A few years ago, Martin Saunders (of Youthscape) wrote an excellent article highlighting four issues which often prevent evangelicals from understanding what has been happening in the Israel/Gaza conflict—and these problems come up each time the conflict hits the news. First, he comments ‘It’s not as simple as good guys vs bad guys’, something which I have also been trying to point out, though social media is not helping with this. Second is ‘The fear of accidental antisemitism’, something we need to take really seriously, as the rise of antisemitism across Europe highlights; this last week anti-Semitism has been reported as rising five-fold.
But Martin’s third point is that ‘We’re not clear what the Bible says’ about Israel and the land.
For many Christians (often termed Christian Zionists), the Bible clearly states that God has a special plan for Israel which includes a lasting covenant with the physical ‘land’. For others, that covenant was fulfilled by the cross (Matthew 5:17)…Whatever we believe, we can’t claim to hold a ‘biblical’ position if we haven’t read scripture. There are no short-cuts; you can argue anything with a proof text. Only by reading the Bible as a whole, and by understanding the grand narrative of Scripture, can we truly understand God’s relationship with the land and the people of Israel.
In the light of this, I offer some reflections on the status of ‘the land’ in Scripture. Two things need to be considered at the outset. The first is that it is simply not possible to identify ‘Israel’ in the Bible with ‘Israel’ the modern nation-state. Despite what the vast majority of commentators say, Israel is not a ‘Jewish’ state, even though it privileges immigration access to Jews in the global diaspora. Modern Israel is in fact constitutionally a Western-style liberal democracy, whereas biblical Israel was for most of its history a monarchical theocracy.
Secondly, both in Hebrew and in Greek, the word for ‘land’ and ‘earth’ (i.e. meaning the whole world) are the same: eretz (Hebrew); and ge (Greek). So, for example, in the first creation narrative the dry ground is called ‘eretz‘ (Gen 1.10), yet the term specifically used for the territory promised to God’s people is eretz Israel. We need to look out for the way that the biblical writers can, at times, transform their meaning and vision on the basis of this linguistic ambiguity.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the ‘land’ within the OT narrative of Israel is that, contrary to one dimensional claims about promise and inheritance, it actually has multiple significance, and its theological meaning always eclipses its geographical significance.
The first dimension is the land as a sign of the unmerited generosity and gift of the sovereign God. This is found in the promise to Abraham in Gen 12.1–3:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Already we can see the tension between the local and the global: the giving of the land to Abraham (how else can he become ‘a nation’?) will have global consequences of blessing—whether all peoples will be blessed or will ‘bless themselves by you’ (the Hebrew is ambiguous).
This theme of unmerited grace appears in a number of different forms in the narrative. It is shown in the choosing of this (small and insignificant) people in Deut 7.7:
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.
and in the repeated phrase ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ (e.g. in Moses encounter at the burning bush, Ex 3.8). The significance of ‘milk and honey’ probably has to do with the fertility of the land, perhaps that the blessing comes from unexpected sources, but also that these things occur naturally. Unlike growing and harvesting crops, these things simply come to you, as Samson on one occasion found (Judges 14.8). This is paralleled in the Deuteronomic tradition with the inheritance of ‘cities you did not build, cisterns you did not dig, and groves you did not plant’ (Deut 6.11, Joshua 24.13).
Note that, in all this, the most important thing is the truth that it points to about God (not about the people)—one who is an abundant generous giver to those who do not in any way merit this generosity. This truth in relation to the land (of Israel) is one that is writ large on the land (of the whole of creation), and is prominent in the creation narratives. The abundance of the creation is a reflection of the generosity of the creator.
This link is important in the second theme underlying the idea of ‘the land’: God’s project of the restoration of humanity, and the role of Israel in this project. The Abraham story follows hard on the heels of the account of ‘the fall’, which is found not just in Gen 3, but in Gen 3–11; the turning from God in the garden which is known as ‘sin’ unfolds itself as a power which brings death and despair and disrupts relations in families and nations and destroys the fruitfulness and abundance of the earth.
The juxtaposition of this chaotic picture with the story of Abraham carries a strong implicit message: with Abraham God is beginning the task of restoration of humanity, hence the global significance of the story of this individual. It is a link that Paul makes in Romans 1–4; these chapters start with humanity’s idolatry which leads to unfruitfulness of the body, and they end with Abraham’s obedience leading to surprising fruitfulness of his body. This new people, in this new land, are to be a ‘light to the nations’, (Is 42.6, Is 49.6) a destiny which is fulfilled in Jesus followers (Matt 5.14) because it is fulfilled in Jesus himself (John 8.12).
This has a key related strand, which is particular emphasised in the ‘Priestly’ tradition in Leviticus. If the people given this land are part of the restoration of humanity from sin to holiness, then the occupation of the land must be inextricably linked with moral restoration. In fact, the expulsion from the land of the resident Canaanites is given a specific moral dimension: because of their unholy practices, the land has ‘vomited them out’ (Lev 18.25), and the life of the holy people of God is defined in contradistinction to those who lived there previously.
These three ideas—of divine grace and generosity, of the restoration of humanity, and of moral distinctiveness—are constantly brought together in the prophetic tradition. The promise of return following exile is a mark, not of the ‘specialness’ of the people, but of the faithfulness of God. No political power, and not even the past disobedience of the people, can thwart God’s plans or undo his faithfulness. And because of this, God’s grace in restoration is destined to overflow ethnic boundaries—a particular theme of the second and third parts of Isaiah. And in light of this, the return to the land must involve a rediscovery of obedience to God’s law—a particular theme of Ezra and Nehemiah.
All this means that ‘the land’ has a particular theological meaning. It is, on the one hand, the place of receiving God’s blessings, but on the other, the arena of obedience to God’s commands. In fact, the land itself has almost greater theological significance in these regards than the ethnic identity of God’s people. The ‘resident alien’ who is not an ethnic member of God’s people, but does reside within the geographical space of ‘the land’, is to both enjoy the privileges and blessings of God’s people, but also must take on the responsibilities of observance (see, for example, Lev 19.34). This idea is key as we now turn to look at the way the New Testament interprets these ideas.
There are significant indications that the gospels are located in the context of some sort of expectation of restoration of the land with the coming of messiah (though it is now broadly agreed that there were a variety of expectations in the first century, and a variety of ideas about who the messiah was, what he would do, or whether in fact one was needed). We can see this in Zechariah’s prophetic poem now known as the Benedictus (from the first word in the Latin Vulgate):
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1.68–75)
In context, the main ‘enemy’ is of course Rome, and it is oppression by Rome that is preventing Israel from ‘serving him without fear in holiness.’ So implicit in this expectation is the hope of restoration of the sovereignty of Israel as a nation, inhabiting the promised land. To make this even clearer, Zechariah goes on to allude to Is 40’s proclamation of the one who will ‘go before the Lord to prepare his way’, which is also used in Mark’s introduction in Mark 1.2–3. These verses (from Isaiah and Micah) are all about the people returning from exile and being restored to the land in fulfilment of God’s promise of faithfulness. This is one part of a complex of expectations, which Tom Wright characterises under the headings return from exile, restoration of Temple, renewed covenant, giving of Spirit, keeping of Law, no king but God, and God’s anointed agent (Heb messiach Greek christos) (N T Wright The New Testament and the People of God chapter 10 ‘The Hope of Israel’).
But from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, these expectations are starting to be transformed. Even the most sceptical commentator agrees that the proclamation of the nearness of ‘the kingdom of God’ was a core part of the teaching of the historical Jesus. This phrase, which hardly occurs at all in the OT, shifts the focus from the land in which the people occupy to the reign or authority under which they live. The separation between the free occupation of the land and obedience to God, still held together in the Benedictus, is most decisively broken in Jesus’ answer to the question about taxes:
“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt 22.19–20)
The shock of this is not to do with the separation of the ‘political’ from the ‘religious’ as such, but the overturning of the expectation that the restoration of the land is tied in with the coming of God’s kingdom. Living freely in the land is not the prerequisite to forgiveness of sins and living in holiness.
Consequently, the New Testament strikingly shows no interest in the further question of the land itself, and instead focus on the other elements in Wright’s list. This is shown clearly in the responses of gospel writers to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Mark’s gospel, probably written in the 60s before the temple was destroyed, shows most interest in the immediate events and Jesus’ predictions about them (Mark 13). Matthew’s similar account in Matthew 24, most likely written after 70, includes similar details to Mark, but then goes on to focus on Jesus’ words about the parousia, Jesus’ second coming to complete the work begun in the first. John’s gospel goes even further, and does something quite distinct. With the temple gone, and the tension between the now exiled Jews and Jesus’ Jewish-and-gentile followers mounting, John makes clear that Jesus is the temple for those who follow him.
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty–six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2.18–22)
This is not so much about Jesus replacing the temple, but Jesus being the fulfilment of the purpose of the temple—and with it the land. (Note that this is not an idea made up by John and read back into the story about Jesus; reference is made to it in the trial of Jesus in Mark 14.58. This is good example of one of many ‘undesigned’ historical connections between the gospels.) This again is why John’s gospel is so ‘Jewish’, in focussing on Jewish habits of eating, washing, and attending the pilgrim festivals, all the major festivals occurring in John’s narrative. They all find their fulfilment and true meaning in Jesus.
We see in Acts 2.46 that the first generation of believers continued to visit the temple, though of course now with new understanding. While the temple was standing, then Jewish followers of Jesus would continue to worship there. But once the temple was gone, there was no need to long for its restoration, since its meaning was embodied in the person of Jesus. If the land was the arena for knowing the blessing of God and taking on the responsibilities of obedience, that role was now fulfilled in Jesus. So, as with the temple, there is now no need to long for physical return from exile and occupying the territory of the land—all this was now available to those not ‘in Israel’ but ‘in Christ’. I think this is why the phrase is so important in Paul. Where, in the OT, both Jew and gentile ‘resident alien’ enjoy God’s reign when they are ‘in Israel’, now for Paul the (theological) space where this happens for both Jew and gentile is ‘in Christ.’
