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THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE BIBLE

 

 

Reflections

on the Crises in the Middle East

and the Plan of God Revealed in the Scriptures

 

Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  Part VI  Part VII )

 

VII.  The Role of Prophecy

 

 

We now have to consider how biblical prophecy fits into the issues; it is important to do this because Christians, Jews, and Muslims all use it in various ways to substantiate their claims and guide their decisions.  But most people do not know enough about biblical prophecy--they may know a verse or two, and that is what they base their ideas upon.  But it is far more complex than that.  Therefore, we will here survey the broad picture first, and then see how the details fit the whole plan. 

 

General Introduction

 

God’s acts in history and God’s word  have shown him to be the sovereign Lord of history; the rise and fall or leaders and nations, in fact their very existence, depends on the sovereign will.  Unless we start on this proper foundation, the sovereignty of God over history, we cannot really put much stock into the prophetic visions of humans. 

Throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, we learn that God has always used one nation as a means of judging or holding in check another nation.  When God called Abraham in Genesis 12 and promised him a land and a nation, he did so at the precise time that the population of Canaan had become so very corrupt and wicked that God revealed his plan to displace them--in other words, to bless Abraham and make him into a great nation necessarily meant the removal of another nation who had forfeited their rights to exist because of grave sin.  But even then God would not judge the Canaanites  until it was really necessary, fully deserved (Gen. 15); and so he sent Israel to Egypt for 400 years (to bondage). God would give the land to Abraham’s descendants--but since that would be at the expense of the Canaanites, it would not be one moment too soon. All of this in itself is a lesson in how God works to bring about righteousness in the world; and it may provide an understanding of the on-going conflict in the “promised land” today.  God left the Canaanites in the land to harass unfaithful Israel; they would only receive the unchallenged blessing when they were walking by faith and living in righteousness.

In the Old Testament it is clear that the covenant made with Abraham included the possession of the land, from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, or, all of the region of Syria-Palestine over to the desert.  It was and still is one of the most strategic places in the world, although it has no real natural products (like water, oil, gas).  But for a nation that was to be a kingdom of priests, a light to the Gentiles, the agents of revelation and salvation to the world, such a strategic location was crucial.

The promise was made to Abraham and his descendants for ever.  As we have seen in an earlier session, in the places where the covenant promise was made, there was a condition put on Israel that in order for them to realize God’s blessings they had to be a blessing, they had to be faithful. The promise of the land and of protection from the nations was never carte blanche.  In fact, when Israel was wicked and unfaithful, or in unbelief, God used the nations to punish and remove them--God turned against them.  He is not a national God; he is the God of the nations.  

Some folks assume from this that because Israel sinned so badly and was exiled from the land to Babylon, and then sinned again in rejecting the Messiah and was expelled from the land again, that the covenant promises to Israel have been replaced by a New Covenant for the Church--Israel sinned their covenant away.  But this view, as satisfying as it may be to some theological systems, does not do justice to the  Scripture.  The New Covenant was promised to Israel--we have been grafted in to it, as we shall see.  The New Testament makes this very clear, and the Old Testament prophets include so many details yet to be fulfilled as part of the New Covenant, that one can hardly sweep them aside (unless the verses are given a totally different meaning than what they say).  Remember, it was when Israel was in it worst sin that God announced that he was going to make a New Covenant for them.  The New Covenant promised many things, as we shall see, but among them was that Israel as a people would be regathered to their land in unbelief prior to the coming of the Messiah, and then at some subsequent period the Spirit would be poured out on them and they would be made alive, saved.  The covenant promises of God are sure; individual participation in them require faith and righteousness.

Everyone who interprets prophecy has to explain one thing: the presence of Israel back in the land today, just as the prophets said, and at the moment still in unbelief, just as the prophets said.  Some folks actually say that God had nothing to do with it.  But that approach can be discarded immediately.  If Israel is back in the land, just as the prophets said, and if God is the sovereign Lord of history, then obviously God had something to do with this.  And if he has done this part of the fulfillment of his word, then the rest will follow in his time.

