There’s always something going on in the Middle East, and there’s almost always something going on between the Jews and the Philistines. Yes, “Philistine” is the Bible’s name for the Palestinians. And so here we are again.
I think I read James Jordan’s essay on the future of the Jews probably around 20 years ago and have vaguely defaulted to his preterist interpretation ever since. I hadn’t given the topic much thought until I read The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray a couple of years ago, in which he describes the widespread belief of many of the Protestant Reformers and their English/Scottish Puritan heirs in a future, mass conversion of the Jews as central to their expectation that the earth would one day be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, prior to the final return of Christ. At that point, I realized I hadn’t really given any other views on Romans 11 a fair shake. I simply knew I wasn’t a dispensational Zionist, expecting the rebuilding of the temple and a return to bloody sacrifices as some prerequisite for the return of Christ. Hebrews sufficiently contradicts that view.
You don’t have to be a Left Behind Zionist to generally side with the Israelis in the most recent conflict, even if you have major questions about how the modern Israeli state was established or the goals or means of the current war. We should also point out that contrary to modern leftist tropes an ally is not a nation that you think can do no wrong. Seems to me that America and American Christians in particular ought to feel free to generally think that Israel has the right to defend themselves from blood thirsty terrorists who desire their complete annihilation, conduct just wars, and that we may support those efforts as much it makes sense to do so (and opinions may reasonably vary), and that need not mean that you are anti-palestinian or anti-semitic. All reasonable God-fearing people should be anti-Hamas. But remember, there are other kinds of Palestinians: Palestinian Christians, Palestinian secularists, and Palestinian liberal Muslims. And Hamas is an Islamic terrorist organization that routinely uses human shields for its atrocities.
I’m no expert on Middle Eastern politics by any long shot, but I am Christian minister who can outline a few Biblical principles that ought to inform our (American) foreign relations on the matter.
Five Biblical Principles
First, I now believe in an on-going and future mass conversion of the Jews to Christianity as part of God’s grand plan to provoke the ends of the earth to salvation. “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15). To take this as having already happened in the first century A.D. prior to 70 AD just doesn’t fit the text or history. The whole world was not “reconciled” before 70 AD, much less something equivalent to resurrection from the dead. Further, Paul says despite the partial blindness of Israel, all of Israel will be saved when the fullness of Gentiles has come in (Rom. 11:25-26). It seems to me that this nails Jordan’s preterist interpretation shut. The fullness of Israel will not be saved until the fullness of the Gentiles have come in. We are certainly in the process of seeing the fullness of the Gentiles come into the Kingdom, but we do not yet see all things under Christ’s feet. So, standing with many of our Reformed forefathers, we look forward to the salvation of the Gentile nations and following that, a very significant conversion of the Jews prior to the Final Return of Christ in glory.
Second, Paul says that this is based on covenant promises to take away their sins (Rom. 11:27). What does this mean? He explains, “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:28-29). As Douglas Wilson recently reminded me, in Galatians 4, Paul calls this the Covenant with Hagar. “Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman… which things are an allegory: for these are two covenants; the one from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, with is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:22-26). This point deserves further development, but Romans 11 and Galatians 4 do teach that a covenant remains with those who cling to the promises of Abraham and the law of Sinai. It’s simply not true that no covenant remains for unbelieving Jews. It’s a covenant of bondage and slavery, and it is most certainly not the covenant of promise and grace (from which they have been removed), but there is a covenant with unbelieving Jews that remains nonetheless — the covenant with Hagar.
