October 14, 2023
Students of Scripture are familiar with God’s promises to ancient Jews. For example, Scripture teaches that God created the nation of Israel through his promises to Abraham and Sarah, given about four thousand years ago. God himself made the personal promise in Genesis 12:1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God’s promise resulted in the nation of Israel (the Old Testament) and a blessing to the human race as a whole, which ultimately included Abram’s descendent, Jesus Christ (the New Testament).
In Genesis 17:8 (and Genesis 15:12-19) God re-iterated his commitment to Abraham and added his everlasting promise that he would give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan: “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Three Christian Views on Israel Today
On the face of it, God’s promises to create Israel and give her the land of Canaan seem to be everlasting promises (that will not end). But there is debate about the enduring nature of God’s relationship with Israel and the nature of his promise of their everlasting possession of the land among Christian scholars and leaders.
At RENEW.org we do not have an official position on this matter. Our Faith Statement (click here) categorizes biblical doctrines in three ways: some teachings are essential for our salvation (essential elements), some teachings are important for our faithfulness (important elements), and some teachings are peripheral or personal (personal elements). One’s position on God’s promises to Israel will be based upon how they understand important and personal elements. It is not a matter of salvation or the essential elements of the faith. It is an area of diversity about RENEW.org leaders.
There are three basic approaches among evangelical churches in understanding how God fulfills these promises. Sometimes the approaches are intermingled. But, in broad strokes, they can be summarized three ways:
1. Two-Covenant Theology – The Jews and the Church are on two tracks in history.
According to this view, God has two plans operating in history: one for an earthly people, Israel, and the other for a heavenly people, the church. God does not deal with the two peoples concurrently. The prophetic clock of God’s dealing with Israel stopped in the first century. That clock will not start again until the rapture of the church (where God removes Christians) and then God will focus on his final plans for Israel (including rebuilding the Temple).
2. Supersessionism or Fulfillment/Replacement Theology – Israel is fulfilled in the Church.
This view essentially teaches that the church has fulfilled Israel in God’s plan. Adherents of replacement theology believe the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel. The evangelical scholar Gary Burge puts it this way: “The work of Christ is definitive. There is one covenant. And it is with Christ.”
3. Enlargement Theology – Israel remains chosen, but both Jews and non-Jews must turn to the Messiah
According to this view, God’s plan, from the beginning, was to include Gentiles within his covenant people, Israel. Since the first century, salvation comes uniquely through faith in Jesus the Messiah, for Jews and Gentiles. But God’s purposes for the Jewish people remain unchanged despite the majority’s rejection of Jesus. There has always been a faithful remnant and in the future there will be a widespread turning by Jews to faith in their own Messiah.
Sympathy for All Three Views
There are intelligent, faithful RENEW.org Network leaders who hold to each of these three approaches. It is particularly easy for me to respect all three positions because I have held to all three myself. When I first came to faith, I was taught the Two Covenant Theology, and it seemed right. Then in graduate school, I was taught Replacement Theology, and, although I had questions about it, I thought it was more correct. Then, after years of spending lots of time studying the texts, especially Romans 11 and Zechariah 12-14, I became convinced of Enlargement Theology.
Again, RENEW.org is sympathetic to all three views. And please note, as a co-founder of RENEW.org and the CEO, I am not writing to describe RENEW.org’s position of this matter (we do not have one), but to describe my own position. Other RENEW.org leaders will write about their positions on our website. We have diversity of opinion on these issues.
In a previous post, I gave a summary and sketch of the modern history of Israel. The goal was to help people to see that the current animosity between the Jews and the Arabs has been there for a long time. It was mainly a survey with little interpretation. The purpose of this post is to provide an interpretation.
“There are intelligent, faithful RENEW.org Network leaders who hold to each of these three approaches.”