How then should the Christian respond to all this?  Several observations come to mind: First, it should make us all study Scripture more to see God’s work in history and God’s work in the future history of prophecy; second, it does not mean that we must be “for Israel” no matter what they do; rather, we must champion righteousness and justice for all people, and make our goal the salvation of people who do not yet know the Messiah, Jesus our Lord, both Arab and Jew; third, only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will inherit all the promises that God has made for them, and most of them will be fulfilled at the coming of the Lord; fourth, remember that the coming of the Lord is imminent, which means you cannot predict when it will happen, and you cannot say certain things have to be in place before the Lord can come.[1] 

Israel could even be scattered again as God scattered them many times before, and the promises would still remain in place.  We would just conclude this was not the regathering, but another was coming (which could happen simultaneously with the second coming).   But since what is happening looks so much like what the prophets foretold, many believe that this is part of the final regathering. How long before the coming of the Lord is impossible to say--it could be soon, or it could be decades or centuries away.

The question concerning the biblical prophecies about Israel and the Holy Land are debated rather vigorously by all who have an interest in prophecy or the Bible.  Some contend that Israel has a right to the land because the Jews are God’s chosen people and the land was promised to them; others argue that Israel sinned grievously and was cast aside so that God no longer is dealing with the nation of Israel but the universal Church and has no interest in the land or the city of Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, many of the arguments given for one view or the other are far too simplistic.  And so we have to put these things in the broad context of the sweep of God’s prophetic plan of creation and redemption.  It is my understanding that the promise of the land remains in tact; but participation in the fulfillment of that promise requires faith, and the time of the fulfillment of that promise lies in the future with the coming of the Lord.  Jews who have no faith in Jesus Christ will have no share in the world to come;[2] and neither will Arabs, or Americans.

 

A Survey of Creation and Covenant

 

The Design of Creation

 In the beginning God created a perfect world, with a fruitful garden, in which he could dwell with his people.  He made humans to be his image, to be spiritual servants, ruling and having dominion with him, creating life with him, and dwelling with him at rest in Eden’s sanctuary.  This was creation’s blessing: a people, dwelling in a fruitful land, having dominion over the earth.

As you know, sin entered the world and ruined everything.  The sinners were expelled from the beautiful land where God’s presence dwelt, and they had no free access to him.  They no longer had dominion, but were servants of the ground, scratching out their livelihood as gardeners.  They were no longer at rest, but under a curse that brought pain, conflict, and death.  Vestiges of the image remained in human nature, but it was so tarnished it was not functioning.   The rest of Scripture reveals how involved and how difficult it would be to restore creation to fellowship with God, to replace the curse with blessing, to bring rest to the weary and the weak, to fit humans to be the image of God, spiritual servants again, so that they might rule over this earth with him (Rev. 5:10).  It would take nothing less than a re-creation, or new creation, from top to bottom.

This divine plan was unfolded step by step through a series of promise-and-fulfillment covenants and prophecies.  We can only touch the high points, but the contents of the books of the prophets and apostles would have to be studied in great detail to get the full picture.

 

The Noachian Covenant: Re-creation

The story of the flood sets the tone for the plan of God for judgment and redemption, and serves as a prophecy (“as it was in the days of Noah”).  It forms a judgment-re-creation theme, for through the judgment God would start over as in Genesis 1 with a new creation and a new people to enjoy a new world and to have dominion over it.  He made a covenant with Noah for the whole world, and sealed it with his sign of the rainbow (the battle bow, hung up after the war).  It announced that God is a God of grace.

 

The Abrahamic Covenant: Seed, Land, and Kings

God’s plan from the foundation of the world was that he would form a holy people who would dwell with him and serve him and rule with him. The  administrative center of that program was to be Jerusalem (the middle of the Fertile Crescent and the crossroads of the world), and that it would be administered by one known as God’s Son.  That is the unfolding plan from creation through to the new heavens and the new earth.

After the judgment at the Tower of Babel, the people of the earth were hopelessly divided and scattered around the world.  So God began to form a new creation, a people with whom he could dwell, who would be his image, his spiritual servants in the world, to restore blessing to the world.  He called Abram out of the world to be the new Adam.  The sign of this covenant would be circumcision, indicating that they and their offspring were separate from the pagan world.

In the covenant with Abraham God promised what was lost in the Fall: a land (“like the garden of Eden”--Gen. 13:10), a seed (“I will greatly multiply you”), and dominion (“kings will come from your womb”).  These promises are first given in Genesis 12:1-3, and then advanced in chapters 13, 17, and 22.  At the end of Genesis the people are ready to see the fulfillment of the promises for a new creation living in a land at rest, serving the Lord, and led by the kingship of Judah (49:10).

