Does the State of Israel fulfil biblical prophecy?

Every time the situation in Israel-Palestine hits the news, for Christians one of the issues that emerges is whether or not the modern State of Israel is a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. The main prophetic text appealed to is the later chapters of Ezekiel, particularly Ezekiel 39. But in order to understand whether there is connection between these texts and events in the modern world, we need to look carefully at what Ezekiel says, how it was understood, and most importantly of all, how the writers of the NT understood these passages in relation to the ministry of Jesus.

Colin Chapman, who has written widely on the subject of the Middle East, engages with just these questions in the latest Grove Biblical booklet B 87 Prophecy Fulfilled Today? Does Ezekiel Have Anything to Say About the Modern State of Israel? He starts by noting that this question has been a concern of Christians for nearly 400 years.

It is in discussion about the fulfilment of prophecy in recent history that there is most division among Christians. Since the time of the Puritans in the seventeenth century many have believed that prophecies in Ezekiel and the other prophets concerning the return to the land and the restoration of Israelwould one day be ful lled literally. This view is generally known as ‘restorationism.’ And since the beginning of the Zionist movement in the 1880s many Christians have been convinced that these prophecies—together with biblical promises about the land—were being fulfilled.

To engage with this question, the first thing Chapman does is to put Ezekiel and his prophecy in its context—when Ezekiel was writing, what was the situation, and what questions he is seeking to address.

Ezekiel’s first task was to explain to his people that the fall of Jerusalem and the exile were God’s judgment for the ways in which they had broken the covenant. God had taken away four of the most fundamental and significant gifts included in the covenant—the land, the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the monarchy. Having explained the reason for the exile, in the second part of the book Ezekiel gives his people hope for the future (chapters 33–48). Not only will they be able to return to their land, but they will see that God is going to do something radically new in and through the restoration of the land, the city, the temple and the monarchy.

But when we look at the history of the people in the land after the return and in the next four centuries, it is hard to see much evidence of the national and spiritual renewal and revival that Ezekiel had envisaged. It was not surprising, therefore, that in the intertestamental period people began to dream of a time when God would intervene in miraculousways to ful l the visions of the prophets. Some of these hopes centred round the gure of a messiah, who would be either a supernatural figure coming on the clouds or a military figure overcoming oppressive foreign rulers and restoring Israel’s independence.

These were the kind of hopes of a better future that were held by many Jews in the first century, and summed up by Luke in expressions like ‘the consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2.25), ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2.38), ‘the one who was to come’ (Luke 7.18) and ‘the one who was going to redeem Israel’ (Luke 24.20). People must have thought, ‘If the visions of Ezekiel and the other prophets have hardly been fulfilled in the history of the nation until now, surely God has to intervene in a dramatic way to demonstrate his faithfulness to his promises!’

Chapman’s central chapter then looks at seven major themes that are associated with the restoration from exile, particular in Ezekiel 34 to 37, and to see how these themes are taken up in the NT. These themes include God acting through a shepherd-king, the hallowing of the name of God, enjoying prosperity in the land, cleansing from sin, the gift of a new heart leading to obedience, a covenant of peace, and God’s temple presence among his people. The most pertinent of these relates to the land.

The promise to bring exiles back to the land looks at first sight as if it has no echoes in the NT. But scholars like N T Wright have argued that Jesus’ use of OT texts concerning the return from the Babylonian exile—taken mostly from Isaiah—suggests that Jesus saw his people as still in a state of exile, and announced that he was going to lead them out of exile. The clearest examples come in his address in the synagogue in Nazareth (‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me…’ Luke 4.18–19, quoting Isa 61.1–2), and his response to the disciples of John the Baptist, in which he describes his healing miracles in the poetic language used by Isaiah to describes the exiles returning to the land (‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk…’ Luke 7.22, quoting Isa 35.5–6).10 It may seem strange to include the words of Jesus about the Son of Man sending his angels to ‘gather his elect’ (Mark 13.27) in this context. But since the word angelos can be translated as either ‘angel’ or ‘messenger,’ it is perfectly possible that Jesus could be speaking about the proclamation of the gospel as a way of gathering the elect into the kingdom of God…

NT writers use OT terminology about the land (in particular the word ‘inheritance,’ kleronomia) to speak about what all believers possess in Christ. Thus Paul in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, echoing Joshua’s farewell address (Josh 23.1–16), speaks about ‘the word of his [God’s] grace, which…can give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20.32). Peter speaks of how all believers experience ‘new birth into a living hope…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…’ (1 Pet 1.3–4). The Letter to the Hebrews was addressed primarily to Jewish followers of Jesus, who might have been expected to hold onto the hope that promises and prophecies about the land would one day be fulfilled in a very literal way. But the writer gives no hint of any expectation of a literal fulfilment, and instead develops the theme of the land in a completely new direction. He speaks of the land as ‘that rest,’ saying that ‘We who have believed enter that rest’ (Heb 4.3). And traditional Jewish hopes about Jerusalem for the writer are no longer centred on the actual city of Jerusalem: ‘But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…to the church of the first born…to God…to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant…’ (Heb 12.22–24)…

Christians generally have no difficulty in seeing most of these themes of Ezekiel’s prophecy—about the Davidic shepherd-king, the sanctification of the name of God, the nations knowing that he is God, cleansing from sin, the gift of a new heart and of God’s Spirit, the covenant of peace and God’s sanctuary being among his people for ever—as being fulfilled in the coming of Christ. If the themes concerning the nation and the land can also be related to Jesus and to everything that is offered to every human being through him,it becomes much harder to believe that prophecies about the people and the land are in a special category, separate from all the other themes of Ezekiel’sprophecy, and therefore demand a literal fulfilment.

In the final section of the booklet, Chapman turns the lens the other way around, and asks whether the modern creation of the State of Israel actually matches what Ezekiel predicted—and he expected the return to be marked by peace, by repentance (in fulfilment of the conditions set out in Deut 30), and with all the other features noted above—which are notably absent from the current situation. And in contrast to Ezekiel, when Jesus talked of the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13, Matt 24 and Luke 21, he make no mention of the possibility of return and restoration. And Luke’s gospel is the one that sets out most clearly that all the promises of restoration are met in Jesus.

Ezekiel’s visions of the restoration of Israel led to a glorious climax in the temple in which God was going to ‘live among the Israelites for ever’ (43.7) and in the city whose name would always be ‘The Lord is there’ (48.35). If we believe, therefore, that it was uniquely in Jesus that God has come to live among us, we should not be looking to see the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s visions either in the twentieth-century return of Jews to the land, or the establishment of the state of Israel, or the present city of Jerusalem or in a future millennial reign of Jesus in Jerusalem. Perhaps Ezekiel, the priest turned prophet, was using the only language and imagery that were available to him at the time (related to the land, the nation, the city and the temple) to hint at something much more glorious than a return to the land, the revival of the nation and the restoration of a building. Perhaps God was using him to prepare his people and to open their minds for what it would mean when, ve centuries later, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14) and ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5.19). And the Book of Revelation tells us that the best is yet to come—not in the land or in Jerusalem, but in ‘the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ and in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21.1–4).

This booklet will be of interest to anyone trying to make sense of the current situation, and wanting to relate it to Scripture in any way. The claim that Ezekiel prophesied the existence of the modern State of Israel is made by many, and this booklet is an essential tool in assessing whether than claim is valid.

You can order the booklet for £3.95 post-free on the Grove website, or purchase an e-book PDF delivered by email.

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82 thoughts on “Does the State of Israel fulfil biblical prophecy?”

  1. Thanks for this Ian. Nothing to disagree with here. When you refer to NT writers using OT terminology about the land to speak about what all believers possess in Christ, you might also have mentioned the ge/eretz point in Mathew 5:5 (‘blessed are the meek…’), where Jesus draws on but ultimately spiritualises Psalm 37:11.

    • Jeremy have you considered Malachi 1:4 Where as EDOM says ” We are impoverished, but we will return and rebuild the desolate places,” this says YAHWEH “They shall build but I will year down; and call them the Border of Wickedness and the people against whom The MOST HIGH has indignation forever.

  2. BTW, I don’t think the question of whether Ezekiel has anything to say about the modern State of Israel can have been ‘a concern of Christians for nearly 400 years’, and I would be surprised if Colin wrote this!

