Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Israel: A Problem for Some Evangelicals by James M. Hutchens

"I don't believe the land of Israel is promised to unbelievers." These are the words of a former United States Congressman and a knowledgeable evangelical Christian. He continued, "I believe the Messiah is coming and the Jews will recognize Him – that the redemption of the Jews is yet to come. I believe redeemed Jewish Israel will, one day, be entrusted again with the land in fulfillment of God's covenant promises. But I have a real problem with seeing the modern state of Israel, governed by unbelievers, as a fulfillment of God's promises."

Actually, the congressman's concerns are shared by others in the evangelical community. For example, John Piper, a highly respected evangelical spokesman, is on record as saying in respect to Israel "A non-covenant-keeping people does not have a divine right to the present possession to the land of promise. … Israel as a whole today rejects her Messiah, Jesus Christ, God's Son. This is the ultimate act of covenant –breaking with God." [WORLD, May 11, 2002, "Land Divine?"]

Then there is Joel Belz, publisher of WORLD magazine, who is baffled by the claim that Israel has a divine right to the land. "Much more puzzling to me is the assumption not just by Jewish people, but by evangelical Christians on behalf of Jewish friends, that the state of Israel is somehow still deserving of the blessings indicated as the fruit of some very conditional promises. Have Jewish people held up their part of God bargain? Have they therefore a claim on certain parts of Middle Eastern geography." [WORLD, January 10, 2004, "Stubborn Unbelief"].

In other words, there are genuine evangelical Christians, who may believe Jewish Israel has a future, and that future may involve the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. However, that land will not be given until Israel as a whole accepts Jesus and enters into a covenant keeping relationship with the God of Israel. But is this really the scenario God has in mind? Or is there a sovereignly appointed sequence of events that encompasses a much broader expression of the mind and will of God? I think there is.

The prophet Ezekiel, among others, points to a process – a sequence of events, in which the Jews return to the land in a profaned state of unbelief and out-of–covenant relationship with the God of Israel, which, over time, culminates in state of spiritual restoration. Like all expressions of God's grace, this process is initiated by God in spite of the sinfulness of the recipient.

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.

" 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. …Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!" [Ezekiel 36: 22-32]

The process begins by God bringing back to the promised land a people that has profaned his name. They are not in covenant with God. The point is, they are not deserving of being regathered to the land. They have not yet experienced their redemption. They are in an estranged, profaned, disobedient, and unbelieving relationship with God. It is an act of pure grace on the part of God. They will look back and be ashamed and disgraced for their conduct.

The Hebrew word for "profane" means to defile, pollute, prostitute; to make common. It means to stain what is beautiful and glorious. This is what God has said the Jew has done to His name wherever he has been scattered and dispersed. God says his name and all it stands for has been sacrilegiously defiled and polluted whether in politics, entertainment, the media or most egregiously, in religion.

Yet, this appears to be the condition that begins the process. It is in this profaned condition that God begins to bring back the Jews to the land. It is not out of a desire to serve God and be in covenant relationship with God that has brought back most Jews to the land. It was the pogroms and the holocaust and the anti-Semitism that has motivated most Jews to seek sanctuary and security in Israel. The nation of Israel itself was established in 1948 in the aftermath of the Nazi extermination efforts as a means of providing a secure homeland for persecuted Jews. God used this to start the process that will lead to the redemption of Jewish Israel. It is this process, sinful and profaned, which leads to a climatic event, the spiritual restoration of Jewish Israel. According to Ezekiel's chronology, the spiritual cleansing takes placeafter the regathering. The giving of a new heart occurs after the return to the land. It is not an event that precedes the process.

It would appear, the establishment of the State of Israel and the immigration that has taken place since, is in keeping with God's sequence of events. Regathering first and then spiritual restoration. It is not unlike the process by which God brings all believers to himself. God, in his grace always initiates the process, while the sinner is in rebellion.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." [Romans 5:8]. What God has done for us, he will do for Jewish Israel. As a matter of fact, the process has already started.

So, for those evangelicals who have a problem with the modern State of Israel being the fulfillment of God's promises we say this. Consider it a beginning of the process, profaned to be sure, that will eventuate in Jewish Israel's spiritual redemption. It is the first in a sequence of events. A process that has a glorious climax in "all Israel being saved."

In the meantime what is to be our attitude and action toward "profaned" Jewish Israel? I think the Apostle Paul anticipated that question in Romans 11:30-31 when he admonished us:

"Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you"

This continues to be a primary theme for us in The Jerusalem Connection"Show mercy because of mercy received!" Because of the mercy we have received in Christ, we want to show mercy to Jewish Israel. We invite you to join us in recognizing the State of Israel, even in its profaned condition, as part of the God-ordained process, which anticipates the ultimate spiritual redemption of Jewish Israel.