20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 12 - The Future of Israel
To emphasise the importance of this study we must remember that we are considering a unique race. The Jews form a large part in the purpose of God. In fact, states Alan Hayward in PLANET EARTH'S LAST HOPE, "the whole history of mankind, both past and future, revolves around the history of Israel." John Urquhart, a writer of a much earlier day, put it very succinctly when he said, "The Bible lives in the Jew. His whole history is a testimony to the historic truth."
God has not finished with Israel. Liberal theologians ignore any reference to Israel, while others, some within the ranks of conservative evangelicalism, aver that God is through with Israel, and that the Jews have been set aside and superseded by the church composed of Jews and Gentiles. Says one such thinker, making reference to the words of Jesus in (John 4:21), "Jerusalem in Palestine was abolished for ever as to its spiritual significance." He continues in his thesis to argue that the "Zion" referred to in (Isa. 59:20, 21 and Rom. 11:26, 27) can only refer to the New Testament Zion, i.e. the church of our Saviour Jesus Christ." To argue in this fashion betokens a failure to differentiate between Israel and the church, resulting in theological confusion. Prof. Dwight Pentecost states that "these two groups cannot be united into one, but that they must be distinguished as two separate entities with whom God is dealing in a special programme." Any attempt to interpret certain Old and New Testament prophecies relative to Israel, otherwise than literally is not sound, and the idea of spiritualising such prophecies and applying them to the church makes nonsense of Scripture.
Paul asks, "Hath God cast away His people?" and then proceeds to answer his own question, "God hath not cast away His people" (Rom. 11:1, 2). If that be so, then this nation has a future. In the field of world politics there is no more pressing problem than world tension in the Near East between the Jews and the Arabs. To brush aside this matter as but typical of the universal unrest so evident in today's world is to reveal ignorance of one of the crucial issues affecting God's prophetic programme and world politics.
Israel as a nation is one of the most dramatic signs of the end time. As one modern writer on the subject of the second coming suggests, here we have the infallible sign. Israel is now a nation in her ancient homeland. There are many signs of the near return of Christ, but the most important of all is the Jew. Indeed one writer says, "Those who hold that God has completely finished with the people He chose for Himself are robbing Christians of one of the greatest signs of the nearness of our Lord's Return."
In this nation is the most important sign as to where we are going. Today the eyes of the world focus on Palestine and the problem of peace in the Near East is becoming more and more acute. God said through His servant Zechariah centuries ago, with these last days in view, "In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: and all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces though the peoples of the earth be gathered together against it." (12 : 3). Never in history has Israel been such an oppressive stone as today. Inter-national statesman debate the whole Palestinian issue and the problem is not made easier when those who have to deal with it are either ignorant of what is holy or absolute in history, or simply ignore the fact. Prof. Walvoord sets the matter in its true light when he states that, while for many Israel is of little consequence, from the divine point of view, "she is indeed the key, and through Israel God is to fulfil His purpose whether redemptive, political, or eschatological."
In light of this it is fundamental that we grasp what Paul is trying to say in those parenthetical chapters of his Roman epistle (9-11). In his excellent book PROPHECY IN THE SPACE AGE, Dr. Skevington Wood observes, "There is throughout a dual emphasis. Israel is indeed rejected, but Israel will not be always rejected. As the chosen race was once a recipient of blessing and an instrument of God's hand, so it will be again at the end of the ages." Paul states with clarity that Israel at present is broken off from the olive tree and also predicts a future ingrafting of Israel into "their own olive tree" (Rom. 11:24). This will take place when their blindness is lifted (v.25) and, when this takes place, the restoration of the nation as outlined in (vs.26-32) will take place. The judicial blindness of (Rom. 11:25) will be lifted when, to quote from the same verse, "the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." This term should not be confused with "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), which is a political term used to cover the period beginning with Babylonian domination over Israel and ending when Jesus returns to subjugate Gentile authority and reign. The Pauline term "the fulness of the Gentiles" refers to this parenthesis of grace, i.e. this church age, when God is visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). When the church is completed, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, Jesus will come to the air and translate the resurrected dead and the changed living believers in a second. When the church has been removed from the earth, God will again turn His attention to His earthly people.
Israel's Origin as a Nation
The history of Israel goes back to the time when God called Abraham from the idolatrous Ur of the Chaldees to be the progenitor of a new race. This created a new milestone in the affairs of men. The fact that about one-fifth of the book of Genesis is devoted to the history of mankind from Eden to the Tower of Babel and the remaining four-fifths to the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, itself enforces the importance of this. Indeed from Genesis 11 to the close of the New Testament the earthly seed of Israel are to the fore and never confused with the "faith" seed of Abraham, i.e. the church. When this confusion takes place we create theological difficulties. When God called Abraham, three promises were made to him. First, the gift of the land of Palestine. That land belongs to Israel as her inalienable possession. The exact boundaries are outlined in (Gen. 15:18).
