Is Israel God’s Unfinished Business?
It’s become a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s a lot at stake! God help anyone who dares challenge this belief. It is a belief that is promoted by powerful Washington lobbyists, very prominent journalists, the most powerful TV preachers. Anyone who even questions this program is labelled as an Anti-Semitist or worst still- a heretic. It comes in various forms (or extremes) but nearly all of its proponents deride their opponents as promoting “Replacement” Theology. But what if those who promote the preeminence of Israel and the validity of the Old Covenant being “their” covenant for today are actually the true promoters of “Replacement” theology? Is Israel really God’s unfinished business?
And how do Dispensationalists respond to those like me who disagree with them? They make shrill accusations like-
No Mr Hagee, my message is not the message of Hitler. I love the Jewish people but I also simultaneously love Palestinians. My message is not one of hatred toward anybody. Rather, my message is the message that the Church has declared for two millennia: God loves all people irregardless of the race, address, religion or skin colour and this love has been demonstrated by the exclusive work of Christ who is the true Israel of God, the real Promised Land, the Holy Temple of God, the Ultimate Fulfilment of the Promises of God and the Antitype of all animal sacrifices.
DOES MODERN ISRAEL HAVE A BIBLICAL RIGHT TO THE “PROMISED LAND” TODAY?
These Dispensationalists promote the idea that God’s Covenant with Abraham gives Jews exclusive rights to the “Promised Land” today-
In fact, according to the way these Dispensationalists, such as Hagee, read the Bible, God has two ways to be saved. According to an interview with John Hagee by Julia Duin of the Houston Chronicle in 1988 (30th April), we learn the following-
The way Hagee and other Dispensationalists see it, because the Jews were never able to accept Jesus as Messiah, God did not do away with His Covenant with them and they can therefore be saved by virtue of either racial covenant or faith in Christ! Not only is this, but such Dispensational extremists as Hagee and even Dispensational moderates like Greg Koukl, claim that God has not yet fulfilled His covenant promises of territory to Israel. While Hagee is readily dismissed for his appalling handling of the Biblical text, respected Bible teachers such as Greg Koukl are not as quickly dismissed.
DID JEREMIAH PROPHESY THE PERPETUAL OCCUPATION OF THE LAND BY JEWS?
The case for Israel being God’s unfinished business today is largely built upon Jeremiah 31 where the prophet declares that Israel shall never cease to be a nation before Him.
Greg Koukl often defaults to this passage for his justification of his Dispensational view of Israel. He attempts to link this prophetic assurance with the Abrahamic Covenant. Accordingly, God’s covenant with Abraham to Israel centres on the territorial claim over the Promised Land, and is not only still valid- but prophesiedhere by Jeremiah! While Koukl admits that there is only one salvation covenant available today (something that Hyper-Dispensationalists like John Hagee, Rod Parsley, Cindy Jacobs, and Pat Robertson, don’t seem to declare to their Jewish audiences) he asserts though that Jews today still enjoy the Abrahamic Covenant (having exclusive land-rights to “the Promised Land”). He then goes on to say that because Jeremiah declared that Israel would always be a nation before the Lord, this national identity will continue necessarily after the return of Christ. This then becomes the basis for Koukl’s Dispensational ideas.
But is Jeremiah prophesying that God’s covenant with Abraham will be a perpetual covenant for all time with Israel? Koukl suggests that the Abrahamic Covenant was both spiritual (accessed by faith) and physical (accessed by Jews only). The context of Jeremiah 31 includes a time-frame for Judah’s exile into Babylon (70 years, Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10) and that God promised to sustain Israel as a nation while in exile, then ensure that they would be returned to the Land (Jer. 31:10 “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’) The Prophet then declares that God will establish a new covenant with the Houses of Israel and Judah that will be written upon their hearts-
While Greg Koukl seems to argue that this is an additional covenant to the Abrahamic Covenant and that it is spiritual (therefore it applies beyond Jews), the New Testament doesn’t seem to support this interpretation. The writer to the Hebrews cites Jeremiah with some helpful insights. He prefaces his citation of this passage by stating that a new covenant made previous covenants obsolete. Greg Koukl’s arguments are that while we have a New Covenant which has replaced the Old Covenant there is no reason to think this New Covenant also replaces the previous Abrahamic Covenant. The problem with this idea though, is the Abrahamic Covenant was the covenant that made Israel God’s chosen people (“You shall be My people”), while the Mosaic Covenant gave Israel God’s Laws, and both Jeremiah and the writer to the Hebrews incorporates both covenantal aspects into the New Covenant-
The writer to the Hebrews makes the point the New Covenant is the fulfilment of what Jeremiah prophesied and that this Covenant is not based on race but on faith in Christ made possible by the grace and election of God. This therefore means that Gentiles are included in the scope of what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31. But does this mean that Gentiles are also beneficiaries of the Abrahamic Covenant or this just for Jews only? Paul argues in Galatians that Gentiles in Christ are indeed the recipients of the Covenantal promises made to Abraham-
Greg Koukl’s argument that the Jeremiah 31 passage links the fixed natural order of the sun, moon and stars to the existence of Israel fails to appreciate the consistent usage of the expression “sun, moon, and stars” throughout Scripture which speaks metaphorically of Israel (first used in Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, and consequently by the prophets who described Israel’s rebellion toward God as the sun no longer giving forth its light, the moon being darkened and the stars falling from the skies). Similarly, God’s use of the term “fixed order” is a covenantal expression-
Therefore, it is quite legitimate to understand Jeremiah 31:35-36 as saying that as long as God only the Old Covenant in place, Israel would continue to be a nation before Him. Historically of course it can be proven that when the elements of this Old Covenant (the Temple, Priesthood, Sacrifices) were removed in 70AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem that Israel actually did cease to be a nation! If we accept Greg Koukl’s understanding of Jeremiah 31:35-36 then we are left to conclude that God was unfaithful to His Word for nearly 19 centuries since Israel was not a nation for that period(?).
Therefore, there is nothing in the Jeremiah 31 passage that prophesied that Israel would always possess the Promised Land or that the Promised Land would be their land-right in the New Covenant. (To get an even more comprehensive understanding of these issues, in a Bible study commentary format, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, download my free eBook on Hebrews.)
DOES GOD HAVE TO RE-ESTABLISH JEWS
The Biblical Borders of the Promised Land
Israel’s 1949 Borders
The Bible describes the boundaries of the Promised Land as being from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers.
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give* this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
In his excellent and highly recommended book, “Zion’s Christian Soldiers?”, by Stephen Sizer, he makes the statement-
“If these boundaries were applied today, and depending on the route of the southern border from Eilat to the Euphrates, parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and even Kuwait and parts of Saudi Arabia would be incorporated . Some Zionist groups lay claim to all this territory using the term ‘Eretz Israel HaShlema’ to denote the whole or complete land Israel”
Stephen Sizer, “Zion’s Christian Soldiers?”, page 78
There is nothing in the New Testament that requires God to restore the nation of Israel to Biblical dimensions. The Epistle to the Ephesians makes a clear case for God having one covenant and one people. I have written an eBook on Ephesians which explains this further. The prophecies of Matthew 24 have been fulfilled. I explain the reasons for this in my eBook, “The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible“. It is an eisegetical imposition on the text to claim that Matthew 24 deals with the return of Christ and not (as it should be understood) with the coming (note the use this expression in Isaiah 19:1; 26:21; Psalm 96:13; 98:9) of Christ in vindication to end of the Old Covenant’s elements (the Temple, the Priesthood and the Sacrifices). DIspensationalists, including Greg Koukl, claim that Matthew 24 foretells the glorious return of Christ in a yet-to-happen future. This then necessitates a rebuilt Temple and a reinstituted Israel to their Promised Land in order for Matthew 24 to be fulfilled in the future, according to Dispensationalists. But Matthew 24 is not about the end of the world (Matthew 24:3, ‘world’= Greek, aion, English= “age” or “era”), rather it is about the Temple/Sacrifice Age. Jesus said in Matthew 24:34 that this would take place within the life-time of His audience, not 2000 years later!
Partly because of the false interpretation of Bible prophecy countless people, both Jews and Palestinians have needlessly died. Zionism, both Jewish and Christian, is a distortion of the intention of Scripture, the heart of God, and true focus of Bible prophecy. Is Israel God’s unfinished business? No. God’s unfinished business is His glory.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, February 27th 2008