Restoring the Kingdom to Israel

As Christians, should we expect the Kingdom of God to be restored to Israel? And if so, what would it mean? The last question that the apostles asked Jesus before his Ascension was about this:

Then they gathered around [Jesus] and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (NIV 2011)

The Kingdom of David and SolomonGeorge Athas has posted an interesting series asking what the apostles meant by “restore the kingdom to Israel”, and more to the point what Jesus meant in his answer to their question. In part 1 he skilfully demolishes the argument that the modern state of Israel is this restoration of the kingdom. In part 2 he is equally deft in dismissing the “replacement theology” by which the church has entirely replaced Israel. Then in part 3 he puts forward a middle way in his own understanding of what the book of Acts, and the New Testament more broadly, teaches on this matter.

George links restoring the kingdom to the apostolic witness “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. This makes a lot of sense of the book from which these words are taken:

in the first eight chapters of Acts, we witness the reunification of Israel under its Davidic king. What the prophets of old had looked forward to now becomes reality as Jews and Samaritans both put their faith in Jesus as ruler, saviour, and Messiah, for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 5.31, 42). Here, then, is the beginning of Israel’s restoration. … Only once the restoration of Israel under its rightful king, Jesus, is truly underway do we then observe the gospel going out to the Gentiles.

But I find a problem with George’s argument when he moves on from Acts to Romans. He may be right that in Romans 9

Paul views only those in Israel who have believed (or will believe) in Jesus as members of the true Israel.

But this doesn’t really make sense of Romans 11. In verse 7 Paul distinguishes “the elect” within Israel from “the others” who are “hardened”. From verses 8 to 24 he talks about these “others”, and contrasts them with Gentile believers. In verses 25 and 26 he refers again to the “others” when he proclaims the end of the “hardening in part”, at which point “all Israel will be saved”. Clearly the “all” here is meant to include the “others”, as well as “the elect” who have been saved all along.

Verse 23 implies that at this time the “others” will believe in Jesus, and it is only on this basis that they will be grafted back into the olive tree. So it is true that only those in Israel who believe in Jesus are members of the true Israel. But this chapter makes it clear that God has not simply rejected those of Israelite descent who do not believe.

So George Athas is somewhat confused when he writes:

we should not be expecting a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity marking the last days of history as we know it. Paul was not envisioning such a thing in Romans 11.26. … Paul was not predicting a sudden eschatological conversion of Jews against all previous expectations, but was rather advocating some good old evangelism.

It seems very clear to me that Paul was expecting a large scale turning to Jesus among the “others”, ethnic Jews who had at first rejected him. This was in the future for Paul, which doesn’t necessarily mean in the future for us. He probably wasn’t expecting anything miraculous here. More likely he saw this happening through “good old evangelism” among Jews, although not necessarily by “conversion … to Christianity” as commonly understood. And “all” may be hyperbole for the great majority from all groups. But God has not forgotten those ethnic Jews who have rejected the gospel, as Paul makes clear:

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Romans 11:28-29 (NIV 2011)

Yes, God’s call to the physical descendants of Jacob is irrevocable. It has been transcended by the wider Christian call to all nations. But that ethnic group has not been rejected or replaced. And in the end God’s promises to his original chosen people will be fulfilled.

Thanks to Tim Bulkeley for the links to George Athas’ posts.

UPDATE: I have addressed some questions left unanswered here in a follow-up post Restoring the Kingdom to Israel: when and where?

9 thoughts on “Restoring the Kingdom to Israel

  1. Pingback: Restoring the Kingdom to Israel: when and where? - Gentle Wisdom

  2. Are you saying all those who are physically descended from Abraham will be saved before Jesus’ return? Paul says clearly that not all who are Abraham’s descendants (physical Israel) are reckoned as Abraham’s children. (Romans 9:7-8)

    God’s promise is to all those who are Abraham’s spiritual descendants, not to all his physical descendants. (Romans 4:16) This promise is available to Abraham’s physical descendants, but also to the Gentiles on the same basis.