Note: (1) God’s plan was to bring blessing to everyone, not just Israel; (2) God’s chosen people had this duty; (3) God would bless and protect these people when they are a blessing--otherwise he would judge them with the nations.

 

The Sinai Covenant: Making the Seed a Holy Nation

The Law given at Sinai is actually a lengthy covenant--the constitution of the nation (Exodus 20 through Leviticus, then Numbers for the camp in motion, and then Deuteronomy the second giving of the law for the new generation).  The Law was given to regulate the worship and service of the people of Israel, to make the seed a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19), so that they could be spiritual servants, the image of God, and a blessing to the world.  If they obeyed, God would bless and use them; if they did not obey, God would discipline them.  If they turned to other gods, they would not be members of the covenant and so would be expelled from the land (like Adam and Eve) and judged like all the sinners of the world.

The sign of this covenant was keeping the sabbath day, showing that they were aligned once again with the creator, and poised to be sanctified to enter his rest (Ps. 95).  So this covenant legislated the ways that the seed, the people, should live to receive the promises.  In the New Testament, as we shall see, Gentile believers have been grafted in to these covenants, and so we now become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Peter 2) to make Israel jealous as Paul says.

But the covenant at Sinai focused on the seed, the people, the first part of the promise to Abraham, guiding them to their divinely chosen destiny as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests.

 

The Palestinian Covenant (Deut. 27-30): Preparing the People for the Land

This marvelous but overlooked covenant is part of Deuteronomy, given to the next generation of Israelites who were then ready to enter the land of rest--the first generation failed by disobedience to see the fulfillment of the promise of the land.  God swore that they would not enter that rest, none of them except Joshua and Caleb, not even Moses and Aaron. 

This covenant focuses on the promise of the land, the second part of the covenant with Abraham, and a renewal of the Edenic provision.  Therefore, the covenant was renewed by Joshua once they were in the land.  The language in this section of Deuteronomy is filled with motifs from the Garden of Eden, as if this entrance into the land of Canaan was a return to Eden, to blessing, to rest, to spiritual service--if they obeyed (Deut. 30).  But curses were recorded if they disobeyed, and the final curse would lead to their expulsion from the land. So this covenant reiterated the promise of the land and reminded of the need for obedience.  The promise made to Abraham would remain; participation in it depended on the obedience of each generation.

 

The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7): Providing Kings for the Nation

Once the Israelites were settled in the land and unified as a people, God gave them a king, not as they had wanted like the nations, but a king after God’s heart.  The Davidic Covenant guaranteed that there would always be a son of David to rule on the throne over the people of God, and ultimately to have that dominion over the earth.  Again, obedience was required of these kings if they were to have the blessing of the kingship--but note, the covenant promise was not based on their obedience, only their participation in it.[3]  Every Davidic king who came to the throne in Jerusalem was known as God’s “Son” because he was chosen to be God’s vice-regent on earth (2 Sam. 7; Ps, 2); but ultimately the Coming One would reign forever because he truly is God’s Son, that is, eternal and divine. The Davidic Covenant will be fulfilled literally and fully with the reign of Christ, the son of David.

 

The New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36, Isa. 54): Renewal and Consummation

When things got so bad in Israel, when the people turned from the LORD to false gods and became totally corrupt, two things happened prophetically: the prophets announced utter judgment and exile from the land because they were no longer God’s people (you are not my people, and I am not your God”), and, the prophets also announced God’s gracious formation of a New Covenant with Israel and Judah (“you will be my people, and I will be your God”).  Most of the people who went into exile were unbelievers and judged; most of the people who returned after the exile were believers, and certainly part of God’s covenant program--but they were a different generation.

The promises of this New Covenant according to Isaiah 54ff. (ca. 700) are: 

1.       Israel will be regathered and settled in its land with complete peace and no fear of invasion, war or terror (it is a covenant of peace, and all the Isaiahnic prophecies of peace should be correlated).

2.                  Jerusalem the holy city will be rebuilt in riches and be the center of God’s theocractic administration.

3.                  The covenant will last forever; “all Israel” will be saved.[4]

The promises according to Jeremiah 31ff. (ca. 600) are:

4.                  God will make a new covenant with Israel and with Judah; it will be a new (renovation, not unrelated to what was before) covenant that will fulfill the promises of the fathers.

