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ISRAEL: THE LINCHPIN IN GOD'S PROGRAM FOR THE FUTURE
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Dr. Michael Rydelnik
All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
Perhaps you have heard of Mr. Goldstein who was said to have made a visit to heaven as the representative of the Jewish people. He met the Lord and asked, "Is it true that we are the Chosen People?" The Lord boomed His response: "Yes, it's true, you are the Chosen People." To which Mr. Goldstein replied, "Would You mind choosing somebody else for a change!" This joke, which is often told by Jewish people, reflects the terrible history of Jewish suffering that has made some Jewish people view God's choice as a burden. However, being God's Chosen People is a great privilege that God in His mercy has bestowed upon His people, placing them squarely in the center of history and prophecy.
How is it that this small group of people has had such an immense impact on society? The Jewish people comprise only one-half of 1 percent of the world's population, yet win 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes that are awarded. The entire world recognizes the achievements of Jewish notables such as Jonas Salk who developed the polio vaccine, Albert Einstein whose theory of relativity catapulted the world into the Atomic Age, and Sigmund Freud who was the father of psychotherapy. People ask why the small State of Israel, which is about the size of the state of New Jersey, seems to have such a large role in world events, with global coverage of its daily activities.
Certainly Jewish people have had—and will continue to have—a profound influence on the world because of God's choice of Israel to be His people. By examining God's Word, it is possible to understand what is happening in the news today and what will take place in the future. The best place to start doing that is by looking at the past—when God first called Israel to be His Chosen People.
The unconditional covenants that God made with Israel in the past are foundational for understanding Israel's importance in the prophetic future. These covenants with Israel govern our understanding of the Jewish people and form the backbone of Bible prophecy.
The Abrahamic Covenant
Genesis 12:1–3 records God's call of Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees (Babylon) and the specific promises He made to him. These promises were confirmed and clarified in later passages of Genesis (13:14–17; 15:1–7; 17:1–21). Additionally, they were reconfirmed to Abraham's son Isaac (26:3–4) and grandson Jacob (28:13–15), specifying which line of Abraham would receive God's promises.
The promises God made to Abraham fall into three categories: personal, national, and universal. The personal promises God gave to Abraham included a great name, vast wealth, and abundant spiritual blessing for himself. The life of Abraham as recorded in Scripture confirms that these promises were fulfilled.
God added the national promise that Abraham's descendants would multiply and be "as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore" (22:17). Additionally, God promised Abraham that He would give the nation of Israel the land of Canaan as their "everlasting possession" (17:8) with its boundaries extending from the river of Egypt in the West to the Euphrates River in the East, and to the land of the Hittites in the North (15:18–21). This is interesting in light of all the contemporary questions about ownership of the land of Israel today. Regardless of the political disputes, God has granted the title deed of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Furthermore, this land promise was never fulfilled in its entirety. Since God always keeps His promises, it is certain that one day, in the Messianic Kingdom, Israel will dwell in all the land that God promised.
The national promises also gave Israel a unique position as God's barometer of blessing—those nations that would bless Israel would be blessed and those that cursed Israel would be cursed (12:3; 27:29). This principle applied in the life of Abraham (12:10–20; 14:12–20; 26:1–11) and throughout the history of the Jewish people (Deut. 30:7; Isa. 14:1–2). Significantly, this will be the principle that guides God's judgment of the Gentile nations when Jesus returns. In Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, which represent the judgment of the Gentiles, the nations will be divided on the basis of their treatment of Jesus' physical brethren, the Jewish people. That is why Jesus will say, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40).
Regarding the universal aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham (Gen. 12:3) and specifically through his "offspring," that is, his future descendants (22:18). The ultimate fulfillment of this promise was found when Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, provided atonement for the whole world through His death and resurrection (Gal. 3:16).
The Other Covenants
The Land Covenant. Later biblical covenants expanded three particular aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant, namely the promises of the land, the seed, and the blessing. The land promise was expanded into the Land Covenant found in Deuteronomy 28–30. This promise assured that Israel would experience physical and material blessing from God if they would obey His law. However, God also threatened to discipline the nation for persistent disobedience and idolatry by driving the people out of the land and into exile. Finally, God promised to restore the Jewish people to their land after much suffering. God states that both their suffering and their restoration will occur "in [the] later days" (Deut. 4:30; 31:29).
The Davidic Covenant. God's promise of seed for Abraham was further expanded in the Davidic Covenant. This covenant is foundational for the messianic hope of the Hebrew Bible and the basis of the New Testament expectation of a future kingdom. Though David wanted to build a house (temple) for God, God instead promised to build a house (dynasty) for David (2 Sam. 7:11). God affirmed that He would give David an eternal dynasty and kingdom with an eternal Ruler to sit on David's throne (v. 16). That Ruler was to be one of David's sons (his seed) who was also to have a Father/Son relationship with God (vv. 12–16).
