THE ROLE OF ISRAEL
Certainly, the nation Israel is at the center stage of history in the world. Particularly since it was re-established as a nation in 1948. But even before that, Israel was always a preoccupation for the world. It was chosen by God to be the land of promise for His people and the very place where He sent His Son to do His mighty work of redemption and salvation.
Israel is still center stage in the world. They are in the news every day and it always seems as if they could be engulfed and swept into oblivion by the surrounding Islamic world at any moment. But that will not happen. They are not currently under the protection of God because they are apostate and they have rejected their Messiah. However, they will be preserved as an ethnic people because God does have a future plan to save a remnant of them to give them the promises that He made in the Old Testament. So the history of Israel will continue going forward, and it will even become a bigger point at the very end when the Lord returns to the earth and places His feet in Israel, in Jerusalem on the Mount and sets up His Millennial Kingdom. From Jesus would rule the entire world.
Throughout all of human history and even in the Middle Ages people were wondering why, while no other ancient people could be found, you could always find the Jews. It is evident and tangible that God wrote the Bible and that He is protecting His people for His future purposes.
ESCHATOLOGY IS IMPORTANT
Every story is written for an ending. God’s redemptive history is written so that it might be brought to pass and so that we might understand how it is going to end.
God could not write the end of human history unless He was in absolute control of it. History is controlled by God as to culminate in the accomplishment of His purpose for His own glory. It will end with the same perfect precision and power with which it began and by which it is being continually sustained.
Some people however think that the end of the story is very vague, and almost any view will do because it is so unclear. That is not the case, nor is it unimportant. It is something God cares greatly about and we are accountable to give the whole counsel of God, and that is part of it. God doesn’t say what doesn’t matter. In any book, in any story, the end is the motive for the story in the first place. And so it is with the Bible. Everything was predicted and planned and is being executed by a sovereign all-powerful, all-knowing God to bring it to a glorious end which He planned before anything ever began. He wants us to enjoy the foretaste of the glories that are to come. He tells us about heaven. We are blessed, purified, comforted and encouraged in knowing what is to come.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
In eschatology, there is a sequence of events and this is the way the Bible lays it out. In the very end, everything starts with the Rapture of the church. The gathering of the church into the presence of the Lord. That is followed by a period called the Tribulation.
Tribulation is a period in which God brings horrific judgment on the world, the details of which are described in Revelation, starting in chapter 6 and running through chapter 19. Tribulation ends with the Second Coming of Christ, when He comes to earth bringing His church. He destroys the ungodly and sets up His Kingdom.
At the end of the Kingdom there is the Great White Throne Judgment which is the final judgment of all the ungodly who are raised from the dead. The tribunal of God, where the final sentence is rendered and they are sent forever into the Lake of Fire. After the final Judgment the universe as we know it is uncreated and God creates a new heaven and a new earth, the eternal state in which we live forever.
If you follow the book of Revelation, that’s exactly the way it’s laid out. Chapters 2 and 3 describes the present church age and immediately thereafter, in chapter 4 you see the church worshiping in heaven. Though it does not describe the Rapture, it is described in other places. Then in chapter 6 the judgments on the earth begin as the Tribulation takes place. At the end, the Lord Jesus comes in chapter 19, sets up His Kingdom after His return in chapter 20, then calls all sinners to the final Great White Throne Judgment. Then in chapter 21, He sets up the New Heaven and the New Earth. It really is not that difficult, just take it at face value.
The Rapture is what we call imminent, meaning it is next. Its exact timing is unknown to us and absolutely nothing prophetically specifically needs to happen before it. All the prophetic elements of eschatology really are triggered by the Rapture of the church.
So all history is headed toward the eternal reign of the Lord Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords in His earthly Kingdom, first of all, for a thousand years, then in His eternal Kingdom forever and forever.
The major focus for us in this initial study is to look at the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Millennial Kingdom described in Revelation 20 which lasts for a thousand years, as mentioned six times in the opening verses. It’s not a symbolic number.
