Is Israel Still God's Chosen Nation?
Many Protestant Christians give a positive answer to this question. They regard the establishment of the nation Israel in 1948 as the beginning of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies dealing with the return of the Jews to their own land. They regard the Six-day War, in June 1967, and its aftermath as "an indication that history proceeds according to their understanding of God's plans for humanity. The history of the state of Israel provides them with encouragement and hope."(1) They believe that, during the millennium after the glorious appearing of Christ, the Old Testament promises to Israel as a nation will be completely fulfilled.
Most of those who hold this view are known as dispensationalists. Dispensationalism is a branch of evangelical Protestantism formulated in the nineteenth century by an Irish cleric, J. N. Darby (1800-1882), who became the leader of the Plymouth Brethren. Darby made numerous overseas lecture tours during which he succeeded in convincing leading and influential adherents of other denominations that his biblical interpretations were correct.(2)
The main lines of dispensational teaching systematized by Darby are as follows:(3)
1. World history has been divided into "dispensations." These are periods during which God has worked in different ways to save mankind. Some dispensationalists have identified seven such dispensations. For example, salvation between Sinai and the Cross was by law keeping; since the Cross salvation has been by grace alone.(4) In every dispensation man has failed to fulfill the divine will.
2. The compartmentalization of Scripture. Scripture is divided according to classes of people and dispensations. No single passage can have primary application to two dispensations at the same time. For example, it must be determined which are kingdom passages, referring to the Jewish kingdom on earth during the millennium, and which passages may be applied to Christians.(5)
3. The literal interpretation of Scripture. All conservative interpreters of the Bible believe that the Scriptures should be interpreted literally. But a literal interpretation of Scripture involves recognition of the symbolic nature of some passages. Apocalyptic prophecy makes a considerable use of symbolism. Dispensationalists insist on giving a literal interpretation to passages that are clearly intended to be symbolic or allegorical.
4. The dichotomy between Israel and the church. The Old Testament promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled at the end of time. They are not fulfilled for the Christian Church as spiritual Israel.(6)
One of the terms of the Abrahamic covenant was God's unconditional promise that Israel would have everlasting possession of the land of Palestine. Richard W. DeHaan wrote: "The descendants of Abraham were given the land of Canaan in a free, unconditional, and unchangeable grant from God."(7)
Dispensationalist Bible interpreters regard the Mosaic covenant as conditional, by contrast with the Abrahamic covenant which is unconditional.(8) The promise of the land through Moses was subject to the condition of obedience to God.(9) But the promise of the land to Abraham was unconditional. Irrespective of Israel's spiritual failure and rejection of the Messiah, at the end of time the land of Palestine will be fully restored to the Jews, and all the covenant promises to them as a chosen nation will be fulfilled.
John F. Walvoord, a recent leader of the premillennial dispensationalists, wrote: "All the major prophets and practically all the minor prophets have Messianic sections picturing the restoration and glory of Israel in this future kingdom."(10)
he establishment of the nation Israel in 1948 is thought by the Dispensationalists to have begun the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in regard to the return of the Jews to their own land. Hal Lindsey wrote, "The one event which many Bible students in the past overlooked was this paramount prophetic sign: Israel had to be a nation again in the land of its forefathers."(11)
According to dispensationalists, when Jesus was on earth He offered the earthly kingdom to the Jews. Because they rejected it, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in regard to their rulership of Palestine and predominance over the nations could not be immediately put into effect. Of necessity there came a gap of centuries during which the Christian Church has played a separate and distinctive role designed by God. But this role is not a spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel. The period of Christian Church history is a parenthesis, not foreseen by the Old Testament prophets and not designed to fulfill their forecasts. This period of the Church will come to an end when the Christian saints are secretly raptured seven years before the glorious appearing of Christ in the clouds of heaven.
5. A Jewish concept of the kingdom. The future kingdom is not the kingdom of Christ but a restoration of the Jewish kingdom which was not established in Christ's day because the Jews rejected it. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. But the gospel of grace was not preached until the Christian Church was instituted. Then grace was revealed to Paul. The kingdom of God is the universal reign of God in human hearts. The kingdom of heaven, by contrast, is the earthly rule of God promised to the Jews. It will be established on this earth at the second advent of Christ.
