The status of Israel today, and in future events, is an important subject in eschatology, particularly because of all the prophecies in the Bible that have to do with Israel. Israel’s status is the subject of this essay. I want to start out by looking at Romans 11.
In the first verses, Paul asks whether God has rejected Israel. He answers his own quiestion: “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” In verse 5, he says that there is yet a remnant, chosen by grace. Verse 7 says, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” This means that those Jews who believed in Jesus obtained knowledge and fellowship with their Messiah, but the rest did not; they were hardened to the gospel.
In verse 11 Paul begins to explain the reason that they were hardened: “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” Thus, Israel’s rejection of the gospel opened the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the Gentiles, that they could become a part of God’s people without proselytizing to Judaism and subjecting themselves to the Law of Moses. Because of Israel’s rejection, the Gospel has been sent to all nations, although the gospel is still to the Jew first (theoretically, at least – see Romans 1:16). This also allows Gentiles who believe in Jesus to share in the blessings of the future kingdom, as indicated in the Abrahamic covenant.
But Paul adds that the Jews did not “stumble in order that they might fall.” What does this mean? I believe it means that Israel has not fallen from its place in God’s plan. Although currently most Jews do not believe in Jesus, they are still God’s chosen people.
Verse 12 says, “Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” This is saying that if Israel’s falling away brought blessings to the rest of the world, how many more blessings will come to the world when eventually all Israel believes! Notice that Paul speaks of it as if it will truly happen. Israel will one day come to Christ; this will be just before Christ’s Glorious Appearing. Christ’s Millenial Reign will then begin; it will be heaven on earth. This is the futurist, premillenial viewpoint, which I believe fits perfectly with verse 12. Also verse 15 has the same idea.
In verse 16 and on, Christ is the dough, or the root. The tree is God’s people. The natural branches are Israel. Because of unbelief, many of the natural branches have been broken off. Although they were broken off, they are still the natural branches (verses 21 and 24). We Gentiles who have faith have been grafted in (which was God’s plan).
Paul says in verse 25 that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Then in verse 26 he says, “And in this way all Israel will be saved…” Israel’s partial hardening, therefore, is only temporary; the use of the word “until” is important. Furthermore, “Israel” in verse 26 must be taken literally; Paul was just speaking about Israel in verse 25, and there is no indication that we should take it any other way in verse 26. In fact, no where in Scripture is “Israel” used to denote anything other than Israel. Some people teach that the Church is the “New Israel” and that all the blessings promised to Israel now apply to the Church instead. However, the Bible never teaches this. Yes, Gentile believers are spiritual heirs of Abraham (Romans 4:23; Galatians 3:29), and thus we are a spiritual fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). However, God has promised blessings for Israel, and those promises still stand. Even as the curses and punishments prophesied on Israel were on the literal Israelites, so the blessings promised to them are on literal Israel as well. Romans 11:28-29 makes this perfectly clear: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” The pronoun “they” refers back to “Israel”, in verses 25 and 26. (Once again, we see clearly that all along, Paul has been speaking of literal Israel). These verses show that Israel is still beloved, because of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are “elect,” or chosen, not in the same sense as the church. The church is elect unto salvation; that is, God has chosen eternal life for all those who put their faith in Him. But Israel is chosen for a special part in God’s plan for the future as He has indicated in prophecy.
I now want to look at covenants. In the Old Testament, there were three types of covenants: the royal grant treaty, the suzerain-vassal treaty, and the parity treaty. The Abrahamic covenant was a royal grant treaty, which is a promise by a king or ruler to a loyal subject. It depends only on the faithfulness of the one who made the promise (the ruler), and not on the actions of the subject himself. The Davidic covenant was also a royal grant treaty. Because God was the One Who made the promises to David and Abraham, we can be confident that everything will happen exactly as He said it would happen. So those covenants are unconditional. The Mosaic covenant, on the other hand, was a suzerain-vassal treaty, which is a treaty that binds an inferior subject to a superior head. It was obligatory only for the inferior subject (the one who swore to uphold the treaty); so if the subject broke his promises, the ruler was not bound to uphold the treaty. So the Mosaic (Old) covenant was conditional, and was replaced by the New Covenant at the beginning of the Church Age. The third type of covenant, the parity treaty, was between two equal parties (examples: Jacob and Laban, Genesis 31:44-50; David and Jonathan, I Samuel 18:1-4).
