We are at the beginning of the bigger study of eschatology, but kind of in the middle of studying the role that Israel plays in eschatology.
In His sovereignty, God is moving everything to His own purposed, glorious end. What is wonderful for us is that He has revealed so much about it in the Bible. The book of Revelation, tells us the most. Foundational to any accurate understanding of the end is an accurate understanding of the future of Israel. Israel is the cornerstone of biblical eschatology.
It is a matter of election. Israel is God’s elect nation. The Bible calls the church, “God’s Elect.” And the Bible calls Israel, “My Elect.” And thus it is strange, that it is the very historic theology of sovereign election whose advocates have denied this to Israel. In fact, they have come up with the idea that the church, God’s new and present elect, receives all the promises once given to Israel, because of Israel’s apostasy and rejection of Christ.
REFORMED THEOLOGY AND ESCHATOLOGY
Where did this incorrect view originated? There is no verse anywhere in the Bible that says the promises of God to Israel have been cancelled and the church is the new Israel. Historically it started with a man named Augustine in the fifth century. As a shaping theologian, he was the main influence in the lives of people like John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Owen and many other formidable students of Scripture. The idea then, began in a formal sense with Augustine, flowed down through these great Reformers and found honour among those who rightly honour the Reformers and so it has long survived.
However, reformed theology, is hard pressed to prove the point. They have come up with a view called amillennialism which says there is no Kingdom for Israel, and for that matter there is no earthly Kingdom period in which Christ reigns on earth and fulfils all of the Old Covenant promises. This is called replacement theology. The church replaces Israel and the blessings are spiritual. The Kingdom then becomes only a spiritual Kingdom and a heavenly Kingdom and not an earthly one at all. They have to perform some very manipulative exegesis to avoid what is clearly in the Bible. Scripture then has to be removed from its normal sense and placed in a category of interpretation. You have to basically say that when God called Israel His Elect, and gave them unconditional, unilateral, irrevocable promises, He didn’t keep them, or He doesn’t keep them, so that election doesn’t mean permanent election, it might be temporary as in the case of Israel.
CHALLENGES TO AMILLENNIALISM
Nobody who believes in the doctrine of election thinks its temporary with the elect angels, the elect Son or with the elect church, so this has to be a category invented to accommodate replacement theology.
They cannot interpret Scripture in the normal sense in which it is written both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, because clearly in both promises are made to Israel. Therefore Israel doesn’t mean Israel, a thousand years doesn’t mean a thousand years, reigning in Jerusalem doesn’t mean reigning in Jerusalem, it must now mean something else.
Now you have to ignore the clear words of Zechariah 12 to 14, Ezekiel 36 to 39, Romans 9 to 11, particularly. And you also have to do damage to your own understanding of sovereign grace because you are saying that Israel failed to believe and embrace Christ. You would also have to say that Israel would have guaranteed its own place in the future purposes of God if on its own it had done what was right. The problem is, nobody can believe except by the sovereign grace of God. Israel has failed but that has not altered God’s plan because the generation that is elect has not yet come. To believe that the church somehow has earned the promises given to Israel because we pulled it off on our own and Israel didn’t, is a skewed way of thinking about sovereign grace. Romans 9 through 11 teaches that salvation is by sovereign grace and election alone for the church now and many Jews that are brought into the church and for Israel in the future.
However, some Reformers, like the Scottish theologian Horatius Bonar, differ from this view. In 1847 he wrote prophetic landmarks and he took a position very different from his Reformed friends. He was always a strong advocate of the doctrines of sovereign grace and election. He affirmed that election was forever and therefore affirmed the primacy of the destiny of the Jews in the scheme of eschatology. This is what Bonar wrote in 1847: “The prophecies concerning Israel are the key to all the rest. False principles as to them…that is Israel…will most thoroughly perplex and over cloud the whole Word of God.”
He further wrote, ” As I believe in Israel’s present degradation, so do I believe in Israel’s coming glory and pre-eminence. I believe that God’s purpose regarding our world can only be understood by understanding God’s purpose as to Israel.” Now remember, this was said, almost a hundred years before they had ever been gathered back into their land as prophesied in the Bible.