That is why Peter, writing to an audience containing at least some gentiles, can address the whole group as the ‘diaspora’, the term previously used of Jews scattered and awaiting (at least in principle) a return from exile to the land (1 Peter 1.1). The scattered followers of Jesus are awaiting not their return from physical exile but the return of Jesus to restore all things. Even more explicitly, in the book of Revelation, John sees the fulfilment of the gathering of God’s people from all the nations (Deut 30.3, Jeremiah 32.37, Ezekiel 11.17, 20.34, 36.24) in this uncountable, Jewish-gentile people redeemed by the blood of the lamb (Rev 7.9, also in Rev 5.9, 11.9, 13.7 and 14.6). This is just the way Matthew has understood Jesus’ teaching in Matt 24.31.
Note that reading the NT in this way is not ‘supersessionism‘, where ‘The Church’ replaces ‘The Jews’ as the people of God; this only happens where the Jesus movement is detached from its Jewish historical context and expression. Instead it is a redefinition of what it means to be the people of God beyond ethnic boundaries, just as happened in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and as Paul starts to do in his argument in Romans 2.28–29.
So the New Testament holds out no expectation that ethnic Jews will return to the territory of the land of Israel as part of the fulfilment of the promises of God. All those promises are fulfilled in Jesus, who now becomes the place of God’s blessing and his people’s obedience.
(It is perhaps worth noting that those who argue that the modern state of Israel is the fulfilment of prophecy have to appeal to OT texts alone, and ignore what the NT does with such texts—as well as ignoring the fact that a return to the physical land was actually fulfilled in the return from exile.)
This leaves the one ‘bogie’ text of Romans 11.26: ‘All Israel will be saved’. There is a massive literature on this, some following the view expressed by Tom Wright that ‘all Israel’ refers to all those who are part of God’s new Israel i.e. all those now redeemed through Jesus, and others believing that ‘all Israel’ here refers to ethnic Jewish people, indicating that there will be an ‘end times’ turning of Jews to faith in Jesus. For now, I note some key points in the discussion:
1. There is no reference whatsoever to the idea of Jews returning to the land of Israel. So to fit these two ideas together is an artifice.
2. Verse 26 does not say ‘And then all Israel will be saved’ but ‘and in this way all Israel will be saved.’ So Paul is talking about the hardening of the Jews and the incoming of the gentiles as the means by which God’s purposes of salvation are accomplished, not as something that happens prior to this. I think this strongly supports Wright’s reading.
3. Paul then cites texts from Isaiah and Jeremiah, which he clearly sees fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus: the deliverer from Zion who establishes a (new) covenant and takes away sins.
4. It has been objected that Paul only ever uses ‘Israel’ to mean those who are ethnically Jewish. But Gal 6.16 is a counter-example to this, and Paul certainly uses the language of ‘Jew’ in literal and metaphorical ways earlier in Romans.
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God (Romans 2.28–29, TNIV).
Within his argument at this point, Paul is primarily highlighting that having the outward, ethnic and ritual signs of being a Jew doesn’t actually make you one, since being part of the (chosen) people of God is about inward transformation, and always has been. But a consequence of this is that an ethnic gentile can actually be a ‘Jew’ in this sense, and so ‘Israel’ no longer (because of Jesus) simply refers to an ethnic grouping. Paul sees this logic, by immediately answering it in the next verse. If all who follow Jesus are ‘Israel’, and gentiles have been grafted in to be part of the olive tree, the idea of ‘Israel’ returning to the land makes no sense.
5. It seems very odd to me to think that Paul would describe an ‘end-times’ turning of the last generation of Jews to faith in Jesus with the term ‘all Israel.’ This leaves all the (not believing in Jesus) Jews of all the intermediate generations excluded from this, so at the most it could mean ‘all those Jews alive when Jesus returns’. This hardly makes sense of the phrase.
6. We also need to note that, for Paul and others in the New Testament, the ‘end times’ were already upon them, as signified by the resurrection of Jesus, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the ingathering of the Gentiles.
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people… (Acts 2.16–17)
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor 10.11)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5.17)
For more on the eschatological perspective of the New Testament, see my Grove booklet Kingdom, Hope and the End of the World.
Because of all this, I do not believe that, remarkable though it is, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947 is a ‘fulfilment’ of ‘end times’ ‘prophecies.’ Neither do I believe that Israel has a divine right to the land which trumps all other rights. I do want to defend the right of Israel to exist, and to be a particular homeland for Jews around the world, and to use reasonable force to defend itself—like any other nations. But I do this on grounds other than ‘divine right’ or ‘prophecy.’
In the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, we need to appeal to other grounds to support whatever view we have on the matter.
(Published previously in 2014 and 2017 in different formats.)
85 thoughts on “Does ‘Israel’ have a divine right to the land?”
Exactly. To my mind the failure to fully grasp the radical nature of the gospel spelled out in the NT (but nonetheless foreshadowed in the OT) is the source of the confusion. This not helped by a Reformed theology of a ‘covenant renewal,’ rather than the Jeremiah perspective in chapter 31 where the new covenant is to be “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers.”
Thanks for this bit of biblical sanity, with respect to those who differ from your stated view. Those into a real estate view can make the Good News extremely complicated, which in turn leads to leads to exclusivity, in my experience over some years.
are you saying those who take a different view of Scripture on this are insane?
Yes, you did imply that, with respect
Well, there are certainly some curious views out there. Someone on FB is currently telling me that the meaning of words is not restricted to what the author meant; that all OT prophecy should be taken literally; that the NT writers actually allegorised them; but that we should still believe in literal fulfilment, alongside allegorical reading.
I think it illustrates the odd contortions that people get into in order to hold on to the idea that in the ‘end times’, ‘Israel’ will return to the land—despite there being not a single snifter of a mention of this by the people who should know best—the apostolic writers of the NT!
Well, the NT was written when Israel were still in the land and maybe it was a presupposition
As an expert on Revelation I am surprised you can’t see Israel and the Jewish people in the unfolding end time schematic. This presupposes that the Jewish people are actually a people in the land – and not scattered to the four winds as they largely were for 1800years. Read naturally, it does seem Israel takes centre stage in a final conflagration and Jesus returns to bring history to its consummation in Jerusalem. Unless of course Unless names and places don’t mean what they signify and are mere cyphers n symbols only understood and interpreted by the few.
We may differ, but what is disappointing is the mocking disdain at those of us who hold such a theology of Israel today – and indeed implied is a scorn at those leaders within our evangelical tradition who we would usually honour who held such Zionist views: the Reformer Martin Bucer, Puritans like Richard Sibbes, William Perkins, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Samuel Rutherford, and evangelical leaders like John & Charles Wesley, Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Simeon, Andrew Bonar, Murray McCheyne, Charles Spurgeon, JC Ryle.
You appear to sneer at such theology as eccentric indeed erroneous yet it was good enough for your spiritual forefathers who read their Bibles
‘Well, the NT was written when Israel were still in the land and maybe it was a presupposition’. Do you think all the NT documents were written before 70? You’d be in a minority of one!
Two very striking things in the gospels. First, in the Fourth Gospel (surely written after 70?!), when the destruction of the temple is mentioned in John 2, Jesus specifically denies that it will be rebuilt, since he is the temple of God. Think of the significance of this being noted at such a late date.
Secondly, the anticipations of the destruction of the temple and the conquest of the land in Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 (‘all these things will happen before this generation passes away’) offer no hope of a subsequent ‘return’ to the land. There is a wonderful irony in those who read this as a prediction of the destruction of a *later* temple, which must there have been rebuilt after the destruction of the Second Temple, failing to notice the most obvious reference in the text.
I have done no ‘sneering’ or called any of those people ‘eccentric’. But I do note that C S Lewis calls Matt 24.34 the ‘most embarrassing verse in the Bible’, only embarrassing if you are locked into a rather tortuous reading of this section as about ‘the end times’, which Jesus actually says it isn’t.
It is hard to overestimate the power of a reading tradition, and the difficulty of looking at the text afresh, and allowing it to question ones presuppositions.
Thanks for the list.
While in lectures D A Carson has traced the history of biblical theology it seems not to have been of prominence in earlier times, though Keller has quote from Spurgeon that Spurgeon would always seek to draw a link to Christ from all of scripture.
Even from the short time I’ve taken a lay interest (2000 or so) I seen opposition to reading scripture longitudinal, from Genesis to Reveltion, picking out themes, patterns types anti-types and more, while not denying history. It is an approach that some systematicians seem to struggle with and clear meets with opposition today, but it is an approach that avoids both neo Marcionism and replacement theology.
What has been avoided, I think, is the question, theology of remnant, but as significant is the crucial question of the Kingdom of God, where is it, what is it, who is part of it and how?
It seems that most religions have geograpical holy place centres for pilgrimages eg Islam, but Christianity is the opposite, centred on a Person.
No I don’t think all the documents were written before AD70 but I do think most were – however whilst AD 70 is pivotal in Jewish history in the land, and a diaspora followed the destruction of the temple, there remained a sizeable remnant able to become an uprising under Bar Kochba.
Ian, you know I do not read with a locked in presupposition- that is why after holding and preaching and teaching a theology of the land as redundant for 20yrs I came to a very different zionist view. I came to it on my own and only subsequently discovered a strong history of such within evangelicalism that had been excorcized from my tradition.
‘I came to it on my own and only subsequently discovered a strong history of such within evangelicalism that had been excorcized from my tradition.’ That is really interesting. I think you are unusual in this regard; I have never been able to avoid it!
