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Alex's Blog for August 10, 2012 - Israel and the Church
By Alex Dodson
What lies ahead for the church in this age? Jesus in looking ahead said to Peter, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18 KJV) Jesus describes the church in such a way that it will be like a mighty wave and that nothing will be able to stop it. Though Satan and all his forces may attack it, they will not prevail. They will not stop it. To me, this is telling us that the church will be victorious in this age. Yet, if we listen to popular teachings today, we would not get this message. For example, Hal Lindsey in his book entitled The Rapture, writes, "Even with such a heaven-high privilege the Bible predicts that the Church will fail, and all but a believing remnant will fall away from the faith." (p. 64) In his book entitled The Road to Holocaust, he writes, "…all the prophecies that deal with the condition of the institutional Church just before the coming of Christ portray it as a time of evil and apostasy. The believing remnant of the Church will be snatched out of a Christ-rejecting world to meet the LORD in the air. Most of those who are left behind in the counterfeit Church will become part of the Man of Lawlessness's one-world religion and government." (p. 191) Today's popular dispensational teaching reflected in the above statements teaches that the church will end in failure in this age. Yet, is this really what the Bible teaches? Is the Church really going to end in failure as we are told by so many of today's teachers of prophecy?
Today, we are told that Israel will be prominent in the future not the Church. The Church having failed will be raptured out of the way and then all eyes will be on Israel. Lindsey writes in The Road to Holocaust, "All prophecy that deals with the Messianic Kingdom portrays Israel as a restored believing Nation, preeminent in the Messiah's administration of His Millennial Kingdom on earth." (p. 191) He further explains, "The believers who survive the seven-year Tribulation period will be taken as mortals into a global Theocratic Kingdom over which Jesus the Messiah will reign for a thousand years. He will reign on the Davidic throne from Jerusalem…At this time, the believing survivors from the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive all the things promised to them in the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants." (p. 30) It is unclear what specific role the church will play in this thousand year reign of Christ except that the church will reign with Him in some way over those who are living during the millennium. Lindsey writes, "The Church will return to the earth with Christ at His Second Advent in immortal form to reign with him as priests during the millennium." (p. 31) John F. Walvoord writes, "The prominence of Israel in the millennial scene is evidenced in many passages of the Old Testament. After the purging experience of the great tribulation, those who survive become the citizens of the kingdom after the rebels are purged out (Ezekiel 20:34-38). Israel then is rejoined to God in the symbol of marriage, being transformed from an unfaithful wife to one who reciprocates the love of Jehovah." (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 301-392) Though the church will have some role in the millennium, the emphasis is upon Israel.
The purpose of this article is not to deny that the Jews will be blessed in the future. I firmly believe in a future conversion of the Jews to Christ and that Israel as a nation will become a Christian nation. However, this is not the same as the dispensational teaching we so often hear today. The popular teaching today puts a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Instead of the Jews being converted as a people and coming into the Church, we are taught that the Church and Israel are distinct. They are two different entities and have two different programs. Israel will be converted but not to come into the Church. The two are separate and distinct. Hal Lindsey in commenting on Romans 11 writes, "The whole point of this passage revolves around Israel's being restored to a position of preeminence as a believing nation. This could not be true if those who are converted in the future are made part of the Church, since the national distinction would be lost." (The Road to Holocaust, p. 176) The dispensational teaching reflected here sets up two distinct peoples of God: the Church and National Israel. The Jews as National Israel believe on Christ as a people but they are not part of the Church. The two are separate and distinct peoples, it would seem, if we take this teaching to its ultimate conclusion.
This article would like to show that the believing Jews of the future conversion of Israel will be in the same Church as all believers in Jesus Christ. There are not two distinct peoples of God on two separate programs. All believers in Jesus Christ from all ages past and future are in the same Church of Jesus Christ. All believers in Jesus Christ are members of the same kingdom of God. The future conversion of Israel to Christ will be a conversion of the Jewish people to the Christian religion and Israel will then become a Christian nation. A great revival will take place among the Jews and they as a people will embrace Christ just like any other nation who embraces Christ as a people.