In the course of the historical narrative of 1 Kings, it appears that this promise would be fulfilled through Solomon. In fact, since Solomon even believed that he was the potential fulfillment, he built the temple. But the Lord warned Solomon that the promise would be fulfilled through him only if he would "follow my decrees, carry out my regulations and keep all my commands" (1 Kings 6:12). The author of 1 Kings quickly points out how miserably Solomon failed because of his marriages to foreign women who turned his heart away from God (11:1–4). In fact, no Davidic king succeeded in obeying God completely. All of them, even the good ones, ended with failure. Thus the book of 2 Kings ends with the hope and expectation that God will one day send an eternal Ruler who will build the true temple of God and sit on the throne of David. The prophet Zechariah foretold that this future King will come to unite the offices of Priest and King and build the temple of the Lord (Zech. 6:9–15).
The hope and longing for this Son of David consumed the prophets (Isa. 11:1, 10; 16:5; Jer. 23:5; 30:9; 33:15–17; Ezek. 34:23–24; 37:24–28; Hos. 3:4–5; Amos 9:11–15) and found its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus. The angel Gabriel announced His birth, saying, "The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32–33). Jesus was the Promised One, the Son of David and the Son of God. He announced the coming of God's kingdom, and He will return to rule from the literal throne of David in Jerusalem and establish the kingdom of God on earth.
The New Covenant. The blessing component of the Abrahamic Covenant was amplified by the New Covenant. The name "New Covenant" comes from Jeremiah 31:31–34, but it had already been promised in the Pentateuch (Deut. 30:1–14) and would be affirmed in other prophets (Ezek. 36:26–27). The newness of this covenant is derived from its distinction from the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law. In Jeremiah 31:32 the New Covenant is said to be unlike the Old Covenant God gave Israel when the nation left Egypt. This Old Covenant is an obvious reference to the Mosaic Law, not the Abrahamic Covenant or any other covenant. Hebrews 8:13 confirms this when it states that the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) has been made obsolete by the establishment of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant was promised to Israel and Judah and was ratified through the death of Jesus on the cross (Matt. 26:27–28; Luke 22:20). Today, the church shares those spiritual blessings through its relationship with the Messiah Jesus. However, only when Messiah returns and begins His kingdom will He establish the New Covenant in its fullest sense. In that day, when everyone knows the Lord, all people will fully experience this universal aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Since God keeps His promises, these covenants from Israel's past remain significant for her present and future. The land aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant reaffirms that the title deed to the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Israel never fully possessed the land as described in the Abrahamic Covenant. Even at the zenith of David's and Solomon's rule, the land they governed did not match the land grant God gave Abraham. Therefore, the covenant assures that there will be a future kingdom which will include all the land God promised—something which, throughout her long history, Israel has never possessed. The Davidic Covenant assures that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, will return and establish His kingdom on earth. He will rule from David's throne as the righteous King of Israel and Sovereign of the world. Finally, the New Covenant guarantees that there will be a time when all Israel will turn to her Messiah. Then Israel and all the nations of the world will know the Lord. These covenants certainly give hope for the future ... but what of Israel today? We now turn to Israel's present.
Since these covenants are all from Israel's past, some have improperly taken them away from Israel and applied them to the church today. It is true that the vast majority of Jewish people have failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah. This rejection has motivated some sincere followers of Christ to adopt the erroneous opinion that Israel's promises have transferred to the church. Their approach seems to take a rather shortsighted view of the faithfulness of God.
One of the essential principles of the Abrahamic Covenant was that it was unconditional and eternal. Abraham did not need to do anything to receive or maintain this covenant. Furthermore, when God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham, He solemnized His divine oath with the offering of sacrifices (Gen. 15:9–17). In ancient times, when two parties wanted to bind themselves to a covenant, they would lay the severed parts of a sacrificial animal on the ground and both parties would walk in their midst. This signified that both were in agreement and bound by the covenant. When God solemnized His oath to Abraham, He deliberately excluded Abraham from the process. Instead, God caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep, and God alone passed through the animal parts. This demonstrated that God was solely responsible for this covenant—it did not depend on Abraham or his descendants but on God alone. In light of the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, there are several truths about the Jewish people today that must be maintained.