On Revelation, I don’t think there is any scope for understanding a distinct destiny for ethnic Jews. In Rev 7, what John sees interprets what he hears; the numbered Jews from the 12 tribes turn out to be an unnumbered people from every tribe, language, people and nation. The gentile mission is the fulfilment of OT hopes that all people will be drawn to Jerusalem. The heavenly city for all has a Jewish foundation. As with Paul, there is only one people—jews and gentiles who believe in Jesus, the two made one in him.
Thank you, Simon! I wholeheartedly agree with you! The OT prophecies are clear. And, we are in good company with Spurgeon, etc…
I am still so puzzled by Christian who read the OT as if Jesus never came.
What did the promise of the land mean? It cannot simply have been a real estate deal.
And for each of those meanings, how has Jesus changed them?
Jesus is not going to break his Father’s word! The question is not only what change he makes to each covenant (for the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants must be considered separately) but when (1st or 2nd Coming), and for whom (Jew, gentile). Broad statements that “Christ has fulfilled the OT” are more confusing than helpful. I do not mean statements by any particular individual here.
I can only think some thinkers and theologians are in complete denial. Scripture is wholly clear on the regathering of Israel and yet to be prophecies are also clear. There’s none so blind as they that do not want to see.
I think it illustrates the odd contortions that people get into in order to hold on to the idea that in the ‘end times’, ‘Israel’ will return to the land
Out of interest, are there any clear examples of people predicting that in the end times, Israel will return to the land from before, say, the Balfour declaration?
Because if people only started to claim that it was predicted that Israel would return to the land in the end times after the state of Israel had already been suggested, or even after it had been established, then that looks suspiciously like claiming post hoc that something which has already happened had been predicted, which is about as convincing as me walking into a bookmakers after the Grand National has been run and demanding to place a bet and be paid out because I assure them that I actually knew who was going to win beforehand even though I only showed up afterwards.
It was a belief in the return to the land which, combined with secular nationalism, led *to* the Balfour Declaration.
It was a belief in the return to the land which, combined with secular nationalism, led *to* the Balfour Declaration.
I mean specifically the idea that the return to the land as a part of Christian end-times prophecy (as opposed to Jewish end-times prophecy which led to religious Zionism).
For instance, there were a whole bunch of apocalyptic movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, weren’t there? Did anyone ever point out to, say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Adventists that the second coming couldn’t happen because Israel had to return to the land before that could happen, and it hadn’t yet?
Dispensationalism which had its origins in J N Darby and a few other early Brethren writers (circa 1850’s) certainly taught a future for Israel in the land. I think they believed Israel required to be back in the land for the prophecies of such as Zech 14 to be fulfilled. Dispensationalism was very influential in evangelicalism during the first half of the C20.
I don’t think it is correct to lay the blame at the door of reformed theology and covenantal renewal; on the contrary, Beale , Carson and Storms and others such with whole canon biblical theology from Genesis to Revelation trace Kindgom fulfillment rather than replacement theology as central in the ” journey from Eden to the new Jerusalem”.
A book that seeks to look at the theme of land in scripture is ” Bound for the Promise Land; the land promise in God’s redemptive plan” by Oren R Martin in the series, New Studies in Biblical Theology.
This is from the back cover:
” Just as the Old Testament book of Genesis begins with creation, where humans live in the presence of their Lord, so the New Testament book of Revelation ends with and even more glorious new creation, where all of the redeemed dwell with the Lord and hist Christ.
” The historical development between the end is crucial, for the journey from Eden to the new Jerusalem proceeds through the land promised to Abraham. The Promised Land is the place where God’s people will once again live under his Lordship and experience his blessed presence.
” While the theme of land in Scripture is an important component of promise and fulfilment, it has not received a great deal of attention in terms of whole-Bible biblical theology. Exegetically driven, systematically sensitive theologies of the land are relatively
“In this stimulating study Oren Martin demonstrates how, within the redemptive-historical framework of God’s unfolding plan, the land promise advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden, and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history, anticipating an even greater land, prepared for all God’s people, that will result from the person and work of Christ -and will be enjoyed in the new creation for eternity.
” ‘Dr Martin… argues that the land promises constitute a trajectory that begins with the loss of *land* at the expulsion from Eden and ends, finally, in the new heaven and the new earth. The resulting synthesis of the land promises, kingdom promises and eschatology is thought provoking and sometimes moving.’ ( D.A. Carson)”
The point here is that ‘the land’ in that overarching sense is not ‘this very specific piece of land with these geographical boundaries’, but the whole of the created order. ALL land. At the fall we didn’t just lose Eden…..
Therein lies my fundamental issue with theologies that see a future restoration of geographical Israel: it is too small, too partial, too incomplete a vision of the inheritance of God’s people.
To expand that a little more, so my reply doesn’t read like a ‘gotcha’ response.
If the whole narrative arc of scripture, from creation (Genesis 1-2) through to new creation/restoration (Rev 21/22) is of God’s people, and God’s creation, being restored to the purpose for which they were originally conceived then we should not expect an extra partial step between Jesus’ enthronement and his eventual return.
The Eden/Canaan question is paralleled in the Adam/Israel question. Hebrews discusses this in the Man/Messiah duality. Christ is the man who was made a little lower than te angels now crowned with glory and honour but he is also (as his name implies) Israel’s Messiah to whom God said sit here at my right hand until I make all your enemies the footstool of your feet.
Eden was lost and God started again so to speak. His intention was to make a new and better universe where a garden has become a Garden-city. His way of doing this was through covenants and promises. These involved a nation (Israel) and a land (Canaan). The story of course gets more complicated but in some way the promises made that are part of salvation’s trajectory have to be incorporated into the final new creation the centre piece of which is the new Jerusalem founded on 12 Jewish apostles and with gates for entry named after the 12 tribes of Israel.
The land over which Messiah?man reigns is a new heavens and new earth but dominating this landscape – in the world of vision at least – is the New Jerusalem.
A good book. I enjoyed reading it. I can’t quite remember if he discusses the NT concept of the heavenlies which is the sphere of blessing for God’s people today. This seems to function in two ways. Firstly it is in contrast to OT Canaan the earthly land which was both the inheritance and the place of blessing. Secondly, in the NT blessing is located in ‘the heavenlies’ which is the place of blessing, the land, the inheritance of God’s people. Thus Abraham looked for a heavenly country and a city whose builder and maker was God. The home of God’s people was the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem. It is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God that is the climactic vision of Revelation. With the coming of the Lord from heaven (in incarnation) and his return to heaven (in exaltation) the world to come becomes a heavenly world finally realised in a new heavens and new earth.
Yet I am not convinced earthly Jerusalem does not have a place to play in endtime events. Anton is fond of pointing out that Jerusalem will be trampled down by the gentiles until it declares ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’. Unlike Ian I think Roms 11 teaches that there will be a national salvation of Israel at the end of history – they are loved for the sake of their forefathers.
I may have “missed a trick” but doesn’t Hebrews also back this up?
Perhaps particularly in chapter 11 (but the flavour is everywhere I think) I have assumed that the “heavenly country” isn’t anything to do with the land of Israel…. “God has planned something better”.
“Everything” is a shadow of what is to come in the divine fulfillment that is in or through Jesus.
I think you are right. I have no idea how dispensationalists read this; not sure I have ever heard them comment.
Some I think (not necessarily dispensationalists) saw it as referring to an earthly Jerusalem in the millennium (the millennium presumably being viewed as essentially heavenly). Others think only believing Jews alive at the end of history proceed to the millennium and an earthly millennium. All OT saints are part of the church with its heavenly prospect. My understanding on this is sketchy at best and more research would be needed to be sure.
Excellent Ian, thank you for re-posting. Isn’t the point about eretz/ge also relevant in how we interpret Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 5:5? The inheritors of the ‘land’ (ge) will be the meek, ie those of all nations who submit in humility and meekness to the Lord, not people from one particular ethnic group.
Having perused this post several times, I am more convinced that the issue of the land is not the central bone of contention. Rather, the land is a symptom of a deeply-rooted controversy that not only penetrates to the heart of Christianity and its Jewish antecedents, but also the exegetical procedures by which we erect our understanding of what constitutes (or doesn’t constitute) (a) the nature of the relationship between Church and Israel and (b) the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
In relation to the former, I refer to the epigram (wrongly ) attributed to Monsignor Ronald Knox: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” To which the Jews reply: “But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God, yet spurn the Jews.” And in a similar vein, “Not odd of God, His Son was one.” Finally, in relation to the methodology: “How strange of man to change the plan!”
Now in this particular post, Deuteronomy 7:7 is quoted here in the context of the land. But this is not primarily what it is concerned with, because the argument continues thus: “but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery [Deut 7:8].” Indeed, in Exodus 4:22, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son…”. See also Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Yes, the son rebelled, but Hosea promises, “I will heal their waywardness, and love them freely.[14:4]. Ah, but! (it is argued) owing to their persistent sinfulness God could no longer countenance their disobedience. Judgement yes! But love?
Why then was this particular extract limited to verse 7? Elsewhere we read, “the most important thing is the truth that points us to God (not about the people)”. I would suggest that the foregoing passage indicates just how intimate is the bond between the God of Israel and his covenant people.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son – better translated ,I believe, as The Parable of Two Brothers – contextually one a self-righteous Pharisee; the other a self -obsessed profligate. Yet the father loved them both! How this highlights Judaism at the time of Jesus. How it also illustrates the unconditional love of God!
For those who freely employ terms such as “the new Israel” or “spiritual Israel” (both of which are not part of the scriptural text): have you ever stopped to consider how offensive they might be to Jewish people? Why? Because it was God Who gave them that name and therefore their identity as a people!
