May 4, 2008

Israel’s Future Destiny: Literal or Symbolic

By Ed Hindson

“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken and I have done it” (Ezekiel 37:14).

The nation and people of Israel are central issues in Bible prophecy. Both the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles made specific predictions about Israel’s future destiny. In fact, Jesus’ own disciples asked: “Will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

Their question reveals an expectation of a future literal kingdom on earth. Their question also clearly indicates that they did not believe the kingdom had already come, despite the fact that both they and Jesus had announced its potential arrival (Matthew 4:17; 10:1-7).

In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus reminded them: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has placed in his own power” (Acts 1:7). Jesus did not contradict or correct their question; He simply informed them that they were not to know the timing of the coming of the kingdom. Earlier, He had made a similar statement regarding His second coming: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

Replacement Theology

Notice the context of the disciples’ question about Israel. Jesus was about to ascend into heaven. If their question was improperly stated, this would have been the obvious time to clarify the whole matter about Israel’s future. If the Church were about to replace Israel in the plan of God (as replacement theologians suggest), one would expect Jesus to have explained that to His disciples at that moment. But He did not.

But that is exactly what Replacement Theology teaches, asserting that the Church is the new “Israel” of God and His promises to the old Israel are fulfilled in the Church. Since there are more than 100 such prophecies in the Bible, it takes some real exegetical maneuvering to accomplish this task. For example, Ezekiel’s predictions of Israel’s ultimate regathering and rebirth (chapters 36-37) are limited to the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, despite the fact that Ezekiel predicts a return that involves their spiritual rebirth (37:14), the reign of David as King (37:24) and the establishment of God’s sanctuary in Israel (37:28). These predictions were not fulfilled by the return from Babylon or by the building of the second temple.

Replacement Theology necessitates “spiritualizing” virtually all Old Testament prophecies about Israel. Thus, the “land” is not the land of Israel and the “temple” is not a literal temple. The reign of David’s son, the Messiah, is spiritual, not literal. The Battle of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) is reinterpreted either to be the invasion of Antiochus Epiphanes (170 BC) or the Roman army (AD 70), despite the fact that Ezekiel predicts the destruction of five-sixth of the invaders (39:2). This did not happen under Antiochus or the Romans.

Prophecies of Israel’s future return are relegated to the past by Replacement Theology. Verses like Amos 9:15 (“And I will plant them in their own land, and they shall never be pulled up out of their land”) are explained away as either being conditional or spiritual, but never literal.

Replacement theologians assert that God is finished with Israel and has no future plans for His once chosen people. However, the New Testament Church is open to all races of people.

This kind of distorted thinking comes from the failure of the Replacement Theology to clearly distinguish the difference between Israel and the Church. Of course, the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but this does not eliminate Israel’s future destiny. The Apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, asked: “Has God cast away his people?” He then answered his own question: “God forbid” (Romans 11:1). God’s plan for the Church Age does not eradicate His plan for Israel’s future return, conversion, restoration and earthly kingdom.

Look, for example, at the Prophet Zechariah’s predictions about Israel’s future:

Notice several things about these predictions. First, they all involve the second coming of Christ. Second, they all predict a literal fulfillment in Israel at the time of the second coming. If God is finished with Israel, why would Christ bother to return there?

No Future Second Coming?

Thus, extreme “preterists” (those who hold that most or all biblical prophecies regarding the End Times refer primarily to events that happened in the first century following Christ’s birth) believe there will be no future second coming. Even more moderate preterists believe that these prophecies will only be fulfilled spiritually, not literally. Yet, many of these same interpreters will point to Zechariah’s other prophecies as being literally fulfilled in the first coming of Christ. For example: His riding on a donkey (9:9) or His being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (11:13). Yet, they will turn right around and claim that these other prophecies are not literally fulfilled because such fulfillment contradicts their preconceived views of the second coming.

Christians who believe in Israel’s future prophetic destiny are not blind Zionists or racially-prejudiced anti-Arabs. First, genuine evangelical Christians believe the Gospel is to be preached to all nations and the Church is open to any and all people who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead to secure their eternal salvation (Romans 10:9).

Second, we understand that God also extended grace to non-Jews in the Old Testament era, as well (eg., Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth the Moabite, Zipporah the Midianite, Naaman the Syrian and a host of others).

Third, premillennialists understand that God’s promises to Israel involve a theocratic kingdom of God on earth. We clearly and emphatically believe that the New Testament Church is a fellowship of believers, not a theocracy. Christ rules in our hearts by faith and calls us to be the “light of the world” to all people. We also believe the Church Age will end with the rapture of those believers to heaven (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) to the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride (the Church) and will be followed by our triumphal return with Christ to reign on earth during His literal Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 19-20).

The Imminent Return

Only when Christ returns will the prophecies of Israel’s future destiny be fulfilled. In the meantime, we realize that Israel’s present regathering to her ancient land is not the final fulfillment of these prophecies. It is only a prelude of what is yet to come. The kingdom will only be “restored to Israel,” as the disciples asked, when the King comes back to reign and rule in person (Revelation 19:11-16).

[Editors Note: Please continue to pray for Dr. Hindson's health. I have received the following update from Dr. Thomas Ice:

Ed Hindson (SOR) continues to improve daily, and he expects to be moved to Acute Rehab at Virginia Baptist on Monday. Please continue to pray for healing and strength. He has been in the hospital for about 11 weeks now.]