5.                  When the LORD regathers Israel to the land, the Law will be put in their minds and their hearts; God will be their God and they will be his people, meaning that they will be forgiven by him.

6.                  Everyone will know the LORD, so no there will be no need to tell others.

The promises according to Ezekiel 36ff. (ca. 580) are:

7.                  Israel will be regathered to the land by God’s grace (in unbelief according to chapter 37's vision of the bones coming together), and then cleansed by God, given a new heart.

8.                  God will put the Holy Spirit in them (the vision of the breath coming into the bones in 37), and indeed in all flesh (Joel), so that they will be spiritual servants of God.

9.                  God will renovate the land so that it will once again be like Eden (36:35).

10.              The greater David, the Messiah, will reign over all the earth.      

If you read through the rest of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you will see that the fulfillment of the promises will involve a complete renovation of the heavens and the earth.  Zechariah 14 describes the coming of the Messiah to the Mount of Olives, and the subsequent geographic changes that that will involve with the earth (see also Ezek. 47).  His coming will immediately bring judgment to the gathered nations in the final war in the Middle East (Ezekiel and Revelation), and then usher in an age of peace and prosperity and righteousness.  Isaiah and the other prophets also foresaw the nations being gathered into the kingdom of the Lord Messiah.  And Zechariah foresaw how the Jews would turn to him when they looked on him whom they had pierced; they then would fulfill their destiny as a Levitical nation in the new sanctuary--that is, those who believed in the Lord Christ. 

 

The Promised Land

 

One of the fundamental questions we have to ask is this: can God make all these promises, hundreds of them, and then not fulfill them, or fulfill them in other people altogether, just because certain generations of the people sinned.  If that is the case, then we cannot feel too secure about John 3:16. 

Whatever your view of prophecy might be, what is clear is that Jews know what God promised them--a great nation, the land, and dominion over the world in their Messiah.  The Arabs know that as well, and herein is the conflict--Islam believes it is destined to rule the whole world, and will stop at nothing to get it.  And of course, European nations, not just Nazi Germany, also felt it was their destiny, and not the Jews’, to dominate the world.

If we go back and think through the promises made to Abraham and reiterated in the New Covenant, we can see that in all the ups and downs of Israel’s faithfulness God’s plans did not change.  When God delivered his people from Egypt he led them to find Rest in the Land of Promise.  That land extended from the “river of Egypt” (wadi el-’Arish) in the south to the “great river” (Nahr el-Kebir north of Dan) in the north, and from the Sea on the West to the land on the other side of Jordan on the east--the land bridge between the continents. The land was a gift from God, an inheritance for Israel, as the Bible repeatedly states some 25 times.  But the initial generation did not enter the land because of the sin of unbelief; and the generation that did enter did not find rest because God used the Canaanitish tribes to test and to discipline his people (just as he seems to be doing now with Palestinians).

When God did give his people Rest in the land through David’s conquests, David was still expecting a future rest (2 Sam. 7:10-11).  A time of peace and prosperity flourished with Solomon for a few years, but he too looked for a future fulfillment (1 Kings 8:56; Ps. 72).  Psalm 95 made it clear that the word of promise could be theirs, so they were to listen and obey.  But then, because of sin, God eventually drove the people from the land into exile in Babylon.  The loss of the land was the most painful tragedy Israel experienced (Lev. 26:34-39).

When God began to re-gather Israel to the land according to the promises of the Old and New covenants (see Jer. 30:3; 33:20,25; Ezek. 36:24, et al), Israel’s realization of the fulfillment of the promises was brief, and fell far short of expectations.  They were in the land, but dominated by Gentile powers and forced to endure wars and terror on every hand.  Now if that re-gathering was all there was to be, why did the post-exilic prophets continue to promise it (see Zech.10:8-12; recall also Isa. 11:12)?    

When God sent his Son to offer that rest (Matt. 11 and Jer. 31) in fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant, his coming only fulfilled some of the promises, notably those of the atoning sacrifice of the Suffering Servant.  Remember, the main features of the New Covenant were:

(1) re-gathering and settlement of Israel in unending peace;

(2) conversion of Israel (who are alive on earth) through forgiveness of sins

      and giving them a new heart through the impartation of the Holy Spirit;

(3) salvation to the nations through them as spiritual servants;

(4) end of war and terror forever, and universal peace and righteousness;

(5) change of the land to be like Eden, and change of human and animal nature; (6) rebuilding of the holy city in splendor; and

(7) the universal reign of Messiah. 

