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Israel And The Church

The miraculous rebuilding of the state of Israel after almost 2000 years of dispersion and its preservation in the face of great hostility has led to many people searching the Bible for answers to what God is doing. Common questions are "Are the end times near?" "Are Jews saved simply by virtue of being Jews and worshipping "the same God as we do"? "Does God still have a purpose for the Jewish nation ?".

With the emergence of Messianic Jews as a segment within the Christian church again some theological issues that have lain dormant for 1900 years are re-emerging such as: Are the Jews are spiritually superior as a race? Should Gentile Christians be in awe of them? Should we adopt their culture and sing their songs? Should all Christians observe Rosh Hashanah, eat kosher food, be circumcised or use the Hebrew names for God?

This chapter will attempt to answer these and similar questions in four sections - "the Times of the Gentiles", "the Salvation of the Jews", "the Holy City" and "Israel and the Church".

The Times of The Gentiles

(Luke 21:24 NKJV) "And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

(Romans 11:25-27 NKJV) For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. {26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; {27} For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."

There is a time for the Gentiles believers described in both of the above passages. This time is characterized by two things 1) Jerusalem will be occupied by Gentiles with the Jews dispersed through all the nations 2) The Jews will be hard in heart towards the gospel. Both these things have begun to change in recent years. In 1948 Israel became a nation and Jews began to return to the Promised Land. In 1967 Jerusalem was taken back from the Arabs. The Temple Mount (at the time of writing) is still under Arab control and this is the last and most important bit of Jerusalem to be "trodden underfoot by the Gentiles". When that is finally in Jewish control then the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled.

Since 1967 increasing number of Jews have begun to turn to Christ and there has been an explosion of evangelical ministry to Jews and to Israel. This indicates that the times of the Gentiles are coming to an end.

Many of today's "unreached" people groups are in fact "once -reached" people groups. This especially applies to the Arab nations and Russia which were among the first to hear the Good News however they have since turned away. Except for tribal groups in a few nations and in remote areas of India and China there are few "never reached" Gentiles left. Our God is working out His program for the salvation of the world which started with the Jews and which will end with the Jews. The completion of the Great Commission will be followed by the renewal of Israel. This is indicated in the Romans passage above which states that after the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled that all Israel will be saved. This transformation of Israel will probably be part of "the end" which quickly follows the completion of the task of world evangelization

(Matthew 24:14 NKJV) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Paul sees the spiritual revival of Israel as being even more glorious than the salvation of the world! Or rather it adds great glory to it.

(Romans 11:15 NKJV) For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

The revival in Israel will be "life from the dead" for the world and while I can only guess at the meaning of this phrase it seems to mean that either the resurrection will take place shortly afterward or that some great spiritual life will flow across the earth and the glory of the Lord will be evident 'as the waters cover the sea'. I look forward to it whatever it is!

How should we then pray? We should pray recognizing the times we are in and we should pray for the salvation of the Jews and the completion of God's purposes for Israel at the same time as we pray for the completion of the task of world evangelization. Pray that God may use you to bring "life from the dead".

The Salvation of Israel

(Romans 11:12-32 NKJV) Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! ....{15} For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?...... Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear....... {23} And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. ........... {25} For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. {26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; {27} For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." .....{30} For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, {31} even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. {32} For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.

The above verses (highly edited because of space) clearly show that Paul expected all Israel to be saved and to be "grafted in" to the place from which they had been "broken off".

In the first part I looked at "the time of the Gentiles" and showed it was characterized by the Jews in dispersion, their hardness of heart toward the gospel, and the occupation of Jerusalem by Gentiles. This was certainly the condition of the Jewish people until 1967. Since then the "times of the Gentiles" have been coming to an end and the time for the salvation of the Jews has begun. I believe we are on the verge of the next great move of God and that it will be His work amongst the Jews.

Satan is raising up strong opposition to this in the following ways:

  1. Through the Jewish religious leaders who are strongly opposed to any attempts to evangelize the Jews.

  2. Through strongly anti-Christian Islamic forces surrounding Israel.

  3. By portraying Christians as hostile to the Jewish people.

  4. By inducing the Church to neglect God's agenda for the Jews. For instance if people are taught that God has abandoned the Jews for crucifying Christ and that the Church has replaced Israel in God's purposes. Nowhere is this taught in Scripture.

