The Final Restoration of Israel

Israel in the End Times

Our understanding of Revelation is incomplete if we don’t understand how Israel is involved. God chose Israel to be His representatives on earth. They are the people through which the oracles of God would be made known to the world, and it is through Israel that God’s plan of redemption would be executed. God made several eternal promises to Israel. It is only natural then that Israel would play a key role in the end times, and scripture reveals that they do.

In Revelation, we observe the following things about Israel in the end times:

  • God will call 144,000 Jews to be sealed as His servants upon the earth (Rev 7:1-8, Rev 14:1-5).
  • Israel will come under severe attack by the nations for 42 months (Rev 11:2, Rev 12:13). This attack begins with the abomination of desolation event at the midpoint (Matt 24:15).
  • However, a remnant of Israel will be protected by God during those 42 months of great tribulation (Israel is symbolized by the “woman” in Rev 12:6,13-17).
  • There will be two Jewish witnesses speaking mightily in Jerusalem (Rev 11:3) during those 42 months (or 1,260 days). They will pronounce plagues upon the earth (Rev 11:6).
  • The 42 months conclude with the two witnesses being killed by Antichrist (Rev 11:7), but they will be resurrected after 3 1/2 days (Rev 11:11,12).
  • The bowl period begins as God’s wrath strike the earth with the bowl events (Rev 16:1), and it concludes with all nations amassing at Armageddon with intent to attack and destroy the remnant of Israel (Rev 16:13-16).
  • Christ, as Israel’s king, will visibly return to defend His people Israel and destroy the nations (Rev 19:11-16).
  • Christ will reign as Israel’s king in Zion during the millennial kingdom (Rev 20:6), and finally there will be a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:10).

However, there are many Christians who believe that the nation Israel no longer has any special relevance to God. In their minds, Israel rejected their Messiah, and so God terminated His relationship with them, effectively replacing them with a new group called the “church“.

People who hold this view feel compelled to interpret Revelation’s references to Israel in allegorical ways, usually arguing that the references to Israel are really mystical references to the church, which they refer to as “spiritual Israel“.

However, the view that the nation Israel is irrelevant cannot be right, and neither are the consequent allegorical interpretations of Revelation. The eternal promises that God made to the nation Israel include prophecies that in the end times, Israel will repent and acknowledge Christ as their Savior, that they will serve God, and they will be protected by God — exactly as Revelation says they will.

Below, I will review some of the promises that God made to the nation Israel, which prove that they will always be relevant to God.

Old Testament Eternal promises

Gen 17:7-8 — 7I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

This is the promise given to Abraham regarding his descendants (fulfilled through Israel) that the land would be an everlasting possession. How can God make an everlasting covenant with Israel, and later regard Israel as irrelevant?

Isa 59:20-21 — “A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the LORD. As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.

God made a covenant with Jacob (i.e. the nation Israel) saying that they will speak His words, and He said that this covenant will last from now and forever.

Old Testament Promises of Restoration in End Times

Jer 31:31-34 — 31“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Here, the new covenant promised through Jeremiah, which Christ himself instituted (Luke 22:20), is clearly promised to the nation of Israel. The promise is that Israel will know God and be forgiven. This promise of the new covenant being fully received by Israel is still awaiting fulfillment.

Hos 3:4-5 — 4For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. 5Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.

This prophecy from Hosea, in verse 4, describes the state of Israel ever since the temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, and so this period has certainly been going on “for many days”. But according to verse 5,  there will be another period “afterward” called “the last days”. During that last days period, Israel will seek the Lord their God and David their king.

Of course, since Hosea wrote this long after David died, this isn’t referring literally to king David. Instead, it means that they will seek the one who will inherit the throne of David. Hosea wrote this when David’s ultimate heir was unnamed. However, this king is now revealed as Jesus, the Christ.

Hosea’s prophecy is also not yet fulfilled, but we see that it will happen in the last days (the end times).

Zech 12:10 — I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

This refers to the same event as Hosea 3. This time, Israel will recognize one identified as “Me whom they have pierced”. This remarkable statement at once equates “Me” (God who is speaking) with the one “whom they have pierced“, which is Christ, in reference to His crucifixion, which was carried out upon His rejection by Israel. Those “last days” in which Israel will humbly seek Christ are part of the end times, as indicated by Rev 1:7 which alludes to this prophecy of Zechariah.

Zech 8:23 — Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.

