THE ROLE OF ISRAEL IN THE LATTER DAYS INTRODUCTION
Things that are revealed must never become matters of novelty to us, i.e., intellectual baubles unrelated to life in Christ Jesus. The Word of God contains no vestigial expressions. Every bit of it is God-breathed, and "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Regarding the subject at hand, this is particularly important. Most of Scripture relates immediately (though not exclusively) to Israel prophetically, historically, or in promise. An understanding of their role in the divine economy will bear directly upon our faith, hope, and love. This treatise will develop three main points. First, I will focus on the logic of Israel's involvement in the "last days." Second, we will consider the affirmations of their involvement in Scripture. Third, we will review the relevancy of all of this to believers today.
THE LOGIC OF ISRAEL'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE LAST DAYS
The importance of the right view Ultimately, there are only two approaches to theology: the Divine and the human. There really are no other perspectives. The human, or fleshly, view is always wrong, and is never to be considered acceptance. The Divine view is always right, and cannot be rejected with impunity. It is really that straightforward. First, in order to have the Divine view, it is imperative that the individual knows God. The "knowledge of God" is the sanctifying element in spiritual understanding. Everything pertaining to life and godliness is ministered to us through the knowledge of God (2 Pet 1:3). This knowledge enables us to "escape" the "pollutions of the world" (2 Pet 2:20), particular those things that contaminate the understanding.
Second, an understanding of Scripture is essential to the apprehension of the Divine view. It is not possible to know God's way without knowing what He has revealed. The fleshly view is dependent only upon human disciplines. It does not require a new birth, fellowship with God, of the hope of glory. What is more, it tends to glorify man and ignore, if not blaspheme, the God of heaven. God's people must not allow themselves to be coerced intellectually into the acceptance of views spawned in the mind of men. If no Scripture was initiated by human analysis, none can be apprehended by that means (2 Pet 2 Pet 1:19-21). My approach to this subject will give no weight to human opinions. I will make an extensive effort to rely upon the verity of Divine assertion, even if it does not comport with the understanding of purported theologians.
Three classes of humanity
Well into the first century, the Holy Spirit affirmed there were three basic classes in humanity. This is a heavenly view, and is set in the context of regeneration and reconciliation. "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God--even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor 10:32-33). The "church of God" is the reconciled portion of humanity, in which fleshly distinctions are dissolved. The "Jews" and "Greeks" represent humanity outside of Christ. Even though Jesus brought an abrupt end to the reign of Law, the "Jews" still remained a definitive segment of our race. That perception is essential to this study. I will affirm in this treatise that the Jews had their genesis in God, and will realize fruition in the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB
We can learn a great deal about Scripture by a consideration of how the Lord has revealed Himself. As regarding humanity, God has affiliated Himself with certain individuals, and that affiliation is important to this study. Moses, Jesus, Peter, and Stephen referred to God as "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Ex 3:6,15,16; 4:5; Matt 22:32; 8:11; Acts 3:13; 7:32). At least four times Paul referred to this holy conclave as "the fathers" (Acts 13:22; Rom 9:5; 11:28; 15:8). The point to be seen here is simply this; God has not cut himself off from the progenitors of the Jews. We will find that His continued regard for those patriarchs is the basis for our optimism concerning their future. As a point of interest, God is nowhere called the "God of Peter, James, and John," or "Paul," or "Stephen," etc. The fact that after the inauguration of the New Covenant He continued to inspire men to so represent Him will shape our thinking about the Jews.
