Transformation of Israel into the Church
How did the nation of Israel transform into the Church of Jesus Christ?
One of the most divisive battles in the 1st century Christian community regarded the relationship of Israel - with all its laws, structures and membership requirements - with the new Christian church. This debate forms the background of many New Testament writings, such as the epistles of Paul. In the Acts of the Apostles, this controversy plays out, climaxing in the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Under the authority of the apostles, this council determined which Jewish laws applied to Christian converts, and that circumcision was not necessary as a membership requirement for Gentile converts.
The Gospel of Matthew was written during this tumultuous century (1). It was addressed primarily to Jewish Christians, most likely residing in Syria, particularly the Antioch region - an area of frequent interaction between Jewish and Gentile Christians (Brown 212). One of the primary purposes of this Gospel is to explain to new Jewish converts to the Christian Faith the relationship between the Old Covenant with Israel and the New Covenant through Jesus. In fact, "Matt[hew] has served as the NT foundational document on the church" (Brown 171). Particularly, Matthew (2) demonstrates that the divine presence of Jesus Christ within Israel transforms it into the Church, which is now the new Israel. McKenzie writes, "[Matthew] is a Jewish Gospel, but it is also a Gospel of the Church. The reign of God is clearly identified with the community of the disciples, a community that is identified with Jesus himself" (McKenzie 64, emphasis added).
It is the presence of Jesus, and only that, which makes the transformation of Israel into the Church possible. This transformation, founded on the very person of Jesus, particularly affects three primary aspects of Israel: its law, its structure, and its membership.