Only a couple of these have begun to be fulfilled, and then only in part.

But because of the unbelief of the people in Jesus’ day, God drove the nation out of the holy city and eventually out of the land while his program focused on “a nation that would bear fruit” (Matt. 21:43).  The question that Bible students debate is whether this last sin of unbelief, the rejection of the Messiah, set aside the promises to Israel once and for all, so that the Church and the promises to the Church have replaced the promises that were made to Israel.  If that were the case, all these Old Testament passages would remain as unfulfilled promises of God. 

But in the New Testament, neither Jesus nor Paul teach that; in fact, their words constantly look forward to the fulfillment of these unfulfilled promises--at the second coming of Christ (Acts 1:7, Jesus indicated there was a time of fulfillment for the restoration; Acts 3:19, Peter expected that time of fulfillment connected to Israel’s belief; and Rom. 11:1, Paul affirms that God has not cast Israel off).

The point is that God made promises to and for his people even while they were completely disobedient; he foretold of judgment for those who did not believe, and salvation for those who did.

 

Paul’s Explanation of God’s Program

In Romans 9-11 Paul gives the full explanation of God’s plan for Israel and the nations.  The point to note is that for Paul, not one of the promises has changed, not even the promise of the land.  He sees the creation groaning under the curse, waiting for the day of redemption (Rom. 8:18-22).  In Romans 11:11-36 Paul makes it clear because of Israel’s unbelief, God has turned to focus on the Gentiles as his spiritual servants--just as he said he would in the prophets.  We have been grafted in to their covenant. 

But note how in verse 12 he hints at the restoration: if their fall meant our salvation, “how much more their fullness!”  Israel’s restoration will mean even greater numbers of people entering the kingdom.  And so in 11:26 he says that this mystery of the temporary failure of Israel will last until the full number of the Gentiles comes in (cf. Luke 21:24).  Then, in that future moment, “all Israel will be saved”(and here Paul quotes Isaiah--it is a promise still standing). 

Many have tried to say “Israel” here means the church--Gentiles--and so the promise of full salvation of Israel will be fulfilled in Gentile conversions, that is, when all the Gentiles are saved, that will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that all Israel will be saved. That is a convoluted interpretation to avoid a future plan for the restoration of Israel to God’s favor.  The whole chapter is plainly contrasting “Israel” and the “Gentiles” who are now the center of God’s program (see Cranfield, Romans).  What Paul is saying is that toward the end of the age, prior to or simultaneous with the second coming, the nation of Israel--the Jews who are alive on earth--will turn in faith to Jesus the Messiah.  That is the only way they will have a share in the world to come.

The point is that God is not through with Israel; he will fulfill all his promises to them (and all his promises to us).   Those promises included the promise of the land; and Paul has explained that the land, the whole world is groaning and waiting for that day of release.   Paul’s concern was--and ours should be--that Jewish people come to faith before it is too late, or they will have no participation in the promises.

When our Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth, he will come to judge the world and to fulfill all his promises.  His coming will bring about great renovations in the earth (see Ezek. 47; Zech. 14), so that eventually there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth--not totally new, but like the new covenant a renovation of what he has done before.  Revelation 5:10 makes it clear that the saints will reign with him on the earth.  So the life to come will involve the earth, and not just access into the heavenlies. 

There is then no reason why God cannot fulfill his promise of the land to Israel in the Messianic kingdom, as part of the fulfillment of his promises to all of us.  That region with the new Jerusalem will be the administrative center of the world, and his people will serve him forever.  But there is every reason to believe that the great company of the redeemed, Jews and Gentiles alike, will have specific areas of inheritance and service in the kingdom of God.  

 

Summary Observations

 

Regathering of Israel 

The prophets said that the Jewish people were to be re-gathered to the land in unbelief (Ezek. 37, etc), and then later redeemed by the Spirit of God.  Whether this re-gathering and salvation has to be before the second coming, or at the second coming, is not fully clear--it looks to be prior to the coming. The point is that the Lord will settle redeemed Israel in the land at his coming.  This does not mean that God approves of everything the unbelieving state of Israel does today, and neither should we.  And it certainly does not mean we should oppose Palestinian settlement in the land because we might believe there is a future there for Israel--all that will be done with redeemed people in a new creation.  God has wonderful promises for all who believe in him, promises that bring us to glory as well as enable us to reign on earth.  We must pray for the salvation of Israel, and the salvation of the Arabs, so they will have a share in the world to come.