PIVOTAL IN GOD'S DEALINGS WITH HUMANITY
The Jews are pivotal in God's dealings with our race. This is declared with unusual pungency in Scripture. One of the more weighty affirmations of this is found in Paul's letter to the Romans. His inspired statements concerning the nation of Israel are arresting. "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom 9:3-5). Paul's deep concern and continual sorrow for Israel was not mere sympathy. Nor, indeed, was it prompted by a general concern for the lost. The Apostle to the Gentiles never expressed an attitude like this toward the nations of the world. This was not his view of Athens, Ephesus, Rome, or Galatia. His understanding of the role of the Jews in the Divine economy prompted his sensitive response to their condition. Notice that everything pertaining to identity with God was given to the Jews ("the adoption"). The Lord's revelations of Himself came exclusively to them ("the glory"). Every alliance between God and man was given to them ("the covenants"). The giving of the definitive Law applied exclusively to Israel; no one else received a detailed exposition of sin ("the giving of the Law"). When it came to the sanctioned service of God, only the Jews were allowed the privilege ("the service of God"). The glorious promises of a coming Redeemer and a new covenant were given exclusively to Israel ("the promises"). The "fathers" of the faithful, from whom multitudinous believers would come, belonged to Israel ("the fathers"). Finally, the Lord Jesus Christ, sent by God to take away the sins of the world, came from that select nation ("as concerning the flesh, Christ came." It is not possible to have more distinction than that--and it ALL applied to Israel!
We will see that those benefits can be enjoyed by no one apart from identity with the Jews. When the Lord Jesus was among us, He acknowledged He was sent "only to the lost of Israel" (Matt 15:24, NIV). When He first sent out His disciples, he limited them to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 10:6). The gravity of these statements cannot be ignored. And theological perspective that is not harmonious with these divine affirmations is to be abandoned without delay. The Gospel of Christ is the appointed means of affecting salvation. Perceiving this, Paul confessed he was "not ashamed" of that glorious gospel. He was careful to say, however, that the "Gospel of Christ" was the "power of God unto salvation to the Jew first, and ALSO to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). In another expression of divine priorities Paul wrote, "There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism" (Rom 29-11, NIV). It is interesting that the Spirit concludes this affirmation of the prevalence of "the Jew" by stating there is no favoritism with God. This is an expression of the mind of the Lord, and we do well to heartily concur with it.
IS GOD FINISHED WITH ISRAEL?
There is a strain of thought among purported Bible scholars that views Israel as completely and irremediably cut off from God. They conclude that when Israel rejected Jesus, they were completely written off by God, without any hope of being restored. Will this view stand under the weight of Divine affirmation? Let it be clear, Israel was judged for their inexcusable rejection of their Messiah. It was a tragic day when they cried out, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt 27:5). Jesus, in a lamentation over the holy city, foretold their grievous judgement. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Matt 23:37-39, NIV). Luke's revelation provides an additional perspective of this curse. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:42-44). What a price to pay!
Let every soul consider the jeopardy into which the rejection of the Lord's Christ thrusts men. A careful consideration of this singular judgment of Israel will show that the door of acceptance was not slammed shut. First, Jesus did not say they would never confront Him again. Rather, He said they would not see Him until they said "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Further limitations were placed on this judgment. Jesus said, "and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). Paul announces a similar ray of hope in his letter to the Romans. "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom 11:25). "The times of the Gentiles" and "the fulness of the Gentiles" are phrases denoting limitation. They ring with the melody of hope for the Jews. If our theology does not allow for such expressions, it is surely built upon sand. God has spoken through His Son, and through the Apostle to the Gentiles. We have no alternative but to consider their expressions. If we have ears to hear, we will be profited by these words.
The Apostle to the Gentiles reasons extensively about this matter. As we get caught up in the flow of his reasoning, our view of Israel will conform to the purpose of God. Because of the extensive nature of this subject, our observations will be limited to the eleventh chapter of Romans. The Jews are not cast away--Paul is one. "I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite" (Rom 11:1). If the Jews were summarily cut off, Paul could never have been saved. Not only was he a Jew, he was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil 3:5). The apostleship of Paul would not be possible if the Jews had been completely cut off. God has not cast away the people He foreknew. "God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew" (Rom 11:2-3). The redemptive economy is driven by Divine foreknowledge, not Divine reaction (Rom 8:29-30). As evil as Israel was in their rejection of Christ, they did not turn the eyes of the Lord away from those of their number that He had known before the foundation of the world.
