When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he said that they would be a treasure and a holy nation to him, though only if they obeyed him (Exo 19:4-6). However, he still treated them as his chosen nation and made appeals to them which he did not make to the nations around. After they returned from exile he spoke of them as his chosen nation, and promised to help them (Isa 41:8-10). In the final book of the Old Testament, Malachi, God declares that he has loved Israel specifically (Mal 1:2-3). Jesus himself was an Israelite, and said that salvation was from the Jews (John 4:22).
However, there are at least two main reasons to wonder if they are still God’s chosen people:
- They rejected Jesus and accepted responsibility for his crucifixion (Matthew 27:24-26). Now the nation seems to continue to reject God, and is run as a secular state. Could they really be his chosen people if they reject him?
- Christian believers are now spoken of as a chosen race in words similar to those spoken to Israel at Mt Sinai (1 Peter 2:9-10). If believers are God’s chosen people, does that mean that they have replaced Israel?
Paul addresses these questions at length in Romans 9 – 11, and gives a clear answer:
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Rom 11:1-2)
This is not to say that Israel will be saved just because they are God’s chosen nation. Paul makes it clear that God has always worked with a minority of the people in Israel, and that there is “a remnant chosen by grace” who are the Israelites who have chosen to follow Christ, like Paul himself (Rom 11:1-5). Paul clearly believes that all Christians (including non-Israelites) can be children of the promises to Abraham and part of the spiritual Israel (Rom 9:6-9). Paul wanted all of his fellow Israelites to be saved by submitting to God’s righteousness and having faith in Christ (Rom 10:1-4). Their unbelief has opened the way for the Gentiles to come in. However, Paul cautions Gentiles not to become proud that they have replaced the Jews, but to remember that God will judge them in the same way if they reject him (Rom 11:17-24). He also speaks of a future time, when the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in”, when Israel will be saved:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:25-29)
So Israel are still a chosen nation, even though they reject God, because God’s calling is irrevocable. Zechariah 12 speaks in a similar way about a time of future deliverance for Israel, when they will “look on him whom they have pierced” and will mourn (Zech 12:10). This is talking about the return of Christ, when God will intervene to help his chosen people, and the people of Israel then alive will see that Jesus was indeed God’s Messiah who they unjustly crucified and then they will repent and be cleansed of their sin (Zech 13:1).
So the answer to Paul’s question is still the same as it was then. God has not rejected his people Israel. He has helped Israel in the past because they were his people, and he will help them in the future when he establishes his kingdom on earth. However, he does require them to accept Christ as the fulfillment of the law and the promises that he made to their ancestors to be saved. People from any nation can be a part of God’s chosen nation, spiritual Israel, but only if they remain a part of it by their faith in Christ.