This is a prophecy concerning the days when the Lord will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (Zech 8:3) with regard to the remnant in those days (Zech 8:6). This whole chapter speaks of God’s plan to restore and bless Israel, and it concludes with this promise that the Jews will be leading the nations to God in those days.

I think this may well be a prophecy concerning the end times, when the 144,000 Jewish servants of Christ (introduced in Rev 7:1-5) are spreading the gospel throughout the earth.

Old Testament Promises of Protection in End Times

There are several prophecies that tell us that in the end times, enemy nations will surround Jerusalem, but God will come to its defense. Some of these prophecies (Psalm 2:1-6, Zech 12:3, Obad 1:15-17) are discussed as part of the sixth bowl event in chapter 16. This protection corresponds to Revelation 12, where we see the remnant of Israel being protected during the 3 1/2 years of great tribulation. Some other related prophecies are as follows:

Zech 9:14-16 —  14Then the LORD will appear over them, And His arrow will go forth like lightning; And the Lord GOD will blow the trumpet, And will march in the storm winds of the south. 15The LORD of hosts will defend them. And they will devour and trample on the sling stones;  And they will drink and be boisterous as with wine; And they will be filled like a sacrificial basin, Drenched like the corners of the altar. 16And the LORD their God will save them in that day As the flock of His people; For they are as the stones of a crown, Sparkling in His land.

This speaks of a day when the Lord appears over Israel to defend them and save them. This defense of Israel is describing the battle of Armageddon which we see described in Revelation.

Zechariah later gave an even more profound prophecy of protection for Israel, shown below:

Zech 14:1-9 — 1Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. 2For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. 3Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. 4In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. 5You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!  6In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. 7For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. 8And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. 9And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.

This speaks of nations gathering to battle against Israel and savagely attacking them (verse 2), but then the Lord will fight against them (verse 3) and provide an escape for some who flee to the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem (verses 4-5a). Finally, the Lord will appear with His army of holy ones (verse 5b). When that happens, the day will be dark as “luminaries” (sun, moon, and stars) dwindle (verse 6). Then the light will return (verse 7) and people of Israel will come out (verse 8) to witness the kingdom of God reigning unopposed on earth (verse 9).

Speculation: Consider the portion of this prophecy in verses 4-5 that says: “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the valley of My mountains“.

I believe that this refers to the beginning of God’s defense of Israel, and it will happen shortly after the abomination of desolation takes place in Jerusalem, at the midpoint of the seven-year end times period. It mentions a great valley being created within the Mount of Olives which is just east of the temple mount of Jerusalem. The Mount will split with half moving north and half moving south, creating a valley that runs east to west. This would be an enormous geological event!

One interesting possibility is that this east-to-west valley will actually extend from the Mount of Olives to the eastern wall of Old Jerusalem, and it will burst open the Eastern Gate which has been sealed shut for centuries. This would have great significance in view of Ezek 44:1-2, “1Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. 2 And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut“. Thus, only God can open the Eastern Gate. Therefore, if the that gate is finally opened by this geological event, it will be a sign to the Jews that God has come to save them.

All of this agrees with what Christ taught about the end times, including the armies attacking Israel and instructions to flee to the mountain (Matt 24:15-21), the sun and moon going dark as the Lord returns with his army (Matt 24:29-30). It agrees with the descriptions of the Lord’s return in Revelation 14 and Revelation 19, and it agrees with the appearance and timing of the Millennial kingdom of God in Revelation 20.

New Testament Doctrine about Israel and the Church

The primary teaching about Israel and its relationship to the church is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 11. This chapter alone obliterates any notion that Israel has lost its relevance to God.

Side Note: Lamentably, some people who insist that Israel is irrelevant will actually argue that Romans 11 is allegorical. This is absurd, since there are no justifiable allegorical substitutions of terms that make sense in the context of chapter 11. Besides that, it’s inconceivable that Paul, while writing a letter to the church in Rome for the purpose of explaining Christian doctrine, would suddenly switch to the use highly cryptic allegory in this part of his letter.

Romans 11 begins with Paul, a Jew, addressing the Gentile Christians in Rome, as follows:

Rom 11:1a — I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!

Paul is adamant that Israel has not been rejected by God. He goes on in Rom 11:2-5 to explain (using the example of Elijah) that God will have a faithful remnant in Israel even if it is not obvious that they are there.

Rom 11:7 — What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.

