What of the Jews?
Some of the views of Christ's return direct special attention to the Jews. And even many Christians who have never considered the Biblical teachings of Christ's second advent with much deep concern believe that the Jews will have a special place or function in the working out of God's plan, especially in relation to the signs of Christ's coming. Therefore, our question: "But what of the Jews?"
Have Jews a Special Future?
There are two basic approaches to this question. One believes that the Jews are to return to their homeland and that some, if not many, of them will be saved. The other approach sees the Biblical emphasis as being only on the salvation of the Jews.
The dispensational belief of the events of Christ's return includes the expected return of Israel to the land of Palestine. In fact, Israel has a central place in dispensationalism. Older dispensationalists taught that the day would come when Israel in faith would return to the homeland. In faith, mind you. This would be during the Millennium, or during the seven years before the Millennium. The days of rebellion against God would be over. Israel would see her error, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and once again seek the fulfillment of the promises of restoration. However, since the birth of the State of Israel this view has been somewhat modified. It has had to be modified since there is no way that the return to Palestine can be viewed as being in faith, nor is it during the Millennium. The return to the homeland has been the result of a nationalistic movement — a Zionistic movement — but not one basically religious, and certainly not one which is the result of the Jews believing in Christ. Dispensationalists are now saying that all of this is merely preparatory to the time of the necessary turning of the Jews to Christ in faith. The establishment of the nation of Israel, itself, is highly praised. It is seen as a fulfillment of prophecy. But it is only preparatory to the Millennium.
It must also be noted that there are non-dispensationalist believers such as the Rev. Erroll Hulse of England, who stand in the Puritan tradition, who see the return of Israel as preparatory to the salvation of the Jews. This he discusses in his The Restoration of Israel.
Are the Jews Still Promised the Land?
But the question is: Is the establishment of the State of Israel the fulfillment of prophecy? Or, to put it another way, does the land of Palestine still belong to Israel according to Scripture?
When we begin to search through the Bible it seems as if we find ample evidence that would make the answer to these questions: yes. Let's look at only a few of the many passages that could be called upon.
In Genesis 12:7 we read that God said to Abram, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." Genesis 12, you remember, is about God calling Abram to leave Ur in obedience to Him; and Abram went to Canaan. However, "the Canaanite was then in the land" (v. 6), a fearful truth for Abram. Of course, Abram had many in his party, but how do they prevail over so many Canaanites? Then God comforted Abram, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." "Abram, in spite of the presence of Canaanites, this land belongs to you and your family." Abram and his family didn't stay long. They went to Egypt in search of food, driven by a famine.
When again Abram and his family returned to Canaan, the Lord spoke very similar words to Abram, "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed forever..." (Genesis 13:14-17). Now, however a new word is added: forever.
The word forever is very important here. Because of this word the view of Israel's return to Palestine is said to be unquestionably Biblical.
In the Hebrew, the word forever is actually two which, when translated, literally mean "for a long time." The idea in the original is that this is an indefinitely long season. The word is used in several ways in the Old Testament. It is sometimes understood as meaning an eternity. Other times it is used as meaning "the rest of a man's lifetime," as in Exodus 21:6. If, indeed, we choose the first meaning "eternity" then we say far too much. No material possession is eternal. After all, in Christ we look, as did Abraham, for a better land. Canaan was only a visible token of the eternal commonwealth on which his hopes were set. Canaan was not to be the true rest of God for His people (Hebrews 11:9-10; 4:8-9). With this in mind, we best understand forever as "an indefinitely long season."
Besides, in Joshua 21:43, 45, we read that all that Jehovah had promised — even relating to the land — "came to pass." In Nehemiah 9:7-8, in a public confession of sin made by the Levites, concerning God's giving of the land of the Canaanite to Israel, we read, "and hast performed thy words." Performed means carried out or fulfilled.
All this being said, there are still passages in the prophets that dispensationalism claims teach a restoration of the Jews to Palestine.
