Saturday, April 2, 2022
Is Israel currently relevant or irrelevant?
Some time ago, I had a conversation with someone in a position of ecclesiastical authority (read: a pastor) about the relevance of Israel. He was challenging the notion of Israel’s current redemptive and prophetic relevance. His basic argument (if I understood him correctly, which I am pretty sure I do) was that Israel has lost the redemptive and prophetic position it once held, and has been replaced by the Church. He argued that both the specific nation of Israel and the Jewish people in general should no longer be considered the elect people of God, because God has made faith in Christ the basis of divine election, not a received tradition nor some generational lineage.
Now, for the sake of fairness, I should say that I am summarizing and elaborating a bit on his position here, as those were not his exact, precise words. Instead, he was reiterating a very commonly-held evangelical theological position that I have heard over and over… and over. Therefore, with this “I’m-accurately-retelling-you-the-gist-of-it” disclaimer, I’ll move on.
“Choose, Bible-believing congregants, you must choose.”
With regard to the historical Mission of God, this ecclesiastical leader quite subtly posited a stark either-or choice: either God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through Israel and the Jewish people, or God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through the Church of Jesus Christ; but God must be working one way or the other. Since it must be one or the other, a historical observer must choose.
Umm… really? Do believers really have to make that particular choice? Why can’t it be both? Why can’t God be working redemptively and prophetically through both the Jewish people and the Church? Although I know you say a choice is necessary, I’m not sure why.
From what I can surmise, the real answer to that question is not that Scripture forces such a choice, but because recent Church history makes this an area a pastoral concern — even of worry. Educated ecclesiastical leaders are well aware of how often this particular prophetic pursuit has embarrassed the Christian Church (and especially the American Christian Church).
But what do I mean by “this particular prophetic pursuit”?
As soon as someone starts seriously suggesting that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel might currently have prophetic relevance, sirens and alarms start blaring in the minds of people who have been to seminary (that is, ecclesiastical leaders). They think to themselves, “This is exactly the sort of talk you can expect from wackos and quacks.” And their unspoken internal follow up question is, “How soon does this problematic person (i.e., wacko) start identifying the Antichrist, and pinpointing the imminent date of the Rapture?” To be polite, though, the ecclesiastical leader will usually be quite careful not betray any outward contempt.
Now, such a reaction is, sadly, quite warranted. Conscientious, ecclesiastical leaders should indeed react that way, because history has paraded many such prophecy-obsessed wackos and quacks. And those wackos and quacks frequently mislead people, and in so doing, embarrass the cause of Christ, or worse. Therefore, ecclesiastical leaders will be on the lookout for such people, out of laudable zeal for the reputation of Christ and the Church.
But still, the question about Israel’s relevance remains legit. Is Israel and are the Jewish people currently prophetically relevant or irrelevant?
Again, if someone says “they are indeed relevant,” that person is immediately suspected to be a wacko or a quack. But, but, but… sometimes the Bible sure does seem to indicate that Israel and the Jewish people are redemptively and prophetically relevant; doesn’t it?
For example, a friend of mine recently pointed out a curious prophecy in Hosea. Here it is:
For the children of Israel will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.Hosea 3:4-5
Alright then, ecclesiastical leaders, what do you do with such a passage? One thing that this prophetic passage kinda demands is a time-stamp; doesn’t it? When, exactly, was this so? Or when will this be so? When did or does this occur? The children of Israel will go for a long period without anything temple-rites associated (by the way, the absence of a standing Jewish temple in Jerusalem would explain this), and then eventually they will return to God and to “David their king,” who is presumably the Messiah; yes?
Okay, when did or does this occur, then? Is this past or present?
Ecclesiastical leaders might squirm (and should squirm) a bit at this point, because they know that if they say this period of exile has already occurred, it opens the question of why a subsequent second exile was necessary and thereafter occurred for a much, much longer time. And alternatively, if they say it has not been fulfilled yet, it probably and very probably means that the Jewish people and Israel are still redemptively and prophetically relevant. This is a legitimate, de facto either-or scenario, as far as I can see. An interpreter actually does have to choose one way or another here: the past or the present.
So go ahead and squirm, ecclesiastical leaders, but realize that you cannot simply ignore the question. Yes, acknowledging the potential relevance of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people does allow for the possibility of wild speculation by end-times obsessed quacks and wackos; but it does not twist Scripture. Instead, it faces the fact that such prophetically challenging passages do indeed exist in Scripture and deserve our attention and answers.
But it is easier just to ignore such passages and preach instead about easier, less controversial passages. And yes, the following sentence would betray some frustration on my part with a variety of ecclesiastical leaders, some of whom I love and respect greatly. (Hopefully, you know who you are.)
And finally, I only pointed out one such prophetic passage. There are a lot more.