One of the passages of scripture that brings this out in a very clear way, I believe, is found in Isaiah 19:19-25 where the future gospel age is envisioned. This passage mentions both Gentile nations and Israel becoming nations that will know the Lord. The Gentile nations will know Him and Israel will know Him all together in the coming age. The emphasis here is probably toward the latter part of that age when Israel as a nation is converted. The passage reads, "In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them….In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'" Rather than making Israel distinct as a separate people of God, this passage puts Israel along side of Egypt and Assyria, Gentile nations. Israel along with Egypt and Assyria will become believing nations who will embrace the Lord. This whole idea of the church being separate from Israel seems to be foreign to the above passage. That passage teaches that there will come a time when not only Israel but Gentile nations will know the Lord together.
Another significant passage that shows that there is one people of God is Romans 11 where it describes the one olive tree. This one olive tree is made up both of Gentile and Jewish believers. Both Jew and Gentile believers are rooted in the Patriarchs. We are all the seed of Abraham who believed in the Lord. Romans 11:16-20 says, "If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you." John Murray writes, "The figure of the olive tree to describe Israel is in accord with the Old Testament usage (Jeremiah 11:16, 7; Hosea 14:6)." (p. 85 The Epistle to the Romans.) Murray continues, "Gentiles are reminded that they draw all the grace they enjoy from the tree whose root is Israel's patriarchs." (p. 86) Again he says, "The doctrine involved in this argument is the one pervading this passage, that the provisions of God's redemptive grace for Jew and Gentile have their base in the covenant of the fathers of Israel. To use Paul's figure here, the patriarchal root is never uprooted to give place to another planting and thus it continues to impart its virtue to and impress its character upon the whole organism of redemptive history." (p. 90) Charles Hodge makes a similar observation concerning the root of the olive tree when he writes, "By the first-fruits and the root, may be understood the patriarchs, the forefathers of the Jews; and by the lump and the branches, the residue of the nation, or the Jews as a people….nothing is more natural than to call the ancestors the root, and their descendants the branches….The Gentile Christians are not said (v. 17) to be grafted into the stock of the converted Jews, but as branches with them they are united to a common stock. And the stock into which the branches, now broken off, are to be again grafted, is not the Jewish part of the Christian Church, but the original family or household of God." (p. 577 Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans) The olive tree, then, is one. It is made up of both Jews and Gentiles all having their connection to one root which represents the believing patriarchs.
There are then one people of God represented by this olive tree. The olive tree began with only the Jewish people who believed. Later Gentile believers were added in and in the future Jews will be added in again. Charles Hodge goes on to explain further, "Some of the Jews were broken off and rejected; the Gentiles, though apparently little susceptible of such a blessing, were introduced into the church, and made to partake of all its peculiar and precious privileges. The Jewish church is compared to the olive tree, one of the most durable, productive, and valuable of the productions of the earth, because it was highly favored, and therefore valued in the sight of God….As the scion of one tree is engrafted into another, and has no independent life, but derives all its vigor from the root, so the Gentiles are introduced among the people of God, not to confer but to receive good." (p. 579) Hodge continues, "The Gentiles are saved by their introduction into that Church of which the patriarchs were the root….It is plain from this verse (17), that the root in this passage cannot be the early converts from among the Jews, but the ancient covenant people of God. The ancient theocracy was merged into the kingdom of Christ….There has, therefore, never been other than one family of God on earth, existing under different institutions, and enjoying different degrees of light and favor. This family was composed of old of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants. At the advent, its name and circumstances were changed; many of its old members were cast out, and others introduced, but it is the same family still. Or, to return to the Apostle's illustration, it is the same tree, some of the branches only being changed." (p. 580)
Hal Lindsey in his book The Road to Holocaust says, "….the most basic essentials of Dispensational theology are, first a consistent literal interpretation of the Scriptures, and second the fact that the Nation of Israel and the Church are two distinct and unique programs in God's dealing with mankind. Each has its own special promises, purpose, and destiny." (p. 211) He goes on to write, "I believe that the Scriptures we have examined clearly demonstrate that the Nation of Israel will once again be God's preeminent servant, and that this will happen much sooner than most people think." (p. 211) These statements reflect the teachings of our Dispensational theology friends who seek to make two distinct peoples out of the church and Israel. It seems to me that they miss the meaning of the one olive tree of Romans 11. The olive tree does not represent two distinct peoples but one people of God made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. They both have their roots in the patriarchs.
