A Case For The Restoration Of National Israel
There are ample scriptural reasons to believe in a future salvation and restoration of the nation Israel. The positive case for a restoration of Israel can be categorized in seven positive declarations:
1. The Bible explicitly teaches the restoration of the nation Israel. The Bible on many occasions teaches that Israel will be restored to its land. For example, Deuteronomy 30:1-6 is a strategic passage regarding Godís plans for Israel: "When all these things happen to you Ė the blessings and curses I have set before you Ė and you come to your senses [while you are] in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there. The Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than [He did] your fathers. The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live."
This passage details a big-picture prophecy concerning Israelís future. God had dramatically delivered Israel from Egypt. He also gave Israel the Law. God described in Deuteronomy 28 Ė 29 the blessings that would come upon Israel if the nation obeyed Him, and He discussed the curses that would come because of disobedience. God then discusses what the distant future will hold for Israel. After proclaiming blessings and curses, God would banish Israel to all the nations. But a time would come when Israel would "return" to God and God would "restore" Israel. This includes a spiritual salvation ("your God will circumcise your heart") and a restoration "into the land your fathers possessed." In sum, God promised Israel that after a period of banishment the nation would be saved and restored to its promised land. Many other passages reaffirm this expectation. See, for example, Isaiah 66:22; Ezekiel 36:22-30; 37:21-29; Joel 3:20; and Zephaniah 3:20. When examining these and other restoration texts in the Bible, certain truths emerge:
1. The restoration of Israel involves both spiritual and physical blessings, including possession of the land of promise.
2. The promise of restoration is based not on Israelís greatness but on Godís choice and Godís character.
3. The promise for restoration takes place after the period of Israelís disobedience.
As the passages above and many others indicate, the restoration of Israel is a major theme of the Old Testament. It is an explicit doctrine. As such, we should be skeptical of any perspective that says Israel will not be restored as a nation, especially when no New Testament text explicitly revokes or transfers the Old Testament expectation.
The future of national Israel is not just an Old Testament matter. The statement in Romans 11:26 Ė "And in this way Israel shall be saved" Ė is consistent with the view that Israel will experience a national salvation and restoration at some point in the future. The other 10 references to "Israel" in Romans chapters 9 through 11 refer to ethnic Israel, so the Israel who "shall be saved" in 11:26 must also refer to ethnic Israel. Thus, Romans 11 is evidence for a special future for Israel.
As Blaising notes: "Are there theological reasons for believing that Israel has a future? Yes, because God is faithful to His word. Yes, because, ĎFor I, the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumedí (Mal. 3:6). Yes, because, ĎThe gifts and calling of God are irrevocableí (Rom. 11:29)."
2. The Bible explicitly promises the perpetuity of the nation Israel. Another proof for the coming restoration of Israel is that the Bible teaches the perpetuity of the nation Israel. Israel will always be a nation before God. Jeremiah 31:35-37 states, "This is what the Lord says: The One who gives the sun for light by day, the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar Ė the Lord of Hosts is His name: If this fixed order departs from My presence Ė [this is] the Lordís declaration Ė then also Israelís descendants will cease to be a nation before Me forever. This is what the Lord says: If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below explored, I will reject all of Israelís descendants because of all they have done Ė [this is] the Lordís declaration."
Notice that Israelís everlasting existence as a "nation" is linked to the continued existence of the sun, moon, and stars. One who looks into the sky and sees these cosmic bodies can have assurance that Israelís existence as a nation before God is assured. Claims that this passage has been reinterpreted so that the church is the true Israel that fulfills this passage are not satisfactory. The nation Israel is promised a perpetual place in the plan of God, and the nation will always endure as a special object of Godís love.
3. The New Testament reaffirms a future restoration for the nation Israel. The fact that God does reaffirm a salvation and restoration of Israel in the New Testament gives even more reason to believe in a future for Israel. For example, Jesusí words in Matthew 19:28 are explicit evidence that Jesus expected a restoration of national Israel. Matthew states, "Jesus said to them, ĎI assure you: In the [regeneration], when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.í"
Jesus is speaking about what will take place in the future. In the day when the earth experiences regeneration and the kingdom is established, the apostles will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. Almost certainly the apostles understood Jesusí words to refer to a restored national Israel. Even after 40 days of kingdom instruction, the apostles were still thinking of a restoration of Israel (see Acts 1:3, 6).
