WHO IS “THE ISRAEL OF GOD” OF GALATIANS 6:16?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Bible says in Galatians 6:15-16: “ For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” Who is “the Israel of God” here? Is it the nation Israel, or the Church the Body of Christ? We will look at the context and let the Bible interpret itself.
Recently, I was flipping through a study Bible that a friend had given me. The author is a famous Bible teacher and seminarian who talks about “grace” but actually knows very little about it. His footnote for Galatians 6:16 was: “Israel of God. All Jewish believers in Christ, i.e., those who are both physical and spiritual descendants of Abraham (see notes on 3:7,18; Rom. 2:28,29; 9:6-7).” Strangely, his introductory remarks for the book of Galatians included the following: “Finally, many claim that Paul erased the line between Israel and the church when he identified the church as the ‘Israel of God’ (6:16).” This typifies the nonsense prevalent in scholarly circles. That Bible teacher complained about the “interpretative challenges” of people who blur the distinctions between Israel and the Church the Body of Christ… and he did it himself throughout his own study Bible!
Years ago, before I came to understand dispensational Bible study, when I was still a denominational Christian, I assumed that we believers were members of whatever group of believers the 12 apostles had joined. I assumed that the church present in Acts chapter 2 was continuing even to our present-day. So many people in Christendom share that view (see the above study Bible notes). This “one-church-in-the-Bible” idea—this “New Testament Church” idea—only blurs the distinction between the nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ. The term “New Testament Church” is a very poor term because it hides the fact that there are two “churches” in the “New Testament” Scriptures. There is the nation Israel and then there is the Church the Body of Christ. To adopt the term “New Testament Church” is to do what so many have done—blur Israel and the Body of Christ.
If we say that the Apostles Peter and Paul preached to and taught the same group of believers, then we have a major problem that will never, ever be solved. Why? Because Peter preached one thing and Paul preached another thing. Just go read Galatians chapter 2, friend. You would have to want to miss it to miss it. To say Peter and Paul preached the same message, when verses tell us otherwise, we would be forced to say that God is most definitely the author of confusion. For God to tell the same group of people two different sets of information is an absurd notion. Peter and Paul were not leading the same church or group of believers, which is why they taught different doctrine. There was the Messianic Church (redeemed Israel, destined for God’s earthly kingdom) and then there was the Church the Body of Christ (believing Jews and Gentiles, destined for God’s heavenly program). Okay, well, enough with the introduction. Now, to the question at hand.
“THE ISRAEL OF GOD”
We must understand the context of the book of Galatians if we are to understand that term “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. Galatians seems to be Paul’s earliest epistle, written between Acts chapters 15 and 17. After all, Paul wrote Galatians partly because of the apostolic meeting of Acts chapter 15 (compare with Galatians chapter 2). The great Jerusalem Council—where James, Peter, and John met with Paul and Barnabas—was the opportunity for the Messianic Church in Jerusalem to learn of a new body of believers that God had been forming using Paul’s ministry and Gospel message. In addition to God having born-again Israel, He was now, with Paul’s ministry, forming a body of believers in which there was neither Jew nor Gentile. That “new creature” is called the Church the Body of Christ. In time past, God had made the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. See Romans 15:8, John 4:22, Romans 9:4-5, Matthew 15:24, and Ephesians 2:11-12, just to name a few verses.
Now, Galatians 6:15 says there is no difference in the Body of Christ between Jew and Gentile. The Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant—led by James, Peter, and John—had to learn to now get along with this new part of God’s family. With Paul’s ministry, God had reached out to heathen idolaters. Through Jesus Christ’s shed blood, He had washed them and redeemed them! Again, Galatians 6:15-16: “ For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” Those heathen were no longer children of Satan but now the children of God via the Body of Christ (Paul’s ministry and Gospel message). Israel’s Little Flock had to learn this. In Acts chapter 10, Peter had to learn to go to Gentile Cornelius.
But, why does Galatians 6:16 say “the Israel of God.” Friend, there is also an Israel of Satan. Jesus said that the Pharisees were of “[their] father the Devil” (John 8:44). There is an apostate nation of Jewish people who are not born-again. God’s wrath will consume them. They are the tares (weeds) the Devil has sown among the wheat (believing Jews, true Israel). Note “The Parable of the Tares of the Field” in Matthew chapter 13, verse 24: “ Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:  But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.  But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.  So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?  He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?  But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Now, we move on to verses 36-43 for the interpretation: “ Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.  He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;  The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;  The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.  As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.  The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;  And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
As Jesus (“the Son of Man;” verse 37) preached the Gospel of the Kingdom—“Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17)—there were Jews who responded to that message by faith. They accepted Jesus as their Messiah-King and were then baptized of John. Matthew 13:38 says they were “the children of the kingdom.” They were “the Little Flock,” the descendants of Abraham who would inherit God’s earthly kingdom (see Luke 12:31-32). In the parable, the believing Jews are called “good seed” and “wheat” (Matthew 13:24-25,38). They are the “Israel of God” referred to in Galatians 6:16. They are called “the foolish nation” in Romans 11:19, the “little flock” in Luke 12:32, and “the remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5).
