Who Is Israel? Episodes 1-4
Episode 4, where I get to the real point of this series.
Welcome to episode 4 of Who Is Israel! In the previous three episodes, I covered the history of Israel and the Jewish people from their origin in Abraham through the patriarchs and bondage in Egypt. I talked about how God rescued Israel from Egypt, but he didn’t rescue them alone. God brought a mixed multitude from many other nations out of Egypt to Sinai where he made them to be part of Israel.
Centuries later God divided Israel into two kingdoms and then scattered them across the world where they were absorbed by the nations and, in turn, absorbed many people into themselves.
My purpose has not been to just give a history of the Jews, but to highlight a specific aspect of the history of Israel. From the moment that God renamed Jacob after the all-night wrestling match with the angel, the nation of Israel has not been only the physical descendants of Jacob. Israel has always been a mixture of peoples grafted into the main trunk of the tree of Jacob.
In this episode, I’m going to answer the four questions that I started with: Who are the Jews? Who is Israel? Who or what is the Synagogue of Satan? And finally, what does all this have to do with you and me?
First let’s answer question number one: Who are the Jews?
By now the answer should be easy. The people we know today as Jews are the result of the gradual merging of three groups. First, the Jews are primarily descended from the ancient Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Second, the Jews are also descended from refugees and migrants from the other ten tribes who were absorbed into Judah, mostly long before the modern era. Third, the Jews have adopted many people from other nations over the millennia through assimilation, conversion, and even conquest.
This was part of God’s plan all along. Jacob went into Egypt with many Gentiles in his house, and Israel left Egypt with many more Gentiles who became Israelites.
If you haven’t watched episodes 1 through 3, you might want to pause here and go do that right now. Those episodes will provide a lot of background information for this claim.
It’s really only controversial with people who want to claim that today’s Jews are actually some completely unrelated people who are only
pretending to be Jews in order to take over the world. In my opinion, the bizarrely persistent paranoia about Jews throughout history only serves to prove that they are who they say they are. That variety of anti-semitism is not based on reason or evidence. and there is no argument that will change such a person’s mind. It’s a spiritual or mental sickness that can only be cured by time and God.
So let’s leave that behind and move on to question number 2: Who Is Israel?
Recall that Israel was divided after the death of Solomon and, although some people from the Northern Kingdom, called Ephraim or Israel, were absorbed by the southern kingdom, called Judah. Most of Ephraim were assimilated into the nations where they were scattered, and they forgot that they were once Israel.
Scripture tells us that both Judah and Ephraim will one day be restored to a place of favor with God in a United Kingdom under Messiah. We might already be seeing the beginning of that in the return of many Jews to the Land of Israel since the beginning of the 20th century, but so far only half of Israel, the Jews, is involved in that return. What about Ephraim?
There are a lot of theories about where the so-called Lost Tribes went. Most of those theories are based only in the imagination. There is no real historical evidence for the various identity movements such as British Isrealism and Black Hebrew Israelites. They are the results of a few out of context facts from various sources mixed with a large dose of fanciful interpretation.
No, the various nations of Europe or Africa are NOT the lost tribes of Israel. A few isolated people groups have been discovered who might, in fact, be descendants of the Northern Kingdom, but they are relatively small and can’t reasonably represent the whole of Ephraim. Most of that half of Israel has been thoroughly mixed into the nations of the world, so there is no way that anyone except God could possibly identify them.
So, how can we ever identify that half of Israel? Didn’t God say that he never does anything momentous without telling his prophets about it first?
Right here, I want you to pause the video and take a screenshot of these lists. If you’re not sure how to do that, take picture or write them down. Whatever you need to do to make sure that you have them for later, since I don’t have the time to go over every verse now. These lists are far from comprehensive, but I think this is more than enough to support what I’ve told you so far and what I’m about to tell you.
These four themes run through all of Biblical prophecy about the future of Israel, the scattering of Ephraim and Judah, Ephraim lost in the nations, the grafting of many former Gentiles into Israel, and the ultimate restoration of both houses of Israel. These events were all prophesied and described in Scripture.
How does this relate to the identity of Ephraim?
I need to tell you about two prophecies related to the restoration of Ephraim.
In the Book of Ruth, two widows returned to the Land of Israel. Naomi, a natural born Israelite, and Ruth, a Gentile who married one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi’s husbands and sons have died. So neither woman has husband or children. Without intervention, they would be destitute. Ruth meets and marries Boaz, a distant relative of her father-in-law and a wealthy nobleman. Legally her first son from Boaz becomes the heir of her dead husband and therefore of Naomi’s dead husband as well. A line of Israel, that had effectively vanished from the earth, was resurrected by a kinsman redeemer, a foreshadowing of Messiah. Naomi represents the natural children of Israel, while Ruth represents the Gentiles who have been adopted by Israel.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, two stories of healing are paired in a chiastic structure. Yeshua is called to heal a 12 year old girl who is deathly ill, but on his way to the girl’s house an older, wealthy woman with an illness that has persisted for 12 years is healed when she touches the hem of his garments. Yeshua then goes on to the girl’s house where he is told that she has died, but he proceeds to heal her anyway. The older woman is Judah. She has tried everything to be healed of her affliction, but nothing works until she turns to Yeshua. The young girl is Ephraim. As far as the world is concerned, she is dead, lost forever, but Yeshua restores her to life again.
