A certain common misconception about natural Jews should be addressed:
Sadly, this is run of the mill stuff from American Evangelicals. And it’s not because it’s 100% wrong; it’s because it’s a half truth, and half-truths are much more powerful deceivers.
So, let’s do our best to understand exactly what is meant by this from articulate proponents. If you look around to some of the prominent theological figures that are Pro-Israel and read some of their own words, it is pregnant with the words of the Old Testament that rightly point out that “Israel” in the sense of the physical nation descending from the man Israel was God’s “chosen people,” drawing from a number of places, such as Deuteronomy:
Deu 7:6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
The prophets too call to Israel’s unique status, and bid the leaders to lead the people of Israel back to God, although in vain; such passages are numerous. St. Peter also echoes a series of Old Testament passages directly when he says this:
1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The passages he is quoting directly from the Septuagint or simply alluding to, are:
Exo 19:5-6 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Note that Peter is likely addressing a people that are converted Jews, and he addresses them as being previously cut off for unbelief; the below verses would apply if one was a pagan Greek or a Jew who rejected Christ.
1Pe 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
And we can go at length citing passages from the Old Testament that say the words “Chosen People,” but none of those passages negates the clear picture painted by St. Paul in the New Testament.
The statement “The Jews are the chosen people” errs by blending “the Jews,” or those who claim Jewish race or Talmudic Judaism as part of their identity alongside “Israel” as a theological concept indicating that the person is a partaker in the covenant by that name, and they are absolutely not the same thing.
St. Paul says some very important things against this sort of mentality:
Romans 9:6-8 For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Notice the clever allusion St. Paul makes to the Ishmael vs Isaac controversy. This is a common Pauline theme in other places:
Gal 4:21-25 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
And, a few verses down, St. Paul continues:
Gal 4:28-31 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
St. Paul repeatedly likens natural Israel to Ishmael and to Hagar (and we must really think about how scandalous that is to the common Evangelical view of the Jewish people); those Jews who do not accept Christ at Messiah are physical descendants of Abraham, as Ishmael was, but they are not partakers in the spiritual promise, benefits and covenant which was bequeathed to the Church. They cut themselves off from it. They are no longer part of the “chosen people” status that belongs only to the “Israel of God”, which is not the same thing as a natural Jew:
Gal 6:11-16 11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
St. Paul further illustrates this in a metaphor about Israel as a tree:
Rom 11:17-21 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
God did not spare natural Israel and they were cut off because of their unbelief. Not much room to be a chosen people when you’ve rejected the one who chose you.
It is true that at the end, many Jews will come to believe in the Lord Jesus, but the sad reality is something St. Paul points out also in Romans:
Rom 9:27-29 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”
St. Paul next goes into an emotional, heart-rending appeal that his heart’s desire and prayer to God is that Israel may be saved, and concludes the next chapter by citing Isaiah: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Instead, what is argued in the New Testament is that Israel is the Church – composed of both believing Jews and Gentiles.
This is what St. Paul means when he says at another place in Romans that “All Israel will be saved”:
Rom 11:23-27 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
It is clear contextually and from St. Paul’s other writings that by Israel he means this metaphorical tree (the entire first part of Romans 11) with believing Jews who remained as well as the grafted in Gentiles – not the unbelieving Jews. There are not two trees; there is only one Israel. One of the sons of Abraham was a son of Hagar, and the other of Sarah.
The patrimony and inheritance of Israel that St. Paul mentions in Galatians – a book nearly entirely devoted to attacking a Judaizing heresy that tries to convince people that the Jews have some other means of salvation, and records the confrontation of Peter by Paul for his own weakness – is for the Church, not natural Israel merely because they claim physical descent from Abraham. Pandering to people does not communicate the need for them to repent or at least to investigate the claims of Christianity, and St. Peter’s fearful act of respecting the “circumcision party” was pandering.
This should be pondered diligently. If “Israel” as an entity means “The Church” in the New Testament, then Israel never ceased to be the visible, covenant people with a hierarchical leadership, with dispensations for teaching and leadership as in the Old Israel.
This is why the Church was always a visible entity with a recognizable leadership and structure from its very inception. This is why the 12 Tribes correspond to the 12 Apostles of the Lamb, and as one Tribe (Judah) became pre-eminent, despite the tribe’s flaws, one Apostle became pre-eminent, despite flaws.
This is also why the Church must be understood historically, not merely through the lens of a modern reinterpretation of the Bible based on political events. That is sensationalism and apocalypticism masquerading as sound thinking and theology, not to mention shifting sand, since these interpretations change as political events do. The re-establishment of Israel as a nation has nothing to do with them being “God’s Chosen people.” It is a signpost of events to come, but it has nothing to do with their status with God.
They are still cut off, still in their sins, and still need repentance and conversion as a people who missed the time of their visitation. The re-grafting of the remnant of natural Israel to the tree will be glorious, but that requires that we recognize there is only one tree.