by Steve Wohlberg and Doug Batchelor
The devil has successfully planted a dangerous lie in Christian theology, and it has been unwittingly hatched, adopted, and nurtured by most evangelical churches. Today, millions of people the world over who are interested in Bible prophecy have their eyes fixed upon Jerusalem. Christians are constantly speculating about the modern state of Israel, a rebuilt Jewish temple, and a Middle East Armageddon. These subjects are being discussed in magazines, on videos, in books, on the radio, from the pulpit, in seminaries, on the Internet, and at Bible prophecy conferences.
It is amazing how many Christians automatically connect end-time Bible prophecies with the nation of Israel. For example, best-selling author Dave Hunt echoes these views on the back cover of his popular book, A Cup of Trembling. He writes: "Fast-moving events in the Middle East point almost daily toward the grand finale-the time of greatest suffering for the Jewish people worldwide, which will climax in the terrifying battle of Armageddon and the glorious return of Messiah to rescue Israel and reign over the world from David's reestablished throne in Jerusalem."
This "Middle East" approach to prophecy became popular among mainline churches in the '80s with a series of books from the pen of Hal Lindsey. In his bestsellers The Late Great Planet Earth and Countdown to Armageddon, Mr. Lindsey employed this dispensational approach to prophecy, making several very specific predictions. The secret rapture of the church would occur in 1981, followed by the building of a new Jewish temple, the advent of the Antichrist, the great tribulation, the invasion of Israel, the battle of Armageddon, and the beginning of the millennium by 1988. In spite of the fact that all of these predictions fell flat, his books continue to sell. Worse still, the seeds of error they contain have sprouted and become firmly rooted in many churches.
While there are differences of opinion among evangelicals, the majority agree on the following five events as core prophecies:
The rebirth of the state of Israel in 1948.
A soon-coming "Seven-Year Period of Great Tribulation."
The rebuilding of the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The rise of the Antichrist during the tribulation, who will enter that temple and proclaim that he is God.
A final war against the nation of Israel, which will result in a Middle East battle of Armageddon.
It Has Happened Before!
Here is the big question. Are all of these end-time prophecies in Scripture regarding Israel and the temple speaking only of the literal nation of Jews and a physical building, or is there a deeper spiritual application?
Remember, when Jesus came the first time His own people misunderstood and misapplied the prophecies regarding His kingdom. They were eagerly waiting and watching for Him to establish a literal earthly kingdom. Jesus constantly tried to explain that His first coming was to establish a spiritual kingdom. He said, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20, 21.
But because the persistent and popular teachings of the day focused on a muscular Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and seat himself on David's throne, the disciples brushed aside Jesus' comments regarding His spiritual kingdom. They tried to make the spiritual prophecies literal, and their expectations were crushed by the cross. They lamented, "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel." Luke 24:21, NKJV. Even after His resurrection, the disciples were still clinging to these popular views and hoping for an imminent, literal kingdom. "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6.
Is it possible that the church at large is making the same mistake today by misapplying prophecies regarding spiritual Israel and the temple and by trying to interpret them in a literal sense? If so, they could be preparing to embrace a diabolical deception-not to mention experience a devastating disappointment!
The Name "Israel"
It is impossible to clearly understand the subject of Israel apart from a careful study of the Old Testament. The first time the name "Israel" appears in Scripture was when it was spoken to Jacob after his long night of wrestling with a powerful opponent. The heavenly stranger finally said, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." Genesis 32:28, emphasis added. Thus the name "Israel" was at first a name of heavenly origin applying to Jacob alone. It represented his spiritual victory over sin, through wrestling in prayer and claiming God's grace.
Jacob had 12 sons who later moved into Egypt. The descendants of these sons eventually multiplied into the 12 tribes that were forced into slavery by the Egyptians until the time of Moses. Then God told Pharaoh through Moses, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn. ... Let my son go." Exodus 4:22, 23. Note that here the name "Israel" is expanded to include Jacob's descendants. Therefore, the name "Israel" first applied to a victorious man, then to his people. We shall soon see why this is a very important point.
Israel, God's Son
About 800 B.C., the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea, saying, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Hosea 11:1. Yet by this time the nation of Israel had failed to live up to the spiritual meaning of its own name. This verse in Hosea will explode with tremendous importance in just a moment, when we look at the New Testament.
