The church is the heir and fulfilment of Israel. The heart of Israel’s creed was given by Jesus to his church as its own: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:12f). Peter referred to Christians as the “elect… sojourners of the Dispersion” -an expression describing the old Israel- and then proceeded consistently to apply those descriptions of Israel to the church (1 Peter 1:1; 2:5-10). The writer to the Hebrews calls the new covenant in Jesus which brought the church into being, a covenant with the “house of Israel” (Heb 8:8). Paul called Christians “the true circumcision” (Phil 3:3), the “children of Abraham” (Rom 4:16-25), “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12), and, explicitly, “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:6).
Clearer still is Paul’s defence before Felix. Paul insists that Christians worship the same God as Israel (“I worship the God of our fathers”), believe the same scriptures (“Believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets”) and sharing the same hope (“having a hope in God which these themselves accept” Acts 24:14-15).
The church is indeed the covenant church. So, while we continue to attempt to answer our ongoing puzzle: (“What is the church?”), we are forced in our journey to examine the purpose and role of Israel, and how they failed to achieve it. If we substitute the word “covenant” for “testament”, then we realise immediately that it is the binding concept of the whole Bible. Or rather, it is not the concept of covenant, but the covenant itself. The covenant was an action, taking place in history, which resulted in a binding relationship between God and his people. The Old Covenant created and sustained the Old Israel, and the New Covenant creates and sustains the new Israel, the church. Both coveants were made by the same God. Both brought into being “God’s own people.” It is necessary, therefore, to examine the nature of the covenant and its significance for the church.