‘Israel is not a sick man who was allowed to recover, but One risen from the dead’: Jesus as Israel

Much like you will find in the work of Thomas F. Torrance in his recently published New College, Edinburgh lectures (Incarnation & Atonement, edited by his nephew, Robert T. Walker), Karl Barth in his coverage on The jewishjesusApostles’ Creed in his small and accessible book Dogmatics In Outline highlights the dialectical relationship that the covenant nation of Israel has with Jesus Christ. What is very rich about Barth’s coverage is that he makes something quite explicit, and it is something that some Covenant theologians get wrong; and it is something that most Dispensational exegetes caricature. That is, that the ‘Church’ replaces Israel, and thus the point of the nation of Israel, with all of her promises included, was finally realized by the Church; some dispensational proponents disparagingly call this ‘replacement theology.’ In some cases, this label might fit for some ‘classical covenant theology’ advocates, but even for many of these it does not fully fit. In other words, not even all covenant theologians argue that Israel is replaced by the Church; although many of them do.

The above notwithstanding, it is my belief that Israel is not ‘replaced’ by the Church, but that Jesus Christ is actually the ‘new Israel’ (i.e. not the Church). That Jesus himself, as the inner ground of the Covenant is the point and purpose for which Israel was called by God as the prefiguration of Yahweh’s meeting with humanity, with man. Their history is funded by God’s history to be Immanuel, God with us, including Israel; and out of this history is a reflection of God’s life becoming particularized in a specific people, in a specific time out of his own freedom and choice (which started in his original act to create, Genesis 1:1).

So my thesis is that: Jesus is the new Israel, the new humanity in his resurrection for us. If this is the case, then when we read the Old Testament and its promises to the nation of Israel, we ought to re-read and interpret those promises for whom they were ultimately intended; in Christ for and with us. Karl Barth agrees with this thesis when he writes:

But now we must turn the page. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment, is the consummation of Israel. We look again into the Old Testament and find continual traces, that these obstinate and lost men—astoundingly enough!—in certain situations even confirm their election. When this occurs, when there is a kind of godly, upright continuity, this does not arise from the nature of Israel, but is rather God’s ever renewed grace. But where there is grace, men are bound contre cæur to lift up their voice in praise of God, and bear witness that where God’s light falls upon their life, a reflection of this light in them is bound to respond. There is a grace of God in the midst of judgment. And of this the Old Testament also speaks, not as of a continuity of Israelite man, but as of a ‘nevertheless’ of God. Nevertheless, there are in the history of this nation recurrent testimonies which begin with the words, ‘Thus saith the Lord …’ They sound out as the answer of such hearers, as the echo therefore of the ‘nevertheless’ of God’s faithfulness. The Old Testament is aware of a ‘remnant’. Here it is not the question of better or more moral men, but of those who are distinguished by having been called. Sinners gripped by God’s grace, peccatores justi, are those who constitute the remnant.

Revelation culminates in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. He comes out of Israel, born of Mary the Virgin, and yet from above, and so in His glory the Revealer and Consummator of the covenant. Israel is not a sick man who was allowed to recover, but One risen from the dead. By His appearing, over against the verdict that man pronounced on himself God’s verdict comes into view, to remove all human self-condemnation. God’s faithfulness triumphs in this sea of sin and misery. He has mercy on man. He shares with His inmost Being in this man. He has never ceased to lead by cords of love this people which to His face behaved like a whore. It remains true that this man of Israel belongs to God and again and again, not by nature but by the miracle of grace, may belong anew to God, be rescued from death, be exalted to God’s right hand.[1]

Rich! In this, not only do we see how God relates to Israel and humanity in general; but we also see glimmers of the ontological theory of the atonement etc. peeking their eyes out in the theology of Karl Barth (more on that later).

Can we make an exegetical case for the above dogmatic realities that Barth is developing for us? Indeed. But somewhere else, at another time. Be edified!


[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (Great Britain: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1949), 80.

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4 thoughts on “‘Israel is not a sick man who was allowed to recover, but One risen from the dead’: Jesus as Israel

  1. Bobby, I’m thinking about EC-ishness and non-supersessionism. Pourquoi? Because I’m reading Peter Ochs’s ‘Another Reformation: Postliberal Christianity and the Jews,’ which argues that non-supersessionism among postlibs is a byproduct of their effort to retrieve an OT-gospels hermeneutic in which the OT is alive and kicking, not just a memo for the file about how Israel failed. They seem to agree that to get OT-gospels, they need Israel-Jesus– and then get the Jews in the bargain. Pensees?

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  2. Hey Bowman,

    Indeed, non-supersessionism for sure! I have never held to such a view. I came to all of this from dispensationalism (which interestingly has some exegetical linkage that might resonate better with Lutherans than Calvinists i.e. discontinuity between Law and Gospel etc). This was actually one reason why both Barth and Torrance were appealing to me as well; I have always needed a solid theological and exegetical place for Israel the Jew from Nazareth ;-).

    What say you?

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  3. Well, unless several sly theologians are wrong– which can happen, I’ll admit– this implies that EC may better support new retrievals of the OT for evangelicals. A good thing, if it checks out.

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