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The nation derives its holiness from its fathers (verse 16). It “is beloved for their sakes” (verse 28).
But the tree is distinct from national Israel, for it has had some of its natural branches cut off, and branches from a wild olive tree grafted in. National Israel would include all the natural branches, and would not include anything else. The natural branches all grew out of the stock of the tree, but these were cut off because of unbelief (verse 20). They stand for those who were “of Israel, but not Israel”(Romans 9:6). And the branches grafted in are Gentiles who have believed the gospel, those who “stand by faith” (verse 20).
So, the good olive tree of Romans 11 can only be one thing: it is the true, spiritual Israel of God, consisting of Abraham, the father of all who believe, and all his spiritual seed in both testaments of Scripture. It is the one people of God, the “children of the promise”, the “election of grace”, the “household of faith”, the redeemed of all ages, the universal church, the Israel of God.
Howard Douglas King