Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (13) The Third Preliminary Sign - 'All Israel?'

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
In modern history perhaps no date has become as much of a landmark as has May 14, 1948. Although most of the world does not know what happened on that particular date, most do know of the results. That date marks the birth of the modern state of Israel. Since that time, the Middle East has been and still is the focal point of international attention and, often, concern.

What happened in 1948 seems to be nothing short of a miracle. After nearly 2,000 years of ÒstatelessnessÓ the Jews again received a homeland. No doubt, the collective guilt of the nations in connection with the suffering brought upon the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis played quite a role in the decision of the United Nations to ÒgiveÓ to the people of Israel the land of Palestine. It is not for us to enter into a discussion on the merits of this decision but we do note that after 2,000 years, there is, suddenly, again a Nation of Israel. Is this not a miracle? Many, indeed, have seen this as a miracle. Many Christians believe this is so wondrous that it obviously must be something done directly by God Himself and with a grand purpose in mind. Many believe most strongly that this is all in fulfilment of prophecy.

To be sure, if we do recognize that God rules the nations, we may see that in this event something extraordinary has taken place. The various wars (1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973) were also extraordinary in that Israel emerged victorious despite overwhelming odds against them (although massive U.S. aid played a great role in 1973 as did the continued support of the U. S. since 1948).

Is the ÔrebirthÕ of Israel a fulfilment of prophecy and will all of Israel be saved? These are the questions we must deal with now.

The Restoration of Israel
No one will deny that there are many restoration prophesies in the Old Testament (Deut.30: 1-10; 1 Kings 8:46-52; Jer.18: 5-10, 29:12-14; Ezek.36: 33; 37:1-14; Hos.11: 10). But to think that these would apply to something some 2700 years in the future, without there being a more immediate fulfilment, is somewhat questionable. The prophets spoke of something close at hand: the return of the captives from the exile in Babylon-- not a homecoming from a dispersion more than two thousand years later. It would be as strange as promising release to a prisoner and referring this promise only to a second prison sentence 30 years later! Prophecies referring to the restoration of Israel as a nation have their focus in historical events that took place long ago. This is the first principle that we must keep before us in dealing with these words of Scripture.

Secondly, God never rewards disobedience but obedience. The promised return from captivity was conditional in character. Israel will be restored if it repents. Check out the references given just above. They all speak of repentance and of returning to the Lord.

The Religion of Israel
This spirit of repentance was present in those who returned from the captivity (cf.Dan.9: 1, 2, 5, 6; Ezra 3:5, 10, 11; 6:16-22; 7:10; 8:35; 10:11, 12; etc.). Can it be said that the Jews who have settled in Israel since 1948 displayed this spirit of repentance? If they had, they would have turned to God who has revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ; they would have honoured the despised Yeshua of Nazareth as their Lord and Saviour. As a nation, they have still not done this. It must be stressed that this takes away nothing at all from the fact that the Jewish people suffered horribly during the Holocaust of World War 2. Perhaps never before had one people lost so many in so short a time as did the Jews during the Holocaust. To deny this or to minimize it is a sin and a crime, and it may well have been true that the world owed them a debt, which cannot ever be repaid. But to confuse or somehow equate this suffering with repentance is not right. The prevailing religion of Israel does not recognize the kind of repentance called for by the Lord God.

The religion of Israel is a composite of humanism and various degrees of Judaism, ranging from liberal to ultra-orthodox. TodayÕs Israel is, largely, a secular state, but one in which religiously fed motives play a major role. But, neither as state nor as people does it measure up to the scriptural norms required for the fulfilment of the promises made of old. Whether that will still be, is not for us to say. But, since God is always true to His Word, if there shall be a restoration of the nation according to the expectations of some, then that nation will have to conduct itself according to the standards of that same Word of promise.

Fulfilment of Prophecy?
We often say that amazing things have happened in Israel since 1948--and that is true. But have amazing things not happened in other lands? Is GermanyÕs resurgence after World War 2 not an amazing thing? Is the fall of the Communist empire not an amazing thing? We must be very careful not to read into such events the fulfilment of prophecy when the hearts of the people to whom they happen show they really want nothing to do with such divine prophecy. Some in Israel may claim a divine right to the land, based on Old Testament words, but as long as they keep rejecting Jesus as Messiah, the Scriptures remain closed to them and their use of Old Testament prophecy is an incorrect use of Scripture. In that light we understand that we must beware that we do not, automatically, assume that the modern state of Israel is always right and that the Arabs (who also have lived there for thousands of years and who, in many cases have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands) have never a just cause for complaint. One thing, which is often overlooked, is that there are many Christian Arabs.

