[Note: Our guest contributing author, Mottel Baleston, is a Messianic Jewish Rabbi who teaches in both English and Hebrew. He engages with Jewish and Gentile skeptics in a winsome and Christ-honoring manner.]
Just over 100 years ago, all four of my Jewish grandparents were children living in Jewish villages in Eastern Europe. They grew up in fear of their Antisemitic neighbors in the next village, who occasionally rampaged through the Jewish villages. Taught by institutional churches that had long departed from biblical doctrine, these individuals would cry, “You killed Christ, and so we will kill you!” Of course, that statement is absolutely false, because Jesus Himself said “No one takes My life from me; I give it up willingly!” (John 10:18, CEV).
As a Jewish boy growing up in New York City, I knew religious loyalties most often divided along ethnic lines. The Italian kids in my public school were Catholic and believed in Jesus; I was Jewish and did not. When I found the true Gospel of the Bible at age 21, I realized that Jesus was a Jew who fulfilled all the messianic prophecies of His First coming. As a born-again believer in Messiah Yeshua, I now understand what my grandparents did not: people who persecute Jews do not represent the person or teachings of Jesus. I now work full-time telling my own Jewish people about our Messiah. I also teach the Scriptures, and the following subject has been on my heart because it’s an area of confusion among some Christians.
The biblical prophecies concerning the resettlement of Jewish people back into the Jewish land of Israel were unimaginable just 120 years ago. Jews had been living comfortably in Europe for many years and America was starting to see significant Jewish immigration. The idea of going to Israel, mostly desert or swamp at the time, was unthinkable to most. Yet, today, the land is flourishing, the cities are full, and the Jewish population there exceeds all other countries combined. So, is the current state of Israel the fulfillment of biblical prophecy? The full answer is a bit more complex than you realize.
One confusion is the name “Israel”—first given by God to Jacob. It can be used for the theocratic nation of the Old Testament which existed from approximately 1400 BC through 70 A.D., when the Romans obliterated the nation. Israel is also used to refer to the physical land in the Middle East, which the Romans called Palestine in an attempt to sever the relationship of the Jews (the children of Israel) with the Land. Today, the name Israel also refers to the modern Jewish state that declared independence in 1948.
Myopia in the Church
There are several wrong views about the State of Israel that exist within the evangelical Church today.
1) The first is called Replacement Theology, which claims that the Church acquired all of the positive and good promises to Israel, but the Jews get all of the negative results of disobedience. In this view, all the biblical promises regarding the future kingdom of Israel find fulfillment in a symbolic or allegorical way in the Church. First proposed within Roman Catholicism, this is now embraced by some evangelicals.
2) A second view asserts that there will be a future restoration of Israel, but that the current secular state of Israel has absolutely no significance since the Messianic Kingdom will include a saved, believing nation. By this logic, the modern nation of Israel is simply an accident of history and not biblically relevant. This view is often found among Protestants who are liberal in their theology and politics and don’t want to support Israel.
3) A third view holds that the current secular state of Israel is the actual nation of the Messianic Kingdom spoken of in the Bible. Advocates of this view believe that the secular nation will slowly and eventually come to faith. Although this viewpoint is growing among some Evangelicals, I believe it is also incorrect. It requires explaining away the fact that half of Israelis are not religious and do not live their lives according to the Old Testament—and that over 98% of them reject Jesus as Messiah.
All three views tend to emphasize a select few Bible passages, often pulled out of context, without considering Scriptures that clearly contradict their view.
Promises To Regather Israel
When the Bible is considered as a whole, Scripture makes clear that God Himself promised to bring the Jewish people back from the four corners of the globe to the Land of Israel. But the prophets anticipated two different regatherings:
- the first in unbelief—in preparation for the judgments and difficult times described as the Tribulation (a seven-year period of time yet still in the future).
- the second of a saved, believing nation.
The key passage pointing to an initial regathering to the land in unbelief (in preparation for judgment) is Ezekiel 20:33-38. Ezekiel foresaw a worldwide regathering in unbelief in the midst of wrath and difficult times. This is exactly what happened in large waves of immigration to the land that occurred from the 1890s through the establishment of the state in 1948. The greatest wrath was the Holocaust, dated from Kristallnacht in November 1938 through the liberation of the death camps in 1945.
Ezekiel 22:17-22 reiterates that the Jews will be regathered in the midst of wrath and not as believers.
Now a critical point: Isaiah 11:11-12 foretells two worldwide regatherings. The first was in unbelief, and we are in the midst of that still today. The second is a regathering in faith. Isaiah chapters 40, 61, 62, and 63 repeat the prophecy that the Jews would be regathered first in unbelief, then experience judgment, then all Israel would be regathered to the Lord through saving faith.
Paul explained prophetically that all Israel will be saved through faith in Messiah Jesus in Romans 11, which says:
I do not want you, brothers, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” From the standpoint of the Gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:25-29)
National salvation for the Jews will come at a desperate moment toward the end of the Tribulation described in Zechariah 12:10: “and I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for it only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.” When the Jewish people cry out, “Baruch haba b’Shem Adonai” (Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD), the Messiah will return to earth to establish His Messianic kingdom.
The current state of Israel that we see in the Middle East is not an accident of history, nor is it the result of purely human effort by determined people. Rather, it is a key part of what God’s plan for the ages describes in the return of Messiah.
Recognizing that God has already sent Messiah Jesus to the Jewish people, let us be clear that the only hope for any individual, Jew or Gentile, is in the atonement provided by the blood of Messiah. That is my blessed hope, and I trust it is yours as well.