Returning to our discussion on the position of some the theological leaders that I know in regards to Israel. One recent discussion brought out Galatians 4:21-31 and Revelation 11:8. The concept was that these scriptures coupled with the Lord’s declaration about the Kingdom being taken away from Israel and given to another made a strong case for the replacement Israel. If the Apostles are making the case that Israel/Jerusalem are relatable to Hagar/Ishmael and Sodom/Egypt respectively, then the attention lavished on Israel is misplaced at best. This, they suggested, is supported by the NT emphasis on the New Jerusalem. Therefore regard for, prayer for Israel, blessing Israel etc., is no more important than any other nation. The scriptural comparison of earthly Jerusalem with Sodom, and the citizenship of the believer in the heavenly Jerusalem, forces the conclusion of a covenantal switch in Messiah. It shows that the Israel focused agenda of many believers is nothing more than a symptom of extra-national identity and hope in concepts outside of a Christ-centered theology. It was also put forth that the MO of Christian agencies to bless Israel and the Jews, with the delegates being told to keep their faith in Jesus quiet, was a troubling but general feature among many in whose theology and ministries Israel stands large.
Dear Noel, If I had more time, my response would have been much shorter. :-). As it is, I’m sending a patch-quilt of notes written over several sittings that left no time to edit out some of the repetition. I can see that I’m not going to have time to do that without making your wait too much longer.
Your question was perfectly suited as a catalyst for some things I’ve been wanting to put down for a long time. More than simply give my view in a brief response, I wanted to provide a complete Bible study on the topic. I didn’t have time to plug in many more scripture references that can be added later. For those not familiar with the literature and the polar viewpoints that exist over the relationship of Israel and the church, some of this will seem quite unnecessary. But those who know something of the intense controversy that swirls over these issues will recognize that I’m offering a mediating view between the extremes of replacement theology and dispensationalism. These are close issues that have been the source of a history of impasse and costly confusion. This is only for those who have wrestled and care deeply for what is at stake in these issues. I’m making this available in this preliminary form to our list of friends, but be forewarned, I didn’t have time to adapt it for easy reading. I want to do that in the future with the help of some friends who have offered their help in that direction. [The question is answered in four parts below]:
Part 1 of the original question: Returning to our discussion on the position of some the theological leaders that I know in regards to Israel. One recent discussion brought out Galatians 4:21-31 and Revelation 11:8. The concept was that these scriptures coupled with the Lord’s declaration about the Kingdom being taken away from Israel and given to another made a strong case for the replacement of Israel.
The scriptures that are cited in your question (Mt 21:43; Gal 4:21-31; Rev 11:8), with many more that could be added, only tell us what we already knew, namely, that the larger part of the nation has condemned itself through unbelief to an extended exile of judgment and displacement; but, not forever! The same Paul, who explains the present use that God has made of Israel’s fall, is equally insistent that Israel’s blindness is only partial and temporary. To its shame, the church has confused the nation’s momentary ‘displacement’ with the unthinkable notion of its permanent ‘replacement’. Against any thought of such a violent breach of covenant, Paul raises his resounding, “God forbid!” (Ro 11:1, 11).
“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: If this fixed order departs before Me, declares the Lord, then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the Lord, if the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth be searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord” (Jer 31:35-37).
As to Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation producing its fruits” (Mt 21:43), there are two possible interpretations, either of which is entirely reasonable. Both are interesting and merit our study; but of the two viable interpretations, neither can be taken to suggest that Israel has been replaced by the church. Though indeed ‘shared’ with others, the promised inheritance of the nation of the Jews has certainly not permanently passed to others. First, it is possible that Jesus meant nothing more than His contemporaries would have readily understood. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation producing its fruits” (Mt 21:43), there was never the thought that the nation would not be Israel. Jesus had told His disciples that they would rule over the restored nation in ‘the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne’ (Mt 19:28, as to the time in view, compare Mt 16:27; 25:31; Rev 3:21).
[Note: The Lord’s declaration that His own twelve apostles would bear rule over the restored nation certainly militates against the kind of strict dichotomy that dispensational theology posits between Israel and the church, since the apostles belong to both Israel and the church.]
It was well known that the nation of eschatological promise would be a kingdom of saints (Dan 7:22). Therefore, in Jewish hearing, the nation producing the fruits of the kingdom would be understood to signify the regenerated nation of millennial expectation. It is not the identity of the nation that is being replaced, but the character of its population. Jesus’ language would have never been taken by His contemporaries to imply a different nation, but rather a renewed and regenerate Israel. In the same way that a man must be born again before he can enter the kingdom of God, so must a nation. And so it shall, ‘at once’ and ‘in one day’ (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9).
Jesus regarded the religious rulers of Israel as representative of an ongoing generation of perpetual apostasy, who, in spiritual continuity with their fathers, “always resists the Holy Spirit” (compare Mt 23:30-39; Acts 7:51). They understood very well that He was predicting their rejection from the holy nation of covenant promise. “They perceived that He spoke of them” (Mt 21:45). It was nothing they had not heard before. The fateful line of division within Israel had already been drawn on the basis of fruits, as denounced by John the Baptist (Mt 3:7-10). Just as Paul will make the same distinction when he says, “They are not all Israel, which are ‘of’ Israel” (Ro 9:6). “It is simply the question of who will constitute the true Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
This denies nothing to Jewish election; but it denies everything to Jewish presumption (Mt 3:9 w/ Jn 8:39). Jewish participation in the kingdom would not be determined by mere natural descent nor by external conformity to the law, but by spiritual regeneration through faith in the rejected cornerstone. This is why “the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). It is the same thing that is being stated when Jesus says, “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the ‘children of the kingdom’ (the natural heirs) shall be cast out into outer darkness …” (Mt 8:10-11).
However, I am convinced that Jesus is saying much more than anyone else could have possibly understood at the time. What began as a “little flock” (Lk 12:32) of Jewish disciples would not long remain little nor entirely Jewish, since Jesus had said, “I have other sheep which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Such language anticipates the unity of Jew and Gentile in what would soon be revealed as the body of Christ, the “one new man” of New Testament revelation (Eph 2:15; 4:24; Col 3:10).
Therefore, it is clear that Jesus’ references to the gathering of the Gentiles go far beyond the limitations of contemporary Jewish expectation. This would not come to full light until the revelation of the mystery hid in other ages (Eph 3:5; Col 1:26). Jesus alone knew the character of the age that would supervene between His two comings. Jesus guarded a mystery that would accomplish the dual purpose of judgment and salvation (Isa 8:14-17; 53:1, 11; Mk 9:9; Mt 11:25; 16:20; 1Cor 2:7). Though completely foretold in the prophets (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:11), the mystery of Christ’s coming, departure, and return to Israel was intentionally kept secret until the time appointed for its public revelation (Mt 10:27; Mk 9:9; Jn 16:12-13, 25; Acts 3:21; 1Pet 1:12).
So the revelation of the mystery of the gospel (Ro 16:25-26; Eph 6:19) discovers an unexpected interim between the first and second comings of Jesus. Israel’s hope of deliverance at the end of a future great tribulation remains fully intact. But the mystery reveals that Israel’s deliverance after the final tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1) will be accomplished by the return of the once rejected cornerstone (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Ro 11:25-26). Until that time, the nation of promise is bound over to an age long hardening that continues ‘until’ the Deliverer’s return from heaven at the day of the Lord (Mic 5:3; Hos 5:15; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26-27 w/ Isa 59:16-21; 63:4-5).
