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.
But 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.