Prophecy by The Book: Chapter 4
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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Israel in Prophecy
For a better understanding of prophecy I turn next to the question of Israel.
Ifas we have notedthe kingdom of God is a spiritual
realm and has been taken from Israel, does Israel, according to the New Testament,
have a continuing place in God's plan? This is a live issue today in the understanding
First, let us observe that in a real sense Christians, born-again believers,
are "the Israel of God." Paul writes the Galatians, "Peace and
mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God" (6:16 niv).
It is apparent from what Paul had just been saying, namely, "Neither circumcision
nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (v. 15
niv), that he means not ethnic Israel but the church, the spiritual people of
God. This is quite clear in Philippians 3:3 where Paul speaks of Christians
as "the [true] circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory
in Christ Jesus" (niv). Amazingly, "we" (you and I as believers
in Christ) are "the [true] circumcision."
Moreover, we in Christ are also the inheritors of the promises to Abraham.
Christ Himself is the primary heir. Hear Paul in Galatians 3:16: "The promises
were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,'
meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ"
(niv). Paul shortly thereafter adds: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave
nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong
to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise"
(vv. 28-29 niv). What was that promise? It is the promise of God to Abraham
as found in Genesis 12:7: "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (kjv).
And God surely did give the land physically to Abraham's descendants (the promised
land); but the promise ultimately was not physical but spiritual. Recall the
words in Hebrews 11: "By faith he [Abraham] made his home in the promised
land like a stranger in a foreign country...for he was looking forward to the
city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (vv. 9-10 niv).
Earthly land was a good thing, and the physical heirs through Abraham, Israel,
Jacob, and Jacob's twelve sons inherited itbut that was only preparation
for "the city with foundations," the city of God, the commonwealth
inhabited by all who belong to Jesus Christ.
In Christ all believers, whether they are Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male
or female, now belong to that glorious city. Paul speaks in Philippians to the
effect that "our citizenship [not 'conversation' kjv] is in heaven"
(3:20 niv, nasb). Together we are "the Israel of God" and in Christ
heir to all God's promises.
Second, we need also to observe that God is not done with ethnic Israel. There
is a continuing place for Israel in God's plan. In Romans 9-11 we find Paul
dealing with this matter. All these chapters are valuable, but let us turn to
11 which begins, "I ask, then, has God rejected his people?" To this
Paul responds: "By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of
Abraham...God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew" (vv. 1-2).
Shortly, Paul adds, "At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by
grace" (v. 5). A remnant, a part of Israel (including, of course, Paul
himself), has received grace, meaning the grace of salvation. Since that is
the case, the Old Testament promises to Abraham, et al, are being fulfilled
partly in Israel; thus God has not rejected His ancient people. But clearly
this is a spiritual fulfillment, namely, wherever the remnant of Jews with believing
Gentiles (e.g., the Romans) have come to salvation.
Then Paul gets quite excited about his own racial people. True, most Israelites
have spurned the gospel, but through their very failurePaul calls
it "their trespass" (or "transgression" [niv, nasb]) "salvation
has come to the Gentiles" (v. 11). But then follows Paul's breathtaking
statement: "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!" (v. 12). Full inclusion! Paul says more about this later. He adds,
"If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their
acceptance mean but life from the dead?" (v. 15). What a picture: when
Israel comes into faith ("their acceptance"), it will make for such
a burst of vigor as to be like life from the dead!
Paul illustrates this vividly by the analogy of an olive tree: the Jews largely
have been broken off "because of their unbelief" (v. 20), and the
Gentiles, "a wild olive shoot" (v. 17) have been grafted in. Now if
the Jews "do not persist in their unbelief, [they] will be grafted in,
for God has the power to graft them in again" (v. 23). Compared to the
Gentiles who have been "grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated
olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their
own olive tree" (v. 24). Thus Jews, Israel, will eventuallyand
supernaturallywitness to the gospel and with such explosive power
that the world can scarcely be the same! Ah, there is God's future for ethnic
Israelan amazing prospect!
