Israel and The End

Israel and the End[1]


I have long held ambivalence towards the Jewish state, but believing that it was God’s will for me to visit the Holy Land, I was particularly attentive to the voice of the Spirit as I crossed the land border between Jordan and Israel. The following scripture entered my awareness very clearly, ““Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isa 49:15) This surprising testimony did not settle all my questions, but pointed me in a direction that could not be ignored.

Upon returning to Australia I came across a comment by the Australian Messianic Rabbi Lawrence Hirsch, “Jewish Evangelism is a prophetic activity.” Sensing this to be a word for our time my mind was taken back to one of my own prophetic writings of several years ago/ In the midst of a multicultural prayer meeting I sensed that the Holy Spirit was speaking about a “reverse Pentecost” that entailed a journey “back to Jerusalem” empowered by the joy of universal reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19).

In the Bible, the greatest fracture within the human race is not between genders, races, classes or religions, but between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11-12). Any penultimate manifestation of the kingdom of God, i.e. any revelation of the coming of Jesus as King within historical time, must image that full reconciliation between Jew and Gentile has been achieved by the Gospel of Christ. This difficult subject presses itself upon us in a time when the Lord is seeking to reawaken our consciousness of the imminent End. Since this topic creates so much passion, I need to establish some guidelines relevant to the purposes of this article.

Setting the Parameters

This is an article I would rather not write, because misunderstanding cause pain amongst deeply committed believers of opposing theologies. On one side we have the traditional churches, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed etc. who hold what some call a “replacement theology”[2] i.e. the Church has replaced Israel in terms of the covenantal promises of God. On the other side, there has been a growing body of support, principally amongst Pentecostals and the newer Evangelical denominations, for a position sometimes called “Christian Zionism”. This sees the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land as an explicit fulfilment of scriptural prophecy and that Christians should support the state of Israel on biblical grounds. These profound differences stir strong emotions.

I have heard “replacement theology” declared “heretical”, and spoken to Palestinian believers for whom “Christian Zionism” is a corruption of the biblical message.  These tensions must be dealt with if the Church is to image the unity for which Jesus prayed and died (John 17:20-26). Who amongst the nations will believe that the Lord is coming again soon to renew all things (Matt 19:28) if our relationships are broken?

Since I want to be a part of healing these divisions and not accentuating them, I have taken a deliberately minimalist strategy in this paper. I am working hard to find common ground in the midst of two seemingly irreconcilable positions in the interests of “maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). This stance runs the risk of satisfying no-one, neither does it attempt to answer all possible issues. The place to begin any theological discussion is with Jesus.

Jesus and the Identity of Israel[3]

“Israel” first appears in Genesis 32:38 as the covenant name of Jacob, whose God is now called “the God of Israel”. When Jesus testifies, “you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) he identifies himself with the patriarch’s vision of a ladder of God stretching up to heaven and claims that God’s promise to Jacob of the gift of the land and descendants is completed in him(Gen 28:12-14). That Jesus as the “offspring” of Abraham (Gal 3:16) is the sole heir of the promises that constitute Israel (Heb 1:2; Rom 4:13) as the covenant people of God is a consistent apostolic teaching, “all the promises of God find their “Yes!” in him” (2 Cor 1:20). The implications of Jesus as the fullness of Israel for the modern state by the same name need to be viewed in the light of the meaning of his resurrection.

Jesus’ disciples grieved and despaired over his death, ““we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”” (Luke 24:21). They were anticipating a King who would immediately restore Israel’s political independence and were bitterly disappointed. To heal their confusion the resurrected Lord spent the 40 days teaching about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). As the climax of his instruction the apostles inquire, ““Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”” (Acts 1:6). “Christian Zionists” see this as evidence that the Lord’s teaching had kept alive hope in the Old Testament promises of a literal physical restoration of the land, “replacement theologies” interpret it as a sign that the apostles were still misguided about the nature of the kingdom of God. Neither interpretation is satisfying.

To suggest that after such intense instruction from the glorified Lord the apostles were still fundamentally confused about God’s rule is implausible. However, to believe however they were right in believing in a physically restored Israel but mistaken only in thinking the timing was imminent is to dismiss the impact of Jesus prophecies about the coming destruction of Jerusalem that must precede his Return (Matt 24:1-28). I believe our understanding of “restoration” needs to be put in a much larger frame.

