“Whatever the terminology that is used concerning this perspective, whether replacement theology, supercessionism, fulfillment theology, transference theology, or absorptionism, they all amount to the same basic denigration of the Jews and ultimately of national Israel in the present Christian dispensation.” 1
This statement encapsulates the need for a clear understanding of Israelology. Israelology is the doctrine of Israel. The Body of Messiah must reject doctrines that many denominational churches espouse that contain warped and sadistic views about Israel. A believer’s view of Israel is essential in determining his or her theology as well as a Biblical world view. The view of Israelology espoused in this paper is developed through Biblical understanding that includes historical and cultural considerations.
Israel and the Land
God has only one covenant people with a specific Land grant, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:18). The Abrahamic Covenant guarantees Israel a permanent place in the Land as a grant (Genesis 13:14-15; 17:8). The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional or grant covenant. An unconditional covenant means no conditions are placed on the superior party in the covenant. The LORD making the covenant with Abraham established that his descendants, later to be called Israel, were the chosen nation to reveal the monotheistic God to the world. Also contained within this covenant is the promise that Abraham’s name would be great and his descendants would be given a specific land grant that would remain theirs forever. The land grant would ensure a secure place for the “future Israel” to dwell. Also contained in the covenant is a warning to the people outside the covenant. The LORD would bless those that bless Abraham and curse those who cursed him.
The Rabbi Paul writing to the Romans says, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28, 29). In other words, God’s gifts (the Land) and Calling (Election/Chosenness) cannot be revoked. “God’s election of Israel is absolute and leads us to consider the related fact that the land of Israel is part of that election, and as such it too is part of the inviolate character inherent in the Abrahamic covenant.” If God changes his mind as to the Land grant, it suggests He lacks integrity and cannot keep His promises. Through the covenant with Abraham, the Land was already Israel’s, even though it was before Israel existed. Thus, Israel’s tenure in the Land was not dependent on a Jewish presence in the Land through the Abrahamic Covenant.
The Mosaic Covenant was establish on Mount Sinai with Israel after it’s exodus from Egypt. This was a conditional covenant. The Torah was given, not just as a set of positive and negative commandments, but as a method to reorient Israel’s thinking about themselves and God. The Abrahamic covenant set Israel apart spiritually as a sign to all nations. So the Mosaic Covenant (Torah) set apart Israel physically as a sign to all the nations. Torah observance is what makes Israel unique among the nations. There were specific commandments (total 613) and behaviors expected of everyone in Israel. With obedience came blessings and disobedience resulted in curses in the Mosaic covenant (Deuteronomy 28).
Israel’s initial presence in the Land was established through Joshua by milkhemet mitzvah or “war by commandment”. The milkhemet mitzvah was during Biblical times when a king or leader went to war in order to fulfill a commandment (mitzvah). The war against the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel, the war against Amalek, and a war fought to assist Israel from an enemy which attacks them” (Mishneh Torah 5:1).3 Essentially this was considered defensive, even preemptive, in nature to prevent the extermination of the Jewish people. Scholars and skeptics have criticized ancient Israel for the genocidal nature of this type of warfare, but in rabbinical thought it is seen as necessary for the survival of the Jewish people.4 Through Joshua the permanent tenancy of the Jewish people in the Land was established. This type of warfare would not be required to reestablish a Jewish presence in the Land in the event of an exile.
After 400 years, the LORD manifested His promises to the patriarchs when Israel occupied the Land. Their descendants would live in the land, but it was the LORD who owned the Land. “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land” (Leviticus 25:23, 24). Israel is the tenant in the Land and the LORD is the landlord. Their continued presence, not ownership, in the Land was dependent upon Torah observance. In all the curses concerning the Land there are no references to Israel losing the tenancy to the Land. The references simply state they would be removed from the Land. Israel’s history shows disobedience to Torah which ultimately resulted in exile from the Land. When Israel was put in exile from the Land because of sin, it never lost the Land grant. Israel still has its right to the Land based upon the Abrahamic Covenant.
In 556 BCE Sargan II of Assyria finished the deportation of the entire northern kingdom of Israel which then ceased to exist as a sovereign Jewish state (2 Kings 17:6-18). The reason was not the geopolitical realities of the ancient Near East, but was due to violation of the Torah. The southern kingdom of Israel, Judah lasted almost 134 years longer than the northern kingdom. Judah became corrupt spiritually and continued to violate the Torah. On the 9th of Tevet, Babylonians breached the walls of the city and a month later on the 9th of Av of the year 422 BCE the Temple Mount fell into their hands. The Babylonians carried on the Assyrian policy of exile and removed the Jews from the Promised Land.
