Israel and the Church: the People of God in Different Ages of Salvation History

Explore the concept of the Church as the People of God
 

The Heavenly Jerusalem
Throughout postlapsarian human history, God has entered space and time to interact with man and thereby reveal Himself, for the purposes of bringing man back into the communion with Him that He originally intended. This communion lies in intimately knowing and loving God. In each stage of salvation history God has gradually expanded the group known as “His people,” all in preparation for the day when His family would include the whole human race. Thus both the nation of Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament are truly “the People of God,”[1]manifested differently in different stages of the economy of salvation. This paper will argue that God’s way of drawing mankind to Himself has a fundamental continuity throughout the ages, and will explore this specifically by looking at Israel and the Church in the light of their point of convergence, Christ. This will be done by analysing various characteristics of the People of God, namely, election, membership, hierarchy, status, law, mission and destiny. What will be seen is that they are in fact one reality, viewed from two sides of Christ’s coming.
The People of God are set apart by God’s particular choice and election. It is not because of any unique, outstanding feature that they possess that they are chosen, but purely by God’s good pleasure. Israel was not chosen because it was greater than any other nations (in fact they frequently disobey God),[2]but because of God’s gracious love.[3] Similarly, those who are called into faith in Christ are called not because of their own deeds, but because of God’s mercy.[4] God is not exclusively the property of any one nation,[5]but He freely binds Himself to specific people so that He is reliably accessible to them. The purpose of God’s choice of Israel was to set aside a people for Himself, who would be defined by their relationship with Him.[6]The familial nature of this relationship was manifested both in the communal meal of the Passover, wherein God’s people gather in love to participate in His salvation,[7]and in His presence among them that was the intended consequence of this salvation, in the temple.[8]This concept of God dwelling among His people is “radicalised in and mediated by the Incarnation and the Eucharist,” which make (and are) the Church,[9] as in this New Passover God made man unites Himself and His salvation in a profoundly tangible manner with His People. Thus God consistently calls His people into communion with Him, which will be perfectly realised in Heaven, where His people from all ages will be united with Him.[10]
God effects and sustains this election (that is, brings individuals into His community) through physical signs.[11] These tangibly express different aspects of their relationship, and through them God deigns to impart His grace,[12]so that man, as a comprehensive unity of body and soul, might experience friendship with God in a manner suited to his nature. Those rituals established by God prior to Christ granted grace in anticipation of the effects of the salvific work of the Incarnation,[13]and were renewed by Christ to “signify the redemption as accomplished.”[14] The act by which one was initially brought back into God’s friendship through remittance of original sin in Israel was circumcision,[15] wherein one was physically marked or sealed as a recipient of the promises made to Abraham,[16] and therefore incorporated into God’s people. This prefigures Baptism, which, similarly, sets us with God’s seal,[17]albeit on our souls rather than bodies, and puts to death our old lives of sin, bringing us to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.[18] The infusion of faith, hope and charity, brought by sanctifying grace in Baptism, makes us adopted children of God. The physical elements for these sacraments symbolise the fact of being “cut off” from God’s people if one fails to keep the covenant, and the notion of being washed clean, as well as buried with Christ.[19]In both instances, God is primarily concerned with His people turning their hearts truly towards Him, and the tangible rituals being signs of this conversion, since one is a member of God’s people if and only if they are in an authentic relationship with Him.[20]
Being called into the People of God elevates one’s status to the dignity of a child of God.[21]Israel is tenderly called God’s first-born son, and God is called upon as Father.[22]This is made much more explicit with Christ’s revelation of His divine Sonship within the Trinity, which each member of the Church shares in by their baptism.[23]Through this Baptism, the Holy Spirit dwells in their hearts, giving rise to the notion of the Temple of the Holy Spirit.[24]The status of the People of God is also described in marital terms, with God speaking of Israel as His Beloved bride,[25]and the Church as the Bride of Christ.[26]This image of the Church is intimately related to the notion of the Church as the Body of Christ, for as the Bride becomes one flesh with the Bridegroom by receiving His Body in the Eucharist,[27]so does She become His Body.[28]These descriptors of the Church’s exalted status coalesce in St Joan of Arc’s definition, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter,”[29]with this unity vividly depicted in Revelation.[30]The terms used to describe the status of God’s people, which derive immediately from the relationship they have with Him, therefore coincide in meaning, although they are brought to greater depth, intimacy and clarity with Christ.