God Has Retained Israel as His Chosen People
This is not only an Old Testament concept; the New Testament agrees with it as well. Paul writes that, despite Israel's disbelief in Jesus, God did not reject His people whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:1–2). Moreover, Paul adds that although most Jewish people have rejected the good news of Jesus, the people of Israel remain God's beloved Chosen People "on account of the patriarchs" (v. 28)—a clear reference to the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul categorically states that God's gifts and call to Israel are irrevocable (v. 29).
Remaining God's Chosen People does not mean that Jewish people have forgiveness and a personal relationship with God apart from faith in their Messiah Jesus. Jewish people, as all people, must trust in Jesus. Regardless, the Lord's words in Deuteronomy 14:2 remain as true as ever. "Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession." God did this not because of any merit found in the Jewish people. Rather, He chose them, as Moses wrote earlier in Deuteronomy, "because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (7:8). Since God is faithful to His promises and loyal in His love, the Jewish people are still the Chosen People.
God Is Active Today Preserving and Protecting the Jewish People
The Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, assures us that it will be impossible ever to destroy the Jewish people. In fact, in order to put an end to the Jewish people, it would be necessary to stop the sun, moon, and stars from shining and also to measure all the heavens and the foundations of the earth. God declares that only if these impossible acts could be accomplished will "the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me" or "will I reject all the descendants of Israel" (Jer. 31:35–37). Plainly, the Lord will preserve His people. That is why the prophet Zechariah says of the people of Israel that whoever touches them "touches the apple of his [God's] eye" (Zech. 2:8).
Throughout history, there have been those who have sought Israel's destruction—from Haman to Hitler to Saddam Hussein—but they have never succeeded. In 1981 I attended the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem, as a second-generation participant. There I heard Menachem Begin, the late prime minister of Israel, declare before those Holocaust survivors and their children that Hitler's attempt to annihilate the Jewish people ought not to cause them to doubt God's existence but rather to believe in Him. Begin said that apart from God's providential intervention there was no way Hitler could have failed. The prime minister recognized that God was true to His promise to preserve and ultimately to protect His Chosen People. Frederick the Great was said to have asked his chaplain for one clear and compelling evidence for the existence of God. The chaplain replied, "The amazing Jew, Your Majesty."
The preservation of the Jewish people, despite a history of hatred and persecution, has led historian Paul Johnson to call the Jews "the most tenacious people in history." It is far better to say that the Jewish people are protected by the tenacious God of history, who is faithful to His promises and relentless in preserving His people. For this reason, no weapon formed against Israel will ever prevail (Isa. 54:17).
God Is Presently Saving a Remnant of Israel
Paul asserted, in Romans 11:1–5, that God did not reject the Jewish people; and as proof he offered the doctrine of the remnant. His point was that God has always worked through a faithful remnant both during the Old Testament and in the present age. Even though the vast majority of the Jewish people have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God in His faithfulness has preserved a remnant within Israel, chosen by grace, who would believe. Paul writes, "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace" (v. 5).
Throughout the entire church age, there has always been a remnant of Jewish people who have sincerely believed in Jesus as their Messiah and Lord. Since 1967 a significant number of Jewish people have come to believe in Jesus and still maintain their unique role as the Jewish remnant. There are approximately 250,000 Messianic Jews worldwide participating in hundreds of Messianic congregations and in many evangelical churches. This movement is also evident in Europe, South America, the former Soviet Union, and Israel.
Paul anticipated a day when the remnant would become the whole. He writes in Romans 11:25–26 that at Jesus' return, when the full number of Gentiles have come in, Israel as a whole will turn to Jesus in faith as their Messiah and so "all Israel will be saved." Perhaps the Spirit of God's unique move among the Jewish people today is but a precursor to the far greater movement that will take place yet in the future.
God Is Restoring the Jewish People to the Land of Israel
Since their exile around the world nearly two millennia ago, Jewish people have daily prayed that they would be restored to the land of Israel. The Hebrew prophets foretold a day when God would draw His people back to their promised land. Throughout church history Christians, for the most part, could not conceive of a literal fulfillment of this promise, so they interpreted it figuratively. However, some believers in the nineteenth century did indeed take the promise of a return literally and therefore began to anticipate a Jewish return to the land of Israel.
In the last part of the nineteenth century, Jewish groups arose in eastern Europe, known as the "Lovers of Zion." They believed that a return to the land of Israel was the only hope for Jewish people to survive in a world filled with anti-Jewish hatred. In 1881 the very first Jewish people began to return to build a homeland. This first immigration wave, known in Hebrew as an aliyah (literally "ascent"), was difficult and did not see much success.
Excerpted from Storm Clouds on the Horizon by Charles H. Dyer. Copyright © 2001 Moody Bible Institute. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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