  3. Thanks Ian.

    Does he engage with Romans 9-11 at all? What does he make of Romans 9:4
    They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;

    And Romans 11:28-9:
    As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

    To me these seem pretty clear, notwithstanding the complexities of Paul’s thought in the rest of this section (eg using Israel in two senses, true Israel and Israel according to the flesh) and of interpreting biblical prophecy in general.

    Also you say that ‘all the other features noted above’ are absent from the modern state of Israel – which ones in particular does this refer to? I do think this is an important argument, and it seems to me that restorationists need to do more work to show how modern Israel does actually fulfil biblical prophecy, beyond the bare fact that it is a Jewish state in the right kind of place.

    (There’s also an odd glitch where the letters ‘fi’ when they should appear together are consistently missing from the post eg in fulfilled or five.)

    • Will, On Romans 11:28-29

      In context, Paul is showing how the promises made originally to ‘Israel’ (to their ‘fathers’) remain, but are now rightly seen in light of the truth of the Gospel. So the true Israel is the one that stands on the Gospel truth.

      Romans 11:28 is a neatly structured parallel pair of statements in the Greek.
      It labels the Gospel-rejecting ‘Israel’ with two contrasting labels.
      They are both “enemies” and “beloved”.
      In relation to the gospel-accepting (Christian) group, they have become ‘enemies’,
      yet they are labelled ‘beloved’ in relation to their ‘ancestors’ (or ‘fathers’ – their roots)

      Paul concludes “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”.
      His conclusion follows the pair of connected statements, not just the ‘beloved’ part.
      The gifts and calling of God have not been revoked. They are available to gospel-rejecting ‘Israel’, who are only ‘enemies’ if they continue in ‘disobedience’ [v30-32]. This word ‘disobedience’ might better be translated ‘resisting persuasion’ in this context. It is by resisting the gospel that they make themselves enemies and cut themselves off from the gifts and the calling which are, otherwise, still available.

      • Ok, but what does that mean for Israel in the meantime, while we are waiting for ‘full inclusion’ and all Israel to be saved? If there is a prophecy about all Israel being saved then at a minimum Israel, the Jewish people, must continue to exist. We also know that to Israel belongs ‘the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises’. The restoration to the land is not a Christian hope (ie Christians don’t look forward to being restored to the land of Israel) but it surely remains a Jewish hope. If the Jews continue to exist as a people, hardened for a time until the full number of Gentiles has come in, then what is God doing with them in the meantime? Yes they are his ‘enemies’ for our sake as regards the Gospel, but they remain beloved and under his call and in receipt of his gifts, and they have ‘the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises’. Christians must surely then give some account of God’s intentions towards this special people, who remain under his irrevocable ‘covenants’ and ‘promises’.

  4. Although this is an endlessly complex topic that I cannot easily get my head round (I rather rely on Gary Burge), the question in the heading is an easier one to address.

    It is not at all remarkable that Jews should return to their homeland given that

    (1) It is, after all, their historic homeland – and other peoples are always keen to return to their respective homelands when they can;

    (2) People deliberately brought it about that they returned.

    Despite (1)-(2), the return is always being hawked about as an incredible miracle, something I find dishonest. Even by those like Derek Prince who should know better. It was indeed an incredible event in world history – just, it was not a *surprising* event, as it would be likely to happen sooner or later.

    The spiel usually goes as follows. Amazing Bible prophecies are being fulfilled in our own day. Just think of the return of the Jews to Israel. (A second entry to the prophecy-fulfilment list never generally materialises at this point in the spiel, let alone a 3rd to nth entry).

    Even that itself was as many as 70 years ago, and I guess people are so enamoured of it because (a) they are desperate to have the Bible focus on the very particular age which they themselves happen to inhabit and (b) because other candidates for ‘fulfilment in our own day’ are few and far between, and normally highly debatable at that.

    • Good to engage with you on this issue Christopher! I hope the family are well.

      On the issue of ‘historic homeland’, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. The seder shout of ‘next year in Jerusalem’ was never meant literally, and until the advent of political Zionism at the end of the 19th century most Jews did not see a need for a ‘homeland’, since they saw diaspora and assimilation into their host communities as their lot. Which is why Jewish families such as the Rothschilds originally opposed Zionism quite strongly. European antisemitism and the Holocaust changed all that, tragically. But the fact remains that the Jewish claim on the ‘homeland’ of Biblical Palestine should have been negotiated with other groups who had a historic connection with the land. Instead it was imposed (and is being imposed) by force, which is why we are in the mess we are in.

      Prof Shlomo Sand is very good on this topic, in his 2009 book ‘The Invention of the Land of Israel’.

      • Antisemitism wasn’t a new force that helped create Zionism – it was because of longstanding European antisemitism that European Jews like the Rothschilds resisted Zionism. The worry was that providing a homeland for Jews would only encourage countries to push the Jews towards it. It’s just that some Jews saw a homeland as the solution to persecution whereas others (especially those with major stakes in their adoptive countries) saw it as counter-productive.

        I’m sure you’re aware that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was negotiated with the local Arabs. That’s why: more than three quarters of Mandate Palestine went in 1922 to creating an Arab state (Jordan); a two state solution was drafted by the UN in 1948 and accepted by Israel but rejected by the Arabs) the continual blockage to implementation of a two state solution has been Arab hostility to the existence of Israel, including taking concerted military action in 1967 (as in 1948) to attempt to destroy it; Israel did not evict its existing Arab population and to this day more than 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs with fully equal rights and freedoms and political representation. Even so they continually agitate for Israel to surrender all claim to be a Jewish state i.e. they continually press for the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

        We are not in the mess we are in because Jewish claims are being imposed by force, but because Jewish claims, advanced through multilateral and diplomatic means, are and always have been opposed by force and Arab hostility to the presence of a Jewish state in the region. The truth is that had Israel been a Muslim state Arabs would have come to terms with its existence decades ago; it’s only because it is Jewish that they continue implacably to oppose it, and that is the fundamental obstacle to peace.

        • Israel most certainly did ‘evict its existing Arab population’ in 1948 as Prof Ilan Pappé has convincingly shown in his book ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, and indeed as other revisionist Israeli historians have shown.

          I would disagree with many of your other historical points, including your placing the monkey of rejectionism on Arab backs only. NB it was Israel which rejected the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (which would have returned the situation to 1948 and recognised Israel’s right to exist) and Israel which continues to create facts on the ground through its illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But a discussion about Ezekiel 34-37 is not the place for such a debate.

          • Jeremy – if a policy of ethnic cleansing of Jews Arabs occurred in 1948, and ever since Israel has been an apartheid state as some claim, how come 1/5th, over 20% of all Israelis citizens are Arabs with full rights of citizenship, pension, health benefits ?

            Jeremy is it true that the Arab Higher Cttee ordered whole villages of Arabs and the Arab community in Jerusalem to leave Palestine in 1948?

            Jeremy, is it true that there are numerous instances where Jewish leaders urged the Arabs to stay and build a new country together?

            Jeremy, is it true that in some cases, whole Jewish villages were ethnically cleansed within Palestine by Arabs?

            Jeremy is it true that the invading Arab armies had ethnic cleansing of all Jews from this fledgling state in mind?

            Jeremy, is it true is there was an ethnic cleansing in the surrounding Arab nations in 1948 that drove all Jews, 850,000 away.

        • There is “educated” and popular logic – (a way that seems right unto man…((ending in death, btw)) and then there is revelation….(a transcendent and divine reason that so trumps the most “educated” human observations and conclusions regarding the way things are, and no matter their discovery of facts), the coexistence of which is not feasible…each sees the one forced upon the other. My greatest honor is to find myself grafted in to God’s chosen people through faith in His only begotten son – who entered this world without fanfare or applause, did exactly what he came to do….and whose pure holy life continues to make a way where there seems to be no way….and He will turn away unholiness from Jacob and finally. “All Israel shall be saved.”

          • …and I am focussing on the revelation found in Scripture: that ‘Israel’ was always intended by God to be a light to the world, not an ethnic enclave, and that by the grace of God even Gentiles like me (and you?) are now part of the Israel of God, finding a home not in a piece of real estate but in the person of Jesus.

        • The word “ungodliness from Jacob” was somehow replaced with the word “unholiness” from Jacob in my reply to Will. I’d rather that my entire comment was deleted than misrepresent the exact word in scripture – albeit my understanding of “exactness” could easily be proven less than exact by many. Please know that I saw that right away and couldn’t edit it.

    • Christopher, surprised by your terms ‘hawked’ ‘dishonest’ ‘spiel’ ‘enamoured’ which dismiss a long and strong Christian evangelical grappling with Biblical theology concluding that the return of Israel to the Land would be/is fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and promise.

      Do you not see anything of the providential hand of God and the fulfilment of Scriptural covenant, promise and prophecy in Israel today being the Jewish national homeland?

      • Of course God had a hand in the events of 1948 and 1967, as He does in all world politics, but that is not the same as saying that these events were necessarily the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. And do you not acknowledge Simon that many other evangelicals (like myself) have reached a very different view on this subject? Was John Stott mistaken when he sought in a famous sermon on this topic to identify four distinct meanings of ‘Israel’, one of which is ‘the people of Jesus – the true descendents of Abraham because they share Abraham’s faith’?

        • Jeremy, of course I acknowledge that good and godly christians disagree over the Scriptures in terms of Israel, prophecy, fulfilment etc I have dear friends who disagree with me deeply, and I know I am in the minority in evangelicals in England. I myself once held to the position Stott presents however a sustained study of Scripture led me to the position on Israel that he rejected. So, clearly I believe the great C20th evangelical statesman was not infallible and his understanding of this was not him at his best and most careful. We disagree not on what he affirms but what he denies and it is noticeable in that sermon that he quickly dismisses the christian zionist position without engaging with the textual arguments but makes a false claim that the NT nowhere speaks of the future of Israel in the land. (But I think we have been here before on earlier threads so no point in rehearsing old arguments).

          But your question must be put back to you: do you acknowledge that many evangelicals, who love Christ and love his Word, and who are not nutty, and who are not insensitive to the overwhelming needs of the Palestinians, and who do not uncritically bless all Israel’s actions, but who have through prayer and study and a desire to be faithful to Christ, come to a view that sees Israel in the land as part of a particular covenantal promise and end time purpose of God?

          • Simon,

            exactly and a plain reading of Romans 9, 10 and 11 shows God’s not forgetting his covenant with Jewish people and hence the modern state of Israel. I was glad to read that you have studied and seen that Stott et al are mistaken in this area.

            You’re actually part of a majority worldwide that accept Israel the modern state is the fulfillment of prophecy and God has his hand on that nation in a special way.

        • Tw0 covenments were made to Abraham: But only through Sarah would the land Covenant come. And that was and still is a “conditional” contract through the good branch “the Christ”!

          And through that everlasting Covenant the light shone on the kingdom of Israel under the birthright son of Jacob who is Joseph as prophecised by his father. on his deathbed.

          And that certainly has come to fruitation as Britain and America were given the gates to their enemies through Sarah and her son Isaac….. No southern tribes within Judah have ever held the gates or been blessed with the princely name Israel!

          None of Abrahams othe sons were of that same contract as St Paul informs us! As they were only of the flesh and were told to depart from the land!

      • Hi Simon

        Each of the terms I used makes sense (to me, anyway…) in context of the specific sentence I used it in.

        The OT prophecies largely concern the return from Babylon – however, Cyrus’s decree went only some way towards reversing the diaspora. So the diaspora remained in subsequent centuries.

        I do think the Holy Land can be called the Jews’ homeland and the fact that it is others’ homeland too is an independent reality which does not in any way lessen the fact that it is the Jews’. Also the very term ‘diaspora’ (scattering) begs the question ‘scattering from where?’.

        I think I made my main points in the earlier comment (and my ignorance of the Israel-Palestine question is pitiful): if people return to their own country and this is facilitated by others, then that can be a major event in world history and a wonderful one – but one would take some persuading to say it was a surprising one, given that many would have needed little persuading to return; and it is not in any way ‘miraculous’ (defying laws of nature).

        • Ok, thanks Christopher – that helps me understand where you’re coming from –
          I like your point about ‘diaspora’ – from where?… exactly 🙂

          It wasnt ‘surprising’ to those who read Scripture in a certain way – nor perhaps to those who had worked for just such an outcome since end of C19th – it was surely surprising to many in its final ushering and the cataclysmic events in Europe that sped it. It is also perhaps surprising given that many Jews, as Jeremy rightly noted, had no real sense or belief or desire to return to this land. (Although there were always Jews living in the land throughout the preceding centuries and occupations)

          Perhaps Miraculous is technically too strong – extraordinary may be better

          • I know so little about these things. Can it really be true that everyone meant ‘next year in Jerusalem’ 0% literally? The percentage must have been higher.

            If many Jews were not envisaging a return (not surprising after a wait of millennia), does that mean that the rest of them *were* distantly hoping for or praying for it? All these things are a matter of percentage degree.

            Having the bias of a NT student who is ill-equipped in other areas, I tend to stress Galatians ‘Israel of God’ (which I suppose is one of the main things John Stott was getting at) together with the continuing purpose (and exciting future) for ethnic Israel of Romans 9-11.

          • Thanks Christopher

            I think Jeremy is right that the oft repeated (for hundreds of years) “L’Shana haba’ah -next year in Jerusalem” said at the end of the seder, may not always have been a sincere prayer and wish for many but rather a religious and cultural meme. Had it been sincere presumably many more would surely have attempted it in the 500 years it was used. It may have become a sort of a wistful toast: cheers, prost, l’chaim. The Zionist move in the late C19th was not even supported by some in the Jewish community (especially the orthodox who thought it premature) and so next year in Jerusalem would not have been sincere desire. I wonder if it often functioned more as a sort of cultural unifier and connection to the past, rather than a desire and prayer.

            As for Gal6L16, well, I think this one statement ‘Israel of God’, a hapax legomenon, the only ocurrance in the whole NT where Israel may mean something different than the Jewish people/place and is qualified as such by the predicate genitive should not be the basis for a wholesale negation of the Jews as elect and transfer of God’s economy to the Church. Not that you are doing this at all….. but many anti-semitic writers from Justin to Chrysostom to Luther make just such a move.
            I think this phrase probably refers not to the church per se, but to the Messianic Jews who are elect to salvation within the elect nation of Israel, following Rom9.

          • In various of your comments here it is quite clear the detailed thought you have put into the text.

            I see the general scriptural trajectory as allowing, even encouraging, the supersession of one covenant / dispensation by another. That this leaves a still-to-be-fulfilled destiny for ethnic Israel is not to be doubted. I find the new modern evangelical emphasis on Israel to be, in practice, quite faddish – and it is not clear that it is forward-looking. It is certainly an example of rediscovering something that had been forgotten, but then also perhaps of then over-emphasising it. The source of this trend (as for so many trends) is in America – and for that reason it is impossible to be convinced that financial and political factors are not a driving force behind the trend.

          • Simon, I am surprised that you think Galatians 6:16 is ‘the only occurrence in the whole NT where Israel may mean something different than the Jewish people/place’. I know David Pawson has argued likewise in his book ‘Israel in the New Testament’. But while this may be literally true of the term ‘Israel’, elsewhere in the NT Paul implies frequently that the Church is the ‘true Israel’, using language to describe the Church that was previously used in the OT to describe Israel (eg ‘chosen’, ‘called’, ‘sons of God’, ‘sons of Abraham’). Christians are the true circumcision (Phil 3:3). How else could one explain Romans 9:6 (‘For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’)? So the concept of Israel having a different meaning from the Jewish people (I don’t understand what you mean by ‘Jewish place’ in this context) is ubiquitous in the NT. It follows that Galatians 6:16 is not a scriptural oddity, but entirely consistent with Paul’s theology.

          • Jeremy, I agree with you that other categories and predicates once applied to the Jews are applied to the Church. for sure, and especially by Peter in 1Pet. However, I do not believe the title ‘Israel’ is one of them – and see the ‘Israel of God’ as being the messianic remnant within Israel. I’ve not read Pawson on this, this view has a long pedigree, not least with C19th English Brethren. No-where is is the specific name Israel applied to the Church, which is rather important, and surprising, given the church’s historic claim to replace Israel lock stock and barrel. Words matter and so Israel meaning Israel (not the church) becomes highly significant when working with Romans 9-11, especially the concluding arguments.

            Above when I put people/place together – Israel being the name for both the people of the land and the land of the people.

          • Hi Christopher –

            We may not be that far apart on this 🙂 The big rub is always over the land itself and its role in God’s future economy. Whilst I see the Mosaic covenant as having been fulfilled, annulled, superseded, I see the covenant with Abram of land still in place, which becomes the locus and focus for the end time prophecies. So I do see the nation of Israel in the land as partial fulfilment of OT prophecy and necessary pre-requisite for NT prophecy. I am fully aware of the political implications and sensitivities and we must pray and work for justice and peace for all, as indeed Jeremy has for many years.

