“What is grey and furry and has a long bushy tail and beady little eyes?” A long pause in the Sunday school class was finally broken as one child volunteered, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
That child’s answer illustrates an important truth. Jesus is central to all of God’s purposes in our world today. He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises concerning the coming of Messiah. In Him all the typology of the Feasts of the Lord come together. Without the coming of Christ, God’s salvation story would have no beginning, middle or end. As Paul tells us: “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell” (Col. 1:19). All these things are true. And yet.
The all-important reality of Jesus does not make Him “everything.” That is to say, a squirrel is a squirrel. The point? Israel is Israel, and the promises made to Israel pertain to Israel.
I say this because some Bible teachers, theologians and pastors teach that God’s specific promises regarding physical places and physical people should now be seen as spiritual promises that have been fulfilled in Jesus.
This view is increasingly popular concerning two important and very specific promises that are being spiritualized: the promised preservation of the Jewish people, (ethnic Israel) as God’s chosen people, and the promise of a specific land as an inheritance for the people of Israel. You may have heard that the promise to preserve ethnic Israel is fulfilled because Jesus is the true Israel. Likewise, the promise of a specific land inheritance for Israel is completely fulfilled because Jesus is also the Land of Israel. I beg to differ and I want to point out that when it comes to God’s promises to Israel, “it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
God told Abraham, “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8) This is one of numerous times God promised the biblical land of Canaan, Israel, to Abraham and his descendants as “an everlasting possession.” Yet one popular New Testament professor at Wheaton College teaches:
“The New Testament locates in Christ all the expectations once held for Sinai and Zion, Bethel and Jerusalem. For a Christian to return to a Jewish territoriality is to deny fundamentally what has transpired in the incarnation.” (Gary M. Burge: Jesus and the Land. P.129)
I find it incredible that God’s everlasting promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are herein reduced to “Jewish territoriality.”
I find it incredible that God’s everlasting promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are herein reduced to “Jewish territoriality.” This is not only dismissive toward Jewish people, but more importantly it implies that God never intended to fulfill His original promises. Burge’s reinterpretation shifts the goal posts entirely with the coming of Christ, as though this had been God’s purpose all along.
It bothers me that many of my own Jewish people attribute Israel’s return to the ancient homeland to human effort rather than divine intervention. I’m even more troubled that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ see modern Israel as nothing more than “Jewish territoriality” and no story at all to God’s faithfulness. By denying the viability of modern Israel as a fulfillment of God’s promises, they unknowingly rob God of His glory and undermine confidence in His faithfulness.
And yet one of the most prolific and popular Christian theologians today, N.T. Wright, has done just that in his book Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
It is difficult to summarize an argument that N.T. Wright takes literally a thousand pages to make, but in the end he is saying that Jesus has replaced the people of Israel by fulfilling the task God gave to the nation, hence only those who follow Jesus are the true Jews and collectively the new Israel in Him. Wright may argue that this approach is not the same thing as supersessionism or “replacement theology,” but he winds up in exactly the same place: there is no longer a place in God’s plan for ethnic Israel.
Wright relies heavily on Paul’s statement: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29). But as theologian Ben Witherington states in response to Wright’s argument: “To my view, when Paul refers to Jews he means Jews, and when he refers to “Israel” he means his fellow Jews in their identity before God.”
In other words, Paul isn’t announcing a change in God’s promise or plan; He is saying that his own Jewish people’s ethnicity is not enough to make them true followers of God. To see it otherwise is to ignore verses such as Romans 9:3-4: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.”
Those promise’s Paul refers to include the following:
“Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for a light by day,
The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,
Who disturbs the sea,
And its waves roar
(The Lord of hosts is His name):
“If those ordinances depart
From before Me, says the Lord,
Then the seed of Israel shall also cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord:
“If heaven above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,
I will also cast off all the seed of Israel
For all that they have done, says the Lord”
If we accept the reinterpretations of God’s promises, we undermine the very basis for our confidence in the faithfulness of God.
God’s promises are not and will not be circumvented or reinterpreted regarding Jews and Israel any more than the sun, the moon and the stars will cease to exist. Only when we get this straight in our minds and hearts can we all be certain that His promises to each of us are yes and amen. If we accept the reinterpretations of God’s promises, we undermine the very basis for our confidence in the faithfulness of God.*
The Scriptures never identify the Messiah as replacing the people of Israel, but rather as fulfilling the task God gave His people to be a light to the nations. There is a big difference. This is so extremely important.
Despite dark clouds that loom on the horizon, despite efforts of evil men who lead Hamas and ISIS, God’s promises for a future and a hope for Israel and for all of us will be fulfilled. Let us redouble our confidence and faith in Him and in His Scriptures. No, Jesus isn’t everything, but because of Him, everything God has promised us will surely come to pass.
* Please see David’s article, “Trading Spouses” to dig deeper into this reality
Also, we highly recommend Barry Horner’s Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged; it’s an important work on this critical topic. This month we are offering free shipping (through November 30, 2014).
David Brickner is also an author, public speaker and avid hiker. Find out more about David, his writings, speaking schedule and possible availability to speak at your church.