Which brings me to the issue of interpretation. There is much I would want to say about this but for the sake of brevity I shall limit it to one topic – perhaps the key topic – the future of Israel! With reference to Romans 11:25 (following NT Wright),this is summarised in this post in the following manner: ‘verse 26 does not say, “And then all Israel will be saved” but “and this is the way all Israel will be saved”. ‘
There are other theologians who do not agree with this. Would it not have been a useful exercise to at least represent their arguments? In an essay entitled “The New Inheritance According to Paul”, Tom Wright re verse 25 declares, “God will save His (polemically redefined) “all Israel”. Clearly according to this, Professor Wright is not referring to national Israel.
I conclude with the following observations: (1) The term “Israel” does not occur in Romans until the section contained in chapters 9 to 11. (2) To me it is transparent that the primary thrust in these chapters is in relation to the future of national Israel and (3) If “all Israel shall be saved (v 25) is interpreted as, say, “spiritual” Israel, then this is at variance with the first part of the verse, “Israel has experienced a hardening until the full number of Gentiles has come in.” Clearly this cannot refer to “spiritual” Israel, otherwise in the same breath, Paul has turned discourse on its head! (4) Let us assume for one moment that as Tom Wright continues in the same essay, “Paul is not suggesting for a moment that Jews can enjoy a private covental blessing which still depends on a special, privileged covenantal state”, then what in the name of all goodness was the Lord doing in the first place? How odd of God to choose the Jews!!
Thanks for your considered thoughts on this Colin. A few brief responses:
a. I am puzzled that you don’t think Deut 7.7 and following is about God. That is exactly the point made in the verses you quote! The focus is not on Israel as special, but on God as loving—he set his love on this people, not because *they* are special but because *he* is special.
b. Correct—Israel does not occur in Romans until these later chapters. But the terminology of “jews’ does, and I don’t think it is really possible to separate them. If a ‘true Jew’ includes a gentile who is obedient to God ‘as the law unto himself’, then he is clearly part of ‘Israel’. Besides, Paul has previously used ‘Israel’ in this precise sense in Gal 6.16. The language of ‘spiritual Israel’ isn’t in Paul, but then again it is not language that I have used either. The idea of ‘spiritual Israel’ in the sense of Jews and Gentiles who follow Jesus is smack, bang in Paul himself.
c. How do Jews feel about this? Well I did ask one, when in Israel. His response surprised me: ‘Well, we are grateful that you have taken our teaching [the Ten Commandments] and told the whole world about it!’.
If being ‘grafted in’ to Israel means persecuted Jews who don’t follow Jesus, ignoring the Old Testament, or de-Judaising the gospel, I would imagine they would not be best pleased. But if we recognise that Jews received the word of God first, so in some senses are ahead of us, if we recognise and honour Jesus in his Jewishness, and if we shun the idea of ‘OT God bad, NT God good’, then I think it could be quite positive.
I have certainly found that in conferences where Jews and Christians study the Bible together, and have valued the insights of a range of Jewish commentators on the Bible for many years.
Re (a) I am fully in sympathy with the primacy of God’s sovereignty (or as you describe it “He is special”). My concern here was that in your presentation you did not deliver the text in his fullness by referring to his love.Yes, “they are special because He is special”. But it would have been good to point out that this “specialness” was, as scripture clearly shows (and I believe still is) that Israel was the object of his covenant love. As someone who continually bemoans the contemporary neglect of relating his love to his holiness, I suspect that many of the “it’s all about Jesus and His love” school would have difficulty with stressing divine sovereignty without a direct reference to His love in Jesus.
I too have a wide experience of Jewish attitudes; not least through my wife who spent 12 years living and working in Jerusalem and her experience bears out what I said about the antipathy towards Jews, including that which has emanated from “true blue ” evangelicanism. I maintain that the employment of Tom Wright’s “polemically redefined” terminology, for example, smacks of a type of evangelical smugness. Moreover his reference to “privileged ethnic states” serves to undermine our understanding of what God had created in the first place.
This in turn raises the issue of: exactly how do we read the OT ? The desire to see all fulfilled in Christ is something I actually agree with. However this is not to the extent of simply eliminating those OT promises made to Israel which do not fit neatly into what I see as that type of Reformed desire with “reading Jesus into the script” and all too often with little or no internal evidence from the script! I do not believe in replacement or reduction. I believe in enlargement [see Romans 11:11ff]
And yes I am aware of Galatians 6: 16 including what I consider to be the dogmatic comment of John Stott in his commentary “Only One Way :” ‘All who walk by this rule’ and ‘the Israel of God, are not two groups, but one. The participle ‘kai’ should be translated ‘even, not ‘and’ or even omitted (as in RSV).” The concluding section of the letter vv11 and 12 refer to “those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised !” Clearly this is being addressed to Gentile converts! And if we do include ‘kai’ meaning ‘and’ as is the case in most contexts in the NT, then there are possibly two groups under consideration here;Gentile converts and ‘The Israel of God’ referring to Jewish converts!
Either reading of Israel of God seems possible (the whole church or Jewish believers only). Two reasons incline me to the whole church.
One, Paul is vociferously combatting Judaisers and uses some strong expressions to do so. For him to break a general rule for polemical purposes seems reasonable. By stressing that the whole church is the Israel of God he is emphatically excoriating the teaching of the Judaisers. It is a punchline.
Two, closely tied to this is that the rhetorical impact of the expression would be significantly lessened if he is referring only to Jewish believers. The Judaisers were very happy with distinctions being made. That was part of what they were arguing for thus for Paul in what is essentially his epilogue to distinguish between Jew and gentile would have been playing into their hands.
Of course, I would argue that although the church is never called the true Israel it is clear that as the Messianic eschatological community composed of Jew and gentile that it is the true true Israel. In Christ it inherits the promises. This last paragraph I know you will not warm to.
Paul makes a distinction between two Israels. Not all who are descended for Israel (ethnic) are Israel (spiritual). He also tells us that though Israel be like the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved. The Israel like the sand of the seashore refers to ethnic Israel. The remnant that is saved refers to “spiritual” Israel (those who are saved).
Can the “all Israel” which are saved be more than the remnant who are saved? No, it can’t. If “all Israel will be saved” refers to the entire nation, that would make the phrase “only a remnant will be saved” untrue. The remnant is not the entire nation. All Israel then, is not the entire nation, but a remnant, of whom Paul was part. At the time of Elijah, how many of the entire nation were set apart by God? A remnant of 7000.
Also, Israel has also experienced a partial hardening, not a complete hardening, indicating that God has not rejected the nation; that is, he has not rejected “those He foreknew.” In another passage, it says that God’s people are elect according to the foreknowledge of God Therefore, those He foreknew, he chose as a remnant of elect out of the entire nation. If true Israel is a remnant of elect according to the foreknowledge of God, then God has not rejected them because a remnant is still being saved. And this hardening of Israel happens until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. No one ever asks the question of where they come in. They come into all Israel, the Olive Tree. The wild Gentile branches are grafted in among remnant of tame Israelite branches. “And in this way all Israel will be saved.
And you also misquote the passage above. It is not “Israel has experienced a hardening until the full number of Gentiles comes in.” Rather, the passage says that Israel has experiences a PARTIAL hardening. So yes, all Israel IS referring to spiritual Israel, those that are saved. It does not refer to those that have been hardened. They are cut out of the tree, cut off from the nourishing sap that gives life to spiritual Israel.
In a following comment you say, ” But it would have been good to point out that this “specialness” was, as scripture clearly shows (and I believe still is) that Israel was the object of his covenant love.” Yes, but that covenant love is only for those who are of faith. “What Israel sought, it did not find, but the elect found it.” Why? Because they sought it as though it were of works and not faith. God made the covenants with the nation, but not all were saved, in spite of God’s covenant love and their “specialness.” During the time of Elijah, God saved only 7000 out of the entire nation and remained faithful to His promises. Are you saying that in the future God must save the entire nation in order to remain faithful? No, because the promise was not to seeds, but to a Seed, which is Christ, and all those who are in Christ.
It is about God’s faithfulness to His promises. But those promises are only for those of faith.
That is a really helpful comment Todd—thanks. Paul’s ‘remnant’ language is key, and I don’t think I had twigged that before.
Most widespread theological error stems from an inability to reconcile the Old Testament – the Pentateuchal covenants and the prophets – with the New. One common solution is Marcionism, the modern form of which consists of simply ignoring everything that seems negative and unpleasant. James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful God is a good example. Another common solution is to ‘spiritualise’ what purport to be literal statements about the future, as seen for example in post/amilleniallism. Replacement theology is another example.
As I remarked re ‘Does the modern state of Israel fulfil biblical prophecy?’, it is important not to conflate God’s promise to Abraham to give his descendants the land of Canaan (also his unconditional promise to give to them all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates) with the promises/blessings which went with obedience to the Mosaic covenant.
The discussion about ‘land’ v. ‘earth’ is a red herring. When Scripture speaks about ‘the land of Canaan’, it is clear what is meant. The ‘land’ may have ‘multiple significance’, but if it follows that the ‘theological meaning always eclipses its geographical significance’, there is something wrong with the theology. If I understand the statement correctly – for what does ‘geographical significance’ mean in plain English? – ‘eclipses’ implies supersedes or nullifies, and the Mosaic covenant is indeed being confused with the covenant made with Abraham.
‘The promise of return following exile is a mark, not of the ‘specialness’ of the people, but of the faithfulness of God.’ Yes, but no one is suggesting that the Jews are special except insofar as they are chosen, so what is the insight here? The faithfulness of God is precisely what is thrown in doubt in parts of the blog, aside from its uncontentious recognition that “as with the temple, there is now no need to long for physical return from exile and occupying the territory of the land—all this was now available to those not ‘in Israel’ but ‘in Christ’ ”. Precisely because of ‘unmerited grace’ – pure election – the Jews who don’t recognise this truth are still God’s chosen.