Paul says that there are some chosen among Israel to obtain the truth about the Christ, but the rest were hardened, having rejected the Christ.

Rom 11:8-10 — 8 just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.” 9 And David says, “LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. 10 “LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT,
AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.”

Paul has gone on to explain that this hardening of Israel was all foretold by the prophets, quoting in verse 8 from Isa 29:10 and in verses 9-10 from Psalm 69:22-23. If we go back to Psalm 69, we see that the quoted passage is preceded by Psalm 69:21, which says “They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink“. This refers to treatment Christ received during his crucifixion (Matt 27:34). By this, we may conclude that the hardening of Israel should be seen as a consequence of Israel’s rejection of Christ, which led to His crucifixion.

Side note: In Matt 27:34, the “they” who gave Jesus the vinegar to drink were the Romans who carried out the crucifixion. However, Matt 27:48 says there was another who offered him sour wine (vinegar). This second person is identified as being among those who thought Jesus was calling for Elijah (Matt 27:47), indicating that he was Jewish. The Psalm assigns the guilt of the crucifixion to Israel (Psalm 69:8,12,20). This is justified because just prior to the crucifixion, the Jews who wanted Jesus killed agreed to accept the guilt from the Romans (Matt 27:24,25).

Next, Paul brings up the salvation of the Gentiles:

Rom 11:11 — I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

These Gentiles are the non-Jews who were led to salvation by that faithful remnant of Israel, and yet in some sense, their salvation was brought about as a consequence of Israel’s transgression. This can be easily understood. Israel’s great transgression was the rejection of the Christ, which led to (1) the crucifixion of Christ and (2) the disciples of Christ being dispersed among the nations. However, what they meant for evil, God meant for good. The crucifixion became the gospel of Christ’s sacrifice to atone for the sins of all men, and the dispersing of Christ’s followers (especially Paul himself) caused the gospel to spread around the world.

In turn, the salvation of the Gentiles will lead to jealousy among the Jews. Jealousy is the emotional desire to receive that which belongs you. Moses foretold that one day, the Israel will feel this jealousy (Deut 32:21).

Rom 11:12 — Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!

Paul reminds us that, in contrast to their transgression and failure (which nevertheless blessed the world), Israel will have a fulfillment which will be a far greater blessing. This can only be referring to the fulfillment of the prophecies of Israel’s future restoration, which were discussed above. Paul elaborates on this point in Rom 11:13-16.

Rom 11:17-24 — 17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree.

Paul, a Jew, speaks very frankly to his Gentile audience in these verses. He uses a simple metaphor of an olive tree, which is being cultivated by God. The olive tree refers to the kingdom of God and all the eternal blessings it entails. The various branches represent the people who belong to this kingdom. We observe the following:

  • The branches of Israel are called the “natural branches” because they extend from the root (Rom 11:16). As such, Israel is the channel through which the blessings reach the rest of the world. Therefore, the blessings of the kingdom most naturally belong to Israel. However, we see that some of the branches of Israel were broken off by God, as a result of their hardening (discussed above in verse 7).
  • The branches of the Gentiles are called “wild branches“. Unlike the natural branches of Israel that grew from the root, these Gentile branches are described as being grafted into the olive tree. In fact, verses 19-20 indicate that they were grafted in where the natural branches were broken off.

Paul then uses this metaphor to make two very strong points to Gentile Christians:

  1. Gentiles should not be arrogant toward Israel or become conceited (verse 18,20) — That is, the Gentile Christians should never look upon the Jews with disdain, because the Gentiles are no better. The Gentiles have received things that Israel lacks, but only as gifts from God by His mercy. Paul warns that God can also take those things away from some of the Gentiles and give them to Israel — and that day will come.
  2. Israel will be restored to be better representatives of God than the Gentiles (verse 24) — In agreement with the Old Testament prophecies above, Israel will turn to God. Paul indicates that the Jews (the natural branches) will be grafted back with greater success than the unnatural wild branches, which represent the Gentiles.

Sadly, and to our shame, Gentile Christians have been arrogant and conceited toward the Jews many times in history, causing much suffering to, and alienation from, the natural branches of Israel. Paul indicates that the Gentiles can and will be severely punished for their failures, just as Israel was punished when they were unfaithful.

Indeed, when Revelation describes the great tribulation, we see both (1) Israel protected, and (2) Gentile churches persecuted. The great tribulation of the end times will be our Babylon experience, and Israel’s restoration.

