God’s eternal covenant with Israel – what a marvellous theme! But surely we can take what I say for granted? May we not assume that this is one subject on which we all agree? Have I not been given a “safe” topic? Actually, because it is so basic and also more complex than many realise, this theme could he the most controversial of all!
Let us realise straight away that the major part of the Christian Church would not even agree with the title, let alone the content “Christian Zionists” are viewed as an eccentric minority by most of their fellow believers. I am not using the term “eccentric” in the popular sense of “peculiar, odd” – though few causes attract cranks as readily as ours; rather am I using it in a theological rather than a temperamental way, signifying an imbalance. One of the questions the church is asking is one we need to face very honestly: how “Christian” is Christian Zionism? I am speaking primarily to this constituency, to the frontier between Christian Zionists and the rest of the Church. Yet this is only one man’s opinion on the subject and I am well aware that even among us, profound differences may emerge. So let me begin with an appeal to the heart rather than the head, with awe rather than argument, with delight rather than debate. For when I was asked to speak on this theme, I was overwhelmed with the four wonders in it.
The first wonder is that God should make a covenant with any people. For a covenant is a solemn, binding agreement voluntarily entered into by one party out of benevolent goodwill towards the other; unlike a contract, which is the result of a two-sided negotiation. Marriage is not a contract, but a relationship sealed in two covenants. Perhaps making a “last will and testament” (covenant) is a better example.
That the Creator should thus tie Himself down to any of his creatures is amazing! They owe everything, including their existence, to Him – yet He goes further and promises to give them so much more. What condescension! The Maker “marries” the made!
The second wonder is that God should make a covenant with one people. It is true He made one with all mankind, through Noah, concerning the maintenance of physical life on planet earth. And He has kept His word. Even during 1984, when the terrible famine struck in Ethiopia, He gave an extra corn harvest in the rest of the world so that there was more than enough food for every single man, woman and child – had we been unselfish enough to meet the cost of distribution.
But in spiritual blessing He has chosen to give all to one nation, trusting them to pass it on to others. God is no respecter of persons; He has no favourites. But this is His chosen method. Philosophers call it: “the scandal of particularity”. God wants to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is not the God of Buddha, Confucius or Mohammed.
The third wonder is that God should make a covenant with this people: the Jews. “How odd of God: to choose the Jews”. Why did he make such a choice? Gentiles ask: “why them?” Jews ask: “why us?”!
There are no positive reasons, only negative. They were nobodies and they had nothing. They were not chosen because they were special; they are special because they were chosen. God loved them because He is loving, not because they are lovable. For He is a revolutionary God, who loves to exalt the humble and humble the exalted. He has a bias towards the “Have-nots” rather than the “haves”. His election of the Jews is totally consistent with His character. It is the godness of God. Which of us would have acted this way?
The fourth and greatest wonder is that He should make a permanent covenant with this people. This is so astonishing that it becomes an offence to us. God has no right to tie Himself for ever to one people! That makes no provision for their defaulting on the arrangement. Surely He will regret it!
It is beyond our comprehension that He should wish to do such a thing, No “let-out” clauses in the agreement, releasing Him from His obligations. To be faithful to them even if they are unfaithful to Him. Such love!
At this point we must begin to face the crucial question: did He really commit Himself to such an irrevocable partnership? Most of the church would say “No, He did not”. In particular, there is widespread scepticism about the territorial clauses in the covenant and their relevance to contemporary Middle East politics.
But the main problem is not the land, but the people. For centuries the church has taught that the covenant was ephemeral rather than eternal, passing rather than permanent. Because Israel broke the covenant, God was released from His obligations. He has not only rejected the Jews as His people; He has replaced them with the Church, which is the “new Israel”. The Jews are now virtually Gentiles, no different from any other nation.
There is one obvious act of history which continues to disturb this ecclesiastical outlook If the covenant is not eternal, how do we explain the fact that the covenant people seem to be eternal? Without their own land, army, money or even language, they have not only survived but returned – an event without precedence in history. Mark Twain said: “All things are mortal, but the Jew; other forces pass but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”. Tolstoy said: “The Jew is the emblem of eternity”. The re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 has presented this enigma in an acute manner.