I want to give an explanation of why I believe God’s promises to the Jews are still at work and why I believe that there will be a massive conversion of Jews to faith in Jesus at the end of human history. I have had many Christians and non-Christians reaching out to me in light of the current war in Israel, asking me what Scripture teaches about Israel. They want me to share my perspective on God’s plans and role for modern Israel. This is why I am writing this article.
These are difficult topics and there are countless complexities and nuances in addressing them. But when we do not address these issues as church leaders, other voices, often those who are not well-grounded in Scripture, speak up and draw people to faulty theology. I hope that it will help you to strive to think clearly on these questions, based upon the Word of God, even if you do not share my understanding at various points.
By way of background and because the history can be so complex to understand, I want to share that I have spent a significant amount of time—over four decades—studying the history and dynamics of modern Israel. Since 2007, I have regularly read two Israeli newspapers (translated into English) and I have read many books on these topics (I will highlight some that have been particularly helpful to me below). Also, I have personally traveled to Israel 12 times and I have personal friends who are Jews and Arabs who live in Israel, with whom I have engaged in many conversations. I wish I had time to explain things more deeply, but I can only write a simple summary.
“I have spent a significant amount of time—over four decades—studying the history and dynamics of modern Israel.”
Five Key Passages Influencing My Perspective
The following five passages are the most significant in forming my thinking about God’s promises to Israel, his promises about the land, and his prophecy that Jews will turn and place their faith in Jesus the Messiah at the end of history.
1. Romans 11:28-29
Romans 11:28-29 is the most important passage from Scripture that guides my thinking about modern-day Israel. God teaches us in Romans 9:1-11 that Jews will not be saved unless they turn to Jesus. But Paul also teaches that Jews, even after the gospel has spread to the Gentiles, continue to have a special place with God and God is not taking his promises away from them.
“As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:28-29)
Paul’s statement about Israel in verse 29 is pivotal to my thinking: God’s gifts and his call (to ethnic Israel) are irrevocable.
2. Genesis 17:7-8
The second passage that influences my personal perspective is God’s promise of the land of Canaan to Israel (Abraham’s descendants) as an “everlasting possession.” The promise is made multiple times, with Genesis 17:7-8 being one of the clearest examples.
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:7-8)
3. Deuteronomy 30:4-5
In the Law of Moses, God promised blessings and curses to the Jews based upon their faithfulness to God. Multiple times God promised, after he sent the Jews into exile, that he would bring a remnant of Jews back to the Land (after punishments). Although this happened after the Babylonian exile, I believe it has additional applications (see below). The following is one example of this promise.
“Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.” (Deut. 30:4-5)
4. Isaiah 43:6-7 / Amos 9:11-12
In the Old Testament, God explicitly re-iterated the promise to bring back a remnant many times. The following are two examples from Scripture.
“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Is. 43:6-7)
“‘In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,’ declares the Lord, who will do these things.” (Amos 9:11-12)
5. Zechariah 12:8-10
Through Zechariah, God gave prophecies about Jewish people in the land of Israel, who turn to Jesus (the one they have pierced) when Israel is besieged by the (hostile) nations of the world. Nothing in history yet has come close to fulfilling this promise.
“On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zech. 12:8-10)
“They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
I summarize the teaching of these passages (and others) in the following way:
God made a promise to Abraham to create a special nation out of his descendants (Israel). He promised these descendants the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession. But God also put into the Law of Moses that if the Jews became unfaithful and continued in their unfaithfulness to him, God would sovereignly exile them from the land. But after a time, God promised that he would bring a remnant of those who were exiled back to the land so they could start again. In Israelite history they have been exiled several times—including an exile to Babylon in 586 B.C. (from which a remnant returned), and to the Roman World in A.D. 70/132. I believe that God’s promises remained in force, and he brought the Jews back to the land of Israel in mass after the holocaust in World War II. They joined the growing number of Jews who were already there, and they became their own nation again on May 15, 1948. Based on the above passages and others, I believe God was and is sovereignly at work in establishing modern Israel, in spite of wars, Jewish unbelief, and ungodly behavior by both Jews and Arabs. In all these circumstances, by God’s hand, they have been established in the land. They face many adversities, and the adversities will one day become so great and terrible again, that God will intervene and the Jews will respond to him in repentance, as they turn in mass and place their faith in Jesus their Messiah.
