There seems to be no escaping the fact that John sees the OT hope of Israel’s restoration and all its attendant blessings fulfilled in the salvation of the Christian multitudes who comprise the church, both believing Jews and Gentiles. (6)In Revelation 21:14 the wall of the New Jerusalem has “twelve foundation stones” on which were written the names of the twelve apostles (v. 14). The number “24”, the sum of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles, has already occurred in 4:4. Some point to David’s organization of the temple servants into 24 orders of priests (1 Chron. 24:3-19), 24 Levitical gatekeepers (26:17-19), and 24 orders of Levites (25:6-31).
There are numerous passages in the NT where OT prophecies concerning Israel’s regathering and restoration are applied to the Church, indicating that the latter is the “true Israel” comprised of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles in whom the promises will be fulfilled. Or, to put it in other terms, the Church does not replace Israel but takes up and perpetuates in itself the believing remnant within the nation as a whole.
The “true Israel” of God, which in the OT was comprised of all ethnic Jews who were circumcised in heart, finds its NT expression in the Church, now comprised of all believing ethnic Jews and all believing ethnic Gentiles. Or, to use Paul’s imagery from Romans 11, the one Olive Tree = True Israel = the Church in which are both natural (Jewish) branches and unnatural (Gentile) branches, but in all cases “believing branches.”
This is the only way I can explain or account for those many texts in which prophecies and promises and titles and privileges descriptive of Israel in the OT are applied to and fulfilled by the Church in the NT. A few representative examples will have to suffice.
(1)In Acts 15:14-18, James interprets the prophecy of Amos 9 that describes the rebuilding of David’s tabernacle as finding its fulfillment in the calling out of Gentiles and the progressive formation of the Christian Church. (For a complete exposition of this passage, see my article titled “Acts 15:14-17 and the Rebuilding of David’s Tabernacle,” found under Eschatology in the Theological Studies Section of the website, www.SamStorms.com).
(2)In Romans 9:25-26, Paul cites two passages in Hosea (2:23 and 1:10) that were addressed to the 10 apostate northern tribes of Israel before the Assyrian exile in 722-21 b.c. They describe both the rebellious condition of Israel (“not my people” / “not beloved”) and her prophesied future restoration (“my people” / “beloved” / “sons of the living God”).
But here Paul applies them to the calling or salvation of Gentiles. I agree with George Ladd that “Paul deliberately takes these two prophecies about the future salvation of Israel and applies them to the church. The church, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, has become the people of God. The prophecies of Hosea are fulfilled in the Christian church. If this is a spiritualizing hermeneutic, so be it. But let no one say that it is liberalism. It is clearly what the New Testament does to the Old Testament prophecies.”
According to this view, the OT prophetic promise of Israel’s regathering in covenant faith to Yahweh is being progressively fulfilled in the salvation of believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, that is to say, in the Church. The calling out of Gentiles from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation is the prophesied restoration of Israel, for the Church is the continuation and maturation of Israel’s believing remnant.
(3)In Revelation 2:17, John (quoting Jesus) promises to overcomers (i.e., the Church) a “new name” that “no one knows except the one who receives it.” This is a clear reference to the prophecy in Isa. 62:2