The LORD made a promise to Israel at Mount Sinai that they would be an eternal nation even in the event of exile. “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 26:44, 45). Typically when an entire people are thrown them out of their country they generally disappear and become assimilated among other peoples. And yet the Jewish people survived, even thrived, despite the Babylonian exile, because God has promised that they will be an eternal nation and a permanent promise to the Land. This is an important concept to remember because it established a pattern that will be followed with future exiles of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel.
Return after Exile – Ezra/Nehemiah Model
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah provide a model for a return of Jewish presence in the Land after exile. This model begins with a promise of return of Israel back to the Land. “For thus says the LORD, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). Israel was faithless to the covenant but God remained faithful to the promises made to the forefathers. The Biblical account shows the returning Jewish people would face many challenges while reestablishing their presence in the Land of Israel.
Israel’s return to the Land from Babylonian capacity was gradual/progressive in nature. Many Jewish people reluctantly take up the offer to return to the Land. This was due to the Jewish people flourishing in business, education and quality of life in the Persian Empire. Approximately 42,000 returned with Ezra and Nehemiah. History also shows the returnees’ attempts to rebuild the Temple and walls in Jerusalem are aborted and hindered by their angry neighbors. Often times the people rebuilding Jerusalem worked and carried weapons at the same time (Nehemiah 4:17). Any warfare during this period was to stop acts of aggression and was defensive in nature. Israel did not engage in wars of aggression to gain territorial enlargement. Ezra implemented dramatic reforms that resisted cultural assimilation and intermarriage of the Jewish people. At this time in Israel’s history it was a suzerain-vassal arrangement or semi-sovereign state with the ruling Persian and later Greek empires.
This is juxtaposed in the initial occupation of the Land by Joshua. The chart below highlights major differences:
The Roman Exile
Roman intervention in Israel had effectively ended Jewish semi-independence and it became the Roman province of Judea. Still a large number of Jewish people during the time of Yeshua’s ministry lived outside the Land. “In fact, historians estimate that there were about 5-7 million Jews living in the Roman Empire and at least 60% of that number were living outside the land of Israel.”5
After the Great Revolt was suppressed, the Roman armies then destroyed the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, 70AD. Later in 135 AD the Third Jewish Revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba ended in a Jewish defeat. The Roman Emperor Hadrian decided that the way to not have another Jewish revolt was to cut off the Jews from connection to their beloved Land. To further squelch any nationalistic feeling, Hadrian renamed the land Philistia (Palestine) and removed most of the Jewish presence from the Land. For the next 1900 years there was no sizeable Jewish presence in the Land. The Roman exile was essentially a continuation of the Babylonian exile. Beginning with the first exile until 1948, Israel did not fully operate as sovereign nation as it did under Joshua or King David. All that history changed in May 1948.
Modern State of Israel
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “The Jewish people, however, forced to leave their ancient country, has never abandoned, has never forsaken the Holy Land; the Jewish people has never ceased to be passionate about Zion. It has always lived in a dialogue with the Holy Land.”6 Israel, whether inside or outside of the Land is always connected to the Land. When in exile, Israel’s heart yearns to return to the Land that was promised.
The re-birth of Israel is one of the greatest phenomena in modern human history. “That a people should go into exile, be dispersed, and yet survive for 2,000 years, that they should be a nation without a national homeland and come back again, that they should re-establish that homeland is a miraculous, singular event.” 7 No other nation has ever achieved such a lofty feat. It was the tradition in the Roman Jewish community that Jews would never walk under that Arch of Titus because of the Roman exile. On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israel was declared a state, the Jews of Rome had a triumphant parade and marched under the arch. Their message: “Rome is gone, we're still around. Victory is ours.” 8
Israel’s return to the Land is also a prophetic fulfillment and shows God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Bible passages predict the return of Israel to the Land promised to the Patriarchs, here are two.
Ezekiel 20:34 “I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered -- with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath.”
Isaiah 11:11-12 (NIV) “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”
Israel, a nation that had not really existed as a separate nation for nearly 2,500 years, was declared a new sovereign state by an act of the United Nations on May 14, 1948. The nation was born in a day.
Isaiah 66:8 (NIV) “Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children” .
“The return to Zion is an unprecedented drama, an event sui generis for which there is no model, no analogy.” 9 The sui generis of Israel’s return it is as an idea, an entity, or a reality which cannot be included in a wider concept. It is unique in its characteristics, a one-of-a-kind divine intervention that has no peer amongst the nations. This return is the evidence that God is not finish, has not rejected or has replaced His plan for Israel and the Jewish people. They stand as a unique people, with a unique message that will unite mankind when their destiny is fully realized.