Four Personal Reflections on the History of Modern Israel
The history and conflicts in modern Israel are complex, with important nuances, twists and turns. It can all be very confusing. But the key teachings of Scripture, as I understand them, give me a helpful framework. Here is a summary of that framework as I look at Israel today.
1. Although God has fulfilled many prophecies to Israel, there seem to be prophecies to/about Israel yet unfulfilled.
God made promises to Abraham (and the Patriarchs) about the unique place of the people of Israel in his providence. Paul uses the word “irrevocable” to describe the promises (Rom. 11:29).
Many Christians see the Jewish connection with their historic homeland as something that already came its completion and is no longer in force. However, based upon the “everlasting” language of this particular promise (again, see Gen. 17:7-8), I see a connection between this promise and their return to the land in the mid-20th century. Again, God promised the descendants of Abraham that he would be with them and bring a remnant back to the land (Deut. 30:4-5). This happened after the 586 B.C. Babylonian exile, and we saw it happen again in the mid-1900s.
We might wonder why their return to the land in the 1900s took so long (from A.D. 70/132 to A.D. 1948/1967). Yet Scripture speaks of a future conversion of the Jews, somehow hinging on “the full number of Gentiles” coming in (Rom. 11:25). Romans 11 describes a future Jewish conversion somehow tied to the fullness of the mission to reach all the Gentiles.
“Romans 11 describes a future Jewish conversion somehow tied to the fullness of the mission to reach all the Gentiles.”
Jesus predicted another Jewish exile, saying that the Jews would be taken as captives to all nations after A.D. 70. He said, “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:34). For historical context, the Jews regained control of Jerusalem in 1967. Although we can’t be sure what “the times of the Gentiles” means, this could be tied to what Paul was describing, indicating that their return to the land will have a connection with both 1) a fulness of the mission to Gentiles, and 2) a future conversion of many Jews to Jesus.
These truths and possibilities guide me as I look at what is happening in Israel.
What is certain is that, long ago, God gave the Jews the right to the land of Canaan, and that they are coming back. If this is of God, then neither the Palestinians nor the United Nations nor any other group can stop that movement. Let me hasten to add that Christians should no more put a blind stamp of approval on the actions of modern-day Israel than on any other nation. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t allow for God to be working through modern-day Israel to bring about his divine plan.
2. God has used and will use people who do not acknowledge him for his purposes.
In my view, God has been sovereignly bringing the Jews back to the land, often by using people in whom and circumstances in which he is not acknowledged. (It’s an improbable story, which I summarize here.) God has used people in history, who are often ungodly, and he sovereignly accomplishes his purposes through them and their choices. God has done work through people even when they are not conscious that God is using them for his purposes. For example, God used the ungodly Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar against his people Israel, see 2 Chronicles 36:17.
People make free choices—some good, some bad, some even influenced by Satan and the demons. Yet God is all-powerful and he sovereignly uses our choices for his purposes. I heard a helpful analogy several years ago that helps me understand how this can work. God is like a chess master. Whatever moves we make, God counters those moves with moves of his own, so that God remains sovereign and accomplishes his purposes (see Gen. 50:20; Pr. 16:3).
For those who believe, like myself, that modern Israel has a part to play in God’s prophetic plan, it’s important to acknowledge that God can use people for good who do not acknowledge him. Over the last seventy-five years of Israeli history, I believe God has used many people who did not acknowledge him and/or were unethical people.
“It’s important to acknowledge that God can use people for good who do not acknowledge him.”