6. The pre-tribulation rapture. The church is secretly raptured before a seven-year tribulation. Thus the church will not pass through the end-time tribulation. God's plan for Israel will be fulfilled after the church has been taken up to heaven. (We will consider the Bible teaching on the secret rapture in a future article.)
Clarence B. Bass rejects the view that the secret rapture doctrine is a legitimate aspect of premillennialism: "Unknowingly, many identify this as the only premillennial position, although in the entire history of prophetic interpretation this idea is unknown. Premillennialists have always believed that Christ would return personally, literally, and visibly to establish the millennial reign, but only with the advent of dispensationalism has the pre-tribulation concept emerged." (12)
7. The purpose of the great tribulation. The last seven years of this earth's history after the rapture of the Christian saints and before the glorious second coming of Christ are said to be the final week of Daniel's seventy-week prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27). During this seven-year period the great tribulation predicted by Daniel and Christ will occur.
The seven-year period is divided into two periods of three and one-half years each. During the first three and one-half years Israel enters into a covenant with the Antichrist. But at the end of this period the Antichrist breaks the covenant and begins a three and one-half year persecution of the Jews. This is all said to be in fulfillment of Daniel 9:27: "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven,' but in the middle of that 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And one who causes desolation will place abominations on a wing of the temple until the end that is decreed is poured out on him" (NIV).
DeHaan explains: "He [the Antichrist] will make a seven-year pact with Israel. . . . The Jews, at least a representative group, will be in the land of Palestine, and they will feel secure in this agreement with the wicked prince, who is the Antichrist. He will honor this contract for about three and one-half years. During that time a temple will be built by the Jews, and they will set up some form of worship. Suddenly, however, this world dictator will turn against them, and on the very wing of their temple he will erect an image which he will insist they must worship."
DeHaan applies Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15, 16 to this period and adds: "Other Scripture passages, including II Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 12:14-18, indicate that an image will be erected by the coming Antichrist, and that refusal to worship this idol will trigger a period of dreadful persecution, primarily for the Jews, but for all the other inhabitants of the earth as well."(13)
During the seven-year tribulation a literal 144,000 Jews, who have been genuinely converted to Christianity, will evangelize the world and win a multitude of converts to the faith. DeHann continues: "The great tribulation, which will follow the rapture of the Church, will be the means of Israel's conversion and this will precede the glorious second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth. During the tribulation, the world will experience its most grievous time in history. . . .
"The brighter side of the picture can be seen in chapter 7 of Revelation. God seals 144,000 Jews who apparently turn to Him in genuine faith early in the tribulation, and they become His witnesses. God supernaturally protects them, and they boldly proclaim His message. As a result of their ministry, a great multitude from every nation, kindred and tongue are saved (Revelation 7:9), many of whom will die in that day of trouble (Revelation 7:14). God, however, will preserve a remnant of saved Jews who will enter the millennium. The 144,000 who are sealed in Revelation 7 are still intact when we see them in Revelation 14. This is the nucleus of a godly remnant who will welcome our Lord when He comes to reign."(14)
8. The nature of Christ's millennial reign. The Jews and other peoples who refuse to accept Christ during the seven-year tribulation will be put to death, either during the tribulation or at the glorious appearing of Christ. They will not be raised to enjoy the millennium with Christ on this earth. During the millennium (1,000 years) Christ will reign from Jerusalem, and David will be His regent. The Old Testament prophecies regarding the full and complete restoration of Israel finally will be fulfilled. Israel as the chosen nation will be the center of the earth, and all other nations of the saved will give their allegiance to her.
"The temple is to be rebuilt and the sacrifices re-instituted. The relation of this sacrificial system to the death of Christ is 'commemorative,' not anticipatory. By temple ritual and a system of sacrifice Israel is to commemorate the wonders of the death of Christ, even as she unknowingly did by way of anticipation in the Old Testament."(15)
Some dispensationalists say that the Church will return to earth at the beginning of the millennium and have a place of honor along with Israel. Others say that during the 1,000 years the Church will dwell in the holy city hovering above the earth.
9. The eternal state. At the end of the millennium, the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 will be the home of the Church, the redeemed of Israel, and the redeemed of all ages.