Third, to the extent that you have a people that identify with the Old Testament, looking to the promises to Abraham and the Torah-law, you have a Jewish people with veils remaining over their eyes, just as Paul described them in the first century (2 Cor. 3:14-15). James Jordan and others claim that the Jews ceased to exist after 70 AD, but I don’t find this argument compelling at all. Yes, the Old Covenant vanished at 70 AD with the temple and sacrifices, meaning that the temple approach to God has entirely ceased. There is no more animal sacrifice that foreshadows the final sacrifice of Christ. This is why the Zionist dreams of renewing the sacrificial system are terribly misguided and blasphemous. But just as the Jews existed in exile during the Old Covenant without sacrifices or temple, they can continue to exist for centuries, and they have. And on a purely historical note, it is simply astonishing that for all the nations that have come and gone and disappeared into the dustbin of history, there is a people called the Jews that still exist against all odds. Related, the Jewish people have never been some kind of “pure race” in terms of genetics and bloodline. The only reason the Bible traces genealogies in the Old Covenant is for the sake of the Messianic line. God promised that the seed of the woman would come and crush the head of the seed of the dragon (Gen. 3:15), and God promised that seed from Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17). And so Jesus has come, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the son of David. But there was always a mixed multitude in Isreal: from Abraham’s 318 fighting men, to the many Egyptians that joined Israel in the Exodus, from Rahab to Ruth to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon’s reign, many joined themselves to Israel over the centuries. Israel was always a covenanted-people, bound by common faith and customs, and yes, marriage often joined these peoples over generations ethnically, but it was never genetic-centric. So regardless of what modern Jews are genetically, they clearly continue down to the present as a people who identify with the covenants of Abraham and the Torah of Sinai.
Fourth, the Jews are partially blinded, and apart from Christ, these covenants only add to their condemnation, but by the same token, the Old Testament grants them more light than Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or any other non-Christians. This is why Jews are frequently very high functioning people having embraced and specialized in some of the common grace principles of business and prosperity highlighted in the Old Testament, using those skills for good and evil over the centuries. And this is often why the Jews are such hated people. But for Christians, this means that we have a people who are primed for the gospel and share a muddled but similar worldview. They are monotheists who have some respect for the Ten Words. That’s more common ground than many modern leftists or squishy conservatives. The modern nation of Israel also provides some pretty significant opportunities for missionary work and evangelism both in Israel and throughout the Middle East.
Fifth, and to return to Paul’s point in Romans 11, the goal is to provoke the Jews to envy and emulation. Paul says that this is why he preaches so hard to Gentiles: in order to provoke his countrymen to emulation (Rom. 11:14). James Jordan argues that this can’t possibly still be in effect since Christians don’t have what modern Jews want. He writes, “Talmudic Jews are looking for a completely different kind of kingdom.” Likewise he writes, “Modern Jews are not in the least provoked by the fact that non-Jews believe the Gospel. Modern Jews get angry with Jews convert [sic], not when “Gentiles” do. In this respect, Modern Jews are just like any other non-Christian group. This is strong evidence that Romans 9-11 is concerned only with the early days of the Church.” But it seems to me that this is not entirely accurate and to the extent that it is somewhat true, it is largely to our shame. On the one hand, as Christendom flourished in the late middle ages and into the Reformation era, there actually was something of an influx of Jews into the Kingdom provoked by the superior learning, arts, sciences, and business practices of the Protestant Christian West. But it is also true that Christians have frequently so “spiritualized” the kingdom completely misunderstanding and misconstruing the language and nature of the New Covenant. While it is true that Christ’s Davidic Kingdom is not purely material or political, it is simply not true that it is not material or political at all. All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Jesus, and it is on that basis that we disciple all the nations (Mt. 28). Jesus promised that all who gave up houses and lands and families for His sake would receive them back a hundred fold in this life with persecutions, and in the life to come, eternal life (Mk. 10:29-30). The blessings of Deuteronomy are now offered to all of the nations of the earth.
This final point is reason enough not to become Israeli sycophants, not to mention its cowardice and unseemliness, but rather, as our friend, James Rayment, has argued, we ought to strive to be good friends, faithful friends with Israel (and Palestine for that matter), which means supportive of goodness and justice but also the kind of friends who are faithful to wound and correct when they are wrong. And our overarching goal should be to be the kind of faithful people and nation that once again is supremely blessed – blessed with a right knowledge of the living God through Jesus Christ, blessed with the wisdom of His word in all of our affairs, and so blessed, as Deuteronomy says, in our families and fields and endeavors that all of the nations see the blessing and are provoked to want it, especially the Jews, and seeing our good works, they come and glorifying our Father in Heaven through Jesus Christ.