            I agree that the UK church is Faddish – but my experience is that she’s far from interested in Israel. I am, in want of a better term, a Biblical Zionist, and that has been very uncomfortable as it seems to be a very unpopular position to hold. I reckon in the past decade and a conservative 1000 talks given, I have spoken less than 10 specifically on this issue? Certainly in my evangelical/charismatic circles Israel is rarely spoken of.

            I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a little here and for those who I know strongly oppose my views, to do so with charity.

          • Simon I think you’re probably right about Gal 6:16. It had always struck me as a bold claim to take the title of Israel for the church there, and now I look at it again a natural reading is that the Israel of God are the circumcised who ‘follow this rule’ and so don’t try to make the gentiles get circumcised and observe the Jewish law.

          • Thanks Will –
            I think the double ‘kai’ ‘and’ in v16 is significant and indicates two groups are in view as Paul ends his epistle and bestows a blessing:
            1st, upon the Gentile believers not entangling themselves in circumcision
            and 2nd upon the Messianic Jews who are not imposing circumcision

            The NIV translates kai as ‘even’ thus equating the two –
            the ESV translates kai as ‘and’ –

          • Thanks Simon. Yes that seems right. (I’m not sure where this comment is going to appear but hopefully as a reply to your most recent comment!)

          • Jeremy, I personally find Simon’s position persuasive also, but I wanted to comment on the other passages you mention in support of your view that “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 means something other than the literal descendants of Jacob/Israel.

            In Philippians 3:2-3, Paul says, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation [false circumcision]; for we are the [true] circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Messiah Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” and then goes on to explain what that final phrase means. Although Gentile Christians often read Paul as if he were speaking as a generic ‘Christian’, here he is clearly speaking as a Jewish follower of Messiah, contrasting unbelieving Jews (only circumcised in flesh) with the true circumcision (i.e. both flesh and heart). The true circumcision might well have reason to be confident in the flesh, in their honoured Jewish pedigree (3:4-6), but because of their circumcision of heart are humble enough to claim the death of Messiah as their sole appeal for righteousness before God. Of course, Gentile Christians share with the ‘true circumcision’ their circumcision of heart by the Spirit, but we cannot claim to be ‘true Jews’ as Paul could, and as our Messianic brothers and sisters can today.

            Likewise in Romans 9:6, Paul says, “For they are not all Israel who are [descended] from Israel.” His following argument clarifies that natural descent from Abraham was not sufficient to be identified as the ‘seed’ of Abraham. That could only come about by God’s direct covenant of election, which was reiterated to Abraham’s chosen heirs on the basis of their enacted faith, for both Isaac and Jacob (see my response to Colin Hamer below). Paul’s argument is therefore that all the physical descendants from Jacob/Israel should not expect to inherit the covenant promises made to Jacob/Israel, because these can only be inherited by enacted faith (see Rom 2:25-29). True Israelites are those who are both physically descended from Israel and also share spiritually in the faith of their patriarchs. This is precisely why Paul later claims that God has not rejected His people Israel, because Paul himself is one of the remnant of Israel who have accepted Messiah by faith. He himself is a ‘true Israelite’. Again, that does not mean that Gentile believers can claim to be ‘true Israelites’. Although we are children of Abraham by faith (Rom 4:9-24), Gentiles are never said to be children of Jacob by faith. By faith in Israel’s Messiah we can instead become ‘true Brits’ or ‘true Americans’ or ‘true Aussies’, because Messiah has claimed all nations as His inheritance (Psalm 2).

            True ‘Israel’ is thus not a separate category from natural ‘Israel’, but a subset of natural ‘Israel’, and this is consistent throughout Paul’s teaching.

            It naturally follows therefore, as you point out, that the New Testament frequently uses language of the Church that was previously applied uniquely to Israel in the Old Testament (e.g. ‘chosen’, ‘called’, ‘sons of God’, and so on). The reason for this is because Gentiles are given the right to become sons of God through faith in Messiah, and thereby join “the commonwealth of Israel”, partaking in Israel’s covenants of promise and receiving both hope and the presence of God in the world (Eph 2:12). Nevertheless, these things still “belong” to the natural descendants of Israel (Rom 9:4-5), and “[their] gifts and [their] calling of God are irrevocable”, since they are firmly founded upon the covenant promises made by God to their patriarchs (Rom 11:28-29).

            The “commonwealth of Israel” is actually a very helpful image to use for this. The Roman people conquered nation after nation and incorporated them into its commonwealth, but in creating the Roman empire or “commonwealth”, this did not somehow disinherit the Roman people themselves from their own privileges. Likewise, the Messiah of Israel has been conquering nation after nation and incorporating them into His Israelite commonwealth (which comes with many spiritual privileges), but this in no way disinherits His own Israelite people from their own ethnic and spiritual privileges. Israel has every right to partake of the privileges of the Church, which is after all defined as Israel’s own “commonwealth”, but to do so it must first acknowledge its own King and Messiah.

            Other nations such as Britain can also freely partake of Israel’s promises (such as the physical inheritance of our own territory, completed fully in the resurrection and age to come), but only through allegiance to the King of Israel. This is because Jesus/Yeshua has rightful legal claim to possess every territory and all nations on earth by virtue of His direct royal descent from Adam via Israel and David, and by virtue of His perfect obedience to God as the Son of Adam. So also Israel also can take up its rightful place as the head of the family of nations (Acts 1:6-8), and already now within the Church, only when it gives allegiance to its King.

        • Your definition of a miracle is weak and reminds me of David Hume’s denial of the reality of miracles on the same basis. No nation in history has ever been restored after being totally destroyed as occurred with Israel. The vast majority of Christians see Israel’s restoration as an act of God in history by putting all the puzzle pieces together beyond our puny finite minds ability to explain His Sovereign will and actions. No one on this thread (including me) can orchestrate all the historical details with such fine tuning to be able put all the puzzle pieces together for Israel’s restoration. Therefore, it is a total and complete miracle beyond your definition since Father God defied not only the laws of international law, diplomacy, and even war, but acted outside our puny mind’s comprehension to fulfill His Sovereign Will. This thread borders on “splitting hairs” over a done deal that our Sovereign Father God orchestrated without a doubt.

  5. Antisemitism is anti-theism, it is protest against God’s election.

    I believe Genesis 15 and God’s covenant with Abraham is highly important and regularly ignored.
    God makes a solemn unilateral covenant:
    V1 I am your shield and very great reward
    V4 you will have a son, your own flesh & blood, to be your heir
    V5 your offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the sky
    V7 I have given you this land (Canaan) to be Your possession
    V16 your descendants will come here
    V18 to your descendants I give this land

    Is this covenant still on the table? Ha sit been fulfilled? Anulled? subsumed into God’s other economies?
    Well, God himself declares Gen17v7 ‘this covenant is everlasting’
    V13 ‘my covenant an everlasting covenant’
    V19 ‘I will establish my covenant with (Isaac) as an everlasting covenant’
    Solomon declares: 1Chron16v16 ‘the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed as a statute to Jacob, as an everlasting covenant to Israel’
    Psalmist declares:105v8 ‘He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded for a thousand generations, (v9) the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying “to you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance”
    Jer31v36 – “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” declares LORD.

    The covenant of land is given unconditionally and particularly to Abram and his heirs Isaac & Jacob-Israel. Whilst God’s subsequent revelations reveal that enjoying the land is condition on living justly and righteously, nothing has happened that invalidated the covenant. Nothing.

    Yes, the world is ultimately in sight, the saving Jesus is the ultimate goal, and Israel the people and place are the crown that sets this jewel of Christ’s revelation for all to see, but nevertheless the people and place remain divinely covenanted by God. And that revelation and redemption in Christ is moving towards its consummation which Scripture tells us includes the context where it all began, with the people and place of Israel.

    • Hi Simon

      My heritage is those Brethren you mention. I was brought up on the dispensationalism you are drawing from though I have now rejected it especially its absolute disjunction between Israel and the church. If I can respond to a couple of points you make.

