The Nation of Israel
It is manifest today that there is a great obsession relative to the "Nation of Israel." Matters pertaining to the so-called Nation of Israel greatly form and influence world politics. The Nation of Israel has also become the impetus and focus for many religions and much of their theologies. In May of 1948, this interest was really given momentum when Israel officially became an independent state. Even though Israel is relatively small, about 6, 000,000, there is no nation or state that exerts such enormous influence. It is an indisputable biblical fact that God favored Israel in providing them a written law and bestowing upon them special covenant blessings (Deut. 5: 1ff. cp. Rom. 3: 1, see addendum). God also provided Israel with the Promised Land, which they later forfeited (Josh. 23). Regarding the "Nation of Israel," we are hearing great claims. Some are saying that Israel will again become a great world nation and that Jesus himself will assume the position of Autocrat over this state when he returns. Please consider the following that is typical of such claims, the assertions of the doctrine known as Premillennialism:
"A large part of the Bible deals with Israel. In a very special sense they are the people of God. He called them to be a holy people and led them to the Promised Land; He then dispersed them among the nations because of their disobedience; and it is the same immutable covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who will restore Israel to the land of their fathers in the end-time (Ezek. 36:24-28) .Never in all of Israels existence as a nation was there ever the slightest doubt of the validity of the unconditional promises that God made to the founding fathers of the nation. God Himself was, and still is, the guarantee of the Abrahamic, Canaanitic and Davidic covenants that ensure the eternal allocation of the land as well as the permanence of Davids throne. Israels exile from the land because of disobedience cannot abrogate these covenants. Even if Israel is unfaithful, God remains a faithful covenant-keeping God who will again restore the nation to the land of their fathers .The Messiah will not only reign as Prince of peace, King of kings and Lord of lords, but also as King of the Jews as Pilate had so rightly written as the superscription above the cross of the suffering Messiah (Lk. 23:38)."
Concerned reader, there are a number of basic affirmations in the above statement. First, it affirms that God's relationship with physical Israel has not changed. However, the Bible plainly sets forth the fact that God's relationship with physical Israel has changed (Rom. 11: 20-23). The statement contends that the land promises were unconditional, this simply is not the case (Deut. 4: 24-28). The above teaching is also replete with the mistaken notion that the Abrahamic promises were simply physical (Gal. 3). The assertion also presents Jesus as reigning over a physical government and kingdom. Jesus' kingdom is not political or physical (Jn. 18: 36). Besides, Jesus kingdom was established in Acts 2 and is not future, being contingent upon the restoration of the Nation of Israel (Matt. 16: 18, 19, Mk. 9: 1, Col. 1: 13).
The promise to Abraham was not just national, but was primarily redemptive, pointing to Jesus as the means of the salvation and blessing of all that would accept him. In the first place, God's promises as they have and do affect man's personal salvation are conditional (2 Chroni. 15: 1, 2). As we have briefly mentioned, God's land promise to Israel was based on their faithfulness to his commands (Deut. 4: 24-28). Also, the scriptures are irrefutable regarding the fact that the land promise was kept by God and totally fulfilled. Notice how emphatically the aged Joshua stated both the fulfillment of the land promise to Israel and the fact that they had to remain faithful in order to keep the land:
"13: Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. 14: And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. 15: Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. 16: When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you" (Josh. 23).
Beloved, Israel did not remain faithful; therefore, they forfeited the land based on God's own decree. In more detail, the Abrahamic promise actually involved three matters: The land promise; the restoration promise; and the seed promise.
Regarding the land promise, we have seen how it was given as a conditional promise and that "not one thing had failed thereof" (Josh. 23: 14). God gave the land promise to Abram through his seed (Gen. 12: 1-7).
Involved in the Abraham and Nation of Israel promise was also the matter of restoration. So many of the prophecies and texts resident in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel that mention the restoration of Israel actually were fulfilled, either in Israel's return from Babylonian captivity or the restoration of spiritual Israel through Jesus' church (605-536 B. C., see 2 Chroni. 36: 22-23, Rom. 2: 28, 29). Three groups of Jews returned to Palestine from Babylonian captivity. There were those who returned under Zerrubebel in about 536 B. C.; those under Ezra in about 458 B. C; and those under Nehemiah in 445 B. C.