The covenants that confer this new status are accompanied by laws that outline how that covenant relationship is to be kept, by living in a way that corresponds to God’s graciousness. For Israel, this consisted of the Torah, which laid out the manner in which they were to express their love of God, by obedience to all its norms for morality, ritual purity and liturgical celebrations. The Old Law contained the commandments referred to by Christ as the two greatest, on which the entire law and prophets depend: love of God and of neighbour.[31] As the new Moses, Christ made this pre-eminence explicit, and gave His Church a New Law, the Law of loving as He loved,[32] and this Law He has written on our hearts.[33] Thus, there is no real discontinuity between the two laws,[34]and the difference between the two lies not in their essence but in their particular ordinances, which prior to Christ pointed to Him (by regulating the totality of the culture of Israel such that they were able to recognise the messiah), and afterwards point back to Him (since the Church is called to love in imitation of Christ).[35]It must also be noted that the Old Law of itself was powerless to achieve salvation, a point repeatedly stressed by St. Paul.[36]Thus, while the Old Law was good, just and holy,[37]and centred on love, it remained imperfect, a mere shadow of the promises to be fulfilled in the redeeming work of Christ,[38]and is surpassed by the New Law of love,[39]which has for its example the perfect model, Love itself.
Although all members of God’s people enjoy the same status, as a whole they nevertheless are endowed with an internal structure, stemming from God’s pre-eminent position as King of Creation.[40]This reflects the order God has put in creation, and is at the service of the holiness of God’s people.[41]In Israel, this took the form of both social and spiritual orders, originally united, with God as their king,[42]but they rejected Him in favour of an earthly king like the other nations, giving rise to the monarchy.[43]Degrees of holiness among the people existed from the establishment of the covenant, manifested in the roles of the high priest, the priests, the Levites, and finally the people of Israel as a whole, as a kingdom of priests. In the New Israel, the social and the spiritual are reunited, since Christ is the King,[44]High Priest and Head of the Church. He invests the sacred hierarchy with His own authority to teach, govern and sanctify, accompanied by the three-fold separation found in the sacrament of holy orders.[45] By considering the roles of the Head, the clergy and the laity, we see the mirroring of the high priest, the priests and Levites, and the ordinary people of Israel. The Church as a whole is identified as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,”[46]just as Israel as a whole was set apart to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[47]Furthermore, with the Davidic kingdom came various other roles, including the steward and Queen mother, which we see fulfilled in the Papal office and in Mary as the Mother of Christ the King.[48] These different roles within God’s people are both ordered to the achievement of and flow directly from their divine mission, and rely on their recapitulation and integration in Christ.[49]
The purpose of the People of God is to be used as an instrument by God to draw all men to Himself,[50] by making Himself known. Israel was chosen by God to be the locus of the revelation of Himself and His Will in the history of mankind.[51]They are frequently told by God that by His actions with them, other nations will come to know that He is the Lord, and what kind of God He is.[52] God’s self-revelation is perfected in the Incarnation, and in the Church, the Body of Christ, He perpetuates it,[53]so that what has been hidden is revealed.[54]  The Church therefore exists to expand this family of God by allowing men to encounter Christ through Her, so they may become part of Her by faith in Him, and to bring Her members to the fullness of sanctification.[55] The means for achieving this is found in the three offices of priest, prophet and king, usually separate in the Old Testament, but perfectly united and completed in Christ, which the whole Church participates in, although each in the particular way that is proper to him.  The distinct ministries of priest, prophet and king are therefore integrated together within the People of God in a manner suited to their mission.[56]
The priestly office is essentially that of mediation between God and man, and was exercised by Israel as they interceded on behalf of the world,[57]and in their worship of and obedience to the Lord, they served as witnesses before all the nations.[58] Within this priestly people there existed further divisions modelling this calling in God’s wider kingdom,[59]namely, the high priest, priests and Levites. While this priesthood sanctified Israel though liturgy, it remained incapable of bringing about definitive salvation in itself.[60]Christ, as God incarnate, perfectly embodies this mediation and offers the Perfect Sacrifice of Himself, and thus is the supreme and perfect High Priest, in whose ministry the common and hierarchical priesthoods of both the Old and New Covenants participate.[61] The priesthood of the New Israel does so more comprehensively, as through it Christ Himself acts to bring His redemption to His people.[62] All members of the New Israel receive a share in this priestly vocation by virtue of their faith and Baptism,[63]and manifest it in the living out of the Christian life, most particularly in the offering of the Eucharist.[64]Thus the People of God, in reflecting God’s holiness and love through the priestly office, fulfil their purpose in revealing Who He is to the world.