‘The scattered followers of Jesus are awaiting not their return from physical exile but the return of Jesus to restore all things.’ The disciples were expecting the restoration of the Davidic kingdom (Acts 1:6) under the Messiah, the anointed King of the Jews. Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah 12/14 are ‘explicit’ that the Messiah will reign in Jerusalem, over the 12 tribes of Israel in a land stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates; Revelation gives us the complementary spiritual vision, without abrogating the physical. Part of the answer to the disciples’ question is that Jesus will come back in the same way as they saw him go (Acts 1:11).
What we have been treated to is supersessionism by another name. The New Testament holds out no expectation that ethnic Jews will return to the territory of the land of Israel as part of the fulfilment of the promises of God. All those promises are fulfilled in Jesus. This is a classic statement of replacement theology, pitting New Testament against Old. The weasel phrase is ‘the people of God’, as if the Church is the only ‘people of God’. In reality Israel is not superseded in NT theology, but Gentile believers made a beneficiary of a covenant concluded with Judah and Israel (Jer 31:31). The foundations of the New Jerusalem are all Jewish, the gates all Israelite.
As for ‘thus all Israel will be saved’, Paul himself says ‘what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?’ (Rom 11:15). That moment is foreseen in Deut 30:1-10 as well as Jer 31. So, readers will be pleased to hear, all the (not believing in Jesus) Jews of all the intermediate generations are not excluded. Along with Israel, they are raised from the dead at precisely the moment the re-unified nation enters the land promised to Abraham.
I am baffled by this: ‘What we have been treated to is supersessionism by another name. The New Testament holds out no expectation that ethnic Jews will return to the territory of the land of Israel as part of the fulfilment of the promises of God. All those promises are fulfilled in Jesus. This is a classic statement of replacement theology, pitting New Testament against Old.’
I am doing exactly the opposite—but by denying that Jesus is the fulfilment of the OT promises (the consistent view of the writers of the NT) it appears to be you who are driving a wedge between the two.
‘The weasel phrase is ‘the people of God’, as if the Church is the only ‘people of God’.’ In that case you are calling Paul a weasel. In Ephesians 2.15 he is absolutely clear that ‘the two have been made one’. There is ‘one faith, one baptism, one hope, one body’ (Eph 4.4). The idea that there is one hope and plan for Gentile disciples, and a different one for Jews, runs completely counter to the central narrative of the New Testament!
Can you offer any explanation as to why there is not a single mention of the post-destruction return of ethnic Jew to the land?
‘Jesus is the fulfilment of the OT promises’ is a meaningless statement without reference to the particularity of the promises in question. He is obviously the fulfilment of promises or prophecies of a coming Anointed One. The ‘consistent view’ of the NT is that he fulfilled the prophecies that the NT writers actually cite, and to that extent I am of course in agreement. It does not strike me as meaningful to say that Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise to give to Abraham’s plural descendants the land stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates.
There is of course II Cor 1:20, but that does not remove the obligation to consider the specific promises and how they might be fulfilled in their particularity. In relation to the land, Paul’s answer (as one who took the actual words seriously) would surely be, “Yes, Jesus will bring that promise to pass. Yes, at the end of the age he himself will lead his people into the land.”
Eph 2:15. Yes, of coure that’s the ultimate end point: there will be one people, all having the law written in their hearts. No one is saying that there is one hope for Gentile disciples and a different one for Jews, though there is a distinguishable ‘plan’. Nowhere do I argue that the present state of Israel is a fulfilment of the hope God gives Israel, or that they are entitled to the land so long as they do not recognise and worship their Messiah.
Regarding that plan, Jer 29:11 is a promise/prophecy for the Jews (not for us, as spiritualising supersessionism would have it) and is to be read together with Jer 29:12-14, which is clear that in the last days (‘future’ in v. 11 = eventual future) (i) they will seek him and find him, (ii) he will restore their fortunes, and (iii) return them to the land from which they were driven.
I doubt that you can back up your assertion that John 2 mentions the destruction of the physical Temple in Jerusalem (replying to Simon P).
“Can you offer any explanation as to why there is not a single mention of the post-destruction return of ethnic Jews to the land?” Yes: because it is stated repeatedly in the Old Testament. The function of the NT is not merely to repeat what was already stated in the OT but to make known the mystery of the plan of God that was hidden until Christ. The proper hope of the Jew is the Messiah, not the land, and the hope of eternal life in him.
The return of the Jews to the land post-destruction is implicit in Matt 24 and cognate passages in the other gospels, as previously discussed, in Rev 1:7 (read with Zech 12:10-14), in Rev 12:14 and in Rev 13 (read with Dan 7).
I’d like to take a stab at answering you. I recognise we are coming from two different perspectives. Yours I think is dispensational and mine could possibly be called new covenant theology or something akin to historic Premillennialism. I grew up in dispensationalism. I embraced it and when I discovered other Christians held other views on end-time events defended dispensationalism. I had my Schofield Bible, Dwight Pentecost ‘Things To Come’ and read earlier dispensational writers like Darby and Kelly (still do read these latter two).
Over time my views changed. Firstly I had doubts about the legitimacy of a pre-trib rapture. Then, as I began to see more and more clearly that many OT texts are cited as fulfilled in the NT I began to question the absolute distinction between Israel and the church. I am still on a ‘journey’ as they say but I now believe the church to be the eschatological messianic people.
Along the way I have become convinced of a few hermeneutical principles.
1. Christians can only understand the OT in a Christian way if they interpret it through the eyes of the NT. Any presuppositions must be judged in the light of NT teaching.
2. The NT understands the relationship between OT and NT as one of promise and fulfilment. This I think is critical. It is how Jesus taught the disciples to understand the OT when he showed them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Contrary to what you say I think that those who advocate a relationship of promise and fulfilment are recognising a more organic relationship between old and new than those who see the old as not referring to the gospel age at all.
3. The key to fulfilment lies in Christ. The primal OT promises were made to Abraham and confirmed in his seed singular, Christ (Gals 3). It is in and through Christ that all eschatological promises are realised.
4. Many OT prophecies are fulfilled in ways that suggest the language in which they were originally couched was metaphor. For example Isa 40 describes the Lord coming to Zion through the wilderness. As was the custom of the day for visiting dignitaries he sent ahead a representative to ensure the roads were levelled out and all was prepared and fitting for his arrival. The NT interprets this as John’s call for repentance in the nation. Fulfilment is fitting but not literal. Indeed as Ian argues elsewhere much meaningful language is analogical and metaphorical. Israel is a vine. She is a bride. Jesus is a vine. We e branches. Jesus is a Shepherd and we are sheep. I know you will agree with this but wonder if you give it sufficient weight.
5. Fulfilment generally implies ‘better’. This is the point of Hebrews. There is a real correspondence between type and ani type, shadow and substance but the eschatological ‘substance’ is always better. So there is a better monarchy, priesthood, covenant, sacrifice, altar etc. These are part of OT promise but their realisation ‘eclipses’ the promise. God delivers even more than he promises. I know you don’t like the word ‘eclipses’ but it expresses a deeply biblical dynamic. Hints of deity in the OT transmute into ‘we beheld his glory, the glory of an only son with the father’ in the NT.
6. What we may be inclined to call ‘earthly’ in the OT, the NT calls heavenly. This is tied into ‘better’. As we look at the OT it seems as if Abraham is promised a this-worldly Canaan with the boundaries you outline. But is this what Abraham understood? According to Hebrews he looked for a heavenly country and a heavenly city. He was looking with others for ‘a world to come’. According to Romans by faith he inherits the world. Why does the lens widen from Canaan to the world? Because Abraham inherits what is Christ’s. The promises are to Abraham and his seed (singular Gen 22:21) who is Christ. Is Christ’s inheritance merely Canaan? No it is in fact a new heavens and new earth. Only as the lens of revelation gradually opens does it become apparent what God has promised to those who love him. The Bible is a progressive revelation. When the NT transmutes the meek shall inherit the land (Ps 37) into the meek shall inherit the land it is indicating an important NT impulse, the universalising of some OT particulars. Thus if Abraham ultimately inherits a new heavens and new earth (Rev 21) will God’s promise have failed? Or was the land, like the temple, and city, and sacrifices etc but a prototype of a the heavenly rest that awaits the people of God? Does the writer to the Hebrews who describes the rest as God’s Sabbath rest (Hebs 4) hint at its creational scope?
Unfortunately, I must end on a negative note. It is simply not true that ‘all Israel’ means every Israelite that ever lived. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. Perhaps you mean believing Jews who hadn’t heard of Jesus (though by believing the promises they were implicitly believing in Jesus). If however you mean by ‘all Israel’ literally every Israelite in history you are mistaken. You are failing to apply the analogy of faith. What one verse says must be consistent with what other verses say. Thus a phrase like ‘all Israel’ should be read in a way that best does justice to teaching elsewhere in Scripture.
‘Life from the dead’ may indeed refer to the resurrection of believers at the Second Coming. It may even be the Second Coming that triggers the salvation of Israel when they look on him whom thy pierced. Perhaps ‘life from the dead’ is Paul’s way of expressing what Jesus calls ‘the regeneration of all things’ (Matt 19).
Steven, I understand that alternative perspectives such as the above can seem almost heretical. The only way forward for us all is to listen at least a little to others and test what they say by the light of Scripture. Our mutual quest is for truth. I hope that discussions like this advance this quest for all of us.
Allow me to add another comment that may be relevant. Biblical covenants may be classified as conditional or unconditional. In a way this is a helpful distinction although it can be misunderstood as most unconditional covenants have a conditional element.
The main conditional covenant is the mosaic covenant. It is a covenant of works. It did not assume life but promised it upon obedience. Its premise according to both Jesus and Paul was ‘this do and live’. The law says Paul was not ‘of faith’.
Other covenants such as the Abrahamic and those that build on it were unconditional. That is, they were unconditional in that God himself undertook their fulfilment. However, they were conditional in the sense that they required or assumed faith in the covenant partner. Where faith was absent there really was no covenant relationship or at least any relationship such as it was would be broken off. This explains why frequently Israel the assumed covenant partner is judged by God and twice exiled from the land. The reality was the covenant was not ultimately based on blood but belief… not flesh but faith.
