Israel and the Church
The unique identity and destiny of each
Bible prophecy interpretation depends upon whether or not Israel was to retain its identity beyond its dispersion in 70 a.d. Those who see Israel as having been abandoned forever by God will interpret all remaining prophecies as applying to the church (yet, curiously, they focus on Israel’s blessings and not its curses). But those who see Israel as having been given irrevocable promises by God interpret all remaining prophecies about Israel as literal.
So first we must know what God promised to Israel. In Jeremiah 31:37 we are told that God will never reject the people of Israel, in spite of all they have done, and in Ezekiel 36:22-23 it states very clearly that the purpose of God is to prove himself holy in spite of their habit of giving God a bad name among the nations of the world. We see in those passages, though certainly there are many others, that God is not yet finished with Israel, since his purposes do not depend upon the faith of its people. In fact, God states clearly that Israel has profaned his name and made him the object of scorn among the Gentiles. So the argument that Israel today is not the chosen people of God is invalid, since it has nothing to do with their merit. God has scattered them before but brought them back again, so there is no reason to presume that he will not do so in the future.
This doesn’t just concern the people, either, but also the land. The original land of Israel was determined by God Himself: “the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” (Ex. 3:8, 13:5, etc.) This area is currently known as Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, part of Turkey, and Israel, including Gaza and the West Bank. God promised this area to Abraham’s descendants.
Clearly, then, the land of Israel belongs to God, and the people of Israel belong to God. In their present state of unbelief and hostility to their own Messiah, they must be purged and purified. But it will be by the hand of God, not the church or the Gentiles, since whoever comes against God’s people comes against him (Zech. 2:8). So while we are not obligated to support or condone what they are doing as a nation, neither are we to attack or condemn them— as if we or any other nation has a right to point fingers at others.
There is ample archaeological evidence of these ancient Hebrew cities, culture, artifacts, and language.1 Yet there is no evidence for any such people as Palestinians; there is no coinage, no inscriptions, no language, nothing. It is often and loudly claimed that a so-called Palestinian people had prior occupancy, yet not even the Dome of the Rock was built until 691 a.d. A.C. Cresswell in his book Origin of the plan of the Dome of the Rock notes that those who built the shrine used the measurements of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,2 which of course was preceded by Israel.
Now we must address the charge that none of the people in Israel today are true Jews by descendance from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but are Khazars and thus the fake Jews spoken of in the book of Revelation. Though this may be provable genetically for some of the people, it is not true of all of them. Neither is it true that all of them are atheists or Kabbalists or occultists. Yet God spares his people no matter how small the number (“remnant”), and it still remains that the land belongs to God. In addition, Gentiles were always allowed to convert to Judaism and given full rights as Jews (Isaiah 56:3-8). So even if the people of Israel today were proven to lack genetic descendance from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this does not prevent them from being considered the people of God.
To answer yet another charge, the establishment of modern Israel by ordinary political means does not mean it isn’t a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Was God supposed to just have us all wake up one morning to see that there was a nation of Israel? How else would anyone accept that God had something to do with it? The fact that Israel’s existence in the future was predicted long ago is proof enough that this is of God, but Israel did in fact appear suddenly, per Isaiah 66:8.
For Christians who say that God can and has broken his promises to Israel due to unbelief, then what makes them think God will not also break his promises to churches whose people lack faith or keep indulging in sin? Many churches today are filled with corruption and worldly hedonism; they have relegated the Bible to myth or irrelevance in the modern world; they embrace all the depravity of the wicked and mock the few voices of rebuke and calls to holiness. If God can abandon Israel, then God can also abandon the church. Those who smugly say that God is finished with Israel should not think God won’t turn his back on them, too.
Having established the foundation of Bible prophecy as that God will not abandon Israel, it follows that the remaining prophecies about the people and land of Israel will be literally fulfilled. Israel and the church have separate destinies and purposes, as explained by both Peter and James in Acts 15, and by Paul in 1 Cor. 10:32 where he lists “Jews, Greeks (Gentiles), and the church of God”. Though there is but one Kingdom of Heaven, there are various “provinces” depending on when a righteous person lived.3 If God can break his promises to Israel, he can break them to the church, and none of his promises would mean anything. Thus so-called Replacement Theology, whether the church replaces Israel or the church is absorbed into Israel and must obey the Levitial law, means that God does not keep his promises to glorify his name rather than ours. So everything we will read in the Old Testament applies to the people and land of Israel specifically, not to the as-yet unknown and unrevealed church.
Yet just as Israel has its own history and promises, so also does the church. It is only in the New Testament, especially the Letters,4 where the “mystery”5 of this new church is revealed. Not even the Gospels will tell us much about prophecies concerning the church, since Jesus stated clearly that his primary mission was to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Mat. 15:24). Neither will the events of Revelation be primarily about the church, which is never addressed as such after the seven letters in chapters two and three. The church is “not appointed to wrath” (1 Thes. 5:9) and has never shared in the guilt or prophecies of Israel. And no other righteous people from any other age before or after the church were promised the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:13–14). Unlike the church, Israel was never described as the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:12).6
The church is a unique entity, neither Jew nor Gentile, without any detailed commands for sacred buildings or rituals. We share with Israel neither law nor priesthood (Heb. 7), prophecy nor judgment, risk of being disowned nor exiled and scattered. Since our salvation and righteousness are found not in ourselves but in Jesus, we can no more be taken from him nor choose to leave him than he could do such things to himself (1 Cor. 6:19b–20a).
One other important principle to establish is that there was no death or mortality before sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12). Therefore, death and mortality cannot continue after sin has been done away with, since they are part of the curse and that curse will end (Rev. 22:3). So whenever we encounter a passage of scripture that speaks of mortality, even if people live long and happy lives, we must conclude that the passage refers to a time before the curse is taken away. This is also true of the matter of final, personal judgment. If we read a passage about the judgment of the dead and the destruction of Death and Hades, then no one can be judged afterwards. Therefore, no one can die after that point, since they would never be judged and there is no place for them to go.
As another example, if we encounter a passage that speaks of the land of Israel, we must not apply it to the church. Or if we read about endurance to be saved, we know it does not concern the church, since we who are in Christ are credited with his righteousness, and it is a received gift rather than an earned wage (Rom. 6:14, 11:6, Eph. 2:8–9). And as noted earlier, we are not to suffer the wrath of God, for the same reason that we are only righteous because we belong to Jesus. This hardly means we do not suffer in this age of grace (Act 5:41, Rom. 5:3, 8:17–18, Heb. 11, etc.), but that this is not the wrath of God which will be poured out on the whole world (Rev. 3:10).
To summarize, let us list the points established so far:
- The Bible is primarily about the people and land of Israel.
- Scriptures to and about Israel are not to be applied to the church or the Gentiles.
- Scriptures to and about the church are not to be mixed with or applied to the people or land of Israel, or to the Gentiles.
- Unique properties of the church include salvation as a gift, righteousness found only in Jesus and not ourselves, personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and exemption from the wrath of God.
- Since death/mortality only began as the curse earned by sin, then the end of the curse is the end of sin and mortality.
- No one can live a mortal life after all personal judgments are completed and there is no more place for the dead.
Now when we examine any prophetic passage, we need to ask questions like these:
- Does the context indicate that the passage can be taken literally, figuratively, symbolically?
- Has this event happened in history to complete fulfillment?
- Was the prophecy given before Israel existed? Before Pentecost? Before the church was revealed to Paul?
- Are the “saints”7 having to endure and work for their salvation? Are they being overcome by “the gates of hell” (Mat. 16:18) or suffering the wrath of God?
- Are there any mortals still on the earth?
- Is there any personal judgment after this, or any place for the dead to go?
These points will be vital to our understanding of Bible prophecy. So now, having found some of the edge pieces of this giant jigsaw puzzle, let us proceed to study the prophecies in detail.
- 1 A pro-Israel source http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/category/scholars-study and an anti-Israel source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology of Israel.
- 2 Book available at Amazon http://www.worldcat.org/title/origin-of-the-plan-of-the-dome-of-the-rock/oclc/5862604. See also Islamic Architecture http://www.islamic-architecture.info/WA-IS/WA-IS-001.htm.
- 3 This is a theological view known as Dispensationalism http://www.theopedia.com/Dispensationalism. See also The Israel of God http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/reformed/israelaf.htm.
- 4 See Rom. 11:25, 16:25, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:9, 3:3-9, Col. 1:26-27, 2:2, and 4:3.
- 5 The word typically rendered mystery in most translations is the Greek word musterion, but this word means secret. That is, it is not a riddle we have to figure out, but something formerly hidden which is now revealed.
- 6 Regarding Eph. 3:6, which states that through the Gospel both Jew and Gentile are united into one Body, it also states that this unity is found “in Christ Jesus”. It does not say that Gentiles are absorbed into Israel.
- 7 The terms “saints” or “elect” refer to the righteous of any age; they are not unique to the church. That is, everyone in the church is a saint, but not every saint is in the church.