 

War and Terror 

The Bible makes it clear that terror and war will continue and intensify right up to the coming of Christ.  This has been going on for millennia, but will intensify toward the great conflict at the end (Rev. 16:13-16; Zech. 12:2,3), at which time Christ will return (Rev. 19:14; Zech. 14:4).  We should pray and work for peace, but recognize the insurmountable difficulties that exist.  The Christian today should be championing righteousness and equity for all the people who live in that troubled land.  Neither Judaism nor Islam is a friend of Christianity; but we hope that by the right influence of the Christian presence they might come to the truth.

We will continue to see war and acts of terrorism in the world right up to the coming of the Lord.   The world views of Islam and Christianity collide: Christians see a universal kingdom of righteousness with Christ as the divine king, and Muslims see a globalization of Islam.  What has happened in our recent experience is that people like bin Laden recall the destruction of an Islamic empire (bin Laden is often referring to the tragedy that happened about 80 years ago), the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey.  It was the last Caliphate, and the end of an Islamic world view (Islam sees a religion divided into countries; we see a country divided into religions).   Not only that, their lands were divided up among the British, French, and ultimately the USA. For a while they could count on the Eastern powers in a cold war to cause trouble for the west, but with the end of communism and the soviet power, that no longer worked.  Groups like al Qaida knew they had to take matters into their own hands.  They see the world divided into two parts: the House of Islam, and the House of War (all infidels who are enemies of Islam).  There is to be a perpetual state of war until the entire world embraces Islam or submits to its rule.  There is no other goal.  So the prospects for peace look grim--and certainly the attempt to bring about peace by invading an Islamic land will only create more problems down the road. 

There is another side to this that parallels the biblical record of God’s acts.  Just as he left the Canaanites in the land to harrass Israael during the time of the Judges, so today God is permitting the Palestinians to do the same, because Israel has yet to come to repentance and faith.  Likewise, God crippled Jacopb because he was not going to get the land under his natural strength--only when God gave it to them.  And Jacob never got it--he died in Egypt.

Likewise, in our country we also have a clear message from God in the destruction of the towers in New York.  A good biblical case can be made to say that God was showing Americans what the world would be like without his restraining hand on affairs--a little glimpse of how a godless society in an evil world will be.  If Americans think that they can live independently and in defiance of God, and still enjoy peace and prosperity in the world, they are wrong.  God uses peoples and tribes and nations to judge others.  There can be no peace and security apart from the Lord, no matter how strong the military and economic base might seem to be.

 

The Coming of Christ

The Bible  teaches that the coming of Christ is imminent--it could happen at any time--no one knows the hour.  You cannot predict when it will happen based on current events.  But when the Lord returns, believers will be caught out of the world (1 Thess. 4:16-18) and be forever with the Lord.  I will not now get into the debate of times and circumstances at this point; it does not interfere with the central fact that Christ is returning to this earth--because he has plans for it (if he has no interest in it, then why return to it; but it is his creation, and he will not relinquish it to Satan and the wicked to ruin).  

According to the Bible, history as we know it will end in the Middle East, in the land of Israel.  Future history as God planned it will begin with the judgment of the world and the reign of Christ at his second coming.  Hebrews says that the plan of creation was never fulfilled--we do not see things under the dominion of mankind--but we see Jesus, and he will lead the human race to its destiny.  So the plan of creation, and the covenants made in the Old Testament, will be fulfilled completely in the eschaton--a great company of people who will be a holy seed, a new heaven and earth through the renewal of the present creation, and dominion over the world and all spiritual powers as we reign with Christ.

 

The Kingdom of Our Lord

If the land was not important, why would the Messiah return to the Mount of Olives? (Zech. 14; Acts 1).   And why would he bring about such dramatic changes in the land at his coming--making it another Eden, flowing with living water, blossoming like the rose, fully forested and fruitful, and hundreds or other specific predictions?  Many geographical and physical changes will occur at his coming--and eventually be fulfilled in the new earth.