Approximately 800 years after Hosea's prophecy, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king." Matthew 2:1. Because Herod was threatened by this new child king, he sent soldiers who "slew all the children that were in Bethlehem." Verse 16. Joseph was warned of the impending crisis in advance. "The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word." Verse 13. So the holy family arose and "departed into Egypt." Verse 14.
Matthew writes that little Jesus remained in Egypt "until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son." Verse 15. Notice that Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1, which originally referred to the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, yet now he declares it "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ! Here Matthew is beginning to reveal a truly shocking principle that he develops throughout his Gospel.
For example, one time after healing a group of people, Jesus modestly "charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias [Greek for Isaiah] the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets." Matthew 12:16-19, emphasis added. Here the Gospel writer is quoting Isaiah 42:1-3, a passage that originally applied to "Israel, ... my servant." Isaiah 41:8, emphasis added. But Matthew again tells us it is "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ!
The apostle Paul also followed the principle of applying statements originally made about the nation of Israel to Jesus Christ. God called Israel "my firstborn" in Exodus 4:22. Yet Paul said it was Jesus Christ who is "the firstborn of every creature." Colossians 1:15.
The clearest example of them all is where God called Israel "the seed of Abraham." Isaiah 41:8. Yet Paul later wrote that Abraham's seed does not refer to "many," but to "one, ... which is Christ." Galatians 3:16, emphasis added. Thus we discover that over and over in the New Testament, statements that originally applied to the nation of Israel are applied to Jesus Christ. The Messiah is now "the seed." Therefore Jesus is the very essence of Israel! This is an explosive truth!
A very careful study of the first book of the New Testament reveals that Christ actually repeated the history of ancient Israel, point by point, and overcame where they had failed. Notice the following amazing parallels between the history of ancient Israel and of Jesus Christ:
In the Old Testament, a young man named Joseph had dreams and went into Egypt to preserve his family alive (Genesis 45:5). In the New Testament we find another Joseph, who likewise had dreams and then went to Egypt to preserve his family (Matthew 2:13).
When the young nation of Israel came out of Egypt, God called that nation "my son" in Exodus 4:22. When the baby Jesus came out of Egypt, God said, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Matthew 2:15.
When Israel left Egypt, the people went through the Red Sea. The apostle Paul says they were "baptized unto Moses ... in the sea." 1 Corinthians 10:2. Jesus was also baptized "to fulfill all righteousness," and immediately afterward God proclaimed Him, "my beloved Son" (Matthew 3:15-17).
After the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was "led up of the Spirit into the wilderness" for 40 days (Matthew 4:1, 2).
At the end of their 40-year wilderness wandering, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. At the end of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, He resisted Satan's temptations by quoting three Scriptures-all from Deuteronomy!
In Psalm 80:8, God calls Israel a "vine" that He brought "out of Egypt." Yet Jesus later declared, "I am the true vine." John 15:1. In the Old Testament, the name "Israel" first applied to one man, to Jacob. It represented Jacob's spiritual victory over sin. Even so, in the beginning of the New Testament we discover that Jesus Christ is the new Israel who came "out of Egypt." He is the one victorious Man who overcame all sin!
A New Nation
Yet there is more. Remember that the name "Israel" not only referred to Jacob, but also to his descendants, who became Israel. The same principle is seen in the New Testament.
For example, the Lord had told the ancient Israelites, "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." Exodus 19:6. In the New Testament, Peter applies these exact words to the church: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." 1 Peter 2:9.
Likewise, right after Paul's statement in Galatians chapter 3 about Jesus being "the seed," he then told his Gentile converts [a Gentile is any person who is not of the Jewish faith], "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29. Thus in the New Testament, the name Israel not only applies to Jesus Christ, but also to those who are born in Christ-His church! In other words, all true Christians are now God's spiritual Israel.
Have you ever been hit hard on the head and then started seeing double? Well, from what we have studied, the Christian world needs a loving bonk on the head with this New Testament truth so that more people will start "seeing double" about the subject of Israel! According to the New Testament, there are now two Israels. One group is composed of literal Israelites "according to the flesh" (Romans 9:3, 4). The other is "spiritual Israel," composed of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote, "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Romans 9:6. That is, not all are part of God's spiritual Israel who are of the literal nation of Israel. Paul continued, "That is, They which are the children of the flesh [physical descendants of Abraham], these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." Romans 9:8. The children of the flesh are only natural descendants of Abraham, but the children of the promise are counted as the true seed. Today any person-Jew or Gentile-can become a part of this spiritual nation of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ.