Rom 11:25-27 — 25For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and 26so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB. 27THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.

Paul makes it clear that the hardening of Israel is partial. Not all Jews are hardened, and this hardening is temporary for a time of the Gentiles to come in to the kingdom of God. Again, this describes the state of things today, because the church is mostly Gentiles. Paul then reiterates the promise that afterwards, all Israel will be saved (using quotes from Isa 59:20 and Isa 27:9). God has not forgotten those promises!

Rom 11:28-32 — 28From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

Paul instructs the Gentile Christians how to properly view Israel: While enemies of the Gentile church, they are beloved for the sake of God’s calling. Paul adds that their calling is irrevocable, again squashing the wrong view that Israel has lost its relevance to God.

Paul then points out that both the Gentiles and Israel are guilty of disobedience. The Gentiles, although disobedient, have received mercy due to Israel’s disobedience. In the end, God will have accounted for all disobedience with mercy to both Jew and Gentile.

In short, both Israel and Gentile Christians have sinned. Both groups should be united in humble repentance, and in praise to God for His gracious provision of forgiveness. Alas, both groups are, to some extent, blinded by stubborn pridefulness. But one day, we will all see clearly.

Rom 11:33-36 — 33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

After explaining all of this, the vast landscape of God’s plan to redeem sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, Paul can no longer contain his praise for God, acknowledging the unfathomable depth and extent of His wisdom, His supremacy, His sufficiency, and His glory.

Misconceptions About the Jews Among Gentile Christians

Earlier in this article, I discussed the misconception, held by some professing Christians, that the nation Israel no longer has any special relevance to God. However, that is not the only misconception about Israel that one can find within the predominantly Gentile church. Even though it goes slightly beyond the main point of this article, I think it may be helpful to address some of those misconceptions.

First of all, every Christian ought to know that the Bible is a book written entirely by Jews(1), and that the content of the Bible revolves around the nation Israel, their relationship with God, and their beliefs about God (which I’ll refer to as Judaism). Christians should also know that God chose Israel to be His representatives upon the earth and to ultimately give birth to His Son, Jesus Christ the Savior. Even knowing that much, there seems to be some confusion among many Christians with regard to the Jews. Some questions that Christians debate over include the following:

  1. Did the Church replace Israel as God’s representatives on earth?
  2. Is the Church a completely separate entity apart from Israel?
  3. Are there places in scripture where we may replace “Israel” with “the church“?
  4. Is there any relevant difference between Jew and Gentile?
  5. Should Christians fault Israel for their failures, especially for killing Christ?
  6. Do Jews need to “convert” from Judaism to Christianity?
  7. What is the current condition of Israel today?

The questions above are complicated. Before trying to answer them, it’s beneficial to quickly review the origins of Israel and of the Church, and see how they are related.

How Israel Came About

Genesis records that humanity had fallen into corruption and rebellion against God. Rather than destroy all humanity (as He had every right to do), God mercifully determined that He would provide a way to for humanity to be redeemed. His plan required that His own Son(2) should come into the world as a sinless human and become an offering to atone for the sins of humanity.

To carry out this plan, God had to choose a nation from which the promised Savior would be born. Before he could be born, this nation would have to be distinguished from all other nations as separate unto God. They would be called to be God’s representatives on earth, and to live out a history that would uniquely show that they were God’s instrument — whether they were willing or not!

The nation that God chose was Israel, which began with Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob (who was later given the name Israel, Gen 32:28) and his twelve sons. He chose Israel not because they were great, but because they were small (Deut 7:7). In this way, the surrounding nations would know that Israel’s strength was not their own, but from God. The nations would thus learn that the God of Israel was the One true God (e.g. Ex 15:13-16, Josh 2:8-11, Josh 4:24, Josh 9:9, Ruth 1:16,22, 1 Sam 17:46, 1 Kings 8:60, 2 Kings 19:19, Psalm 105:1, Dan 4:34-37, Dan 6:25-27).

