The Promised Land is back! In the previous parts of the series, we have looked at the origin of Christian Zionism, we saw that it was totally absent in the early church and we have discussed how important it is to realize that just because one isn’t a Christian Zionist, one isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite (and shouldn’t either). Now, we will turn to exegesis to see what the Bible has to say about Israel and the Promised Land. Let’s start by discussing God’s Chosen People.
Israel is the name of a man, Jacob, and it was used to describe his descendants. These were expected to believe in the Lord, and thus be God’s people, but they were actually not the only ones that belonged to Israel. This is something Stephen Sizer has pointed out (and the following account is based on his works): the requirement to belong to God’s people was and is primarily faith, not race. In the Psalms, we read:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.’ The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion.” (Ps 87:4-6)
Here, we see that Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Ethiopians all can be recognized as “born in Zion”, receiving full membership and citizenship of God’s people, if they acknowledge the Lord. Already Moses said in Deut 23:7-8: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.” In Esther 8:17 we read “And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” The requirement to belong to God’s people was faith, not race or nationality.
This is also very clear in the New Testament. Paul writes:
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Rom 9:6-8)
Likewise, one would sadly be excluded from God’s people if one did not believe in God or the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. In Matthew 8 Jesus heals a centurion’s servant, and being amazed by the faith of the Gentile, He says “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:10-12) Thus, the only thing that can save us is belief in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, and since His coming that is the requirement for belonging to God’s people.
Jesus says the same thing through a parable in Matthew 21:
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matt 21:33-44)
“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you”. The Vineyard is an old symbol for Israel, based on the beautiful poertry in Isaiah 51:1-7. Now Jesus says that if Israel does not welcome the Messiah, the Son of the Vineyard’s landowner, they will not have access to the Vineyard anymore. It doesn’t matter that they are the sons of Abraham, as He says in John 8:
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father. ”
“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you wouldc do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.” (John 8:34-41)
John the Baptist had the same message: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9).
The reason I am quoting these serious texts about judgement is to show that the Bible is very clear with that one could lose membership in God’s people and Kingdom if one does not have faith. But if one has faith, one is grafted in into the people, Israel. This is why the New Testament uses Israelite terminiology about the church. In fact, the term “God’s chosen people” only refers to the church in the New Testament. 1 Peter 2 is an important text:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)
The Jews that rejected God’s cornerstone, Christ, sadly cannot belong the His people anymore, because Jesus said “whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) How can one belong to God’s people if one rejects God? Believers in Christ, however, are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). They are “the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). And there are not two peoples of God, but one, as Paul clearly states in Eph 2:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph 2:11-16)
The Gentiles that once were excluded from citizenship in Israel and were foreigners to the covenants of promise now belong to such people and have been united with the faithful Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We are now one people. Has the church replaced Israel? Well, the church is Israel. And not through works, but through grace and faith. Jesus’ coming was not a paranthesis to the history of the people of God.
One final texts that explains this is Galatians 4. Here, Paul writes:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Gal 4:22-31)
Paul says that the Old covenant, or testament, is represented by Hagar, the slave woman. The readers of the letter, Paul’s Christian “brothers and sisters”, Jews and Gentile believers in Jesus, are sons and daughters of the free woman, Sarah. Their hometown is the heavenly Jerusalem above, not a city on earth, and they are free from the bondage of the Law and enjoy full citixenship in God’s people.
In the next part of this series, we will look at what the Scriptures really say about the promised land. See you then!