      Firstly, ‘the Israel of God’. I agree it is not usual for the church to be addressed as ‘Israel’. In part this seems to be to avoid exacerbating tensions that may exist between Jews and gentiles. Thus in Ephesians the believers (Jew and gentile) are ‘one new man’. However, we must not void that as a point of theological history gentiles once aliens to he commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise have now been ‘brought near’. Christ preached peace to those ‘afar off’ (gentiles) and peace to those who are ‘near’ (Jews). Now both are one in Christ. Thus many words used to describe Israel in the OT are now used to describe the church in the NT. The church is the true circumcision.

      In Gals 6 I think we have an exception to the rule. The Judaising teachers were denying gentiles equal rights in the people of God. They were creating a divide between Jews and gentiles. In effect Jewish believers were the true Israel. Given Paul is opposed to this divide I think it is unlikely that in the final summing up he would say anything that might support this divide he is eager to close down. Thus when he says ‘the Israel of God’ he is referring to both Jews and gentiles and undermining old nationalistic categories championed by the false teachers.

      Secondly, what of the land promises? The land was never promised to Israel, it was promised to spiritual Israel, godly Israel. Paul’s argument ‘but not all Israel are of Israel’ must be brought into play. The purpose of the gospel is to create this new redeemed Israel. Another way of looking at it is to ask to whom does the land really belong? And the answer is it belongs to Christ. Christ is the true Israel (Gals 3,4). He is the son of Abraham who inherits the promises. Fulfilment of the promises is ‘in him’. It is ‘in him’ that people and land promises find their realisation. Thus ‘in him’ both Jew and gentile believers are ‘sons of God’ and joint heirs of the promises. Heirs of what? Heirs of the land. The land is the promised inheritance where all blessings reside. Thus Ephesians tells us ‘we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’. ‘Heavenly places’ is an allusion to and contrast with ‘earthly places’. The land of blessing was Canaan and earthly place but now, in the world to come’ everything has become ‘heavenly’. Abraham to whom the promise of land was given lived in Canaan as a nomad. He did not build a house or city. The reason is he did not see it as his inheritance. Hebrews says ‘he looked for a better country, a heavenly one’. All OT saints lived and died not having received what was promised – looking for a city to come. By ‘heavenly’ we mean I think ‘belonging to heaven’. We are looking at perfections in a world to come that belong to heaven. The land will not be in heaven but from heaven or in some sense heaven will come to earth (as it did in Christ).

      Presently Messiah’s reign is over all things in heaven and earth (Eph 1:22-24). I am ambivalent about which part Canaan will play in the final land. There is sense in which we should see Canaan, Jerusalem, the temple, the exodus, the sacrifices etc as all pointing forward to a fulfilment bigger than themselves. For instance in Isaiah’s vision of Mount Zion it seems. That the mountain of the Lord and the earth are one (Isa 11:9). A universalising principle is at work. Is the hub Canaan? I’m not sure.

      And so in the land all in Christ live together. The eschatological Jerusalem of Isa 54 has a huge population because it is composed of Jew and gentile (Gals 4). In Abraham all the nations of the earth are blessed as through faith they become part of the great nation of faith of which Abraham is the father (Roms 4, Gals 4). All of us together Jew and gentile, God’s holy nation (1 Pet 1) have an inheritance undefiled and reserved in heaven for us – we are back to the land again.

      And so we enjoy the land today by faith. We experience its salvation new covenant blessings in Christ. But we await the full realisation. We await a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.

      Thirdly, dispensationalism creates a great disjunction between the Nt and the OT. I don’t believe that is how we are intended to think. Yes there are discontinuities but they are the discontinuities of promise and fulfilment. It is the trajectory of promise and fulfilment that gives us the key to understanding. There is a fundamental continuity. The OT anticipates the kingdom which in the NT arrives. I think when we begin to think this way we are following the perspective intended.

    • Genesis 17:7 says that circumcision was an everlasting covenant. Tell that to the Apostles (Acts 15, Galatians, Romans, etc).

      • No: it says that circumcision was a *sign* of God’s everlasting covenant. As Paul notes, this is pointing to the circumcision of the heart, which is what really matters.

  6. I once sat in a synagogue in the Jewish settlement in Efrat in the West Bank and heard a Jewish man with an American accent read Isa 2:2-5 and explain that this was being fulfilled in the 21st century, notwithstanding that the text refers to Gentiles rather than ethnic Jews

  7. Regarding Simon’s point – I would suggest that in Galatians 3:15–16 Paul does not deny a literal nation fulfilment, but he explains that there were, in effect, two promises given to Abraham (or at least two aspects to the one promise), one fulfilled in Jacob and his many descendants who God covenanted with at Sinai, and another that lay in the more distant future with a very specific offspring—that is Jesus Christ—the reference to an ‘offspring’ in Genesis 22:17–18 being taken as a reference to Jesus Christ. Two studies have argued that an understanding of a single seed is present in the Hebrew text of Genesis. (Collins, Jack. “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural.” Tyndale Bulletin 48.1 (1997): 139?48; Alexander, Desmond T. “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis.” Tyndale Bulletin 48.2 (1997): 363?67.) Pascal Denault claims this was always the Baptist understanding, see: Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison between Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism. Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013.

  8. The unconditional promises rest on the single seed. The promises of a lasting literal nation were surely conditional. See for example 2 Kings 17:6-20.

    • Colin, I prefer to think the promises of possessing the land were made conditional with later rules given by God about justice, sabbath, the poor etc – but the actual giving of the land (Gen15) in covenant is made unconditionally and unilaterally (as Abe slept and only God went through the covenant parts).

    • Actually Colin, as far as I can tell, there is only one patriarchal covenant promise in Genesis that is explicitly made to a singular ‘seed’. The word ‘seed’ in Hebrew can be read as either singular or plural, as you know, so the only way of recognising which is intended is by paying attention to the pronouns or verbs that pertain to the ‘seed’. In all but one use, the pronouns or verbs are either plural or ambiguous, but in Genesis 22:17, a singular verb and singular pronominal suffix are used – “your seed shall possess (s.) the gate of his enemies”. This then would seem to apply also to the following promise in verse 18 – “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you obeyed My voice”.
      Unsurprisingly, this is precisely the focus of Paul’s discussion about the singular ‘seed’ in Galatians 3:6-18. The ‘gospel’, which Paul defines succinctly as “that God justifies the nations by faith”, was preached beforehand to Abraham specifically in the promise that “all the nations will be blessed in you” (Gal 3:8). That promise of blessing that was given to Abraham himself in Genesis 12:3, and then reiterated as a promise specifically to Abraham’s singular ‘Seed’ (the Messiah) in 22:18. The good news of Abraham’s blessing (justification by God by faith) being granted to all nations is specifically through the Messiah, and this promise was not invalidated by the Law of Moses that came later, nor could the Law of Moses become a prerequisite for the fulfilment of the promise (Gal 3:15-18).
      However, it is important to note also that there are two other covenant promises made to Abraham, in addition to blessing to the nations (i), namely (ii) multiplied seed “like the stars of the heavens and like the sand of the seashore”, and (iii) the specific territory of Canaan. Neither within the patriarchal covenant(s) themselves nor in the New Testament are these two blessings interpreted as being for, or through, the singular Seed. On the contrary, there are clear indications that a plural ‘seed’ is intended.
      In Genesis 15, the lands designated in verses 18-21 are “To your seed”, and earlier in the chapter the ‘seed’ is always plural, whether in verse 5 (like uncountable stars), or in verse 13 (oppressed in a foreign land as strangers for 400 years).
      Likewise in Genesis 17, although the “blessing to all nations” is never mentioned, the other two covenant promises are both explicitly plural. The promise of exceeding multiplication, into “a multitude of nations… and kings”, applies Abraham’s covenant to his ‘seed’ and to all “their generations”, that God will be “their God” (17:4-8). This same passage incorporates the promise of “all the land of Canaan”, which is given to “your seed after you… for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (v. 8). The qualification for being included within this plural ‘seed’ is the covenant sign of circumcision (17:9-14), which still applies to this very day to all those who wish to belong to the Jewish people and share their inheritance.
      One might observe the same plurality when the covenant is reiterated to Isaac (Gen 26:3-4), and to Jacob (Gen 28:13-14; 35:11-12). In both cases the ‘seed’ might be either singular or plural, lacking any associated pronouns or verbs, but the fact that the seed is always seen as multiplied, like the stars or the dust, suggests that the land and blessing in these cases also applies to the plural ‘seed’ who are circumcised.

      As for the conditionality of the patriarchal promises. whether to the singular or plural ‘seed’, initially they are indeed made conditional to Abraham, and then to Isaac, and then to Jacob, always on the basis of enacted faith. Abraham must trust God enough to believe for Isaac’s birth and then offer Isaac as a sacrifice, which he does (Gen 22). Isaac must trust God enough to stay within the land during famine, which he does (Gen 26). Jacob must trust God enough to return to the land after fleeing from his brother Esau, which he does (Gen 28; 31:1-18; 32; 35). In every case, after the patriarch has acted in faith upon God’s promise, God then reiterates the covenant blessings to him and to his ‘seed’, but this time without any conditions at all. Even so, God also assures them that even if they didn’t have faith, He would remain faithful to “the oath which I swore to your father Abraham… because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (26:3-5). It is therefore impossible to interpret the patriarchal covenant as conditional; God has sworn by Himself (22:16), and it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:13-20).

      Although later generations of Israel’s descendants regularly failed to act in faith towards the God of their patriarchs, and therefore failed to partake in the inheritance promised to them as ‘seed’ of the patriarchs, the promised inheritance remained available to them if they chose to repent and act in faith once more. God never withdrew this promise to the ‘seed’ of the patriarchs, i.e. the circumcised descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Despite their repeated national sins and punishments, God declared categorically through the prophet Jeremiah, at the time of their exile to Babylon:
      “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of Hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘then the seed of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me for ever.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer 31:35-37)

      The promises of a lasting literal nation are without a shadow of a doubt unconditional. And that enduring literal nation can at any time choose to inherit the patriarchal promises by faith, first physically by trusting God’s prophetic promises enough to return to the land, and then also spiritually by trusting God’s prophetic promises enough to turn to Messiah.

      • James Patrick,
        Thank you sir for such a lucid, clear, and well documented thorough explanation to bring closure to this thread.

  9. For a more extensive historical background about the ‘restorationism’ movement that Chapman mentions, going back at least to the first decade of the 1600s, have a look at my Grove booklet on the subject of ‘British Christian History and the Jewish People’ (E187). Those featured, who share the belief that the Bible prophesies a return to the land for the Jewish people, include some of the great names in British evangelical history – John Owen, John and Charles Wesley, William Wilberforce, J.C. Ryle, Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Spurgeon, Rees Howells, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. If these men of God felt that the Scriptures were clear on the subject, it at least deserves some more careful consideration.

  10. Although I have not yet read the book in detail, from the excerpts given above, Chapman refers to several of Luke’s clear references to a sense of expectation in Jesus’ time that Israel and Jerusalem would be ‘redeemed’, ‘comforted’, and so on. It is impossible for these words not to bring to mind passages from Isaiah 40-55, for example, or 60-62. Jesus’ death and resurrection (Isaiah 53) leads directly into its consequences (chapter 54) involving a return from exile for the whole Jewish people, and Jesus’ Spirit-empowered preaching of the good news (Isaiah 61) is enclosed by vivid and extravagant descriptions (chapters 60, 62) of the nations praising God for how He has used them to bring the Jewish people back home and rebuild Jerusalem. If we want to interpret the Messianic prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah 53 and 61 literally, then the redemption and consolation of Israel and Jerusalem, by means of the Gentiles who accept their Messiah, must also be interpreted literally.

  11. Chapman also says, “And in contrast to Ezekiel, when Jesus talked of the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13, Matt 24 and Luke 21, he make no mention of the possibility of return and restoration. And Luke’s gospel is the one that sets out most clearly that all the promises of restoration are met in Jesus.”
    I am honestly surprised that he failed to see the clear promises of return and restoration in the Gospels. For example, in Matthew 23:37-39, Jesus promises ‘desolation’ (i.e. exile) for Jerusalem in his own generation (cf. 23:34-36, a biblical generation is 40 years), but then Jesus concludes by promising “…from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.” The most straightforward reading of this is that after being exiled from their land, Messiah will be hidden from the sight of Jerusalem (the city that more than any other represents the Jewish people), until they as a nation and as a capital city welcome Him once again with the traditional greeting, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai’. Again, this presupposes that there will be a physical and spiritual restoration of Israel, such that they, in Jerusalem, will be ready to welcome their king back home.
    Likewise in Luke’s Gospel, Luke 21:20-24 clearly describes the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem to destroy it (i.e. 70 AD), and then leading the Jewish people “captive into all the nations”. Once again, Jesus concludes this prophecy of desolation with a prophecy of return: “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” From 70 AD onwards, Jerusalem was under Gentile sovereignty, and this continued right up until 1967, the ‘Six Day War’, when Israel recaptured the old city of Jerusalem from Jordanian control. For the first time in nearly 1900 years, Jerusalem was no longer “trampled under foot by the Gentiles”, though some raise questions about the status of the Temple Mount itself. As for Jesus’ words, however we wish to interpret the “fulfilment of the times of the Gentiles”, the operative word is “until”. Jesus clearly prophesied a future time of reversal for the oppression and captivity and exile of the Jewish people from their land and from Jerusalem specifically.

  12. And as for the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapman writes “But the writer gives no hint of any expectation of a literal fulfilment, and instead develops the theme of the land in a completely new direction. He speaks of the land as ‘that rest,’ saying that ‘We who have believed enter that rest’ (Heb 4.3).”
    Again, I wonder if we are reading the same book. Perhaps it is just that it is being read through Gentile rather than Jewish eyes, but Hebrews 11 is entirely straightforward about the literal promise of inheriting the land:
    “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God… All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (11:8-10, 13-16)
    Note that if they had been thinking of Ur of the Chaldees, they would have been able to return, but instead they chose to live as if they were foreigners or exiles, landless sojourners, “in the land of promise”. The land of Canaan was the land promised to them for an inheritance, and yet they did not receive it in their lifetimes. They were not expecting a land up beyond the clouds. They wanted a literal real land, so much so that Joseph commanded that his bones be brought back with Israel and buried in the land of his inheritance. They were expecting resurrection, in order to inherit their land physically as promised, and this is exactly what Jesus confirms when he says, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28-29)
    As NT Wright and many others have pointed out (e.g. Grove Books B11), when the writer to the Hebrews speaks of “a heavenly country”, this does not mean a country in heaven. The promise is reserved in heaven for us, but just as when we might say to a child, “There is a Christmas present waiting for you in the cupboard”, we do not mean them to conclude that on Christmas Day they will have to climb into the cupboard to enjoy their present. No, the present will be brought to where the child is. The New Testament is full of promises that Jesus will return to earth, that the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven, that the dwelling of God will be with men, not vice versa. The city with foundations which Abraham longed for is the city that God will bring down from heaven to earth, the people of God themselves in resurrection bodies, to dwell permanently in the land.
    The patriarchs were awaiting resurrection in the land promised to them, as have all of their Jewish descendants ever since. The writer to the Hebrews was using the example of the patriarchs to remind his readers not to cling on to return to Jewish ritual atonement practices in order to preserve their physical territorial inheritance (from destruction by the Romans), which was the way that many Jews in the late 60s were saying that they would be delivered. As the writer says in 10:32-39, in the early days, believers joyfully accepted their property being seized, because at the end of this age they would receive “a better possession and a lasting one”. They needed to hold onto that hope now also, and be willing to be scattered among the Gentile nations with the gospel (the same response that Jesus gave when His disciples asked Him about the timing of the kingdom being restored to Israel in Acts 1).
    The only question remaining about the promise of resurrection and national restoration from exile back to the land was which order this would happen in. And this is where Ezekiel 36 becomes crucial. Ever since the end of the 1700s, evangelicals in the UK have recognised that the Bible clearly speaks of a physical return to the land in unbelief, before God pours out His Spirit upon them (like Joshua’s generation crossing the River Jordan still uncircumcised). Ezekiel 36:16-32 makes this explicit. For example, verses 24-26: “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you…” The physical return to the land has now become a visible reality in the land of Canaan, the land promised to the patriarchs. What we are anticipating in this generation is now the spiritual restoration, which as Jesus said will prepare the Jewish people and Jerusalem to declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.

  13. I wonder what Ezekil’s prophecy meant to the first hearers? How it encouraged them while in exile, Ezekiel must have been encouraged given being a prophet was no walk in the park.

    I think it also does speak of the Messiah Jesus as the Good shepherd/King.

    I have no idea how it relates to the end times.

    As for the secular Jewish state, for that us what Israel is, the presence of the state of Israel may more be a sign of God’s generous grace handed out to a stiff necked people rather than a direct filament of Ezekieks prophecy.