How could the covenant be considered unconditional? It was unconditional in that the faith lacking for covenant partnership God would himself supply. Books like Isaiah in the OT go to great lengths to show that the righteousness lacking for a true covenant relationship God himself would supply.
At a practical level however, where active faith is absent, no real relationship exists. If the branch is not being nourished by the root then it is dead and must be broken off and burned.
Israel failed to keep the land because she was spiritually dead. The mosaic covenant far from helping only made matters worse. It made sin more sinful both by exciting sin and by turning it into a transgression (the breaking of an explicit command).
So yes, God’s promises are unconditional… to those of faith.
I’m interested to know what the practical outworking of these different views of scripture have in the political sphere. What are the consequences? Both outcomes may be difficult to live with. The passion for each must reflect the concerns held. What are they and do they reveal strategies before a battle? “Spiritual” battles or real battles?
I think it is a powerful argument that the NT writers beyond the gospels say nothing about a future for Israel. As far as I’m aware this is the case with the exceptions of Roms 11 and potentially Revelation.
Revelation uses language that could refer to ethnic Israel… the 144,000 (ch7) and the protected inner temple and unprotected city trampled by Gentiles (Ch 12)…. the beloved city (Ch 20). I am not convinced this is the right interpretation but it is possible.
I am not convinced that Israel in Romans 11 includes Jew and gentile. It seems to me that from the beginning of Ch 9 he has been addressing specifically the salvation of ethnic Israel. Israel’s unbelief troubles him. The gifts and calling of God is irrevocable. Thus it seems unlikely he will broaden the identity of Israel in v26. Immediately following his use of the word Israel in v26 he says in v28 ‘ as regards the gospel they are enemies for your sake. This surely refers to the antecedent ‘Israel’. Quite what ‘in this way’ means I am unsure. It may simply refer to the saving of Gentiles before the saving of Israel. ‘All Israel’ may refer to the substantial conversion of Israel at the end of history or the sum to total of Israel saved throughout history. I’m inclined to the latter.
It does seem that the church with its Jewish roots and composed of Jew and gentile (grafted in) is the nation to whom the kingdom is given.
Regarding the land as with all blessings they are ‘in Christ’. The land presently is perhaps the heavenly places in which we dwell (Eph 1). This seems to echo the blessings in the earthly Canaan. The land is also our inheritance reserved in heaven. Ultimately it is a new heavens and new earth.
Thanks for a post that made me think.
A correct view of the covenants is vital in this discussion. Too many Christians speak of the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant”. I speak joyously of the New Covenant in Christ, but the Old Testament contains several covenants and it is only the Mosaic covenant which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Abrahamic covenant, promising Canaan to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob (if you read Genesis closely), remains in force. That gentile believers in Jesus are ingrafted into this covenant does not exclude Jews from it, for the Abrahamic covenant is not dependent on personal faith – salvation alone is dependent on that. To exclude Jews would be for God to break His promise. Anybody who doubts this contention ought to remember that there is another covenant in Genesis (with Noah) promising no second flood. If you bundle all of the Old Testament covenants into one and then say that they are all fultfilled in Christ, you ought to start worrying when it rains. Just as the Jews were exiled to Babylon for 70 years, they were exiled from Canaan/Palestine for 1800 years, and we alone know what for – denial of Messiah Jesus. But duration does not alter theology, and we should see exile as the exception and occupation of Canaan as the rule. Look at Isaiah’s prophecy (11:11-12) that God’s hand will a second time recover a remnant of his people… he will… gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. That describes exactly what has happened in the last 150 years: Jews have come back to the Holy Land from all parts of the world, whereas the first return of a remnant was from Babylon. Too many Christians suppose that the prophecies of exile and return in the Old Testament all refer to the Babylonian exile, but Isaiah’s prophecy cannot, and many others are ambiguous. This prophecy came true after 2500 years. God never forgets a promise.
I suspect that you are the “Anton” of Cranmer fame. You’re contribution has taken us to the heart of the matter by outlining:
(a) the nature and purpose of the indigenous biblical covenants as opposed to the employment of an exteral, eisegetical theology superimposed on the text and (b) perhaps above everything, your final sentence, “God never forgets a promise” hits the target.
As someone, who for many years submitted to the evangelical Anglicalism which if not quite steeped in the ABCD gospel, presented me with a “Jesus” who seemed somewhat characterless and disfunctional. Only when I started to relate Jesus to his theological/ historical and – yes – ethnic roots did His reality begin to emerge.
Coupled with this was the perplexity of what appeared to be vast tracts of the Tanach usually pertaining to Israel; prophecies which seemed to make little sense as “one was told” that everything was “fulfilled in Christ”; moreover told in such a way that virtually everything pertaining to Israel required “spiritualising”.
Thank you for this contribution.
PS Regarding your request elsewhere re Jewish believers: in the absence of “volunteers”, I would recommend the following book ” Reading Moses – Seeing Jesus”. It is compiled by three Messianic believers and offers interesting insights.
Yes, I am the Anton at Cranmer. I was an adult convert (from materialist atheism) and for a long time I was surprised that my fellow Christians seemed to see nothing significant in the return of the people that 2/3 of the bible is about to the land where it all happened. Then in the early days of the internet I read a statement that hit me like a truck – “there are prophecies in the Old Testament that haven’t been fulfilled yet”. My present understanding grew from there and from the teaching of David Pawson – although I ask anybody who disagrees with me to engage with my words, not his.
I find this document to be a valuable guide theologically, pastorally and politically to the State of Israel:
Yes but Anton (Archbishop Cranmer’s blog?) the Abrahamic covenant looks for its true fulfilment to Christ. Christ is the son of promise. He is the one true son of Abraham who delighted God’s heart. Gals 3:15-15. To be ‘in Christ’ the one true offspring whether Jew or gentile is to be a son of Abraham.
The Abrahamic covenant in its truest sense does depend on faith. It is in contradistinction to the mosaic covenant a covenant of faith. Ultimately the real Jew is he who is circumcised in heart and not body .ie is a person believing the promises and the God of the promises.
Some covenants aren’t fulfilled until Christ returns.
PPS forgive the”you’re” on the first line. It should ,of course, be yoor*+ ~
In Isaiah 54 when Isaiah speaks of the eschatological Jerusalem that will have more children than Jerusalem before the exile Paul refers this passage to ‘the Jerusalem above’ which is the mother of us all. (Gals 4). The heavenly Jerusalem was the city for which the patriarchs looked that and a heavenly country (Hebs 11).
Such texts convince me that fulfilment is envisaged as eclipsing anything in this world and involves a world to come where heaven has invaded earth.
PS I think Gals 3,4 has a lot to teach us about promise and fulfilment.
I personally don’t have all of this cut and dried. I wonder if Israel has yet a role to play in End-time geo-politics. Some OT texts seem to suggest it has. However the absence of explicit NT reference (as far as I’m aware) has to be borne in mind.
It would be good to seek the views of Jewish believers in Jesus on this subject.
I have asked a Messianic Jewish friend and this is his reply:
thanks Steve – here is what I replied to someone else – it’s not whether Israel has a divine right to the Land but whether God has cancelled his covenant with Israel (the Jewish people) which includes the peoplehood, Torah and Land promises – see resources below – best regards – Richardh
The New Christian Zionism
Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology | Jewish-Christian Relations
I would start with R Kendal Soulen – https://www.fortresspress.com/…/The-God-of-Israel-and…
The God of Israel and Christian Theology
I replied but it has disappeared into the void.
A Messianic friend asked me to post this link:
If my first reply does not surface I’ll post it again
Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology | Jewish-Christian Relations
I would start with R Kendal Soulen – https://www.fortresspress.com/…/The-God-of-Israel-and…
The God of Israel and Christian Theology
If you link more than one article, your comment goes for approval rather than being allowed straight through.
Ah. Okay. Thanks.
It seems to me that any theology that suggests the church replaces Israel falls into the category of replacement theology. From a dispensationalists perspective this is clearly te case since he has a quite separate programme for Israel.
However from the perspective that sees the church as the eschatological fulfilment of OT prophecy this accusation seems unjust for he believes OT promises to Israel find fulfilment in both Israel and the gentiles. Both have become one new man in Christ Jesus (Eph 2) and both have become one flock (Jn 10). I think what is important is to avoid diminishing Israel’s role. Israel is the natural branch we Gentiles are from the wild olive tree. The root is Jewish. Israel is not being suppplanted it is being supplemented. Ultimately Christ is the true Israel and all in him are his people of promise.
Absolutely. I like your phrase ‘not supplanted but supplemented’.
Or as the Messianic Jewish theologian and United Reformed Minister, Alex Jacob, would say Ian – not replaced but enlarged!
“The Case for Enlargement Theology” (Glory to Glory Publications)
“It seems to me that any theology that suggests the church replaces Israel falls into the category of replacement theology.”
Except that this is a category error, or at least a confusion of meaning. Fulfilment is not the same thing as replacement, and the number of scholars who sincerely advocate that the church is some sort of ‘backup plan for the failed project of Israel’, or God’s ‘plan B’ (to caricature it), is very small and, I think, largely devoid of weight in current NT scholarship…..
What’s being argued here is something considerably more nuanced.
Sorry, I slightly misread you John.
“The root is Jewish. Israel is not being suppplanted it is being supplemented. Ultimately Christ is the true Israel and all in him are his people of promise.”
I agree completely.
I would reiterate a point I made previously: the general thrust in Romans 9 and 11 equates Israel with ethnic Israel . The problem arises when the word is qualified as in your post,”Christ is the true Israel”. If you mean that all the promises of God find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, then I am with you. If, however, as in the case of those who qualify “Israel” in order to proclaim that ethnic Israel no longer has a place in the divine schema, then I beg to differ!