There is a remnant. Even though it seems unlikely that a remnant remains, one still does! Believers cannot afford to ignore this reality, particularly since they have the example of Elijah. He thought everyone had abandoned the Lord, but they had not. God Himself had reserved a remnant for Himself. Paul boldly affirms that a "remnant" of Israel still remains according to "the election of grace" "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom 11:5). We cannot afford to adopt a view of Israel that excludes this revealed view. Israel has not stumbled so as to fall. The notion that Israel's rejection of Christ has led to their final and irrevocable fall is strictly forbidden by the Holy Spirit. This is not the case, and we are not permitted to suppose that it is. "I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid" (Rom 11:11a). The NIV's expression, "Not at all," is too weak for this passage. The Spirit informs us in this text that God's kingdom does not allow the conclusion in reference, i.e., "they have stumbled that they should fall." That is not the truth, and therefore cannot be allowed to occupy our thought.
The Divine intent is to provoke the Jews to jealousy. Rather than God summarily cutting the Jews off, He is provoking them to jealousy through the Gentiles, who were "not a people" (Deut 32:21; 1 Pet 2:10). The revelation of God is this, "I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy" (Rom 11:11b). We cannot afford to adopt a view of Israel that forbids this thought! It makes sense that Israel will be restored. If we think after a godly manner, it will make sense that God is not yet finished with Israel. Here is the Apostolic reasoning on this matter. "But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!' (Rom 11:12, NIV). Israel's "fulness" is realized when they embrace their Messiah. According to the "mind of the Spirit," if their rejection of Christ opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, what will their acceptance of Christ do? The possibilities are staggering--and that is the point Paul is making. The reason for Paul's Apostleship. Why was Paul made an Apostle? Obviously, the reaching of the Gentile nations is involved. However, the Holy Spirit does behind the scenes for us, and the insight He provides is wonderful. "I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them" (Rom 11:13-14. NIV).
Those that have a propensity to despise the Jews cannot take this passage into their mouths, much less their hearts. However, this is how a godly person thinks! Life from the dead! Once again, the Apostle reasons from the Jews rejection of the Messiah to their acceptance of Him. "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom 11:15, NIV). "Life from the dead" equates to a spiritual resurrection--a global awakening. Again, our hearts are challenged to think big! Of course, this sort of reasoning is preposterous if the Jews have been summarily cut off. Reasoning on the root. If the Jews have been eliminated, Paul reasons that the Gentiles have also been eliminated by the same judgement. The reason is obvious; they are holding us, we are not holding them. God did not start over with the Gentiles, He merely extended His mercy further. Paul reasons if the origin is holy, what is added to it is also. "If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits are holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches" (Rom 11:16, NIV). He also informs us that only SOME of the branches, or Jews, were removed--not all of them. "some of the branches have been broken off" (Rom 11:17a, NIV).
The Jewish "root" still is nourishing, which would not be possible if the Jews had been totally cut off. "You, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root" (Rom 11:17b, NIV). And for those with a penchant for technicalities, "do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you" (Rom 11:18, NIV). God has not instituted a new plan. Some vainly suppose that God has instituted a new plan, not formerly revealed. The prophetic time clock, according to these sophists, has been stopped while God starts over with the Gentiles. Paul violently uproots this false notion. "Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee" (Rom 11:19-21, NIV). The plan remains the same! The Israelites that were removed, and all of them were not removed, were not excluded because of a change of purpose, but because of their unbelief. This is intended to induce godly fear among us Gentiles. The same will happen to us, if we do not remain in the faith. The door remains open. Just as God has showered His goodness upon us through Christ, so will He do to the Jews, The expression of this is beautiful. "And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again' (Rom 11:23, NIV). This thought is utterly absurd if the Jews have been once and for all eliminated from being a people.