Simultaneous with the political events has been the rediscovery by Biblical scholars of the deeper relationships between the Old and New Testaments. In particular it has been realised that the New, though written in the Greek language, is written by Hebrews (with perhaps the sole exception of Dr. Luke) using Hebrew thought-forms. In other words, Christians are in the process of rediscovering their Jewish roots. As part of this pilgrimage, many are taking a fresh look at the predictive promises made by the prophets regarding the nation of Israel. Some are questioning why the promises of blessing were so readily applied to the church, usually by taking them in a “spiritual” rather than a literal sense, when the promises of cursing were not! And there has come a fresh understanding of the New Testament teaching, particularly from Paul, that God has not finished with Israel as a nation.
However, as soon as we study God’s covenant with Israel we run into a basic problem in that of paradox. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours – and a good deal more comprehensive! Our little minds can readily grasp one side of a larger truth but so easily reject another side because to our logic it seems contradictory and incompatible. So the Bible is full of paradox to us. Yet so often truth is “both/and” rather than “either/or” (was it the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber who first coined this helpful guideline?)
The most fundamental paradox of scripture is that it teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, both predestination and freewill. Calvinist and Arminian alike would want to rewrite some sections of holy writ! The basic question behind this tension is, of course: who is actually in charge of history? God or man?
This problem is closely related to Christian Zionism. If Chapter 9 of Paul’s letter is an exposition of divine predestination, chapter 10 emphasises human freewill. Chapter 11 seeks to put both together but it has to be said that Paul fails to achieve integration at an intellectual level so concludes his argument with a hymn of praise to the inscrutable mind of God.
The particular matter of God’s eternal covenant with Israel is shot through with a number of paradoxes, all reflecting this major one. I want to show that what has happened is that the church as a whole have only seen one side of these paradoxes, while Christian Zionists have seen the other. All Christians are liable to one-sideness on the issue of Israel, being implicitly anti-lsrael or obsessively pro-Israel. As we look at the five paradoxes within God’s eternal covenant with Israel, may His Spirit of truth help us to grasp the whole truth.
The first paradox is that the covenant is both conditional and unconditional! A careful study of Genesis enables us to list the obligations laid on Abraham and his descendants to keep the covenant intact. There are four such conditions. Abraham was to leave his own country and cut himself off from human resources (his later offering of his son Isaac and his refusal to be made rich by the king of Sodom were all part of this renunciation). Abraham was to trust God’s word implicitly, even when it seemed impossible to fulfilment (it was in this confidence that he “left” the whole of the promised land to his son). Abraham was to circumcise all males in his household as “sign” of the covenant (a sign hidden from human view, but seen by God and a sign on the reproductive organ that would produce descendants). Abraham was to live a life of righteousness and teach his family to do the same (Genesis 18:19). These conditions are not dissimilar to those required in the New Testament – repentance, faith, baptism and the filling of the Spirit.
But what happens if these conditions are not kept? They have then “abandoned the covenant” and will lose the land. Does this then release the Lord? No, because the covenant is unconditional on His side! He may throw His people out of His land and bring others in, but He will always bring them back and start again. If He scatters them, He will gather them. If He punishes them, He will forgive them. He can never utterly destroy them. He will not break the covenant from His side, however much they break it on theirs (Leviticus 26:44; Jeremiah 30:11; Romans 11:1).
How can God maintain His moral integrity in such a situation, when Israel has not maintained hers? Or, to bring the question right up to date, how could a holy God be behind the revived State of Israel in its present moral and spiritual condition? Has He given them diplomatic immunity from His laws? Many Christians wrestle with this offence to their understanding of God’s righteousness.
The second paradox is that the covenant is both spiritual and physical! In Abraham God found a “friend”, who offered Him worship, building an altar wherever he pitched his tent. This spiritual value to God was later spelled out by Moses: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 1 9:5-6).
Yet this highly spiritual end was achieved by very physical means. Abraham was promised both a place and a people of his own, a home and a family, a land and descendants – both of which were necessary to the permanence of the covenant.
Christians, however, have difficulty in relating the physical to the spiritual, due to a number of factors. Western thinking, for example, has been far more influenced by Greek philosophy than Hebrew theology – and the Greeks never could see the connection. The whole world has also failed, the West living in materialism, the East in mysticism. Only the Jews, living between the East and West, got it together – and the Word became flesh among them.