The whole scenario depends upon the idea of the unconditional promise of the land in the Abrahamic covenant and the unconditional promise of complete restoration of the Jews after the period of Babylonian captivity. The northern ten tribes were taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah was taken captive in three invasions of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605, 597, 586 B.C.). Old Testament prophets predicted that, though God's chosen people would be punished for their sin, they would once more be restored to the promised land and would be given national greatness and glory. The dispensationalists regard these prophecies as unconditional. They are certain to be fulfilled literally, despite the Jews' rejection of Christ and the giving of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
In recent years "progressive" dispensationalists have considerably revised the classic formulation of the teaching provided by J. N. Darby, C. I. Scofield, and Lewis Chafer. Although John F. Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie and others provided some revisions of the theological system, recently more radical revisions have been provided by so-called progressive dispensationalists.(16) Even so, as pointed out by Darrell L. Bock, progressive dispensationalists still adhere to certain of the fundamental tenets taught by Darby. Bock writes:
"Despite these fresh emphases on continuity and circumspection about prophetic detail, certain other positions within this approach are parallel to previous forms of dispensationalism. Progressive dispensationalism still believes in the future of Israel in a land involving an earthly millennium and making a distinction between Israel and the church. . . . A pretribulational rapture (the belief that Jesus gathers the church before embarking on his return to judge the world and set up the Millennium) is still held to by the vast majority."(17)
The questions raised by dispensationalism must be settled by a careful study of the Scriptures. What does the Bible say about the Abrahamic covenant? Was it the same as the covenant given through Moses? Was the promise of the land conditional or unconditional? Did Jesus Christ offer the Jews an earthly kingdom or a heavenly one? What happened to their chosen nation status after they had rejected Christ? Were they still regarded by heaven as the chosen people for whom the Old Testament promises would be literally fulfilled? Or were they rejected as the chosen people? Is the period of Christian Church history an unforeseen parenthesis? Is it God's plan to restore Israel to national greatness, or are Jews in the Gospel age promised a part in the heavenly kingdom on exactly the same basis as other believers, an individual acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord? These are the questions that we must address in this chapter.
THE PROMISES OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT WERE CONDITIONAL
re is no Scriptural basis for the argument that the Abrahamic covenant promises were unconditional while those of the Mosaic covenant were conditional. The terms God offered Abraham were identical to those He offered Israel at Sinai. Therefore the blessings promised to Israel at Sinai on condition of their obedience to the covenant and the curses promised on condition of their disobedience all applied to the Abrahamic covenant just as surely as they did to the Mosaic covenant. The promise of the land to Abraham applied to his literal descendants only on condition that they remained true to God. The loss of the land resulted from their disobedience.
God's approach to Abraham as recorded in Genesis 17 indicates that there were conditions to His promises. The covenant could only be everlasting to Abraham and his descendants if they were loyal to these conditions. God said to Abraham, "'I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous" (Gen. 17:1, 2).(18) After giving the promise of the land for "a perpetual holding" (verse 8), the Lord added the condition: "God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations" (verse 9, italics supplied).
Then the Lord gave the command that every male in Israel was to be circumcised (Gen. 17:10, 11). It is clear that circumcision was to be the outward sign of the heart relationship between Israelites and their God. God wanted them to be circumcised in heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6). Circumcision of the heart is the same spiritual experience that is taught in the New Testament (Rom. 2:25-29). Abraham and his seed could not walk before God and be perfect merely by practicing outward circumcision. The Lord was looking for a heart relationship with His people, of which the practice of circumcision was to be the outward sign. Paul gives the real meaning of circumcision when he says: "He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised" (Rom. 4:11, 12).
Genesis 15 records: "And he [Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Then is recorded how God made the covenant with Abraham (verses 7-21). Suppose Abraham had not believed in the Lord and received the gift of his righteousness, would God have made the covenant with him, giving him the promise of the land? Of course not! And suppose Abraham had refused God's command that he should be obedient to His will (Gen. 17:1), would the Lord have restated His promises and given him the sign of circumcision? Since circumcision was the sign of a spiritual experience already enjoyed by Abraham, we can only conclude that, if he had not had that experience, the Lord would never have commanded him to practice the sign. And suppose Abraham or his seed had refused to keep the covenant that God had commanded (Gen. 17:9), would God's promises have been fulfilled for them? The indication in Genesis 17 is that everything depended on Abraham's and his descendants' faithfulness to God. The promise that the Israelites should inherit and continually possess the land of Palestine was conditional upon their faithfulness.
