Who were and are the Israelites? What was the purpose of them then and today?
Abraham was the father of the Israelites. This fact is revealed in the following statement that occurred during a discussion between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Jesus had just declared that the religious leaders did the things that they heard from their father and they responded with these words,
“Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. John 8:39 (NAS95S)
The religious leaders declared that they were the offspring of Abraham. Abraham was their ancestral father some thousands of year earlier. The Israelites were descendants of Abraham.
This important truth is repeated in Acts 7. In Genesis 12:1-4 and Acts 7:2-4 we are told that Abraham had traveled from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. This means the land of Canaan was the ancestral home of the Israelites.
And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran . . . Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. Acts 7:2, 4 (NAS95S)
What was their purpose? The answer starts by realizing that the Israelites or the Jewish people are sometimes referred to as God’s chosen people. He chose them because He loved them.
Listen the words of Moses, their highly respected leader,
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deut 7:6-8 (NAS95S)
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deut. 14:2 (NAS95S)
Second, God chose Abraham and his descendants to the nation through which the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born. The nation of Israel would have the honor and blessing as the nation that would give birth to the coming Messiah that was promised in Genesis 3:15. The promise was repeated in Genesis 12:1-4. In Genesis 22:17-18, God explicitly declared that Abraham would be the source of blessing to the world and Galations 3:16 explains that the reference to “seed” in the following verses refers to Jesus Christ. Abraham was to be the ancestral father of the Messiah – Jesus Christ.
By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your 1seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Gen 22:16-18 (NAS95S)
The second purpose for the nation of Israel was to be an example to the nations of the world. Listen to these words from God,
“. . . if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” Exodus 19:5 (NAS95S)
This passage reveals that their purpose was to be a holy nation and a witness for God to the peoples of the world.
Third, they were to tell the nations around them about God. In the next passage, King David encourages the nation of Israel to be a witness and in the second passage God sends the prophet Jonah to the Ninevites to call them to repent of their sins and turn to God.
Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. 1 Chr 16:24 (NAS95S)
The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah 1:2 (NAS95S)
The Jewish people are God’s chosen people. The Messiah would be born as a Jew. God would accomplish that. They had a separate mission. It was to tell others about God. But due to their rejection of Jesus Christ, their Messiah, they are not fulfilling that role now. But they will in the future. That is the message of the following verse,
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery — so that you will not be wise in your own estimation — that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in . . . Rom 11:25 (NAS95S)
Two verses later God adds that the Jewish people are enemies against Jesus Christ but yet God loves them. According to Revelation 7:4-8 the time will come when they will become missionaries, telling the world about Jesus Christ. Jesus will eventually come again – the Second Coming. After Jesus returns, they will rule the world along the followers of Jesus Christ in what is referred to as the 1,000 year kingdom or the millennium.