Peter preaches, ““Repent …20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for the restoration[4] of all things”” (3:19-21). Israel will be “restored” when all things are renewed. Paul declares that “the hope of Israel”  has come in the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 26:6 -7, 21- 23; 24:15) and that this fulfilled hope will be imparted to the entire cosmos at Christ’s Coming ( Rom 8:18-25).  The resurrection of the Messiah has lifted the hope of the people of God to a new level and marks the end of Israel’s exile, in him. This does not however exclude end-time significance for the state of Israel.

The State of Israel: A Third Approach

The first approach is to dismiss the return of the Jews to Palestine to the theological margins. I do not believe this position is viable. Paul is categorical, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2)[5]. The state of Israel as a locus of Jewish presence must be meaningfully included in the wisdom of God working the restoration of “all things” (Acts 3:21; Rom 11:34-36; Eph 1:11).

An opposite emphasis sees Israel as the key to God’s end time plan, citing scripture[6] to the effect that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a prophetic fulfilment. The major problem with this view is that the relevant passages anticipate the return of the glory of the LORD, the Spirit’s gift of resurrection life and the rule of the Messiah (e.g. Ezek 36-37); all of which are absent in the contemporary Jewish state. Biblically, without God’s manifest presence Israel remains in exile[7]. Even if the creation of the modern Jewish state is miraculous, these miracles do not self-evidently reveal that this God’s glory is to be found Jesus. I must conclude that this second position is also inadequate. I wish to argue for a “sacramental” interpretation.

When theologians speak of a “sacramental principle” they mean created things functioning under divine grace become the vehicle of spiritual reality. The tree of life, the rainbow, circumcision, water, bread and wine etc. are sacramental because they are instruments of divine grace to be received by faith. On the outside, there is nothing special about communion bread, but by God’s promise it is a means of grace. I believe this is also the case with the concrete existence of the state of Israel, it points to something in the realm of grace beyond itself.

I believe the amazing historical return of the Jews to Palestine points “sacramentally” to a future resurrection.  Israel as a symbol of God’s faithfulness opens up a vital connection with him in the Spirit. To dismiss this is to dismiss an instrument of grace. However, a sign is not to be confused with what it points to[8]. Israel must in no sense be worshipped. If, in any manner, Israel has been restored by God’s power this must be by the power by which he raised Christ from the dead. Where however is this power on display in the Holy Land today?

Restoring a Divided Identity

“Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? ” (Rom 11:12-15). Paul teaches that a last days ingathering of Jewish people will issue in a time of unprecedented spiritual blessings[9] as his ministry to Gentiles makes the Jews “jealous”. Whilst this means a manifestation of God’s glorious favour amongst the Gentiles (Rom 9:23; 11:12; Col 1:27), the mechanism by which this happens must be consistent with the character of the kingdom of God.

The New Testament records it is out of “envy/jealousy” that the Jews crucified Jesus (Matt 27:18; Mark 15:10) and persecuted the apostles (Acts 5:17; 13:45; 17:5). Jewish antagonism was inflamed by the Gospel message that the “hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20; cf. Luke 24:21; Ezek 37:11) had been relocated from the nation to Jesus. The scandal that infuriated the leaders of the Jews in place after place[10]  was that the apostles proclaimed the promised Messiah had been rejected by his people through crucifixion but accepted by God through resurrection. The priority of the promises to Israel means that they have a pre-eminence in opportunity, the rejection of Messiah implies a priority in responsibility[11].

The situation with Gentiles is fundamentally different, the Gospel cannot be preached to us as the fulfilment of God’s promises to our fathers[12]. This radical difference in self-identity identity between Jew and Gentile has led to the countless historical tragedies which culminated in the Holocaust. But it also opens up the possibility of a full and equal “partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:5) between Jew and Gentile that manifests Christ’s resurrection power, “through him (Jesus) we both (Jew and Gentile) have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18)

The Good News of the “mystery of Christ” is that the Gentiles are now fellow heirs with Jewish believers in the inheritance of God (Rom 16:25-26; Eph 3:3ff; Col 1:26ff.). In the end-time reality born of Jesus’ resurrection there cannot be a “Jewish Church” separate from a “Gentile Church”. Gentile neglect of Jewish evangelism and the mistrust that many Messianic Jews have of Gentile Christianity[13] images to the principalities and powers (Eph 3:10) a divided household.  Such a household “cannot stand” (Mark 3:25) and robs the world of compelling evidence that the Church of Jesus Christ is an eternal family. Before Jesus can Return to “restore all things” (Acts 3:21) he must first restore the broken image of God in his Church.

