Hendricksen in More than Conquerors, a popular study of Revelation (Baker Books, 1967 p. 65), writes, “How anyone can say that the Jews of today are still, in a very special and glorious and preeminent sense, God’s people, is more than we can understand. God Himself calls those who reject the Savior and persecute true believers ‘the synagogue of Satan.’ They are no longer His people.”
My first impulse was a mental shrug. “Theologians say lots of stuff I disagree with. What does it matter?” In a sense my shrug was true. Prophetic theology doesn’t fix the potholes on my street or pay my power bill or reveal the right answer to me when I am asked to take on a task I’m not sure I have time for. But as I mulled it, I realized our theology of Israel matters a great deal.
If Hendriksen’s assessment is true, my assessment of God’s character changes. I have to re-evaluate all the Lord’s promises. My attitude toward modern Israel has to change—and I will certainly look for prophetic fulfillment in different directions than I now do. Upon consideration, I found myself with four objections to Hendriksen’s view:
I. The New Testament shows that God is not done with the Jews.
II. God’s faithful affection is set on the Jews.
III. Explicit Old Testament prophecies necessitate a resurgent Israel.
IV. Contemporary events strongly suggest God’s hand upon Israel.
Let us take up each of these four arguments in turn.
I. The New Testament shows that God is not done with the Jews.
Paul who suffered often at the hands of Jews acknowledged that many Jews were not true Israel. Nonetheless he had this to say: “Did they [the Jews] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!” (Romans 11:11,12).
Paul says the Jews have not stumbled beyond recovery and foresees a glorious day in which gentiles are made richer by the full inclusion of Jews. In his theology, the Jews will be restored. This becomes clearer when he says a few verses later:
“Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved…As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom 11:25-29).
Because of Paul’s prediction (and numerous Old Testament passages) many Bible students, including myself, take Revelation 7 in its most natural reading: that on some future day God will seal 144,000 Jews for his use. When Jesus appeared to John and delivered the Revelation, he said he would show him “the things that are to come.” If we say with Hendriksen that these 144,000 represent the Old Testament church, we have a serious issue. The tribe of Dan is missing. It seems more likely that Dan is missing because his line died out during exile than that one of the patriarchal lines has been excluded from representation in the Old Testament church. (Ephraim also is not named, but would be included in Joseph.)
If we expect Israel to be restored, our evaluation of the Jewish-Arab problem and our entire scheme of prophecy will be different than if we believe God has permanently cast off the sons of Jacob.
II. God’s faithful affection is set on the Jews.
We know that God has unchanging character and cannot be untrue to his promises. Even the pagan soothsayer Balaam recognized that God neither lies nor changes his mind (Numbers 23:19). This is borne out by the quote from Paul above.
As Paul notes, God has set his affection on Israel “on account of the patriarchs.” I contend that although Israel has been unfaithful, it is impossible for God to be unfaithful (cf 2 Timothy 2:13). Psalm 105:5-11 is one of the biblical passages that speak of God’s love to the patriarchs and the enduring promise he made them—a promise with a land grant.
Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”
My point is that God promised Israel the physical region called Canaan and promised it to them as long as our space-time universe exists. A restoration has begun. The Jews are back in the land God promised them, despite 19th-century theologians who asserted Jews would never inhabit Palestine again on the ground that God had cast them off forever, displacing them with the church. When I see God’s unfailing love to Israel, I can be more sure that Christ is both able and willing to save me for eternity.
And I contend that believing this promise sets the Arab-Israeli contention in perspective. Until world leaders acknowledge God gave Israel that land and no one else may take it, there can never be peace in the Mid East.
III. Explicit Old Testament prophecies show that Israel will be resurgent.
God has made explicit geographical and geological prophecies that have never been fulfilled. Of the many that I could cite, I have chosen just three.
In Jeremiah 31 we read,
This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is his name:
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will Israel ever cease
being a nation before me.” declares the Lord.
This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”
The clincher is that last verse. An explicit area in and around Jerusalem is mentioned as being holy to the Lord, never to be uprooted or demolished. When has this been fulfilled?
In Zechariah 14 there is a prophecy of Christ’s coming:
At that time the Mount of Olives will split. The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up high from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses, and will remain in its place. It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure.
Zechariah goes on to say that the wealth of the surrounding nations will be collected. What is the purpose if earthly time has ended? Zechariah tells us that all nations will be required to go up to Jerusalem annually. If they don’t they will suffer. If Egyptians fail to come up to Jerusalem they will not receive rain. Now this seems to require at least a few years if it is to have meaning and cannot easily be spiritualized to some heavenly kingdom. If Christ has come and the church has moved into a heavenly setting (as Hendriksen and others say), who or what does Egypt represent allegorically? All believers will be with the Lord. All devils and unbelieving humans will be in hell. The prophecy makes sense only if an earthly Jerusalem and Egypt are meant.
Ezekiel 47:6-12 gives a prophecy about the Dead Sea with explicit details.
Then he [Ezekiel’s angelic guide] led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
In Ezekiel’s vision fishermen cast their nets in a sweetened Dead Sea. His prophecy makes sense if Christ rules on earth as Revelation and Old Testament passages teach. Otherwise, where does it fit? Why the explicit detail if it is a pipe dream with some vague spiritual application that no two biblical scholars could agree upon?
If God fails to fulfill his detailed propheciesto Israel, why should I believe any promise he has made? For instance, why should I believe any name is written in the Book of Life? Conveniently for anti-literal scholars there is no way to fact-check it before the last judgment. But of another book, one that we can examine here and now—a book God inspired—many theologians tell us we should spiritualize its explicit prophecies. They duck the fact check. In my book, The Earth Will Reel, I appraise the geological prophecies at face value, asking if they are plausible. As it turns out, the geological literature substantiates the possibilities of literal fulfillment. Prophecy requires Israel restored to its historical territories and eventually ruled by the second David, the Messiah.
IV. contemporary events strongly suggest God’s hand upon Israel.
What was the likelihood that both Stalin and Truman would agree on Israeli statehood, allowing Israel to be reborn as a nation in 1948? Israel’s immediate and miraculous survival against Arab hordes must have been of God. The infant nation’s heroes fought with minimal modern war equipment.
Documentaries describe events during Israel’s other recent wars that also appear to have been miraculous. One soldier recounted having to cross a Syrian mine-field and expecting a long delay probing for the deadly devices. Instead a wind came up and uncovered the entire layout so that he and his men were able to cross without casualties in minutes instead of hours.
Today Orthodox Jews have prepared the material needed to rebuild the temple and reinstitute the priesthood. These things point to the pending fulfillment of major prophecies, including that in which the antichrist seats himself in the temple, declaring himself to be God—the Abomination of Desolation that Christ foretold. Many Jews will be deceived by this event, and so may Christians if their suppositions are wrong.