QUESTION: The Jews do not see Jesus as the Messiah, and thus are still waiting for his arrival, even though they accept the Old Testament and their Scripture clearly points to Jesus. So, why would God then write that the Jews are forever God’s chosen people, and that Jerusalem is forever God’s city, if he knew that they would not accept his Son as their lord and savior??
ANSWER: This is a great question that has a long history: First, we should always frame this question in terms of “most” or “many”, not “all”. In fact, while most Jews do not believe in Jesus, many do. All the first Christians were Jews. Every New Testament author was Jewish except Luke. There is today a very strong messianic movement of Jesus-following Jews both inside Israel proper and around the world.
But your question is still important and one that was asked often in the early church. Why have the Jews by and large not believed in Christ? Why would God still call the Jews his people, when most who are genetically descended from Abraham don’t believe in God’s chosen Messiah who fulfills the Abrahamic blessing for all nations? Romans chapters 9-11 provide Paul’s thought provoking answer, I’ll summarize it here:
What God was always after is not genetic descendants. Remember when the Pharisees come to John the Baptist he says, “God could make descendants of Abraham out of these stones.” (Matt 3:9) In other words, your pedigree going back to Abraham means nothing to God in terms of salvation.
What God wants is circumcised hearts. He says this over and over again in the Old testament (Deut 30:6).
God has no interest, finally, in a genetic inheritance of people connected externally, through genes OR even through law. He wants a People with a law written on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33) He wants a people of faith, like Abraham, not a people of legalistic faultlessness (Romans 9:32).
Yes, he chose that one man and his descendants to be the special vehicle that would form a nation which would ultimately bring in Messiah. They would give the world the law and the prophets, and the promises. But the great and final purpose for genetic Israel was to bring in the greatest promise of all:
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.”Genesis 49:10
The primary purpose of God in choosing Abraham, then, was not to carve out an elite race of humans. Rather it was to use one nation to draw a family of his own from ALL nations, all skin colors, every tribe, and every tongue, who are all connected to him the same way: By faith and through God’s grace. Just as Abraham was (Gen 15:6).
So why did God send the Messiah through the Jews when he knew that many/most Jews would not follow? Because God wants Jews of the heart. Paul makes this distinction between spiritual Israel and genetic Israel a lot. He says,
“Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel [because most Jews reject Jesus]? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!”Romans 9:6,7
Those who belong to Christ by faith, both Jew and Gentile, have become the new “Israel.” The New testament is clear about that and calls the Church the “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16)
So true Israel is not a nation state but a transnational people, made up of both Jews AND Gentiles – those who by faith have become God’s chosen people. These are the ones who inherit all the promises God made to the Patriarchs and through the Prophets. God has made one “new man” out of the two groups, and they are now rightly called “the chosen people of God.” (Ephesians 2:14-24)
Now does that mean that God has no more interest in genetic Israel? This is a great point of debate within Christendom. I side with those who say that God still has an interest in genetic Israel. If you research Romans chapters 9 through 11, I think Paul makes clear that the hardening of the Jews is only temporary, and there seems to be an anticipation that a great new harvest among the Jews will correspond to the end of time (Romans 11:12-15). Paul seems to suggest that a great turning among the Jews will come someday. Many Reformers certainly believed this.
But the unquestionable teaching of Jesus’ Apostles was that the Church is God’s chosen people and we are the true Israel, we are those circumcised of heart, we are the ones who have the law planted in our hearts, who have come to God by faith and not by works (Romans 11:5,6), and that is what God is after in the end.
So, there’s no failure of God’s promise to Abraham or to Israel overall. There is a sense in which we can say, all “Israel” DOES believe in Jesus, true Israel, that is, made up of Jews and Gentiles. Also we can say that the Jews, who trace their lineage back to Jacob, if they break from unbelief and accept their Messiah, are easily grafted back into God’s family, for they belong naturally to its root (Romans 11:24).
Thus, there must be no attitude of superiority over the unbelieving descendants of Israel, because we are grafted into the Family while their branch has been broken off. Less still should there be even a hint of resentment or anger toward the Jews as if they bear some special burden of guilt for Christ’s death. They do not. We ALL are the reason Christ was killed, to say nothing of the fact that it was first the Father’s own will that crushed Him, for our sakes (Isaiah 53:5, 10). Such attitudes belong to the dark chapters of church history where antisemitism flourished in deliberate ignorance of salvation history and the Word of God (Romans 11:18-21).
So read Romans chapters 9-11 for Paul’s full argument that answers your question. If the Jews do not by and large believe, has God’s promise somehow failed? He answers with a resounding, no.