The Old Testament says a lot about the things that are going to take place in the Kingdom. It talks about the salvation of Israel. It talks about salvation of Gentiles prior to the Kingdom during the Tribulation as well as in the Kingdom. It talks about the renewal of the earth, the restoration of the earth, paradise regained. It talks about the removal of the curse that has been upon the earth. It talks about the bodily resurrection of the saints who are going to rise from the dead and come to dwell on the earth with the saints that are still alive on the earth, both together in the time of the Kingdom. It describes the Kingdom as a time of righteousness, peace and joy.
In the book of Revelation you have the sequence and the chronology, and the New Testament talks about the Rapture and also about the Tribulation time. Jesus talked about it in the sermon called the Olivet Discourse which in Matthew 24 and in part in chapter 25.
The New Testament talks about the fact that the twelve tribes of Israel will be identified. Over each of the tribes will rule in the behalf of Christ, one of the twelve Apostles and we as believers having been glorified coming back to earth will even under the leadership of Jesus Christ rule over the earth and over the living people of Israel as well.
The book of Revelation says Satan will be bound for that thousand years, and at the end he is released because people will be born during that time and they will not all believe. There will be a final rebellion in history and Satan will be crushed by the Lord. All those who are in that rebellion will be send into hell, in the Lake of Fire with all the rest of the ungodly of all the ages and then the New Heaven and the New Earth. All that is given in detail in the New Testament, as well as in the Old Testament which also talks about the New Heaven and the New Earth, especially in the book of Isaiah.
OUR STUDY BACKGROUND
From here on, we are going to look at one thing at a time, one element at a time, one component at a time and survey that so we have a better understanding.
Some of the books we are going to use include Daniel, Zechariah, portions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, Matthew, Luke, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter and.
We have begun with the important lynch pin that holds everything together, which is God’s purpose for Israel. We have to get God’s promises to Israel right and the Kingdom right and then basically everything else works around that.
Simply put, God made covenants and promises to a people that came out of the loins of Abraham, known as the people called Israel. These promises and covenants largely define the nature and the character of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The future is centered on this Kingdom, which will include all the redeemed of all the ages, in glorified or still living form, but it is still uniquely designed to fulfil promises to Israel. We will enter in to the blessing of the Kingdom, just as we enter in to the promises given to Abraham. We are in a sense spiritual children of Abraham by faith. So we participate in all the good things that God promised to Israel, but not to their exclusion but in company with His promises being fulfilled to them.
There will be a generation of Jews who will come to faith in Jesus Christ collectively as a people. Then Jesus will return to give them His promised Kingdom and it awaits their salvation.
HISTORICAL VERSUS FUTURISTIC PREMILLENNIALISM
God promises that He will not rescind them, and still there are some among evangelicals, who deny the future Kingdom established by Christ on earth. They deny the Kingdom and they deny the Jewishness of the Kingdom. Some will say there will be a Kingdom, but it will not be a Kingdom with Jewish characteristics, fulfilling Old Testament promises to the Jews. That is called historical premillennialism. They say that Old Testament promises were cancelled to Israel and given to the church. So it will be a church Kingdom. Saved Jews will be there but it will not be uniquely and particularly for Israel.
What we believe is called futuristic premillennialism which simply is to say there will be a Kingdom on earth and it will bring to pass all the promises that God ever made to Israel. And that is not to be rescinded and those promises are not to be given instead to the church.
If you do not get it right, then it disrupts eschatology completely. Once you say it does not mean what it says, then all precision is gone.
AMILLENNIALISM AND POSTMILLENNIALISM
Amillennialism is the view that there is no Millennial Kingdom in one sense or another. They believe in a spiritual kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, but no earthly Kingdom. Postmillennialism says the church is in the “millennium” and at the end of it Jesus comes.
REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY / SUPERSESSIONISM
The irony of this is that a-millennialism is most popular among Reformed people who are believers in divine, sovereign election of the individual and His promises. Yet, they do not believe that God will keep His promise to elect Israel. They believe there is no future for Israel.