In choosing Israel, the following things occurred:

  • God made everlasting covenants with Israel, and He blessed them or cursed them in accordance with those covenants.
  • He gave Israel a law by which they would be distinct from all other nations, and by which God revealed the knowledge of what was good and what was evil.
  • He gave them a land on which they could prosper, and protected them.
  • He prescribed an order of priests who would foreshadow the priestly role that the coming Savior would fulfill (Psalm 110:4, Heb 9:9-12, Heb 10:1-7).
  • He gave them a royal line through which the coming Savior would be born and fulfill his role as king upon the earth (2 Sam 7:12-13, Isa 9:6-7).
  • He gave them prophets who foretold the coming of this Savior as both a priest and a king (e.g. Zech 6:13). The prophets provided numerous other details and attributes of this coming Savior, such as his place of birth (Mic 5:2), the timing of His arrival (Dan 9:25), the things he would accomplish (Isa 53:5-12), his rejection (Psalm 118:22, Isa 8:14, 28:16), his betrayal (Psalm 41:9, Zech 11:12-13), and the nature of his death (Psalm 22:1-18).

All the prophecies were fulfilled just as they were foretold in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born at the right place, at the right time, from the right genealogy, and fulfilled all the details of which the prophets spoke. Despite being born to a poor family in a small town in a land dominated by foreign powers, he became arguably the most influential person in the history of the world. He died in the foretold manner, completing his priestly role. It is promised that he will return to also completely fulfill his kingly role.

How the Church Came About

Jesus began his earthly ministry by choosing twelve disciples. He taught them about himself and his purpose in coming. He generally referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” to emphasize His humanity, and yet also to identify Himself as the coming king from heaven (ref. Dan 7:13,14). One day, Jesus tested his disciples to see if they understood who he was, and Peter, answering on behalf of the disciples, gave the right answer. The account is given below:

Matt 16:13-19 13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

The reference in verse 18  thus constitutes the beginning(3) of this thing called the “Church“. What exactly does the word “church” mean? The Greek word is “ekklesia“, and it has the following definition:

HELPS — [1577] ekklesia (from 1537 /ek, “out from and to” and 2564 /kaleo, “to call”) – properly, people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ) – i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom. (HELPS Word-studies, The Discovery Bible New Testament, Gary Hill).

So the word “church” means a “calling out from and in to“. We observe that Christ is the one doing the calling (verse 18), and that this calling gains entry into the kingdom of God (verse 19). Therefore, the church represents those called by Christ to come out of the world and into the kingdom of God.

Hopefully, you have noticed the strong parallel between Israel and the Church:

  • Israel began with Jacob and His twelve sons, and they were called to be distinct from all other people for the purpose of being God’s representatives on earth, and a royal priesthood (Ex 19:6).
  • The Church began with Jesus his twelve disciples, and they were called to be distinct from all other people for the purpose of being God’s representatives on earth, and a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9).

What this shows is that the church (and Christianity) is really just a continuation of the same divine calling and purpose that had originally been given to Israel (and Judaism).

The advent of Christ divided the nation Israel into two groups:

  1. A larger group that ultimately rejected Jesus as the promised Christ and Savior.
  2. A smaller group that recognized Jesus as the promised Christ and Savior.

The larger group of Israelites followed after the religious leadership who (for the most part) rejected Jesus. Since Jesus was the true Christ and promised Savior, their rejection of him constituted apostasy from true Judaism (even though they claimed to be religious Jews). Being the larger group, they retained the Jewish title, heritage, and the association with Judaism.

The smaller group of Israelites followed after Jesus and his disciples (later, apostles), and they were the church. Originally, everyone in the church was Jewish, and not only were they Jewish, they never stopped considering themselves to be Jewish. That is, they did not deny anything about their Jewish faith — they were demonstrating their faith. They saw that following Christ (Christianity) and true Judaism were the same thing.

Some Jews, who formerly rejected Jesus, later came to accept him as the promised Savior. The primary example of this is the apostle Paul, and we commonly refer to Paul’s “conversion“. However, it is important to note that Paul never stopped considering himself to be a practicing Jew. On the contrary, he considered himself a true Jew after his conversion (Rom 2:28-29), and he referred to the group of apostate Jews (to which he formerly belonged) as Jews who had “stumbled” (Rom 9:31-32, 1 Cor 1:23).

While most of Israel continued to deny Christ, the church spread rapidly among the Gentiles in the surrounding nations. Over time, the Gentiles completely dominated the church, and Christianity became viewed as a “Gentile religion” despite its Jewish origin and the common calling and purpose given to Israel. This also was foretold by the Jewish prophets (Hos 1:10, Hos 2:23).

Still, there always have been faithful Jews who have known Jesus as the Christ. Today, their numbers are growing, and they sometimes refer to themselves as Messianic Jews or completed Jews. The point is that these are Jews who understand that following Christ doesn’t mean denying their status as religious and ethnic Jews.