  3. Tyson, let me summarise my argument: Not all ethnic Israelites are among God’s chosen, apart from any faith (Romans 4:16, 9:6-8). In the current age they are divided into two groups, “the elect” and “the others” (11:7, cf. 9:18). The elect believe and are saved now, but the others are hardened. But a time will come when the hardening is ended and “all Israel”, i.e. both groups, will believe (11:23) and be saved. I think this will be before the return of Jesus, but that is not so easy to prove. So while now God shows his mercy only to some (9:18), the time will come when he has mercy on all (11:32).

  4. Hey Peter! Thanks for the interaction on this subject.

    I’m still not convinced by your argument, though, as I don’t think it addresses Tyson’s point. ‘All Israel’ is ‘all elect Israel’. This is Paul’s basic point in Rom 9–11. He does envision Jews becoming Christians, but he sees this as a normal part of evangelism from Gentiles. Paul is not telling the Gentiles in Rome to sit back and expect an end-time conversion of Jews. Rather, as he moves on to tell them in Rom 12.1 and 15.8, they should offer themselves as living sacrifices to win Jews back, and become servants of the circumcised, just as Christ did. He wants a concerted effort from the Roman Gentile Christians to win Jews over to their Messiah. This is simply the way Paul works in his priestly ministry towards the Gentiles.

    Those among ‘Israel’ (ie. true Israel) who are hardened are still elect. It’s just that they have not yet believed. And how will they believe unless someone preaches to them (Rom 10.14–15)? It’s all about evangelism. And nothing will separate the elect from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8), so the Roman Gentile Christians better get with the program.

    If Paul were thinking about an end-time conversion, then we would have to say that all the Jews in Paul’s day who were hardened against the gospel will still one day come to faith in Christ, even though they are now dead. Is this what you want to say? Somehow I doubt it (though correct me if I’m wrong), but this seems to be a consequence of your argument. Notice how Paul talks about the partial hardening as a past tense—a given reality in his day. But if this hardened portion of Israel is one day to be unhardened, how will that occur? Paul sees it happening through preaching. But how does this work with people who are now dead? I don’t think it can. Are we to surmise that the hardened of Paul’s day are permanently hardened and, therefore, beyond salvation despite Paul’s apparent claim of the unhardening of the hardened portion? This seems rather confused to me. If Paul were talking about an end-time conversion as applicable only to Jews alive in the last generation of history, then he would not be talking about the hardening as a current reality in his own day, for it would have been irrelevant in his time. Yet this too seems rather confusing to me and not in keeping with Paul’s intentions within Romans.

    In short, it’s Paul’s purpose throughout the letter to the Romans (not just in chs. 9–11) that leads me to my position. I’d recommend some references for you to follow this one up. The first is Mark Nanos’ The Mystery of Romans . While there’s plenty in his book I don’t agree with, I think Nanos’ basic premise is sound. More closely related to this topic, though, is the work of Donald Robinson. He published articles back in the 1960s and 1970s, but you can find his work collected in The Collected Works of Donald Robinson . Great reading! He delves into this specific question, and is well worth reading.


  5. Pingback: All will be saved, not just the elect - Gentle Wisdom

  6. George, thank you for your comment. I have now gone into the same argument in more depth in a new post (the third in this series) All will be saved, not just the elect. I agree with you that “all Israel will be saved” not through some miraculous end-time event but through faithful evangelism. Concerning the timing, I will respond to your comment on my second post.

    My main problem with what you write is with your assertion

    ‘All Israel’ is ‘all elect Israel’. This is Paul’s basic point in Rom 9–11.

    It seems to me that the evidence goes against that, especially in the contrast between the “hardening in part” and “all Israel” in 11:25-26, which makes no sense if the latter in fact refers only to the elect who, according to 11:7, are not the ones who are hardened.