He went on to say, “I believe that it is not possible to enter God’s mind regarding the destiny of man without taking as our key or our guide His mind regarding that ancient nation. Human guesses concerning the future are the most uncertain of all uncertainties and human hopes built upon these guesses are sure to turn out the most disappointing if not the most disastrous of all failures. I believe that meanwhile Israel shall not only be wanderers, but that everywhere only a remnant, a small remnant shall be saved. I believe that these times of ours are the times of the Gentiles and that Jerusalem and Israel shall be trodden down of the Gentiles till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
HISTORY OF ANTI-JUDAISM IN REFORMED CIRCLES
There is a strong anti-Judaism in Reformed Theology and at the Westminster Theological Seminary, which is a seed bed of amillennial thinking, saying Israel had lost its election and the right to all its covenants and promises.
For example, George Murray writing in Millennial Studies says, “… be sure the nation was sovereignly chosen by God, but God no longer deals with them as a chosen nation.” So they were chosen, they aren’t chosen anymore. They were elect, they’re not elect anymore! Some contemporary anti-Judaism replacement theology, like the Anglicans, are so anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian that they would be delighted if the Arabs pushed Israel right into the Mediterranean Sea.
Based on chapter 12 of Genesis, if a Christian’s eschatology produces indifference toward the children of Abraham, or detachment from the children of Abraham, or antagonism toward the children of Abraham, you are in trouble because the Abrahamic Covenant says you bless them and God will bless you, you curse them and God will curse you.
Augustine even likened the Jewish people to Cain, the first criminal recorded in biblical history who had murdered his own brother and merited death but instead had been condemned to wander unhappily ever after. According to him, the Jews are witnesses to what happens when you reject the truth. He did however, suggest that they would turn to Christ at the last judgment. The canonical legislation of the church in the thirteenth century fully institutionalized the reprobate status of the Jews. The Jews then had to be subordinate to Christians. They could exercise no position of authority and Christian society had to be originally protected from contamination through living, eating, or engaging in any sexual relationship with a Jew. That was church law.
In the thirteenth century, the Lateran Council segregated the Jews by requiring them to wear distinguishing dress. In Germanic lands they wore a conical hat and what they called a Jew-badge, usually a yellow disc sewn into their clothing whose color symbolized Judas betraying Christ for gold coins. It made the Jews more visible and vulnerable to attack which reduced their ability to travel. And so they formed ghettos. The German Reformation a few hundred years later under Luther’s guidance led to a very unfavorable direction for the Jews, seeded hatred sewn deep. It eventually found its full flower in the Third Reich with Hitler. The German Protestants showed themselves amazingly receptive to Nazi anti-Semitism, ingrained for so many centuries. Also at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Jews were called “that odious people.”
This attitude stuck throughout the Middle Ages. At the end of the thirteenth century they were expelled from England by Edward I and allowed to come back 350 years later under Cromwell. In 1144 in Norwich, England, the Jews were charged with killing their babies to drain the blood to use in the Matsos, the unleavened bread of Passover. In the sixteenth century, at the time of the Reformation pervasive anti-Jewish attitudes pervaded in Europe. And sad to say, the Reformation didn’t change it. At the last sermon that Luther preached before he died, he called for all Jews to be driven out of Germany. He was fighting on another front, never really got around to dealing with that issue which was so ingrained in the culture. This led to this Amillennial Replacement Theology.
The Christian Reformed Church, Dutch Reformed Calvinism, would not tolerate anybody believing in a future kingdom for Israel. Anybody who did was placed under investigation. They actually went so far as to forbid preaching or discussing premillennialism.
One writer, W.J. Greer said, “The power of Augustine is best seen in the fact that he removed the ghost of premillennialism so effectively that for centuries the subject was practically ignored.”
This actually continues to be an issue today. In our modern tolerant world, a world that embraces everybody and everything, there is still this subjective sort of pre-suppositional anti-Judaism, if not anti-Semitism, mentality.
BIBLICAL REALITY – THE ABAHAMIC, DAVIDIC AND NEW COVENANTS
The race Israel is chosen and a generation or remnant will be saved, although present-day Israel lives in apostasy and unbelief and can claim no protection from God now. God will preserve them as a race although they are under divine judgment, as are all people who reject Christ. But they do have a future.
In Genesis 12 and following chapters we said that obviously God promised Abraham a seed, a nation, a land, blessing and through them blessing to the world. Specifically, a nation that would grow like the sands of the sea and the stars of the heaven and through that nation a seed, as the Apostle Paul describes it in Galatians, meaning a ruler, a Messiah which assumes a Kingdom. It’s all in the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT, we saw that last time.