Again as I pointed out in a previous post: to interpret “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) into something meaning “spiritual” Israel, or “true” Israel i.e an Israel that has been spiritually transformed implies that you are contradicting the meaning of the previous verse which clearly refers to ethnic Israel.
In Roms 9-11 Paul is concerned about ethnic national Israel. He is concerned that Israel as a nation has not believed the promises. Some have. A remnant. But he is concerned that the nation as whole has not. After developing his argument including that the true Israel (believing ethnic Israel) is distinct from merely ethnic Israel he nevertheless reaches a conclusion where Israel the nation becomes believing Israel.
Believing Israel is Israel in union with the one true Israelite (Jesus) in whom ultimately all true Israel (OT and NT) is found. Here and in Roms 9-11 Israel is always ethnic Israel.
It seems to me, and I recognise these issues are difficult and my knowledge is weak, that in Gals 3,4 in a different argument Paul is arguing that for either Jew or gentile their identity lies in being ‘in Christ’. He is the true son of promise, the true Israel. To Abraham and Him the promises were given. Thus the promises are yes and amen in him. In him the Gentiles are blessed. It seems they are blessed by finding themselves on the same standing as believing ethnic Jews, they too are sons of God and sons of Abraham. The are grafted into the olive tree and it seems Paul will refer to both together in this instance as the Israel of God in contradistinction to the Judaisers who wish to divide them. This last point I know is more controversial and not vital to the argument.
Certainly both have together become in Messiah one new man (Eph 2) one flock (Jn 10) and a chosen race/people and holy nation (1Pet 2).
The OT looked forward to the day of salvation. It would be salvation in Messiah for both Jew and gentile. The NT sees the beginning of this salvation and how it would work out. Interestingly even the OT reveals a common standing between Jew and gentile (Isa 19;24,25).
Ultimately it seems to me the promises find their fulfilment in Messiah and his people (both Jew and gentile). Thus the eschatological Jerusalem is the New Jerusalem of Rev 21. It is the heavenly Jerusalem that both Abraham and the Hebrew Christians were looking for composed of Jew and gentile and founded upon the apostles. Isa 54 describes the eschatological city and Paul cites this chapter referring Isaiah’s eschatological city to the ‘Jerusalem above’ which he says is the mother of believers (Gals 4).
Yes Israel will yet have a national salvation. In doing so it will become part of the messianic community of faith (as all believers ultimately are)… those who in Christ together as one new man inherit the promises.
‘It seems very odd to me to think that Paul would describe an ‘end-times’ turning of the last generation of Jews to faith in Jesus with the term ‘all Israel.’ This leaves all the (not believing in Jesus) Jews of all the intermediate generations excluded from this, so at the most it could mean ‘all those Jews alive when Jesus returns’. This hardly makes sense of the phrase.’
It may include all of ethnic Israel who believe. The reason for seeing a sizeable conversion of Israel lies in the surrounding contrasts.
12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean’
’15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? ‘
‘A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy’
In some of these texts a contrast exists between their time of trespass, rejection and their time of acceptance… a time when they will receive mercy. In another a partial hardening seems to give way to a full salvation.
There seems to be a time when a deliverer will come and banish ungodliness from Jacob. Jacob (rebellious Israel) seems to identify Israel with ethnic Israel. If we look at OT promises to Israel (even to Jacob) of future salvation then these seem to make promises to Israel. Sometimes the salvation of Israel and the nations is distinguished (Isa 49).
It seems a substantial salvation of Israel is in God’s plan.
‘It seems a substantial salvation of Israel is in God’s plan’
But Israel today is only represented by the tribe of Judah. Where are the other eleven tribes to come from? Or has Judah already incorporated all the other tribes? I thought tribal intermixing was forbidden.
Wherever in the OT did you get that tribal intermixing was forbidden? Israelites were forbidden to marry outside Israel, but intermarriage among the 12 tribes of Israel was permitted.
Hmm, I’ll have a look. Thanks. I thought it was common knowledge.
Numbers 36:6 was what I was burried in my mind but it only relates to inheritance.
Indeed there will be a sizeable conversion of Israel, and it is happening now that they are back in the land as it never happened in the 18-century exile.
The small number of Jewish believers in Jesus in the Holy Land dwindled almost to single figures as most accepted the British offer of a ship out with the last Brits (‘Operation Mercy’) as the British mandate ended in mid-May 1948. Those who remained, and those who joined them by emigrating to Israel in the coming years, all had a strong sense of national identity. Growth began almost immediately, with believers in Jesus being numbered among the Jews coming from Central and Eastern Europe – although their numbers did not exceed a couple of hundred for some twenty years more. In 1950 the Union of Messianic Jews was founded in the land, and was replaced in 1954 by the Israeli Messianic Jewish Alliance, but differences about the form of unity with gentile believers plagued these organisations. The Jewish congregation in Jerusalem registered itself with the authorities as the “Israel Messianic Assembly – Jerusalem Assembly” in 1958, but in practice remained a purely local congregation.
In 1967 Israel won the Six-Day War and regained Jerusalem. Messianics who were of fighting age willingly took part, and their community viewed the recovery of the city as a highly significant event on God’s end-time calendar. Their numbers began to rise from this time on. By the mid-1970s there were estimated to be many hundreds (it is impossible to be precise), and at the end of the decade the number was probably in four figures, meeting in some 15 Hebrew-speaking fellowships. That decade saw a small but clear influx of Jewish believers in Jesus coming from North America, generally with a calling.
Numbers were now sufficient that a definite ecclesiastical culture was emerging, distinct from the gentile missionary movements which had nurtured the movement to that point. Annual Passover conferences were held, and a Messianic Hebrew hymn book came into being that was updated regularly. There were also enough believers for para-church organisations to at last play a valuable role. A national gathering of pastors took place four times each year, open to all leaders of congregations. This brought together conservative evangelicals and the charismatics who had begun to appear from the 1970s; the matter of Torah observance also raised its head. From these meetings emerged a National Evangelism Committee, which produced material to assist street preachers. Arab evangelical Christian churches in the north of the country joined in this public drive to spread the gospel. A national study centre opened, which would eventually grow into the Israel College of the Bible. By 1990 there were probably some 45 Messianic congregations – no longer restricted to the big cities – containing a few thousand believers.
The 1990s saw nearly a million Jewish migrants come from the former Soviet Union. Some of these were one-quarter Jewish and had been brought up with little commitment to Jewish culture; these were essentially economic migrants. Some of the migrants were committed believers in Christ. In 1999 the only detailed demographic survey of the Messianic movement to date took place, by Kai Kjaer-Hansen and Bodil Skjøtt. They found about 5000 believers in roughly 80 congregations. Fully 42% of these believers had a Russian background, and some congregations of ethnic Jews worshipped Christ in the Russian language. The Russian-background believers were not inhibited about evangelism, and they brought others to faith.
At the turn of the present century, then, there were about 5000 ethnic Jewish believers in Jesus living in the Holy Land. Since then there has been great growth; in 2013 an estimate from a conservative source was 10,000-15,000, and an alternative estimate was as high as 23,000. In 2017 the Israel College of the Bible sent out a questionnaire, initially to leaders of Messianic congregations; returns suggested a total of about 30,000. Praise the Lord that he is turning his covenant people back to himself in the way he intends, through his son Jesus Christ, Messiah Yeshua!
It seems that the turning to God by Israel of which Paul speaks is massive, large enough to be termed ‘all Israel’. Also it happens when Gentiles stop being converted. It’s not impossible that the conversion happens as a result of Christ’s Second Coming when they look on him whom they pierced and a deliverer comes to Zion. Difficult to be dogmatic about some of these. My own views (at 65) are still subject to change.
Thank you for your thrilling and informative précis. Perhaps we are seeing a kind of precursor to the End-time salvation.
I think we are seeing the start of the endtime conversion of the Jews! I expect it to continue in the Land. I’m not keen on the idea that many Jews convert due to the Second Coming. At that point everybody will know who He is; the question is whether somebody loves him or not.
A secondary question but a valid one nonetheless. I don’t know the answer save to say that in the OT God says, if I remember correctly, that he will gather back those from the ten tribes (if this is at resurrection then presumably it is the believing who went to be lost in Assyria). Are we sure that Israel is only represented today by Judah (and presumably Benjamin)?
I have looked at every instance of ‘ten’ in the NIVUK and I can’t find a reference. Not to say there isn’t though.
Also, Ian mentioned in his book on Revelation that the tribes listed there do not correspond to the tribal lists in the OT. Does this fact have a bearing?
I think ‘Israel’ today must have been coined otherwise it would have had to be called Judah. If it had it would have had to occupy only a small fraction of Israel today.
We need a rabbi.
The gates of the new Jerusalem have the names of the 12 tribes.
And what of James’s letter to the ’12 tribes scattered abroad’. Is he writing to Jews he knows are from all 12 tribes… are they Jewish believers from all 12 tribes?
I note that it is believed a number from the 10 tribes found lived in Judah.
Such as Anna the prophetess in Luke 2, of the tribe of Asher.
Ah yes, now I’m warming to your point of view. But I see two types of Bride outlined in these discussions. Bride One is looking forward to the consummation; a time of joint union never to be broken with her beloved.
Bride Two looks forward to a time when she can transfer herself, her nurse, her friends and her pets into a new spacious home. She thinks to salute her hero husband on each anniversary.
I think that whatever is install for us His Bride, concerns about the new home, its decor, the garden and ‘what about our friends,’ will be insignificant.
I do not agree that “the New Testament strikingly shows no interest in the further question of the land itself”. When the disciples asked the risen Jesus if he was about to claim to crown of Israel (Acts1:6), the reply they got was in effect: “Yes, but not yet.”
