There is much confusion today as to what the term “Israel” means in Scripture, and for good reason, as it is used to mean a number of different things. Yet, understanding the meaning of the word is instrumental in understanding the prophecies that apply to Christians living in the final days of this earth’s history.
The word “Israel” was first introduced in Genesis 32:28, when God changed the name of Jacob to Israel. “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The word “Israel” literally means “Prince with God”. Strong’s defines it as “he will rule as God”. The root word (Strong’s Hebrew 8280) means “to prevail, to have power as a prince”.
The term Israel grew to mean much more than just referring to Jacob himself. Throughout the Old Testament, it is used over 2000 times, with several different meanings. In addition to Jacob, it can refer to 1) the twelve sons of Jacob, 2) the mixed multitude who escaped Egypt during the exodus, 3) the Promised Land, and 4) just some of the tribes when the house of Israel split into the houses of Israel and Judah. (The word “Jew” is an abbreviation of sorts of the name Judah, and properly refers only to those descendants of Judah, not to every descendant of Abraham.)
In the New Testament, the word Israel appears over 60 times. In the Greek, it is Strong’s 2474. The Strong’s definition here is a clue to the different meanings the term can have, as it defines the word Israel as “the adopted name of Jacob, including his descendents (literally or figuratively).” This confirms that in the New Testament, Israel is used figuratively – not only referring to the genetic bloodline of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2 that he would be a “great nation”. The Hebrew word translated as “nation” is Strong’s 1471 “goya”, which is defined in Strong’s concordance as “a foreign nation; hence a Gentile.” This same word appears in the Old Testament hundreds of times, sometimes translated as Gentiles and as heathen, but most often as nation or nations. When God promised to make Abraham a “great nation”, notice he didn’t say he would give him “many descendants” which would have only meant his physical offspring. Instead, God was making provision for you and me to be counted among Abraham’s seed, and thus heirs to the covenant that God entered into with Abraham.
Galatians 3:29 confirms this, when we are told that if we are Christ’s, we are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Paul says shortly thereafter, in Galatians 4:28 that “we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise”. Both of these were directed to the Galatians, who were Gentiles, with not a Jew in sight. Remember, the only covenant that God made was with the house of Israel. (Hebrews 8:10, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…”) He made no covenant/promise outside of Israel. So if we are not part of Israel, we are not heirs to the covenant of Abraham, thus we are not heirs to any covenant at all.
Revelation 21:12 tells us that the New Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, has twelve gates, and upon each gate is written one of the “names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” These are the only entrances to the city, and although we may not know now under which tribe God will count us, I have total faith that we will know which gate to walk through when the time comes. But we must indeed be identified as belonging to one of the tribes of the children of Israel and walk through one of those twelve gates to enter in the city.
We are warned that satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). One of satan’s more successful con jobs has been to perpetuate the lie that many of the things of God are actually things of the Jews, and that they do not apply to Christians. By introducing the false idea that these things of God belong to a certain group of people instead of to the Creator himself, satan has been successful at getting many of God’s people to ignore His ways. You need to realize that you are of Christ, thus you are Abraham’s seed, thus you are a part of Israel, thus you are the chosen of God and an heir to the new covenant made with the house of Israel. Much of modern Christianity discounts things of God as “just for the Jews/Israel.” When you recognize this, you need to stop and ask yourself if it was really just for the Jews or if it was actually “of God”, and thus for you as one of His chosen. Don’t let satan’s lie rob you of any blessings that God intended you receive.