Q. Since at the start, there were “hebrews” and the jewish realm did not start until the tribe of judah existed. So the issue of who is Israel, and the claim that you can’t use the “jewish” description to speak of Israel, then who is Israel? How does one know? And if one is jewish and accepts Jesus, do they become part of the church, or are they part of Israel no matter what?
A. Abraham was the first to be called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). His descendants were called Israelites as of Exodus 9:7 and were known by that name until the kingdom was divided after Solomon died. Then the northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah, even though 2 Chron 11:16-17 tells us the faithful from all the 12 tribes lived in the southern Kingdom. Both kingdoms were subsequently conquered and removed from the land God had given them. After they were freed from the Babylonian captivity a remnant returned to re-establish their national presence. During this time the nation was known as Judah.
The name “Jew” comes from “Judah. During the Lord’s time the name of the nation was Judea, but after 1948 it became Israel again as it is today. Even so, followers of the religion are called Jews no matter where they live. Today Jews from Israel are known in some circles as Israeli Jews.
According to Galatians 3:28 God sees Jewish followers of Jesus as being part of the Church. In Romans 11:25-27 Paul said that after the Church has reached its full number and will “come in” (a reference to the rapture) the hardening Israel has experienced will end and “all Israel will be saved.” To me this means representatives of all 12 tribes of Israel will eventually come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. They will first return to God as their national covenant head following the Battle of Ezekiel 38 (Ezekiel 39:22) and finally to Jesus Himself toward the end of the Great Tribulation (Zechariah 12:10). Ezekiel 48 tells us all 12 tribes will be represented in Israel during the Millennium.
A comprehensive review of the prophecies concerning the re-birth of Israel leads almost all scholars who take the Bible literally to conclude that the current nation of Israel is the fulfillment of these prophecies, gathered first in unbelief and then progressively reawakened to their covenant with God, and finally to their recognition of Jesus as their Messiah.