I frequently meet Christians who exclaim, I wish I were one of the chosen people!” While I appreciate their love of Jewish people, I enjoy pointing out, “If you know Jesus, the Bible says you are one of God’s chosen people.”
Then I might add, “Just remember that being chosen has its burdens as well as its blessings.”
So Tevye the dairy man, beloved character from Fiddler on the Roof observed when he dryly suggested that maybe “for once” God could “choose someone else.” From Tevye’s perspective, being the chosen people had a high price—persecutions, wanderings and broken dreams—while the “benefit package” remained illusive and ill-defined.
Others have struggled with the concept of “chosen people.” Some have gone so far as to ask, “What makes the Jews think they are so special, that God would choose them over all other people?” Such questions thinly disguise the resentment that has often boiled up into vehement anti-Semitism. That resentment provoked the poet to write, “How odd of God to choose the Jews, but not so odd as those who choose the Jewish God and hate the Jews.”
The “oddness” stems from a failure to realize that “chosenness” reflects more on the One who chooses than on those who are chosen. God’s choosing is meant to raise our awareness of His character, rather than to raise the status of those He has chosen. In choosing and preserving the Jewish people, God demonstrated to us and to the entire world that He is a loving God who is faithful to keep all His promises.
Nevertheless, the Jewish people are not God’s only chosen ones. The Hebrew word for chosen, bachar, reflects the more familiar New Testament concept of election. The Church of Jesus Christ is the elect of God (2 Timothy 2:10). If you have received Him as your Messiah and Savior, that means that God chose you!
There are marvelous parallels in God’s choosing of Israel and the Church, parallels that can help unwrap the mystery of God’s great grace and mercy in this world. These parallels, or pillars of election, can be best understood in the concepts of relationship and responsibility. It is important to think in terms of parallels, because when comparing Israel and the Church, people are often tempted to combine the two. God’s chosen peoples are not the same. One has not replaced the other. But there are important similarities.
In the Bible, God’s relationships with people are defined in terms of a covenant—a promise, or agreement. God made a series of promises to Abraham and his descendants, beginning with Genesis 12:3. God formalized His promises in a ceremonial covenant (Genesis 15:18). This covenant was binding. God promised a land and a people—and He promised a blessing. Israel was to bless the world, to be a light to the nations.
Likewise, God made a new covenant through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. That covenant was foretold in Jeremiah 31, and Hebrews 9:15 declares Jesus as the mediator of that covenant. Those who receive Him receive the new covenant—and are known collectively as the Church.
God keeps His promises to both His “chosen peoples”—Israel and the Church—for His name’s sake. As certain as God’s promises are to the Jews, so certain are His promises to His Church. That’s one thing Israel and the Church have in common: relationships with God are based on His choosing, and sustained because of His character.
Another thing Israel and the Church have in common is that we both experience the same resentment the world feels toward God’s chosen people. All you have to do is tell the average person that Jesus Christ is the only way to have a relationship with God. People will resent you for being narrow-minded, just as they resent my Jewish people for being “exclusive.”
When God chooses people, He asks us to be different from the rest of the world. The rest of the world has a problem with that. When we don’t do as they do, they feel judged—never a good feeling—and they view us as the source of it.
Of course God is the judge, not us. He sets the standards. He determined the basis upon which the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be called out as the chosen people. Likewise, God has determined the basis on which people can enter into a relationship with Him today. That basis is the new covenant and faith in Yeshua—faith that sets us apart from the rest of the world.
When God chooses people, He charges them with a responsibility as well as a relationship. Part of that responsibility is to obey the commands that make us different from the world. And part of the responsibility is to invite the world into the kingdom of our God.
The Church has a holy duty, an obligation, a burden to share God’s blessings with others and to invite as many as we can into this covenant relationship. That obligation is poignant indeed when we consider God’s other chosen people, the Jewish people. In one sense, my Jewish people have failed in our responsibility to be a light to the nations—because the majority of us have not yet realized that Yeshua (Jesus) is the source of that light.
Those of us who have been chosen through physical birth need to be chosen again through new birth in Christ. Our covenant for service and blessing must extend to the new covenant for salvation.
God used the Jewish people to bring salvation to the world, though most of my people failed to recognize the Savior. Now who will bring salvation to the Jews?
Therein lies the burden and calling of Jews for Jesus. We who are twice chosen by God are a reminder of God’s faithfulness in calling His chosen people, Israel, to Himself—as well as an encouragement to the Church to shoulder her burden and continue reaching out to fulfill the responsibility God’s first chosen people have yet to meet. This is a responsibility that some churches, some believers, strive to meet, while others shy away, often because of the world’s resentment.
Thank God that, as with the Jews, the Church’s chosenness is not jeopardized by failures, but is secure because of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.
How many sermons have you heard that reflect critically on Israel’s unfaithfulness in the Old Testament, or the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership portrayed in the New Testament? While the Church’s blemishes may not receive quite as much attention, she receives plenty of public and private criticism. It is difficult to balance obvious failures with the facts of God’s unfailing love for both His chosen peoples. Yet the Bible manages to maintain this balance, and that is the approach we must insist on from one another today.
Oddly, when it comes to the Church and Israel, many people idealize one while speaking harshly of the other. And while some may be lacking in love for Israel, many who do love Israel seem overly hard on the Church—even though they are part of it. Just remember, Jesus died to redeem the Church. The Church is His bride. If you love Jesus, you are part of His Church and should rejoice in the relationship and the responsibility that gives you.
Israel and the Church both represent the blessing of God’s choosing. Both demonstrate the truth of God’s love and faithfulness, His mercy and His grace. Both may experience deep and abiding failure. Both may be resented, hated, even persecuted by the world. Yet both are people of great destiny with a hope-filled future. That future is secure, not because of the strength or the goodness of those who were chosen, but because of the faithful, loving and all-powerful God who chooses that He Himself might receive the glory.
Let’s rejoice together in the high and holy calling He has placed on all of us who are His chosen people. Let’s remember the great responsibility that election places on us to declare His excellencies. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)