Answers to the Questions

Having seen how both Israel and the Church came about, we are in position to answer the questions above:

Q1: Did the Church replace Israel as God’s representatives on earth?

In a partial sense, perhaps, but it’s not as if Israel is excluded from being God’s representatives. It’s just that Christ is the cornerstone of God’s plan to redeem humanity, and therefore anyone (Jewish or otherwise) who denies this is not representing God. The Church consists of those who represent God by truthfully proclaiming God’s plan through Christ the Savior. At this time, the great majority of the nation Israel denies Christ as the Savior.

As discussed above, we could say that the church didn’t really begin with New Testament events — it began when Israel was called to represent God. However, the word “church” was first applied to those Jews who succeeded in that calling by recognizing Christ as the promised Messiah. Those Jews faithfully proclaimed the truth of God’s plan of salvation through Christ. Only later did the church begin to include people from other nations.

In short, it’s not really a matter of the church replacing Israel as God’s representatives on earth. The church is the uninterrupted continuation of that calling to represent God, and that calling may be (and is) carried out by both Jews and Gentiles.

Some Christians hold to a view called Replacement theology (or Supersessionism), which asserts that Israel has simply been replaced by the church. But this view is an unnecessary and unwarranted extreme that abuses scripture and ignores history along the way.

Q2: Is the Church a completely separate entity apart from Israel?

This has to be answered yes and no.

The answer is yes because the name “Israel” always (with one exception, discussed in the next question) refers to the nation of people descended from Jacob. This creates a definite distinction because God did give laws and covenants exclusively to the nation Israel, and those things are not all applicable to Gentiles. Meanwhile, the “Church” refers to those who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and Savior. Obviously, these two terms have very different definitions.

The answer is no in the sense that both groups share the calling and purpose to be separate unto God for the sake of being His representatives on earth. As discussed above, this calling is the exact same calling for both Israel and the church.

Just as Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:6), the church is called to be a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). Just as Israel was called to be holy like God (Lev 11:45), the church is called to be holy like God (1 Pet 1:15). It’s not that these are separate callings for each group, they are the same callings given originally to Israel, and reiterated by the Jewish writers for the sake of the Gentile church. They apply equally to all (Jew or Gentile) who represent God on the earth.

Q3: Are there places in scripture where we may replace “Israel” with “the church”?

No. This would be an example of men attempting to force their misconceptions into scripture. The Jewish Bible writers were perfectly capable of speaking clearly concerning Israel, and meaning what they said.

However, some people get the idea that this word substitution is justified by Romans 9:6-8:

6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

From this, some people may think that the word “Israel” doesn’t really refer to the nation Israel (“children of the flesh“), but to the church (“children of the promise“). Therefore (they would argue), we can sometimes substitute “the Church” where we see the word “Israel“. But this thinking is illogical.

Paul quickly explains the correct meaning of his statement: He is using the name “Israel” to refer to two distinct, but related, groups of people chosen by God:

(1) God chose the Jewish nation to be the deliverers of God’s promise to the world — They are the “children of the flesh“.
(2) God chooses people from all nations to be the recipients of that promise delivered by the Jews — These are the “children of the promise“.

In this sense, both of these groups may be seen as children of Israel, hence Paul’s dual usage of that term. Paul goes on to explain his main point, which is that (1) being a Jew is not sufficient for being a recipient of God’s promise, and (2) being a Jew is not necessary for being a recipient of God’s promise.

It’s absurd to think that Paul’s dual use of the term “children of Israel” to make one specific point in verse 6 constitutes justification to substitute “the church” anywhere else that Paul (or other writers) refer to Israel. Since the Bible is a book written by Israelites concerning the nation Israel, it only makes sense to know that when the Bible uses the word Israel, it means Israel.

Q4: Is there any relevant difference between Jew and Gentile?

Yes. Some Christians may think not because there are passages that may seem to indicate otherwise. For example:

 – Rom 10:12 – For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him.
– 1 Cor 12:13 – For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
– Gal 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
– Col 3:11 – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

But it is important to notice that all such passages are given in the context of salvation in Christ. That is, all people of all nationalities are under sin, and all have access to salvation through Christ our Savior. In this regard, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.

