Israel’s Relevance or Irrelevance

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which I am pretty sure I do) was that Israel has lost the redemptive and prophetic position it once held, and has been replaced by the Church.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.  

Talk to the Birds

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Talk to the Birds, Audio Edition

In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte fought the Ottomans in the Jezreel Valley, alternatively known as the Megiddo Valley. Napoleon deemed the valley the most natural or perfect battlefield on earth. According to the Book of Revelation, it just might be the final battlefield on earth — at least the final terrestrial battlefield for a very, very long time.  

A hill positioned towards the western edge of the valley gives the entire area its name. The Israelis call the hill Tel-Megiddo. Because of an ancient fortress on top of it, the hill has been the focus of extensive archaeological efforts for well over a century, yielding lots of interesting discoveries. There are layers upon layers of history there, going back before the children of Abraham arrived. In the Book of Revelation, Tel-Megiddo has a hybrid Hebrew-Greek name: Armageddon.

Biblical scholars debate whether the Battle of Armageddon will be a literal, physical battle or a spiritual battle. In my estimation, one verse settles the question. That verse is Revelation 19:17: “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun. And with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God.’” The verse is almost a direct quotation from Ezekiel 39:17. The whole of Ezekiel 39 should therefore be referenced to give prophetic context. When I read Ezekiel 39, I cannot help but conclude that the chapter refers to the aftermath of a massive, literal, physical battle. I would encourage you to read the passage for yourself to see if you come to the same conclusion. Doesn’t it seem like Ezekiel is talking about a massive, literal, physical battle? If that is a correct read, I am ready and willing to take an additional step and conclude that Revelation 19:17 and Ezekiel 39:17 probably refer to the same final battle, a future final Battle of Armageddon. 

To summarize in brief, I am arguing that the Battle of Armageddon mentioned in Revelation 19 is one and the same as the massive, future battle described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. That battle takes place on a map, in what is now the nation of Israel. Again, read Ezekiel 39, but also read the prior two chapters, chapters 37 and 38. All three chapters focus on Israel. Just count the occurrences. It is all about the people of Israel, the house of Israel, and the land of Israel.

Israel, Israel, Israel. Okay then, could Ezekiel mean anything other than Israel as it is commonly understood? I mean, Israel, the Jewish nation that currently exists? Ezekiel seems to be talking about that self-same Israel, and only that Israel. Ezekiel is talking about the Hebrew-speaking Jewish nation that once existed and that now exists again.       

If everything I have argued for thus far is right, then the nation of Israel does indeed appear in the Book of Revelation. And it is the location for the final battle. Therefore, Israel should be of special interest to Christians. Prophecy is yet to be fulfilled there.