    As someone with Jewish heritage I do want to see Israel saved, but I don’t think the political state of Israel is a sign if salvation,

    • If Ezekiel 36:24-27 is to be fulfilled at all, in its own terms (i.e. “I will gather you from *all* the lands and bring you into your own land”), then the return of the Jewish people from all nations into their own land is a necessary first step to receiving from God “a new heart” and “a new spirit”. The words of the prophets were written as a lamp shining in a dark place, “to which we do well to pay attention” (2Pet 1:19), and Jesus Himself said that not a word will pass away from the Law and the Prophets “until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
      Jesus also encouraged us to “learn the parable from the fig tree” (Matt 24:32-33). As we all know, the fig tree just a few days earlier on Jesus’ walk into Jerusalem represented the nation of Israel that withered because it had no fruit (Matt 21:18-22). Elsewhere Jesus also used the fig tree as a parable for Israel (e.g. Luke 13:6-9; compare Luke 23:27-31). In that case, we must be very alert to any flourishing and spiritual tenderness of the Jewish nation, embodied above all in the modern State of Israel – “When [the fig tree’s] branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognise that He is near, right at the doors.”
      Let us as the Gentile Church not persist in our blindness to the most obvious international event and prophesied sign of Jesus’ imminent return for the past two thousand years! May the Lord Jesus not rebuke us too for “not recognising the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44; see also His prophecy of the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem in Luke 21:24).

  14. Simon you have a sound understanding of Israels place and purpose in God.It saddens me when I see believers stealing their identity and redistributing their God given land.Israel where scattered by God and it is God who has gathered them.Remember ye of little faith,who can open a door that the lord has closed ?who can close a door that the lord has opened. Who can curse who the lord has blessed? Who can bless who the lord has cursed.Who can smite who the lord has healed?who can heal whom the lord has smited.I am in total agreement with your assessments Gentiles are gentiles throughout scripture and Jews are Jews there is an Israel amongst Israel.

  15. So how do the promises to a literal nation in a literal land fit with the Bible’s marital imagery?
    The imagery in the Hebrew Bible is of an Israel divorced (Jeremiah 3, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 50). They “broke” the covenant (Jeremiah 31:32).

    Thus the New Testament marital imagery is that God incarnate is the Bridegroom Messiah seeking to betroth a new bride—not a husband seeking a reconciliation with his estranged wife, Israel. Of course, the bride herself must be single—that is, never married, a widow, or divorcee. The new covenant invitation for all—Jew and Gentile—to be present as the bride at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Only one bride? A ‘married’ Israel could not be that bride?

    Ephesians 5:31-32 is surely saying that the Genesis 2:24 marital affinity union illustrates the union of Christ and the Church. Thus, the Gentiles, although outside of Abraham’s family—just as any bride is outside her own bridegroom’s family—can nonetheless choose to become by faith, what they are not—that is, members of Jesus’s bridal community, the church. Thus, the whole church at the eschaton comes into a marital affinity relationship with the seed of Abraham and can be counted as being in his family thus fulfilling the Genesis 17 promise. The circle is squared. The believing Gentiles are the seed of Abraham—but it is by means of the Genesis 2:24 marital affinity relationship with that seed. In the imagery Christ has only one bride—both Jew and Gentile enter the bridal community by means of that same affinity union?

  16. Colin, Israel can’t break the unilaterally established Abrahamic covenant which was without conditions attached. Clearly Jeremiah is speaking about Israel breaking the Mosaic Mt Sinai covenant, as Jeremiah text you cite states ‘made on the day I brought them out of Egypt’. I think the bridal metaphor occupies the central place you give it and believing Jew & Gentile are the Bride. Might we think of Land of Israel as prophetic Bridal suite – looking retrospectively to Eden and pro-spectively to the new Jerusalem and new heaven on earth.

  17. No. Jesus’ return is not a scheduled date that only God knows as so many Christians teach. The entire context is Jesus was the messiah that the prophets asserted would come. Israel rejected the prophets and Christ. Because of that he left. Open up and read the gospels, paul, james, and peter. They tell you this. Israel has to accept him before he comes back. Modern Israel has nothing to do with prophecy. Jesus is the temple. Any building of the temple has nothing to do with prophecy. All prophecy is contingent on human actions and beliefs. Prophecy is not set in stone. Reed the potters story and jonah among every other prophecy.

    The Christians job is to always pray for Israel to accept their messiah with open arms. When they do jesus returns and the messianic era will take off like a rocket. Our job is to pray, speak, and bless Israel. Our lord’s return is dependent upon it.

    • Thanks for your interesting, mixed comment. Where in the NT, other than the highly debated Rom 11.26, is there any suggestion that ethnic Jews will turn to Jesus before he returns?

      • In Matthew 23:39, Jesus himself seems to be saying that “ethnic Jews” will not see Him until they turn to him and say : “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord .” The implication there is that they turn to him first, then He comes (or returns) to them.

  18. I think a literal Israel shall exist in the plans of God prior to Jesus Coming because without a literal Israel many end time prophecies won’t be realized without it such as:
    1. Ezekiel 36 – God will bring back His people from all the nations they were scattered and then God will cleanse them with water.
    350,000 Jews worldwide are Messianics in 2017 and today it was reported to be around 500,000. Around 10,000 to as high as 50,000 are reportedly lived in Israel. Messianics are banned from Aliyah but we don’t know The Law of Return restrictions will be losen soon by God’s grace;
    2. Joel 3:2, – all nations gather against Jerusalem to judgement for dividing the Land of Israel;
    3. Zechariah 14:2-3, – all nations shall gather to battle, Jerusalem taken, half exiled half remain in the City. Then the Lord comes and fight;

    Is the gathering of nations correspond to the Revelations of John’s? This time the united armies of the world is led by the Anti-Christ, the man of perdition under the power of the Beast, gathering in Megiddo.

    Christians do not gather in one place in this world, they are all over. There is only one people of God that gathers in one place, Israel. They are the most hated people in the world accross time. When the Day of the Lord comes, this is the place, the people and the gathering nations shall all witnesses to His full glory. And this event will be streamed or fed live (seen) for all the world to see, as prophesied.

    What do you think of these?

    • Honestly? I think they are fulfilled in Jesus. Why do you think all these things must be fulfilled ‘literally’ i.e. by means of an ethnically-defined national group, when just about *everything* in the NT says that all these promises are fulfilled in the spilling out of God’s grace to *all* the nations. Acts 15.16–17 is but one example of it; another is Paul’s calling the Jewish-Gentile Jesus community ‘Israel’ in Gal 6.16.

  19. I’ve just discovered this blog and these posts.

    First, I’ll say how refreshing it is to see other Christians disagreeing *respectfully*. This is exactly how it should be, of course, but all too often is not.

    It is fascinating to watch dueling Bible experts throw texts at each other, but the overall result is to diminish my confidence in the value, or even the purpose, of the Bible to resolve such issues.

    Prophecy-spotting seems an especially controversial case, but similar examples are Calvinism/Arminianism, Pre-/Post-/A-Milleniallism, Pre-Tribulation/Post-Tribulation/No Rapture, and Creation/Evolution; all with no resolution in sight, even among those who agree on the essentials. Note also, that some controversies that split the early church seem absurd today: arguing over the date of Easter, or whether Christ has one nature or two. In the end, rather than nitpicking verses, I’ve reverted to basing my thinking on what we know about God’s general character, supplemented, where relevant, by what we know of the natural world.

    What I will say next is based on my own experience of Christian Zionists. I concede that not everyone who self-identifies as such, or who interprets prophecy this way, holds all these views.

    Christian Zionists seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with race – specifically the Jews – manifesting itself as unquestioning support for Jewish people in general and for the State of Israel in particular. This means supporting the most hawkish and intransigent elements in Israeli politics, opposing any deal that concedes land to the Arabs because the Jews are entitled to all the land promised to them in Joshua 1 v 4, “Your territory will extend from the desert and from Lebanon to the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – and to the Great Sea on the west.” I don’t think they have ever controlled all that land, but the adherents of this view will not rest until they do. Any public figure who dares to criticize anything the Israelis do risks being written-off by them. Atrocities committed against Arabs are ignored or treated indulgently. Strictly speaking, therefore, such views are anti-Semitic, since Arabs are Semitic people.