When Abraham had a son by Hagar, he spoiled God's plan of miraculously demonstrating that salvation is by faith not by human works. Paul refers to this as Abraham's lapse from the everlasting covenant relationship (Gal. 4:22-31). Only by breaking off the relationship with Hagar could Abraham renew his covenant standing with God and again become the heir to the divine promises.
The Lord offered Israel at Sinai the same covenant relationship that He had given Abraham. The Lord offered them "my covenant" (Exod. 19:5). This is the same "my covenant" spoken of nine times in Genesis 17. How appropriate that God should offer Israel at Sinai the same covenant terms that he had offered Abraham! After all, he had promised Abraham: "I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (Gen. 17:7; italics supplied).
The New Testament teaches that the Abrahamic covenant applied to Israel at Sinai. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise" (Gal. 3:17, 18). So the giving of the law at Sinai did not change the terms of the covenant. God offered Israel the same covenant He had offered Abraham.
God commanded His covenant "for a thousand generations" (1 Chron. 16:15). This is "the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, 'To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance'" (verses 16-18).
Although God offered the Israelites the same righteousness by faith relationship that he gave Abraham, they did not make a genuine heart response. They said, "'Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do'" (Exod. 19:8; compare 24:3, 7). But their hearts were not in their words (Deut. 5:28, 29). They broke God's covenant by refusing the experience of Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and by turning to their man-made gods (Exod. 32; compare Jer. 31:32). God found fault with His chosen people (Heb. 8:8) "for they did not continue in my covenant" (verse 9). The faulty covenant of man's own works, by which he separates himself from a faith-grace union with God, is called the "first," or "old" covenant (Heb. 8:7, 13), because it was Israel's first experience at Sinai. By contrast, the "new" covenant (verse 8) is the Abrahamic or everlasting covenant of righteousness by faith which Israel accepted at Sinai after God had rebuked their sin (Exod. 34; 35). But throughout their history the Israelites tended to turn away from God, forgetting His covenant and lapsing into a self-made religion of works. (See Jeremiah 7.)
In the New Testament, the ceremonial law is sometimes included in the first or old covenant (compare Heb. 7:15-28; 8:1-7; 9:1, 11-15), not because it was to be the means by which Israelites earned salvation, but because it was necessary in view of the people's dismal failure to maintain faith in God. The people's old covenant failure necessitated a simple visual aid to faith, the ceremonial law. It provided an imperfect analogy of the future ministry of Jesus Christ. The sanctuary/temple ceremonies were to be performed by faith. But since these ceremonies were necessitated by the people's spiritual failure, and since they were an imperfect foreshadowing of the Messiah's work, they were regarded as part of the first or old covenant. As such, they were done away at the Cross.
The Lord told the Israelites who inherited the Abrahamic covenant promises (1 Chron. 16:14-18) that if they did not continue to maintain their covenant relationship with Him, they would be cursed physically and materially and expelled from the promised land. The message of Deuteronomy 29:9-13 is that "this covenant" (verse 9) given to Israel was the same one that "he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (verse 13). Faithfulness to it would result in great blessings (Deut. 28:1-14), but unfaithfulness would bring terrible curses (verses 15-68). The Lord could not have been more explicit; rejection of His presence in the heart and of obedience to His commands would result in expulsion from the land of promise: "Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods -- gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known" (Deut. 28:63, 64).
The promises of the Abrahamic covenant could have been fulfilled to Israel, and she could have become the predominant nation on earth, used of God to preserve His truth and to disseminate His love. But the original promises to Abraham, repeated through Moses, were conditional upon the continuing faithfulness of the people. Restoration after national calamity and captivity by other nations was dependent on repentance and submission to God's loving will. Bible history and prophetic forecasts underline that Israel as a nation has not and will not fulfill God's conditions. This is why there remains no divine purpose to fulfill the promises to Abraham regarding Israel's national superiority.
GOD'S PROMISES TO RESTORE THE LAND TO ISRAEL AFTER THE CAPTIVITY WERE CONDITIONAL
Dispensationalists treat as unconditional the prophets' predictions regarding Israel's restoration after the Babylonian captivity. But the condition under which the Lord would return His people from the land of their captivity is stated quite simply: "When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you" (Deut. 30:1-3).
