Do you believe that God loves Israel? Or do you believe that He has rejected them and God's people are now Christians, Muslims or others? Take a look at these verses:
"Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
"So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them"
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If you have compared the rendering of New International Version with the original Aramaic then you have noticed that this is a very good version of these verses in English, which conveys the same story of the originals.
Do you know this anthem?
Written in 1878 and and set to music in 1888, it was officially declared Israel's Anthem (the first verse and the refrain, with some small modifications) only in 2004, even when in 1897 it had been adopted in the First Zionist Congress, and in 1948 as a non-official hymn. It's worthy to note how a hope can survive two millenia of exile and rejection. It is not the case with some "hopes" that should be better described as "illusions". The Hope to which this beautiful and deeply felt hymn refers is a trust in God, the trust of a people which knows there's a Highest Father over all those earthly powers which have occupied their land, from 70 AD to 1948, and that the promise of this Almighty God is worthy to be trusted.
The birth - or maybe should we say "rebirth" - of the State of Israel is one of the greatest miracles which have been performed on this earth by the hand of God. When this hymn was written or set to music, and even when it was adopted in the First Zionist Congress in 1897, the Holy Land was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and after WW I it became a British Protectorate. Only in 1948 it should became a free nation, and the land which God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should be given back to their descendants. But those who adopted and sang "The Hope" during all these years where waiting in the promises of the God of Israel, the Creator of the universe and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who doesn't lie. In the same way that He delivered those three Jews in Babylonia, He saved His people from destruction, and gave them back the land He had promised to them.
Maybe this words are in opposition to the knowledge you think you have about the Bible, Judaism and Christianity. Some believers or non-believeres should ask themselves, but isn't the Old Testament replaced by the New one? Is not the church God's people now, and not Israel? Doesn't teach the Bible that Israel is rejected by God, who has set the Church in its place?
Let me tell you: not at all. God's revelation is a progressive one. The role of Israel in prophecy was not revealed through centuries to those who rejected God's people during late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, believing that Jews were excluded from God's plan. Even among the reformers, not all of them understood God's prophecies about Israel, maybe because their focus was to get ride of medieval Catholic traditions and to establish "sola Scriptura" as their rule. Then their main concern was to conform the Christian religion after biblical patterns, and the prophecy was not in their focus. As a matter of fact, the prophecy about the last times, the Second Coming of the Lord and the Millenial Kingdom has been and even today is wrongly taken by many (about this issue you can get further information in this site, under the titles Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:36-38; Daniel 2:39-40; Daniel 2:41-43; Daniel 2:44-45)
Which is God's position about Israel, and why is "NO" the answer to those previous questions?
In order to receive a revelation about this is necessary to know what is it that Christ preached about Israel, and the prophecies we can find in the NT about the Jews (the Old Testament is hardly in question here, because it is related mostly to this people)
Take a look to the instructions of Our Lord to the preachers he sent (Matthew 10:5,6) :
"These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel"
Certainly He shouldn't förbid to evangelize Gentiles (non Jews) or Samaritans (mixed Jews) but send them BEFORE to the Jews (other verses show that the evangelism should be done in the whole world) In the beginning, He wanted to reach Israel only. Because of this, He said to a Canaanite woman who asked a miracle from Him, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) In those times of His ministry on earth, the first church should be mostly Jews (and then the Jewish apostles should evangelize Gentiles) The inclusion of Gentiles is shown in the fact that He performed the miracle for this Gentile woman, when He saw her faith.
See the words of Our Lord to His Jewish apostles in Luke 22:29-30:
"And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel"
"To judge" is not about the role of a "judge" and "lawyers" as we should understand, but of "rulers" ("judges" are "rulers" in the Bible) The Kingdom of God, the one which the Son received from His Father, should include Israel, and the Lord with His disciples should reign over Israel, as the Messiah He is. Observe that in those times, when He told this to his disciples, there were only two tribes; the northern kingdom had been mixed and those ten tribes were now "Samaritans". But the Lord talks about them all, together in a future Kingdom where "the twelve tribes of Israel" would be included. Matthew 8:10-12 mentions this kingdom also:
"When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”
These well know words to a Roman centurion (another Gentile) asking Him for a miracle, give us some revelations about the Kingdom of God:
- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are save, and they have their place there as prominent figures.
- the Jewish nation is called "subjects of the kingdom" (by Gods choice; the Messiah is the king of Israel on eternity) but many of them will not inherit that blessing because of their incredulity (note that the Lord had not find a single Jew with such a great faith as the centurion)
- many gentiles, "from the east and the west", shoul inherit a place in the kingdom, and join Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because of their faith
This passage shows us the Kingdom as a destination for the Jewish people in eternity; but it tells us also that many of them will not get there because of incredulity, and many Gentiles will get there because of their faith in the God of Israel. Observe that is Jesus Christ himself who has been speaking.
See also Mark 12:29-30:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’"
This is the faith confession of the Jews, "Shma, Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai ekhad". It was the most important commandment for Jesus Christ (as it is for every Jew) and he made it known to the teacher of the Law who asked Him (and the answer got the "Amen" of the teacher of the Law)
In these words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which we have seen before, there is not a single reason to believe that Israel should cease being the people of God, not even in eternity. Observe others who prophesied in the NT about Israel:
"He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
This is Mary, Jesus' mother, prophesying that the birth of her Son should be help for Israel, Abraham's descendants, according to that mercy which God promised to the patriarch. We Christians and Arabs claim to be Abraham's descendants also (according to the spirit or to the flesh, and in conformity to Bible statements) but Mary is mentioning Israel by name, the Jews (that the prophecy could have another possible interpretations doesn't mean that the literal one is wrong; it is only so when symbolic language is in use)
Luke 2:29-32, 34:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
"Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against..."
When Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to present the child Jesus in the temple (conforming to Jewish use) a righteous and devote Jewish man called Simeon prophesied these words in the power of the Spirit of God. The words of Simeon shows us that he saw in that little child the salvation of God, and he called Him "glory of God's people, Israel" and "a light for revelation to the Gentiles". The glory of the Jewish nation, and the most important reason of Israel's choice, even from Abraham's call, is that God Himself should be incarnated in a Jew (the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior) and that He would make known the God of Israel to the whole world, He would be the "light for revelation to the Gentiles". The verse 34 shows that "the falling and rising of many" should begin in Israel itself (and it has happened also among the Gentiles; many of them have received Jesus Christ and others haven't, because "the sign should be spoken against" not only in Israel but wherever the gospel is preached)
See John 1:29-31:
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
According to John words, the Lamb of God should be revealed... TO ISRAEL! John says that it is why he baptized; his whole ministry had an only reason: to show to Israel that Jesus Christ was their Messiah.
Let us end by now with this passage, John 12:12-15:
"The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”
"Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
Those who received, honoured and blessed the Lord - a humble prophet seated on a donkey's colt - called Him "King of Israel" (the Messiah they were waiting for) because they understood that it was the fulfillment of that prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
Summarizing, the Jews that prophesy in these previous passages saw Jesus Christ as Israel's Messiah, the one who would save their people (and as a matter of fact, it happened with many Jews who conformed the newborn Christian church; they were the first who reached the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ)
In the light of all these passages, which reason should sustain the ideas that the Old Testament has been substituted by the New, or Israel by the Church? Observe the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
These verses are showing us a revelation, that Paul gives us through the Holy Spirit:
- the exclusion of those Jews who "fell" according to Simeon's prohecy, those who rejected Jesus, is not a definitive one, but a part of God's plan, who was working with the Jews who reached the Gentiles with the gospel.
- "some branches were broken off" from the "cultivated olive tree", the one who is attended by God, Israel meant. These "branches" are the unfaithful Jews, and they were "broken off" because of their unfaithfulness. Observe that this fact doesn't mean that Israel is no longer the "cultivated olive tree"
- we "Gentiles" are "branches" of a "wild olive tree". We are created by God also, but we live and grow "wild" because we ignore the Word of God and His care for us. We can be "grafted in" in the "cultivated olive tree" because of our faith (and the reason of the gospel is this, to reach us and lead us to salvation)
The vision of the apostle Paul in this passage could explain why the newborn church was seen as a "Jewish sect" - and it is what it was, as a matter of fact. The first "Christians" were "another Jews", the ones who believed that their Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ. And the vision explains also why Paul, who calls himself "the apostle of the Gentiles", used to preach first in the synagogue of every place he visited, and after that, to the Gentiles. The "apostle of the Gentiles" reached the Jews first with the gospel, and then the others!
Observe how it continues (Romans 11:25-29)
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
28 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, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
New revelations from Paul's hand:
- some Jews ("Israel in part") are hardened and didn't accept their Messiah
- this situation should endure a certain period of time (until "the full number of the Gentiles has come in", it is, until those who should be save through the gospel are Christians)
- then God should work again with the Jews (this issue is a longer one that we will comment also, if the Lord allows, together with the book of Revelation)
- God loves and have chosen both those Jews who accepted the Messiah (Christians or Messianic Jews) and also those who didn't do it. The gift of God (salvation) and God's call (to Abraham and his Jewish descendants) have never changed, and will never do, because God's choice is not subject to change. Those Christians who believe that God has rejected Israel as His people and has a "new people" which is the church, are called "conceited" in the Bible.
These awesome revelations didn't come to me the day when I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Many years should pass before hearing the Lord speak to me of Israel's significance in a more detailed way. To cite an example, some years after my conversion I heard a proclamation which is sustained for most Pentecostal Christians, about the Second Coming of the Lord, that the "fig tree" which shows us that that time is near is meaning Israel and its restoration (see Matthew 24:32-33) Nobody explained that to me - maybe because I asked none - but my faith told me that those brothers who were filled with the Spirit of God should not prophecy lies. Only when I read Jeremiah 24 that revelation came to me, too (we'll talk about it also, if the Lord allows)
In these days, when the 66th anniversary of the proclamation of the State of Israel is celebrated, that day when God fulfilled so many prophecies to the Jews who trusted His word and relied in His promises, it is proper also for us Christians to remember that this "fig tree" whose "twigs get tender, and its leaves come out" - even when so many Gentiles are opossed to God's purpose - is a sign to us which shows that Jesus comes quickly. The Lord has restored in part His people, He has given them in part the land He promised to Abraham, and He has revealed in part to the Christians this plan He has for Israel in these times, in the Great Tribulation and in eternity. Let's pray that every Christian will receive this revelation, and know Israel's place in God's heart. Let's pray that God's purpose, which has been fulfilled in part, will be completed.
If you have not received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, let me tell you that His call remains. He who waited 2000 years to give their land back to the Jews, and who waited some millenia to send His Son to fulfilled those messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, He will wait for your repentance and conversion, when there is time yet. The day will come when this will be not allowed to you, even if you want, but it is not today. If you are reading these words and if you have not received Jesus yet, the only thing you have to do is to kneel before Him, confess your sins, ask Him for forgiveness and acept Him as your Lord and Savior. He wants to save you from condemnation, and give you eternal life. Receive Jesus, and live with God eternally!
May the Lord bless you
In the love of Christ, your brother
PS. Jesus comes quickly!