Israel’s End-Times Relevance: The People
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One of today’s biggest issues is whether the nation of Israel has a right to exist. Did the Jews forfeit their position as God’s chosen people? Has the church replaced Israel in God’s plan? In this article, we’ll examine Bible passages that might help us answer these questions and form an appropriate view of Israel’s end-times relevance.
In its simplest form, this is a belief that the Church has superseded or replaced Israel in God’s plan. It’s an interpretation of the New Testament that considers God’s relationship with Christians as either the “replacement” or “fulfillment” or “completion” of the promises he made to the Jews in the Old Testament. According to this belief, the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people and God doesn’t have specific future plans for the nation of Israel. As a result, people who believe replacement theology typically spiritualize or allegorize God’s Old Testament promises to Israel into promises of God’s blessing for the church.
This belief is more widespread today than you might realize. Liberal, mainline churches today adhere to replacement theology in some form. The largest churches adhering to replacement theology include: Roman Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Lutheran Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, and United Church of Christ. There are many other churches that believe supercessionism, but these are the largest.
As a result of this belief, these churches don’t believe the modern nation of Israel has a right to exist. They condemn the nation as illegitimate and oppose its so-called occupation of Palestinian land. They repeatedly condemn Israel for virtually everything: bringing Jews from other countries to Israel, building homes, refusing to give up land, building defensive barriers, and so on.
In this article, we won’t examine replacement theology any further than this. We simply need to be aware of it and be able to identify what’s motivating certain churches’ political actions. These churches are very outspoken in their opposition to Israel.
Now let’s consider what the Bible has to say.
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. (Gen. 17:3-10, NIV)
Who made this covenant? God did it sovereignly and unilaterally. What did God require of Abraham? Only circumcision; not obedience to any moral, dietary, religious, or civil laws. God later stated that any male who is not circumcised has broken the covenant and will be cut off from the people (Gen. 3:4). That is the only condition of this covenant and it applies to individuals!
This covenant has never been revoked and never will be — “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant” — because “everlasting” never ends. One of God’s qualities is omniscience; he exists in timelessness, so he knows everything — past, present and future. So when God made this covenant, he knew some of Abraham’s descendants would break the covenant and not serve him. He knew the nation of Israel — the Jews, Abraham’s descendants — would collectively reject Jesus as Messiah. Yet he chose to make this an everlasting and almost unconditional covenant. Is this covenant still relevant today? Definitely! There’s is no scriptural record of God revoking it.
“In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” (Isa. 61:8-9)
God stated he will make (future tense) an everlasting covenant with Israel. Jeremiah 31 describes that covenant.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
This is what the Lord says,
he who appoints the sun
to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
so that its waves roar—
the Lord Almighty is his name:
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
declares the Lord,
“will Israel ever cease
being a nation before me.”
This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
because of all they have done,”
declares the Lord. (Jer. 31:31-37)
The first verse clearly states this is a new covenant. It will be unlike the covenant God made with them through Moses when he led them out of Egypt. That was a conditional covenant (conditioned on obedience to Law) and Israel broke it. The purposes of “the Law” included (1) defining sin and showing that it deserves judgment, and (2) proving they need a savior because they can’t keep the law.
The new covenant Jeremiah describes will be different. In it, God will completely forgive their sins; that is, there will be no more sacrifices, because Jesus’ sacrifice will be applied to their sins. Under the new covenant, Israel will always be a nation before God; that is, unless his decrees to the sun, moon, stars, and seas vanish, which won’t happen. God reinforces his commitment by stating he will reject all descendants of Israel for their sins only if the heavens can be measured or the foundations of the earth searched out; that won’t happen.
In other words, this is a new everlasting covenant. It will supersede God’s covenant with Abraham, but that hasn’t happened yet.
“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Eze. 37:26–27).
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Rev. 21:2–3).
Both passages state that God literally will remain among his people on earth. Both passages clearly state he’ll be Israel’s God and they’ll be his people. Revelation 21:2-3 reveals Ezekiel 37:26-27 applies to eternity, after Jesus’ 1000-year reign. God’s throne is located in the new Jerusalem, currently in heaven or the spiritual realm. After God replaces the current sin-contaminated universe with a new heavens and new earth, he’ll move his throne to earth in the physical realm so he will be among his people!
The Old Testament and New Testament agree: God plans to be with his people Israel.
The context of Joel 2 is the Day of the Lord, the period in the end times when Jesus will return and reign on the earth. Consider the following verses from that chapter as evidence:
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand –
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness (Joel 2:1-2).
