"Israel" And The Church
James A. Gunn
Copyright © 2000 James A. Gunn
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Galatians 4:21-31 “This is the Word of God: thanks be to God.”

Our text is a summary of what the apostle has written concerning the grave danger of departing from the “Gospel of grace.”  The truth is established that salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ alone - in His life and work; and that our “works of the flesh” can make no contribution whatsoever as to the cause of our salvation!

In this letter, Paul addresses the churches of Galatia.  He is concerned that some among them, although they have professed faith in Jesus Christ, having claimed to believe the Gospel of grace, now were in danger of nullifying their profession by believing that their works of the flesh, namely a return to the Law, could in some way contribute to the cause of their salvation.

Chapter 1:  Paul warns them that they are turning away from the “grace of Christ” to “another Gospel” {1:6-9}.

Chapter 2:  Paul points out that he refused to circumcise Titus, who was a Greek.  Why?  Because the Judaizers were teaching that circumcision was necessary in order for a Gentile to be saved.  But what about Timothy? Paul had Timothy circumcised. Why refuse the same for Titus?  In the case of Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Greek, the issue was not salvation, but rather an accommodation to Jews.  It was a matter of not offending the Jews by taking an uncircumcised man into the Temple.  But here in Galatia, being troubled by “another Gospel,” it is a matter of what is necessary in order to be saved.

Also, in Chapter 2, we have the record of the confrontation of Paul with Peter over Peter’s hypocrisy.  Peter lapses into Jewry.

In Chapter 3, Paul chastens them and asks the important question {3:1-3}about the place of the “works of the law.”

And Paul answers for all time, “who is “Israel?” {3:7-9}.
I will have more to say about “Israel” later.

My burden is the Word from God that is found in Galatians 4:21-31.

The point of my message is to show that the system of law and works has been forever “cast out” and that God has established His church forevermore.

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?

Paul uses irony: “the law,” in this context, is the five books of Moses. The law tells us about a man named Abram, who, when he was 75 years old, was called by God to leave his home and go to a foreign land.  God promised to make Abram the father of many nations.  Abram believed God and his faith was accounted unto him as righteousness. “...do you not hear {understand} the law?”

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,
24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar--
25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children--
26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Paul has set before us an allegory:
- an historical truth that is symbolic of more than its mere facts.

This allegory is symbolic of the works of the law {flesh} and the Gospel of grace.

“Works of the flesh” began in the Garden of Eden: Do you want to cover your sin and shame with a “fig-leaf self-righteousness;” or, can you trust an imputed righteousness provided in a substitute by God Himself that required the shedding of blood?

Jude reminds us of “ungodly men who followed the way of Cain,” who rejected the Gospel of  substitution and offered his own “works of the flesh.”

And there were the Pharisees who rejected Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.

They claimed to be Abraham’s children. {John 8}
So they were, but their mother is Hagar who represents bondage!

And so it was here in Galatia, with the Judaizers with whom Paul is dealing.

The allegory:

Two women; Two sons; Two covenants; Two Jerusalem’s.

Two women:
Hagar represents the Law; 
Sarah represents the church.

Hagar was a slave and Paul says she represents “Jerusalem which now is,” the Jews, national Israel. The irony is that the Jews claimed to be of Sarah.

Sarah is the “mother of the church,” even as Abraham is the “father of the faithful.”

The Song of Solomon is an allegory of Christ and His church.  In {5:1}, the Beloved, who is Christ, says to His bride, the church, “I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse.”  The church is the bride of Christ.

And Sarah, who stands for the church was Abraham’s wife; but she was also his sister.  Abraham told a half-truth to Pharaoh and to King Abimelech in order to save his life. “She is my sister.”

Two sons:
Ishmael: after the flesh.
Isaac: the child of promise.

When Abram was 85, Sarah his wife still had not had any children.  At Sarah’s suggestion, Abram married Hagar, Sarah’s slave, and she bore him a son, Ishmael {God hears}.  But Ishmael is not the son of promise, he is “according to the flesh.”