When will this happen? Now we get to the critical point. Paul writes thereafter
that "Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number
of the Gentiles has come in" (v. 25 niv). This hardening of Israel is referred
to elsewhere by Paul as a veil"their minds were hardened;
for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted"
(2 Cor. 3:14). But some day in the future when the full number of the Gentiles
have been saved, then it will be Israel's turn. Just after the words, "the
full number of the Gentiles comes in," Paul adds, "And so all Israel
will be saved" (v. 26).
What a climax! Paul writes about this as a "mystery" (v. 25)something
hitherto unknown and now revealed through the Apostle. He does not say exactly
how Israel's salvation will occurbut it surely will happen. The
sequence is also important. Following the full number of Gentiles coming in,
the great event for Israel will be her national and personal salvation. Earlier
Old Testament prophecies that seemed to relate only to earthly fulfillment,
such as the promised land, are now transcended by a far greater future: the
spiritual realm of salvation. Together with the Gentiles, Israel will enter
into its fullness.
Israel has a continuing place in God's plan. Thus her rejection by God, her
unbelief, her refusal of the Messiah, is not the last word. Israel will be a
vital part of God's new people: all of whom together will be Abraham's seed
and heirs of everything that God has promised.
In line with this, we must stress the great importance today of Jewish evangelization.
Although the turning of Jews to Christ is still rather small, there are an increasing
number of agencies (e.g., Jews for Jesus) that are reaching out to Jews with
the gospel. Messianic (Jewish Christian) congregations are springing up in many
places, and even in the nation of Israel some Jews are beginning to turn to
the Lord. Indeed, this may be the significance of national Israel prophetically,
namely, that the very concentration in one small land can be opportunity for
a whole people coming to salvation. Just imagine for a moment what it would
beand will belike when Israel's leadership (yes, even
the prime minister, cabinet members, and the Knesset at large!) turn to Christ.
Speak of walls tumbling down in Europe, especially the Berlin wall; that will
be as nothing compared to the breach in Israel when the walls not of a few decades
but of two thousand years come crashing down!
As the central core of Jewry around the world and the land to which more and
more Jews are emigrating every day, the nation of Israel may well be the catalyst
for future worldwide salvation of the Jews. Indeed, this will be a glorious
climax: the Jews who were the first to hear the gospel but rejected it will
be the last to hear the gospel and receive it! And together with fellow Christian
Gentiles, a united people will be ready for the Lord when He comes.
One last prophetic touch may be added. Jesus declares, according to Luke 21:24,
about the Jews that "they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led
captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles,
until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." It is a historical fact
that from the time of the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 a.d. (with
some million Jews falling by the sword and thereafter almost 100,000 being led
captive and scattered among many nations) until recently Gentile nations have
dominated the city of Jerusalem. However, in 1967, for the first time since
70 a..d., Jerusalem has been liberated from Gentile forces and Israel is now
in control of the whole city. The prophecy of Jesus in this literal fulfillment
could prepare the way for the coming salvation of the Jewish people. It is interesting
that Jesus proceeds in Luke's Gospel, immediately after His words about Jerusalem,
to describe His return in glory (vv. 25-29), and shortly He adds the words:
"Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken
place" (v. 32).
Although we must exercise care in regard to this complex prophecy, it is possible
that the generation living since 1967 a.d. will see both the completion of the
gospel mission to Israel and the return of the Lord. Since Israel's salvation
follows upon "the full number of the Gentiles" coming in (recall Paul's
words in Rom. 11:25), this would mean our present generation could see both
the completion of the gospel witness to the nations (recall Jesus' words in
Matt. 24:14) and the salvation of Israel! If this is a correct understanding,
we are living in the final years of history that will climax with the Lord's
return. "Our Lord, come!"
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Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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