Israel: Identity and Destiny



The topic on which I have been asked to speak today, “Israel”, is one of massive proportions, momentous implications and causes some of the deepest of divisions amongst Christians. To discuss “Israel” historically, racially, politically, geographically or simply by quoting scripture will likely prove unfruitful. Instead I want to try to begin to understand “Israel” from the end-time perspective in which we stand[1].

We are slow to read “the signs of the times” (Matt 16:3). I remember being at the border crossing between Jordan and Israel conversing with an Australian woman of Palestinian origin about all the Arab ladies wearing burqas. She commented that a few years before you simply wouldn’t see this, and then asked, “What has changed?” I replied “9/11”; we agreed that 9/11 has changed everything.  Having been in Turkey in May where Islamisation is manifest, chatting to friends back from Brunei where Sharia law has just been introduced and being bombarded by the media with information about the unspeakable atrocities of Islamic State in the Middle East, it is clear to me that we are in the end-times scenario of the book of Revelation that can throw light on the testimony of the Spirit concerning Israel today.

Revelation 13 speaks of the beast, the anti- Christ, or anti-Messiah, as someone whose mortal wound has been healed (13:3, 12). This is the satanic counterpart of the Lamb standing as slain (Rev 5:6). Since Islam is going through its own beastly global “resurrection”[2] then surely the Lord’s plan to save his own kin according to the flesh must be intensifying (Rom 9:5; 11:26). In the mercy of God perhaps the escalating struggle with Islam will move the Gentile Church to accept that the evangelising of the Jewish people is a prophetic priority upon which various end-time promises of God depend (Rom 11:15). The key to understanding the last things is however neither Islam nor national Israel, it is Jesus.

When Jesus declared himself to be “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev 22:13) he testified that all end-time realities  find their meaning in him. He is the Son whom God has appointed “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). The Sonship of Jesus is the mirror in which the identity and destiny of Israel must be seen.

Shaping the Son

The story of the shaping of Israel[3] as a true son of God begins with the covenant promise to Abraham that he will be given land as a place for his descendants to dwell. It is the supernatural gift of a son which makes title to Canaan meaningful (Gen 12:1-3, 6; 13:15; 17:8; Exodus 33:1; Num 32:11; Psalm 105:9-12). The one distinguishing feature of Abraham was his faith[4]. According to God’s own word Abraham was a prophet (Gen 20:7); and it was in his capacity that he fulfilled the words of Jesus to the unbelieving Jews of his time, ““Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”” (John 8:56). As a man who saw end-things Romans 4:13 tells us that Abraham’s prophetic vision extended to believing his “heirs” would inherit not simply Canaan but “the world” (Rom 4:13; cf. Gen 20:7). One story best explains the dimensions of the prophetic Abrahamic faith that was big enough to believe his son would receive the world; the Sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22). This story unveils the character of the father –son relationship between Abraham and Isaac that is foundational to the identity and destiny of “Israel”.

At the time of this episode Isaac was of sufficient age and stamina to carry enough wood up Mt Moriah to consume a human body (Gen 22:6). As such he was a young man whose knowing submission and obedience to his father was unquestioning. To an ordinary parent the thought of slaughtering your only beloved son on God’s altar of sacrifice is abominable (Gen 22:1), but the writer of Hebrews knows that Abraham was a “seer”, “By faith…. Abraham considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb 11:17, 19)[5]. The faith to believe God for a supernaturally provided son was great, but the faith to trust God for the resurrection of the promise was far greater. It is in this realm of sacrificial obedience and submission that Abraham saw in the Spirit the coming day of the crucified and resurrected only Son of God (Gen 22:2; Luke 3:22; John 3:16; 8:56)[6].

Prophetically, as in a type, the connection between father-Abraham son-Isaac and the LORD is the substance of the identity of Israel down the generations (Gen 22:12; 2 Cor 7:1). The Israel that exists by faith knows that she may be called to honour the covenant by the loss of her own life. A son must be willing to submit for the honour of a father whatever the cost. Isaac’s son Jacob, the person first called “Israel” (Genesis 32:28)[7], communicates this awesome truth by naming the “the God of Abraham” the “the Fear of Isaac” (Gen 31:42, 53). True Israel lives as a son by this holy fear. This was rarely national Israel’s experience.