Replacement theology promotes the idea that the church replaces Israel. Some theologians call it supersessionism. They say the church replaces Israel because Israel disobeyed God and rejected Christ as Messiah. By crucifying the Messiah they forfeited permanently all the Old Testament promises of God which therefore are transferred to the church. You will not find such a statement anywhere in the Bible. Even the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of temple worship is prophesied by Israel. That will happen.
Now let us approach this subject of premillennialism and the coming Kingdom and the future of Israel from the negative side. From the a-mill side, by finding answers to some questions.
Is the Old Testament amillennial?
Were the Jews of Jesus’ day amillennial?
Was Jesus amillennial?
Were the prophets amillennial?
Were the early theologians amillennial?
And then we’ll draw some critical conclusions. Somebody has got to come up with amillennialism in and around Scripture.
IS THE OLD TESTAMENT AMILLENNIAL?
To say that the writers of the Old Testament were amillennial when they were writing about a Kingdom they knew was not going to come, it’s a very strange thing. They were inspired to write details about a coming Kingdom promised to Israel and through Israel to the Gentiles as well. Of course they would believe it was true.
It is not legitimate to interpret the Old Testament only by the New Testament. It is not legitimate to say that the Old Testament is this oblique, mysterious, hidden book with all kinds of things that you cannot know about apart from the New Testament. This is like having a canon within a canon, having a rule within a rule. If Old Testament promises were actually for the church and not for ethnic Jews, ethnic Israel, then those Old Testament promises are meaningless to the Old Testament reader. That is, taking texts out of their literal sense, spiritualizing them into some other than literal sense.
So, when you take the New Testament and impose it upon the Old Testament, twist and turn the Old Testament like a piece of clay into whatever shape you want it to, you really have adulterated the authorial intent of the Old Testament which can stand on its own. Replacement theology demands the Old Testament to be viewed through the lens of the New Testament.
All of the curses we could say were fulfilled literally on Israel, so why would we say all the blessings will be fulfilled literally on the church? There is no biblical support for such a split hermeneutic. Hermeneutics comes from a Greek verb hermeneuowhich means to interpret, to explain.
Another way to look at it is all the prophecies regarding Jesus’ first coming, which have been fulfilled literally. If all of the prophecies regarding His first coming were fulfilled literally, then that establishes the precedent that all of the prophecies related to His Second Coming will also be fulfilled literally.
Genesis 12. The promises of God that relate to Israel’s future are basically bound up in three covenants.
The first one is called the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT. Verse 1, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and so you shall be a blessing and I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you, I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'” What strikes you, first of all, is the little verbal phrase, “I will”, five times. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. It is an unconditional promise. It further expands in the chapters which follow. They have never had it yet … but God has bound Himself.
He describes the rivers, the people who live there. He knew exactly what He was talking about. He was not talking about spiritual blessings to the church. There is no ambiguity in this whatsoever.
The “I wills” are ubiquitous in every one of these declarations by God. “My covenant for you is an everlasting covenant.” God seriously binds Himself.
It continues this way and in chapter 22 we read, “… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” In Galatians Paul says that refers to the Messiah. So what was in the Abrahamic Covenant? Land…first a nation, a people, land, influence, blessing to the world and even the Messianic promise. Through the Messianic promise salvation would come to Israel and to the Gentiles.
It continues and the Lord appears to Isaac in Genesis 26:24. Again God reiterates His promise to the subsequent patriarch who is Isaac. In chapter 28, the same happens with regards to Jacob.
God kept making promises to sinful patriarchs. Abraham was sinful, Isaac was sinful, Jacob was sinful. Then in Exodus we see that Israel did not obey to the Mosaic Covenant on Mount Sinai, the law. So was it all cancelled? In Galatians 3:15, Paul says, “Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.” Covenants are covenants, and they are irrevocable. The Law which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
First comes the Abrahamic Covenant, much later comes the MOSAIC COVERNANT. They say they will obey, they do not obey. But even that does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God.