Jesus is revealed to Israel as the rejected and pierced King of the Jews at the end of what Jeremiah calls, “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” (Jer 30:7; Mic 5:3-4; Zech 12:10 w/ Mt 23:39; Joel 2:31-32; Mt 24:29). A comparison of passages shows this to be the time of the final and unequaled tribulation spoken of specifically by Daniel and Jesus (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). This is when “the Deliverer comes out of Zion” to re-engraft the ‘natural branches’ back into the life and sap of their own covenant olive tree (Ro 11:26 w/ Isa 59:19-21). “From that day and forward” (Isa 66:8; Ezek 39:22), ‘all Israel’ will exist as a new and living nation with an entirely regenerate Jewish population (Isa 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34; 32:39-40; Zeph 3:13).
Of course, the replacement position will dispute whether the covenant is fulfilled in the future day of the Lord with a literal Jewish nation. But if not, why not? On what grounds can it be shown with certainty that a Jewish remnant will not be brought to faith at the ‘set time’? (Ps 102:13; Dan 8:19; 11:27, 35)? What precludes their restoration? Can it be that Paul’s anguish for their return is not ours? Are we to suppose that Paul’s unquenchable passion for Israel’s salvation is merely his personal sentiment as a Jew? Or is it a special burden of the Holy Spirit that is related to the glory of God and the vindication of His name and covenant, perhaps more than we have adequately considered?
The manifestation of a hidden parenthesis in the plan of God establishes the time frame in which the prophecy of Moses would be fulfilled concerning God’s threat to provoke faithless Israel to jealousy with a ‘no people’ and to anger them with a ‘foolish nation’ (Deut 32:21). The term ‘foolish nation’ used in such close reference to “those who are no people” leaves no doubt that Israel would be made jealous by Gentiles. According to Paul, it is the anomaly of Gentiles receiving the blessings of the covenant in Israel’s place. This is not the way the prophets usually depict the relationship of the nations to millennial Israel. The contrast is radical. There, the nations are blessed through Israel’s restoration after a great world crisis called the day of the Lord. Whereas, here, the salvation of the Gentiles comes through Israel’s fall. This startling development took Israel by surprise.
It was well known that with the Israel’s deliverance, the Gentiles would come to the light of Israel’s rising (Isa 61:1-11; Zech 8:23). But the incorporation of the Gentiles into the same body with the elect of Israel to a full and equal share in the covenants of promise belongs to the mystery not revealed in other ages (Eph 3:5-6; Col 1:26-27). This stands in remarkable contrast to the blessing of the nations that is usually depicted in connection with Israel’s millennial restoration.
The prophetic mystery of the Old Testament exhibits a remarkable symmetry that can be clearly traced once the key of Messiah’s twice coming is applied. During the time that God is provoking Israel to jealousy by a ‘not a people’, He is also hiding His face from the faithless nation (Deut 31:17-18; 32:20; Isa 8:17; 64:7; Ezek 39:23-24; Mic 3:4). But this too, is represented as a temporary situation. The face of God is hidden from Israel only until the Spirit is poured out on the penitent remnant at the day of the Lord (Isa 8:17; 54:8; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-32; Zech 12:10), which is always depicted as coming at the end of the last and unequaled tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1 compare also Joel 2:31-32; w/ Mt 24:29).
So, it is quite clear that Moses’ prophecy of a “foolish nation” can only have reference to the present gathering of the Gentiles between the advents. Although the conditions and means by which the Gentiles would be blessed through Abraham’s seed could not have been understood before the appointed time of revelation, it was foretold nonetheless. Paul will make great use of Moses’ prophecy to show that what has taken so many by surprise was fully anticipated in the prophetic scriptures (Ro 10:19; 11:11).
[Side note: The careful point that the mystery of Christ has its basis in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:25-26) is intended to underscore a significant difference with the dispensational interpretation of the mystery. You may know that classic dispensationalism teaches that persons saved after the rapture do not belong to the body of Christ. This is the theory of ‘two peoples of God’, which I see as a theological error. It is another example of the kind of confusion concerning the relationship of Israel and the church that has reigned throughout most of church history. In the dispensational view, the church is a new mystery organism, which begins at Pentecost and terminates its existence on earth at the rapture. It is a hallmark of dispensationalism that the church belongs to a mystery age, which by definition, is entirely ‘un-anticipated’ by anything foretold in prophecy. In dispensational theology, the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4) signifies the creation of an entirely new people of God. In this view, the body of Christ constitutes a separate entity from Israel, which consists only of believers living between Pentecost and the rapture. In contrast, our view of the mystery does not see the creation of a new entity, but the revelation of the incarnational relationship of Christ to all saints who have ever been made alive by Spirit and the Word (Mk 12:27; Jn 3:6; Ro 8:9; 1Cor 6:17; Col 1:27; 1Pet 1:11, 23). The revelation of the believer’s mystical union with Christ through the Spirit as members of His one body derives from the central revelation of the mystery of the incarnation and the gospel. The gospel is also called a mystery (Eph 6:19; 1Tim 3:16), but this mystery is completely foretold in prophecy (Acts 26:22; Ro 1:2; 16:26; 1Cor 15:3). This was an important point in the apologetics of the early church, namely, can what is being proclaimed be verified and demonstrated to conform to what stands written in the Old Testament scriptures? (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:25-26). Therefore, the revelation the church as the body of Christ should not be interpreted to mean that an entirely new people of God have been created with no past or future continuity with Israel. This error is based on dispensationalism’s misconception of the mystery.]
With this as background, it is possible that the Lord has the ‘foolish nation’ of Moses’ prophecy in mind in His reference to ‘a nation’ producing fruits worthy of the kingdom. In which case, it would also be a nation that is divinely intended to move Israel to jealousy, which Paul applies to the church of this present age in its predominantly Gentile configuration (Deut 32:21; Ro 10:19; 11:11). So the revelation of the mystery has brought to light the time and circumstance of the fulfillment of Moses’ mysterious prophecy that God would move Israel to jealousy with a ‘not a people’ and provoke them to anger with a ‘foolish nation’ (Deut 32:21; Acts 15:14; Ro 10:19; 11:11). So it is altogether possible that Jesus’ threat to transfer the kingdom to ‘a nation producing its fruits’ has in mind the church of this age.
Whether Jesus intends the church of the present age or Israel of the future regeneration (Mt 19:28), there can be no basis at all to interpret Jesus’ words to imply an end to Israel’s national inheritance. That would be a fantastic leap of presumption, particularly since the very same prophecy that describes the provocation of Israel by a ‘not a people’ and a ‘foolish nation’ belongs to a section of scripture called, the Song of Moses (Deut 32:1-43). The famed prophetic song given as a memorial of witness to Israel’s inevitable future rebellion does not end in final blindness and displacement by another people, but in the revived nation’s everlasting salvation and the greater blessing of the nations of the Gentiles (Deut 32:36, 43).
The unexpected character of this present age is based on the revelation of a mystery that was fully foretold in the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament (Acts 3:18-21; Acts 26:22; Ro 1:2; 16:25-26; 1Cor 15:3; Eph 6:19; 1Pet 1:11). But the discovery of a hidden age between Messiah’s first coming and return does nothing to change the promises that will yet be fulfilled to Israel in a coming day of the Lord. Nothing of the church’s present appropriation of the blessings of the New Covenant does anything to deny their future fulfillment to Israel. Nor does the present application of some of Israel’s promises to the church justify the ‘reinterpretation’ of Israel’s promises, as advocated by the hermeneutics of amillennialism. The revelation that brings the powers of the ‘age to come’ (Heb 6:5) into the present through the Holy Spirit should not be taken to mean that the original promise has been reinterpreted. The present fulfillment of some of Israel’s covenant promises does not preempt the plenary future fulfillment, which will yet conform to every detail of the context and intent of the original author’s language.
