June 2015 Posts

Prophecy: The Nation Israel

Keep Your Zipper Up

There has been a growing consensus within Christian theology students that God is finished with the nation of Israel. They believe either the church has replaced the nation of Israel or it is a spiritual form of Israel. From my study of Scripture, it seems abundantly obvious that God made promises to the nation of Israel that have not yet been fulfilled.

If God were finished with the nation of Israel, then one would have to conclude either God made a mistake in His promises to the nation of Israel or went back on His promises, which would make God fallible and a liar. Banish the thought! God doesn’t make mistakes and He doesn’t go back on His promises. God has a plan for both the church and the nation of Israel.

In Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22 God promised Abraham several things:

  1. God would make from him a great nation (Israel)
  2. He would give this nation a land of their own, and He spelled out the boundaries of that land
  3. He would bless Abraham and this great nation
  4. He would bless those who blessed them and curse those who cursed this nation
  5. He would be a blessing through this nation to the rest of the world

God has kept His promises, but not all of those promises have been fully realized – yet. God did make Israel a great nation. We see the beginning of this recorded in the book of Exodus. Later when they were defeated by Assyria and Babylon, He brought them back as a nation as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. In more recent times God brought them back together as a nation in 1948 after 1,878 years of being dispersed throughout the world following their destruction by Rome in AD 70.

God gave them a land as recorded in the book of Joshua, but they didn’t have all the land that was promised to them. King David and King Solomon expanded the borders of the land in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, but they still never came close to having all the land promised to them. That has not yet been completely realized either.

This prophetic promise of God using the nation Israel in the later days is seen developed beginning in Daniel 9:24-27. Daniel prophesied that God planned on accomplishing His work through the nation of Israel in a 490-year period. He said He would accomplish the first 483 years of this promise from the time a decree was given to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, with Artaxerxes in BC 444, until the promised Messiah was killed by Rome and Israeli authorities in AD 32-33. (Remember, Israel’s calendar had 360 days per year, not 365.25 days per year.)

After that, Daniel said there would be one more period of 7 years (a week of years) for Him to use the nation of Israel to accomplish all He planned through them. He tells us that amounts to 84 months, or 2,520 days. This is the same accounting we see in Revelation 4-18. Daniel said this last period will begin when the antichrist, the leader of the Western world, signs a 7-year treaty with the nation of Israel. This 7-year period is often referenced as the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble – a tribulation like the world has never seen. (More on the tribulation period later.)

In Joel 2-3 we see that by the end of this period, the entire nation of Israel will repent and turn to Jesus as their promised Messiah – from princes and priests to boys and girls. And in response to this, God will fulfill His blessing and restore all the Promised Land to them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And He assures them from that point forward they would never again be put to shame as a nation.

Paul acknowledges God is not finished with Israel in Romans 11 as he paints a picture of God’s rich, rooted plan to reach out to the world with hope and love, in spite of humanity’s wholesale rejection of Him. He instructs the church at Rome, and all believers of the church who would follow, that God has indeed cut off Israel from being His primary instrument to reach out to the world with God’s image, love and hope, but He makes the point that this is temporary, not permanent, and He will once again use Israel as His primary missionary force in the world.

This last promise is expanded on in Revelation 4-18 where we see the nation of Israel as the primary mission force in the world through the 144,000 witnesses (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel), who will lead innumerable people to faith in Christ, from every nation, tribe and tongue.

God has indeed blessed the nation Israel with the birth of the Jewish-born Messiah, Jesus Christ (as seen in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and He has blessed the whole world through this incarnation. It is still promised that God will use them as the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen (Revelation 7:4-9). The nation Israel is still alive and well in God’s prophetic promised future. He is not finished with Israel yet.

Prophecy: Why Study Prophecy

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When I was a senior in high school I saw a book on my dad’s bookshelf titled, The Millennium. I asked him what it was about and he said, “You’re too young to understand. Maybe someday we can talk about it.” It didn’t take long to realize my dad’s response was code for, “I don’t have a clue what it’s about and I sure can’t explain it.”

I remember hearing other adults speak about future things. There were some common themes: It’s too hard to understand. It’s not that important. It doesn’t really matter. I guess we’ll find out in the end.

Contrast those statements with the words spoken to Daniel regarding the meaning and understanding of the prophecies he had proclaimed, “…many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” When Daniel pressed for more answers, he was told, “…none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Daniel 12:4,10). God wants us to understand. Even in The Revelation, admonitions are given to listen carefully and pay attention to what is being said of the future (Revelation 1:3, 22:7).

Those words to Daniel and John are compelling to me. Is God saying that as time progresses these prophecies will become clearer and clearer, and those who spend time studying these prophecies will increase in understanding? It seems that is a major part of what God is conveying to Daniel, and I have found it to be true in my own life. Every time I study a prophetic passage, I make new and clearer discoveries.

There are some common dangers of delving into the study of the future. It can merely become an academic adventure, or it can become an obsession to salve our curiosity. Some can watch the news and see the end of the world just around the corner from every world event.

Yet there are a number of very good values in studying what the Bible teaches about future things. It helps us look at the world more through God’s eyes and less like the rest of the world. It helps us see the progression of evil before it happens. It reminds us that there is a spiritual battle going on in this world, and we are reminded that in the end, God wins! Believers win! Sin and its impact on us and the rest of the world will be done away with. It gives us hope with pictures of no pain, no suffering, no tears. God has a plan and it is ultimately for good (Revelation 21:4).

Near the end of my years in seminary I learned another good reason for understanding prophecy. My wife and I were among four couples who would have a professor and his wife over for dinner and get to know them while picking their brains for crumbs of wisdom that might impact our own lives. One of those professors we invited was the president of the seminary, Dr. John F. Walvoord, who has long been recognized for his study and writing in the field of prophecy.

One of our friends asked Dr. Walvoord, “Why have you devoted so much of your life studying and writing about prophecy?” The sage among us paused and then responded with words very close to these, “Well, I’ve lived and learned enough at this point in my life to recognize that prophecy is often the crucial turning point for many students of Scripture. It can be the place where many begin to compromise the way they interpret the whole Bible.”

That was a totally unexpected answer. As we pressed for clarity, he told us story after story of students, professors, theologians and pastors who once had a solid way of interpreting the meaning of the biblical texts but then went away from that when it came to prophecy. They might say prophecy should be interpreted in a different way than other Bible literature. It’s all allegorical or figurative, generalized statements that don’t really mean what they say. They couldn’t believe those kinds of things could happen today. It didn’t fit their preconceived ideas or a predetermined theology.

Then he related how these once solid students of Scripture eventually began to compromise how they interpreted other parts of Scripture. And over time they either abandoned the faith altogether or compromised their theology so it would fit what they wanted the Scriptures to say. Personal beliefs and theological presuppositions became the source of authoritative truth for them, rather than the Scriptures themselves. But how we handle prophetic literature in the Bible will eventually dictate how we interpret all of Scripture.

This series is a glimpse into my study of prophecy over the last 40+ years. I will make no claims that I have it all figured out. I will do my best to let the Scriptures be the authoritative source of truth. Not my theology. Not my preconceived ideas. Not my idea of what seems plausible. Not my fears of what others will think. I hope you will be challenged, as I have, to be one who understands more and more, to listen carefully and studiously, and pay attention so we can respond appropriately to what God is doing progressively in His overall plan.