The fact that the media reporting on the troubles in Israel are usually doing so from a perspective slanted against Israel adds to the confusion and murkiness of the picture. It is all the more reason that Christians everywhere should be very cautious in making statements about or commitments to either side in this ongoing bloody conflict.

ÒAnd so all Israel shall be saved...Ó
This word, taken from Romans 11:26 has given rise to much misunderstanding. The explanation often given in evangelical circles is somewhat along this line: God deals with two groups of people--Gentiles and Jews. For a long time the Lord has dealt mercifully especially, although not exclusively, with the Gentiles. There will come a time, however, when God turns once more to the Jews in His favour. The result of that will be that the great majority of the Jews will turn to Jesus; in fact, the Jews as a nation will be saved. (Add to this the idea that the temple worship will be restored and that the Lord Jesus will be physically in Jerusalem for a thousand years and you have the classic premillennial position.) We, in keeping with most Reformed scholars, reject this position for the following reasons:

1. It is contrary to the whole context of Romans 11, which speaks not of mass salvation but of mass hardening. National salvation does not enter into the picture at all.

2. The Lord Jesus, a Jew himself who loved his people, makes no mention of such a mass turning when He was asked about the signs of His coming. If such an event would take place, one could expect the Lord to have spoken of it. On the contrary, He states that the privileges which once belonged to the ancient covenant people would be taken from them and given to a new nation (the church), gathered out of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Luke 19:43,44; Matt.8: 11, 12; 21:43).

3. The apostle Paul never makes mention of special promises for any national or ethnic group, including the Jews (cf. Rom.10: 12, 13; Gal.3: 28; Eph.2: 14).

4. Even though salvation is a gift of grace, it can also be considered as a reward for obedience (namely repentance and faith); however, God does not reward disobedience.

5. The text does not say ÒAnd THEN all Israel shall be saved,Ó as if the Lord will first deal with the Gentiles and then turn back to consider the Jews, but ÒAnd SO all Israel shall be saved.Ó What does SO mean? This we must derive from the context.

When we consider the right view on this we must start with the meaning of the word Òso.Ó The Greek uses a word here which always means Òin the manner spoken of; in the way described; in the way it was done; in this manner; in such a manner; thus; so.Ó

Now consider the context of Romans 11. Paul has been discussing the question of how the promises of God to Israel can be reconciled with the fact that most of Israel has been cut off. The point he raises is this: ÒAlways, these promises were meant for believers onlyÓ (cf. vv.2, 4, 5). Now, he argues, God might have rejected every one of them through hardening them, as punishment for what they did to Jesus; however, the mystery of GodÕs love is that He did not do that (v.25). In each generation, there will still be a remnant of Jews who will be saved--they are the branches that are grafted back into the olive tree. But they are never more than certain branches--never more than a remnant. Now, in this manner, branch by branch, a remnant at a time, Israel will be saved. These branches together form ALL saved Israel--all the elect from among the Jews. Now the point is SO, in this manner of a branch at a time, all Israel will be saved--not as a nation but as bits and pieces, which together constitute the full number of the elect from Israel. This will happen alongside of, concurrent with the salvation of the Gentiles.

Although we may wish otherwise, it seems that on the basis of sober Scriptural studies we cannot come to any conclusions other than these:

1. There are no promises of restoration for the Jews today. What has happened in Israel since 1948, although it is something unique in the annals of world history, ought not to be seen as God favouring that nation in a special way.

2. There are no special promises of salvation for the Jews (even as there are none for the Dutch or Chinese).

3. There is only one people of God throughout the New Dispensation--the Church made up of people from all colours and races, including Jews.

Note: For a more detailed treatment of this subject, refer to W. Hendriksen, he Bible on the Life Hereafter, from which much of this material was drawn.

How do you think the events of World War 2 and the Nazi Holocaust had an effect on the formation of Israel in May of 1948? Do you know who ÒownedÓ the land of Palestine prior to that? Have you ever heard of the Balfour Declaration?

2.In view of the argument that the Jews are still GodÕs favoured people, how do you deal with 1 Peter 2: 9, 10 and also Hosea 2:23 (quoted in Romans 9:25)?

3.In which sense are the Jews of today an indication both of the goodness of God and of His severity (Romans 11:22)?

4.Is the truth dealt with here any incentive to missionary work among the Jews?

5.What practical lessons can we draw for our own lives from GodÕs dealings with the Jews?

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