he ability of God is declared here; He is "able to graft them in again." When the Spirit states, "God is able," He is not speaking of theoretic possibilities. Divine intention is proclaimed by this statement, not a remote possibility (See Rom 14:4; 16:25; 2 Cor 9:8; Eph 3:20; 2 Tim 1:12; Heb 2:18; 7:25; Jude 24- 25). There simply is too much in God's Word on this matter to allow any other conclusion. It is only reasonable to think this way. If we can rise high enough, Divine logic will lure us into proper thinking. "After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!" (Rom 11:24, NIV). The tree belongs to the Jew! It is "their own olive tree." The grace of God has not made the tree a Gentile tree! The Gentiles have been grafted into a Jewish tree. The very concept is foolish if there is no prospect of deliverance for the Jew. In fact, the acceptance of the Gentiles postulates the future acceptance of the Jews through Christ Jesus. Blindness in part has happened to them. Not total blindness, but partial blindness, has occurred to Israel. That is the proclamation. "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25, NIV). We are even told the duration of this partial blindness. Note carefully that here it is not stated "until they believe" -- although that is true. Rather, Israel's blindness will come to an end when "the full number of Gentiles has come in." This should be of special interest to us when we consider that the Gentiles have conducted themselves toward the Gospel in the precise manner in which the Jews conducted themselves toward the Law. All Israel will be saved.
The redeemed are called "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16). Some erroneously conclude that a Gentile church is meant. However, a Gentile church is not proclaimed in Scripture. Rather, God has brought both Jew and Gentile together in one body, "so making peace" (Eph 2:15). Paul proclaims that God's's purpose involves the salvation of the whole tree, so to speak. "And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; He will banish ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom 11:26, NRSV). Redemption shall not be fulfilled until Jacob (and the Gentile church is nowhere called "Jacob") is turned away from ungodliness. To put it another way, until they have embraced the Gospel of the grace of God. That, Paul affirms, will happen! It is on the Divine agenda. God has made a covenant with Israel. God's covenants are not taken lightly in Scripture, and we do well to take them seriously. With spiritual skill, Paul affirms that God's covenant with Israel has not been revoked."And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (Rom 11:27, NRSV). Gentile theologians may dispute whether or not God is going to take away the sins of Israel, but the Holy Spirit affirms that to be the case. To be sure, they will be removed as a result of them embracing their Messiah through the Gospel--but it will be done!
The divine commitment was uttered by Isaiah. "And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the LORD. And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the LORD, from now on and forever" (Isa 59:20-21, NRSV). Enemies, yet beloved. In Paul's time, fierce opposition arose from the Jews. They were truly "enemies." But he did not envision that condition as irrevocable. "From 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" (Rom 11:28, NASB). For the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom Divine commitments were made, God still loves the Israelites. He knows more of their failings than we do, yet He loves them because of "the fathers." Those that wear the name of Christ do well to have the same view. God's gifts and calling are without repentance. It is unfortunate that God is so little known among professed believers. Some conceive of Him as vacillating to and fro on the matter of Israel.
Paul settles the matter once and for all by appealing to His character. "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29, NASB). Notwithstanding all opposing arguments, God has not changed His mind about Israel. He would have to deny Himself to do so. Our past and present; their present and future. Rising into the heavenly places, Paul views the past and present of the Gentiles, as well as the present and the future of the Jews. His conclusions are incontrovertible. "For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy" (Rom 11:30-31, NASB). The inscrutable wisdom of God is declared in this circumstance. Both situations are illogical. There is no form of early reasoning that can justify disobedient people receiving mercy. That is a condition found only in the kingdom of God. It is absolutely reasonable for the Jews to receive mercy from God, even though they were obedient.
