The Counsel of Chalcedon XIV:4 (June, 1992) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
The Place of the Jews in Prophecy"
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen
Each month the "Cross-Examination" column presents a summary statement of a Reformed and Reconstructionist conviction in theology or ethics, and then offers brief answers to common questions, objections or confusions which people have about that belief. Send issues or questions you would like addressed by Dr. Bahnsen to the editor.
In Scripture, is there a distinctive future promised for the Jews as an ethnic group or nation? With respect to the question of the relationship of the Christian gospel to the Jews, as well as their place in Biblical prophecy, we believe the following truths to be based on God's word:
The Old Testament promises to Abraham and to the nation of Israel, when properly interpreted in light of the whole Bible, were all pledged in and through Christ for God's true people in all ages.
The greater attention and care which God gave to the nation of Israel throughout the period of the Old Covenant increased Israel's culpability for breaking the covenant and rejecting the promised Messiah.
Israel as a nation -- and the ethnic Jews as a race -- have been rejected by God, so that they no longer constitute His kingdom or His chosen people among all the nations on earth.
The kingdom of God is now in the days of the New Covenant identified with the international church of Jesus Christ (Gentile and Jewish); this is the "people for God's own possession" which, as such, inherits the blessings promised to Abraham and to Israel.
The Jews do not have any guarantee or hope of blessing from God apart from submission to the Son of God as Messiah, faith in the gospel, and incorporation into the church.
God's transfer of the kingdom away from Israel to the church indicates that there will be glorious days for the gospel throughout New Covenant history; the seed of Abraham -- true believers -- will grow to an overwhelming numerical size and bless all nations.
The progressing mass conversion of Gentiles in the world will eventually provoke the Jews to jealousy and bring them to a mass conversion of their own to Jesus Christ.
Commitment to the realization of this spiritual blessing for the Jews does not in itself necessarily commit the Christian, one way or the other, to a restoration of the Jews to the land of Palestine or their (alleged) moral right to that land.
When the world sees "all Israel" become saved (through Jewish longing for the saving blessing experienced by the Gentiles), there will be yet further and greater blessings from God upon the whole population of the world because Christ will then be internationally recognized and exalted among men.
The Biblical teaching regarding the Jews and the future of Israel is, therefore, one more line of Scriptural support for the optimism and confidence of the postmillennialist regarding the success of the Great Commission before Christ returns in judgment on the world.
Question: Is what has been said above the standard postmillennial view regarding "the Jewish question"?
Answer: No; there is no universally accepted or "standard" position among all postmillennial commentators regarding the place of the Jews in prophecy. The above view cannot claim to be the "official" postmillennial statement, but nevertheless many, many well respected postmillennial scholars have interpreted the Bible, particularly Romans 9-11, in the fashion suggested. A forceful presentation of this view can be found in John Murray's commentary on Romans (in the New International Commentary series). The writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith adhered to this perspective, as we see in the Larger Catechism #191 and its prooftexts. What do we pray for when we pray "Thy kingdom come"? The Westminster Assembly answered: "we pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in" (citing Romans 10:1; 11:25-26).
(Other postmillennialists would not interpret Paul's words as indicating a distinctive and blessed future for ethnic Israel, but rather for Israel in the spiritual sense as all the elect. Some have even taken the radical -- and historically dubious -- position that ethnic Jews are not even to be found, or can no longer be identified, on the earth. But Paul's explicit concern was for his "kinsmen after the flesh" [Rom. 9:3], not just spiritual Israel. Moreover, God's assurances concerning these kinsmen would not be thwarted by the loss to human history of those who are Jews after the flesh, concerning whom He had made promise.)
Question: By saying that in the days of the New Covenant God has rejected ethnic Israel as His special people, have you made God a covenant-breaker?
Answer: Not at all. God is the One who kept covenant, and then eventually visited covenant-breaking Israel with the sanctions of His covenant. Rejection of Israel was not contrary to the covenant, but precisely in fulfillment of the terms of that covenant. "And all these curses shall come upon you, and shall pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not hearken to the voice of Jehovah your God..., and they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and upon your seed forever" (Deuteronomy 28:45-46). God threatened to reverse the promise made to Abraham: "You shall be left few in number, whereas you had been as the stars of heaven for multitude" (v. 62). And promised land will be forfeited, said Moses: "you shall be plucked from off the land that you go in to possess, and Jehovah will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other" (vv. 63-64). Moses sang that there should be no doubt about God's threatened rejection of Israel: "For Jehovah will judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants" (32:36).
Question: What right do we have to think that God has rejected Israel as His special people once and for all, actually transferring its privileges to another?
Answer: Our convictions here are based on the words of Christ, the Lord of the covenant. He said that the martyred blood of all the previous saints of God would be required now of His own generation (Luke 11:51). The capital city and God's own temple would be desolated (13:35) as Jerusalem is trodden down by the Gentiles (21:24). What will God do to those who have killed the prophets and finally murder His Son? He will destroy the husbandmen "and give the vineyard to others" (20:9-16). The Jewish leaders perceived very clearly that "He spoke this parable against them" (v. 19).
As Matthew's gospel puts it: Jesus declared "Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you [the Jews] and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (21:43).
Paul brings out the meaning of this judgment from God when he writes, "by their unbelief they were broken off" (Romans 11:20). After this point those who claim to be the Jews are nothing more than a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9).
Question: What then becomes of God's promises to the people of Abraham?
Answer: Abraham actually rejoiced and looked ahead to Christ's day (John 8:56), and as Paul teaches us, all the promises of God are affirmed and confirmed in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Indeed, the promises spoken by God to Abraham were intended for his seed -- his singular seed, that is Christ (Galatians 3:16). Believers in Christ are made "joint-heirs" with Christ as God's Son (Romans 8:15-17).
Accordingly, the church now stands in the place of privilege which once belonged to ethnic Israel. The church is "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16); it is conceived of as the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12, 19). What God once said of the nation Israel, He now declares about the church of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Those who are of faith are, therefore, hereafter deemed the true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 29). "He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart" (Romans 2:28-29). The promises which God made to Abraham and to His people, Israel, will thus be fulfilled in those who are joined to Christ for salvation.
Question: So then, can there be no special future for ethnic Israel in God's redemptive plan?
Answer: If Israel will be joined to Christ for salvation, then it will enjoy the blessing of God again -- not apart from the Gentiles, but in the same way as the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:35; 15:9). Paul assures us: "if they do not continue in unbelief, they shall be grafted in [to the olive tree representing God's people], for God is able to graft them in again" (Romans 11:23). The partial hardening of Israel has taken place, says Paul, until the fulness of the Gentiles comes into the kingdom (11:25). Israel will be provoked to jealousy (11:11; cf. Deut. 32:21!). And "in this way all Israel shall be saved" (11:26).
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