In Jeremiah 31:31, God told Jeremiah that the New Covenant was only for the houses of Israel and Judah, not to the church or to Rome. There is no body of Messiah outside of Israel. There is no separate covenant with a Gentile Church. There is only Israel and then there’s everyone else, so it matters whether or not a person is part of Israel or not.
The honest truth is that nobody today can positively identify the natural descendants of Ephraim, but that just doesn’t matter!
Wait, didn’t I say that it matters who is Israel? Yes, but that’s not the same thing as saying it matters who is Judah and who is Ephraim.
Yeshua knows who belongs to him. When he calls Ephraim, they will rise from their historical grave and be reunited with him. In the meantime both Judah and Ephraim were never only the physical descendants of Jacob. They were always a core of natural children and a mixed multitude of Gentiles grafted in by their faith in the God of Abraham.
If you were a Gentile, one of those whom Jeremiah says have inherited nothing but lies from their ancestors, and now you believe in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, if you have joined yourself to Yahweh to love him, to keep his Sabbaths, and to hold fast to his covenant, then you have been cut off from the tree of your ancestors and grafted into the tree of Israel.
Whether you are Judah or Ephraim, I can’t tell you, but if you have repented of your sin, committed your life to love and obey the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to his Messiah and Son Yeshua, then you are Israel! Prophesied from the beginning, adopted into the kingdom of God, and made to be joint heirs with the faithful remnant of Jacob.
You are Israel, and that’s enough.
I guess that answers question number four – what does that have to do with you? But there is one question I haven’t addressed yet. Who or what is the Synagogue of Satan?
This term comes from Revelation 2:8-9 where Yeshua says, “And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write the words of the first and the last who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a Synagogue of Satan.”
There has been a lot of debate about this passage over the last 2000 years, and it might be the most common passage quoted by people who want to say that God lied to the Jews when he promised to forgive and restore them.
First off, we know that this can’t be talking about all Jews, because Yeshua spoke these words to a Jew! John, Paul, Peter, Matthew, James… all Jews. Out of the 27 books in the New Testament, 24 or 25 were written by Jews. For the first few decades, almost all of the followers of Yeshua were Jews.
So, how are we to know what he meant?
There are two ways to interpret every Bible passage: literal and figurative. Not every passage is intended to be understood figuratively and not every passage is intended to be understood literally. Knowing which is which depends on understanding the context of the passage, including its historical context. If a passage has a literal interpretation, that must come first. Without understanding the literal meaning we can’t accurately understand its figurative meaning, if it has one.
We know that the first three chapters of Revelation were addressed to seven real congregations that existed in the first century. Antipas, the Nicolaitans, and others mentioned in these chapters were real people. Chapter 2 verses 8-11 were addressed to a real congregation in Smyrna. If all of those people and organizations were real historic people, there’s no good reason to assume that verses 8-9 isn’t a real synagogue that existed in Smyrna in the 1st century. This statement wasn’t made to all of the 7 churches, so it’s reasonable to assume that it was something peculiar to Smyrna at that time and that that church would know exactly what Yeshua meant.
But what else do we know about the Synagogue of Satan from these verses?
We know that they were telling lies about God or about their fellow believers. Maybe they were of the same sect that falsely accused Paul, Stephen, and Yeshua of trying to abolish the law of Moses.
We know that they say they are Jews but aren’t really. It isn’t likely that there was an entire Jewish synagogue a fake Jews, but Yeshua could have been using the term “Jew” as a metaphor, like Paul did in Romans 2:28-29: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart by the spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man, but from God.” Jew is a short form of Judah which means “praised”. Paul was saying that some Jews don’t live up to the name while some Gentiles do. He wasn’t saying that some Jews aren’t really Jews.
John made a similar point in 1 John 4:20-21: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Yeshua might have been saying that, by their slander, the members of a Jewish synagogue in Smyrna weren’t living up to the name Jew, that they were serving Satan the accuser instead of God.
How would this apply today? Who fits the description of Smyrna’s Synagogue of Satan now?
Literally several groups do. Many in Christian Identity groups claim to be the physical descendants of Israel while they tell horrendous lies about the Jewish people. Believers in replacement theology slander God by claiming that he lied to the descendants of Jacob when he told them that he loved them and promised to forgive them. They are fake Jews because they claim that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. They quite literally claim to be Jews when they’re not.
Metaphorically, this phrase “Synagogue of Satan” could refer to anyone who claims to worship Adonai but teaches contrary to his laws. They shame the name of God instead of praising it.
In the end, the final judgment of who is Israel and who is not is all up to Yeshua. He will separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and the saints from the condemned.
On the one hand, there will be united Israel, consisting of faithful Judah, faithful Ephraim, and all of the grafted in gentiles, and on the other hand, there will be everyone else: an unbelieving world, those cut off from Israel for their rebellion, those who have rejected forgiveness, obedience and salvation, who have rejected Yeshua. They will all be destroyed in the end.
There is a consistent repeating pattern from Abraham to today. Israel is scattered into the world where they adopt people from the nations and is finally restored to the land and to blessing by Messiah. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Hebrew slaves, Ephraim, Judah… They have all experienced this pattern to one extent or another.
Whoever and wherever you are, no matter who your ancestors were, if you have repented of your sins, given your allegiance to the king of Israel, and committed to obey the King’s law, then you are a citizen of Israel. Remember that the natural branches of Israel and Judah always form the core, but there is always room for more faithful adoptees from the nations.
As the wise man once said, “Hear the conclusion of the matter. Fear God and keep his Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
This is Jay Carper from American Torah. Be blessed.