Oaks of Righteousness
Israel and Gaza
As I write there is a three day old fragile cease fire in effect between Hamas and the Jewish nation. It's a peace brokered by Egypt under the USA's threat to withdraw billions of dollars in funding. No one seems to expect such a peace to last. At best it's a truce while each sides regroups and rearms.
A vast number of Christians believe that God plans to restore Israel to national political prominence. In part this conviction fuels the support America has traditionally give the nation of Israel. This school of thought holds that the prophetic promises regarding Isreal commit God to such a restoration. It would take place in concert with the rapture of the church and the start of the millennium.
Sadly, persuasions regarding the future of Israel have brought about further division among Christians. In the fog of theological conflict over the end times we miss the most astounding feature of God's plan for the biological children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
"All Israel will be saved"
This is a good place to start. Paul devotes three chapters of his letter to the Romans to answering questions that had arisen regarding Israel. So heavy is this on the heart of the Apostle that he wishes himself accursed if it would gain Israel's salvation. This is no detached review of Israel's foibles.
But Paul has a message of hope. Addressing Gentile Christians he warns, "Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob'; 'and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.'" (Romans 11:25-27)
Whatever else may be said about Israel, it's clear that God is not finished with him. He has caused a "partial hardening" toward the gospel to come upon the Jewish people. It is partial in that there are millions of Jews who have already recognized Jesus as their Messiah and embraced the Christian faith. But the day will come when it will be accurate to affirm that "all Israel" has been saved. This need not mean that every last Jew will come to Christ. What it does mean is that so many will have turned to Him that Israel will be seen as a Christian nation. It's Christianity will not be imposed by law, but will begin with hearts transformed by the power of the gospel and then motivated to work for true justice and mercy for all (including non-Christians) in the public square.
Isaiah's prophecy says it all. Israel will be called "oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." (Isaiah 61:3) Surely this is far more than a politically engineered stability between waring nations.
Aren't there places in Scripture that make it clear that there will be a political restoration of Israel? Might this be one of them? "I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people." (Isaiah 65:18,19) Mention of Jerusalem would imply that there's a political nation whose capital is Jerusalem.
Problem is that this verse is found in the middle of a long section in which Isaiah describes the New Heavens and the New Earth, (Isaiah 65:17-25) Both Peter and John in the New Testament teach that the New Heavens and the New Earth describe the eternal state of affairs enjoyed by all (both Jew and Gentile) who embrace Christ.
How to explain the "political restoration" language in the prophets? God uses terms that would be significant to the people at that time. Through the prophets he paints a picture of Isreal's glorious future with political hews, but it's only a picture. The reality is something far more stupendous.
A father hands his ten year old son a Christmas box contain a toy remote controlled auto. As he sees the boys gleaming smile, he promises, "When you're twenty one I'm going to give you a toy you'll really enjoy." The son looks forward to a better toy. The father starts saving his pennies for the Jag he will give his son when he turns 21. Has the father mislead his son? Not at all. He's described a future gift in terms he would understand at age 10. So it is with God in the Old Testament.
Now that Christ has come, died and risen, we look forward to something much grander than a political nation. We look forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth where His people, "'shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:23-25)
Israel - Christ's point people
Not only will Israel be regarded around the world as a Christian nation. Peoples from every tribe and nation will look to Israel for guidance in following the true God. Consider this from Zechariah 8:20-23. "Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Peoples shall yet come, even inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.' Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"
Hard to imagine. True! Would anyone have imagined God taking on flesh and being born in a manger? How about God the Son calming the sea, giving sight to the blind and raising the dead? Who'd a thunk it? The carpenter's son raised to life again and ascending into heaven.
All Israel being saved isn't such a stretch after all. Pray for Jerusalem! (Psalm 122:6)