Then it is true that the New Testament does “spiritualise” some of the Old. The enemies are no longer the Canaanites or the Amorites but principalities and powers. Mount Zion is now a heavenly site. In fact the epistle to the Hebrews might have been written for the Greeks, dismissing as it does so many physical “types” (temple, sacrifices, etc.) as obsolete and replaced by spiritual anti-types, the earthly giving way to the heavenly. So it is a difficult concept that God is still interested in the old Israel and the old Jerusalem.
To many Christians the whole tone of Jewish Zionism and not a little Christian Zionism seems so “secular”. Theodore Herzl never once mentioned God in “Der Judenstadt”. He made it clear that he was utterly opposed to a theocratic government in the proposed State, “keeping the rabbis in the synagogues as the soldiers are kept in the barracks”. He never even circumcised his own son! The present State of Israel reflects this irreligious foundation and Messianic hopes take on a political rather than a personal focus. Where is the spiritual dimension in all this? How could this “worldly” exercise relate to a divine covenant?
The third paradox is that the covenant is both international and national! God promised to make Abraham a “great” name and a “great” nation. He pronounced a blessing on other nations helping this enterprise and a curse on those who hindered it. This nationalism is an offence to the modern world and is seen as ”racism” in the United Nations.
Christians too have problems with a Zionism that is limited to national hopes, the simple desire for a place under the sun where Jews may live in peace and security. Some of them would rather see Jerusalem as an international city open to pilgrims of all religions which regard it as holy, rather than a city under Jewish jurisdiction.
They are recalling another aspect of the covenant with Abraham. He was to be the father of many nations, the founder of a commonwealth. All the families on earth were to be blessed through him. They also have in mind that Jesus Himself said the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, though in saying this he was only reiterating the protest of Jeremiah. Has modern Israel embodied this vision? Obviously, not yet!
The fourth paradox is that the covenant is both partial and total! On the one hand, the divine promises are made to all Abraham’s descendents, to all the twelve sons of Jacob and the tribes they fathered. It seems like a total commitment to a total nation, so that every single Jew can claim his place in the covenant people. Zionism assumes that every Jew has a God-given right to live in Israel.
On the other hand, there are clear indications in scripture itself that physical ancestry alone was not enough to qualify. Ishmael and Esau are classic cases in themselves. At later stages in their history, from the wilderness wandering onward, many were left behind and failed to enter into their inheritance. And it was a Jew who passionately loved his fellow-Jews who summed it all up: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:8).
So what are we dealing with when we contact contemporary Jews, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, whether reformed or orthodox, whether religious or agnostic? Are all Jews still within the terms of the covenant or only some? Or even none? Would God call Israel “Israel” today?
The fifth and final paradox is that the covenant is both temporal and eternal! The question is: how long is “everlasting”? Certainly the earth is not here for ever; it had a beginning and will have an ending. Therefore the “land” cannot last longer than the “earth” (they are the same word in Hebrew”. So it would seem that the territory, being finite in time and space, could hardly be the subject of an “eternal” agreement.
Yet there is a clear difference in wording between covenants God made with Noah and with Abraham. In the former case there are clear clauses defining the period time in view: as long as the earth remains” (Genesis 8:22) and “for all generations (Genesis 9:12). Nowhere is this covenant said to be “everlasting”. It is to Abraham that God gives part of the earth “for ever”.
The point underlying this paradox is this: if the covenant is temporal it is also temporary. It is then only one step to the argument that it may not even last until the end of history. Indeed, most Christians seem to believe that the divine link between people and land has already been broken and that it was never “eternal”.
These, then, are the five paradoxes inherent in God’s covenant with Israel. They create tensions among Christian especially when they see different sides of the paradox and are unable to hold both together with intellectual harmony. How can they be resolved?