We now know that Jesus is going to return bodily to Jerusalem in glory. It is worth asking oneself what will trigger this event and what will have been going on in the Holy Land.
My friend Steve told me of your discussion and has posted some material already. Whilst I appreciate Ian’s post and study on this topic, from a Messianic Jewish perspective he is using a supersessionist theological grid on which to base his hermeneutical approach and exegetical insights. I would suggest that without recognising the assumptions underlying this paradigm much of the discussion is unconstructive, as it does not take into consideration the weaknesses in the interpretive tradition that leads to a spiritualising, universalising and de-particularising not only of Israel as people, land and Torah, but also of the nature of God, who calls Israel into being, chooses to live in covenant with her, and expands that covenant in Yeshua to include the nations, without abrogating or cancelling Israel as covenant partner. I have surveyed Messianic Jewish views on the Land in my book “Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach” (Paternoster, 2009) and set these alongside those of my Palestinian Christian friends and others in other works – here are some resources I would recommend on the contemporary conflict:
‘Christian Churches and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, in Concordis Papers VIII, (London: Concordis International Trust, 2010) 1-28. This has a series of articles from the array of views. A consultation held in Cambridge in 2009 is summarized on pp.14–15. ↑ download herehttps://concordis.international/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/Paper-VIII-Christian-Churches-and-Israel-Palestine-Conflict-3rd-Edition.pdf
Lausanne Occasional Paper on Jewish Evangelism – LOP 67 – just released https://lausanne.org/content/lop/jewish-evangelism-lop-67
Lausanne Initiative on Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine – https://lausanne.org/news-releases/larnaca-statement-press-release – paper here – https://lausanne.org/content/larnaca-statement
Through My Enemy’s Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine Paperback. Paternoster 2014.
Salim Munayer & Lisa Loden (Author) – Arab Christian and Messsianic Jew go beyond the rhetoric and competing narratives to the heart of the historical ,theological and practical issues.
The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner’s Guide (Beginner’s Guides). 3rd ed 2015.
by Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Dawoud El-Alami. Reform Rabbi and Muslim scholar-v user friendly introduction, avoids biases.
For an introduction to superessionism and post-supersessionism see https://www.spostst.org/
thanks Richard Harvey
Richard, thanks for the comments and for the resources.
But I need to disagree: I am not reading ‘with a supersessionist grid’. I am seeking to read carefully, in its textual and historical context, what the Scriptures say.
Paul’s central concern is to communicate God’s plan to ‘make the two [Jews and Gentiles] one [in Christ]’. They don’t stop being Jew and Gentile, hence Paul does not discourage his fellow Jews from their observance, though he argues against them imposing it on Gentiles.
But it is clear for Paul that there is only one plan for salvation, and only one place of blessing—in Christ. That is why, like all the other writers of the NT, he has no interest in a ‘return to the land’.
We find this in the teaching of Jesus too: ‘I have sheep from another fold…there will be one flock. I pray for those [ie gentiles] who will believe through them [his Jewish disciples] that they may be one’.
Gentiles are grafted into Israel, they do not supersede them. Just as Paul honours those who were in Christ before him in Rom 16, so Gentile Christians should honour those who were in the covenant of God before them. But that is not a reason to see a different plan in God’s providence. We all together inhabit the ‘heavenly city’ which will one day come from heaven to earth.
To settle whether you are or aren’t supersessionist in practice, we would need to know whether you believe that the Abrahamic covenant is still in force and applies to circumcised Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, regardless of its implications for gentile Christians. I believe the scriptures are clear that the Mosaic covenant – but only the Mosaic covenant – is fulfilled in Jesus Christ at this time. (NB It is insufficient to say that a covenant is fulfilled in Christ without specifying when , as Christ will have had two comings to this world.)
Christ filled full God’s covenant Abraham in which Abraham played no part in Genesis 15. God himself passed between the divided animals: God himself in Christ Jesus fulfilled it on the cross as the man of faithfulness.
Was the covenant with Abraham conditional or unconditional? Yes and no: it was conditional but fulfilled by God/Man the Messiah in our stead.
One main point is that Hebrews as far as I understand don’t accept the Fall.
And isn’t the question of circumcision dealt with by St Paul?
I have some books by Messianic Jews who see all the Feasts/Festivals fulfilled in Yeshua. They are neither hard nor soft supercessionists so far as can be established from their writings.
Jesus himself was dismissive in deeply offensive terms, those who contested with him and claimed the authority of Abraham as their father.
I don’t think the bandying of the term supercessionist in a pejorative way does much to bring believers in Yeshua together in worship, and I have been to meetings with a local Messianic Jews fellowship, with their distinctive music and Davidic dance, so very far from CoE worship and I know a married couple who attend some reformed Christian meetings and who are ostracised by their own large Jewish community.
I used the word “supersessionist” only because Ian Paul was willing to use it as a category in discussing whether he was or wasn’t one, and I was replying to him. I do think it has a fairly clear meaning regardless of whether anybody agrees or disagrees with it, but discussions are not hard to phrase without using it in case anybody finds it offensive.
I disagree with Messianic Jewish brethren or indeed anybody else who says that the Festivals are all fulfilled in Yeshua. Of the big three festivals for which every able-bodied male was to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Passover is certainly fulfilled in His crucifixion. The next is fulfilled in the giving of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Tabernacles is not yet fulfilled, and for that we await the Second Coming of Yeshua. It is the harvest festival!
I suspect I don’t know the background from which you are coming on this question. However, unless I’m missing something, I don’t think the Abrahamic covenant has any application to unbelieving Jews. The kingdom will be taken from you and given to a nation producing its fruits suggests this was the end of nominal covenantalism (for the want of a better expression). To be sure some in Israel believe and one day all Israel will believe. Belief brings them into the Abrahamic covenant promises.
The covenant was always one of faith. It was never merely flesh. Circumcision was of the heart not the body. Not all were Israel who were off Israel. Ishmael was the son of the flesh whereas Isaac was the son of promise, of grace. Merely ethnic Israel was in slavery like the son of Hagar while it is Isaac who is the son of the free woman. In the strongest possible terms Paul excoriates nominal Judaistic Israel. (gals 4). Nominalism in Israel brought about all her judgement.
I think this has to be your starting point before trying to unravel the problem of how ‘flesh’ or ‘race’ brought many within the sphere of the covenants. In one sense it is true ‘to them belong the covenants’. They had (even have) many advantages. Is there some parallel here with unbelieving children raised in a Christian home. Or perhaps many nominal Christians. They live in the atmosphere of faith are in certain respects ‘sanctified’ by this (1 Cor 7) but have none of its reality.
The Abrahamic covenant is the foundational covenant of grace. The Noahic covenant I take to be creational while the Abrahamic is ultimately redemptive. It was made with Abraham and his Offspring , singular, Christ (Gals 3). The promise is in Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Galatians shows that this is already being fulfilled in Christ. Everything implicit in that covenant (made explicit in the mosaic covenant and the so called Palestinian Covenant Deut 29,30) and further developed in the Davidic covenant and new covenant (and probably other references to covenants in Israel… covenant of peace) is fulfilled in Christ. It has already begun to be fulfilled and will yet be completely fulfilled. Salvation is now but not yet. We are already sons of God through faith. We are already heirs of God. We are already free. We already have the Spirit. These are all already born supernaturally of the Spirit.
To be an unbelieving circumcised Jew is in many ways a terrible thing for it is to have all the promises held out as a gift and yet reject them. Thus the terrible judgements inflicted upon the nation.
I think at root this is an hermeneutical issue. In my view we must understand the OT through the eyes of the NT. it is the NT writers (instructed by Christ) who teach us how to make sense of the OT.
Please be less interested in where I am coming from, ie what I don’t say, and more interested in what I do say! I believe the Bible taken as a whole is self-interpreting; I don’t claim to do it inerrantly (and I have had my mind changed in the past by discussions), but I obviously believe a particular endtime scenario, which I advocate in discussions – although it isn’t appropriate to paste a 10,000 word essay of mine into a post here. Of prominent Bible teachers who have gone into eschatology, David Pawson holds the view to which I am closest.
The Abrahamic covenant is inherited through Isaac and Jacob specifically and is conditioned only on circumcision, which interestingly even secular Jews continue to do. To say it no longer applies to secular circumcised Jews since the Crucifixion is to call God a liar to Abraham, I believe. St Paul and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews are careful in stating that the *Mosaic* covenant is fulfilled in Christ, but Paul is clear in Romans that the Abrahamic covenant goes on for the Jews even though gentile believers in Yeshua such as myself are spiritually ingrafted.
Regarding conditional and unconditional covenants. The Law is conditional in that it made all its laws the basis of blessing – do this and live. It was in my view a covenant of works.
The Abrahamic covenant is in one sense unconditional. All it promised God guaranteed. It was conditional in the sense that it depended on faith. Faith however is not asking the impossible. It is calling upon the name of the Lord (Roms 10). And then ultimately faith too is a gift from God.
In one sense ethnic Jews were ‘in’ the covenant. They required not to be grafted in but broken off. Faith was assumed until proven otherwise. A bit like covenant children today (though with more biblical justification dare I say). I’m not sure whether the coming of Christ and the rejection of Israel for a nation producing kingdom fruit changes this. Does the new covenant (based entirely on spiritual life) change the dynamic of the Abrahamic covenant.
Even if the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, being “Israel” was conditional. They were given the Mosaic Covenant and told that if they violated the laws and statutes they would be “cut off” from among the people. The Law actually “circumcised” fleshly Israel, effectively reducing the number of Israelites to one. There is only one Israelite who kept the law perfectly, and He is true Israel. In addition, Jesus told Nicodemus that Israel must be born again. Jesus’ death and resurrection put to death the old creation in Adam and brought in a new creation. “One died, therefore all died.” Israel was put to death, and a remnant of faith were raised up as a new creation is Christ. It is into this remnant that Gentiles are ingrafted.