The end of this present age is not the end of historical time. Unless one’s theology has led to the spiritualization or denial of a future millennium, there is another age beyond the present evil age. Scripture is clear that a millennium lies beyond the destruction of the Antichrist, but before the final perfection (Dan 7:11 w/ Rev 19:20; 2Thes 2:2-3, 8; Rev 16:13-15; 20:4). This is the time on which all the prophets hang every outstanding and unfulfilled promise to Israel (Acts 3:21; Ro 11:27).
The church’s misplacement and spiritualization of the millennium, is in keeping with its historic disregard of the Jew, since the millennium exists for the sake of the further fulfillment of the still remaining covenant promises to Israel. For this very purpose, Jewish identity has been miraculously preserved. The early church did not see the present age as the last, but understood itself as the first fruits of a larger eschatological harvest. The restoration of the kingdom to Israel was never a question of whether but when (Acts 1:6; 3:18-21; Ro 11:25-29).
Even before the later revelation of its duration (Rev 20:2-7), an age beyond the present evil age was demanded by the promise of a new and everlasting covenant. The golden age of promise would begin with what the prophets called the day of the Lord. So, the everlasting covenant is the why, the day of the Lord is the when, and the literal Land of promise is the where of all of Israel’s promises of national restoration. There is no prophecy capable of literal fulfillment that is not also capable of millennial fulfillment.
Living before the revelation of the mystery, the prophets were unaware of two distinct comings of the Messiah (1Pet 1:11), and of the relationship of Messiah’s first coming to what can now be seen as the atoning “blood of the everlasting covenant” (Lk 22:20; Heb 13:20). Not seeing the period between the advents, the prophets view the New Covenant as established with Israel AFTER the apocalyptic tribulation (Isa 59:16-21; w/ Isa 63:3-6; Jer 30:6-24; 31:31-34; 32:37-43; w/ Dan 12:1-2). While the first coming of Christ reveals a mystery that opens access to the everlasting salvation promised to Israel in the New Covenant, it changes nothing of the literal fulfillment of the outstanding promises that wait to be established with Israel at the still future day of the Lord. This is why Paul sees the covenant as unfinished until it has reached its goal in the salvation of ‘all Israel’ (Ro 11:26,27).
Therefore, the theologians of replacement are wrong to call Christ’s first coming “the climax of the covenant” (N.T. Wright). According to Paul’s interpretation of the prophets, the covenant reaches beyond Christ’s first coming to its true climax in the restoration of Israel. I see no reason why theologians who recognize the well established ‘already and not yet’ pattern of kingdom fulfillment (‘inaugurated eschatology’), find it so difficult to conceive of Israel’s restoration as a distinctly Jewish nation at the day of the Lord. They have yet to show a compelling theological reason why not.
In the eschatology of the Old Testament, Israel is delivered with the destruction of the Antichrist at the end of the last and unequaled tribulation. This is also the time that the righteous dead are raised (Dan 12:1-2). This is the time that the prophets designate as the day of the Lord. The same order of events is repeated in the New Testament. Only now, it is clearly Jesus who is returning at the day of the Lord to destroy the Antichrist, raise the dead, and deliver Israel (see 2Thes 2:3-8; Ro 11:26; Rev 16:14-15).
The revealed secret has indeed introduced the well known ‘already and not yet’ structure of New Testament eschatology, but there is nothing in that structure that precludes the restoration of the Jewish nation to covenant favor in the ‘not yet’ of a future day of the Lord. Such assured denial cannot be the product of a comprehensive exegesis but of philosophical presuppositions based on isolated texts interpreted out of context.
It is a much later development in church history that began to interpret the warnings directed against apostasy within the nation to mean that Israel was to be finally replaced by the church. As already stated, the revelation of an unexpected parenthesis between the two advents of Christ does nothing to change the time that all the prophets said Israel’s blindness would end, namely, at the day of the Lord. But the abundance of evidence from both testaments could hardly be plainer Israel’s apostasy from covenant favor is never forever; it is only ever “until….” (Acts 3:21; Ro 11:25; Lk 21:24; Mt 23:39; Mic 5:3; Hos 5:15 etc.)
As Jesus would later say to these same Pharisees and principal rulers, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again, UNTIL you shall say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mt 23:39). Jesus knew that the present ‘generation’ of continual apostasy (Mt 17:17; 23:33, 36) would fulfill the prophets in condemning Him (Acts 13:27). As it is written, “They shall smite the ruler of Israel (the Davidic king from Bethlehem) with a rod upon the cheek … For this cause; He (Yahweh) will give them up …” But note that the ‘giving up’ of Israel is never forever. It is only “until the time when she who travails has given birth (Jacob’s trouble); then the rest of His (Messiah’s) brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He (Messiah) shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall abide securely, for now He (Messiah) shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Christ’s millennial reign from Jerusalem over all nations; Mic 5:1-4).
So which is the nation that produces the fruits of the kingdom? Is it the church? Or is it the reconstituted nation of covenant promise? In light of the revealed secret, either answer is possible, provided we rightly define the church, and understand its relation to the nation of Israel, not as its replacement, but as grafted into a continuity of covenant heritage that remains incomplete until the return of the Jewish branches.
Our view of Israel and the church will be greatly determined by how we interpret the mystery. Does the mystery not revealed in other ages mean that the covenant with Israel has been completely fulfilled with the church, as the “new Israel” of the Spirit, replacing forever the historical nation? Or does the mystery reveal the church as a separate people of God with its own promises and destiny, as in dispensational thought?
I believe that much of the confusion lies in how we define the church. We need to recover the context of the church’s original self understanding. As a people living ‘between the times’, the early church saw itself as sent on a joyous, but serious and urgent mission of witness to announce the good news of the kingdom and to warn of an imminent ‘wrath to come’ (Mt 3:7; 24:14; Mk 9:1; 1Cor 7:26). The early church understood itself as existing in continuity with the righteous remnant of Israel (Ro 9:23-24; 11:4-5), and as the first fruits of a greater eschatological harvest that anticipates the restoration of Israel at Christ’s return (Acts 1:6; 3:21; Ro 11:25-27).
So regardless of how many Gentiles may be grafted “in among them,” (Ro 11:17) to partake in “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12), the essential nature of the church is not changed. It is not an end for itself; it remains a ‘first fruits’ of a larger eschatological harvest that must ‘necessarily’ include the regeneration and restoration of Israel as a distinctly Jewish nation. This shows the true nature of the temporal distinction and essential continuity between Israel and the church. Though momentarily distinct, the church and the nation will ultimately be one, when ‘all Israel’ will finally exist as an entirely regenerate nation (Isa 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34).
In this view, the church doesn’t replace Israel; but as a tribulation people witnessing to the prophetic mystery of Christ (Acts 26:22 w/ Ro 16:25-26), it prepares the way for Israel’s sudden rebirth at the post-tribulational day of the Lord. With the national rebirth of Israel, the purpose of the church for this present age is completed. It does not, however, mean the completion of God’s purpose for the church on earth, as in dispensational teaching. The nation of Israel will then be the distinctly Jewish part of the body of Christ in its distinctive millennial arrangement.