The acceptance of the Gentiles proves this to be the case. Divine intent is proclaimed here! Hear the Word of the Lord. "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (Rom 11:32, NIV). The glorious doxology. Caught up in the Spirit, Paul breaks out in a glorious doxology as he contemplates these things. His response to these considerations is quite different from that of pretended theologians. Some, stumbling at the passage before us, attempt to explain it away. They do not offer a satisfactory solution for us. They only throw a theological blanket over the text, attempting to hide it from the eyes of our understanding. Lift your mind higher, and consider the reaction of a godly man to thoughts of the restoration of Israel. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom 11:33-36). The salvation of all men is an unparalleled testimony to the "wisdom and knowledge of God." After the Gentiles had descended into an apparently hopeless situation, the Lord had mercy upon them, rescuing them from the snare of the devil. When the Jews had rejected the testimony of God, choosing their own way, even though they were the exclusive custodians of the truth of God, they appeared to fall even further than the Gentiles. But though they are guilty of enormous transgression, they too will receive mercy. Without counsel, and without compromising His own Deity, the Lord had concluded every man in sin, that He might have mercy upon all. Understand it or not, let your praise go up to our God, great enough to do the impossible.
THE DIVINE COMMITMENT
The Lord has made certain commitments to Israel. Because He has represented Himself as a God that "cannot lie" (Tit 1:2), we do well to consider these promises. No Word of God can be taken lightly. God speaks with eternity, not time, in consideration. His words are expressions of the outworking of His eternal purpose. Isaiah spoke of the divine intent for Israel. His words are arresting, and conducive to profitable contemplation. 'In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children's peace" (Isa 54:8-13, NIV). No professed believer can afford to take these words lightly, or dismiss them as though they were never uttered. Paul's delineation of Israel in Romans 9-11, is based upon Divine commits. God also spoke His intentions for Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. There is undeniable resolve in this promise. "This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD Almighty is his name: "Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me." This is what the LORD says: "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD" (Jer 31:35-37, NIV).
Notwithstanding the variant hermeneutical approaches to Scripture, God has not rescinded this commitment! John the Baptist gave no indication this promise was to be nullified. Jesus did not abrogate this divine commitment. None of the Apostles said it had passed away! Though it may appear as though Israel has drifted beyond the reach of Divine wisdom and power, they have not. The promise still stands. Ezekiel provided two marvelous insights into the recovery of Israel. One is found in Ezekiel 37:1-10. This is the vision of the valley of dry bones. The situation with Israel looked absolutely hopeless; like a valley of dissembled, scattered, and bleached bones. Yet, the sounding of Divine promise awakened that mass of hopeless bones, bringing them together, and causing them to stand up as an exceeding great army. Recovering Israel is difficult, but it is no more impossible than raising a valley of dry bones to life by declaring a promise. Ezekiel's vision of the healing waters sends a ray of hope to fallen Israel. It is found in Ezekiel 47:1-10. There we read of waters proceeding from close proximity to the Lord, and flowing out with healing power into the world. So powerful were these waters that only a few marshy places were not recovered. The point of the text is to foster hope. God is still able to "do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think," and we must not deprive Israel of that possibility. Paul labored in the hope of this occurring.
We do well to join him in that expectation. The New Covenant is made with the house of Israel. The Word of God is clear on this point. The Apostles and prophets are in accord in their proclamations. The New Covenant belongs to Israel! Jeremiah first proclaimed the details of the new covenant. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer 31:31-34). Some might conclude that this promise has been altered; that the new covenant is really not with the house of Israel, as promised by Jeremiah. All doubt is demolished by the affirmation of the Holy Spirit in the book of Hebrews. "For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb 8:8-12). The Spirit goes on to say that this is the very covenant now being administered by Jesus (Heb 9-10). The affirmation of the covenant's association with "the house of Israel" confirms they are still included in the Divine agenda.
