Who are Abraham’s Descendants?
In Romans 9, Paul makes an astonishing assertion. He claims that physical linage will not be the criteria that determine Abraham’s descendants.
He writes: “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. ” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham ‘s offspring. ” .
Paul clearly says that not all of Abraham’s physical descendants constitute “Israel” in the mind of God. Only those who come through Isaac initially qualify, which would disqualify the Arab/Islamic claim of rightful descent based only on a physical line through Ishmael. Most Christians understand that even if one has a father who is a preacher, priest, missionary or church leader, he or she is not included without personal faith and trust in God. As the saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.”
In addition, a distinction is made between even Jacob and Esau, both physical sons of Isaac. The Old Testament clearly notes that unbelieving, law breaking persons of physical seed will not be included. In fact, they are to be “cut off” from the house of Israel. Specifically, “it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” This, of course, refers to the promises inherent in the covenants God made with the Patriarchs and their descendants.
The promises of God are to be received only by faith – a faith that reflects God’s elective purposes (Rom. 9:11-12), which now becomes a distinguishing characteristic of true descendants of Abraham – the Israel of God.
To be sure, in using the terms “Israel of God’ (cf. Gal. 6: 16) and “Israel of faith,” we are not advocating some veiled form of Replacement Theology or Supersessionism. 6 Various forms of this heresy are rampant in the established Church at large today, including many evangelicals. As noted before and will be followed with further explanation, true Israel has not been replaced but it has been enlarged to include non-Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah and LORD.
Equally important is an understanding of Israel’s “incompleteness” without the committed followers of Jesus. The writer of the book of Hebrews speaks of this truth in Chapter 11. After highlighting the gallery of the faithful from the Old Testament he says:
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” .
In other words, true Israel is made complete only with the inclusion of believers in Jesus. Thus, the descendants of Abraham now include those who have placed their faith in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. Paul confirms this expanded understanding of Israel including Christians as the descendants of Abraham when he says,
“Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham … If you belong to Messiah, then you are Abrahams seed and heirs according to the promise.” .
Again, in the “Olive Tree” metaphor of Romans 11: 17-24, Paul, noting the “grafting in” of Gentile believers in Jesus, affirms his understanding of an “expanded” rather than a “replaced” Israel. Again, “the Church” is noticeable for its absence in Paul’s Olive Tree teaching. We will develop these ideas as we proceed.