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who was the first to make peace with the Arabs, had been a Jewish terrorist with the “Irgun” in the early days before Israeli independence. Interestingly, the father of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, was a non-practicing Jew, who ate ham and eggs for breakfast every day. Again, even if you believe modern Israel plays a part in prophecy, you need not assume that God is automatically “on Israel’s side” whatever they do or that we should blindly applaud Israel’s actions or policies. God can accomplish his purposes through people whether godly or not, and it doesn’t automatically make them right with God (something only Jesus can do).
3. Physical warfare/conflicts in Israel reflect spiritual conflicts
Satan’s goal is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The book of Revelation shows us that spiritual warfare can be behind political realities on earth (Rev. 13). And the apostle Paul teaches us that our battle is ultimately with Satan and his spiritual forces. (Eph. 6:10-12)
Historically, there has been a persistent hatred against the Jews. It is within reason to suspect that because they are God’s specially chosen people, Satan and his demons have fueled this hatred and have caused people to hate the Jews throughout history. Many Arabic Muslim leaders currently embrace a hatred of the Jews that is not unlike the hatred that possessed Hitler and the Nazis. For more on the history and influences behind anti-Semitism, click here.
Let’s never forget that six million Jews died in the Nazi holocaust. At the time, that was half of all the Jews in the world. Only now, seventy-five years later, has the population of Jews in the world risen to about the same number that existed in 1939. It is difficult for non-Jews to fully understand the weight of this collective memory of Jews and of their vow: “Never again.”
“Historically, there has been a persistent hatred against the Jews.”
In Israel, every Jewish high school senior is expected to travel to Eastern Europe sometime their senior year to visit the gas-chambers and death camps from World War II. We can understand the Jewish determination to strongly fight terror and those who attack them only if we understand their history. Because the odds have so often been against the Jews, the Israelis have developed a strong army, and they seek to punish anyone who attacks them with a counterattack ten times what they received. They believe if everyone knows that they will strike back ten times worse than they receive—every time—then their enemies will respect their deterrence and not attack them. (Please recall that, even when we believe God has a prophetic purpose for Israel, we shouldn’t automatically give them an ethical pass on their policies. I am not writing about this ten-to-one deterrence policy to endorse it, but to shed light on why many Israelis feel such a policy is necessary.)
For two thousand years, the Jewish people did not have a homeland. Between two holocausts (described in this summary article), Jewish people experienced heartbreaking levels of mistrust and mistreatment. If you want to read a short book that provides a historical summary of the mistreatment of Jews, I recommend Sam Clarke’s short book, The Holy One of Israel and His Chosen People: Understanding the Biblical Relationship Between Israel and the Church.
“For two thousand years, the Jewish people did not have a homeland.”
I cannot stop thinking about what is happening in the Middle East right now in mid- October (2023). The whole thing makes me sad because Satan has such a foothold in it all. I keep thinking about the everyday Jews and everyday Arabs who are suffering.
The terrorist group Hamas has committed unspeakable evil against the Israelis, and their evil is fueled by a frustrated reaction to the oppressed lives people live in Gaza: high unemployment (around 65%), poverty, false teachings, and no hope. Gaza is in an impossible predicament, given that their Hamas leadership is constantly devising attacks against the Israelis and that the Israelis have the ability to suppress commerce and travel in the area, lest Hamas continue to launch terror attacks like they did October 7, 2023.
Israeli leaders have asked, how do you deal with an implacable enemy, like Hamas, sworn to your political and physical destruction?
The people of Gaza elected Hamas to rule over them. Yet, if you read Hamas’s statement of “General Principles and Policies,” published in 2017, they declare that Palestine extends from “the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west,” leaving no place at all for the Jews. They say the land controlled by Israel is an “integral”—that is, indivisible—territorial unit of Muslim land. The Wall Street Journal recently summarized Hamas’ official statements as follows:
Hamas says that the “Zionist project,” which is “racist, aggressive, colonial, and expansionist,” is wholly illegitimate, as are the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, and the U.N. Palestine Partition resolution. The establishment of Israel is “entirely illegal.” The document continues: “Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded” and that there must be “no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity…” Hamas insists that its quarrel is with Zionists, not with the Jews and their religion. Its founding charter, issued in 1988, undermines this claim. Article 7 of this document quotes a saying of the prophet Muhammad: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘Oh Muslims, Oh Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
“Israeli leaders have asked, how do you deal with an implacable enemy, like Hamas, sworn to your political and physical destruction?”
