Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Place of Israel in Prophecy

People still say, "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem." As I understood Dispensationalism when I was once counted among them, 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 it was 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. They champion political policies toward Israel based upon some mistaken 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 to bring something to pass for Israel that God never promises in the Bible.

However, I cannot accept this perspective, because 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 is the promised land. Its king is the promised king. Those who believe in Christ are the people of the kingdom. In my mind, the exegetical evidence for this is utterly overwhelming, given a correct hermeneutic.

What this means is that for Israel to have any hope of any participation whatsoever in the promises, they must repent and believe in Jesus, and become a part of the Church. Then and only then will they receive what has been promised. 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 already passed 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 a generation (and with perhaps subsequent generations) of Isrealites that will some day walk the earth 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 says 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 have adamantly rejected Christ would come to Christ is almost unimaginable. Those Jews (whatever that means only God knows) will repent, join the Church, 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)

No comments:

Post a Comment