Paul teaches a "hardening" but not an abandonment. God will eventually cause all Israel to be gloriously saved. There are not two structures for redemption. God is not working through the Church and through Israel. He is only working through the Church. However eventually the Church will be based in Jerusalem and all Israel will be a part of the Church. There is only "one new man".

(Ephesians 2:11-17 NKJV) Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands; {12} that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. {13} But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. {14} For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, {15} having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, {16} and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. {17} And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.

Through Christ both Jew and Gentile have been merged together into "one new man" which is the church, and in the church both Jew and Gentile stand by faith alone. See the immediately preceding verses which are Eph 2:8-10.

The Jews will not all be saved simply because they are Jews - they will all be saved because they will all at last believe. Jews are not saved by virtue of being Jews.. Paul's cry for the salvation of his countrymen is totally void if they were already saved by virtue of "worshipping the same God as we do". They worshipped the right God, the wrong way, and "not according to knowledge". The Jewish religion does not provide the righteousness that is from God. To receive the righteousness from God they must believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior

(Romans 10:1-4 NASB) Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. {2} For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. {3} For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. {4} For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

However Paul does go on to say that they will be saved because they will give up their unbelief and be made part of God's "olive tree" once again.

(Romans 11:23 NKJV) And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

This revival of the Jewish nation is partly described by the prophet Zechariah. The prophecy was not totally fulfilled at Christ's first coming and, in its context in Zechariah, seems to be just before events associated with the return of the Lord (remainder of chapter 13).

(Zechariah 12:10-13:2 NKJV) "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn........ "In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. {2} "It shall be in that day," says the LORD of hosts, "that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.

Israel will repent as a whole nation and be cleansed from sin. This will be a major step forward in God's purposes for Israel being a "holy nation". Israel will finally become a part of His church and He will again be truly worshipped in Jerusalem. Satan will try to stop this by bringing many nations against Jerusalem but he shall be defeated.

(Zechariah 14:16 NKJV) And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

The salvation of all Israel is a fascinating study in how God will accomplish "the impossible" in taking a dispersed and unbelieving people and making them into a secure and holy nation. Praise be to God whose plans can never be thwarted and whose gifts and callings are irrevocable.

(Romans 11:28-29 NKJV) Concerning the gospel they (the Jews) are (presently) enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. {29} For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

The Holy City

After all Israel has been saved Jerusalem will be a holy city to which all nations will come.

(Micah 4:1-3 NKJV) Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord's house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And peoples shall flow to it. {2} Many nations shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion the law shall go forth, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. {3} He shall judge between many peoples, And rebuke strong nations afar off; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.

This seems to be different from the "New Jerusalem" of Revelation in that it is clearly on earth and nations still need to be rebuked. War is given up by the nations but agriculture is still common and ordinary life seems to be going on. It is not yet the eternal state but a vast improvement on our present condition. The full renewal has not yet come when this is fulfilled. It seems to be an intermediate stage between what we see at present and the new heavens and the new earth This may well be the time when Satan is bound for a while.

(Revelation 20:1-3 NKJV) Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. {2} He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; {3} and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.

Other prophecies that point out a renewed role for Jerusalem in world affairs include :

(Jeremiah 3:16-17 NKJV) "Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days," says the LORD, "that they will say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore. {17} "At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.

This central role of Jerusalem will be as the worship center of the world. The people of the world or at least of Jerusalem shall no longer follow the dictates of their evil hearts. This implies they are all partakers in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. The law is powerless to effect such a moral change (Romans 7) only the Spirit can give this sort of strength (Galatians 5:16-18). Some sort of spiritual revival has come to large portions of the world.

It is not the law or the old Jewish temple system that will attract the nations though some vestiges of it, such as the Feast of Tabernacles will remain. The ark of the covenant, which was central to the old worship system, will be remembered no more.(Jeremiah 3:16,17) The worship will be centered on Christ.

Israel will be a nation of believers in Jesus Christ and Jerusalem will be a glorious city with the presence of God manifest in it so that all nations will stream to it.

