Reaching out to the peoples of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ
Copyright 2010 Watchmen Radio Ministries International All Rights Reserved.
Alex's Blog for June 8, 2010 - The Jews and the Land of Israel
By Alex Dodson
Today, there are an estimated 13.3 million Jews in the world. Of this number, 4.9 million live in Israel and 8.3 million live in other nations of the world. (www.simpletoremember.com) God has preserved the Jewish people. There is no doubt about that. Today, there is a nation called Israel where almost 5 million Jews live. The nation of Israel was established in 1948 after almost 2,000 years without a Jewish homeland. This seems to establish the fact that God has brought the Jews back to their land. In 1990, Steve Schlissel wrote in his book, Hal Lindsey and the Restoration of the Jews, "Just weight must be given, to be sure, to the reality of the Jewish presence, three and half million strong now, in the land. This could not have occurred but for the Providence of God, all must agree. Yet for all we know, it is possible that there may be another dispersion with a regathering a thousand years hence. We hope not and we doubt it, but we simply do not know." (p. 29) Is today's re-gathering of the Jews in the land of Israel a fulfillment of prophecy such as Amos 9:15 which says, "I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them."? We cannot say for sure but it may very well be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Some say that there is no future for the Jews as a distinct people. The Jewish nation of Israel was destroyed in 70 AD never to be again and that the hardness of the Jews as a people will continue unto the end although a remnant will be saved. For example, Robert B. Strimple in the book Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond in commenting on Romans 11 says, "Paul's Statement in verse 25 'Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in' has often been understood as teaching that after the fullness of the Gentiles has been realized, the hardening in part that has fallen on Israel will be lifted, and Israel nationally will be converted. But there is nothing in the Greek word 'until' to indicate this idea of a national conversion for Israel in the future. That idea would have to be explicitly taught somewhere in the context for us to bring it in here. It cannot simply be read into the 'until' phrase itself. As a matter of fact, in accordance with its common usage, the concern in that 'until' phrase is not with a new situation that will exist after the end of the present age but rather with the situation that will exist before the end, and all the way up to the end of the present age." (p, 117) Stephen Sizer puts it this way, "Based on biblical passages such as these, covenantal theologians argue that there is no theological significance to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948." (Christian Zionism, p. 159) These views seem to fall short of the promises of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well especially Romans 11. (See my previous blog on the Restoration of the Jews.) Although I do not think that we should look forward to a rebuilding of the temple or the reestablishment of Old Testament Judaism with all the ceremonial laws, I do believe the Old Testament points toward a time when the Jews as a people will be converted and also have a home in the land of Israel. I believe we can look forward to a time when the Jews as a whole people will embrace Christ and be brought back into the church as a people and that the nation of Israel will be a Christian nation and a shining light to the world. Romans 11 seems to indicate that such a conversion of the Jews as a people will bring even greater blessing to the world.
The popular view today is that the Jews will reestablish Judaism and rebuild the temple and renew the Old Testament sacrifices and that Israel will continue on as a separate body from the church. However, I believe this view falls short of the true meaning of the Old Testament prophecies and the teaching of the New Testament concerning the church. Romans 11 teaches us that there is only one olive tree, not two. That is, there is only one people of God. The teaching of that chapter is that one day the Jews will be grafted back in to their own olive tree. Now, the olive tree is made up primarily of Gentiles and few Jews. Yet, one day there will come a time when the Jews as a whole people will be brought back into the olive tree. To me, that means that the Jews will be converted to Christ and brought back into the people of God and join the Gentiles in the one body of Christ which is the church. The Jews will come back into the church in great numbers and essentially as a whole people group become Christian.
In the early church, the Jews were the church in the beginning. The gospel went forth from Jerusalem. The apostles were centered in Jerusalem and the church at Antioch sent representatives up to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles. It was not until 70 AD when Jerusalem was attacked by the Romans that the church was scattered and no longer had Jerusalem at its center.
It is possible that once again Jerusalem may become a center for Christianity and that once again the gospel will go out from Jerusalem as it did before. This does not mean that Jerusalem will be the Christian capital of the world nor the world's center for worshipping the Lord but that it will be a city of people who have embraced Christ and will in turn be a great influence in the world for Christ. The important thing is that Israel and Jerusalem will be Christian. The Jews will be brought back into the church back into the people of God. There will still be only one church and only one people of God.
Today, there are opinions at both poles concerning Israel and the land. The popular teaching among evangelicals tends to put too much emphasis on Israel and treats them entirely separate from the church. At the other end, there are those who say that Israel as a nation is entirely gone and there will be no restoration of the Jews to the land even though there is a nation of Israel today to which they say this nation has no Biblical or theological significance. For example, Stephen Sizer writes, "There is, therefore, no evidence that the apostles believed that the Jewish people still have a divine right to the land, or that the Jewish possession of the land would be important, let alone that Jerusalem would remain a central aspect of God's purposes for the world. On the contrary, in the Christological logic of Paul, Jerusalem as much as the land, has now been superseded. They have been made irrelevant in God's redemptive purposes." (p. 170 - Christian Zionism)
It seems to me, that we need to have a more balanced position on Israel and the land. We cannot discount all the passages in the Old Testament that talk about the restoration of the Jews to the land and apply them all to the first restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah or apply them to the church nor can we completely separate the church from Israel as if they have no relation.
The old Puritan theologian, John Owen, once wrote: "The Jews shall be gathered from all parts of the earth where they are now scattered, and brought home into their homeland." (quoted on p. 41 of Hal Lindsey and the Restoration of the Jews) The Jewish Christian author, Steve Schlissel, writes: "It is possible, as I have said, that the State of Israel, as it exists today, is, in fact, not the fulfillment of prophecy. It must be understood, however, that Reformed theologians were not always antipathetic to the idea of a national restoration of the Jews to the land. Valpy (in Scott & Henry at Rom. 11:23) comments, 'This grafting in again seems to import that the Jews shall be a flourishing nation again, professing Christianity in the land of promise…' Scott adds (at vv.33-36), 'It is now generally agreed among the learned, that we are warranted by the Scriptures to expect a national conversion of the Jews, and their return to their own land.'…..I pray that you, dear reader, will minimally grant that Elnathan Parr was correct when he wrote that 'Surely the preservation of the Jews, in the providence of God, notwithstanding all their affliction, to be a people distinguished, not only in name and apparel, but in customs, ceremonies, religion, from all other nations, argues that God has some good purpose towards them…' Amen. Those who (sometimes militantly) reject a blessed future for Israel, today see a political reality which should give their pens a pause and put their minds to work." (p. 41 - Hal Lindsey and the Restoration of the Jews)
The nation of Israel is a reality today. We cannot deny that this nation exists for it is even now at the forefront in the news. From the Old Testament prophets, we can at least get an idea that God has something yet in mind for the Jewish people in these latter days and that the Jews as a people will yet come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah. We can also believe that the prophets were not wrong when they made statements like this one in Amos 9:15 - "'I will plant Israel in their own land, never to be uprooted from the land I have given them,' says the Lord your God."
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Bock, Darrell L. and Gundry,Stanley N., Editors. The Millenium and Beyond. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999.
Brown, David and Schlissel, Steve. Hal Lindsey and the Restoration of the Jews. Still Waters Revival Books, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1990 (David Brown's section on the Restoration of the Jews originally published in 1861)
Sizer, Stephen. Christian Zionism. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 2004.
For further information on the conversion of the Jews, read more of Alex's Blogs