Now when Abram was 99 years old, God renews His promise that Abram would indeed have a son by Sarah.

And when Abram is 100 years old, Isaac {laughter} is born.

Two covenants:
The Law of Moses.  The Old Covenant.
The New Covenant in the Shed Blood of Jesus Christ.

The law was never intended to save anyone. 
The law can only aggravate sin.

Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, “Took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’  {Matthew 26:28}

Finally our allegory leads us to,

Two Jerusalem’s: The “Jerusalem which now is,” and “Jerusalem above.”

Hagar is earthly Jerusalem and represents bondage to legalism!

Sarah is heavenly Jerusalem and is the mother of the church!

From Sarah comes the son of promise, the child of faith, and the great ancestor of the promised Seed of Abraham {3:16}.

God’s unique Son who came to save sinners, Jesus the Christ is the Seed {singular} to whom all the eternal promises were made.  And if you are in Christ, only then are you of the seed of Abraham {6:26}

The Israel of God is the Church, not an earthly nation in the middle east.  {Cf. 6:16}.

What more does the Scripture reveal about “Jerusalem above?”

Hebrews 12:21-24
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,
23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,
24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Believers are a holy city.
Believers are the heavenly Jerusalem, “Jerusalem above.”

Revelation 21:1-2
1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Now to conclude with our text:

27 For it is written:  {Isaiah 54:1}

"Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband." 

Isaiah foresaw the glory and triumph of Israel on the basis of the expiatory work of the Suffering Servant after the barrenness of captivity and slavery.

This continues the idea of motherhood. The imagery is that of a barren wife {Jerusalem} deserted by her husband {after the exile} accepted again by him and fruitful in bearing children.  The significance is in the growth of the church. The barren woman corresponds to Sarah, who had no child until late in her life. The woman who has a husband corresponds to Hagar. The point of the quotation is that Sarah, though barren, through most of her life, finally became {through Isaac} the mother of more children than Hagar.

28 Now  we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.
29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.
30Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman."

This brings me back to the first point of my message which is to show that the system of law and works has been forever “cast out” and that God has established His church forevermore.

“Jerusalem which now is” [Israel after the flesh] has been “cast out” in favor of the “Jerusalem above” [the Israel of God]. {Cf. Genesis 21:1-11}

Please see the significance of understanding who is the Israel of promise?

National Israel has been “cast out.” The Israel of God is the church! {Cf. 6:16}

Does that have any significance in this day?  Let me give you an example.
What I am about to say may upset some of you, but I must tell you the truth.
I know how popular the “Left Behind” books are. This week, six of the eight books are on the top ten bestseller list. So I say this after careful thought. I believe they are a subtle device of Satan to use well-meaning Christians to divert millions to follow “another Gospel.” Most people who are so engrossed with the “Left Behind” books have not studied the implications of their underlying theology.

The “Left Behind” series of books {and now we have movies of the books} is based on Dispensational Eschatology. If that system of “last things” is to be believed, you must believe that “Jerusalem which now is,” which was “cast out,” is to be reestablished. You must believe that there is an eternal separation between national Israel and the church.  You must believe that all the references to “Jerusalem above,” which is the church, are but a so-called “parenthesis.” You must believe in a “secret rapture” of the church, despite the fact that there is no Scripture to support a “secret rapture.” You must believe that the Jews, who have rejected the Gospel will get a “second chance.”

Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism, John Gerstner “However, the more truth an essentially unsound movement teaches the more dangerous it is - especially for lay Christians.”

You must make a choice here on whether the focus of the Bible is on a nation and race of people called the Jews, or whether the focus of the Bible is on Jesus Christ and His church. It can’t be both!

The Scripture says that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her...” and that is what I believe is the sum and substance of all who are to be saved!

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

My question to you, dear ones, is to which part of this allegory do you belong?

Are you trusting in some variation of the “works of the flesh,” your “decision?”  Your morality?  Some modern variation of the Old Covenant?

Or, are you firmly rooted in faith in the New Covenant which is Christ?

Are you a child of Abraham and Sarah?