(Isaiah 60:1,2,10,11,12 NKJV) Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. {2} For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you...... "The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, And their kings shall minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, But in My favor I have had mercy on you. {11} Therefore your gates shall be open continually; They shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, And their kings in procession. {12} For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, And those nations shall be utterly ruined..

Yet it is not a perfect world for there will be those that resist going up to Jerusalem perhaps out of jealousy or resentment. The hostile nations that refuse to worship will not receive any rain that year.

(Zechariah 14:16-17 NKJV) And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. {17} And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain.

Satan constantly attacks our ability to perceive and to receive the goodness and power of God. He will be so defeated by a revival of the Jews that the goodness, power and glory of God will be clearly manifest at last including God's protection of His people.

(Zechariah 2:4-5 NKJV) who said to him, "Run, speak to this young man, saying: 'Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it. {5} 'For I,' says the LORD, 'will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.'"

Israel and The Church

How then can we mesh God's purposes for the Jews and for Jerusalem with His purposes for the Church? Both Israel and the Gentiles are made one through the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:11-17). Both enter into salvation through faith or are denied salvation through unbelief. Christ has only one body, not two. Believing Jews are now part of the Church which is God's redemptive structure. Thus there is a complex relationship between the Jewish nation and the Christian church. "Salvation is from the Jews" said Jesus (John 4:22) and our Savior and our Scriptures are Jewish. The root of Christianity is Jewish and we Gentiles have been grafted in. (Romans 11:16-24)

Does this mean that the Jews are racially superior and that we should adopt their culture and sing their songs? Should all Christians eat kosher food, be circumcised or use the Hebrew names for God? That question was firmly settled by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) - Jews are entitled to their culture and so are Gentiles. Jewish Christians may do all of the above things but they are not obligatory for Gentiles. Christianity transcends culture. There is no one "right culture" to be adopted by all who name Christ Jesus.

"(Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. {27} For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. {28} There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. {29} And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

Messianic Jews (Jews who believe in Jesus) are not a superior form of Christianity. They are not closer to God because they are Jewish. We are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.

Then are Jewish believers "just like other Christians" and has God forgotten His plans for national Israel or transferred them to the Church? Certainly God has made the Church, not a particular nation, the vehicle for salvation. But God does have plans for Israel and very glorious ones if Isaiah 60-66 is to be believed.

God will achieve all the objectives of the Abrahamic covenant. The nations will be blessed, the descendants of Abraham will be as numerous as the stars of the sky and land of Israel shall belong to God's people.

(Genesis 17:4-8 , 22: 17,18) e.g. "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

In the end Israel will be God's land and the Jews will all be saved (Romans 11) Jews and Gentiles will together make up the body of Christ as one "new man in Christ Jesus". Satan will not be able to steal one square inch of Israel from God or stop Him from making Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Neither can Israel's own stubbornness prevent God's purposes being fulfilled for our unfaithfulness does not invalidate God's faithfulness to His promises.

(2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV) If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

(Romans 11:2 NKJV) God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. We have not seen all these things happen yet, but they will happen - because we have a mighty God.

(Jeremiah 33:23-26 NKJV) Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, {24} "Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, 'The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off'? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. {25} "Thus says the LORD: 'If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, {26} 'then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.'"

Application To Understanding the OT Today

The two essential truths I want you to grasp are:

a) The Church is God's only redemptive structure in the heavenly realms
and yet
b) God has plans for Israel on earth as a nation.

We can only be saved through believing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jews are not spiritually superior or special in fact they have experienced a partial hardening. Their culture is not to be adopted as a superior culture by God's people. We are to treasure the Jews because Jesus was a Jew and they had the promises and the Scriptures and they still have a place in God's heart. Christianity must never be anti-Semitic.

Righteousness only comes through faith in Jesus Christ not through a particular nation no matter how involved it has been in God's purposes. Jewishness is good for Jews but heaven is of "all tribes and nations" and we can be sure that God loves Gentile cultures as well.

Many of the OT prophecies about Israel seem to be on their way to fulfillment today. . Israel is the clue to God's prophetic calendar. Which leads us on to our next chapter - OT prophecy and NT prophecy and the difference in practice and expectations in the life of the Church today.

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.