Here Paul is simply saying disobedience to the Mosaic Law does not cancel the Abrahamic Covenant. It does not abrogate it even when Israel proudly and eagerly said, “We will obey,” and went through a blood ceremony in which they were sloshed with blood to signify their commitment to obedience. Even when they did not follow through, blatantly violating the Law of God, still they continue to be the people of promise, for that promise is not based on their ability to keep the Law.
You see it illustrated in the book of Hosea. Hosea marries a woman who is a prostitute. She goes and lives a dissolute life. Hosea goes and buys her back to keep his covenant to her. This is a symbol of God buying back the prostitute Israel because He made a covenant.
Now let us look at Ezekiel 16. It is about God’s unconditional love for Israel. It is in graphic terms. In verse 3, the Lord God speaks to Jerusalem, “Your origin, your birth are from the land of the Canaanite. I rescued you out of the land of the Canaanite. Your father was an Amorite, your mother a Hittite.” They came from pagan origins, of course. “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths.”
You were like a baby born, came out of the mother’s womb and never cared for, never cleaned, cord never cut, bloody. You were taken without pity…verse 5, “No eye looked with pity on you.” “You were thrown into an open field.” Nobody cared. “When I passed by…verse 6…I saw you squirming in your blood and I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ … I gave you life.'” Abrahamic Covenant right there. “I made you a people. I made you like numerous like plants of the field. You grew up, you became tall, you reached the age of fine ornaments, your breasts were formed, your hair had grown. You were still naked and bare, I passed by you, I saw you. Behold, you were at the time for love. Spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness to protect you from those who would rape you. And I swore to you and I entered into a covenant with you and you became Mine. And I bathed you with water and I washed off your blood from you and I anointed you with oil and I clothed you with embroidered cloth.'”
This is where figures of speech come into play in literal interpretation of Scripture. We all understand that the literal meaning here is that God is establishing His covenant with Israel doing it in beautiful figures of speech.
Then jump to verse 28, “You weren’t satisfied with Me… you played the harlot with the Assyrians and a whole lot of others, the Egyptians. And you still weren’t satisfied. You multiplied…verse 29…your harlotry with every merchant that showed up.” Israel bedded down with every false god there was. It’s a sad story. And it goes on and on and on.
But then go down to verse 53. “Nevertheless, I will restore their captivity…He says…regarding the captivity of Sodom, the captivity of Samaria.” God has it in His heart to restore. Even Samaria, even Sodom.
Verse 60. “Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” There is no way that this covenant can be cancelled, no matter how wretched you become, no matter what a harlot you are. The time will come, verse 61…”You will remember your ways, you will be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger, I will give them to you as daughters, not because of your covenant, thus I will establish My covenant with you and you shall know that I am Lord.” Again, “I will.” “I will establish My covenant in order that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth any more because of your humiliation when I have forgiven you for all that you have done, the Lord God declares.” This is repentance.
God’s decision to set His love on Israel is in no way determined by Israel’s performance or by its national worthiness. It is purely His own sovereign will. And some day in the future, all that was promised to Abram will come to pass.
Deuteronomy 7:6, “You are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you or choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, you were the fewest, but because the Lord loved you and the Lord kept the promise that He swore to your forefathers. Know therefore that the Lord your God, verse 9, He is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousand generations.” In addition, Chapter 9 verse 4 in Deuteronomy also provides great reference.
Psalm 89, “…. I have made a covenant with My chosen. I have sword to David, My servant. I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” Down to verse 30. “If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will visit their transgression with a rod and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness, I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever. His throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon and the witness in the sky is faithful.”
The next covenant is the DAVIDIC COVENANT which is an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant. What God promises, He does.
Psalm 132 verse 13, “The Lord has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” So God unilaterally gives a covenant. He is the sole party responsible to fulfill its obligations. Obedience is not the condition that determines fulfillment. Divine sovereign power is the condition that determines fulfillment. God has to turn their hearts so that they can obey, therefore it is all the work of God that will bring about the fulfillment. It will come when He wills it to come. Only God can produce the faith, repentance and obedience that brings about the fulfillment.
Next time we will look at the next phase of God’s promise, the Davidic Kingdom to which we already saw references in Psalm 89.