They point to Isaiah 11:11 where we read that "the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people." The "first time" which is implied here, is referred to in verse 16: the deliverance from Egypt. In verse 11, Isaiah refers to the gathering of God's elect from among the Jews and then in verse 12 to the gathering of the elect from among the Gentiles. Isaiah 11 speaks of the gathering of the fulness of the church through the deliverance brought about by God's Son, the Messiah.
It may be said that what we read in verse 11 was foreshadowed in the return to the land following the Babylonian Captivity. Canaan would be a picture of that eternal rest which they would know only through Christ. The same point is made in a similar passage, Isaiah 14:1.
Likewise, Jeremiah 23:5-8 does not have to be understood as referring to a restoration of Israel as a nation. True, "and they shall dwell in their own land" can be seen again in the light of the restoration after the Babylonian Captivity. However, there is more: it is related to the "Righteous Branch," or the Redeemer. Thus a physical thing, the land, becomes an expression by which Israel could understand something of Jehovah's loving kindness, just as the Temple, the sacrifices and the priesthood also pictured divine mercy.
It is not necessary, nor even possible, to look for a restoration of Israel as a nation on the basis of these texts.
Salvation of the Jews
Now we turn to the second basic approach to the question: "But what of the Jews?" That, you remember, envisions the salvation of the Jews. The classic text on this subject is Romans 11:25-26 where we read: "For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved..." Exactly what is being said?
Paul is writing about salvation in Romans 4-11. After explaining the wonder of God's grace in salvation he turns to Israel (chapter 9). He is deeply concerned about the salvation of his own people, his "kinsmen according to the flesh" (9:3). He knows that God's way is sovereign and that God is not unrighteous in His election and reprobation. Further, he knows that Israel is guilty of rejecting Christ. Yet God has not rejected all of Israel (11:1ff). He still has His people from among Israel. And while those who are of physical Israel and not spiritual Israel have been cut off, through faith, elect Gentiles are grafted in so that the fulness of the church is brought in, for God has His church in every nation.
Now come the words of Romans 11:25 and 26. The truth that God works in this way is called a "mystery." A mystery in Scripture has to do with salvation and therefore, something which must be revealed. What is this mystery?
"A hardening in part hath befallen Israel." Not all the Jews are hardened, but many are.
"Until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." "The fulness of the Gentiles" refers to the sum of God's elect from among the Gentiles who are to be brought in.
- This hardening is until the fulness of the Gentiles are brought in. Here we again meet that little word until. Does this verse mean that the Jews are hardened while the Gentiles believe, and then will cease to be hardened so that "all Israel shall be saved"? If that were so the verse 26 would begin and then all Israel shall be saved, rather than and so. Instead, this verse simply means that while some Jews are hardened, others are not. The word until could also be translated while. As they hear the gospel and have it applied by the Holy Spirit the elect Jews believe, just as the elect from among the Gentiles believe in the same way.
"And so all Israel shall be saved" (11:26), or "so, in this manner, thus all Israel shall be saved."
There are three basic ways the words all Israel are understood by believers.
- "All Israel" is the nation of Israel.
- "All Israel" is the church, Jew and Gentile alike.
- "All Israel" is the elect from among the Jews.
The first of these views is to be rejected because certainly not all who are of Israel are really Israel (9:6). Besides the and so means thus. This, therefore, cannot be understood as a future event.
The second view would be perfectly in order theologically since elsewhere in Scripture the church is called Israel (Galatians 6:16). Nevertheless, in this section a distinction is constantly being made between Israel and Gentiles. In these verses we see "all Israel," versus "the fulness of the Gentiles."
This of course, leaves the last view as the only possible one.
What of the Jews? There is no special sign of Christ's coming related to the Jews except that when "all Israel" — all the elect from among Israel will have been brought it, along with all the elect from the Gentiles, then shall the fulness of the church have come in and Christ will come again. In this sense God is not finished with the Jews. From their number are those who are yet to believe.
Until then, as we live in this present age — the Millennium — the gospel must go forth and God's Spirit will work. As the Word is preached, the church — all Israel and the fulness of the Gentiles — will be brought in.