    Christian Zionists seem also to be very confused about whether or not Christians should be attempting to fulfill prophecy in the Middle East, saying at one time that we are asked only “to observe in humility and try to understand what is happening”, so that although they see various events as inevitable, e.g. return of the Jews, rebuilding the temple, and a war, they deny that Christians are to encourage, support, or bring about such things and insist that moral considerations are irrelevant. On the other hand, they contradict this, introducing moral considerations when they say that those who oppose the Jews are defying God. And this becomes even stronger when they talk of the PLO, the Arab nations, and the “liberal humanists who control Western public opinion”. Further, in speaking of God’s judgment on nations that oppose God’s purposes, they are clearly talking right and wrong.

    Christian Zionists seem also to be rather gullible in accepting non-Biblical pronouncements, by self-styled prophets, that happen to fit their worldview.

    Summary of beliefs of Christian Zionists as I have experienced them :-

    o God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people forever and promised that they would return to it after being dispersed.

    o The establishment in 1948 of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jews was a fulfillment of that promise.

    o Therefore God is pleased that this happened and supports the Zionist cause, and all Christians should do likewise.

    o The only condition God requires of the Jews for occupying the land is that they continue to practice circumcision! [This view apparently contradicts Galatians 5 v 3, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.]

    o It follows that the Jews have a stronger claim on the land than the Palestinian Arabs.

    o A new Jewish temple should and will be built on its old site, near the Muslim Dome of the Rock.

    o God desires temple worship with animal sacrifices to begin again when the temple is rebuilt (as justified by Zechariah 14).

    o There should and will be a further mass-migration of Jews to Israel (for example, as claimed in Steve Lightle’s ‘Operation Exodus II: Answers You Need to Know About Explosive Future Events’.)

    o All Jewish people are commanded to emigrate to Israel (to make ‘aliyah’).

    o God still judges nations, and does so primarily by their treatment of Israel. According to this view, Britain lost her predominance as a world power for opposing independence for Israel in 1948, and America is going the same way if it doesn’t become even more pro-Israel than it is already. [Of course, such a view ignores the Balfour declaration, and fails to explain why the home of the Holocaust should now be the most economically powerful nation in Europe.]

    o God’s purpose for the Middle East is not peace but war, therefore any “land for peace” deal is doubly mistaken, since it is also giving God’s land away to Arabs. The Second Coming of Jesus will be precipitated by a war in the region, so the more inflamed the situation becomes, the better. [So much for Psalm 122 v 6, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”]

    o If any of this seems unjust, we must remember that God’s ways are higher than ours – it is not our place to question his purposes. Literal interpretation of Biblical prophecy takes priority over general Biblical teaching regarding the character of God. In any case, the land belongs to God, so he can do what he likes with it.

  20. It is just so amazing that we are yet to get the accurate history about those that occupied Israel who are the original Israelites in flesh or bloodline, The people of colour “light black skin”, the people occupying Israel now were never Hebrews but came from somewhere in far Europe outside the middle east, Jesus in flesh wasn’t white, the last time the true Jews occupied Israel was 66-70A.d after the Romans invaded Jerusalem, the scattering of God’s people can be seen in Deu 28 which fit the Negros, the next fulfilment of the prophecy is when Jesus return for in Jesus Christ you become a Jew not anymore by flesh but in spirit.

  21. Turn Ezekiel’s map of Israel so that East is at the top. Ancient Egypt had south at the top. Rome had north, as we do today. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple now take a position sitting upon the Great Sea. The Temple in plan looks like a throne. It’s footstool is the land of Palestine. The Temple is Jesus on the throne. His heart is the altar. We come in from left or right (North and South) and make our sacrifices. Paul said we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Ezekiel’s prophetic Temple was fulfilled in Jesus. The Prince in the East Gate is the Holy Spirit. He decended on Christ and remained at his baptism. If therefore a new Temple is ever built and someone ever enters by the East Gate it would bring about an event which would be an abomination of desolation.

  22. Israel is a problem for replacement theologians so they need to ‘explain it away’. Even pre millennialists have issues too. Interesting indeed.

    Scholar Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains the biblical basis for the current state of Israel as follows:

    ”The re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 has not only thrown a
    wrench in amillennial thinking, but it has also thrown a chink in much of premillennial
    thinking. Amazingly, some premillennialists have concluded that the present
    state of Israel has nothing to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. For some reason
    the present state some how does not fit their scheme of things, and so the
    present state becomes merely an accident of history. On what grounds is the
    present state of Israel so dismissed? The issue that bothers so many
    premillennialists is the fact that not only have the Jews returned in unbelief with
    regard to the person of Jesus, but the majority of the ones who have returned
    are not even Orthodox Jews. In fact the majority are atheists or agnostics.
    Certainly, then, Israel does not fit in with all those biblical passages dealing with
    the return. For it is a regenerated nation that the Bible speaks of, and the present
    state of Israel hardly fits that picture. So on these grounds, the present state is
    dismissed as not being a fulfillment of prophecy.
    However, the real problem is the failure to see that the prophets spoke of
    two international returns. First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in
    preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the tribulation. This was to be
    followed by a second world-wide regathering in faith in preparation for blessing,
    namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible
    speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present state of Israel
    fits into prophecy.”

  23. As long as you study the Word using the wrong KEY, you’ll never understand biblical prophecy, which by the way was not written to your people at all. Your people? Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 people.

    The books that Yah told Daniel to close are now open, and knowledge has been increased. Yah’s CAPTIVES are awakening, and judgment has been let loose upon the world. Sooner than you think, you all will know the true chosen of Yah…

    • Hang on—so there is a special key, that you have, and I don’t, and only that will allow people to read the Bible aright?

      That sounds like Gnosticism to me, not the Christian faith.

  24. Those of you who are questioning whether the return of the Jews to their homeland in 1948 is indeed a literal fulfilment of prophecy might find the following document of interest. It points out that the prophecies not only predicted that the Jews would return to Israel from a world-wide dispersion, but that they predicted precisely when this would occur.

    If you take the following three groups of prophecies together…

    Jeremiah 25:8-11 and 29:10 (The 70 year duration of the Babylonian Exile.)
    Ezekiel 4:3b-6 (The total duration of the period of punishment.)
    Leviticus 26:18, 26:21, 26:24 and 26:28 (The fact that God would multiply any period of punishment by 7 if the Jews failed to repent.)

    …these prophecies, viewed as a whole, clearly foretell that the return of the Jews to Israel would happen specifically in 1948. It also becomes clear why, as stated in the above article, the Jews seemed still to be in a state of punishment when Jesus was here.

    If you do a Google search, you can find other webpages dealing with this specific prophecy in more detail.

      • You are absolutely wrong about this. Sorry brother. Jesus’s return was told as well as the nation state of Isreal. We still have 10 lost tribes migrating back to Isreal as we speak. Quit leading people astray, if you don’t understand prophecy, that is OK. We still love you!! Please quit informing people on prophecy, since you clearly do not understand it.

          • Ahh! Ian. You demand a ‘text’ so you can find a ‘counter text’. That is no way to handle the Word of God. If you are serious about this, then go to David Pawson’s detailed study “Israel in the New Testament”.

          • Thanks. I have read Pawson in the past (on several issues) and found him unconvincing…because he did not attend to the text, which is odd for someone in the evangelical tradition.

            Can you point me to any sense of expectation of a restoration to the land or re-establishment of the temple in the NT?

  25. All this boils down to a simple question, and no amount of ‘theology’ [or verse-mining, or contextualization ] can avoid. Is Israel’s present restoration to the land of God, or of the Devil?

  26. A couple of points

    1) I’m not going to get into a ‘verse’ slinging match with you – that is no way to handle the Word of God.
    2) Your dismissal of Pawson (who has sold in millions) as ‘not attending to the Biblical text’ is, frankly, risible.
    3) If you had any REAL interest in this particular biblical truth you WOULD engage with Pawson’s “Israel in the New Testament”. Your fear of doing so speaks volumes.
    4) My own book, linked here and on pp 56-59 has plenty of passages that speak of Israel, so if you are frightened of engaging with Pawson, then try my contribution:
    5) And if you want a serious ‘proper’ theologian’s exploration of God’s undying purposes for Israel, then why not opt for Rev Alex Jacob’s “The Case for Enlargement Theology”?

    All this boils down to a simple question. No amount of sophistry, ‘theology’, verse-mining, or contextualization, can avoid. Is Israel’s present restoration to the land of God, or of the Devil?


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