A Nation Bringing Forth Fruit
Jesus said the kingdom would be, “Given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” To what nation would He entrust the kingdom of God, in order to bring forth its proper fruit? Many interpret this to refer to the gentiles, however, this is only part of the picture. The gentiles are not a single nation.
Allow me to say this as clearly as I can. This nation to whom Jesus is referring to, is Israel. Israel has always been and will always be God’s covenant people. This is not the question. The real question and for many the point at which they stumble is, which Israel are we referring to? You might ask, “What do you mean, which Israel? There is only one Israel.” Well, friend, you are wrong. There is not just one Israel, but there are two Israels. Paul makes this quite clear in Romans 9:6-8,
6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 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.
First of all, notice that Paul says, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” This very statement points to two Israels. There is an Israel, that is not counted as Israel. Then we have an Israel, which is counted as Israel. So which is which? The Israel which is not counted as Israel, are “children of the flesh,” not of the promise. These are the natural children of Abraham, but not the children of the promise. It is only the children of the promise who are counted for the seed.
So, the two Israels are these. There is natural Israel, who are children of the flesh. Then we have the Israel of the Promise, or as Paul says in Galatians 6, the Israel of God. This Israel of God, which is born of the promise, not at Sinai, but by the heavenly Jerusalem, “Which is the mother of us all” [Gal. 4:26], even Mount Zion, through the New Covenant. This Israel of Promise is the Israel of the New Covenant. There is an Old Covenant Israel, and a New Covenant Israel.
For Jeremiah prophesied,
31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Notice that the New Covenant is made with the house of Israel. However, the Lord said that this New Covenant would not be “according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” This means that it will be a different kind of covenant.
For instance, in the New Covenant His laws would be placed “in their inward parts,” not written on tablets of stone. Also notice something very important. It is to those who have His law written on their hearts, that the Lord says, “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” It is the New Covenant Israel who is the people of God.
Peter’s Description of New Covenant Israel
In his first epistle, Peter gives us a description of who composes this nation of which Jesus speaks. Peter addresses his letter to “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Unlike many of Paul’s letters, which were written to churches in specific towns, Peter’s letter was written to be passed from one group to the next in these areas, known as a cyclical letter.
This letter was written to believers, of both Jewish and Gentile stock. They are all addressed as strangers, meaning pilgrim, or an alien stranger. Think of the old phrase, “Stranger in a strange land,” as this will give you an idea of their station. They are strangers, in that their true home and citizenship is in heaven. They are aliens, “scattered,” like seed. This is the meaning of the word diaspora. It is the ‘scattering of seed.’ These believing, scattered strangers were to blossom where they were planted and extend the reach of the kingdom of Christ.
Twice Peter affirms that these are true believers, reminding them of their spiritual birth.
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
Here, Peter emphasizes the basis of their relationship with God in Christ through the process of being born again. The word Peter uses here is different from that which Jesus used in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. However, they both point to the same thing. Jesus emphasized being born from above, and of the Spirit, while Peter points to being born again, from the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, which lives and remain forever. This reference here to the Word of God, is likely Peter pointing to Christ Himself as the source of our birth.
Peter admonishes them since they have been born again of this incorruptible seed, as newborn babes they need to nourish themselves with this same Word. He encourages them to desire the pure, unadulterated milk of the Word. This is what sincere means, pure and unadulterated. The Word they were to feed upon was not to be mixed with any pollutants, i.e., the teachings of men.
Who are these scattered strangers? We know that they are born again of the Word. But are they primarily of Jewish or Gentile descent? There is strong evidence that they are both. First, Peter writes and reminds them,
9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
The phrases found in verse nine, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” are terms that come straight from the description of Israel in the Old Covenant [Exodus 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6; 14:2].
From the context, it is obvious that Peter is writing for both the Jewish and Gentile believers. For the Jewish believers, these phrases “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” would hold special meaning. They would associate it with their ancient covenant with God, wherein they were His covenant people. By Peter relating this to them, it would assure them that they are still his covenant people. However, these now describe New Covenant Israel.
Of particular interest is Exodus 19:6, which says, "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." His covenant people Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” Peter already noted that those who were scattered as seed were a holy nation. T.F. Torrance comments concerning ancient Israel being a kingdom of priests,
“In the Old Testament Church there was a twofold priesthood, the priesthood of the whole body through initiation by circumcision into the royal priesthood, although that priesthood actually functioned through the first-born. Within that royal priesthood there was given to Israel an institutional priesthood in the tribe of Levi, and within that tribe, the house of Aaron. The purpose of the institutional priesthood was to serve the royal priesthood, and the purpose of the royal priesthood, that is of Israel as a kingdom of priests, was to serve God’s saving purpose for all nations.”
So it is with the Israel of God, the Body of Christ. We are priests unto our God, going to the nations, ministering reconciliation on behalf of Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19,
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
As priests unto our God in Christ, we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation to the nations. Hence, the ministry that was originally given to ancient Israel has been carried forward in the New Covenant Israel.
This is why we see John in the Revelation, picking up this same theme in describing God’s covenant people. In Revelation 1:5-6, he says,
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Notice first that there is a washing from our sins in his own blood. No priest can function properly unless they have been cleansed for the office of their ministry. Then we are considered His New Covenant people, because the New Covenant was cut in His blood. After this, John says, He “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” In the ESV translation, it says, “and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” The difference between the translations, as to whether it should kings or kingdom, depends on which manuscript is used. Either would be correct, but as I prefer the Textus Receptus (KJV) reading, this is the one we will stick with.
John uses this word for kings throughout his writing. In Revelation chapter five, he writes,
5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
Notice again that there is the mention of being redeemed by His blood, before being called “kings and priests.” Notice that John also mentions where we are to exercise this ministry. “We shall reign on the earth.” The earth is the realm in which our ministry as kings and priests should function. It is not some far, future age in which we are to “reign on the earth.” This refers to the present age, being the Messianic Age of His Kingdom.