However, God the Son was not the only Person operating in Israel. There was Satan, as always, diligently opposing everything God had purposed and was now doing. Satan—which means “Adversary” (synonym for “enemy”) in Hebrew—had “planted” his own minions in Palestine. They were unbelieving/unsaved Jews. Again, as we mentioned, they were people whom Jesus rightly called “children of the devil” (John 8:44). In the parable, Jesus called these hypocrites “tares” (Matthew 13:26). From all outward appearances, they looked and sounded like believing Jews. But, in their hearts, they rejected Jesus Christ, and were thus still dead in Adam and in their sins. Toward the end of the parable, the Lord talked about not gathering the tares lest the wheat be rooted up as well (verses 28,29). “Tares” are “weeds,” and as in the real world, the tares closely resembled the good crop. These unbelievers went to the Temple for worship, they claimed to follow Moses, they quoted the prophets of old, and so on. But, God could look into their hearts and see who had the circumcision inside—that is, the separation from Adam, and eternal life in Jesus Christ—or who just had some physical circumcision without the internal correspondence (see Romans 2:28-29).
Jesus concluded the parable by talking about angels gathering the “tares” (unbelievers) out of Israel’s land and tossing them into eternal hellfire. This will be at the end of the seven-year Tribulation, at the Second Coming of Christ, and just before the establishment of the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ. Note again verses 41-43: “ The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;  And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
As we can see, not just any descendant of Abraham forms the nation Israel. As Romans chapter 9 explains: “ Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:  Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.  For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.” According to Genesis chapters 16 and 17, Abraham had two sons—his firstborn, Ishmael (Abraham’s own doing), and then Isaac (God’s promised son). See also Galatians chapter 4, verses 22-31. The Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3 passed to Isaac not Ishmael.
But, Isaac had two sons—twins, Esau and Jacob. The Abrahamic Covenant passed to Jacob not Esau. Romans chapter 9 continues, “ And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;  (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)  It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.  As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Please note that “Jacob” here refers to the nation Israel that came from Jacob, and “Esau” here refers to the Edomites who descended from Esau. Compare Genesis 25:23, God’s word to Rebekah, mother of Esau and Jacob, “two nations are in thy womb.”
In summary, Abraham had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac had two sons—Esau and Jacob. But, in God’s purpose and plan for the Earth, Abraham’s “seed” is restricted to Isaac’s descendants and it is restricted even further to Jacob’s descendants (Jacob’s 12 sons). But, it is limited even further—only the born-again descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. That outward circumcision in the flesh made by hands, was to represent something God wanted to do to each individual Jew on the inside. Only those Jews who have an inward, spiritual circumcision can be used of God. It was more than some outward religious rite but a spiritual issue that the religious rite was to depict. Who is a “true Jew?” Romans 2:28-29 answers: “ For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The Old Testament had predicted this spiritual condition that God had wanted for each individual Jew. Notice Deuteronomy 10:16: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” God repeatedly warned Israel about her need to turn from her wicked ways. Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (This is yet future, after our Dispensation of Grace ends, when Jesus Christ comes back to restore Israel unto Himself; see Romans 11:25-29.)
Note Jeremiah 4:4: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” And Leviticus 26:41, the LORD speaking of Israel’s restoration one day: “And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:”
Read about how God’s judgment coming on wicked Gentiles will also fall on Israel as well: “ Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised;  Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).
Ezekiel 44:7-9 speaks of “uncircumcised in heart” Gentiles: “ In that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant because of all your abominations.  And ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.  Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.” And, finally, Stephen’s castigation of unbelieving Israel in Acts 7:51: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”
The Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 21 crystallize it: “ Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?  Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.  And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.  But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.” Jesus said that the Pharisees and chief priests, cloaked in their religious “goodness,” would never enter God’s earthly kingdom. They were not to Israel of God. Their hearts were filled with unbelief and Satan’s policy of evil was working in them mightily. Thus, Jesus was quite frank. He would crush them in judgment when He would return at His Second Coming.
Just as there were in the Revelation those Jews “of the synagogue of Satan” (biological descendants of Abraham who did not share his faith), there were Jews in Paul’s day who were biological descendants of Abraham but who did not share his faith. The Holy Spirit was sure to highlight this distinction in Galatians 6:16. It is a theme that runs throughout Scripture, although the actual term is limited to Paul’s epistles.
The “Israel of God” of Galatians 6:16 is not the Body of Christ. We have not replaced Israel. We are not a continuation of Israel. When the Bible says “Israel,” it means “Israel.” We take the Bible literally. We do not spiritualize and tell spiritual lies (“the verse means something other than what it says”). “The Israel of God” is the Little Flock, the Jews who will be saved into the kingdom on Earth, the born-again followers (converts) in John the Baptist’s ministry, Christ’s earthly ministry, and the ministry of the 12 apostles in early Acts. God considers them true Israel, “the Israel of God” (the Israel He created). That expression is in contradistinction to Satan’s Israel, those unbelieving Jews who claim to be serving God and yet they are un-regenerated (lost), children of the Devil. “The Israel of God” has nothing to do with Jewish believers in the Church the Body of Christ and Paul’s ministry. It has nothing to do with us. Friend, leave it where it fits in the Bible timeline and you will not get confused.
*NOTE: Saints, after a two-year delay, we have finally launched our new flagship ministry website, arCGraceMinistries.org! Here, you will find our Statement of Faith, links to all seven of our ministry websites, as well as news items, and information on how to purchase our (new) Bible study booklets now in print!