As of this writing (October 14), Israel is on the precipice of responding to Hamas with a likely invasion of Gaza. I believe that Satan has a focused rage against the Jews, which we have seen borne out through multiple episodes of history. I also believe that anti-Semitic organizations such as Hamas are channels of this rage. (For more on how Hamas embeds its infrastructure in civilian areas and how it compels Gaza citizens to disregard Israeli warnings to evacuate, click here.)
Hezbollah in Lebanon is also a huge threat to Israel. Their Islamic ideology is closely aligned with Iran and their hatred of Israel is just as significant. If they choose to make war with Israel, it could be horrific. Their military capabilities greatly exceed those possessed by Hamas. They could literally set all parts of Israel on fire. Israel would then face two sworn enemies. Because of this, Israel has threatened Hezbollah, in the past, that if they launch a major attack against Israel, then Israel will devastate not just Hezbollah, but infrastructure of the country of Lebanon.
I pray for peace among these groups and nations, and where there is war (for example, Israel against Hamas), I pray that it is conducted by just means, so that it does not further escalate hatred and resentment and result in escalated counter-reaction.
4. Jesus is the only hope for Israelis and Palestinians.
Here is a basic breakdown of the population living within the borders of the country of Israel today.
- 73.6% are Jewish (just over 7.1 million people).
- 21.1% are Arabs (around 2.037 million people).
- 5.3% (513,0000) are a mixture of non-Jewish or non-Arabic, Bedouins, and Druze.
Today about 46.2% of all the Jewish people in the world (7,100,000 million) live in Israel.
Another 5 million Arabs live in the West Bank and Gaza (around 3 million in the West Bank, just over 2 million in Gaza). These two areas are not considered to be a part of Israel, although there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This means that there are around 15 million people in the entire area (Israel, West Bank, Gaza), with about half being Jewish and the other half being Arab.
What about followers of Jesus?
Around 9% of the Arabs in Israel identify as some form of Christianity, typically an Eastern branch, such as Melkites and Greek Orthodox. There is a small but growing population in Israel who are Jewish people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. These people continue to practice Jewish rituals and traditions, but as a first identity, they place their faith in Jesus.
About 15,000 Messianic Jews can be found among the population that moved to Israel from the Soviet Union, after it dissolved (in the 1990s). They tend to keep to themselves. There are also approximately another 5,000 Jewish believers from other backgrounds, who are more open and actively involved in the Evangelical faith community in Israel (they typically enjoy full fellowship with Arab Christians). There are about 5,000 Palestinian evangelical Christians (and many thousand liturgical ones with a Roman Catholic or Orthodox faith).
These followers of Jesus are the hope of Israel.
“These followers of Jesus are the hope of Israel.”
Pray for the light of Jesus, for a massive turning to Jesus, not just by the Jews (as Scripture envisions) but also by the Arabs. They all need Jesus. We all do.
He is their only hope for a lasting peace.
3 Recommended Resources:
- Gerald McDermott, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land.
- Alex Jacob, The Case for Enlargement Theology.
- Sam Clarke, The Holy One of Israel and His Chosen People: Understanding the Biblical Relationship Between Israel and the Church.
 See “What is replacement theology/supersessionism?” GotQuestions. https://www.gotquestions.org/replacement-theology.html.
 Quoted in Sam Clarke, The Holy One of Israel and His Chosen People: Understanding the Biblical Relationship Between Israel and the Church (2016, gateway2Israel.com).