“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This idea was always one of the hardest things for first century Jews to get their minds and hearts around and it still isn’t widely appreciated today. The Jews of Paul’s day understood the designation “the children of Abraham,” the thing that most gave them their identity, to be a genetic one. Now, no, they didn’t think of it in exactly those terms as they hadn’t been invented yet, but the observation is true nonetheless.
And the truth is, for hundreds of years, it was essentially a genetic distinction. The heirs of the promise of blessing God gave to Abraham were almost exclusively limited to people who were his direct genetic defendants. But, this was more by happenstance than overt intention.
The bigger truth is that it was always intended to be a designation of faith, not genetics. There were a few pointers to this reality along the way–Ruth and Rahab for two notable examples–but no one really picked up on it. At least, no one did until God spilled the beans through Peter’s call to preach the Gospel to Cornelius. Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, further unpacked this by revealing the fuller truth. Israel was never intended to be a physical nation only, but always a spiritual designation for all those who trust in God’s promise of blessing and from that faith live out the lifestyle being a party to that blessing demands.
This has some pretty significant implications today for how we as Christians think about the idea of Israel. For starters, we need to stop thinking about Israel primarily in terms of a physical location, at least in the economy of God. I believe there will be a special offer of salvation to the Jewish people today to which many will respond positively before the end of the world (Paul’s exploration of the relationship between God and Israel and the Gentiles in Romans 9-11 seems to point in this direction), but the future-oriented blessings for Israel mentioned in the Scriptures are intended for a spiritually-connected group of people, not a physical nation.
Second, while I certainly believe we should support the nation of Israel for geopolitical reasons today, this support should not be unqualified, and it should not come from a confusion about what the New Testament authors mean when they talk about Israel.
Third, while we should care about safeguarding the Holy Land from those who would see much of it needlessly destroyed for bad religious reasons (i.e. radical Islam) for the sake of preserving history, because Israel is primarily a spiritual designation that includes people who are spread out all over the globe, people must always be valued over places. I believe places can be historically, religiously, and even spiritually significant, but the holiest place you will ever be is in the presence of another person who is a bearer of the Spirit of God.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a child of Abraham. You are an heir to God’s promise of blessing; His promise to bless a people so that they can in turn serve as a blessing to the world, revealing Him in all His glory so that the number of those who are partakers of that promise is an ever-expanding group. Live like it.