A great theologian said, “it is only as Jews and Gentiles are reunited in Jesus Christ that the fullness of divine reconciliation can be opened to us in such a way that it can be mediated to all mankind. Only when the deepest schism of all is healed in the body of the one people of God and his Christ, will it be possible for the Gospel of the atoning love of God…to be proclaimed, to be believed, and to take root in all peoples and nations of mankind.”” (T.F.Torrance). The completion of the task of evangelising the world (Matt 24:14) awaits Jew-Gentile unity in Jesus.

In raising Jesus from the dead and declaring him with power to be God’s Son[14], the Spirit displays the power that will bring the present broken world to an End. When Jew and Gentile disciples of Jesus are united by this end-time power of the Spirit’s gift of sonship (Gal 3:26-28) can the world really believe “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet 4:7). This requires a much greater “miracle” than the recreation of the state of Israel; it requires a miracle of undying love. Here is where Lawrence Hirsch’s remark becomes pivotal, “Jewish Evangelism is a prophetic activity.”

The Prophetic Nature of Jewish Evangelism

Messianic Jews have a special role in spearheading unity in the church and the last times evangelisation of the world[15] because they have a priority in suffering for the Gospel, especially at the hands of their kinsman. This is the pattern throughout Acts and must remain so throughout the entire period of the last days until Messiah’s Return from heaven to consummate “all things” (Acts 3:20-21).

As the inward suffering of Jesus is the key to the atoning power of the cross, so the inward suffering of Messianic believers has an added dimensionality in which Gentiles cannot naturally share. This comes out in Paul’s remarkable statement, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom 9:1-5). The tension between the revelation that all the privileges and promises to Israel have been fulfilled in the blessedness of Jesus the Messiah, and the whole scale rejection of this Good News by Israel, drives Paul to want to substitute himself as a accursed sinful offering on their behalf (Cf. Col 1:24). Paul is sharing in the anguish that Jesus felt on behalf of the covenant people when they rejected him as the bearer of all God’s promises. Hidden in this inner suffering is the mystery of how the final reconciliation of all things in Christ will be achieved.

The faithful in Israel who carry a prophetic testimony of the kingdom of God have always been persecuted (Matt 23:29-35; Acts 7:52). In these last days we must anticipate that all Jewish people who hold “the testimony of Jesus … the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:10) will suffer great persecution at the hands of their kinsman (cf. 1 Thess 2:15). This redemptive suffering lies at the heart of the divine will in restoring the land of Israel. Out of the persecution of the Messianic believers in Israel life will flow to many Jewish people and around the world. Gentile believers will not however be passive observers in this global move of God.

When Paul says, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10 cf. 2 Cor 1:8-11; Eph 3:13), his words are set in a deliberate order. By resurrection power Paul is strengthened to share in the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ death on behalf of others. The restoration of all things, including the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, will be achieved through co-redemptive suffering. Gentile believers are called to identify, intercede and support the mission of the persecuted remnant of believing Israel by whatever means and at whatever cost. This is not as easy as it sounds.

A Messianic pastor in Israel told a Gentile inquirer he would be fully welcome to join their fellowship, but “You can never become a leader because a Gentile could never understand the Jewish heart.” Such rejection, sensed particularly by Palestinian Christians, requires great love. Only by a costly embracing of our Jewish brothers as members of the same family of God[16], however they may distance themselves from us, can Paul’s words be seen as truth, “he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Eph 2:15-16). As Jesus restored the unity of Jew and Gentile in his suffering flesh, so our flesh must suffer and be broken with him in our attitude to the whole Israel of God (Gal 6:15-16). Such manifest sacrificial love is at the heart of the “provocation to jealousy” for that obstinate race called Israel (Acts 7:51-52). Only such love will issue in their great turning to Jesus in the last days (Rom 11:11-32).

