There are three groups of people that the Scriptures refer to, each group is distinct, and in the Scriptures, God deals with each separately and also collectively.
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” <1 Cor.10:32 (NIV)>. Here, Paul is cautioning the Corinthian believers not to be the instrumental in causing the concern of unbelievers or the faith of their fellow believers to falter because of their conduct, in relation to the three groups of peoples to whom the gospel message is proclaimed.
It is obvious to any Bible student that a large portion of the Scriptures relate to one nation or people, namely the Israelites or Jews. It is also evident that God has a distinct relationship with the Jews. The Old Testament is a record of their history, and the other nations are mentioned as they relate to the Israelites. Jews are descendants of Abraham and were separated from all the other nations and taken into covenant by God for a specific purpose, and if faithful to His commands they were promised earthly blessings, power, and riches; but if unfaithful they would be scattered among all the other peoples of the earth <see Deut.28:1, 15, 29, 36-37, 64-65; cf Rom.3:1-2; 9:4-5; Jn.4:22 >.
THE GREEK (GENTILES)
The phrase “Greek” or “Gentile” (KJV) refers to people described as “heathen,” denoting a person, nation, or people. Since that was the common medium of intercourse in the Roman Empire, Greek and Gentile became more or less interchangeable terms. The use of the word, typically in the Old Testament, is in reference to all other people excepting the Jews; because of their worship of “other gods” as opposed to Jehovah <see Eph.2:11-12; 4:17-18>.
Another group of people mentioned only in the New Testament is the Church, and this body of people also have a distinct relationship with God, and has also received specific promises; but the similarity ends there. Instead of being formed only of natural descendants of Abraham, this body of people displays no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and is comprised of all people and nations <see Eph.1:22-23; 2:14; 5:29-33; 1 Pet.2:9; 1 Cor.12:12-13; Gal.3:28>. A further comparison of Scripture reveals that although both share that distinct relationship with God there are some differences between the Jew and the Church. The relationship between God and Israel is a covenant relation, one based on physical birth, one based on obedience, and one based on an earthly inheritance. Conversely, the relationship of the Church is based upon spiritual birth and a heavenly inheritance which is also based to some extent on covenant, but such covenant is based on the Church’s relationship to Christ and His sacrificial love for the Church. So distinctively, Israel is connected to temporal and earthly things while the Church is connected to spiritual and heavenly things.
It should also be noted that the unrepentant Gentiles (heathen), when mentioned, are distinguished in every respect from both the Jews and the Church, and in the end will fall under the same demands of a Holy God. Thus, any comparison between Israel and the Church in what the Scriptures contain concerning origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny, all fall under a subject of contrast.
Israel: “The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” <Gen.12:1 (NIV)>. Israel’s calling started with God’s call to Abraham, who in response, moved from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan. There he settled and some years later his wife Sarai (Sarah) gave birth to a son named Isaac. From Isaac would be born a descendant that was promised (originally to Adam and Eve <see Gen.3:15> and then to Abraham “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” <Gen.12:3 (NIV)>. Isaac’s descendants were Esau and Jacob, and God chose Jacob for the continuation of the promise. Jacob in turn had twelve sons whose descendants eventually became know as the twelve tribes of Israel. Another promise of God to Abraham was that all the land of Canaan would be given to his descendants, the twelve tribes, as an earthly inheritance, and after their exodus from Egypt God gave them the land under the leadership of Joshua <see Deut.8:7-9; Jos.21:43-45>. Throughout the years that Israel lived in the land there was constant rebellion against God, the Prophets were sent to warn of the impending judgment for their disobedience but to no avail, and finally Israel went into captivity and later on, were eventually scattered throughout the world and assimilated into all the nations. God, however, maintained a remnant who would remain faithful to Him. <see also Gen.24:34-35; Deut.28:7; 28:13Gen.24:34-35; Deut.28:7; 28:13>.
The Church: “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling” <Heb.3:1 (NIV)> “But our citizenship is in heaven” <Phil.3:20 (NIV)>. Unlike Israel, the Church’s calling is a “heavenly” or spiritual calling and a heavenly citizenship. Due to the failure of Israel in being the godly witness to all the nations, God called the Church to carry out that mandate <Matt.28:19-20; see also 1 Pet.1:4; 1 Cor.4:11>; and even though there is the promise of a heavenly inheritance <see Jn.14:1; 1 Thess.4:14-18> there will be great difficulty in serving and in the execution of Christ’s command <see Jn.16:2-4>. In regards to “Calling” it should be understood that godly Jews would go to heaven at death because of their faith in God, but the incentive to godliness in this case was the earthly blessings; but since Christ paid the penalty for sin that the Law demanded, by His death and resurrection, all mankind – Jew and Gentile – can only be saved through faith in Christ <see Jn.3:3, 16; 1 Cor.12:13; Eph.1:22-23>. In the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears <see 1 Cor.12:2, 13; Gal.3:28; Eph.2:11, 14>.
Israel: was called to “go in and possess the land of promise” <see Deut.1:21>, and in order to accomplish this they were commanded by God to execute His judgment upon the heathen and wicked nations that inhabited the land, so that godly generations would rule and inhabit the land promised to Abraham. “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you — and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” <Deut.7:1-5 (NIV)> In this we see that Israel served God in accordance and obedience to the Law given by Moses, and throughout their generations they lived by the Law <see Ex.21:24-25; Deut.21:18-21>.
The Church: we see the opposite of what the Law demanded. The Law demanded death for the citizen or citizens that disobeyed, but there was no way for anyone to be in complete obedience to every demand of the Law, so all were guilty of death <see Jas.2:10>. Christ’s sacrifice, in His death and resurrection, paid the price for all who believe in Him and accept His sacrifice, so the members of the Church are called to a different life-style, one of love for our neighbour <see Matt.5:44; 5:39; 1 Cor.4:12-13; Lk.15:20-23>.
Israel: could worship in one place only, the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) or later in the Temple, they worshiped at a distance and could only approach God through a Priest <see Lev.17:8-9; Lk.1:10; Num.3:10>.
The Church: can worship wherever the body of believers choose, and can enter God’s presence in boldness because the Church is composed of priests <see Matt.18:20; Heb.10:19-20; Eph.3:11-12; 1 Pet.2:5>.
(4) PERTAINING TO THE FUTURE
Israel: when restored to God and their land will have her greatest earthly splendour and power. Israel’s primary purpose as a nation was to preserve the “Holy seed” or descendant in a world of ungodliness and wickedness; and in spite of her complete failure in obeying God’s commands, and their ultimate dispersion among all the Gentile nations, God maintained a godly remnant from which His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was born into this world. Christ’s first advent brought about our salvation, for Jew and Gentile, and set up the eventual return and restoration of Israel in preparation for the kingdom reign of their Messiah. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.“ <Luke 1:31-33 (NIV)>. “Of the seven promises to Mary, five have already been literally fulfilled” [Scofield] and there is no reason not to believe that the other two will also be fulfilled <see Acts 15:14-16; Rom.11:1, 11, 24-26; Isa.11:11-12; 14:1; Jer.16:14-15; 23:5-6; 32:37-38; Zeph.3:14-15>
The Church: the promise for the future of the Church is to be with Christ in glory <Col.3:3-4>, and this promise was made to His disciples just prior to His crucifixion <Jn.14:1-3>, so unlike Israel’s earthly inheritance the Church’s inheritance is a heavenly one, and will be fulfilled on a future day when Christ returns and calls the Church to be with Him forever <see 1 Thess.4:15-17; Phil.3:20-21; 1 Jn,3:2; Rev.19:7-9; 20:6>.