There is also involved in the Abrahamic promise the matter of the seed promise. The seed promise was made to Abram in Genesis 12: 1-7 and found again in Genesis 22: 15-18. It was later made to Isaac in Genesis 26: 1-4, to Jacob, to Judah, and to David (Gen. 28: 3, 4, 13, 14; 49: 8-12; 2 Sam. 7: 12-16). The Nation of Israel, the land, and the seed promise were means to effect God's real purpose, redemption in Christ (Gal. 3: 19-25). God's holy nation today is not the Nation of Israel physically considered but the spiritual nation of Israel, God's holy people (I Pet. 2: 9, 10, Rom. 2: 28, 29).
Please consider a couple of points out of the potentially many points that could be made, all of which point to spiritual Israel. Notice how in Genesis 26: 4, and 28: 14 reference is made to all nations or families of the earth being blessed. This thinking was totally beyond the physical Nation of Israel concept and absolutely looked to spiritual Israel. In Zechariah chapter six, a text used to teach the restoration of the physical Nation of Israel, there is prophetic reference to Jesus ruling on his throne and at the same time, being a priest (Zech. 6: 13). In the physical context, Jesus could not have been Priest and King, only in regards to the spiritual Nation of Israel could Jesus be both king and priest (Heb. 7: 11-14).
I invite you now to consider some brief cardinal points and truths that affect how we view the Nation of Israel.
The very reason the Jews rejected Jesus was because he did not advocate the physical Kingdom that they wanted. The Jews in the first century were longing for the resurgence of their Kingdom and the end of Roman rule. They thought the Messiah would set up a physical kingdom (Lk. 19: 11-28). When Jesus explained that his kingdom was spiritual, they rejected him (cp. Jn. 18: 33-36). Alas, many "Jews" and non-Jews continue to look for a physical restoration of the Nation of Israel.
The main thrust of the promises made to Abraham was spiritual and was fulfilled in Jesus and his spiritual kingdom. Paul makes it as plain as language can that the spiritual blessings were the paramount reference of land, restoration, and seed promises (Gal. 3).
The Bible presents two different covenants, one for the physical Nation of Israel and the other for spiritual Israel (Heb. 7-10). The essential difference in the two covenants is that one especially pertained to the physical aspects of Israel and pointed to a "new covenant" while the new covenant served as the antitype for the type (compare Jere. 31: 31-34 and Hebrews 8: 1-12). The components of the physical Nation of Israel such as the land, Levitical Priesthood, tabernacle, temple, and animal offerings are all seen as types of heaven; all believers being priests; and "total" forgiveness of sin through Jesus' blood (Heb. 11: 8-10; I Pet. 2: 9, 10; Heb. 10: 1-4, 9: 28). To insist on the literal, physical restoration of the Nation of Israel is to also insist on the return of the covenant that God gave to Israel (Zech. 14: 16-19, such verses prove the text is not contemplating the premillennial view of Jesus' return).
All the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. All the talk about physical Israel returning to Jerusalem ignores the fact that we cannot even ascertain with certainty who is (the percentage) a physical Jew or from what tribe they have descended. This appears to have been one purpose for the utter destruction of the temple, to totally do away with the Jewish system for ever, even the civil influence ceased (Heb. 8: 13, see Matt. 24). Consider the following comments:
"When Zerubbabel brought back the captivity from Babylon, one of his first cares seems to have been to take a census of those that returned, and to settle them according to their genealogies. Passing on to the time of the birth of Christ, we have a striking incidental proof of the continuance of the Jewish genealogical economy in the fact that when Augustus ordered the census of the empire to be taken, the Jews in the province of Syria immediately went each one to his own city. The Jewish genealogical records continued to be kept till near the destruction of Jerusalem. But there can be little doubt that the registers of the Jewish tribes and families perished at the destruction of Jerusalem, and not before" (Smith's Bible Dictionary).