[Note: Replacement theology denies continuity with Israel in one way and dispensationalism denies it in another. Replacement theology makes the church the new Israel, as it denies literal fulfillment to the many scriptures that promise the reconstitution of Israel as a distinctly Jewish nation. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, denies continuity with Israel based on its view that the church is a heavenly people, separate in calling and destiny from Israel. This strict dichotomy between the church and Israel is the basis for dispensationalism’s doctrine of a pre-tribulational rapture. The rapture becomes a necessary inference if the church is to be seen as a mystery organism, occupying the gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel (Dan 9:24). As such, the church is separate and detached from God’s prophetic program for Israel. This is why the so-called church age is considered to end before the resumption of Old Testament prophecy concerning the tribulation. In this way, the church’s hope is distinguished from Israel’s hope. In the dispensational view, the church is looking for an any moment return of Christ that is not signaled by any preceding events of prophecy. In contrast, Israel’s hope awaits the return of Christ after the tribulation. This is the basis for dispensationalism’s theory of two peoples of God]
As first fruits and heirs of Israel’s covenant privileges through the gift of the Spirit, the church personifies all the ideals of Israel’s national calling to be priests, servant, and light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 61:6; Acts 13:47; 26:23). Although the point is debated among premillennialists, many believe that nothing is taken from God’s future election of Israel if the church of the interim is appropriately called, “the true circumcision” (Ro 2:26, 28-29; Phil 3:3), or “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
Peter can certainly refer to the church metaphorically as a ‘holy nation’ (1Pet 2:9). As the corporate ‘seed of Abraham’, the church inherits many, certainly the most important, of Israel’s covenant promises. How could it not, since with no other people were the promises made? The specific millennial promises to the nation (as a distinctly Jewish nation), though in some aspects shared with the spiritual seed of Abraham, are not thereby removed from Israel.
The promise that the nations would partake in Israel’s blessings was never imagined to cancel or reinterpret the great number of highly descript and detailed national promises that were never transferred to the church as the so-called, “new Israel” of replacement theology. That is the really misguided reckoning of a church that has historically boasted itself against the branches to its own incalculable loss.
As Paul warned, ignorance of ‘this mystery’ exposes the church to the pride of presumption, as it robs the church of an apprehension of the true nature of the grace by which it stands. But what is worse, it robs God of our fuller appreciation of such an extravagant display of divine glory, and of its unspeakable cost. We have only to see Paul’s enraptured response to such a sweeping vision of glory to imagine what ignorance of this mystery has cost the church throughout the centuries (Ro 11:25-36).
The coming glory of Israel’s return detracts nothing from the revelation of glory in the church (Eph 3:21; 1Tim 3:15). Particularly, when it is understood that it is not a choice between Israel and the church, since to be ‘in Christ’ is to be in His body (Eph 1:22-23). Through the revelation of the gospel, “the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5) have appeared in unexpected advance of the day of the Lord, as earnest and first fruits. The kingdom of God is already present in power and revelation through the eschatological promise of the Spirit. However, nothing of this present blessedness that has come ‘already’ to the church should be seen as altering any of the promises that remain to be fulfilled with regards to Israel after the great tribulation and in the millennium beyond. What has come to the church will come to Israel.
An Israel that has come to Christ has become church. The promise that ‘a nation’ will be “born in one day” (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9; Ezek 39:22), tells us that the same Spirit which now baptizes believers into the one body of Christ, will at that future time, baptize the saved remnant of Israel into the same body, as the Spirit is poured out on the “escaped of Israel” (Isa 4:2) in the coming day of the Lord (compare Isa 59:21; Ezek 36:26-27; 39:29; Joel 2:28-31; Zech 12:10; w/ Zech 13:9).
In the same way, the revelation of the ‘sealed vision’ (see Isa 8:16; 28:9-13; 29:11; 53:1; Dan 9:24; 12:4, 9; Hab 2:2-3), that has come already to the church through the ‘mystery of the gospel’ (Eph 6:19), will break upon the understanding of the penitent remnant ‘in that day’ (compare Isa 8:14-17; w/ Ezek 39:29 and Zech 12:10). [Note: It is instructive to notice the relationship of the Spirit to the revelation of the gospel. First to the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 3:18-21; 1Pet 1:12), and again to the penitent survivors of the last tribulation (Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Zech 12:10 ). It is the significant relationship between revelation and the Spirit in relation to every advance of the kingdom of God.]
As it is false to say that the church replaces Israel, it is equally false to say that Israel replaces the church (assuming we understand the church of God to include all who are born of the Spirit). In that day, believers from other nations will be no less the body of Christ. This is understood, because, contrary to dispensational teaching, it is impossible to be born of the Spirit of Christ and not be part of His body (Ro 8:9; 12:5; 1Cor 6:17; 10:17; 12:13; Eph 2:16, 18; 4:4, 7; Col 1:27).
[Note: You may know that dispensationalism teaches a “reversal of Pentecost” at the rapture (John F. Walvoord). In this view, the Holy Spirit ‘did not’ indwell believers in the Old Testament. He ‘will not’ indwell tribulation believers and those that come to faith in the millennium. Only the body of Christ (a term that dispensationalists limit to believers living between Pentecost and the pre-tribulational rapture) can experience the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit. But the Spirit being given once and for all after Jesus was glorified (Jn 7:39) is no more capable of being retracted than the glory of Christ is capable of being reversed. Such alleged reversal of Pentecost is a theological absurdity. On the contrary, the mystery of the incarnation reveals that the same “Spirit of Christ” that now indwells the church (Col 1:27) also indwelt the saints of old (Gen 41:38; Ex 31:3; Num 27:18; Neh 9:30; Ps 51:10; Isa 63:11 Dan 4:18; Mt 22:23; Jn 3:6; 6:63; Ro 8:14; 1Cor 2:12, 14; Gal 4:29; compare especially Ro 8:9 w/ 1Pet 1:11).]
However, a literal reading of the covenant and prophecy leads to the conclusion that God, for the sake of His own name and testimony, will preserve a distinction (not separation) between the church in the nations, and the Jews in their specially ordained relationship to the Land. The body of Christ is not confined to this dispensation. It will exist in the millennium, but with this difference: Although there will be local assemblies of the body of Christ throughout the millennial earth, only the Jewish population of the nation of Israel will be entirely regenerate (Jer 31:34). This is completely supernatural and without precedent.
The prophetic depictions of post-tribulational Israel show that the restored nation of re-born Jews will serve a unique purpose and special stewardship over the Land during the millennium. Such special election never means superiority (Ro 12:4). It means God has decided something for His own purpose, which often exists to test the heart while it drives home some great point of divine contention. It will be so when in one Land only, one nation, “born in one day” (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9), will exists “from that day and forward” (Ezek 39:22) as an entirely regenerate people (Isa 4:3; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34). (see Isa 4:3; 54:10, 13; 59:21; 60:21; 66:22; Jer 31:34; 32:40; Ezek 39:28-29; Zeph 3:13 et al).
When these required conditions will exist in ‘literal’ fulfillment of the covenant, there will be no further need for evangelism among the Jewish inhabitants of millennial Israel (Jer 31:34). Such uniformity of salvation will be unique to Israel alone (Isa 61:9; 62:12). It is not promised to any other nation, since we know form a number of passages that not all nations will give equal obedience to Christ’s millennial rule (Ps 2:9; Isa 26:10; 60:12; Zech 14:17; Rev 2:27). This amazing demonstration of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel will be in open display throughout the millennium. “Many shall see it, and fear, and trust in the Lord” (Ps 40:3).
