Jesus and Israel
One Covenant or Two?

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 01/20/2009 by Chad Vandervalk.

Recommended. Outlines the relationship of Jesus and Israel.

In this book Holwerda thoughtfully examines the scriptures to discover the role of Israel in the salvation plan of God; specifically after the coming of Jesus.

Holwerda outlines four areas that need to been discussed to truly understand the relationship. These areas form the four main sections of his book: 1) Jesus and Israel: a question of identity, 2) Jesus and the Temple: a question of essence, 3) Jesus and the Land: a question of time and place, 4) Jesus and the Law: a question of fulfilment. Following these sections Holwerda examines if there is a future for Jewish Israel.

In the section Jesus and Israel: a question of identity Holwerda argues that the Gospel of Matthew answers the question, “Who is Israel?” with a single word.


After recounting numerous ways that Matthew represents Jesus fulfilling and recapitulating the prophecies and acts of Israel, Holwerda states:

Jesus, a literal descendant of Abraham, himself a Jew, is the Israel who is the object of God’s love. He is chosen by God and responds in perfect obedience, fulfilling the law and the prophets and all righteousness. Since Jesus is the corporate representative of Israel, God now recognises as Israel all who respond in faith and obedience to the presence and will of God revealed in Jesus.

In the section Jesus and the Temple: a question of essence Holwerda runs through the history of the temple/tabernacle all the way from Mt. Sinai through to Herod’s temple at the time of Jesus. Holwerda points out that the tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’s death prefigures the actual destruction of the temple, and its replacement is one not made with human hands, but built in three days; the three days Jesus was in the grave. The Gospels, then, represent Jesus as the fulfilment of the temple, as well.

Although the Gospels have much to say about the temple, their focus falls on Jesus, who fulfils the purpose and the functions of the temple. The old era is coming to an end, and in the new era Jesus is the place of atonement and of the presence of God. He is the temple and he builds it.

In the section Jesus and the Land: a question of time and place Holwerda argues that in Jesus the promise of land for the children of Abraham is extended to all the world, because through Jesus the whole world is reconciled to God.

For Paul, the promise to Abraham had a cosmic sweep, including not just the territory of Canaan but the entire inhabited world.

In the section Jesus and the Law: a question of fulfilment Holwerda examines the theme of righteousness in the gospel of Matthew. Righteousness comes from following Jesus, the fulfilment of the law.

Authentic discipleship necessarily entails doing the righteousness expressed in the law, a righteousness rooted in creation itself. Hence Jesus calls his disciples to be a manifestation of righteous Israel, the light among the nations of the world.

After meticulously outlining how Jesus fulfils all of these aspects of promise to Israel, Holwerda raises the question, “Is there still a future for Jewish Israel?”

Working his way through Romans 9-11 he analyses Paul’s explication of the role of Israel in the future of God’s salvific plan in the New Testament. He argues that Paul outlines a specific role in the plan of God, but not one which relates to a specific nation state.

Since in Jesus the particular promises given to the descendants of Abraham have been universalised, there is no real role for a particular fulfilment of them. In Jesus, the promised land is now the whole world, Jerusalem is now the church which proclaims God’s righteous requirements, the temple is now Jesus himself and the community/body he is building on earth. There is no need for the modern state of Israel, or the city of Jerusalem, or the rebuilding of the temple in the salvific plan of God. Those roles have already been fulfilled and expanded.

The universalising of the promises in Christ illumines the authentic meaning of the particular promises. Therefore, any so-called particular fulfilment of Old Testament promises that bypasses Jesus Christ cannot be the genuine fulfilment that the Old Testament anticipates.

In this work, Holwerda outlines a clear, orthodox, and Reformed understanding of the relationship between Jesus and Israel. At a time when there is increased strife in the middle east, a thorough and thoughtful examination of this topic could not be more timely.