Restoring the Kingdom to Israel: when and where?

In my previous post Restoring the Kingdom to Israel I agreed with George Athas, at least in part, that the kingdom of God was restored to Israel through believing Israelites, but argued that the Apostle Paul also envisaged a future time when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26, NIV), referring not just to those already believers but also to the “others” who had been hardened. I would suggest that this is when the kingdom will be fully restored to Israel. But I left open two important questions: when will this happen, and will it do so in any particular geographical location?

Now I am certainly not going to make Harold Camping‘s mistake and name any definite day or even year when Israel will be saved. After all, in just this context Jesus said “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7, NIV). But I think we can get some idea of the timing by comparing Bible passages.

Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved” only after “the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25,26, NIV). Now some, “partial preterists” like my friend Martin Trench as well as “full preterists”, argue that almost all biblical prophecy was fulfilled before or at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But I don’t think I could accept that this prophecy about Israel was fulfilled so early, unless it is understood as only about the believing Jews which, as I have argued, contradicts Paul’s clear line of argument.

Jesus also spoke of “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This seems to refer to the period after the destruction of Jerusalem but before the return of Jesus. Many have argued that the word “until” in this verse implies that Jerusalem will be restored at the end of these times, but I understand that the Greek here is inconclusive. Nevertheless it seems reasonable to identify these “times of the Gentiles” with Paul’s period until “the full number of the Gentiles has come in”, and this would imply that only at the end of this period “all Israel will be saved”.

So far, at any time in history, only a small proportion of the Jewish people have ever believed in Jesus. So we have to see the fulfilment of this prophecy as at some time in the future. As for how far in the future, we have no way to tell. But we can get on with evangelising and praying for the Jews, in appropriate ways which do not expect them to abandon their culture but only to adjust their faith.

JerusalemBut does any of this relate to any specific place? In the New Testament there seems to be only that one ambiguous hint that the literal Jerusalem will be restored – and this could refer more to the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:10). Nevertheless it is hardly surprising that some people quickly took the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and its capture of the whole of Jerusalem in 1967, as the fulfilment of this prophecy.

In my previous post I agreed with George Athas in rejecting the identification of the state of Israel with the restored kingdom. But that does not imply that the Jewish state is a mere accident of history. God “made all the nations … and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26, NIV), and that includes Israel. This is not a justification for aggression by Israel towards its neighbours, or for treating non-Israelites within its borders in ways which contravene God’s law (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – a lesson also for conservative Americans). Indeed it is in no way an endorsement of the policies of the state.

Nevertheless the fact is that under God’s sovereignty the majority of the land of Israel is under Jewish control. And this is in accordance with God’s solemn oath to give this land to the descendants of Israel for ever, “for a thousand generations” (Psalm 105:8-11). If, as some argue, God annulled this promise in A.D. 70, less than a hundred generations after Abraham, then how can he be trusted to keep any of his promises? As one who believes that the Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New, is the authoritative word of God, I have to accept that he fulfils the promises he made under both covenants. Just as Ishmael was not God’s chosen one but God was still faithful to his promises to him (Genesis 16:10-12), so also the Israelites may no longer be God’s chosen people but God will still fulfil his promises to them.

This does not necessarily imply that the land of Israel has any further part in what is not the main strand of salvation history, the story of Jesus and the church. But neither does it imply that that land will be out of the picture. When Jesus returns, will he do so to any specific geographic location? If so, then surely it will be to Jerusalem. And how wonderful it will be when he is welcomed there by a believing Jewish nation, reconciled through the Messiah with believing Palestinians and living in peace in the Promised Land.

0 thoughts on “Restoring the Kingdom to Israel: when and where?

  1. Pingback: Restoring the Kingdom to Israel - Gentle Wisdom

  2. Hey Peter!

    Why must the ‘time of the Gentiles’ refer to the entire period after AD 70? It could just as easily (and I think it’s more theologically plausible) that it simply refers to the overrunning of Jerusalem in AD 70, and not beyond it. Those days were cut short (ie. they came to and end) and life went on. I see no necessity for extending the period of the Gentiles to any time beyond this.

    Also, I think we read the Bible in a very different way. I too give credence to everything it says, but I would want to argue for a bit more artistry in its literature, such that there is scope for parabole, imagery, and even the formulation of human hope—all of which does not need to be read as though it were legislation and, therefore, of strictly rigid and narrow law-like definition. Why, even within the Pentateuch there is parabole: Do you think that God does literally count 1,000 generations of those who love him under a Mosaic covenant (Exod 34.6)? And would he restart the count with every new generation that loved him, as would seem necessary if he’s being literally faithful to what he said. In this case, it would never end. Either way, this would have to be going even today, then, wouldn’t it? And yet, the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in force, as it has served its purpose (see Galatians). Or is this simply saying that Yahweh is a very committed deity who will always hold up his end of the bargain? I think the latter.

    The promises about Jerusalem in the OT are both divine promises and expressions of human hope. But they all have their fulfilment within the Church, which is the seat of the Messiah’s power. Physical Jerusalem is now just a plain old city but, just like every other city in the world, it is still under the authority of the Son of David who rules from heaven. Even now! Modern Israel has no more to do with biblical prophecy than the UK or Australia or Guatemala.

  3. George, you may be right about “the times of the Gentiles” being the brief period of the destruction of Jerusalem, although I would want to see evidence that kairoi, plural, can bear this meaning. But in that case where, before 1967, is the restoration of Jerusalem envisaged in Luke 21:24? And where is the fulfilment of “all Israel will be saved”? I would agree that Paul didn’t see this as being 2,000 years in the future, but then the same is true of his expectation of the return of Jesus. If we still believe the latter is coming in the future, then why not also the former?

    I didn’t mean to suggest that a thousand generations should be taken literally. It is clearly a poetic way of saying “forever”. My contrast with a literal “less than a hundred generations” was intended as a play on words. But I would dispute your assertion that the Mosaic covenant is no longer in force. See Matthew 5:18 – the law and the old covenant have been transcended, but not abolished. God made these promises, including the one about the land of Israel, to apply forever. It seems to me form of Marcionism to claim that they have been abolished. Indeed “Yahweh is a very committed deity who will always hold up his end of the bargain”. That is why I cannot accept your final sentence.

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