Q&A: Not All Israel Are Israel

Not All Israel Are Israel

Question

Romans 9:6-8 says, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,"and Revelation 2:9; 3:9 speaks of "Jews who say they are Jew but are not." Are these passages referring to Jews who do not accept Jesus Christ?

Answer

In Romans 9:3-5 Paul makes it clear that he grieves for the sake of his "kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites . . . and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh." Here he is speaking of physical descendants of the nation of Israel. To import into this passage the earlier concept of those who are Jews inwardly (Rom. 2:25-29), or of those who are by faith children of Abraham (Rom. 4:1-17), would be to obscure Paul's point in this passage. It is true that those who believe are part of "spiritual Israel," true "children of Abraham," regardless of their physical ancestry -- but in Romans 9 Paul is addressing the problem that God's promises to the nation of Israel might appear to have failed (Rom. 9:6; 11:1). If by "Israel" in this context he means anything other than physical descendants of the nation of Israel, his argument doesn't make much sense. The gist of his argument is this: God has kept his promise to the nation of Israel by electing and preserving a faithful remnant from that nation (compare 9:27; 11:5-7). Those who are not counted as Israel (Rom. 9:6-7,11-12) in this context are physical descendants of Israel who do not receive the gospel (Rom. 9:18,30-33; 10:2-3,11-21).

The context of Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 is not as informative as is Romans, so it is more difficult to determine the meaning of the terms "Jew" and "synagogue of Satan" in these passages. In John's gospel, however, there does not appear to be even a single instance in which John used "Jew," "Jewish," or "Jews" to refer to anyone or anything that was not literally of the nation of Israel. None of these terms appears anywhere in any of John's other writings except in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. Moreover, there is nothing in the context of Revelation 2-3 (or elsewhere in the book) to suggest that "Jews" refers to anything but physical descendants of the nation of Israel. Granted, Revelation is highly metaphorical, but the letters of chapters 2 and 3 are not nearly as cryptic as the symbolic visions in the rest of the book. Instead, the letters appear fairly straightforward. Thus, I think it best to interpret these verses as references to physical Jews. The facts that they are called the "synagogue of Satan," that they blaspheme, and that they will bow at the feet of Christians demonstrate sufficiently that they have not received Jesus as the Christ.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.