Who is Israel?

(revised 08-06-14, 9:30 am)

There have been no recent posts on Messiah Gate as I’ve been immersed in the study of God’s land promise including this seven-part study linked at Fundamentally Reformed.

Was the land promise fulfilled as declared with certainty in Joshua 21:43-45? Dispensationalists say, no — that the land promise is yet to be fulfilled in modern Israel. But how can some deny what Joshua confirmed — that the LORD gave to Israel all that He promised their fathers?

That promise conveyed to Abraham was then transferred to his seed, Jesus Christ, according to Paul in Galatians 3:16  — and extended to all the nations as so stated in Galatians 3:8. (See also Romans 9:6, Romans 2:28-29.)

Those within the church who criticize spiritual eschatology have not only a problem with New Testament writers, but even Jesus Christ who spiritualized the Old Testament through parables. Indeed, there are Christians who dismiss the Pauline epistles, and who claim that the Apostle was a false prophet sent by Satan to deceive the world. They are looking for the physical restoration of the land of Israel with a re-built temple and animal sacrifices — all of which denies the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate land promise, however, is that the meek will inherit the whole earth (Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11) though many Bible commentators understand that this is not an inheritance of a carnal realm, but heavenly:

The blessing instanced, in which they shall partake of, is, they shall inherit the earth; not the land of Canaan, though that may be alluded to; nor this world, at least in its present situation; for this is not the saints’ rest and inheritance: but rather, the “new earth”, which will be after this is burnt up; in which only such persons as are here described shall dwell; and who shall inherit it, by virtue of their being heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; whose is the earth, and the fullness thereof (Gills Exposition of the Bible).

The Old Testament is typology — Jesus Christ is the reality. Dispensationalism is a stumbling block to this ultimate truth. 

Double fulfillment of prophesy is a dispensational tool that is at least problematic. Jesus clearly did not believe (as is commonly taught) that the “Abomination of Desolation” was fulfilled at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BC) when He interpreted Daniel’s prophecy in Matthew 24:15 — a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

As Milton S. Terry wrote in his book Biblical Hermeneutics:

…the moment we admit the principle that portions of Scripture contain a double sense, we introduce an element of uncertainty in the Sacred Volume, and unsettle all (hermeneutic) interpretation. If Scripture has more than one meaning, it has no meaning at all. I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense and that our first objective should be to discover that sense, and adhere to it rigidly. [see note 1]

We might also consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit (Mt 21:43).

Here, Christ our Lord tells Israel that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to a nation — that is, Gentiles — who will produce the fruits thereof.

Our dispensational brothers call this Replacement Theology — a heresy, they claim. Would they say that Jesus was a heretic? Well, the Pharisees thought so.

As well, followers of John Nelson Darby might re-examine their interpretation of Revelation. Will Jesus literally reign 1000 years over a carnal world? He said, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Clearly, the thousand years is Biblical symbolism for the completeness of the age between the two Advents of Christ during which time our Lord is reigning in heaven with the souls of the departed saints who died in Him (Revelation 20:4).

It would take a millennium — hyperbole intended — to cleanse the body of Christ of, essentially, the fanciful doctrines of men.

When Christ said, I am the true vine (John 15:1), He boldly declared that He is Israel for the vine is an Old Testament reference to God’s holy nation (Psalm 80:8, 14-15) which today comprises both believing Jews and Gentiles who, by grace, have been grafted into the body of Christ — similarly described as an olive tree (Jeremiah 11:16).

(NLT) But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree — some of the people of Israel — have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree (Romans 11:17-18).

That all Israel will be saved, according to Paul (Romans 11:26), has always been understood as the LORD having preserved a remnant of believing Jews that, together with elect Gentiles, comprise a holy nation that will dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem. It is granted that how the Bible has been historically understood is at odds with some evangelicals who — like the zealots that wanted to coronate Jesus — are looking for a carnal fulfillment of prophesy. And it does influence how we interpret not only the Bible, but our understanding of world events especially with regard to Israel. (See our post, The Preemie Gospel).

Hear me, my brothers. All of scripture points to Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. If we don’t understand this we miss the central theme of the Gospel.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). 

And the Son offered Himself back to the Father as a perfect, pleasing sacrifice wholly acceptable for the remission of sin. 

He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:54). 

The Gospel message is an amazing covenant of grace and mercy that you can receive by putting your faith and hope in Jesus Christ. He confounded the religious leaders of His day, and continues to be a stumbling block for many Christians (two thousand years later) who don’t understand the meaning of the last day.

There will be a last trump of the last day (at the end of time) when Christ returns to claim His bride [rapture, see note 2], and incinerate the physical universe. Then, the new heaven and new earth — adorned to perfection — will welcome us home into the arms of an awesome God and glorious Savior.