The State of Israel’s return from the Roman Exile remarkably follows the Ezra/Nehemiah model of return from the Babylonian exile. This link between the Babylonian and Roman exile is strengthened by the comparison of Lord Balfour and Cyrus. “Not surprisingly, Cyrus remains for Jews the prototype of a moral, philosemitic leader. In 1917, when Lord Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, announcing England’s support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Jews saw him as a modern Cyrus.” 10
The State of Israel was established by decree of the Gentile powers, England, US and the UN. The 1948 “War of Independence” was a defensive war after the State was established and not for territorial gains. The surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel while they were in a weak and vulnerable condition, yet the Arabs were unable to defeat them. Any gains in land were due to military losses by the Arabs. A gradual return of a Jewish presence in the Land still continues today. In 2012, worldwide, there were about 13.5 million Jews with 6 million living in Israel or 44 percent of Jews live in Israel. 11
The major differences between the Babylonian return and current the State of Israel is the issue of sovereignty. During the Babylonian exile Israel was not a sovereign nation but had a “vassal type” of relationship with the Gentile power. Israel became a sovereign nation in 1948. The chart below outlines many parallels:
Gradual Return and Fulfillment in Messiah
The return of the Jewish people under the leadership of Ezra/Nehemiah is a prototype of the current return to the Land from Roman exile. The Messianic prophesies serve as a good model for gradual return and gradual increases in responsibility. As Messianic prophesies are partially fulfilled, so the full return of Israel is partial and progressive. Messiah is the ideal representative of Israel. Yeshua is the King of the Jews. In ancient Israel, the king and his people were one. As kings of Israel went, so went the nation.
First, a careful review of Messianic prophecies reveals that they are fulfilled gradually over time. Prophecies may come to pass partially or repeatedly over time. Each time they do the next generation gets a clearer picture of how that prophecy will come to pass and be ultimately fulfilled in Messiah. Israel’s initial return to the Land has been partial and has been repeated over time with both returns from exile. Messiah Yeshua’s second coming will ultimately fulfill Israel’s full return and destiny.
Secondly a near view/far view perspective of Messiah’s coming must be considered when viewing Israel’s return to the Land. Prophets received their words from the God of eternity and communicated from a perspective of timelessness and all of history having been completed. It was how the Land was Israel even before Israel existed. God showed the prophets the Messiah who was already slain from the foundation of the world. Therefore when the prophets received this information of Messiah and Israel Land grant it was as if it was already done. Even through the prophets anticipated the fulfillment to be soon from their perspective, yet history reveals that it was for a time in the distant future, even hundreds of years into the future.
Thirdly, Messiah is to be both Priest and King. Messiah's priestly role is to intercede for man like a priest, offering sacrifice to atone for man’s sin. Messiah did this by sacrificing his own life in His first coming. His first coming occurred while there was some form of Israel that did not meet all the Torah requirements. Messiah’s kingly role will be at his second coming when he reigns from Jerusalem and brings peace to the world. As with the first coming, so with the second, Messiah returns to an Israel that has not met all the Torah requirements. Upon Messiah’s return, Israel will embrace Him and realize their full redemption thus begin to fulfill their destiny and “so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
This will be a convergence of prophetic fulfillment that the world has never seen and will be the source of its greatest blessings. “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says it succinctly, “It would be a distortion to reduce the meaning of Israel reborn to the necessity to deal with Jewish misery. It was above all the power of promise, the power of hope, that necessitated the resurrection of Israel. In a deeper sense, Israel reborn is a necessity of world history. The wonder of the risen Israel and the gratitude to Him who has raised martyred Israel from the dead belong together. We are witnesses of the resurrection. And being a witness is a transformation. The return to the land is a profound indication of the possibility of redemption for all men. Stand still and behold! The unbelievable has come about. The vision was a divine promise, and the way was paved with sacrifices. Our return to Zion is a major event within the mysterious history that began with a lonely man— Abraham— whose destiny was to be a blessing to all nations, and our irreducible commitment is to assert that promise and that destiny: to be a blessing to all nations.” 12
Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God
Now Israel’s right to the Land has been established in this Israelology study, the next topic to consider is the relationship of Jews and Gentile as they relate to Israel. It is important to maintain the distinct and separate role of each group of people. The Apostle Paul emphasized this by saying, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32).