    11:7 teaches a two way division of ethnic Israel, into “the elect” who have obtained what they sought, which is presumably righteousness (10:3), and “the others” who are hardened. 11:25-26 teaches an end to the hardening of “the others” and that God will have mercy on all. But you seem to teach a three way division here: part of “the elect” who are saved now, another part of “the elect” who are hardened but only temporarily, and another group who are also hardened and will never be saved. I don’t see any support for this three way division in Paul’s words: the hardening in part will not be only partly ended.

    I must say I don’t fully understand 11:28, but I don’t think it supports your argument any more than mine unless we understand “election” here as referring to something different from in 11:7.

    As for your point about those who are already dead, I really don’t know. Recent discussions about Rob Bell’s Love Wins have made me open to the possibility that God offers people another chance to repent after death, although I am personally convinced, as I think Bell is, that not every individual will accept this chance and be saved. But that would be a way in which “all Israel will be saved” can fully take place.

  7. In Heb 11:32 – The first ALL is Israel. The second ALL is all mankind (gentiles). In truth, Only God’s elect whether Jew or Gentile are saved or will ever be saved. Another way to look at this is only the elect have their names written in the Lambs book of life. This is the first resurrection. In Christ many Jews are yet to be saved… He is the only way any of us are saved. God has told us about a Jewish remnant in Rev 7 consisting of 144,000. We also know He preserves the woman during the great tribulation lasting 3&1/2 years. And that many fear God right before the 7th trump when 7,000 perish in the City of Jerusalem. And Christ’s two witnesses have been preaching Jesus for 3&1/2 years. (Exact match the antichrist’s reign of 42 months) Do we know who is actually elect and who is not on an individual basis? No? Nor are we to ask who will ascend into heaven. That is to bring Christ down from above… As followers of Jesus, We are called to witness to all. But we do know that only the elect whether Jew or Gentile inherit eternal life in Christ Jesus. That is the Gospel. God has promised to remove the veil on Israel. This is still yet to be fulfilled. Rev 1:7 gives us an insight that Jews will receive Jesus as the one whom they pierced. We also know Jesus will say to their question what are these wounds? And Jesus will say these are the wounds I received in the house of My friends. For the veil is taken away in Christ. Amen. The true body of Christ is Jew first then gentile. Jesus in case anyone has forgotten is of the Seed of David. Gentile Christians are wild olive branches grafted in. We are not the natural ones. Eph 2: 11-22 : 3:1-6 are critical passages that many Christian churches don’t seem to grasp… Israel has never taken a back seat to the church. It’s only the timing of how God carries out His plan that makes it seem so to the milk drinking babes. ( I say that in love because so great is our salvation as brothers and sisters in Christ. And If anyone truly wishes to comprehend the mystery of Christ see eph 1:9-10: understand the phrase “GATHERED TOGETHER”. See its concept applied in Matt 24: 30; Mrk 13: 27; And in Luke 21 we see in place of the Matt; Mrk verses (just listed) that Luke 21: 28 describes the same event from an earthly point of view.. Here we see Luke identifying the looking up perspective whereas Matt and Mrk have the coming down perspective of Jesus. Thus, these 3 Gospels combine the heavenly view and the earthly response and together give us the full picture of the First Resurrection/Rapture… See 1 Thes 4:17 ” Caught up “TOGETHER WITH THEM” and 2 Thes 2:1; John 11:52, 1 Thes 5:9; . Once we begin seeing what the Holy Spirit is teaching us in these verses then also understand this same great mystery of 1 Cor 15:51-57 in the context of Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 15-26… and chapter 11 of Hebrews verse 11:40… (according to its immediately prior context)… The Rapture is the first resurrection. Both the dead in Christ (Jew and Gentile) Jesus will bring with Him while receiving we who are alive and remain (survive) either Jew or Gentile… There is ONLY one way to be saved no matter who we are at the close of the age; Believe by Faith in Jesus Christ. Amen

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