The LORD commissioned Moses to command Pharaoh to release the people from captivity, “Israel is my firstborn son… “Let my son go” (Ex 4:22-23). But as soon as Moses’ message met resistance Israel stopped believing the good news sent from their heavenly Father (Ex 5:21; 6:9; Acts 7:35). Thus began the nation’s long history of rebellion; of murmuring in the wilderness, endless idolatries and the persecution of the prophets (Ex 16:3; 32:4-6; Ezek 20:8, 24). This could never annul the love bond between God as a Father and Israel as a son, as he declares with deep feeling pathos in the prophets, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1). Even at the close of the Old Testament, well after the return from captivity in Babylon,  the wounded father-heart of God still cries out against Israel, ““A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts”” (Mal 1:6).

Though Israel reoccupied the land something was missing from her heart, when the new temple was opened those who had seen the one built by Solomon wept in grief it was so stripped of grandeur (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3), ruled by foreign kings rather than the LORD Nehemiah confesses, “we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy … behold, we are slaves.” (Neh 9:26-27 cf. Ezra 9:9). None of the prophetic promises of restoration had come to pass[8], there was no national feast to celebrate the return from Babylon and the Jewish writings between the Old and New Testaments speak of Israel as still in exile[9] . The presence of the glory of God that had defined Israel’s spiritual existence since the exodus from Egypt (Ex 13:21; 3:14-16; 40:34-38; Lev 9; 1 Kings 8:11) had not returned to the temple (Ezek 11:22-23).

The restoration of God’s glory which defined the identity and destiny of Israel awaited the coming of a true Israelite who understood to the core of his being that the essence of sonship involved a fearful submission even to death, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”(John 1:14 ESV)


The entire old covenant history of Israel is gathered up and perfected in the life of Jesus; or to put this another way, the Old Testament is a type, and Jesus is the antitype[10].

As the first born males in Egypt were threatened by Pharaoh, the baby Jesus must be rescued from the murderous Herod (Ex 1; Matt 2); the gifts offered to Christ by the wise men fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy that in the last days the Gentiles will bring up offerings to Israel (Isa 60:6; Matt 2:11). Hosea describes Israel as the son called out of Egypt, Matthew quotes this of the infant Jesus’ return from Egypt (Hos 11:1; Matt 2:15); Israel rebelled in the wilderness and was punished for 40 years, Jesus was faithful for 40 days and crossed the Jordan in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). Moses ascended Sinai and came down with the Law, Jesus ascends a mountain in Galilee and gives his own kingdom sermon (Matt 5-7); the true temple is his own body (John 2:19-22); he is the living bread that comes down from heaven greater than the manna (John 6:51); the people of Christ’s time celebrated Hanukkah as the Festival of lights, the Lord proclaimed  himself to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12); the gathering from east and west is no longer to the land (Isa 43:5) but to Jesus himself (Matt 8:11-12). Jesus is the “true vine” that Israel was always called to be (Jer 2:21; John 15:1). The Hebrew Bible ends with Cyrus proclaiming the LORD has given him “all the kingdoms of the earth” so Israel is commissioned to “go up” to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chron 36:23), at the end of Matthew Jesus has received all authority in heaven and earth and commissions his disciples to “go” and disciple the world (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus however must fulfil the destiny of Israel in another and more tragic way. As ancient Israel from the time of Moses resisted the leadership of God-given kings, prophets and wise men (cf. Matt 23:34), “it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33). The presence of the fullness of the glory of God in the one true Son of God draws out of old Israel all the very worst of her perpetual rebellion against her Father (Isa 63:16; 64:8; Jer 2:27).

The rulers of Israel knew that the covenant curses proclaimed that a man hanging on a cross was cursed by God and no longer a member of the nation. A crucified Messiah was an utter impossibility (Deut 21:22-23). As Jesus hang dying “the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35); “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt 27:43). Their verdict that Jesus is not the Son, that he is no true Israelite, seems infallibly confirmed by his anguished lament, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 cf. Ps 22:1). The strange history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people is reaching its climax in the blood of the cross (Luke 22:20; Col 1:20; Heb 12:24; 13:20), Jesus dies in the place of rebellious Israel taking upon himself all the covenant curses (Gal.3:13; 2 Cor.8:9;  Isa 53:8;  Dan 9:26). His terrible lament is one that apostate Israel could never utter for herself, his is the pain of lost glory, for Jesus is taking upon himself the atoning weight of the lost sonship of Israel- disinheritance and fatherlessness.  This is not all. From her beginning God had called Israel to be a nation of priests on behalf of the world, so by dying as Israel’s Messiah Jesus dies representatively for all peoples (cf. Gen.12:2-3; Exodus 19:5-6).