Even though the majority of Jewish people did not embrace Yeshua as Messiah, God has not rejected Israel (Romans 11:1, 2). “Immediate proof that Israel has not been rejected is the biblical principle that there is ‘at the present time a remnant chosen by grace’ (v. 5). This sovereign preservation is the guarantee of the preservation of the nation as a whole in the future.” 13 The believing Jewish remnant (Messianic Jews) justifies God's ongoing faithfulness thus preserving the rest of Israel until they come to faith in Messiah, “and so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
Israel's temporary stumbling at Yeshua as Messiah has been an opportunity for the Gentile to embrace the monotheistic faith in God. Yeshua has fulfilled the promise to Abraham that his seed would be a blessing to all nations. The blessing to the nations was an act that was followed by a gradual process of God manifesting salvation and redemptive power that will have its ultimate fulfillment in Messiah’s second coming. The salvation given by Yeshua is equally applicable to both Jews and Gentiles. Each group are two distinct people with separate promises, yet both have one spiritual father Abraham and are one in Messiah. Believing Jews and Gentiles comprise the Body of Messiah, or the church. Each group has their specific and distinct roles in the church, yet no group is superior to the other. The church does not replace Israel nor does the church have a land grant to the Land of Israel.
Gentile believers are “grafted-in” to the promises of Abraham (i.e. wild olive). In grafting of plants the tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. In most cases, one plant is selected for its roots and the other is selected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits and is called the scion. The scion will only produce the fruits or flowers of its genetics and not of the root stock. The scion is connected to the root stock for a stronger and more potent life force that help produce better fruit. In Rabbi Paul’s olive tree imagery, gentiles who are grafted into the root of the promises of Abraham remain gentiles but are connected to a new life source to produce better fruit. It is important and repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament that gentiles do not need to become Jews. God has no plan to make all the world Jewish. His plan is to redeem mankind through the blessing of Abraham via the conduct of Israel. It is not necessary for Gentiles to adopt Jewish cultural practices in order to find acceptance with the LORD. It is equally important that Jewish believers should be free to operate within their Jewish heritage and cultural practices.
As Abraham had many children, only one son, was the son of promise. There are specific promises only apply to Israel (natural olives) and the Jewish people. A specific promise to the Jewish people that is not applicable to the gentile believer is the original Land grant given to the Jewish people. The land is inseparable from God and Israel. The Jewish people cannot fulfill their destiny apart from the Land. “On the contrary, Old Testament expectations are heightened in the New Testament by the sheer fact that their fulfillment is described as having begun. After all, the New Testament claims to be a fulfillment of Old Testament promise, the reliable description of a climax of hope being realized and clarified by the coming of Messiah. Jesus is not a cancellation of the Old Testament hope but its unequivocal affirmation … The New Testament makes it quite clear that the material [land] is the arena in which ultimate salvation is to take place. … Consequently, Israel is not displaced by the church. Rather, the church enters into enjoyment of Israel's blessings as a strange branch “grafted in … contrary to nature”, but never in place of the natural branches, who will be grafted in again” 14
Shalu Shlom Yerushalayim (Pray for the peace of Jerusalem)!
1 Horner, Barry E. (2007-10-15). Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged: 3 (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 3). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2 Horner, Barry E. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. (B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition, 2007). p. 229.
3 Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah: Translated by Eliyahu Touger, www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188349/jewish/Chapter-5.htm, (January 1, 2008
4 Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah: Translated by Eliyahu Touger, www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188349/jewish/Chapter-5.htm, (January 1, 2008
5 Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. History Crash Course #37: Bar Kochba Revolt. http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944706.html
6 Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1969-01-01). Israel: An Echo of Eternity (Kindle Locations 589-590).
7 Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. History Crash Course #62: Return to the Land of Israel. http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48960356.html
8 Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. History Crash Course #35: Destruction of the Temple. http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944036.html
9 Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1969-01-01). Israel: An Echo of Eternity (Kindle Locations 506-507).
10 Telushkin, Joseph (2010-09-28). Jewish Literacy (p. 104). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.
11 Jewish population by country. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_country
12 Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1969-01-01). Israel: An Echo of Eternity (Kindle Locations 2081-2086).
13 Horner, Barry E. (2007-10-15). Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged: 3 (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 256). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
14 Horner, Barry E. (2007-10-15). Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged: 3 (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 237-238). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua. “Israel: An Echo of Eternity”. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Kindle Edition. 1969.
Horner, Barry E. “Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged”. B&H Publishing Kindle Edition. 2007.
Telushkin, Joseph. “Jewish Literacy”. William Morrow Kindle Edition. 2010.
Maimonides, Moses. “Mishneh Torah: Translated by Eliyahu Touger”. www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188349/jewish/Chapter-5.htm. 2008.
Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. “History Crash Course #35: Destruction of the Temple.” http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944036.html
Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. “History Crash Course #37: Bar Kochba Revolt”. http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944706.html
Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. “History Crash Course #62: Return to the Land of Israel”. http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48960356.html