Only the salvation of ‘all Israel’ could ever fulfill the conditions of the ‘everlasting covenant’, because a mere remnant could never guarantee permanent possession of the Land. It is crucial that we recognize the place of the Land in the covenant. Everlasting inheritance of the Land was one of the promises of the everlasting covenant (Gen 13:5; 17:8; Lev 26:42; Deut 30:5-6; 2Sam 7:10; Ps 105:10; Jer 23:6; 31:31-34; 32:39-41; Ezek 34:27; etc.). But a later covenant (“the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after;” Gal 3:17), showed that abiding security in the Land was conditional on continual obedience. This raised the classic tension between the conditional and unconditional elements within the covenant (or between the covenants). How can the Land ever be sure to a people prone to backslide? The answer, of course, is the bringing in of a New Covenant of regeneration, which assures special divine enablement through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Reading the Land covenant quite literally, and utterly pessimistic concerning what is ‘in man’ (Jer 10:23; Jn 2:25; Ro 7:18), the prophets looked for something far more enduring than another transient revival. This is why the prophets looked for the establishment of the New Covenant in connection with the apocalyptic events of the day of the Lord. Only such a radical divine intervention would be sufficient to “bring in an everlasting righteousness” (Jer 32:40 w/ Dan 9:24). Not merely for a remnant, but for ‘all Israel’. “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and everyman his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them, says the Lord” (Jer 31:34).
Only an unfaltering and enduring righteousness can guarantee that the Land will never be lost again. This is the guiding presupposition behind the eschatology of the Old Testament. The problem of the conditionality of the Land promise finds solution in a New Covenant and a future day of the Lord, because only an apocalyptic transformation of judgment and regeneration can establish the conditions necessary for Israel’s secure permanence in the Land. Take away the literalness of the Land promise and you destroy the logic of the covenant on which the prophets based their view of the future.
The end of the age is compared to a woman’s travail. This suggests that the great themes that have characterized the age in general will reach an unprecedented climactic intensity just before Christ’s return. This is shown by the apocalyptic revelation of the last 3 ½ years (Dan 7:25; 9:24; 12:7, 11; Rev 11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5). Such a convergence of events suggests that he church, as the prophetic people of the Spirit, will have a crucial role of witness to the significance of prophetic events in their relation to the gospel. The same urgent witness that will make its last appeal to the nations will also come into the consciousness of an unwary Jewish people, as preparation for the day of national salvation.
Significantly, with the national rebirth of Israel, the purpose of the church for this present age is completed. [Note: I say the “church of this age,” because unlike dispensational theology, I do not believe the church is confined only to the present dispensation, but is composed of everyone who has ‘the Spirit of Christ’(Ro 8:9) in this or any other age (1Pet 1:11), including the future millennium (Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28; Zech 12:10). So it is scriptural to speak of the ‘church of this age’, but never does the scripture call this “the church age”, simply because the church is not confined to the inter-advent period).]
However, the purpose of God for the nations is not complete, since with Christ’ return, a newly liberated Jerusalem becomes the beacon of evangelical witness to the nations (Isa 2:3; 11:9, 12; 25:7; 49:12, 22; 55:5; 60:3; 5, 9; 61:9, 11; 62:2; 66:19-10; Zech 2:11; 8:22-23). So far from bringing an end to Gentile salvation, the restoration of Israel at Christ’s return brings an exponential increase. “Now if their fall means riches for the world, and their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean!” (Ro 11:12). “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Ro 11:15).
With Christ’s return at the last trumpet (1Cor 15:52), the mystery of God is finished (Rev 10:7; 11:15) and all the surviving seed of Israel is born at once, in one day (Isa 66:8; Ezek 39:22; Zech 3:9). The spiritually alert should take special notice that this significantly related convergence of events has been obscured by both the principal schools of prophetic interpretation. Not only by the view that replaces Israel, but also by the view that removes the church from the tribulation, and thus from any active participation or role in Israel’s restoration. The return of Jesus doesn’t happen in a vacuum. His coming brings the day of the Lord, the destruction of the Antichrist, the resurrection of the dead, and the new birth of the Jewish nation. Significantly, when the Jews believe, the church is glorified.
It must be more than coincidental that the church is translated into glorified immortality at the very instant that the crucified Messiah is being revealed to the penitent survivors of the unequaled tribulation (Isa 59:19-21; Joel 2:31-32; 3:14-16; Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1-2; Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; 24:29; 2Thes 2:8; Ro 11:25-27). In addition to the new understanding that the day of the Lord is the second coming of the crucified Jesus, the eschatology of the New Testament introduces the revelation of the mystery that living believers do not enter the millennium in natural bodies, but are suddenly ‘caught up’ and translated into glorified immortality “at the last trump” (1Cor 15:52; 1Thes 4:16-17).
Since it is clear that ‘all’ who belong to Christ are either raised from the dead or translated at this time (1Cor 15:23, 51-52; 1Thes 4:14). And since after Christ’s return, the saved Jewish remnant is depicted as entering the millennium in their natural bodies, it should be apparent that Israel’s national repentance and regeneration is simultaneous with the church’s translation at the last trump.
[Note: Since it was well known that the Lord’s return “after the tribulation” (Mt 24:29) is connected with “the great sound of a trumpet” (Mt 24:31), it is doubtful that Paul would have called any earlier trumpet, “the last” (1Cor 15:52). The time of the ‘last trump’ could hardly be more evident, since Paul so clearly connects Isaiah’s reference to the post-tribulational resurrection of the Old Testament saints to the time of the church’s resurrection by the words, “Then shall be brought to pass the saying which is written …” (compare Isa 25:7-8 with 1Cor 15:52-54).]
If Paul’s ‘last trump’ is rightly associated with the trumpet that sounds in connection with Jesus’ return after the tribulation (Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52 with Rev 10:7; 11:15-18), it should not fail our notice that the Old Testament background for the trumpet that ends one age and begins another is found in Isa 27:13. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come, which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.”
It seems evident beyond reasonable dispute that the trumpet that signals the beginning of the new exodus back to the Land (Isa 27:12-13) is also the same trumpet that gathers together the elect (Mt 24:31; 2Thes 2:1), raises the dead in Christ, and translates living believers at Christ’s return (1Cor 15:23, 51-52; 1Thes 4:14-17). This suggests that at the same time the church is being translated, the surviving remnant of Israel, prepared by the sufferings of Jacob’s trouble and by the prophetic witness of the church, is quickened by the Spirit to recognize the returning Jesus as their once rejected King, and to say with one voice, “Blessed is He who cometh …” (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Rev 1:7). The sudden conversion of the Jewish remnant bears a remarkable likeness to God’s sovereign arrest of Paul on the Damascus road. It is also reminiscent of the bitter-sweet glory typified in Joseph’s revelation of himself to his brethren (Mic 5:3-4).
However, the saved remnant of Israel is not translated with the church, but as new born Spirit filled believers, they begin the long trek back to the Land from places of flight and wilderness refuge (Isa 11:11-16 with Isa 27:12-13; 35:1-2, 10; 40:3; 41:18; 42:11; 43:19). They are helped on their way by willing and grateful Gentiles (Isa 49:22; 60:9; 66:20; w/ Zech 8:23). This too is remarkable and without precedent. It suggests that the final tribulation has effected a great humbling of the nations. So that with the finishing of the mystery of God at Christ’s return, the Gentiles survivors of the tribulation judgments will begin to understand the meaning of recent events (Ezek 39:23; Rev 10:7).
This will be the awesome demonstration of God’s sovereignty in judgment and grace that is being set before all nations in vindication of His covenant when this people in particular has been finally turned and brought into the Land, never to slide back again (Ezek 20:41; 36:23; 39:27). So while the transfer of the kingdom to “a nation producing its fruits” does not exclude the church, it certainly does not terminate on the church of this dispensation, but necessarily looks on ahead to “the regeneration” (Mt 19:28) when ‘all Israel’ will be holy (Isa 60:21; 62:12).
