Most evangelicals believe that God said the nation of Israel will exist forever, therefore its national and political boundaries must be fully restored before Jesus returns. But what if the “Israel” that the Bible refers to in this context is not a specific nation with geographical boundaries, but all who are the people of God?
About 80% of evangelicals believe that the nation of Israel is still God’s chosen land, and thus is what we should watch in terms of the end times, the wrath of God, etc. One view, known as “Christian Zionism” is the belief that the nation of Israel is still central to God’s plan – that the Jews are still God’s chosen people, that the land that was given to the nation of Israel by God is still their land by divine right, and that anyone who tries to take it away from the Jews will incur the wrath of God.
But there are important things at stake here in these “twisted scriptures” beyond the fact many Christians are obstructing peace in the Middle East. Misinterpreting what the Bible says about the nation of Israel can have huge ramifications for how we think about (and therefore present) God, the Gospel message, Jesus, and so on. Today, Greg makes four points to clarify how these scriptures got so “twisted”, and what they really mean for all of us.
First, the Old Testament was a conditional covenant. For example, in Deuteronomy 28, God said, “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this book… then I will scatter you…”. In Jeremiah 17, God tells Israel, “Through your own fault, you will lose the inheritance I gave you…”
Second, ALL of the promises of God ARE fulfilled in Jesus! HE is the faithful Israel – not a nation of people, but the Savior of the people! 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us that no matter how many promises God made to Israel, they are all “yes” in Christ Jesus, and our job is to say “Amen” to that! This means there are no promises that God made to Israel which are still awaiting their fulfillment – Jesus IS the fulfillment of them all! For example, Isaiah 49 says, “you are my servant Israel, in whom I will display my splendor…” In the New Covenant, this prophesy was ascribed to Jesus several times, including by Simeon, who God promised would not die until he saw the fulfillment of God’s promises come to us.
Third, in Romans 4, Paul points out that the promises of God come to all of Abraham’s descendants through faith – not location, not law, not genetics… In Galatians 3 we see that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, rather we are all one in Christ Jesus. Faith and Christ – these themes run all the way through chapter 11, where he ends his argument in the same way he began – by contrasting the nation of Israel and it’s “hardening” with a people of faith who have submitted themselves to a Savior. Two basic premises of the New Covenant are that Jesus IS the embodiment of Israel; and that, like Abraham, the true Israelite has always been the person of faith.
Four, the Old Covenant included a certain people, on a certain land, with a certain law to live by, which was enforced by violence. This covenant was intended from the start to be provisional – to set the stage for what more was to come. Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” And verse 13 says, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The New Covenant is not for a certain people, on a certain land, with a certain law to live by, and is not to be enforced by violence.
After 1000 years of living under foreign oppression, Jesus came to the nation of Israel, yet He refused to restore the nation of Israel. He never mentions their land, or that they should take it back, etc. Instead, his message is basically this: “That exclusivity stuff, that land stuff, that law you can’t keep, that violence – how’s all that working for ya? Are you willing to try something different? My Kingdom is not for a particular people, nor a particular land, it’s for all. It’s not about rules, but grace. And it’s not enforced by violence, but it exists in peace and love. Follow me.”
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