The roles of the prophet and king also contribute to the mission of the People of God. The prophetic office entails communicating the Word of God, which in Israel was the task of men specifically called by God to convey His message, usually in relation to restoring their relationship. The Word is enfleshed in the person of Jesus, and thus for the Christian the prophetic office involves the unfailing witness to Christ that they exhibit in their every action, as well as adhering unfailingly to the one faith, as the bearers anointed by the Holy Spirit.[65]The Old Testament kingly ministry was manifested in Israel’s service of God as their King, as well as in the role of the earthly ruler, who was to ensure that the True King’s laws were known and obeyed, and was also subject to these laws himself.[66]The eternal Davidic king promised in the person of the messiah is fulfilled in Christ, who establishes His Kingdom on earth, and thus the People of God fulfils its royal dignity by serving with Christ.[67] Through His people therefore, in their exercise of the prophetic and kingly ministries of witness and service, integrated with their priestly ministry, God makes Himself known to men so that they may join His community of love.
All of these characteristics of the People of God are ordered towards their consummation when God’s people see Him “face to face.”[68] This eschatological end was prefigured in the meal the elders ate with Moses in the ratification of the covenant on Mount Sinai, where they “beheld God, and ate and drank,” and remembered in the most holy sacrificial meal of the Bread of the Presence.[69] The Church already participates in this heavenly reality in a veiled manner through Her divine liturgy, wherein the Bride partakes of the wedding feast of the Lamb and enjoys a foretaste of the Heavenly encounter with God.[70]The prophets spoke of the fully restored Israel, when all nations would stream to Zion to worship God and learn His Law,[71] a hope that is realised in the Church.[72]As Moses led Israel in the Exodus to the Promised Land, sustained by the manna that provided a foretaste of this holy land, so does Christ lead His people on a New Exodus through this life, as the pilgrim Church journeys towards Her true Homeland, with the New Manna that Christ instituted, the Eucharist.[73] This is the destiny of all men, as God created him to share in His own life, and the People of God is both the means of offering the restoration of this relationship to all of humanity, and the final realisation of this relationship for all eternity.
In conclusion, the Old Covenants and the Scriptures to which they are intimately linked were established by God in preparation for the New Covenant, to be inaugurated by His Son. Once that which they were pointing towards had been realised, they were no longer necessary, and thus the Old Covenants and Law were “fulfilled,” or achieved their purpose. The People of God sustained by these covenants and Scriptures did not, however, cease to exist at its fulfilment, but was transformed in every element, into the New Israel, the Church. Each of these elements displays a clear continuity between its old and new counterparts, with the old defined by their anticipation of Christ’s future coming, and the new defined both by Christ’s arrival in the past and His future second coming, such that the Church is both pilgrim (on earth) and perfected (in heaven). Israel and the Church are thus both the People of God, bound by covenant and law, with specific missions and destinies. These converge in Christ, who fulfilled and transformed all that preceded Him in Israel, through revealing the hidden mysteries of God, a work that is continued in His Church, all of which has as its end the incorporation of man into the communion with God for which he was created.


