To whom did the term Israel refer to in the New Testament?

While “Israel” often means the northern tribes in contradistinction to Judah, it also means the twelve tribes and even refers to Judah, as well as to God’s chosen individuals (Isa. 9:8). Although the Jews of NT were mostly of the tribe of Judah, they were in the legitimate line of succession not only from the postexilic province of Judah (the extension of the earlier kingdom of Judah) but also from the original united nation of Israel.

The Davidic dynasty

The Jews of Christ’s day were the inheritors of the old theocracy that had been ruled by the Davidic dynasty, centered upon God’s national covenant with His chosen people. Paul called his fellow Jews “Israelites,” to whom, after the flesh, pertained “the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (Rom. 9:4, 5 also chs. 3:1, 2; 11:1).

The disciples, understood the prophecies and promises given to early Israel to belong to the Jews as the successors of the old Davidic kingdom—not to the “Israel” of the ten tribes that had split from the house of David. For those tribes had parted themselves not only from Judah, but also from the Temple and the true worship of God, and henceforth from the national covenant. In the southern nation from the time of the division under Jereboam, there were many people from the northern tribes who wanted to remain true to Jehovah (2 Chron. 11:13–16; 15:9).

The Messianic reign

These facts clarify the frequent use of the term Israel for both the kingdom of Judah and, after the Captivity, for the Jewish community reconstituted as the province of Judah, to which belonged all those, of whatever tribe, who returned from exile (Ezra 2:70; Neh. 1:6; Eze. 14:1; Dan. 1:3; Zech. 8:13; Mal. 1:1).

Also, the Jewish nation of Jesus’ day embodied the other tribes of Israel not only in number (Luke 2:36) but also in territory. The population was denoted to as Israel by John the Baptist (John 1:31), by Simeon (Luke 2:32, 34), by Jesus Himself (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9; John 3:10), by the disciples and others in Judea (Matt. 2:20–22; Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6), by Gamaliel (Acts 5:35), by Luke (Luke 1:80), and by Paul (Acts 13:16; Rom. 9:4; 1 Cor. 10:18).

Thus, the Messianic reign prophesied for Israel was still sought by the disciples as a restoration of Jewish national sovereignty. Certainly, the Messiah’s kingdom would have belonged to the Jews if they had not lost it by rejecting the Savior who came offering a spiritual kingdom not a worldly one. The covenant was conditional on the people’s obedience (Ex. 19:5, 6; Jer. 18:6–10; Matt. 8:11, 12).

Grafted into the stock of true Israel

Sadly, the old northern kingdom of Israel had rebelled and cut itself from the true Israel of the covenant. Because of that, the Jewish nation who rejected Christ, was no longer God’s chosen (Matthew 23:37-39), although as individuals, Jews can be grafted into the stock of true Israel, or the church of Jesus Christ, where there is no division of race, nationality, or class (Gal. 3:28, 29; Col. 3:11).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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