We go on now to Romans 11:23-24 which says, "And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" Here Paul points out that the Jews can be grafted back into the one olive tree again. Though the Jews as a people rejected the Messiah when He came, they may very well receive Him in the future and be put back into the olive tree again. Paul goes on to say that "All Israel will be saved" in verse 26 pointing to a future conversion of Israel to Christ. However, they will not be a separate entity from the church but will be grafted into the church as fellow believers in Christ, and Israel will become a Christian nation.
The church is a continuation of the olive tree which the patriarchs began in the Old Testament. The church is a continuation of the true people of God. We could say that the church is also a continuation of the Israel of God or the spiritual Israel. It is this spiritual Israel that Paul refers to in Galatians 6:16 when he says "Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God." Oswald T. Allis in his book Prophecy and the Church comments on the olive tree and its meaning, "There is, Paul tells us, one good olive tree. Some of the branches are broken off. Branches from a wild olive are grafted in among the branches which remain, that they may partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree. The new branches represent Gentile Christians. It would be difficult to state more clearly that the Gentiles in entering the Christian Church become members of a body, a church or theocracy, which has its roots in the Abrahamic covenant and to which all true descendants of Abraham belong. The tree represents the true Israel. Faith is the bond of union. Some of the natural branches have been broken off because of unbelief. Branches of a wild olive tree are grafted in among them (i.e., among the good branches that are left) on the basis of faith. From this Paul draws two important and weighty inferences. The first is that, since unbelief caused the breaking off of some of the natural branches, the branches of the new graft owe their present status, their participation in the root and fatness of the olive tree, solely to faith. If they become unbelieving, they will be cut off. This is a solemn warning to the Gentiles against presumption and carnal security. The second inference is the one which bears directly on Paul's argument. Since the Gentiles owe their present blessed condition to grace alone, it is only to be expected that the same grace which has spared them, who in a sense have no title to the blessings they enjoy, will also restore the natural branches which should by right enjoy these blessings, by means of that same faith on the basis of which alone Jew or Gentile can be in and remain in the olive tree, i. e. can enjoy the blessings of the covenant through membership in the household of faith. In short, what Paul is saying here is simply by way of illustration and application of his argument in chapter 4, that Abraham is 'the father of all them that believe' (vs. 11), whether Jew or Gentile, circumcision or uncircumcision. They are the true 'Israel of God' (Gal. 6:16)." (p. 108-109)
The olive tree, then represents, the true Israel of God. In the Old Testament, the olive tree was made up of Jewish believers. In the New Testament era, the olive tree has been made up largely of Gentile believers with a promise that Jewish believers will be grafted back in in the future. Today, there is much emphasis on the earthly Jerusalem among evangelicals. Many are looking to Jerusalem to see what will happen next in the prophetic calendar. Yet, do we not have our eyes in the wrong place. Should we not be looking at the heavenly Jerusalem which is the true Israel of God of which all believers are members. Paul in Galatians 4:25-26 put a contrast between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem when he said, "Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother." Paul is saying here that we as believers do not belong to the earthly Jerusalem but to the higher Jerusalem which is our mother. In Hebrews 12:22-23 the same emphasis is made when it says, "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven…."
The olive tree is one. It represents the church of God made up of both Old and New Testament believers, both Jews and Gentiles. In the Old Testament worship was centered in the earthly Jerusalem. In the New Testament worship began in Jerusalem but soon expanded into all the world wherever believers met together. In his conversation with the Samaritan woman Jesus predicted this worldwide expansion of worship when he said, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:21-24)
A future conversion of Israel to Jesus Christ is predicted in Romans 11. This conversion will bring many Jews into the church. No longer will they look to an earthly Jerusalem for salvation but to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the city of the living God, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. These Jewish believers will become members of the true Israel of God.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise.
Allis, Oswald T. Prophecy and the Church, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1945.
Hodge, Charles. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, A. C. Armstrong and Son, New York, 1896.
Lindsey, Hal. The Rapture, Bantam Books, New York, 1983.
Lindsey, Hal. The Road to Holocaust, Bantam Books, New York, 1989.
Murray, John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Epistle to the Romans, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1968.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press, Chicago, 1966.