Does the Bible Teach a Blessed Future for Israel?
Today many think that the State of Israel is the
fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, but keep in mind that, Abraham
possessed the land, not even enough "to set his foot on" (Acts 7:5).
The patriarchs inherited the heavenly Canaan (Heb. 11:16), of which
the earthly is but a type.
Hebrews 3:19 teaches that the Israelites "could not
enter in because of unbelief." In Ezekiel 33:25-26, God asks the
rhetorical question, "Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes
towards your idols, and shed blood, and shall ye possess the land? Ye
stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one
his neighbour's wife, and shall ye possess the land?" Clearly
impenitence and unbelief were barriers
to inheriting the land, so how could unbelieving Jews
possessing Palestine in 1948 be the fulfilment of prophecy?
To interpret prophecy with bald literalism requires
consistency. Shall the Gentiles keep the feast of tabernacles at
Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16-19)? Jesus indicates that
geographically-determined worship will cease: "… believe me, the hour
cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem,
worship the Father" (John 4:21). Wouldn't some future return to the
feast of tabernacles be a step back into the shadows (Col. 2:17), and
a turning again to the "weak and beggarly elements" of the law (Gal.
4:9-11)? Isaiah prophesies that "it shall come to pass in that day
that the Lord shall set his hand the second time to recover the
remnant of his people" (Isa. 11:11). If this glorious promise, as
some maintain, was fulfilled in 1948 with the establishment of a
national Israel, where is the restoration of the Philistines, Edom,
Moab, and the children of Ammon who are to be her vassals? These
nations have disappeared and were not restored in 1948. A literal
fulfilment of Isaiah 11 requires that Israel "shall fly upon the
shoulders of the Philistines toward the west ... they shall lay their
hand upon Edom and Moab, and the children of Ammon shall obey them"
(v. 14). God hated the Edomites and "laid [their] mountains and
[their] heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness" (Mal. 1:3).
Although the Edomites attempted to rebuild, God threw them down again
(v. 4). Indeed, for Jacob's sake, whom He loved, God had indignation
against the Edomites for ever (v. 4). That certainly rules out a
literal restoration of Edom! Yet a literal future fulfilment of Isaiah
11 requires the restoration of the Edomites and the other obsolete
nations (v. 14). To understand what Isaiah means by "the second time"
that God brings back His people from captivity (v. 11), we should
understand that the first time was the Exodus from Egypt (v. 16).
Logically, then, the second return was from Babylon and not in 1948.
The New Testament sheds light on the Old Testament
prophecies. How should we understand them since the literalist view
leads to absurdities?
The New Testament, as indeed the Old, is chiefly
concerned with spiritual Israel. The wider "nation"
consisted of the elect, "the children of the promise" who were
"counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:8), and the reprobate, "the children
of the flesh" (Rom. 9:8) who often led the nation into idolatry. In
every age, God willed to save spiritual Israel. In the Old
Testament, spiritual Israel was found mainly in the nation of Israel.
If non-ethnic Jews were saved, such as Ruth and Rahab, they joined the
nation of Israel. In the New Testament
spiritual Israel consists of all believers in Jesus Christ.
New Testament Christians, although consisting largely of Gentiles, are
"Jews inwardly" and are circumcised "in the heart" (Rom. 2:28-29;
cf. Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4). Paul tells largely Gentile believers in
Philippi, they are "the circumcision" (Phil. 3:3). Furthermore,
Christians are citizens of heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26) and those
who "have come to mount Zion" (Heb. 12:22).
An unbelieving ethnic Jew, although he may dwell in
Jerusalem itself, is not a spiritual child of Abraham (Gal.
3:7) for "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6).
John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles, who themselves were
Israelites "concerning the flesh" (Rom. 9:5; Phil. 3:5), repeatedly
pointed this out to the unbelievers in Palestine in their day, and
they were certainly not anti-Semitic (Matt. 3:9; John 8:39; Acts 7:51;
Rom. 9:7). In Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal.
3:28-29), for "neither circumcision availeth anything, or
uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6).
"Israel" will never cease to be a "nation"
(Jer. 31:36) but the "holy nation" meant is the church (I Peter 2:9)
consisting of Jews and Gentiles, the one spoken of in Matthew 21:43
which was to replace the old theocratic nation of Israel. God has
always had a "holy nation." In the Old Testament it was mainly Jewish,
but in the New Testament, that same "holy nation" has become catholic,
or universal. All peoples, tribes and tongues are included, yet there
is always a remnant of Jews saved with the Gentiles (Rom. 11:5).
Many evangelicals believe in a future for national
Israel because so many Old Testament prophecies, when read
superficially, seem to be speaking about the nation. For
example, Amos 9:11-15 promises that the "tabernacle of David" will
be raised up and re-built "as in the days of old," and that "the
captivity of my people of Israel" will be brought back.
Incidentally, the promise is also made here that
Israel will "possess the remnant of Edom and of the heathen" (Amos
9:12). We have seen that the prophet Malachi rules out any restoration
of Edom. It is also absurd to imagine that king David would be
resurrected to rule in Jerusalem, and it is inconsistent for the
literalist to say that David refers to Christ. Again, a literal
interpretation demands consistency!
However, Acts 15:14-18 provides the
authoritative, apostolic interpretation of Amos' prophecy. It has
nothing to do with the establishment of a national Israel, and
to do with the gathering of the Gentiles into the New Testament
Church. Isaiah 54 is similar: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let
them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not,
lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break
forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit
the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited" (vv.
2-3). Why is the tent to be enlarged? So the Gentiles can come in!
James (in Acts 15) uses the prophecy of Amos to make the same point.
Similarly, Hosea promises that the children of
Judah and Israel shall be "gathered together" as the number of "the
sand of the sea" (Hos. 1:10-11; 2:14-23) but this has its fulfilment
in Romans 9:25-28 and I Peter 2:9-10, not in 1948 when the modern
state of Israel was founded. Again, the new covenant made with "the
house of Israel; and with the house of Judah" (Jer. 31:31-34) was
fulfilled in the New Testament salvation of the church of Jesus Christ
(Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16-17).
But why did the prophets not just say that? The
church of the Old Testament was "under a schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:24). It
was taught using figurative language (the land, the temple,
reunification of the nation under David, etc). All the types and
shadows of the Law were to teach the Old Testament church about
Christ. "Had the prophets spoken plainly of the New Testament age,
without using figures, the Old Testament saints could not have
borne such excess of light" (W. J. Grier,
The Momentous Event [Banner], p. 39). The New Testament
therefore gives us the key to interpreting Old Testament prophecy: the
prophecies are spiritual (for a spiritual people), not literal.
None of this (a denial of an earthly future for the
Jewish people) is anti-Semitism. Jews will be saved in the same way as
Gentiles, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is
no other way of salvation for Jew or Gentile. It is not part of one's
duty as a Christian to support the modern state of Israel, or to
expect future blessings for it, but it is Christ's command to "love
thy neighbour" and seek his salvation, no matter what his ethnicity
(Click here to listen to a sermon entitled, "Amos' Prophecy of the
Raising Up of David's House")
(Click here to read an article, "Who Really Owns the 'Holy Land'" by
Robert L. Reymond)