It is quite possible that the greatest literary accomplishment of the year 1844 was the publication of The Three Musketeers. The swashbuckling adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan penned by Alexandre Dumas have delighted readers and audiences ever since, inspiring dozens of stage and film adaptations. Not quite so popular is the trilogy Dumas published as a sequel, which concluded with The Man In The Iron Mask. The story has been told in film, with such notables as Richard Chamberlain and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, but it does not come close in popularity to its predecessor. Perhaps the subject matter is the cause. The tale concerns a man sentenced to life in prison behind a mask so that no one may know his identity. Dumas based his novel on an intriguing footnote of French history, but with much literary license. The mysterious man in Dumas’ story was Philippe, twin brother of King Louis XIV of France. As the king’s identical twin his very existence posed a threat to Louis. Therefore he was doomed by royal decree to live out his life anonymously behind a mask. This Baroque version of identity theft constitutes a fate worse than death. Not only is the man denied his rights as a member of the royal house, his very personhood is stripped from him, so that in time even he forgets who he is. No wonder The Man In The Iron Mask is so disturbing; this prince of the royal house suffers a fate none of us would ever wish to share.
And yet most Christians and Jews labor under precisely such an identity disability. We have all forgotten who we really are.
Who are we? We are the sons and daughters of Abraham the Hebrew, the man who crossed over the River Euphrates to answer YHVH God’s invitation into life. Like our father Abraham, we need a reminder and an encouragement not to sell ourselves short and settle for something less than the full promises of our God. What are these promises from our Creator, and to whom did He give them? The Apostle Paul helps us with that answer:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV)
Paul’s letters are full of this instruction that all who believe on Yeshua of Nazareth as God’s Messiah become the “seed of Abraham”. What he means is that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender, or position of servitude, becomes part of Abraham’s family. Since we become part of Abraham’s family, we get to inherit the same promises that God gave to our father Abraham, and the same obligations that our father Abraham agreed to fulfill. But how can that be if we are not physically descended from Abraham? As Paul explains, it is in the process of adoption (Romans 8:12-16; Galatians 4:1-6), by which we are grafted into the nation of Israel (Romans 11:13-29), the heirs of Abraham’s promises.
The sad reality before us is that the people of God rarely recognize themselves as such. Christians tend to regard Jews as the physical seed of Abraham, which is true, and Jews are quite happy to keep it at that. However, both Christians and Jews make a grave mistake in thinking that Israel consists only of Jews. The Christian traditions have sought to explain away this error by saying the church is “spiritual Israel”, or the “Israel of God”, and that Jews are “physical Israel”. According to these various traditions, the two entities have different destinies in God’s plans. The church gets admitted into God’s Presence with all the rewards, but the outcome for Jews is always something less, meaning at best inheritance of the physical kingdom of Israel on earth, and at worst outright rejection by God. Jewish traditions have attempted to deflect, ignore, or blunt those Christian misconceptions in the hope of sparing the Jewish community from negative Christian attention (such as the Crusades and the Holocaust). Tragically, when it comes to working together as the people of God, Jews and Christians have kept each other at arm’s length, and have regarded as an outcast anyone from their own communities who has embraced the beliefs of the other. And all the time God weeps, because the descendants of His friend Abraham have neither learned their true identity, nor recognized that identity in one another.
But what did God say? Where did this concept of “adoption” and of “grafting in” begin? It started with Abraham, of course, in the instant God called him out of his own country. Look again at the Genesis account:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7 NKJV, emphasis added)
So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman [Sarai], that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16 NKJV, emphasis added)
And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17 NKJV, emphasis added)
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6 NKJV, emphasis added)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:1-14 NKJV, emphasis added)
So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:23-27 NKJV, emphasis added)
There is a consistent theme in these passages: the inclusiveness of God’s plan. Notice that there were only two blood relatives who went with Abraham at the beginning: Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew. Everyone else is a servant (employee) or a slave, or a family member of one of those people. As the story progresses, we see that once a person had joined with Abraham’s household they were full members in everything that transpired regardless of how they entered the family. The servants whom Pharaoh gave to Abraham were just as much a part of his family as Ishmael his first son, and Isaac the son of promise. As God revealed more and more of His promise and His covenant to Abraham, He specified that everyone with Abraham had a part in it. And at last, when God specified circumcision as a physical sign of the covenant, He required that every male, regardless of origin, take the mark of that sign.