This Son has offered what Isaac could never give; his perfect submission to death for the glory of the Father[11] releases the power of resurrection life to change everything. So Peter preaches at Pentecost, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36). To announce the resurrected Son is to announce all that Israel was ever called to be,  “Jesus…descended from David according to the flesh…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,” (Romans 1:4 ESV cf. Acts 13:35). In Messiah’s representative role the end of Israel’s long state of spiritual exile has come through his return to the glory of the Father (Rom 6:4). This is the one in whom “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2 Cor 1:20), the “Son the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). To preach the death-and-resurrection of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the End time exile and restoration in him[12]; the fullness of Israel exists in Jesus as the glorified Messiah, “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:5 ESV)

The Sacrifice of Israel

Why then are the mass of Israelites “according to the flesh” so blinded as to the identity of their Messiah (Rom 9:3, 5; 2 Cor 5:16; Gal 4:29 cf. John 8:15). A provocative answer is suggested by Paul when he says, “salvation has come to the Gentiles so as to make Israel jealous” in order that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:11, 14). Paul’s end-time expectation is that Jewish people throughout the earth will be jealous of the spirituality of Gentile Christians; something is deeply wrong here.

I have seen Gentile believers who claim to be Jewish, wish they were Jewish, dress up like orthodox Jews, make clumsy attempts to use Hebrew and come up with theologies that turn Gentile believers into Israel. All of which is to deny the one thing the separated brothers of Jesus need to most see in us, the glory of sonship. The glory which connected father Abraham and son Isaac on the mountain, that accompanied Israel out of Egypt and filled the temple when Isaiah had his vision of the LORD, this glory needs to be seen in our faces as we behold “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (Ex 13:21; Isa 6:1-7; John 12:41; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:6; Rev 1:14-16). Paul bluntly compares the old and new covenant dispensations, “If there was glory in the ministry which brought condemnation, the ministry of justification must far exceed it in glory.” (2 Cor 3:9). The prophetic priority of the evangelisation of the Jewish people can never be realised under the spiritual conditions of the Church as we know it for we are short of glory! And here is the reason why.

Jesus tells us plainly, ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things, and enter into his glory.”” (Luke 24:26). Hebrews is even more expansive, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:8-9 ESV). Paul joins the dots, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17 ESV cf. Eph 1:18). The glorious inheritance of the sons of God, of which the Promised Land was always a type, is made visible only through suffering for God’s kingdom! This is what the comfortable Western Church does not want to hear.

John Piper is right on track in saying to Gentile Christians, “The whole spirit of our interaction (with Jewish people) should be like the father to the elder brother (in the story of the prodigal son): Come on in to the party. You belong here!” Anyone who knows the history of the relationship between Gentile Christianity and Judaism, and perhaps has visited the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem as I have, knows that the Jewish people do not feel invited to “our” party!

Jewish orthodoxy maintains that a suffering Messiah is no Saviour at all, the gospel teaches that only Christ crucified can open the gate of glory to his people (1 Cor 1:21-23). The only possible way to reveal the truth that Jesus is Lord and Messiah is to life a life shaped by death and restoration for others. Paul speaks repeatedly of his sufferings as for the glory of the Church (Eph 3:13 cf. Col 1:24); “death is at work in us, life in you” (2 Cor 4:12). To communicate Jesus is the Messiah the Gentile Church must look like the Messiah. Only a mode of life that involves suffering for others will ever soften the hard heartedness of Israel so that they might turn to Jesus as their Messiah and so be saved (Acts 7:51). Scripture anticipates a great end-time harvest of Israel, “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:15). For this promise to be fulfilled the manifest glory of God must be released by a laying down our lives for the lost people of God (Rom 11:1-2, 15; 26).  Christians everywhere, Jew and Gentile, need to rediscovery of the Jewishness of Jesus in us all.

When I was Jerusalem a few years ago a Hebrew speaking long term Gentile missionary shared this painful story. He was trying to find a church to belong to, so he approached a Messianic pastor about attending their congregation, only to be told; “You are very welcome to join us, but you will never be able to have a place of leadership, for you can never understand the Jewish heart.” Is not “the Jewish heart” the Son who indwells the heart of the Father (John 1:18), did not the Jewish heart come to live in me because the day I decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God and the King of Israel came to live in me (Eph 3:17). Rather than taking this Messianic pastor’s comments as an indictment on his spirituality, God is calling us as Gentile followers of Messiah Jesus to be willing to lay down our lives that his brothers according to the flesh might see his glory.


