Back To The Land

Recent events in Israel and Lebanon have Evangelical Christians abuzz for a number of reasons. But, when it comes to eschatology, inquiring minds want to know. Is the current Jewish state of Israel the fulfillment of prophecy? Did God promise to return His people to the land in the last days. This is a good question and I’ve assembled some thoughts on the subject. I’ll be throwing around some specialized terms, so be sure to use the resources I’ve linked in the right column if you’re unsure about labels such as futurist, preterist, dispensationalist, etc..

Most dispensationalists such as John Walvoord, Thomas Ice, and Dwight Pentecost would expect to see Israel returned to the land, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham:

Genesis 15:18 – 21 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Thomas Ice sees this regathering as proof of God’s faithfulness to His people and the means God will use to prepare a believing remnant of Jews:

…in the mean time, the current regathering of Israel in unbelief is for the purpose of putting God’s covenant people through the fire of tribulation, which will result in the salvation of the remnant.

Ice sees modern Israel as vindication of the position long held by dispensationalists, before there was ever hope of seeing it fulfilled in their lifetimes:

The arrival of the modern state of Israel on the world scene in 1948 was a big boon to the premillennial understanding of the Bible. This vindicates- in history- our biblical belief that God has a future plan for the land of Israel and the Jewish people.

R. Scott Clark
, a preterist and amillennialst sees things a bit differently:

Therefore, the premise that God’s intent has been to establish a permanent or millennial, national, Jewish people has it exactly backward. Our Dispensationalist brothers confuse what is temporary with what is permanent, and what is permanent with what is temporary. It is the teaching of God’s Word that Jesus is the true Israel of God, that his incarnation, obedience, death and resurrection was not a by-product of Israel’s rejection of the offer of an earthly kingdom, but the fulfillment of God’s plan from all eternity.

Then, you have someone like George Eldon Ladd who has been characterized as a preterist/futurist and holds to an historic premillennial scheme. He believes that God has preserved Israel as a people and looks forward to a remnant being saved in the last days. Whether that involves a gathering into the land or not, remains an open question to Ladd.

Therefore the popular Dispensational position that Israel is the “clock of prophecy” is misguided. Possibly the modern return of Israel to Palestine is a part of God’s purpose for Israel, but the New Testament sheds no light on this problem. However, the preservation of Israel as a people through the centuries is a sign that God has not cast off his people Israel.

Finally, John Piper comes with what I would characterize as the classic historic premillennial understanding of the issue:

The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel… Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land. (See also Daniel 9:4-7; Psalm 78:54-61.) Be careful not to infer from this that Gentile nations (like Arabs) have the right to molest Israel. God’s judgments on Israel do not sanction human sin against Israel. Israel still has human rights among nations even when she forfeits her present divine right to the Land. Remember that nations which gloated over her divine discipline were punished by God (Isaiah 10:5-13; Joel 3:2). So the promise to Abraham that his descendants will inherit the Land does not mean that all Jews inherit that promise. It will come finally to the true Israel, the Israel that keeps covenant and obeys her God.

For further reading, check out these links:

John Owen and a Reformed Perspective on the Jewish People

What do you do with a future National Israel in the Bible?

Charles H. Spurgeon and the Nation of Israel

Why are the Jewish People Special?

An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties:The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous said:

    Hi,

    I’m glad the essay on “The Israel of God” was useful, but I’m not and never have been a “preterist.” I hold and was arguing in that essay, what I understand to be the traditional a-millennial view of eschatology.

    I summarize my eschatology in thesis form here:

    http://www.wscal.edu/clark/thesestheologicae.php

    My eschatology is also reflect here:
    http://www.wscal.edu/clark/suffering.php

    Blessings,

    rsc

    R. Scott Clark, D.Phil
    Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology
    Westminster Seminary California
    “For Christ, His Gospel, and His Church.”
    rsclark@wscal.edu
    http://www.wscal.edu/clark
    Associate Pastor
    Oceanside URC

    August 10, 2006
    Reply
  2. Bo Salisbury said:

    Hi Scott:

    Thanks for the link.

    My bad on the “preterist” label… Perhaps you could help me understand… would you be a partial preterist? For example, would you see Matthew 24 as fulfilled?

    This week, I think I understand that passage as D.A. Carson would.

    If I understand Greg Beale correctly, he is an amillennialist and sees most of Revelation as dealing with Christ’s reign on earth through the millennium, the present age, culminating in the second coming. He describes his approach as eclectic/idealist (his own term). Would that be close to your view of traditional amillennialism? Most of the amillennialists I am personally aquainted with are partial preterists and my postmillennial friends seem to be heading toward full preterism or as they describe themselves, “consistent preterists.”

    Bo

    August 12, 2006
    Reply
  3. Anonymous said:

    Hi Bo,

    My view would be very much like Kim Riddlebarger’s or Greg Beale’s or Dennis Johnson’s or Cornelis Venema’s(all have written volumes on eschatolgy or the Revelation advocating versions of Amillennialism).

    See:

    Venema, Cornelis P. The Promise of the Future. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000.

    Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillenialism: Understanding the Endtimes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.

    Riddlebarger, Kim. The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

    Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2001.

    On preterism see Bob Strimple’s response in When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism. Chuck (C. E.) Hill’s response in the same vol.

    Preterism, as I uderstand it, says that Jesus has already returned. They tend to date the Revelation to before AD 70. As far as I can see, partial preterists are on the same road, they agree in hermeneutical principle and on the dating of the Revelation, but they disagree that Jesus has already returned.

    I deny both these views. I am convinced that the Revelation was written c. early 90’s AD. I’m influenced by Colin Hemer and Chuck Hill. See: Hemer, Colin J. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Sheffield: JSOT, 1986.

    See also:

    Hill, C. E. Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Future Hope in Early Christian Eschatology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    I read the Apocalypse as visionary pastoral letter from the Apostle John near his death to the actual historical churches mentioned in the first three chapters.

    The letter is a vision of the ascended Christ and a symbolic account of the nature of life in the inter-regnum, between Christ’s ascension and return. It is a series of cycles, telling the same story from different perspectives.

    Perhaps the greatest evil of the various forms of preterism is that it destroys the pastoral value of the Revelation. The intent and message of the Revelation is to encourage a suffering church waiting for her Messiah to return and consummate his reign begun on the cross.

    I’m a traditional (see Hill) amillennialist not a preterist or partial preterist.

    Blessings,

    rsc

    August 14, 2006
    Reply

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