Resource Library Articles The Election of Israel

The Election of Israel

If we read our Bibles well, we cannot help but notice that the election of Israel is a central narrative thread—from Genesis to Revelation. While much could be said about Israel’s election, I’d like to focus on three central points.

Dr. Jen Rosner
By Dr. Jen Rosner

If we read our Bibles well, we cannot help but notice that the election of Israel is a central narrative thread—from Genesis to Revelation. While much could be said about Israel’s election, I’d like to focus on three central points.

1. Israel’s Election Exists Within the Election of Messiah

The primary referent of election in Christian (and Messianic Jewish) theology is and must always remain Yeshua the Messiah. As Colossians 1:15-18 states:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created – in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen, whether thrones or angelic powers or rulers or authorities. All was created through Him and for Him. 17 He exists before everything, and in Him all holds together. 18 He is the head of the body, His community. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead – so that He might come to have first place in all things.”

Therefore, as we read in Ephesians 1, it is only “in Him” (v. 4) that the election of human beings takes place. The election of Messiah must come first, and only from this starting point can we reflect theologically on the election of human beings.

That being said, it must also be firmly stated that the election of human beings in Messiah does not and cannot bypass the election of Israel. It is through the people of Israel that Messiah’s election affects redemption and salvation for humanity more broadly. Without understanding Israel’s election, we cannot fully understand the impact of Messiah’s redemptive work.

2. Israel’s Election is Ultimately for the Sake of the Nations

By virtue of Israel’s election, all of humanity is divided into two categories: Israel and the nations, Jews and Gentiles. It is important to note that “Gentiles” or “the nations” are not an indiscriminate mass but rather an exquisite tapestry of unique people groups, each with distinctive cultural identities and therefore particular pathways of discipleship. Nonetheless, every people group comprising “the nations” has in common that they are not Israel.

As we see already in Genesis, God calls Israel to be His unique covenant people. We also see that, from the beginning, this election is ultimately intended not only for Israel’s blessing but for the blessing of all humanity. This feature of Israel’s election is expressed in the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 and reiterated at key points throughout the entire Old Testament. While Israel’s election divides humanity into two distinct camps, it is never for the sake of one at the expense of the other.

Israel’s election is the primary hinge upon which divine consummation of all creation—for all peoples—pivots. As Kendall Soulen explains, “God’s election of Israel does not pass over the rest of the human family, abandoning them like the people left behind by Noah’s ark. This would be the case only if Israel’s election were not linked to the blessing of the nations. Because God cares for one family as Israel, God cares for the others as precious children as well and thereby embraces both in a single economy of blessing.”1

While we cannot instrumentalize Israel’s election (making it only in service of the nations), a key aspect of Israel’s vocation is indeed to make God known among the nations that they too might come to know the One True God. As we read in Isaiah, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

3. The Church’s Election is Subsidiary to Israel’s Election

In Christian theology, the doctrine of election must always be situated within the context of Israel’s election, and thereby not primarily focused on the election of the (Gentile) Christian church. As the troubled history of Christianity has often demonstrated, “without Israel as the point of elected stability, the idea of an elected people becomes an idea without its authentic compass and thereby subject to strange new human discernment.”2 In other words, the election of Israel is the primary safeguard of an orthodox Christian doctrine of election, preventing it from being hijacked and thereby hopelessly distorted. As Tommy Givens explains, “abstracted from the flesh of Israel, the identity of the people of God becomes a weightless concept, easy to lift from people, carry for a while, wield as a weapon, and leave behind for others to fight over.”3

This means that the eventual reality of the church, the community of Messiah, is a subsidiary of Israel’s own primary election, which comes to include the nations through the person and work of Messiah. Gentile inclusion is the grand finale of Israel’s election. It does not undo the distinction between Israel and the nations, but it does unravel any hostility between them.

  1. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel, 130. ↩︎
  2. Willie Jennings, The Christian Imagination, 34. ↩︎
  3. Tommy Givens, We the People, 295. ↩︎
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