Returning to the Abrahamic covenant, there were several things promised to Abraham: a land (Palestine) to him and his offspring; that he would be the father of many nations, fulfilled literally through the Midianites, Moabites, Edomites, Arabs, and etc., and spiritually through the church; that God would make of him a great nation (Israel); and that all families of the earth would be blessed through him.
As a result of this covenant, Israel is and will always be God’s chosen nation. God’s plan for Israel, as revealed through Old Testament prophecies, will be fulfilled during the future 7-year Tribulation and the Millenial Reign of Christ.
Now I want to turn to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is part of the Mosaic covenant. It contains a few lists of blessings and curses that were to befall Israel. Whether Israel was blessed or cursed depended on whether or not they were faithful. Generally, the book does not prophesy any specific events, but just a general pattern of blessings and curses. It is kind of like a sermon. I want to look at chapter 4, verses 25-31:
When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what 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 soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that 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 after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
This is basically a list or a general pattern that has occurred throughout Israel’s history. Most of the events could be applied to several dispersions that the Israelites have undergone. Only verse 30 has a specific time of fulfillment: it will be “in the latter days,” i.e. during the Tribulation. Verse 31, obviously, is timeless; the LORD will never forget the covenant that he swore with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
There are several major points or occurences that can be seen in this passage. First, we see that the Israelites will live in the land for awhile – these things would happen to the descendants of Moses’s immediate audience. Second, they will “act corruptly” and fall into idolatry. Third, they will perish from the land – that is, they will be driven out of it. Fourth, the Lord will scatter them among other nations. Fifth, they will serve idols during their exile.
Pausing here at vs. 28 for a moment, we know that these things have happened to the nation Israel. No one would deny it. But at this point, some people would like to claim that the next few verses apply to the church, not Israel. The next few points are these: Sixth, while dispersed among the nations, the Israelites will seek for the Lord and find Him when they search with all their heart. Seventh, there will come a time of tribulation, in the “latter days”, during which the Israelites will return to the Lord and obey His voice. Finally, the Lord will not forsake them or destroy them, or forget the covenant he made with their forefathers.
So are we really supposed to switch horses in midstream and assume that the church is now receiving these blessings, even though it sounds like the author is still speaking to the same group of people? (Moses uses “you” for both curses and blessings, in reference to the Israelites, and it seems clear that this same group of people that will fall into idolatry will “return” to the Lord). Personally, I want no part of such illogical foolishness.
Because this is, for the most part, just a general pattern, not every detail or provision has to be fulfilled at every possible application of this passage. Thus, while Israel today is partially dispersed among the nations, they are not worshipping idols, even though they are unsaved.
Thus, Israel will return to the LORD during the Tribulation.
It appears to be shaping up that Israel and the church are two distinct entities. God has a special plan for each of them. This does not mean that Jews are better than Gentiles. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Also see Romans 10:12: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” These verses teach that we are all fallen; we all need a Saviour, Jews just as much as non-Jews, and we are all equal in the body of Christ. None of us is favored in any way in regards to salvation. However, none of this has any bearing on Israel’s status in God’s plan and in future events as a result of the covenant with Abraham.
Basically, the church as such was not seen in the Old Testament. It is true that a Gentile blessing was seen, as well as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant was also seen (Jeremiah 31:31-34). It was originally made with Israel, but when Israel rejected it, the Gentiles were brought in. Eventually, as we have seen, Israel will accept Christ and the New Covenant, and then the New Covenant will reach complete fulfillment. But none of these are the distinct Church or the Church Age. Paul says it “was kept secret for long ages.” (Romans 16:25). He also says “the plan of the mystery” was “hidden for ages in God.” (Ephesians 3:9). The word “mystery,” as used in the Bible, means “a secret” rather than “something hard to figure out” as we often think of it. Therefore, when the Old Testament prophesies about “Israel,” it always means Israel, and when it says, “Jerusalem,” it means Jerusalem.
In summary, then, Israel is still God’s chosen people. God’s plan for Israel is distinct from His plan for the Church. Sometime in the future – perhaps in the near future – Israel will turn to her Messiah.