Not by argument, but by action. And not by human, but by divine action. I want to show you that the God who raised these tensions by speaking as He did is also resolving them one by one by acting as He does. Corresponding to the five paradoxes are five divine actions in time and space, which bring them all to a beautiful and consistent resolution. Three of these are already achieved; the remaining two are yet to be fulfilled. The conditional/unconditional paradox is resolved by the remnant of the Jews. The miracle of their physical survival is now so widely known it is hardly necessary to draw attention to it. This has been largely due to their cultural segregation. Circumcision, the Sabbath, Kosher diet and other practical applications of the Torah have kept them “apart” from other nations, a people “dwelling alone”. Indeed, there is an extraordinary correlation between assimilation and anti-Semitism, too frequently to be coincidence. “You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world”. . . but what you have in mind will never happen” (Ezekiel 20:32). It was the assimilated Jews of Munich who refused to host the first Zionist Congress of 1897 in their city lest they be regarded as non-German! One trembles to think of what we may yet see happen in the United States, where so many Jewish people are comfortably settled. The Holocaust, in which a third of world Jewry perished, will always trouble those who see assimilation as the final solution to Jewish suffering. Yet God is committed to their preservation, causing the world to marvel at their resilience. As. Tolstoy said: “Let us see what peculiar kind of creature the Jew is, which all the rulers and all the nations have together and separately abused and molested, oppressed and persecuted, trampled and butchered, burned and hanged and in spite of all this yet alive.
But the Biblical concept of “The remnant” relates to their spiritual rather than their physical survival. God has always kept a part of this people true to His covenant. In the days of Elijah, who thought the remnant was down to one, the number was actually seven thousand (not the first time a man of God has been a little inaccurate in his calculations). Note that these had not kept themselves faithful to God; God had kept faithful to Himself (1 Kings 19:18). He is committed to their spiritual preservation.
The New Testament picks up the same theme. “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). The covenant has never actually been totally broken on the human side. Even during the last two thousand years there have always been “some” (Jewish) branches (Romans 11:17). It is God who has kept faith with them, not they who have kept faith with God. And He has done so, as we shall see later, on the basis of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But this new covenant has simply enabled them to fulfil their part in the Abrahamic covenant.
Now, in the final quarter of the twentieth century, this remnant is bigger than it has ever been before. The true Israel is increasing. The covenant was conditional but God is ensuring that there will always be those who keep the conditions. His faithfulness is stronger than their faithlessness. So in theory his covenant is conditional, but in practice it is unconditional. It depends on Him rather than on them; on His mercy rather than their merit.
The spiritual/physical paradox is resolved by the return of the land. The return of the people to the land is an historical and political fact, though we need to qualify that with two other facts not widely appreciated. On the one hand, they were never entirely out of it; a minority has continuously inhabited the land since 70 A.D. On the other hand, they are not yet entirely into it, the majority have still not returned, either by their own choice (America) or against their will (Russia). The “nation” of Israel is largely scattered, even though some have gathered in the “state”. But I am speaking of the return of the land to the people, rather than the return of the people to the land. The latter is a human action, but the former, by implication, is a divine action. Can we speak in this way? Is there a non-human dimension to the successive waves of “aliyah” (“going up”, 2 Chronicles 36:23)? Has the revival of the sovereign state of Israel any theological significance? I think there can be. It is of the nature of miracles that faith is required to discern the supernatural element; God never forces anyone to believe. But He does give “signs” that point in the right direction. I believe there are three such signs that He was behind the developments in the Middle East during out lifetime; I present them as cumulative evidence that the physical return to a physical land was a fulfilment of His covenant promise.
Before 1948 I look at the meteorological evidence. A study of the rainfall figures for the last hundred years reveals an astonishing correlation between climatic and political changes. Not only is the average figure for the twentieth century significantly higher than the nineteenth; the increases relate to the waves of the immigration, reaching the highest peak of all in 1948 itself. To put it down solely to the programme of tree-pIanting is to overlook the fact that the increase began in the 1870’s.
During 1948 we have what I will call the mandatory evidence. After a classic case of “double-speak” after World War 1 (promising both Jews and Arabs political independence in the same territory), Great Britain, emulating Pontius Pilate, washed her hands of the whole situation. The sequel is significant: loss of an Empire within five years. At the same time, recognition is granted to Jewish independence by the United Nations, Russia and America voting the same way for once! The whole saga has an astonishing ring about it.
Since 1948 I am impressed by the military evidence. The totally unexpected victories against overwhelming odds, defying all military principles, in 1948, 1956 and 1967 are not the only unusual feature of Israel’s brief history. There is the more subtle pattern in which inferior weapons and forces plus God bring victory but superior weapons and forces minus God bring near tragedy. This is exactly how scripture expects battles to go. In 1948 Israeli forces hardly had a large gun between them; now they are the fourth most powerful fighting force in the world (only behind America, Russia and China). As their ability to trust in themselves has risen (1967 led to a mood of arrogant complacency), so in proportion have the casualties and complications (from the initial defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 to the final debacle of Lebanon in the mid-80’s). This scenario is so like the dealings of God with Israel in the Old Testament that it is difficult not to draw the obvious conclusions. To do so could help Israel in her economic crisis! To spend less of her budget on defence (at the moment, up to a third) and put more trust in God could help her security.
Let me challenge Christians to ask themselves what would happen to their faith in God if Israel were “driven into the sea” by the surrounding nations and the land lost yet again? I confess my faith would be severely shaken – yet I would even then believe that He would have to restore it to them. For I have become as convinced as Paul that: “God’s gifts and His call (to the patriarchs) are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). One of those gifts, indeed the major one, was the land. God Himself has demonstrated that His promise still holds good and the covenant is still physical.
But where is the spiritual side of it in all this? If God allowed them to remain in the land this time while leaving them in their present moral condition, He is surely contradicting Himself, not just in what He says but in what He is. We shall tackle this issue immediately after considering one other paradox.
The international/national paradox is resolved by the reception of the Gentiles. Something else has been happening during the last two thousand years, besides the survival and homecoming of the Jewish people.
Thousands upon thousands of Gentiles have accepted the Jewish God! Knowing how often choice of religion relates to human factors – cultural, temperamental, historical and political – this widespread adoption of an “alien” faith is all the more remarkable. Jeremiah can ask the rhetorical question: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?” and make the astonishing assertion: “yet my people have” (Jeremiah 2:11). But the very prophets charging Israel with deserting their God also predict the adoption of this God by the Gentiles (Hosea 1:10, 2:23; Amos 9:12; Zechariah 8:23).
This massive “conversion” of Gentiles on a global scale is the result of spreading Jewish scriptures and preaching a Jewish Messiah, initially by Jewish missionaries. Originally infiltrating north (Europe) and west (America), the major thrust is now south (Africa) and east (Asia). Turning from animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Hinduism and even Islam (the latest and only post-Christian world religion), millions have put their trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The other side of this is that the God of Israel has accepted the Gentiles. Those who were “foreigners to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12) are now “fellow-citizens with God’s people” (Ephesians 2:19) and “through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Messiah Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6). The proof that they have been accepted is that God has stamped them with the seal of His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), as foretold by Joel and Ezekiel.
All this is part of the fulfilment of God’s eternal covenant. God promised Abraham an international progeny and that through him the “goyim” would come into blessing. And so it has come true. Through one “seed” of Abraham, a male descendant called Jesus, all nations will one day be united in God’s blessing.
Sadly, it has to be added that though so many Gentiles have turned to the God of the Jews, they have not necessarily turned to the Jews of God. The jingle quoted earlier (“How odd of God, to chose the Jews”) has a second stanza: “But odder still, for those who chose, the Jewish God, yet spurn the Jews”! Church history is blighted by anti-Semitism. Though this is another subject for another time, I would just make two comments. First, we must be careful in using the notion of collective responsibility for sins of the fathers. It is no more just for Jews to hold Christians of today responsible for the Crusades than it is for Christians to hold the Jews of today responsible for the Crucifixion. Second, there has always been a minority of Christians who were pro-Semitic and did what they could to mitigate the suffering of the Jewish people. Some of these are commemorated by the trees in the Avenue of “Righteous Gentiles” outside the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial on Mount Herzl outside Jerusalem. And their number is growing. Christians are beginning to realise as never before that the Jewish God has a Jewish son!
The partial/total paradox is resolved by the redemption of the nation. I said earlier that if God kept them in the land now in their present spiritual condition, He would be denying both His word and His character. To maintain His moral integrity God must either change their physical location or their spiritual condition. We have now reached the heart of our subject and therefore the most crucial, and controversial, aspect of our study.
Christian Zionists look for a spiritual deliverance for the nation of Israel. This is the greatest difference between this Congress in 1985 and the first in this very Casino Hall in Basle in 1897. Then they looked for a return to the land; we now look for a return to the Lord. To be safe from others was their aim; to be saved from themselves was God’s purpose.
