Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Not the Answer on Israel in Prophecy

Rev Angus Stewart


Scattered Israel to Be Gathered
J. C. Ryle
Great Britain: Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony, n.d.
Paperback, 39pp.

This is an attractively produced booklet of a speech by J. C. Ryle, the nineteenth-century evangelical bishop of Liverpool, advocating premillennialism: a physical return of the Jews to Palestine and their subsequent mass conversion, followed by Christ's first second coming, a Jewish millennium and the Lord's second second coming.

Ryle's first and foundational point is that Israel in the Bible has only three senses: Isaac's son, the twelve tribes and the N. Kingdom (pp. 5-6). Thus he disagrees with the Reformed page headings in the Authorized Version (p. 10) which understand the prophets to speak of the salvation of Christ's New Testament church of elect, believing Jews and Gentiles (I Peter 1:10-12).

However, Jesus Christ is called "Israel" in Isaiah 49:3, and a true Israelite is not merely one who is of Jewish bloodstock but one who is ingrafted into Him by a living faith (Ps. 73:1; 125:5; John 1:47; Rom. 9:6), for only such is a prince with God, which is what Israel means (Gen. 32:28). The new covenant with "Israel" and "Judah" (Jer. 31:31-34) is made with all ethnic Jews and Gentiles for whose sins Christ died on the cross, for the new covenant in His blood is signified and sealed in the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:20). Noble epithets given to Israel in the Old Testament are ascribed by God to Christ's church gathered out of all nations: "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (I Peter 2:9).

Likewise, Christ is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), and Jewish and Gentile believers in Him are the seed and children of Abraham for it is not merely a matter of blood (Gal. 3:26-29; 4:28; Rom. 9:7-8; John 8:33-44; Matt. 3:9). Bible believers should also consider how the apostle Paul identifies a Jew (Rom. 2:28-29) and the circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11).

The land promise to Abraham and his seed is a promise of our heavenly world, country and city (Rom. 4:13; Heb. 11:9-16). The Jerusalem and Mt. Zion to which the believer goes in the pilgrimage of believing prayer and worship is above in heaven (John 4:21-24; Gal. 4:26-27; Heb. 12:22), where is our citizenship (Phil. 3:20), for there Christ sits on David's throne whence He sheds forth the Spirit (Acts 2:29-36). The physical, Old Testament temple foreshadows God's dwelling in Christ through the incarnation and so His dwelling in His universal church by the Holy Spirit (John 1:14; 2:19-21; I Cor. 3:16-17; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22).

Ryle quotes ten passages from the Old Testament prophets (pp. 19-23), interpreting them with the literalist hermeneutic. But two of them, Amos 9 and Hosea 1, are quoted by James, Paul and Peter as proof of the calling of Gentiles into full salvation in Christ as members of His church (Acts 15:13-18; Rom. 9:24-26; I Peter 2:10). "And to this," declares James in Acts 15:15, "agree the words of the prophets [plural]."

Instead of premillennial literalism, the Reformed have always taught Scripture interprets Scripture and the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) is representative of the Reformed rejection of premillennialism: "We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment" (ch. 11).

There is much that is helpful, comforting and quotable in Ryle's writings, including his Expository Thoughts on the four gospel accounts (his treatment of Luke has been of great benefit in our family devotions), Practical Religion and Holiness. But on the prophets and the last times, one should read Calvin, C. F. Keil, Lenski, W. J. Grier, Herman Hoeksema, William Hendriksen, Robert L. Reymond, David Engelsma, O. Palmer Robertson, etc., or check out our on-line topical resources pages on Israel and Eschatology.