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: