The mystery of Christ, …in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
I [Jesus] will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
The church is a new covenant body (Eph. 3:1-5). The glorious truths of Ephesians 2:11-22 were not known in the Old Testament. Specifically, universal access to God through Christ—the genius of the church—was at best a shadow in the OT. The purpose of this article is to list some of the similarities and differences between the two bodies along with some practical consequences and interpretive guidelines. Failing to think carefully about this, many preachers try a verse on their congregation simply because it has a positive ring to it.
Similarities between the church and the nation of Israel
- They both worshipped Jehovah.
- They both were saved by grace alone through faith alone.
- They both loved God’s Word.
- They both were saved from a state of total depravity.
- They both held to a Christian worldview which includes the philosophical basis for a Christian culture.
Between these groups are the vital similarities that will make analogy not only possible, but highly profitable.
Differences between the church and the nation of Israel
- Israel was not in Christ, but believers are united to Christ (Eph. 1:1, et. al. Around 30 times in Paul’s epistles).
- The church is part of a New Covenant of life that God made with man (2 Cor. 3:6); Israel was part of a ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:7).
- The law and prophets administrated Israel’s relationship with God (2 Cor. 3:7); the Holy Spirit administrates the church’s relationship with God (2 Cor. 3:8).
- Israel only had a shadow of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5); but the church has a “more excellent ministry” and a “better covenant which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
- Israel’s covenant was temporary because it became obsolete and grew old and disappeared (Heb. 8:13); the church however has a new, better Covenant (Heb. 8:6, 7, 8, 13).
- Israel had Moses and Aaron who served as the prophet and priest (Heb. 3:1-5; 7:11); but the church has Jesus Christ who serves these roles infinitely better (Heb. 7:24-27; 8:1-2)
- Israel did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer; but all true Christians have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
- Israel had specific laws directing the society and government but very little emphasis on the thoughts of the individual; Christians have very little emphasis on the society and government but specific laws directing the thoughts of the individual.
- Israel was bound together by ethnicity including bloodlines, language, and culture (Ezra 9:1-5; 10:1-5); the church is bound together by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
- Israel circumcised only male descendants whether they wanted it or not (Gen. 17:10); the church baptizes all true believers (Mark 16:16).
- Israel’s citizens were in the nation unless they did something to take them out; the church’s members are out of the family unless they do something to get in.
- Israel’s punishments were largely temporal and so were their blessings; the church’s punishments are largely spiritual and eternal and so are their blessings.
Dangers in emphasizing the similarities
- People will be accepted as Christians the same way a next-door neighbor is accepted as a citizen.
- The temporal blessings will be emphasized at the cost of emphasizing the spiritual blessings (See Eph. 1:3-14).
- Churches will begin to focus on societal change according to the laws of the OT rather than preaching the gospel according to the NT (the social gospel).
- Pastors will search the OT for a verse that they can easily twist for their purposes (eisegesis). This error can happen either way, but it is especially dangerous if we emphasize the similarities.
• Deut. 28:13 The Lord will make you the head and not the tail,
• Isa. 54:17 No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
• Gen. 12:2-3 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.
Rules for interpreting the OT
- Always search for the author’s original intent.
• Who wrote this?
• To whom did he write?
• What was the specific issue being addressed?
• What did the original readers think when they read it?
- Master the new covenant. Study the NT so well that you can immediately smell the wrong interpretations.
- Examine the context before and after that specific verse. Often the verses used by false teachers are clearly explained if the context were read.
- Preach fairly from all of God’s revelation. For example, Deut. 28:1-14 are the blessings, but the next 54 verses are terrifying judgments!
- Look for cross references in the NT that explain this verse.
- Remember that Scripture generally talks more about the differences between Israel and the church than the similarities.
- Find the Biblical analogy from OT Israel to the NT church.
• Read the OT passage carefully in its context.
• Pull out the major principles from the passage.
• Apply that passage to the church in light of the NT teaching on that principle.
Pastors in poorer areas often gravitate around OT passages like planets around the sun. They are bees looking intently for the nectar of some earthly promise in the law or the prophets. Imitating their elder brothers from TV ministries, the people hear “no weapon formed against you shall prosper.” That supposedly means, witchcraft, failure, joblessness, and barrenness are about to be banished. “You shall be the head and not the tail” means that positions of comfort, power, and authority are coming to me. False teachers have an uncanny skill for discovering earthly comfort where no apostle ever saw it.
While these seven principles are a simple sketch of a solution, if pastors followed even them, whole trailers of sermonic rubbish would be stored safely in theological landfills. The discussion itself serves as proof that preachers should be instructed before they herald. They should be disciplined before they run. They need guidance lest ever more the blind lead the blind.