The book of Revelation is the apocalyptic Gospel of Scripture. It contains no new doctrine, but expounds symbolically what is taught elsewhere in God's Word. Israel is not left out of the revelation Jesus gave to John through a holy angel. They are identified with entrance into the everlasting kingdom. "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev 21:12). Mind it well, the Lamb"s wife is not identified with Rome, Corinth, Philippi, or Philadelphia. It is, however, associated with "the twelve tribes of the children of Israel." Such a thought is completely untenable if they have been summarily cut off, or if they will not again receive mercy. It is not necessary to expound the details of this affirmation. In this treatise, it is enough to see that Israel is clearly associated with the bride of Christ. But this is not the only reference to the ancient people in this prescient book. In a vivid description of the triumph of judgement and mercy, the wrath of God is depicted as being withheld until the tribes of Israel are identified with the Lamb. "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000" (Rev 7:4- 8, NIV). It is inconceivable that such words could be uttered if Israel is not involved in the salvation of Christ. The "church" is nowhere described as "all the tribes of Israel." That is a term denoting the fleshly offspring of Abraham, among whom there remains a "remnant according to the election of grace." Again, my point is not to provide an exhaustive commentary on this passage, although that is possible. Rather, it is to confirm the involvement of Israel in the "kingdom of God's dear Son."
THE COMING OF ELIJAH
Realizing that I am dealing with an extremely sensitive area of truth, I draw your attention to the challenging prophecy of Malachi. He closes his book with reference to the sending of Elijah, which sending will avert the smiting of the earth with a curse. "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (Mal 4:5-6, NIV). Our Lord Jesus commented on this prophecy when questioned by His disciples concerning the coming of Elijah. They questioned Christ shortly after His glory was revealed on the mount of transfiguration. You will recall that Moses and Elijah appeared during that occasion, and spoke with our Lord about the death He was to "accomplish" (Luke 9:30-31). Confused by the incident, His disciples asked Him about Malachi's prophecy. "And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?" (Matt 17:9). Was that appearance on the "holy mount" (2 Pet 1:18) related to Malachi's prophecy? It obviously did not appear to be, as evidenced by the disciples interrogation.
Christ's answer to their question is arresting. "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands" (Matt 17:11-12, NIV). Mark's Gospel reads, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him" (Mark 9:12-13, NIV). A cursory view of this text will leave one thinking John the Baptist exhausted Malachi's prophecy. A closer look will confirm this is not the case. First, Jesus left the door open concerning Elijah. "To be sure, Elijah comes and WILL restore all things . . . "To be sure Elijah does come first and restores all things." That is not the language used to describe something that has already occurred. Our Lord's words do not close the door of Malachi's prophecy, but rather leave it standing ajar. Secondly, His reference to Elijah already coming is intended to clarify Israel's initial response to Himself. "But I tell you, Elijah has come," declares the Savior. He does not specifically say this was John the Baptist, but the disciples knew that is what He meant. "Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist" (Matt 17:13). Further words by Jesus distinguish between the ministry of John the Baptist and Malachi's reference to Elijah. "They did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished" (Matt 17:12). Try as you may, you cannot get that perspective from Malachi. He was speaking of another ministry. John the baptist was like Elijah in temperament and power, but his ministry differed from that of the Elijah that was to come.
Malachi makes no allowance for the rejection of Elijah. His ministry would effectively "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Mal 3:6). Although John's ministry was unusually effective, it did not accomplish the reconciliation prophesied by Malachi. He came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). Besides these things, we have the testimony of John himself on the matter. "They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No" (John 1:21). It must be remembered this Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit. If John did not realize what he said, the Spirit would have told us that was the case, much like He did in the case of others (Mark 9:6; John 5:13; Acts 12:9; Acts 23:5). Malachi also identified the time Elijah would be sent with "that great and dreadful day of the LORD." Nowhere is the first appearance of Christ so identified. That is a depiction of the second coming of Christ, as declared by both Joel and Peter (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20). Peter's reference to Joel's prophecy announced the induction of the "day" that would end with a "great and dreadful" appearance of the Lord of glory. That day, according to both Malachi and Jesus, will be preceded by the sending of Elijah, who will address the fallen condition of Israel. That is a "door of hope," and we do well to remove from our hearts any hesitancy to receive the Word of the Lord.