The mystery revealed in the New Testament reveals that the “everlasting righteousness” of covenant promise is none other than the righteousness of God in Christ imputed to every justified believer (Isa 45:17, 24-25; Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24 w/ Jer 23:5-6; Ro 1:17; 3:25-26; Phil 3:9). The revelation of this righteousness, which has come already to the church through the gospel, will be revealed to the penitent survivors of Israel at the day of the Lord when the Spirit is poured out on the reborn nation (Isa 59:19-21; 66:8; Ezek 39:22-29; Joel 2:29-31; Zech 12:10).
[Note: It is another discussion, but I believe it can be shown from Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks (Dan (9:24-27), that the ‘everlasting righteousness’ of covenant promise that has come to the church at the end of the 69th week, will come to Israel at the end of the 70th week. This hidden parenthesis between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel is in perfect keeping with the profound Old Testament mystery of Christ’s twofold advent. It is a parenthesis that appears in many scriptures where both comings of Christ are blended in the same prophecy without clear distinction. And also in many passages where near and distant aspects of prophecy are combined. So all conservative schools of prophetic interpretation must acknowledge some form of ‘gap’ between the prefiguring events of antiquity and their eschatological antitype.]
In their belief that the covenant promised the literal Land of Israel to the Jewish people for an everlasting possession, the prophets are confronted with a profound problem. We might call it, ‘the dilemma of the covenant’. The question that presents itself is how can permanent inheritance of the Land ever be sure and secure to nation prone to backslide? What would it take to establish the conditions necessary for a particular race of people to lie down in safety in a divinely designated Land, so that never again will the might of the Gentiles make them afraid?
That is the language of the covenant (Lev 25:18-19; 26:5-6; Ezek 34:28; Mic 4:4; Hos 2:18; Zeph 3:13; Zech 14:11). It is also the dilemma of the covenant, what some have called the problem of ‘covenant jeopardy’. The prophets saw the solution in the hope of a climactic apocalyptic transformation that would accomplish at once the breaking of the power of the Gentiles and the spiritual rebirth of the nation (Isa 66:8 with Ezek 39:22-29). The threat of further judgment and dispersion would be abolished forever by the ‘bringing in’ of an unfailing ‘everlasting righteousness’ (Isa 32:17-18; 45:24-25; 46:13; 54:14, 17; 61:3, 10-11; 62:1-2; Jer 23:6; 32:40; Dan 9:24).
The stress is on ‘everlasting’, because, as history has shown, a righteous remnant was never enough to prevent Israel from going into exile. Even the occasional revivals of Israel, with their transient reforms, were never enough. Therefore, the righteousness that is sufficient to preserve the nation in the Land ‘forever’ must itself be everlasting (Isa 45:17). Furthermore, it must extend to all, “from the least to the greatest” (Jer 31:34). But what if a generation should arise that forgets the work of God? Wouldn’t this put the covenant back into jeopardy? Not if the same promise of an irreversible eternal salvation is divinely guaranteed to every child born to Jewish parentage from that time and forward. Listen to the scripture.
“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa 54:13 w/ Jn 6:45).
“As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, says the Lord, from henceforth and for ever” (Isa 59:21 w/ Ro 11:27).
“Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified” (Isa 60:21).
“And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed” (Isa 61:9).
“For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain.” (Isa 66:22).
“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34).
“And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul. (Jer 32:39-41).
“The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid” (Zeph 3:13).
These are just a few of the many passages that define the everlasting covenant that shall stand with Israel forever. This is too fantastic for many to believe for the Jewish nation. But Calvinists have believed it for the church in a spiritualized form. Whereas, the Roman church and most of non-Reformed Christendom sees such extravagant promises as possible of fulfillment only in heaven. But this is how the covenant reads! It reverberates all throughout the NT, particularly in such passages as John 6 and Romans 8.
Of course, if these promises are spiritualized, there is no dilemma, and the whole logic of the covenant breaks down, as also the glory that its miraculous fulfillment intends to display. It is the extravagant boldness of the promise that magnifies the glory of God when it is fulfilled literally, ‘against all odds’, in real space-time history. The covenant and the glory of the God, who swore by Himself alone, can be satisfied with nothing short of such an open vindication of His name and covenant before men and angels. This will be history’s consummate answer to the insidious question, “Has God really said?” (Gen 3:1).
We need to see that this eschatological goal of replanting a fully righteous nation back in the Land, forever beyond the threat of further curse or dispersion (Isa 32:15-18; 54:10), is an integral and inalienable feature of the everlasting covenant (Gen 17:8; Lev 26:42; Ps 102:14; 105:10-11; 2Sam 7:10; Isa 60:21; 65:9, 21-23; Jer 32:37; Ezek 20:42; 36:28; 37:25-26; 39:28; Zech 2:12; 8:7-8). This is the covenant that Paul so earnestly defends as not terminal with Christ’s first advent, but as requiring the yet further restoration of the natural branches (Ro 11:23-29).
Therefore, Israel’s national salvation at the future day of the Lord is not an antiquated doctrine of OT eschatology that has been re-interpreted by the New Testament. Rather, a mystery has been revealed of a necessary first stage of New Covenant fulfillment, but the restoration of Israel at the future day of the Lord remains an established ‘given’ in the theology of both testaments.
However, just as there is a ‘mystery of the kingdom’ as ‘already’ present in the Spirit and Word of Christ, and just as the church now shares in the “Lord’s supper,” as the ‘earnest’ (Greek, ‘aarhabon’; 2Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14) of the coming messianic banquet (Isa 25:6 w/ Mt 26:29). Even so, the church constitutes the ‘first fruits’ of the coming salvation of ‘all Israel.’ That is why Peter can speak of the church as “a holy nation” (1Pet 2:9), because the church is the beginning of a larger eschatological harvest that must, at length, include ‘all Israel’ as a resurrected nation (Ezek 37; Hos 6:2). Therefore, Israel’s momentary fall and loss is always looking ahead to a future time that Paul calls, “their fullness” (Ro 11:12).
In this view, the church is in continuity with the godly remnant of Old Testament Israel and the Jewish branches are, ‘at the set time’ (Ps 102:13), grafted back into the corporate lineage of “the election of grace.” The future re-engraftment of the natural branches is no eschatological happenstance; it is not a mere appendage of some extra Jewish branches brought into the church towards the end of time with no particular relationship to Land or nation. No! The national rebirth of Israel as a distinctly Jewish nation is a covenanted necessity! (Isa 59:21; Ro 11:27).
This is why Paul labors to demonstrate that Israel’s fall and hardening is only momentary and partial. The Word of God has failed if Israel remains in unbelief as ‘a nation’ forever! (Ps 83:4; Isa 66:8; Jer 31:36; 32:24-25). Therefore the salvation of ‘all Israel’ means a great deal more than the recovery of some additional Jews to the church at some unknown point in the future. Rather, it speaks more specifically of the Day of the Lord deliverance of the Jewish nation at the end of the great tribulation (Isa 59:19-21; Dan 12:1-2).
“From that day and forward” (Ezek 39:22), ‘all Israel’ will exist in the Land as a holy nation with an entirely regenerate population for a thousand years of testimony before all nations. The age cannot end without this event. The vindication of the covenanted Word of God depends on it. It is significantly coincidental to the finishing of the mystery of God and the binding of Satan (Rev 10:7; 20:2). In divinely appointed conjunction with Christ’s glorious return, the salvation of the Jewish nation stands as the turning point of the age.
Part 2 of the original question: If the Apostles are making the case that Israel/Jerusalem are relatable to Hagar/Ishmael and Sodom/Egypt respectively, then the attention lavished on Israel is misplaced at best. This, they suggested, is supported by the NT emphasis on the New Jerusalem. Therefore regard for, prayer for Israel, blessing Israel etc., is no more important than any other nation.