This kind of world domination has been the desire of Satan from the beginning, of world powers ancient and modern, of tyrants like Hitler, and now of rival religions like Islam.  They all want to dominate the earth.  And they cannot tolerate the idea that the Jews might be in the land, have their king ruling the earth, and the wealth of the nations pouring in to them!!  But their attempts to disrupt God’s plan are futile because God has declared that his Son will rule forever and put down all rebellion against him (Ps. 2).

The point is that such a reign of peace and righteousness can only come when human nature is changed--through redemption.  It is futile today for the Jews to try to force their way into all the land; it is futile for the Arabs to try to annihilate them.

Those who have a share in the world to come will not only be redeemed but glorified--there will be no hatred, revenge, jealousy; no oppression, no bombings, no destruction of rival tribes.  It will be different.  The plan of God is by grace.  No one deserves it.

 

Spiritual Service

While “going to heaven” is the popular expression of the Christian hope, the picture is far more complex and far more grand.  The heavenly city and sanctuary will come down from heaven and once again there will be a place where heaven and earth meet, a place where the Lord reigns, and a place where the saints have access to the presence of God.  In the age to come believers will be glorified, and rewarded with responsibilities and power based on obedience now.  We will remain who we are, but we will be glorified. And we will serve the Lord by reigning with Christ, administering angels, having authority over cities, and serving in the heavenly temple (evwen if the language is figurative it indicates many responsibilities of reigning with Christ).  The greater the obedience, the greater the reward.  Then, Christ will deliver the kingdom up to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24) and this will usher in the eternal state.

Christians today need to exhibit the love and the grace of God to all people in the world.  If they show an unwarranted partiality in the Middle East, they will get nowhere for the cause of Christ.  They have to be clear that God has a glorious plan that will solve all problems we face, but the fulfillment will come when Christ returns, and we are all changed.

But apart from faith in Jesus Christ there is no share in that world to come.  Does Judaism have its own covenant and therefore no need of Christ?  Certainly not.  Is Allah the same God as the Father of our Lord Jesus.  Well, the word Allah means God, and so could be used to refer to the one true and living God.  But if that God took on human form and entered into this world to die for the sins of the world, then to reject Jesus as Lord and Savior is to reject the one true God, the only hope of salvation.  If, as Islam says, Jesus is a prophet, but not the divine Son of God,[5] not the Savior, then we are all in our sins, and have no hope; and worse than that, we are all guilty of idolatry for worshiping a mere man.   But as Paul affirms, Jesus is declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead; and when he comes in glory, everyone will see that he is our Lord and our God.


 

[1] Some folks take the view that the temple has to be rebuilt before Christ can come, or the ashes of the red heffer have to be found, but these ideas are based on some unusual interpretations of the texts.  Others say that Christ cannot come before everyone has heard the Gospel, but Scripture simply says that the Gospel will be preached “in all the world” and then the end will come (Matt. 24:24);  and that happened in the first century because the writers of the New Testament believed that Christ could come at any moment..

[2] The idea that Israel already has a covenant with God and does not need to come to faith in Jesus the Messiah is such a foolish view.  If Jesus is the Messiah, he is their Messiah; if Jesus is the LORD, he is the God of the Old Testament; if there is a New Covenant, it is Israel’s promised covenant; and so if someone rejects the one true God, and rejects his work of salvation through the Messiah, then there is no salvation.  Paul’s desire was that Israel might be saved.

[3] Recall how the prophet said to the unbelieving king, “Since you won’t believe, you will not be confirmed; but here is a sign, a virgin will conceive and have a son, Immanuel” (paraphrase of Isaiah 7).  There was a future to the throne of David (in Christ), but Ahaz was finished.

[4] This is a prophecy Isaiah made at the end of the book that is quoted by Paul at the end of Romans 11, meaning that all Israelites at that future time will believe in the Lord Christ.  Those who have already died in unbelief or sin will not be saved.  Paul told the Roman church, “not all Israel was Israel” (physical Israel was not automatically part of spiritual Israel [9:6-8]).

[5] Around the dome of the rock in Jerusalem the mosaics have Arabic script that includes anti-Christian sayings: “Praise be to God who begets no son, and has no partner,” and “He is God, one, eternal; he does not beget, nor is he begotten, and he has no peer.”  Clearly, the Christian must understand what it means to describe Christ as the only begotten of the Father.  It does not mean he was actually procreated in the heavenlies--it means he shares the same nature as the Father--one God, eternal, divine, sovereign, but existing in three persons (not three people).  Go and study this.