The day of the Lord is great;
it is dreadful.
Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Joel 2:31).
Now consider what God says in that context:
Then the Lord was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.
The Lord replied to them:
“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations” (Joel 2:18-19).
Again, this refers to the Day of the Lord, when Jesus will reign on earth. Notice the reference to grain, new wine and oil, all of which relate to earthly existence. Anyone who studies God’s covenants with Israel in the Old Testament will discover they’re all earth-based; their blessings and curses all relate to earthly existence. God’s new everlasting covenant with Israel will also be earth-based; fulfilling all previous covenants, from Abraham to Israel. Covenant blessings will include healthy families, landownership, healthy crops and flocks, prosperous commerce, honor from the nations; all of which relate to earthly human existence. God’s plan for Israel always has been and always will be earth-based.
The big question many people ask takes many forms. Does Israel’s apostasy — their rejection of Jesus as Messiah — negate all these promises of a new covenant? Did Israel’s rejection of Jesus abort God’s plans for them? Haven’t they been under a curse since Jesus’ crucifixion, and isn’t that proof that God has abandoned them? Consider the following.
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:23–25)
How might that statement have affected Israel for nearly 2000 years? They pronounced a curse on themselves and their descendants. When God promised a new, everlasting covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, did he know they would reject the Messiah? Yes, and he made the promise anyway. God unilaterally made covenant with Abraham, with only one condition, which Abraham and his descendants kept. Likewise, God unilaterally will make the new, everlasting covenant with Israel; an unconditional one.
The following New Testament passages confirm God’s plan to restore and bless Israel.
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:11–13).
Is it possible for Jews to be saved today? Yes, and we call them Messianic Jews.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom. 11:25–32)
This passage states that “Israel has experienced a hardening in part” until something occurs. Various Bible translations refer to hardness or blindness; that is, callousness, a dullness of perception. This hardness or blindness is partial and temporary, according to the verse.
Yet it states, “all Israel will be saved.” Based on biblical prophecies about widespread deaths in Israel in the end times, I interpret “all Israel” to mean “all the survivors of Israel.”
Then it states the covenant includes taking away their sins. We Christians have experienced this in the new covenant.
We often quote the part which states that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable, but we overlook its context. We Christians apply this statement to ourselves, which is appropriate because it’s a general principle. But Paul writes the statement in reference to the Jews! He’s stating that God’s gifts and his call to the Jews are irrevocable! God is bringing the Jews back; not because they deserve it, but because he promised it. And his gifts and call are irrevocable.
Hebrews 8:8-12 was written after the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, yet it quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, which we examined earlier. So the New Testament affirms Old Testament statements that God will make a new covenant with Israel. Would the Holy Spirit have inspired the author of Hebrews to write that if the Jews had aborted God’s promise in Jeremiah? No, consider the following.
Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. (Rev. 7:2–8)
This clearly is relevant to the end-times. The angel announces the 144,000 Jews are about to be sealed, so let’s consider what that means. Ephesians 1:13 states, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 4:30 states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” When were we sealed with the Holy Spirit? At salvation. So the passage in Revelation 7 suggests the 144,000 are sealed with the Holy Spirit when they acknowledge and accept Jesus or Yeshua as Messiah.
“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).
This occurs during the day of the Lord, when Jesus (the Lamb) physically stands on Mt. Zion; he’s returned to earth to reign. And the 144,000 Jews are standing with him, which means God will protect them through the devastation of the Great Tribulation so they can be with Jesus (Yeshua) while he reigns on earth.
Jeremiah 32:40-41. What does this passage reveal about God’s attitude toward Israel?
Jeremiah 33:25-26. What does this passage reveal about God’s attitude toward Israel?
Micah 7:18-20. What does this passage reveal about God’s attitude toward Israel?
Zechariah 12:8-13:1. This passage probably relates to the “battle of Armageddon,” when the world’s armies are attacking Jerusalem and the Lord returns to earth. How will the surviving Jews respond? How does this relate to Romans 11:26?
Romans 1:16. What does this passage reveal about God’s attitude toward Israel?
Romans 2:9-11. What does this passage reveal about God’s attitude toward Israel?
Romans 3:29-30. According to this passage, how will the Jews be justified?
God has plans for both the Jews and the Church: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11). God will protect a remnant of the Jewish people through the end times and into eternity, contrary to replacement theology.