Having been restored to the promised land, Israel would be prospered if they would obey the commandments of the Lord (verse 9, 10). God visualized a faithful, obedient people who had learned the lessons of history so thoroughly that they would not wish to depart from His service again. They were to be cleansed from sin, filled with His Spirit, and were to live in conformity with the requirements of His law (Ezek. 36:24-33). "They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Deut. 37:23). The Lord would make an "everlasting covenant" with them, dwelling perpetually among them and blessing them with spiritual and national superiority (verses 26-28).
Shortly after their restoration to Palestine, the Jews began breaking their covenant with God, failing to observe His Sabbath day, and living contrary to His will. Nehemiah expressed his concern that God's wrath would once again be brought upon Israel (Neh. 13:18), and he took very decided steps to insure that the people would reform their ways (verses 19-31).
The covenant that Jeremiah declared God would make with Israel after the captivity was a repetition of the everlasting covenant given to Abraham (Jer. 31:31-36). It contained both conditions and promises. God's law was to be written on the people's hearts; they were to know Him and to serve Him (verses 33, 34). This was the condition that would result in Israel never being rejected as the Lord's faithful people (verses 36, 37). But what if the people refused to allow the Lord to come into their hearts by His Spirit? What if they refused to obey His law and walk only in His ways? His promises could not then be fulfilled. Just as the curses of Deuteronomy 28 were fulfilled when Israel and Judah were taken captive by the Assyrians and Babylonians, so once again His unfaithful people would be rejected and scattered.
During the Babylonian captivity, Daniel actually predicted that, because of their rejection of the Messiah, probation would close for Israel as a nation, and it would be dismembered by its enemies (Daniel 9:24-27). There was no promise of restoration after Daniel's 490-year prophecy came to an end in A.D. 34.
The same conditions and promises are for us today as for ancient Israel. Even though in this life we may have suffering, sickness, and calamity, if we are willing to live for God, allowing His Spirit to abide in our hearts, He will preserve us for eternity. But if we reject Christ and live according to worldly ways and standards, we can only expect ultimate eternal loss.
ISRAEL FAILED TO FULFILL THE CONDITIONS
The centuries after Israel's return from Babylonian captivity were notable for increased apostasy, deepening moral and spiritual decline, along with growing national pride and political corruption.
Malachi forcefully denounced the moral and spiritual corruption of restored Israel (Mal. 1:6; 2:1-17). In the centuries before the time of Jesus the nation descended to such depths of spiritual perversion that the Lord could not bless His chosen people. Jesus spoke of the arrogance, legalism, and hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders (Mark 7:6-9; Matt. 23). Man's laws had taken the place of God's laws, and religion had degenerated into a means of self-aggrandizement and money making.
Finally the nation rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah, claiming, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15, KJV). Little did the Jewish people realize that when they asserted, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25), they were inviting heaven's final rejection of their nation as the chosen people and a repeated outpouring of the divine curses stipulated by Moses (Deut. 28). Jesus' predictions came true: "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom" (Matt. 21:43). "See, your house is left to you, desolate" (Matt. 23:38).
No assurance of reinstatement as God's chosen people was given to Israel after they had rejected Christ. Daniel's predicted period of probation finally came to an end with the stoning of Stephen (A.D. 34), and the Christian Church assumed its role as the international custodian of the oracles of the faith.
Jesus never offered Israel of His day an earthly kingdom, as the dispensationalists teach. Always He emphasized the spiritual nature of the kingdom. "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21, KJV). "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight" (John 18:36). The kingdom of grace in human hearts will merge at the end of history into the kingdom of glory (Luke 17:24; Matt. 25:34). When the people tried to take Jesus by force and make Him a king, He determinedly refused (John 6:15). Had the Jews accepted Him, undoubtedly they would have been retained as the chosen people to make known His salvation in the earth and to prepare the world for the eternal kingdom. But Jesus' purpose was not to establish an earthly kingdom at that time.