However, it would be wrong to carry the above passages beyond their context and conclude that there are no differences at all. The Jews are distinguished as the nation chosen by God to deliver the promise of salvation through Christ. That promise came to the Jews first, and the Gentiles later. The Jews have a unique history and a unique role in the world, still today and into the future. There are plenty of passages to confirm this (e.g. Rom 1:16, Rom 3:1-2, Rom 9:4, Rom 11:25, 1 Cor 1:23, Eph 2:12, Heb 8:10), not to mention the special role that the Jews have in the end times, as discussed above.

In view of the unique and eternal role given to the Jews, there clearly are relevant differences between Jew and Gentile, even though we all share the same offer of salvation in Christ.

Q5: Should Christians fault Israel for their failures, especially for killing Christ?

No. Did the Jewish religious leaders conspire to have Jesus crucified? Has most of Israel since then rejected Jesus their Messiah? Yes, to both questions, and it seems that many Gentile Christians like to point these faults. Some thus look upon Israel with disdain, and sometimes even teach that God has permanently rejected Israel as His representatives.

But nowhere are Gentile Christians given permission to rebuke Israel for this. On the contrary, Paul warned them to not be arrogant toward Israel (Rom 11:18) not become conceited (Rom 11:20-21).

One example of Gentile Christian arrogance is to view Israel with disdain and make claims on God’s behalf concerning His permanent rejection of Israel. One example of Gentile Christian conceit is to be prideful enough to believe that they (or their Gentile ancestors) would have been wiser and acted more righteously than Israel did. And even if they were wiser, what then would the result be? That Jesus would never have been killed? Then what becomes of God’s plan for the redemption of sinners, which depends entirely on Christ being killed for our sins?

Let us not be fools who are fooling ourselves. Israel did not fail in the purpose that God had prepared for them, nor could they have failed because God’s purposes are inexorable. From Israel came the scriptures of truth and the Savior. Even when Israel fails, God uses their failures for His purposes. One purpose for their failures is to be examples for us to learn from:

1 Cor 10:6-12 — 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

Only God has the right to deal with Israel for their transgressions, and He will, both to punish and forgive.

As for we Gentile Christians, if we feel tempted to rebuke Israel, we need to get the log out of our own eyes. One doesn’t have to look hard to find faults in the Gentile churches. The churches are rampant with immoralities, flawed doctrine, worldliness, faithlessness, and all the other sorts of problems about which Christ warned the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Scripture foretold that these failings would happen (e.g. 1 Tim 4:1-3, 2 Tim 3:1-9) — and they are happening.

There were times when Israel was warned, neglected the warning, and were chastised. The Gentile churches have also been warned, and those warnings have been and will be neglected. Their day of chastisement is coming.

Q6: Do Jews need to “convert” from Judaism to Christianity?

Because this question uses the words “from Judaism“, the answer is yes and no.

The answer is yes because Christianity is the saving faith in Jesus, the promised Savior. A Jew who doesn’t accept this faith in Christ should change his or her mind about that (i.e. convert).

The answer is no because, as explained above, Christianity is the continuation of true Judaism. Jesus and his twelve apostles were Jews, so was Paul, and so was everyone else in the early church. None of these Jews saw following Christ as a conversion from Judaism, but rather as simply the recognition that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah.

In fact, in the early church, the question wasn’t about whether a Jew had to convert to Christianity — the question was about whether a Gentile had to convert to Judaism in order to be a Christian! (See Acts 15:1-29).

Isaiah foretold that many among Israel will stumble and fall (Isa 8:14-15). Ever since Jesus appeared 2000 years ago, Jewish religious leaders have been misled, and they themselves mislead other Jews. Christ reserved his harshest words for the religious leaders of his day: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt 23:13). But not all Jews stumble.

Q7: What is the current condition of Israel today?

Israel is still very much dominated by the apostate view which rejects Jesus Christ the Savior. And yet, there are movements among Jews, even within the land of Israel, toward Christ. By all accounts, the numbers of Jewish Christians are increasing. Progress in this area is very hard to measure since not all Jews who are open to Christ care to be counted, and we cannot look into the hearts of men. Some Jews who do acknowledge Jesus as Messiah do not wish to join the Gentile-dominated church for historical and cultural reasons, as well as the fact that many Gentile churches still harbor wrong ideas that are hurtful or offensive to Jewish people.

