Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Place of Israel in Prophecy

This is a repost from my old blog in 2011: http://blog.adoniram.net/2011/08/place-of-israel-in-prophecy.html. Slightly edited.

People still say, "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem." As I understood Dispensationalism when I was once counted among its adherents, this means that we are to pray that the nation of Israel will experience peace from the frequent conflicts it has suffered over the centuries within the borders of its national territory and by those who have been dispersed abroad. Pray that they will be left alone and be allowed to return home to live peacefully in the territory they were promised in the OT. This perspective has unfortunately influenced national politics, particularly those of conservative Christians, for generations now. They champion Israel's statehood last century as a key sign that the end is near and the promises are finally coming to fruition. Some champion political policies toward Israel at least partially based upon the belief that God still owes them a land (I suspect an ulterior motive though, because on the other side of this fulfillment, the dispensational charts tell us that we gentiles will finally get our mansions and streets of gold). We have wasted much of our Christian political energy trying to bring something to pass for Israel that God never promises in the Bible.

The reason I do not accept this interpretation is common to Covenant Theology--I believe that all the covenantal promises made to Abraham have been fulfilled in Christ and the Church. Christ is the King that was promised. The Church is the people of the Kingdom, vast as the sands by the sea. The promised land is the world that now is and the new world that will someday be. The Kingdom of God comprises the promised land, its promised king, and its people. In my mind, the exegetical evidence for this is utterly overwhelming, assuming my hermeneutic.  [See postscript for a caveat and link to an explanation of this hermeneutic]

What this means is that for Israel to have any hope of any participation whatsoever in the promises given to Abraham, they must repent and believe in Jesus and join the Church. Then and only then will they receive what has been promised. Outside this, there is no promise of land in the middle east that remains to be fulfilled. There will be no restored temple on the temple mount. No more sacrifices. No ashes of the red heifer. Those who look ahead to these things in a literal sense misinterpret vast amounts of biblical prophecy and typology, and lose out on the blessedness of seeing Jesus everywhere in Scripture. Instead of seeing Jesus, they get caught up in timelines and charts. A complete waste of time.

And yet there is one promise that remains to be fulfilled for Israel--one that nearly brings me to my knees to consider the awesome power of God to save. I do not understand it completely. Romans 11 says that "All Israel will be saved." Obviously, "all Israel" does not mean every Jew, because generations of them have come and gone, along with the gentiles, into faithless damnation. But it must mean that at some point to come, some significant portion of the Jewish people will be saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Enough at least to merit the word "all" as a description of their number. This would have to mean that there is some specific generation (and perhaps subsequent generations) of Israelites that will, for the most part, repent and embrace Christ as the true Messiah. We do not know exactly what this means because the word Jew has lost definition--is it those who embrace the Jewish religion? If so, which versions of Judaism? Or is it those who have some Jewish blood in their veins? Those who live in the territory of Israel? Who knows? But what is clear is that there will be a wholesale conversion of Jews (whatever that means) to Jesus Christ.

Romans 11 seems to say that this will happen after all the non-Jews that God has ordained to salvation have been saved. What this means is that there is now or will be in the future a final generation that contains the last of the gentile elect. When the last of them has been saved--perhaps piecemeal conversions here and there much like what we are used to--there will be one last magnificent display of fireworks--the climax of the show. It is a miracle that any one gentile comes to Christ. How much greater will be the miracle of the wholesale conversion of an entire generation of Jews. Imagine that climax--the wholesale conversion of a people whose fathers have rejected Jesus Christ for centuries.

It sounds impossible to my human ears. Consider the Jews today, how far they are from Christ. But I know that salvation does not come by human will or exertion. I know that salvation comes through the work of God alone. He is the miracle worker and can do the impossible. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. All that the Father gives to Christ will come to him. Someday, a generation of Christians will have the privilege of seeing a display of God's power unlike anything that has ever been seen by human eyes. That so many who had adamantly rejected Christ would come to Christ is almost unimaginable. Those Jews (whatever that means only God knows) will repent, be united together in Christ with the gentiles, and enter the Kingdom. Once again, the Israelites will be brought back into the promise that was made to Abraham. We will all be in the Body of Christ together. The Covenant promise will come full circle as the Jews are joined to Christ and the Church Universal.

So there is no promised land for Israel outside of Christ. No King. No special status as a nation. The promise that remains for them is the same promise that those who believe have already received. God brought promises to us through Israel, and God will bring Israel back to the promises.

In his mind's eye, Paul saw the magnificent final volley of fireworks that ends the show, and he said,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.   (Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

[By the way, not all Covenantalists believe this interpretation of Romans 11.  "All Israel" can be interpreted different ways and there may be some equivocation in the passage.  However, most agree that the traditional, Dispensational, prophetic place of Israel in future events is a hermeneutical error. See my post All About Jesus: Dispensationalism vs. Covenantalism for a fuller explanation.]

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