The dispensationalists' distinction between the "kingdom of heaven" as the earthly Israelite kingdom planned by God and the "kingdom of God" as the heavenly kingdom for all who believe is not supported by the biblical evidence. George E. Ladd comments: "It is to be noted at the outset that the two expressions seem to be quite interchangeable in the Gospels. . . . A few illustrations must suffice. In Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry with the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near (Matt. 4:17), but in Mark he announces that the kingdom of God has come near and men are to repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). In Matthew, the twelve offer the kingdom of heaven to Israel (Matt. 10:6-7), but in Luke they offer the kingdom of God (Luke 9:2). If in Matthew the Sermon on the Mount announced as the law of the kingdom of heaven is the law of the future earthly kingdom (Matt. 5:3), in Luke it is announced as something else, the law of the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20). According to Matthew the parables portray the mystery of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11), but in Mark (4:11) and in Luke (8:10) it is the kingdom of God. If in Matthew a Jewish remnant is to announce at the end of the age the good news that the earthly kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is about to be set up (Matt. 24:14), then Mark says something quite different -- that the gospel must be preached first to all the nations (Mark 13:10).
"Furthermore, if such a distinction is to be made, no adequate explanation has been suggested for the four times the expression 'kingdom of God' occurs in Matthew. One illustration will suffice. After the conversation with the rich young ruler, Jesus said to His disciples, 'Verily, I say unto you, it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God' (Matt. 19:23-24). Here the two terms are clearly synonymous, and both are equivalent to salvation, eternal life. . . ."(19)
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS SPIRITUAL ISRAEL WHICH HAS REPLACED LITERAL ISRAEL AS GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE
Consider the teaching of the following Bible passages:
Galatians 3:9, 27-29: "For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed." "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."
Those who have Abraham's faith receive the blessings promised to him. Jews and non-Jews who have received Christ as Savior and Lord are counted as "Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."
Romans 9:6-8, 23-26: "It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham's children are his true descendants: but 'It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants." "And what if he [God] has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory -- including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, 'Those who were not my people I will call "my people," and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved,"' 'And in the very place where it was said to them "You are not my people," there they shall be called children of the living God.'"
The birth of Isaac was a miracle of God. This represented the fact that salvation is by faith, not by human effort. The true Israel of God are those who have faith in Christ, not those who are the natural children of Abraham. God has called all believers; "not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (Rom. 9:24). Now Hosea 2:23 is fulfilled; Christian believers of all nations have now replaced literal Israel as God's chosen people.
Romans 2:27-29: "Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart -- it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God."
The "physically uncircumcised" are the Gentiles. If they obey God's law by faith in Christ, having His Spirit living in their hearts, they are counted as Jews and numbered among God's faithful ones. Only Jews who have the same spiritual experience are acceptable to God.
1 Corinthians 1:23, 24: "But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
The message of "Christ crucified" is power and wisdom to both Jews and non-Jews who believe. The method of salvation is identical for both classes.
1 Peter 2:9, 10: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Peter was writing to faithful Christian believers in Gentile countries (1 Peter 1:1, 2). Christian believers of all nationalities are now God's chosen people, even though formerly this was not the case. Peter could not have been more specific in his terminology: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."
Acts 10:34, 35: "Then Peter began to speak to them: 'I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'"
Because of the vision he had received from God (Acts 10:9-16), dramatizing that the Lord receives believers of any nationality, and the manner in which the Lord led him to the household of Cornelius, Peter was convinced that God's chosen people are those from every nation who have submitted to the lordship of Christ.
The New Testament is thoroughly clear that the Christian Church, comprising all genuine believers in Jesus Christ, has replaced Israel as the chosen nation. Spiritual "Jews" are believers in Christ irrespective of their national heritage.
God's promise to Abraham, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3), has been remarkably fulfilled. Paul underlines the point. "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, 'All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.' For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed" (Gal. 3:8, 9).
Jesus was a Jew. "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). Jesus' apostles who made enormous sacrifices to bring the Christian Gospel to the world were Jews. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, was a Jew. Gentile Christians are deeply indebted to Jews for their cooperation with Jesus in launching and fostering the Christian Church and in disseminating the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
THE PROMISES OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT ARE FULFILLED TO CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS, BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES
The fact that all Christians are to live under the Abrahamic covenant is a prominent New Testament teaching. The heart of the covenant offered to all Christians is stated in Hebrews 8:10: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." This is the same covenant promise that was given to Israel through Jeremiah (31:31-33). In fact, Hebrews 8:10 quotes Jeremiah 31:33. The covenant experience for Christian believers of having God's law written on their hearts was the very essence of the covenant between God and the Jews (Deut. 6:4-6). By faith Abraham obeyed God's law (Gen. 26:5), and this experience of righteousness by faith is the heart of the Abrahamic covenant (compare Gen. 17:10, 11 with Rom. 4:11, 23-25). Because Abraham believed God, righteousness was imputed to him. The righteousness of Christ was legally counted for him and bestowed upon him by the gift of the Holy Spirit (compare Rom. 4:1-5 with Gal. 3:5-14).