God Looks on the Heart
Just as there are two Israels, there are also two kinds of Jews: (1) Jews who are only natural descendants of Abraham, and (2) Jews in the Spirit who believe in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, "Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest on the law, and makest thy boast of God. ... For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision [Gentiles] keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? ... For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Romans 2:17, 25, 26, 28, 29.
Did you catch that? The implications are staggering! Someone who is "called a Jew" because he is a physical descendant of Abraham, and yet who lives as a lawbreaker, "is not a Jew." His "circumcision is made uncircumcision." Thus to God, he is a Gentile. And a believing Gentile, who through faith keeps "the righteousness of the law," his uncircumcision is counted for circumcision. Thus to God, he is a Jew. John the Baptist paved the way for this principle when he warned the Jews not to trust their literal ancestry for salvation. "Bring forth therefore fruits meet [worthy] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." Matthew 3:8, 9.
Later Jesus echoed this same principle in a showdown with the religious leaders. "They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham." "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." John 8:39, 44, emphasis added.
Paul wrote, "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Galatians 3:7. "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Philippians 3:3. Thus, according to Paul, a real Jew in the sight of God is anybody-Jew or Gentile-who has personal faith in Jesus Christ!
Eventually this truth hit Peter between the eyes, and he told a room full of Gentile converts, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Acts 10:34, 35.
All Israel Saved?
Since we've gone this far, we may as well go all the way! Only Jews will be saved. Furthermore, all Jews will be saved! Now after you pick yourself up off the floor, allow us to explain these bold statements.
We all know that we are saved under the new covenant, right? Notice the wording of the new covenant: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah." Jeremiah 31:31, emphasis added. And in the book of Hebrews, Paul expands on this concept: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. ... For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Hebrews 8:8, 10-12, emphasis added.
The new covenant is made "with the house of Israel"! God never makes a salvation covenant with Gentiles. In fact, nowhere in Scripture do you find any saving covenant made with anyone but Israelites! So if you want to be saved, you must be born again, as a spiritual Jew. This is not to say that all Christians must now be circumcised and sacrifice lambs, but we must have the spiritual equivalent of these things-Jesus, the Lamb of God, and circumcision of the heart.
God does not have one method of salvation for Jews and a different brand for non-Jews. Everyone is saved the same way under the same program. By grace through faith. Paul used the analogy of an olive tree to explain that all Gentiles who are saved are grafted into the stock of Israel. "And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root [supports] thee." Romans 11:17, 18.
The Christian religion is based on a Jewish manual called the Bible. (In light of this fact, it is extremely difficult to understand how any real Christian could be anti-Semitic.) Christianity is not a new religion, but rather the completion of the Jewish faith.
With this truth in mind, we can now better understand what Paul meant when he said, "And so all Israel shall be saved." Romans 11:26. Some have taken this verse to mean that God will ultimately save all literal Jews. If this were true, it would contradict every principle of God's dealings with humans throughout history and Scripture. God is not a racist. In Jesus' eyes, "There is neither Jew nor Greek." Galatians 3:28.
We are saved based on choices we make regarding God's provision, not on national status or physical citizenship. But if when Paul says that "all Israel will be saved" he is speaking of spiritual Israel, and if we understand that we become a "true Jew" only by a choice, then it all makes sense.
The Application to Prophecy
How does all of this apply to prophecy? The greatest book about prophecy, the book of Revelation, talks about Mount Zion, Israel, Jerusalem, the temple, the Euphrates, Babylon, and Armageddon. Thus it is clear that Revelation uses the terminology of the Middle East in its prophecies. Yet what is happening right now all over planet Earth is that sincere Christians are automatically applying these prophecies to literal places in the Middle East and to the modern nation of Jews. Yet once we grasp the New Testament principles brought out in this article, we should be able to see that there is "something wrong with this picture." It is like seeing error messages pop up on our computer screens! The truth is that Revelation centres around Jesus Christ and God's Israel in the Spirit, not the Israel of the flesh!
Never forget that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Romans 9:6. "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Philippians 3:3.
Share with others the truth that now "there is neither Jew nor Greek, ... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28, 29.
Let us not live in the flesh or accept popular, convoluted teachings that focus on an earthly state. Rather, let us live in the Spirit. Like Jacob of old, let us wrestle in prayer and cling to Jesus until by faith we hear Him say, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." Genesis 32:28. Shalom!