There surely is an end-time call on the Church throughout the world today. A sacrificing church will see old rivalries put to death, including those between Messianic and Gentile Christians, but even more profoundly in Christ’s missionary purposes amongst the nations. According to Islamic tradition Ishmael is the prophetic successor of Abraham and the ancestor of the prophet Muhammad. In the Bible this role is performed by Isaac, a typoe of Jesus. Underneath all the strife in the Middle East is sibling rivalry as to who is the true son of God. When the Gentile Church fully believes that Jesus as the fullness of Israel is the Son of God it will bleed for the salvation of lost Israel, and when Jewish Christians accept that the fullness of Messiah’s Sonship can live in Gentiles we will see the Lord raise up Messianic Jewish martyrs who will give their lives for the nations, particularly for Moslems; this will precipitate a move of the Spirit across the world.

Paul’s blunt words to the Galatians need to be heard today; “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.” (Gal 6:15-17).

Through sharing in the sufferings of the cross Paul sees in the Spirit the glory of the new creation that is coming in Christ, he sees a new humanity made up equally of Jew and Gentile filled with the wholeness of God, he sees this as the temple that stands forever and a Bride whose beauty old and new is unblemished, all this hold together in a climactic way because through Jesus we, Jew and Gentile, together have “access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:15, 18, 20-22; 5:27). In the End Jew and Gentile shall stand together before the throne of God as one corporate son in glory (Rev 2:17).

The identity of the Israel of God is a genuine end-times reality revealed only in an atmosphere of undivided sacrificial love between Gentile and Jewish brothers of Jesus (Gal 3:26). The presence of God in such a family radiates an eternal glory with an authority to persuade the embittered secular Jew, the hostile anti-Semite , the fanatical Moslem and anyone else who has eyes to see that God’s long term plan for Israel, stretching from the sacrifice of Isaac through the Holocaust was one full of wisdom and grace (Eph 3:21). Such insight can only ever be manifest through our share in the holy light that shines lens of cross (Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). The revelation of the identity of Israel as the fullness found in Christ can only come through our struggles, tribulations, distress and deliverances for these lost sons of God (Acts 14:22; 1 Pet 4:14).  May God mercifully give us to “see” such things.

[1] The last days began with the coming of Jesus e.g. Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 2 Pet 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Rev 22:13.

[2] This not to say that Islam is exclusively the place where the spirit of antichrist is evident (1 John 2:18).

[3] The biblical story of human sonship starts with Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

[4] At the point when Abraham (Abram) unreservedly believes God for the good news of the miraculous birth of a son the LORD counts him as a righteous man (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:9, 22; Gal 3:6; James 2:23). The true children of Abraham are those who share the patriarch’s faith that God will provide an heir who will inherit all his promises (Matt 3:9; John 8:39, 56; Rom 4:16; 9:7; Gal 3:7, 9). Faith more than physical descent is crucial in defining Israel[4].

[5] Hebrews describes faith as “the conviction of things not seen” (11:1 cf.3, 7, 13).

[6] This message of death and resurrection must be the way, as Paul puts it, God “preached the gospel” to Abraham (Gal 3:8).

[7] Long before the national possession of Canaan. Cf. Israel was still Israel during the Babylonian exile.

[8] Isa. 4:2-6; 24:23; 25:9-10; 35:3-6, 10; 40:3-5, 9-11; 52:7-10; 59:15-17, 19-21; 60:1-3; 62:10-11; 63:1, 3, 5, 9; 64:1; 66:12, 14-16, 18-19; Ezek. 43:1-7; Hag. 2:7, 9; Zech. 8:4-5, 10-12; 8:2-3; 14:1-5, 9, 16; Mal. 3:1-4; Ps. 50:3-4; 96:12-13; 98:8-9

[9] Tobit 14:5; Baruch 3:8 cf. the Dead Sea Scrolls literature.

[10] See; ; pp.53-54

[11] Offered by faith (Heb 12:2).

[12] Fulfilling Isa 26:16-21; 65:17; Ezek 36:30-38; 37:1-14; 40-48 etc.

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