REFERENCE LIST:
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2ndEdition, English translation for USA (Washington, USA: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997)
Danielou, S.J., Jean., The Bible and the Liturgy (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1960)
Dauphinais, Michael. & Levering, Matthew., Holy People, Holy Land (Ada, Michigan: Baker Publishing, 2005)
John Paul II, Pope. Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia. English translation: On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church. (17 April 2003) <www.vatican.vaaccessed 19 June 2013>
Journet, Charles Cardinal., Theology of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004)
Kleinig, John W., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary) (St Louis: Concordia, 2003)
Larsson, Goran., Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999)
Leeming, Bernard., Principles of Sacramental Theology (Longmans: London, 1960)
Levering, Matthew., Sacrifice and Community- Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (Carlton, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2005)
Pitre, Brant., Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011)
Ray, Stephen., Upon this Rock- St Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)
Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964).  <www.vatican.vaaccessed 19 June 2013>
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2ndEdition, English translation for USA (Washington, USA: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997)
Danielou, S.J., Jean., The Bible and the Liturgy (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1960)
Dauphinais, Michael. & Levering, Matthew., Holy People, Holy Land (Ada, Michigan: Baker Publishing, 2005)
Dulles, Avery., “A Eucharistic Church: the Vision of John Paul II,” America, Vol. 191, No. 20, (Dec 20, 2004), p.8-12
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
Hahn, Scott., Swear to God- the Promise and Power of the Sacraments (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004)
John Paul II, Pope. Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia. English translation: On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church. (17 April 2003) <www.vatican.vaaccessed 19 June 2013>
Journet, Charles Cardinal., Theology of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004)
Kleinig, John W., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary) (St Louis: Concordia, 2003)
Larsson, Goran., Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999)
Leeming, Bernard., Principles of Sacramental Theology (Longmans: London, 1960)
Levering, Matthew., Sacrifice and Community- Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (Carlton, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2005)
Morerod, Charles, O.P. The Church and the Human Quest for Truth (Ave Maria: Sapientia, 2008)
Pitre, Brant., Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011)
Ray, Stephen., Upon this Rock- St Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)
Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964).  <www.vatican.vaaccessed 19 June 2013>
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


[1] “Israel… which wandered as an exile in the desert, was already called the Church of God (Neh. 13:1; cf. Deut. 23:1 ff.; Num. 20:4.)” (Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 21 November 1964, 9)
[2] Deut. 9 (Unless otherwise noted, all references from Scripture will be from the Revised Standard Version)
[3] Deut. 7:6-9; Deut. 9; Rom. 9:11
[4] Tit. 3:5
[5] CCC 782
[6] Lumen Gentium, 9; 1 Pet. 2:9
[7] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, p.64-66
[8] This presence among His people was so that they could approach Him in intimacy. This happened principally through the Divine Liturgy, the climax of which was the peace offering. This was a sacred meal eaten by God’s people in His presence in the temple (or, originally, in the tabernacle), at which God was the host, and the Israelites, as His royal  guests, were united as a holy people with their holy God, joyfully receiving His blessings- John Kleinig, Leviticus, pp.92-94
[9] Matthew Levering, Sacrifice and Community, pp. 95-96; Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter
Ecclesia de Eucharistia. English translation: On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church. (17 April 2003), 26
[10] Rev. 21:22
[11] These may be generally called “sacraments,” by which we here refer to the general use of tangible things to convey invisible realities, which includes but is not restricted to the Sacraments of the Church, which possess a guarantee of efficacy unique to them, not found in other sacramental actions; John Kleinig, Leviticus, p. 22
[12] Since original sin is the absence of original friendship with God, coinciding with the loss of holiness and grace, this gift of grace is essential to restoration of friendship with God (CCC 396-401)
[13] Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, p. 17; graces given prior to Christ, however, did not bestow salvation in the fullest sense, such that the sacraments of the Old and New Laws differ in more than just the ceremonies themselves, although to precisely what extent is a matter of some debate- Bernard Leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology, pp. 608-9
[14] Bernard Leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology, p. 608
[15] This was universally held by the Western Fathers in the early centuries, but there has subsequently been much dispute over the question of the efficacy of circumcision, as discussed by Bernard Leeming in Principles of Sacramental Theology, pp. 609-614; what seems to be commonly held, however, is that circumcision was instituted by God as some kind of remedy for original sin, but an intrinsic power exists in Baptism which is not there in circumcision.
[16] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, p.64
[17] 2 Cor. 1:22; Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, p.64-67
[18] Jn. 3; Rom. 6:4; 1 Pet. 3:21
[19] Rom. 6:3-11; Col. 2:11-13;
[20] If one breaks the covenant deliberately, revealing a lack of love for God, one is “cut off” from both Israel and God’s holy presence until one repents and is restored to communion with Him and His people. (Num. 15:27-31) Similarly, committing mortal sin constitutes the destruction of charity in the soul (CCC 1855), and thus cuts one off from interior communion with God and the Church (although one may remain part of the Church visibly, but there is not space here for an extended discussion of different types of membership in God’s people).