The second great covenant in the Old Testament is the DAVIDIC COVENANT in 2 Samuel chapter 7. The Davidic Covenant, is made with David. It really is an expansion of the Abrahamic Covenant. Verse 12, “When your days are complete you will lie down with your fathers. I’ll raise up your descendant after you who will come forth from you and I will establish His Kingdom.” Verse 13, “He shall build a house for My name, I will establish a throne of His Kingdom forever.” We know He’s not talking about Solomon, but about a forever Kingdom. Down in verse 16 He moves again beyond Solomon to the forever King and the forever Kingdom, “Your house, and Your kingdom shall endure before Me forever, Your throne shall be established forever.” God is saying to David, “Out of your loins, out of your line is going to come a King with an everlasting Kingdom.”
Also, Psalm 72 speaks of the reign of the great King who will come and establish His Kingdom and bring peace to the people. Verse 18, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel who alone works wonders. Blessed be His glorious name forever. May the whole earth be filled with His glory, Amen, Amen.” David is celebrating here the wonderful promise of the King. He will rule, according to verse 8, from sea to sea, from river to the ends of the earth, etc. Psalm 89 is another of these great Psalms of the King that celebrate the covenant that God made with David. There is no other way to interpret these covenants.
But both the Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant depend on one other covenant. In Jeremiah 31, the Abrahamic Covenant expands in to the Davidic Covenant which expands in to the New Covenant which is the only way that the promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant can come to pass. This is the only means of fulfillment and it is the New Covenant. Verse 31, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the hand of Egypt. Not like the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant, the Covenant of Law, not like that. “Covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.”
Here is the dilemma. You have the Abrahamic and the Davidic covenants with all its promises. Then you have then the Mosaic Covenant which only proves that they can’t qualify for the blessings because they can’t keep the Mosaic law, which only curses them. You need to come to the New Covenant, which is not like the Mosaic Covenant. God promises one day He will change their hearts and write the Law inside of them. And then He will be their God and they shall be His people.
God hasn’t changed His mind. “Thus says the Lord…verse 37…if the heavens above can be measured…and they can’t…and the foundation of the earth searched out below…and it can’t…then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” There is in one passage the answer to Replacement Theology. God is not going to cast off Israel even for what they have done. The New Covenant was given through Jeremiah at a time when Israel’s disobedience was so severe, they were punished by God. Jeremiah was weeping over Israel’s judgment, the captivity and the New Covenant is not a reward for their faithfulness, it is given in spite of their unfaithfulness. God says there will be a day when I will change their hearts sovereignly. He will not change His plan anymore than He will allow the fixed order of His creation to be altered. And when that Covenant comes, He wll write His Law on the inside.
So where do the Gentiles fit in? We are also the beneficiaries of all the promises to Abraham. Messiah is the Son of Abraham and we by faith are children of Abraham. We will also be there in the Kingdom and receive all the blessings of the glorious reign of Christ on earth whether we have been glorified before, or whether saints entering into the Kingdom who are alive at the time. He has written His Law in our hearts as well, without replacing Israel. In Jeremiah 31, all the way up to verse 30 we see some very physical blessings.
Ezekiel 36 rehearses the same term and realities of the New Covenant. Verse 34, “I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols…” Moreover, verse 26, “I will give you a new heart, put a new Spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you, cause you to walk in My statutes…. You will ll live in the land that I gave to your forefathers so that you will be My people, I will be your God. Moreover I will save you from all your uncleanness.”
Verse 33, “… Once I’ve cleansed you, the Kingdom comes and the desolate land will be cultivated, instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passed by, and they will say this desolate land has become like the Garden of Eden, and the waste desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited and the nations that are left round about you will know that I the Lord have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate. In the language of chapter 37, “He will gather the dry bones of Israel.”
Jesus ratifies the New Covenant in His blood at the very hands of the apostate Jews. The New Covenant is reiterated to Israel through their own Messiah at a time when they were under apostasy and on the brink of judgment which came a few years later in 70 A.D. But Israel will exist through these judgments until the covenants are fulfilled.
Zechariah 12, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem …the spirit of grace and supplication…, and they will look on Me whom they have pierced.” Two thirds of the Jews will perish, one third will be left, that will be that final Israel that is saved. And when that happens, verse 9 of 14, “The Lord will be King over all the earth, … ”