Where Israel is only the type, the Kingdom of God is the fulfillment. Come to the cross and receive Jesus — for now is the day of your salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Next: My Hebrew Brother

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[1.] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (New York: Easton ; Mains, 1883), p. 383.

[2.] 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

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4 thoughts on “Who is Israel?

  1. retiredday posted this on Messiah Gate @Blogspot:

    When I came to the end of this post, I wasn’t ready for it to stop. I wanted more! Because you are “right on the money”, as they say, and the Scriptures you cite go to the core of the issue. I particularly like your reference to the Biblical symbolism of the true Vine. The only question I have is about the meaning of the meek inheriting the earth. My take on it is that the word ‘eretz is better translated land, which we would understand to mean the Promised Land. Of course, I do see how by extension that could also be interpreted as the new earth of Revelation 21:1. But I’m not really clear about how that connects to dispensationalism. I’d like to hear more about what you have to say in that regard. I have written my thoughts on the subject the meek inheriting the earth (land) at http://retiredday.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/biblical-meekness-and-authority/. Scroll about halfway down to see my thoughts on Psalm 37:11. Grace and Peace.


  2. I’m treading lightly here — slowly and carefully so as not to be misunderstood. There’s a whole lot more to say, but I don’t want to cause any strife, or dissension and will proceed with caution.

    Last month, a well known Bible teacher made a comment on his radio program that Matthew 24 (Olivet Discourse) has not been fulfilled. That he would say this made me very uncomfortable. This beloved pastor graduated from the Dallas Theological Seminary which teaches a dispensational brand of Christianity innovated by John Nelson Darby, and codified by the Scofield reference Bible.

    Most evangelicals don’t even know what Dispensationalism teaches. Essentially, the “church age” is nothing but a parenthesis in God’s plan of salvation. When Israel rejected Christ, the church became God’s “Plan B”. It is offensive to me to suggest that God did not foresee Israel’s rejection and, thus, had to alter His original covenant. It is popularly taught that when the fullness of the Gentiles is made complete, God will rapture the church and resume His dealings with Israel.

    No, I believe that God’s plan is unfolding according to Scripture. Certainly, the early church fathers did not subscribe to Darby’s interpretation. And to suggest that Matthew 24 is not yet fulfilled is a glaring example of hyper-dispensationalism which adopts a futurist view of prophesy.

    If the Book of Revelation is not understood within the context of the whole Bible one can erringly interpret that the church will be removed, God will deal with Israel during a Millennial reign and there will be multiple comings of Christ. The radio pastor said he can see 3 or 4 comings of Christ. Several times in John’s gospel, however, Christ said He will return on the last day. He doesn’t come to rapture the church, then to establish His kingdom, then to reign for 1000 years and so on. The Second Advent of Christ will bring judgement to both the dead and the living. Few will be raised to eternal life (in the new heaven and earth), while many are condemned to everlasting punishment.

    That the humble (God’s people) will inherit the earth was understood, even by the Jews during the time of Christ, as an inheritance of the land of Canaan. The Messiah would restore God’s kingdom at His coming. The disciples, not understanding, asked Jesus after His resurrection if He was going to establish the kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6). They still didn’t perceive that His kingdom was not of this realm.

    The church fathers understood that the land of Canaan was a type of heaven — that Christ’s blessings were spiritual, not carnal. Paul spiritualized Old Testament promises when he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6). Under the New Covenant, Israel is not a geographic place, but a body of believers — both Jew and Gentile (in Christ) — who will inherit not the type (Canaan), but a regenerated, incorruptible earth.

    While true Israel is anticipating the Second Coming, and looking forward to setting up residence in the New Jerusalem, our dispensational brothers are gazing at blood moons and expecting the restoration of Solomon’s Temple with all of its ceremony, rituals and animal sacrifices. Ephraimites hold to this doctrine. That is why this blog is not called by its original title, Ephraim’s Gate, because Christ is the unique focus of the Bible, not Israel.

    At its core, Darby’s interpretation — not maliciously, I think — denies the power of the Gospel to save men’s souls. The understanding of the church fathers — to which I subscribe — is profaned as Covenant, or Replacement theology. I have not replaced anyone, but I am fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

    All of the Bible must be interpreted within the context of Jesus Christ — the revelation and fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption — notwithstanding the doctrines of men.


  3. That dispensationalism denies the power of the Gospel can be evidenced in the example of the well known pastor of a mega church in San Antonio who unashamedly preaches the dispensational slant that God has two plans of salvation — one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. Christ died for all people, or His sacrifice upon the cross was in vain.

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