But one should view Israel from a broader perspective. The very fact that the nation Israel is still intact today, despite small numbers, despite many displacements, despite the holocaust, despite pogroms, and despite all other forms of antisemitism, is itself a strong case itself that God is sovereignly protecting Israel. But this is made much more remarkable because their history of being displaced from their land, being scattered among the nations, having only small numbers, and yet being preserved by God with the ultimate purpose of restoring them in the latter days, had all been long ago foretold by Moses:

Deut 4:25-31 — 25“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27“The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. 28“There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30“When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. 31“For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

Going beyond that, if you look at the great accomplishments of people in history, you will see that the Jewish people have distinguished themselves on the earth way out of proportion with their numbers.

Even more astounding, Israel recently regained statehood in their Biblical land (1948 is very recent in terms of Biblical history). This is a fulfillment of prophecy, and it also means that end times prophecies might now be literally fulfilled. Of course, this is in the Middle East, where it seems major events can happen very rapidly. Stay tuned to Israel.

To Gentle Christian readers, I would repeat Paul: do not be arrogant or conceited toward the Jews. Instead regard them with the attitude of love, kindness, patience, and and humility. It is God’s intention that the Jews and Christians will be joined together to inherit His kingdom of redeemed saints, and His intention shall not fail. When the end times are upon us, the unity of God’s people will become manifest.

Acts 15:13-15 – 13After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14“Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15“With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ 18SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.

Footnotes

(1) Were all Bible writers Jewish?

I believe the answer is yes, although there is a persistent rumor claiming that Luke (who wrote a large portion of the New Testament) was a Gentile exception. I refer to this claim as a rumor because it has spread quickly and widely, although the reasons for supporting that view are extremely thin. In contrast, there are sound theological, historical, and cultural reasons for believing that Luke was Jewish.

Rather than explain these reasons myself, I’ll defer to this fine (but brief) essay:  http://www.levitt.com/essays/luke.

(2) The Son of God?

Probably the biggest stumbling block to those outside of Christianity is the doctrine of the trinity, which says that God is three persons in one: (1) The Father, (2) The Son, and (3) The Holy Spirit. Many people (including most Jews) see this and suppose that Christianity is polytheistic, or that God is divided into three parts.

Christians generally acknowledge that it’s a difficult thing to explain. Often they construct metaphors to at least make the concept comprehensible. For example, the Sun is certainly one thing, and yet we perceive (1) its light, (2) its warmth, and (3) its gravitational pull. Even though these are three distinct manifestations, they do not divide the Sun nor do they destroy its unity.

Theologically, the word “trinity” is just a created name used to attach a label to the attribute of God which makes Him referable in a plural sense, and specifically as three distinct identities. This attribute is observed in several scripture passages, with most of them in the New Testament, but some also in the Old Testament.

Personally, I’ve come to accept that I am imperfect and finite, and as such, I shouldn’t even hope to fully comprehend an eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God. Surely, there must be aspects to God that are unfathomable and unknowable, and the nature of his very being must be among them. In accepting this, it doesn’t pose a problem that God could, simultaneously, be reigning over heaven and the universe, and yet be walking and talking in the form of a man upon the earth, and yet again be working in the hearts and minds of people throughout the earth. What is impossible for God?

I choose to accept that which God has revealed about Himself, and it does appear that He has revealed Himself in this three-fold manner, which we (for our convenience) call the trinity.

(3) When Did the Church Begin?

Some Christians believe that the church began at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). I disagree. One would think that if that event marked the beginning of the church, that it would somewhere mention the word “church“, but it doesn’t. We see that Acts 2:41 and Acts 2:47 mention that more people were being baptized and saved and added to their number — but to what were they added?  I believe they were added to the church, which already had been established by Christ with the twelve disciples, as recorded in Matt 16:18. Not long after, Jesus even spoke to his disciples about dealing with sinners in the church (Matt 18:17).

Paul confirms that Christ and the twelve are the foundation of the church in Eph 2:19-22 – 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

The event at Pentecost was not the establishment of the church. Rather, it was the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church, which was promised to come after Christ had been glorified (John 7:39). Jesus promised this event to the church when he promised it to his disciples (John 14:26, John 15:16,26, John 16:7-14). So, Christ established the church with himself as the cornerstone, his disciples as its apostles, and with the Holy Spirit to come later to cause the church to grow after Christ’s ascension.

Of course, the establishment and growth of the church through Christ with his twelve disciples should, and does, parallel the establishment and growth of Israel (Jacob) with his twelve sons.

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