The following is adapted from my booklet, This Is What Is Written
In the time of Christ, the temple and Israel’s nation status were two pillars of Jewish identity. Many Jews at that time saw the nation of Israel as an end in itself, the goal of God’s plan in the earth. This was a misunderstanding of their own scriptures and the covenant God established with them. In fact, like everything else in their religious culture, Israel was a figure of Christ.
New Testament authors established Israel’s prefiguring of Christ more through allusions and pictures than by explicit statements. Israel, as found in Genesis 32:28, was the name given to Jacob by God. Jacob had 12 sons whose families grew into 12 tribes named for the sons. Exodus 1:5 tells us these tribes numbered 70 persons when they first came to Egypt, but “became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7). This “exceedingly numerous” people was forged into a nation during the exodus, and was called by the name of the seed from whom they had grown—Israel.
The numbers mentioned above become especially important in the gospels when Jesus chooses 12 apostles, then 70 disciples, and sends out both groups to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2; 10:1). The connection between this arrangement and the formation of the nation of Israel is unmistakable. Clearly, Jesus is the new Jacob, the apostles the 12 sons/tribes, the 70 the beginnings of the true Israel (Gal. 6:15, 16). Like natural Israel, the forging of spiritual Israel occurred through the death of the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). All who believe are the Christ nation, the Incar-nation—those born of the eternal Word, in whom that Word is also becoming flesh (John 1:12-14).
We are, perhaps, more accustomed to thinking of Israel as foreshadowing the church and not Christ. Paul says that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” Peter declares us “a holy nation,” John calls the redeemed “a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (Rom. 9:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 5:10). This is certainly true. But we cannot understand this nation as an entity separate from Christ. We are Christ’s flesh and blood just as Israel was Jacob’s flesh and blood. We bear Jesus’s new name just as Israel bore Jacob’s new name (Rev. 3:12).
Understood properly, Israel represents Christ and all those in Him. Paul describes the Incar-nation as “one new man” in Ephesians chapter two, and we have to wonder if he is alluding to verses such as Judges 20:1—“Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah” (see also 1 Sam. 11:7; Ezra 3:1; Nehemiah 8:1). The message God gave Moses for Pharaoh is also interesting in this regard: “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me’” (Ex. 4:22, 23). Again, Israel is referred to as a single person—a corporate man, the son of God, a figure of the one new man to come.