The Old Testament prophets predicted that a return to the land would be followed, not preceded, by a return to the Lord. Read, for example, the whole of chapter 31 in Jeremiah or chapter 36 in Ezekiel. This would come about by a divine act of sovereignty in giving Israel pardon for the past (Jeremiah’s Offer) and power for the future (Ezekiel’s). Without such a “new’ covenant, the old one could never be eternal. Nor could it ever include the total nation.
The New Testament confirms this inclusive hope by predicting that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). So fundamental is this statement to our subject that we must unwrap it very carefully. We begin by asking: who is meant by “all Israel”? Three interpretetions have been put forward: First, it is taken to be a synonym for the “full number of the Gentiles” in the previous verse. The phrase may include the comparatively small number of Jews who have been converted to Jesus, but primarily refers to the church. The phrase “and so”, which introduces the statement, is taken as meaning: “thus, and in this way”. That is – the few Jewish and many Gentile believers in the church are referred to as “all Israel”, which will be “saved” at the end of this age.
But “Israel” throughout Romans 9-11 is always used of Jews, never Gentiles, and a sudden switch at this point violates the context, in which Paul claims to be divulging one of God’s secrets (a “mystery”) concerning his future dealings with His ancient people. Furthermore, in over seventy uses of “Israel” in the whole of the New Testament, not once in this name clearly applied to the church. The only possible exception (Galatians 6:16) is ambiguous; if the Greek word “kai” is translated with its usual equivalent in English, “and” rather than “even”, this verse becomes a description of the two “sections” of the body of Christ, Gentile and Jewish (Ephesians 3:6). So “all Israel” must be a Jewish group – but how big?
Second, it is taken to include all Jews who have ever lived (and died). Their salvation is guaranteed, whatever their lives have been like. Their heredity is their sole and sufficient qualification. To be a Jew is to be “saved”.
But this is universalism, even if it is only being applied to one nation! Nowhere else in the Bible is there any ground for such a supposition. It would mean that this one nation does not need to have the Gospel preached to them. It becomes an exception to the missionary mandate: “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That Paul was not even hinting at such an assumption is only too obvious from the immediately preceding chapters. Why should he wish himself cursed for their sake (Romans 9:3), why is his heart’s desire and prayer to God that they may be saved (Romans 10:1), why is he doing what he can to save some of them (Romans 11:14) – if they are all ~ be saved anyway? The third interpretation, which I believe to be the correct, starts with the fact that “all Israel” occurs over 350 times in the Old Testament, particularly in the Greek translation (Lxx = Septuagint). A typical example would be 2 Chronicle 5:3. It is crystal clear that the “all Israel” Solomon spoke to was a gathering of Jewish people representing every section and level of the national population. It did not include every single among the living and certainly included none of the already dead. So it seems reasonable to define “all Israel” in terms of a representative assembly.
Furthermore, Paul gives a time reference to his prediction: this representative group will be “saved” after all the Gentiles. So “all Israel” will only include Jews alive at that time, even if it includes every one of them. It means that Israel “as a whole, in its entirety” at that time will be saved. And all parts of the nation will be represented in the group, which may not be unrelated to the vision of Revelation 7:1-8, where the total number of preserved Jews is limited (in contrast to the number of redeemed Gentiles which “no-one could count”) and there is an equal number of representatives from each tribe (though Dan is missing from the twelve tribes as Judas will be missing from the twelve Apostles). The mathematical accuracy of the numbers indicates that divine rather than human choice has been the determining factor.
Note also that “saved” in this text must mean the same as it does in the context (Romans 9:27, 10:1,10,13, 11:14). When we ask: saved from what? The answer must be: from their own sins.
When we ask: saved by whom? The answer must be: by their own Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, the “deliverer from Zion”. One day the people of Israel as a whole will become Messianic Jews. It will be the first truly Christian nation in history (except that “Christian” is a Gentile word and is not really an appropriate title for believing Jews).
Christian Zionists need to rediscover Romans 10. Prayer for Israel is not enough; preaching is also necessary. The church’s silence over the holocaust was bad enough; her silence about hell would be a worse betrayal. Jesus said: “Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). True lovers of Israel will speak on behalf of Jews to Christians and on behalf of Christ to Jews. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem must include that peace with God which only Jesus can bring. We will share His pain over the city that still does not know the things that belong to her peace.