Paul's teaching in Romans chapters nine through eleven. We are told that Paul clearly taught the restoration of the physical Nation of Israel and also their salvation in Romans chapters nine through eleven. Allow me to present a cursory review of what Paul wrote to the Romans.
Paul was very solicitous regarding the salvation of his Jewish brethren (Rom. 9: 2-4, strange if the entire nation were going to be saved). He stresses that Christ came through Jewish descent (Rom. 9: 5). Paul distinguishes between physical and spiritual Israel and showed that "the children of promise" is spiritual Israel (Rom. 9: 6, 7, 8). Paul also used "Jew" in a literal sense (Rom. 9: 24). Paul said that only a "remnant" of the Jews would be saved (Rom. 9: 27, 31-33, seems to have a double meaning, physical salvation regarding the return from Babylonian captivity and also only a few would accept the gospel). Paul urgently wanted his brethren's salvation, but they were rejecting God's means of salvation (Rom. 10: 1-3). Christ was the fulfillment or culmination of the Law of Moses, the system to which the Jews tenaciously looked for salvation (Rom. 10: 1-4). In respect to the gospel, the system designed for both Jew and Greek, there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek (Rom. 12, 13-20, 21). God had not, Paul affirmed, arbitrarily cast off Israel and again, there would be a remnant saved (Rom. 11: 1, proof that God had not simply nationally rejected the Nation of Israel). Those among the Jews who accepted the gospel would be saved (Rom. 11: 23).
It is in the foregoing context that Paul made the statement that the advocates of the restoration of the Nation of Israel really look, verse twenty-six of chapter eleven. The verse reads thus:
"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."
If the statement, " all Israel shall be saved" means that all Jews will nationally turn to Christ in connection with Christ's return, how do we reconcile this with the contextual teaching that only a remnant, at best, would be saved? However, if we understand "Israel" in the sense that Paul has used the term, spiritual Israel, then we experience no difficulty. Remember Paul's statement:
"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Rom. 2: 28, 29, see 9: 6-8).
In closing, may I kindly say that the doctrinal system known as Premillennialism that sets forth the physical restoration and national salvation of the Nation of Israel is not biblical. The gospel was to be preached to all nations and nationality is totally inconsequential (Mk. 16: 15, 16, Acts 10: 34, 35). As we have seen, even establishing Jewish descent with total accuracy is impossible and such matters are of no real concern, anyway (I Tim. 1: 4). The advocates of the restoration of the Nation of Israel and their mass return to the promised land, etc. have grossly misunderstood the original promises and their past fulfillment. The "hope of Israel," I submit, is heaven and not the physical restoration of the Nation of Israel (Acts 28: 20, Eph. 4: 4). They, in addition, have a physical concept of the gospel and the kingdom. Jesus is now reigning over his kingdom and when he returns, it will be the end, not the beginning (Acts 2: 29-36; I Cor. 15: 24ff.; Jn. 5: 28, 29). (If you would like to learn more about Premillennialism, click on "Premillennialism" in the Subject Index box on the Archives page.)
Addendum: The name "Israel" was first given to Jacob (Gen. 32: 28). Jacob or Israel, then, became the physical progenitor of a nation, his descendents. "Israel" is applied to the twelve tribes and later, in a narrower sense, "Israel" excluded Judah (1 Sam. 11: 8, 2 Sam. 20: 1, I Kgs. 12: 16). Thereafter, "Israel" is accepted as the name of the Northern Kingdom. After the Babylonian captivity, the exiles who returned resumed the name Israel (Ezra 6: 16, 9: 1, Nehe. 11: 3). The term "Jew" identified, strictly speaking, a member of the Kingdom of Judah (2 Kgs. 16: 6). "Jew" was later used more comprehensively and even included "Israelite," all who were not Greek (Gal. 3: 28, Rom. 1: 16).