All this happened before there were any Jews on earth. Abraham was not a Jew, and neither was his son Isaac, nor his grandson Jacob. The first person who could be called a Jew was Abraham’s great-grandson Judah, from whom we get the name “Jew”. The promises of Abraham, therefore, go not exclusively to Jews, but to Hebrews/Israelites, those who, like Abraham, have answered God’s invitation to pass over from life to death. This includes Christians, who are adopted and grafted into the family of Israel by the work of Messiah Yeshua, the Passover sacrifice Who opened the way for every person to make the journey.
Yet the tragedy of identity misappropriation has kept both Christians and Jews ignorant. All who believe God, as did Abraham, have the righteousness of God imparted to them. All who do the works of Abraham by keeping the commandments of God demonstrate His righteousness and gain rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven (John 8:39-47; James 2:14-24). Jews tend to ignore the belief part of the equation, seeking to appropriate righteousness solely by keeping God’s commandments. Christians tend to ignore the works of Abraham, assuming that God’s impartation of righteousness by their faith relieves them of the obligation to learn and follow God’s standards of conduct. All the while, both parts of Abraham’s descendants miss the fullness of blessing, both in this life and the next, simply because they are ignorant of the full counsel of God.
Happily, a change is in the works. God our Father is awakening His people at last. Many Jews are coming to understand that Yeshua is indeed Messiah. Others who are not quite ready to go that far are at least willing to reach out to Christians in a sincere dialogue about our shared faith. At the same time, many Christians are awakening to the fullness of our shared identity with Jews as Hebrews and fellow Israelites. While there is yet debate and question on how Torah applies to all people, there is growing understanding that God’s Appointed Times and Commandments bring not only the obligation of our obedience, but great blessing. As this awakening continues, the word of God through Isaiah becomes more clear:
But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:8-10 NKJV)
Our King is restoring all of Israel, both the physical and the spiritual descendants of Abraham, making them one people as He has promised from the beginning. Our task is to do as our father Abraham did, answering our God’s invitation to get ourselves out of our own country and cross over into the land He will show us.
 The name “Jew” does not appear in the Bible until the time of Jeremiah, over a thousand years after the death of Abraham, at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is conquering Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel. The first use of the name mention is in II Kings 25:25, which tells what happened in Judah after Nebuchadnezzar’s victory. Judah fell 120 years after the Assyrian Empire had conquered and dispersed the Northern Kingdom of Israel (known also as Ephraim, or the House of Joseph (Etz Yosef). By that time the only identifiable people of Israel were the Judeans, or Jews – members of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, as well as a tiny remnant of the other tribes who did not go into captivity and who joined with Judah. Ever since then “Jewish” has been a synonym for “Israelite”.
 The reference above to Genesis 17 and the sign of circumcision brings up a case in point. The conclusion in both Christian and Jewish circles for nearly two thousand years has been that circumcision applies only to Jews, not to believers in Yeshua who have come from Gentile backgrounds. However, with growing understanding of the various signs of the covenant, circumcision is now undergoing new evaluation. Baptism (mikvah) and Sabbath (Shabbat) are both signs of the covenant God has made with His people, as is circumcision. However, considering the examples both of Abraham and of the people of Israel who entered the Promised Land under Joshua, as well as the admonition of Paul, it is likely that the sign of circumcision of the flesh will not be enforced until the circumcision of our hearts is complete when the Lord returns us to the land. For a more complete examination of circumcision, see the two-part series from 119 Ministries, Circumcision: The Eternal Sign. To access the video teachings, click here for Part I and here for Part II. To access transcripts, click here for Part I and here for Part II.