“The Israel of God” - Part 1, #1
That Israel is a nation before God forever is believed almost fanatically by some Christians. To deny that the modern state of Israel located in the Middle East is the people of God is heresy in some circles. Reformed Christianity teaches that the church (made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ) is God's chosen people. One who teaches this today in some circles will be labelled as a "replacement theologian" (you believe that the church replaces Israel!), "supersessionist" (you believe that the church supersedes Israel) or simply "anti-Semite" (you hate the Jews).
The name "Israel" first appears in Genesis 32:38 when the name of the man Jacob was changed to Israel. The nation or people of Israel, therefore, derives its name from him. The origin of the people of God must be sought earlier, of course, in Abraham; and before that God's people were found (after Adam, Eve and Abel) among the descendants of Shem (as opposed to the descendants of Cain [Gen. 4:16-5:32]).
Abraham was promised the land of Canaan as his everlasting possession (Gen. 13:15). However, it is clear from Genesis that Abraham never possessed the land, "no, not so much as to set his foot on" (Acts 7:5). Neither Isaac, nor Jacob, nor Jacob's sons, nor grandsons possessed the land. The "children of Israel" were in Egyptian slavery for some 400 years. Not until the time of Joshua did possession of the land begin; and not until the time of David and Solomon did the Lord give all the land to the twelve tribes, and they did not possess it for very long. After the reign of Solomon, ten tribes split from Judah and existed as a separate kingdom for some 200 years. They were taken captive by the Assyrians and never restored. Some 150 years later, Babylon took the remaining two tribes captive and destroyed Jerusalem which remained a heap of rubble for some 70 years. Therefore, Israel possessed the land in its entirety for only about a handful of centuries.
After the return from captivity, Israel (as a nation) never possessed the land again. Various nations governed Israel during the so-called "intertestamentary period" (during which time Rome rose to power). By the time Jesus Christ came into the world, Israel was a miserable vassal state of the mighty Roman Empire. A generation after the resurrection of Christ Jerusalem was again destroyed and the Jews were scattered to the four corners of the earth. During that whole period no descendant of David ever sat on David's throne, although in God's covenant mercy the line of David itself was preserved unto the coming of Christ.
Throughout the centuries the Jews remained scattered throughout the nations, but they always retained their identity. There is no doubt that the Jews have been mistreated in history, even in nominally Christian countries. As awful as the persecution of the Jews is, we must not allow a natural sympathy for the Jews, or a rightful condemnation of such horrors as the Holocaust, to cloud our judgment on Biblical interpretation.
In 1948 Israel was declared to be a nation. In 1967 Israel, having defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, annexed Jerusalem and made it her capital city. Many Christians see Israel's restoration as highly significant in God's prophetic calendar and as a sign of the Second Coming of Christ. Others are excited at the prospect of a mass conversion of ethnic Jews and even of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple.
The land promised to Abraham must be understood in one of three ways, 1) Abraham did indeed receive the land as God promised. This is ruled out by Acts 7:5; 2) Abraham will receive the land in the future during a supposed Millennium when Abraham will be raised from the dead. This is an absurd position, and would allow Abraham to possess the land only for 1,000 years, not forever; or 3) Abraham never expected to receive the literal plot of earth called "Israel" or "Canaan," but expected to receive a heavenly Canaan, of which the earthly land was but a picture or type of the real promise. This promise he (with all believers) receives already and will receive in a greater way in the new heavens and new earth. This is the clear teaching of the Word of God (Heb. 11:9-10, 15-16; Rom. 4:13; Rev. 21:1ff., etc.) …. To be continued (DV).
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.Website: www.limerickreformed.com/
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