What?! Are we to suppose that the divinely commanded prayer for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps 122:6; Isa 62:7) has no more significance than attaches equally to all other nations? Such leveling of all distinction suggests that the original divine purpose in Israel’s election has fulfilled its purpose. But Paul sees Israel’s return as the strategic key to a yet greater salvation of the nations. “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more shall their full inclusion mean? … For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Ro 11:12, 15).
We know that God is pursuing the salvation of an elect number out of every tribe, tongue, and nation, but we must not ignore the wisdom of God’s strategy in how this goal is to be attained. It is through Israel’s fall, but it is also through Israel’s resurrection. Through Israel’s stumbling over the cornerstone, the predestined blood of the everlasting covenant was shed for all men. In this sense, the tragedy of Israel’s national blindness was converted into a provision for all. The revelation of this mystery has opened “a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). But that door doesn’t close with Israel’s return. Rather, with Israel’s return, salvation among the nations takes a quantum leap! Therefore, to put prayer for the peace of Jerusalem on a par with prayer for any other nation misses entirely the strategic relationship of Israel as the key to the further salvation of the nations.
Despite the present salvation of a multitude amidst the tribulation that is in the world, the nations must continue to languish, and groan with a sin laden creation ‘UNTIL’ Israel comes into its predestined place. When a young ultra-orthodox man (a Holocaust scholar) took his place immediately beside me on a flight home from NYC (to the astonishment of a young lady to whom I had been witnessing and told of my prayer that he would come and sit beside me when he was still at the front of the plane), I opened conversation with the statement: “My grand-children have a vested interest in the destiny of your people, because until your people will come into their appointed place, the world will be a dangerous place to live.” What a blessed time ensued. There wasn’t a moment’s lag in that conversation until we touched down.
So why has God mediated the salvation of the world through a single elect nation? Why is it necessary that Christ be “of the seed of David according to the flesh?” (Acts 2:30; Ro 1:3). Why is Jesus careful to point out that “salvation is of the Jews?” (Jn 4:22). Why does He insist that the blessing of the covenant is appropriately restricted (for the moment) “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” (Mt 15:24-26). Why, in his mission to the Gentiles, should Paul still feel compelled to go to the Jew first? Why isn’t it enough that the church appropriate Israel’s ethical standards, dispense with its ‘antiquated nationalism,’ and advance directly into the new universal faith without further thought or obligation towards any abiding special concern for Israel?
I believe it is because God’s plan is based on a profound jealousy that no flesh glory. Israel exists to enforce upon the nations the issue of election as defining the nature of grace in order to exclude natural claim based on merit (Ro 9:11; see my articles: “The Key of the Mystery in the Reign of Grace” and “Why the Jew?”). As Christ is a calculated offense to test the hearts of Jews, just so, Jewish election is a calculated offense designed to test the hearts of Gentiles. Ours is a mediated salvation. The kingdom of God must pass through Israel. Nothing is more calculated to expose the pride, resentment, and envy of the natural heart as the sovereign right of God to choose ‘whom He will’ (Jn 5:21; Ro 9:18). All nations will be required to acknowledge that Jerusalem is God’s choice (Isa 60:12; Zech 8:22-23). “And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain” (Zech 14:17).
To put prayer for “the peace of Jerusalem” on a par with prayer for any other nation shows a woeful ignorance of the very mystery that might have saved the church from a history of arrogance, particularly towards the Jew. The Jews of the middle ages used to call Christendom, “the arrogant kingdom.” How true! The church’s ignorance of “this mystery” has provided a shield for the freer operation of the spirit of anti-Semitism throughout history, even in, and often most especially through the professing church.
Such an unreflecting statement constitutes a tragic loss of the context that God has set for the fuller revelation of His glory. It forfeits the high vision of glory implicit in Paul’s grand overview of salvation history in Ro 9-11. Significantly, it is “this mystery” that brings Paul to one of scripture’s most awe filled hymns of praise (Ro 11:33-36). It will bring us to the same worshipful apprehension of divine glory, if we will seek God for the grace to see what Paul saw by the same Spirit. May it be!
While the church rightly insists that there is no salvation outside of Christ, it tends to ignore the further truth that there is no salvation outside of Israel, because both Christ and the church are contemplated as born ‘from within’ the elect nation. In coming to Christ, one is coming into the commonwealth of Israel. It is their covenant. We are the anomaly (“wild branches”). We were the strangers that were granted gracious access to the children’s bread (Mt 15:24-26), as Jesus said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn 4:22). If we are debtors to all men, we are certainly debtors “to the Jew first.”
“I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till he establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa 62:6-7).
“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her” (Isa 66:10).
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee” (Ps 122:6).
Have we missed Paul’s priestly and prophetic travail for Israel’s salvation, simply because we’ve not seen Israel’s predestined place in God’s plan?
Furthermore, such loss of context puts us ‘out of touch’ with the divine pathos over Israel’s momentary loss for the sake of the Gentiles (“enemies for your sakes;” Ro 11:28). It is an imponderable divine exchange that is essential in God’s pursuit of the salvation of an election out of every nation. Yet God is jealous for how this is achieved. He is as selective of the process as He is of the end. This is the divine strategy that Paul saw in His own mission to the Gentiles. Paul’s aim was to build up the church to a fullness of stature sufficient to move Israel to envy. A fully successful ministry to the Gentiles would have this goal as its secondary result.
Paul knew that the Jew is made jealous if the promised Holy Spirit can be seen resting on Gentile believers in undeniable evidence (“demonstration of the Spirit and of power;” 1Cor 2:4). Such manifest evidence of the Spirit in a church comprised largely of Gentiles designs that Israel see that righteousness does not come by the law. Paul saw this demonstration through the church as a strategic eschatological goal towards Israel’s restoration, which would abound to the yet greater salvation of the nations.
Until recently, the church has, for the larger part, retired in defeat from Jewish evangelism. Yet nothing else is more calculated to prepare and deepen the church in its own faith than its encounter with the formidable Jew, the beloved enemy “for your sakes”. The Jew forces the church to do its homework. The challenge of outreach and witness to the Jew is calculated to deepen the church’s appreciation for the mystery of the faith as nothing else. If the church resigns its calling to go to the Jew first, it surrenders a key component in God’s larger strategy in the evangelism of the nations. Hence, the church that is ineffectual towards Israel is ineffectual in a crucial aspect of its mission, which must be accomplished in order for Christ to return.
Israel is God’s self appointed mission impossible. History has an appointment to keep. The glory of God is demonstrated in His ability to finally bring the very same people that He first brought out of Egypt into the Land to stay (see Num 14:11-21; Dan 2:44. Compare the phrase “other people in Lev 20:24, 26 with Dan 2:44). The divine conquest of Jewish unbelief will be the like the parting of the Red Sea. The birthing of Israel ‘in one day’ (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9) will be a monument to irresistible grace, comparable to Paul’s sovereign divine arrest on the Damascus road (Gal 1:15-16; w/ Ps 102:13; 110:3). Only this will be public in the sight of all nations. Indeed God has bound the destiny of all nations to the fall and rising again of Israel. If the church knew this, as it once did, it could never pray for the kingdom to come on earth without this consciousness. It would see Israel’s salvation as a special object of its corporate travail (in analogy to Paul’s travail for his Galatians; Gal 4:19 w/ Isa 66:8; Rev 12:2).