It may be objected that it is offensive to the Jews to speak of such things and we must “comfort” Israel. To that I make three comments. First, there is no final comfort in a lie. When my wife developed a fatal cancer, we were encouraged when the surgeon told us the whole truth about the situation. It helped us to face reality and pray properly (God had mercy on us and she is completely free of the dread disease). Second, of course we have to earn the right to witness. And before we can begin to preach we have to love our way through centuries of fear and suspicion, the result of earlier “Christian hatred and cruelty. Third, we need to remember that it will always be offensive to tell anyone, Jew or Gentile, that their religion cannot save them. The Christian religion cannot save anyone in England any more than the religion of Judaism can save anyone in Israel. Only a personal trust in Jesus can do that (Acts 4:12). We cannot help but be missionaries and I have discovered that some Jews despise us if we pretend not to be! However, we are to arouse them not to envy (for what is ours) but jealousy (for what is theirs). The Scriptures are theirs rather than ours, the Messiah is theirs, the kingdoms are theirs, all things are theirs, as the father said to the elder brother (Luke 15:31). The greatest blessing, the deepest comfort we can offer is to help them discover their own heritage. Shall we make less or more effort than with other nations to share the good news with them? God wanted them to have it first and so should we. We are only urging them to follow their own patriarchs, not to follow us (God forbid!). With Jeremiah we plead: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father” (Jeremiah 51:1). Indeed, we want to call them back from the Mosaic covenant of law which has dominated the dispersion, to the Abrahamic covenant of grace. Both Abraham and Moses were Messianic Jews and had a personal relationship with Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:56; Luke 9:30-31). Ironically, a recent ruling of the Supreme Court in Israel would make them both ineligible for Israeli citizenship! Thank God He still loves them for the sake of the patriarchs and in spite of their hostility to the Gospel (Romans 11:28). “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. (Jeremiah 29:11)…which brings me to the final aspect of the covenant.
The temporal/eternal paradox is resolved by the restoration of the universe. There is something even beyond the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6-7). That will be wonderful enough. Isaiah saw a day coming when Jerusalem would not only be a holy city, even to its pots and pans, but also the headquarters of the United Nations, centre for world disarmament conferences resulting in the use of all the released resources for purposes of food and health. “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruninghooks. Nations will not take up sword against nations, nor will they train for war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) is inscribed on the United Nations building in New York – a classic case of a text out of context becoming a pretext! Jerusalem is where it belongs, and the city from which the nations have withdrawn their embassies will one day see those same nations coming back in humble penitence to seek the solution to their intractable problems in the wisdom of the Jewish God and the Jewish King-Messiah.
Yet beyond all this, Isaiah saw a new universe, including a brand new planet earth (Isaiah 65:17). “And as the new heavens and the new earth that I shall make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure”. (Isaiah 66:22). The temporal gives way to the eternal. The Jews have a permanent place on a permanent planet The old earth has gone through its holocaust (2 Peter 3:10) and emerged purified.
The old Jerusalem will be replaced by the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). The names on its gates and foundations will all be Jewish. It is the city whose architect and builder is God, the city Abraham watched for as he sat outside his tent gazing at the stars, counting his offspring. It is the eternal city, the eternal capital of Israel.
We must draw to a close. The covenant is eternal because God is eternal. His power is eternal, His love is eternal, His mercy is eternal. That is why “the Jew is the emblem of eternity” (Tolstoy).
The faithfulness of the God of Israel will have the last word, not the faithlessness of the Israel of God. We can therefore announce at this Congress the restortion of the kingdom to Israel – perhaps not in five years, perhaps not even in fifty, but one day all the world will see it God will do it. He has said it; we believe it; that settles it!
But He will do it through His anointed, His Messiah, His Christ “I have installed my Messiah, my anointed King, on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6). He is amused when men think they are big enough to thwart His plan and He is angry when they think He is not big enough to carry it out (Psalm 2:4-5).
And the name of this King is Jesus. He was born as King of the Jews, died as King of the Jews and is coming back to be the eternal King of the Jews. He, the King of Zion, is the real leader of Zionism.
“Zionism” is only “Christian” when He has the pre-eminence.
“To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour, and glory and power, for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:13)
(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 1, No 1, Autumn 1992, The Call to Return to Roots, being formally an address to the Christian Zionist Congress at Basle in 1985)