Another passage that supports the idea of a restoration of national Israel is Acts 1:6-7 Ė "So when they had come together, they asked Him, ĎLord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?í He said to them, ĎIt is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.í"
This text, which describes Jesusí final interchange with His apostles before His ascension, affirms the idea of a restoration of the nation Israel. First, it shows that at this late date in the earthly ministry of Jesus the apostles fully expected a restoration of the nation Israel. Second, Jesusí response includes no rebuke or correction for this belief, thus affirming the correct nature of their understanding.
The fact that these disciples had immediately experienced 40 days of kingdom instruction from the risen Jesus (see Acts 1:3) makes it unlikely they could be so wrong about the nature of the kingdom and national Israelís relationship to it. Also, Jesusí answer, although not an explicit affirmation of their hope, appears to assume the correctness of their expectation.
Additional texts that support and reaffirm the restoration of Israel include Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:35; 21:24; and Romans 11.
4. The New Testament reaffirms that the Old Testament promises and covenants to Israel are still the possession of Israel. If the nation Israel has been permanently superseded by the church, one would not expect a statement in the New Testament declaring that the covenants and promises of the Old Testament are still the possession of the nation Israel. But this is what is found in Romans 9:3b-4 when Paul refers to "my countrymen by physical descent. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises."
According to Paul, the "covenants" and "promises" and even "temple service" are still seen as being the possession of Israel even with the church existing and even during a time in which Israelís disobedience is evident.
5. New Testament prophecy affirms a future for Israel. Evidence for a future salvation and restoration of Israel is found in New Testament prophetic passages. Put simply, the fact that New Testament prophecy mentions Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple as having continuing relevance is supplemental proof that national Israel still has a role to play in Godís plan.
Luke 21 also discusses important eschatological events. Verse 24 is evidence for a restoration of Israel. Jesus states, "They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." Jesus predicts that Jerusalem will be under Gentile control for a period known as "the times of the Gentiles." But is there any indication of a restoration of Israel in this verse? The answer is yes. The word "until" signifies a limit to the judgment on Israel discussed in 21:24.
6. The New Testament maintains a distinction between Israel and the church. The New Testament distinguishes Israel and the church in such a way that rules out the idea that the church is now identified as Israel or that the church entirely inherits Israelís promises and covenants to the exclusion of Israel. "The New Testament evidence reveals that outside of a few disputed referencesÖthe name Israel is related to the Ďnationalí covenant people of the Old Testament." (R.L. Saucy)
The New Testament still consistently refers to the nation Israel as "Israel" even after the establishment of the church. Israel is addressed as a nation in contrast to Gentiles after the church was established at Pentecost (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28). As C.C. Ryrie points out, "In Paulís prayer for natural Israel (Rom. 10:1) there is a clear reference to Israel as a national people distinct from and outside the church."
7. The doctrine of election is proof that God has a future for Israel. From the beginning of Israelís existence, Godís choice of this nation was based on His unconditional electing purposes. It was not because of anything Israel had done that made her the chosen people of God (see Deut. 7:6-8). The New Testament reaffirms Israelís election as the reason God can never remove or replace Israel. In Romans 11:1-2a, Paul states, "I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." In what J. Murray has called "the most emphatic negative available," Paul denies the possibility of Israelís being permanently rejected by God.
This issue of Israelís election is significant. In Scripture, Godís election is based on His sovereign choice and is not revoked by the disobedient actions of those with whom He has elected. This appears to be a problem for those who take a punitive supersessionist approach or assert that Israel is no longer the people of God because of their disobedience. If Israelís restoration is linked to Godís election, which Romans 11 indicates, then Israelís restoration is surely based on the character of God. Thus, Israelís restoration is sure because God is faithful and He keeps His promises.
Condensed from Has The Church Replaced Israel? by Michael J. Vlach, chapters 15 and 16 (pp. 177-201). Copyright © 2010 by Michael J. Vlach. Published by B&H Publishing Group. Used by permission. www.bhpublishinggroup.com