[21] CCC 782
[22] Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1-4; Rom. 9:4; Num. 11:12; Is. 63:16; Isa. 64:8; Ps. 89:26; Jer. 3:14,19, 22
[23] Rom. 8:15-17; CCC 1213, 1243, 1250; Col. 1:12-14; Rev. 21:7; 2 Cor. 6:18
[24] CCC 782; 1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Cor. 6:19; drawing on the Jewish concept of the Temple as the dwelling place of God
[25] Isa. 62:1-5; Jer. 2:2; Hos. 1-3; Isa. 61:10; Cant. 4:9
[26] 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7; Rev. 21
[27] Or the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, Rev. 19:9
[28] CCC 769
[29] As quoted in CCC 795
[30] Rev. 21: The Church is the Bride of the Lamb, and united to Him is thus His Body, such that where this City of God is, so is He, removing the need for a temple, for the Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and also the Body of Christ, the true temple (Jn. 2:21)
[31] Lev. 19, Deut. 6; Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10
[32] Jn. 13:34-35
[33] Jer. 31:33;  Heb. 8:10; Heb. 10:16
[34] Mt. 5:17: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
[35] Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, p. 298
[36] E.g. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16; Other New Testament writings mention this fact also: Heb. 7:18-19; Acts 13:39
[37] Rom. 7:12
[38] Heb. 8:7; Heb. 10:1-4; CCC 1963- 1964
[39] CCC 1965- 1974
[40] Ps. 95:3; Jer. 10:10; 1 Sam. 8:7; Ex. 19:5; since a King implies the existence of a kingdom, which is an inherently hierarchical institution. Furthermore, this hierarchy will be perfected in the glorified Church: Matthew Levering, Holy People, Holy Land, p. 235 (Rev. 4:4)
[41] Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, p. 392
[42] 1 Sam. 8:7
[43] God nevertheless incorporated this into His eternal plan (foretold to Abraham in Gen. 17:6), and established the Davidic Kingdom as the prefigurement of the kingdom that His Son, the Son of David, would bring (2 Sam. 7)
[44] Of both the Church as a whole, and as the One Who rules each individual soul. (Col. 3:15)
[45] The notions of succession within the hierarchy, and the physical means of conferring authority also find continuity in the Old and New Testaments, namely, in the seat of Moses (Mt. 23:2) and the laying on of hands(Num. 27:23; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14) respectively
[46] 1 Pet. 2:9
[47] Ex. 19:6
[48] Stephen Ray, Upon this Rock, pp. 263- 297- Ray establishes here the existence of offices in the Old Testament that taught and governed, and, as offices, inherently possessed succession. He goes on to make the case that Jesus drew on these collectively when He invested Peter with the keys of authority; Rev. 12
[49] CCC 783; Lumen Gentium, 31
[50] For He desires all to be saved- 1 Tim. 2:3-4
[51] Lumen Gentium, 9; Goran Larsson, Bound for Freedom, p. 130
[52] That is, a God who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6); Ezek. 7:4; Ezek. 29:9; Ex. 6:7; Ex. 7:5; Ex. 29:46; Ezek. 36:23; Gen. 12:3; Gen. 22:18; Gen. 26:4; Gen. 28:14
[53] Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, p. 16: “whose vocation would be to prolong in space and time the temporal life of the Saviour.”
[54] Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:25-27
[55] Eph. 4:11-16; 1Thes. 4:3
[56] CCC 873
[57] Thus bringing man to God; the Church is also called to intercede for the world: 1 Tim. 2:1
[58] Thus revealing God to man
[59] Goran Larsson, Bound for Freedom, p. 133- just as Israel acts in the role of priests within God’s entire kingdom on earth, so do the priests within Israel serve in this role in a unique way to bring about Israel’s holiness, making their vocation as a holy nation possible
[60] CCC 1540
[61] Lumen Gentium, 10; Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, p. 114
[62] Lumen Gentium, 10
[63] CCC 784
[64] Lumen Gentium, 10
[65] Lumen Gentium, 12
[66] Deut. 17:14-20
[67] CCC 786
[68] 1 Cor. 13:12
[69] Ex. 24:11; Ex. 25:30; Lev. 24:9; Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, p.122
[70] CCC 1136- 1139
[71] Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2; Ps. 87; Isa. 11:9; Zech. 8:3
[72] Zion represented the holy mountain where God’s Temple, and therefore His presence, could be found. His tangible presence is no longer confined to a single location, but through the Church His Incarnate Self is not only found throughout the whole world, but even in the very hearts of those who love Him
[73] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, p.183

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