Therefore, the church has a crucial mission to witness to Israel, if only to accomplish a kind of ‘pre-evangelism’ that will prepare the penitent remnant for the confession that will come forth in that coming day when “they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10). I believe it is a last martyr witness of the church that will prepare the survivors of Israel to say on that day, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt 23:39). So to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is the MOST intelligent and effective way to pray for all nations. It is also the most costly, since “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Part 3 of the original question: The scriptural comparison of earthly Jerusalem with Sodom, and the citizenship of the believer in the heavenly Jerusalem, forces the conclusion of a covenantal switch in Messiah. It shows that the Israel focused agenda of many believers is nothing more than a symptom of extra-national identity and hope in concepts outside of a Christ-centered theology.
The NT reveals a mystery that affects everything. The kingdom has come. The promise has been fulfilled, albeit only in part. There is a whole new centrality and emphasis, namely, Jesus and His cross. Something far more glorious came to light in the gospel than anything the human heart might have conceived (1Cor 2:9-10). Even with the advantage of a regenerate and illumined grasp of Old Testament revelation, the mystery of the gospel was kept secret until the appointed time. Hence, nothing could have prepared Israel for the radical shift that came with the revelation of a crucified Messiah.
But I see no ‘covenantal shift’. I see rather the very ground and eternal foundation of the covenant as now revealed in Christ and only ‘partially’ (but not exhaustively) fulfilled in the church of the present interim. The revelation of the mystery of Christ’s twofold advent does nothing to cancel or change anything written in the law and the prophets concerning the specific provisions and features of the everlasting covenant. Nor does it alter any of the plain language that places the time of Israel’s regeneration at the future day of the Lord. “For this is my covenant unto THEM when I shall take away THEIR sin.” Paul places this event of future covenant fulfillment at Christ’s return (Ro 11:27 w/ Isa 59:19-21). So how has the revelation of covenant fulfillment in Christ changed any aspect of the scripturally defined goals of that covenant?
As to the New Testament’s comparison of earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly, the twain will meet! Indeed, the kingdom has passed from Israel for a moment; but not forever! Indeed, Jerusalem is in bondage now with her children, while a host of Abraham’s spiritual children enjoy communion with the heavenly Zion. But one day, the kingdom will ‘return’ to the children of Israel (Mic 5:3) and God will “choose Jerusalem again” (Zech 2:12). Certainly this speaks of the earthly Jerusalem, since the kingdom never left the heavenly.
As to the present Jerusalem, it is much like what is represented by the Pharisee as the ultimate ‘foil’ of divinely intended contrast. If eyes could see what God intends by this contrast, we would tremble. We lose all of the intended affect of such symbolism (Jerusalem in bondage with her children) if we see the Jewish condition of legalistic bondage as just another case of good guys and bad guys. No, the object lesson of Israel is not some caricature of the “perfidious Jew”, so openly placarded throughout the anti-Semitic history of the so-called Christian nations. Rather, it is the far more disturbing picture of the divine rejection of the very best of religious humanity as represented in Saul of Tarsus. It is the rejection of all that falls short of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (Ro 10:2; Gal 1:14; Phil 3:4-9). The cross is not only the ultimate revelation of love and grace; it is also the ultimate exposure of what man is, particularly when it is was divinely ordained that God’s self sacrifice should come very significantly at the hands of the most devout within the privileged nation.
But even if the Jewish people were altogether as villainous as our conspiracy chasing informants would have us believe, God’s outstanding and unfulfilled covenant with THEM (‘the natural branches’) has nothing to do with any special virtue resident in the Jewish people. Never did. That would be to miss entirely the very point of Israel’s election and future salvation. “I do not this for your sakes, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake … And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezek 36:22-23, 32). So great is the issue of this public vindication of God’s covenant Word and glory through this dejected race that He has bound His own return up with their return (Acts 3:21).
And does a “Christ centered theology” ease us of the burden of Israel? Did it relieve Paul? “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who ‘are’ (and remain) Israelites…” (Rom 9:3-4). This is why I said that the replacement view misses entirely the pathos of God in the divine sacrifice that suffered the elect nation to pass into an extended stage of ultimate judgment “for your sakes!”
It is no accident of history that Israel’s rejection of Christ and the nation’s penitent contrition at His return so perfectly answers to the mystery of providence in the story of Joseph. Christ’s death at the hands of ‘His own’ (Jn 1:11) is more profoundly ordained than merely some ready use that God was able to make of Jewish unbelief. No, there is an ultimate divine statement that is being made in this predestined drama. This is why the church has seen its place in the good olive tree as only incidental to Israel’s unbelief and its own superior volunteerism. The Gentile that takes this view is out of touch with the price by which his or her place in the good olive tree was effected. Paul’s argument is so arranged as to make the Gentile believer feel a profound sense of debt to God for choosing to leave Israel in a momentary state of unbelief for the sake of His larger purpose, which only through Israel’s fall “opens the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27; Eph 3:6).
We must not suppose that what has come to us Gentiles (in precisely the way it has come) could have come at any lesser cost in both the death of Christ and the momentary passing over of the elect nation. Paul intends that this understanding should move the church to extend mercy towards Israel (Ro 11:31). The whole dialectical interchange (the ‘turning of the tables’) between Jew and Gentile, and the surprising reversal of place in the good olive tree of covenant promise, designs only to magnify the sovereignty of God’s mercy towards both (Ro 11:32). When it is seen that the covenanted redemption of Israel has been momentarily postponed for our sakes, it works a tenderness of compassion and mercy towards poor blinded Israel, who remains no less “beloved for the Fathers’ sake” (11:28).
Certainly, such a view of Israel’s tragic role in history raises profound questions concerning the relationship of grace and human responsibility, which is precisely why Paul addresses this problem before he comes to his conclusion in chapter 11. This is crucial in Paul’s argument; because if we miss Paul’s point concerning God’s ways in electing mercy, we risk ascribing our place in the covenant (the good olive tree) to some superior virtue of our own. Such an ill conceived presumption exposes us to the same cause for which the natural branches were cut off. But to learn this means that the same grace that has come now to Gentiles through “their fall,” is just as able to arrest a greatly humbled nation (Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7) in the day of His power (Ps 102:13; 110:3), in the same way that He was able to arrest His chosen apostle on the Damascus road (Gal 1:15-16).
If we take the simplistic humanistic attitude, “Oh well, they brought it on themselves!” Or, to put it even more crudely, “They had their shot and blew it!” We utterly fail of the mystery that would have saved us from the pride of our own religious humanism. No, according to Paul, this arrangement of events was completely ordained towards a definite predestined goal.
Part 4 of the original question: It was also put forth that the MO of Christian agencies to bless Israel and the Jews, with the delegates being told to keep their faith in Jesus quiet, was a troubling but general feature among many in whose theology and ministries Israel stands large.
Certainly there is error, and reactionary extremes on both sides of this question. After all, we are dealing with what the Scripture itself calls mystery. I would agree that there can be no defense for the agreements of silence on the part of those that partner with Jewish agencies to return Jews to Israel. Though I know there are considered justifications for this presumed expedience, particularly in cases where Jews are facing peril and persecution. However, it seems to me that the requirement for concession should be on the other foot. Not only are those making the greatest financial sacrifice denied the opportunity to present the gospel to those receiving the benefit, but once again the church is disturbingly silent concerning the impending time of Jacob’s trouble, which has its inception and first concentration in the Land (compare Jer 30:7 w/ Dan 11:31; 12:1, 11; Zech 13:9; Mt 24:15-21; Rev 11:2).
While we are willing to see a larger providence at work in the present process of Jewish return, such covenants of silence seem to us an humanistic accommodation that ought not be indulged any more than Peter could afford to accommodate the demands of silence from the Sanhedrin (see Acts 5:29). How can any enterprise to ‘bless Israel’ neglect the priority of telling them the truth?
Yours in the Beloved, Reggie