SOME PERSONAL VIEWS
Convinced of the truth of God's Word on these matters, I have several studied opinions on Israel's involvement in the last days. These are subject to the evaluation of all that hear them--God's Word is not. I share them with you with no other purpose than to simply share them. When Israel turns to the Lord, and the "veil" is lifted from its heart, it appears a mighty spiritual awakening will take place. This is indicated by the Spirit's reference to Israel in the Revelation. "After this (the sealing a large number from all the tribes of Israel) I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Rev 7:9-10). It is also alluded to in Paul's reference to their re-engrafting into the root. "But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! . . . For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom 11:12,15). Paul's reasoning is thus; if cursing Israel brought blessings, what will the blessing of them bring? If cutting off "some of the branches" opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, what will receiving them back do? Every believer does well to allow these questions to penetrate their thinking processes. In my opinion, the turning away of ungodliness from Jacob will mark the fall of Gentile religion as we know it. The Gentiles have not conducted themselves commendably with the Gospel. It has become distorted to a remarkable degree under their administration. It should not surprise us that the Holy Spirit speaks of a time when "the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25). For the most part, both heart and mind is absent from contemporary Christianity. Everyone knows this is wrong. This is not the way the spread of the Gospel started, and it is not the way it will be concluded. Most of us know we need a fresh start--a new beginning. Scripture indicates that the return of Israel to Christ will spark such a thing.
THE PRACTICALITY OF THIS KNOWLEDGE
I do not want to close without mentioning some practical aspects of this subject. This is not a theme to be dominated by mere speculative thought. There are lessons to be learned, and encouragements to be possessed. Firstly, let no Gentile believer boast in their acceptance. We have been received because of our faith, not because of an adjustment in the divine agenda. (Rom 11:19-22). Israel fell because of unbelief, and unbelief in us will produce the same tragic results.
If you seem small and insignificant in your person, or in your assembly, do not despair. Think of our father Abraham. How statistically likely was it that a man nearly 100 years old could have progeny as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sand of the sea through a barren woman? With God, all things are impossible--Israel stands as a resounding affirmation of this truth. Are you circumscribed by circumstances? bound, as it were, by what appears impossible? Think of Israel crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, without losing a single person. Let the recollection of Israel coming out of a dominating nation in a single night, at midnight, without a "hoof" being "left behind" Ex 10:26). Take heart, and let your heart be ravished with what is possible with God! Do you consider yourself unworthy of receiving insight from the Lord? Do you think yourself excluded from the Apostolic prayer, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph 1:17). Think of Israel receiving the Law at the disposition of angels in the hands of a mediator, and take heart! Do the odds seem against you. Has life presented you with walls of hindrance? Think of Israel overcoming Og and Sihon, both powerful kings. Think of them marching around the walls of Jericho, and taking the city without a casualty. Be hopeful, and have faith in God! Does spiritual nourishment seem far from you? Is it difficult for you to appropriate food for the soul? Think of Israel being fed with "angels' bread" for 40 years. Faithfully God provided food for them while they were in a desert, where food was not available. Think of the time they drank from water gushing from a rock. God is able to provide for you where you are now. Have you drifted from God, and think yourself irretrievable? Think of Israel coming back to God. There are accounts of returns in Deuteronomy and Numbers, as well as Judges and the Kings. The prophets were sent to Israel to convince them God would take them back. The subject we have considered declares God will yet receive them again. Come back to the Lord, He will receive you! Israel is a commentary on God's dealings with humanity. Their history confirms the need we all have of the Lord. Their future confirms that the heart of God is toward our race. If asked to give a single word that would prove the truth of Scripture, the inclination of God to save people, and the possibility of Divine acceptance, I would be ready to answer. Embodied in a single Person, I would answer "JESUS." Looking at the rest of humanity and history, I would answer "JEW!" His covenant to take away their sins still remains in tact.