To stand with our Jewish brethren in their affliction will in future times involve a great deal of co-suffering. Nevertheless, the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ amidst great tribulation[17]and against the long historical flow of Gentile mistreatment of the Jewish people signifies the restoration of everything[18]. First of all it will signify this to Israel itself. In this way the discipling of Israel as a nation (Matt 24:14; 28:18-20) in preparation for the final judgement at the hands of Jesus the King (Matt 25:31-32) is a sure sign that the End is near.


My personal conclusion to this article is a rather unusual one. Although disagreeing with the interpretation that the return of the Jewish people is a direct fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, I am bound by the new covenant love of Christ to stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel in any way that will assist their holy vocation to usher in the Coming of Christ. This may include working to support them in acts of mercy, justice, evangelism and many other good works in breadth of the land that God has given them[19]. Such sacrificial service images Jesus as Messiah and restorer of all and is therefore a Gospel imperative. Only in this way can the life of Christ be manifest in resurrection power restoring Israel from her place of exile amongst the nations[20]. As resurrection power redeemed the Messiah from his exile from God and his covenant people on the cross (John 1:11; Heb 13:12), so this power can reconcile the mass of unbelieving Jews to Jesus as their LORD today. Let me conclude with a prophetic interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).

As Gentile Christians we represent the repentant “younger son”. Having received the Spirit of the Father, we must long for the unbelieving older sons (Israel) to return to our Father’s house and complete the circle of family joy. Is this our heart and our prayer? Similarly, those “older brothers” who have already returned home must love us Gentile believers as much as they love their own flesh. Though can a Gentile really say this?

[2] Also termed “supersessionism” or “fulfilment theology”.

[3] I have a much more detailed set of lecture notes on this topic that can be made available on request.

[4] The Greek word used here is a technical one employed in the Old Testament for the restoration of Israel to her own land (Jer 16:15; 23:8; 24:6; Hos 11:11; Ezek 16:55).

[5] Cf. Romans 9:4 where “Israelite” appears in the present tense of a community that inherits divine privileges.

[6] E.g. Deut 30:3; Isa 1:26; 11: 11 – 12; 27:13; Jer 16:15; 23:3; 30:18; Ezek 20:41; 36:1 – 38; 37:1 – 28; Zeph 3:20; Zech 1:17; 14:1.

[7] This is a common teaching in Judaism after the return from Babylon.

[8]This draws divine punishment ( 2 Ki 18:4; Jer 7; Mic 3:11-12). Consider also how circumcision became an automatic pass to heaven in rabbinical Judaism, a view that led to fierce resistance to the Gospel message.

[9] Whether “life from the dead” means vast blessings and/or resurrection, the perspective is eschatological.

[10] Acts 4:1-2; 5:17-18, 33; 6:12; 7:54; 8:1, 3; 9:1, 23, 29; 12:3; 13:50; 14:4, 19; 17:5; 18:12; 20:3; 21:27; 23:12; 24:9 Cf. 1 Cor 1:22; 2 Cor 11:24; 1 Thess 2:14-16

[11]N.b. Paul’s refrain, “to the Jew first” (Rom 1:16; 2:9; 10), which mirrors his missionary practice in Acts.

[12] E.g. Acts 3:13, 25; 5:30; 13:32; 26:6

[13] Jews should never be asked to embrace “Christianity”, with its institutionalised history of anti-Semitism.

[14] “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4).

[15] This is a New Testament pattern (Acts 2:14ff; Heb 1:1-2) and bears no connection to dispensationalism.

[16] This principle also has a wider application to our attitude to all Jewry throughout the world.

[17] Mark 13:24; Rev 1:9; 2:9; 7:14. To place “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14) somewhere in the future overlooks the near identical language between this text, tes thlipseos tes megales, and the imminent persecution, thlipsin megalen , that Jesus exhorted the believers in Thyatira to endure faithfully (Rev 2:29).

[18] Pointing to the truth of Paul’s great vision, “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10).

[19] None of which excludes the real needs of Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian people for lasting justice.

[20] This is a statement about the lost spiritual state of the Israel, as long as the glory of God is not in her midst.

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