Paul's message is that, if we believe as Abraham did, we too will have righteousness imputed to us (Rom. 4:22-25). Christ's righteousness will be put to our account and also bestowed upon us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in our hearts is Christ's presence (John 14:18), and this divine indwelling is righteousness in our hearts (Rom. 8:9, 10).
Abraham's covenant experience is to be the experience of all those who submit to the loving lordship of Christ, whatever their nationality. The promise of Romans 10:10 is for all Christian believers around the world, Jews and Gentiles: "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation."(20) This identical experience is for Jews and non-Jews, for, in respect to salvation, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him" (Rom. 10:12).
The logical conclusion is that, although Israel is no longer God's chosen nation because this status has been transferred to the Christian Church, individual Jews can be saved from sin and given eternal life on exactly the same basis as all Gentiles. By accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they are included in the family of God.
This is the message of Romans, chapter 11. The attempt to make the chapter teach that the nation Israel is still God's chosen nation is quite futile. Note the following major points:
1. Some faithful Jews who believe in Christ are counted among the elect of God; the rest of the nation are blind (verses 5-8).
2. All but the believing remnant have been cast away (verse 15).
3. The majority of unbelieving Jews are likened to branches that have been broken off from a parent olive tree (verses 17-20; compare John 15:5). The parent stock is Christ.
4. The only way rejected Jews can be acceptable to God again is by believing in Christ (verse 23).
5. Believing Jews are grafted back into the parent stock again in the same way as believing Gentiles (verse 24).
6. "All Israel" that will be saved (verse 26) is not a reference to the literal nation Israel. Not even dispensationalists believe that the entire nation Israel will be saved. In the context of Romans 11, "all Israel" refers to those Jews who are elect "if they do not persist in unbelief" (verse 23) and those Gentiles who, because of belief in Christ, have been grafted into the parent olive tree. "The full number of the Gentiles" (verse 25) refers to the total number of Gentiles who will become believers in Christ before the end of time. These Gentiles plus the Christian Jews comprise "all Israel," in the New Testament sense of spiritual Israel which has inhertied the promises to Abraham.
During the millennium the saved of all ages, including faithful Jews who lived before the Cross and believing Christians who have lived since then, are all in the heavenly kingdom. Revelation 7:15 speaks of them: "They are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple." The temple of God is in heaven, not on this earth (Rev. 11:19; 15:5). Not until the end of the millennium does the holy city, New Jerusalem, descend from heaven to this earth (compare Rev. 21:2 with 20:7-9). During the millennium the saved of all ages, including those who have passed through the end-time tribulation (see Dan. 12:1; Rev. 7:14), are occupying thrones in the heavenly temple judging lost human beings and angels (compare Rev. 20:4 with 1 Cor. 6:2, 3).
The idea that the literal nation Israel will be completely restored at the end of history, that during the millennium the Old Testament promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled is an unbiblical teaching. Because the Jews rejected Christ, they lost their chosen nation status, lost the promise that the land of Palestine would be theirs forever, and forfeited their privilege of being the teachers of the Gospel to an unbelieving world. Our Lord bestowed upon His Church in all the world these covenant promises. The land will, indeed, belong to His people, but it will not be limited to Palestine. It will be first the heavenly Canaan during the millennium, followed by the earth made new at the end of the 1,000 years. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
Whatever your national or racial heritage, salvation is for you, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord. You can trust Him to fulfill for you individually the eternal promises for true believers.
1. Yaakov Ariel, On Behalf of Israel: American Fundamentalist Attitudes Toward Jews, Judaism, and Zionism, 1865-1945 (Brooklyn, New York: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1991), p. 121; see also p. 22.
2. Ibid., pp. 25-54; see also Daniel Payton Fuller, "The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism" (Th.D. dissertation, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957), pp. 65-137.
3. See Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1960), pp. 13-47, on which my description of dispensationalism is largely based. See also Charles F. Baker, Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Grace Bible College Publications, 1971), pp. 583-616; Richard W. DeHaan, Israel and the Nations in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1968), passim; L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1954), IV:1220-1227; George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 5-14, 35-60; Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1952), pp. 101-117; Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker, 1970), pp. 59-80, 101, 136; C. I. Scofield, "The Course and End of the Age," Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (January-March, 1951), pp. 105-116; "The Last World Empire and Armageddon," Ibid., 108 (July-September, 1951), pp. 355-362; "The Return of Christ in Relation to the Jew and the Earth," Ibid., 108 (October-December, 1951), pp. 477-487l; John F. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1967), pp. 41-52, 158-171; "Amillennial Eschatology,"Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (January-March, 1951), pp. 7-14; "The Historical Context of Premillennialism," Ibid., (April-June, 1951), pp. 153-166; "The Theological Context of Premillennialism," Ibid., (July-September, 1951), pp. 270-281; "The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism," Ibid., (October-December, 1951), pp. 414-422.
4. See Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, pp. 33-36.
5. Daniel Payton Fuller, "The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism," p. 6.
6. See H. K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy. Principles of Prophetic Interpretation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1983).
7. DeHaan, Israel and the Nations in Prophecy, p. 93.
8. Daniel Payton Fuller, "The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism," p. 243.
9. Yaakov Ariel, On Behalf of Israel, p. 16.
10. John F. Walvoord, "The Historical Context of Premillennialism," Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (April-June, 1951), p. 154.
11. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970), p. 43.
12. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, p. 38; Daniel Payton Fuller, "The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism," pp. 15, 18.
13. DeHaan, Israel and the Nations in Prophecy, pp. 88, 89.
14. Ibid., p. 99.
15. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, p. 44.
16. See Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992); Darrell L. Bock, "Charting Dispensationalism," Christianity Today (September 12, 1994), pp. 26-29; Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992); Norman R. Gulley, "Dispensational Biblical Interpretation: Its Past and Present Hermeneutical Systems," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 4/1 (1993): pp. 65-93; "Progressive Dispensationalism: a Review of a Recent Publication," Andrews University Seminary Studies (Spring-Summer 1994, Vol. 32, No. 1), pp. 41-46; Robert L. Saucy, "A Rationale for the Future of Israel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28 (1985), pp. 433-442; "The Church as the Mystery of God," In Israel and the Church: Essays in Contemporary Dispensational Thought, edited by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992); The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993). Stanley J. Grenz writes: "In recent years, however, the success of dispensationalism has been paralleled by a growing questioning of the received dispensational orthodoxy. Adherents themselves have been tinkering with the system, modifying some of its more objectionable features. Others have abandoned it completely. There are signs that the dominance of this viewpoint--at least in its classical expression--may be on the wane, just as was the fate of other eschatological systems in previous eras."--The Millennial Maze, p. 63. Despite the modifications in the theological system, "dispensationalists of all varieties adamantly reject the contention that the church is the New Israel."--Ibid., p. 96. Norman R. Gulley lists the changes accepted by progressive dispensationalists: "(1) Progressive fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies/promises in the church age, and thus a rejection of traditional futurism. (2) Accepting the church as implicit in the Old Testament, and the moral law and the Sermon on the Mount as applicable in the church age rather than relegated to Israel in the millennium. (3) Accepting that Old Testament prophecy can have double fulfillments in the church age, such as Joel 2 at Pentecost (Acts 2) and in the future. (4) Progressive fulfillment of prophecy involving an acceptance of inaugurated eschatology and a rejection of the church age as a parenthesis between Israel in the Old Testament and Israel during the millennium. (5) Progressive fulfillment of prophecy involves rejection of a postponed kingdom and rule of Christ, and focuses on His present rule from heaven's throne over all on planet-earth. (6) Progressive fulfillment of prophecy rejects that there are two new covenants, one for Israel and the church, finding the one new covenant sequentially fulfilled--spiritually in the church age and physically to Israel in the millennium. (7) Progressive fulfillment of prophecy rejects the final difference between the earthly people of God (Israel) and the heavenly people of God (church), opting rather for a dwelling together in the new earth."--"Dispensational Biblical Interpretation," pp. 83, 84.
17. Darrell L. Bock, "Charting Dispensationalism," Christianity Today (September 12, 1994), p. 29.
18. In this article, unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.