This convenant has not been fulfilled in its entirety in Israel's history, and because of the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant, a future and literal fulfilment is necessary. Any attempt to spiritualise the promises made to Abraham makes nonsense of such promises. Secondly, we observe the assurance that Abraham and his seed would become a great nation (Gen. 12:2,7;13:15;15:18). The word "seed" as used cannot be confined to Abraham's own generation, but must apply to successive generations. Thirdly, the Abrahamic call involved not only personal and national blessings, but universal benefits (Gen. 12 : 3). To quote Dr. Scroggie, "The promise was from the centre 'Abraham' to the circumferance, the 'world'." There can be no doubt that the Gentile world is envisaged here, out of which is being gathered the church (a mystery veiled in the Old Testament, see (Eph. 2). Indeed if we understand the Abrahamic covenenat in its fullest implication, the world will yet benefit through its consummation in the earthly manifestation of the kingdom of Christ. So the Abrahamic covenant is the cardinal point in the edifice of truth and the other covenants, the Palestinian, the Davidic and the New Covenants, are each enlargements of it.
When we come to David's accession to the throne. God made a covenant with him in which the house, the throne and his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Sam. 7 and 1 Chron. 17). The seed, which figures largely in the Abrahamic covenant, is made dominant in the Davidic promise, and since no conditions are imposed therefore human failure cannot possibly annul such an irrevocable covenant. The same promise, reaffirmed to Mary by the angel at the annunciation (Luke 1 : 31-33), could only be interpreted by her literally. To literalise the first part of the Lucan passage, relative to Jesus being called "the Son of the Highest", and then proceed to spiritualise the reference to the Davidic throne is "not only poor exegesis but questionable logic."
It is true that despite Israel's privileges she failed God, and by the time the Messiah arrived in human form, she had suffered subjection to the Babylonians, the Medes, and Persians, the Greeks and Romans. Because of their ultimate rejection of Christ at Calvary, God turned aside from them and soon they were dispersed to the four corners of the earth, but not without a promise of ultimate restoration. A great portion of Old Testament prophecy is related to this restoration. See the following Scriptures: (Isa. 27 :12; 43 : 5-7; Jer. 12 : 15; 24 : 6; Hosea 12 : 9; Joel 3:1; Amos 9 : 14, 15; Micah 4 : 6 and Zech. 10 :10). The dream of re-establishment has become a realization.
Their Physical Rebirth as a Nation
Why should it surprise us that God who predicted their scattering would bring about their recovery ?
In this parenthesis of grace, the mercy of God still reaches the individual Jew who is prepared to embrace Christ by faith, yet the nation as such is judicially blinded, until the purpose of God for the Gentiles has been fulfilled.
Since A.D. 70, when the Roman general Titus ransacked Jerusalem and its sacred temple, the lot of the Jew has been an unhappy one. Jerusalem has suffered domination under Moslems and Turks, until in 1917 General Allenby conquered the ancient land, which victory proved to be a decisive turning point in Jewish history. The Zionist movement, born in 1897, received its greatest impetus in the issue of the now famous Balfour Declaration on November 2nd, 1917, which states, "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people." Over the next 30 years with Britain in the mandatory Authority in Palestine, Jews began to return to Israel. In 1947 Britain informed the United Nations other desire to surrender the mandate. In May, 1948 a Jewish state was proclaimed. For over a quarter of a century now the miracle has been a reality, despite several attempts to wipe out the new Israeli state. Israel is calling its people home. Is God through with the Jew ? The origins of this special nation give us the answer as does the partial restoration to their ancient home in the middle of this century.
But there is another reason why God has not finished with this divinely called and divinely preserved people.
Israel's Ultimate Spiritual Regeneration
It is true that they are returning in unbelief, but this is but the prelude to an ultimate restoration to the favour of God. They are returning to their land to await the return of their Messiah as their rightful and once rejected King. If you turn to Ezek. 37 you will find that v. 11 shows Israel's cry of hopelessness in their dispersion. Then in vs. 12, 13 we see the Jews arriving from their national graves, while in v.l4 we are faced with her spiritual restoration.
The physical restoration of this people to their land, vouchsafed to their future, is without parallel in world history, but this "is but a token that God is about a fulfil His Word concerning the glorious future of His chosen people." What we see taking shape before our eyes today is but a prelude to a programme of events which will culminate in the return of Christ to the earth to inaugurate His millennial kingdom of righteousness and peace. To use the imagery of the Master, the fig-tree is budding, the Jew is returning to his own land.
Before that day dawns this nation will undergo the greatest time of trouble she has yet experienced. By virtue of her geographical location, Israel is both economically and militarily valuable. Apart from anything that Bible prophecy has to say about the future military conflict in that area, world leaders are not slow to recognise the strategic value of this country. For these reasons the emergence of Israel as a nation is significant.
If we are to understand prophecy correctly, it would seem that the return of Jesus Christ could not take place until the Jew was restored to his own land. Now that this is fact, the stage is set for the unfolding of future events. The Messiah will come to His own earthly people (Zech. 14) but, as a prelude to that event, there will be a period of unprecedented tribulation. Daniel speaks of this as a "time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time" (12:1). Jeremiah designates this as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (30:7). Jesus in His final Olivet address referred to it as "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time" (Matt. 24:21). This will be the world's midnight hour, an hour that will overshadow every tempestuous epoch of the past. It will be a period when the Devil will contend with God for the control of the world, a period that will bring to an end "the times of the Gentiles" and witness the setting up of the "stone kingdom" of Dan. 2. The reign of the Antichrist will be challenged by the arrival of Christ on earth to execute judgment and establish His rule. This anticipation is the major goal of Bible eschatology.