Wednesday, November 08, 2023

The Real Real Restoration of Israel

In yesterday’s post, we discussed Matt Littlefield’s view that the largely unbelieving Jewish nation occupying Israel today is not the fulfillment of Bible prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel that we are led to expect by Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 and corresponding OT passages. Unlike some students of scripture, Matt is not an abrogationist. He believes the promised restoration of God’s earthly people will indeed occur, only not until Messiah returns.

That would be fine so far as it goes, except it leads him to conclude that any return of Jews to Israel prior to the Second Coming of Christ (such as the one that occurred after WWII and continues apace) is therefore a cheat, a fake, a false fulfillment, an exercise in fleshly effort and/or a lie of the devil. He worries that Christians are being deceived by it.

I think that’s going too far, and I have tried to set out my own position concerning the largely secular Jewish presence in Israel. I believe we are looking at prophetic fulfillment in progress, just not yet fully realized. Only time will tell.

Three Passages About Real Restoration

Matt’s evidence that current events are not the beginning of the real restoration of Israel is limited to three quotations from Old Testament scripture, two from Ezekiel and one from Deuteronomy. He believes they set preconditions for a “real restoration of Israel”. I will not quote them here because this is already going to be a very long post, but you can read them all in his own words if you like. My comments are as follows:

  • The message of Ezekiel 11:17-21 came to the prophet while some Jews were still in Judah and others in exile. The Babylonian exile happened in three stages over more than twenty years, not all at once, and Ezekiel and Daniel were among the early exiles. The Judeans still living in Judah were boasting against their brothers and sisters in exile. The exiles, they said, were “far from the Lord”. So then, Ezekiel 11 is a promise to the exiled Jews and the ten tribes dispersed by Assyria that God would not forget them. They too would be gathered, restored and returned in due time.
  • Ezekiel 37 is another prophecy about the reuniting of the kingdom. God would reunite Ephraim (and the house of Israel associated with him) with Judah (and the people of Israel associated with him). Again, it is a prophecy that the ten tribes would not be lost, but gathered, restored and returned to their home.
  • Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is also about regathering the exiles no matter where on earth they have gone in the intervening period. God will not be denied any of his own.

Not one of these passages even remotely suggests every Jew on earth will be living among the nations when this spiritual restoration takes place, nor do they constitute preconditions for Israel’s return to the land. They simply do not prove what Matt thinks they prove.

Cherry Picking the Old Testament

Unintentionally, perhaps, Matt is cherry picking the passages that he feels make his case. But these are only part of an extensive prophetic mosaic concerning the real restoration of Israel. We need all the tiles to get a clear picture of what a real restoration might look like and how God will accomplish it. One aspect of that picture is, for a time at least, large numbers of unbelieving Jews living in Israel and dominating Israelite society, much as is occurring today. The Bible clearly teaches it.

Yesterday I promised to round up for our readers some of the biblical evidence that there must be an unbelieving Jewish presence in Palestine for the Lord to return. It is not only one possible biblical outcome. The prophetic scriptures absolutely require it. Jews will be living in Jerusalem at the time Christ returns, and the final gathering of the nations we call Armageddon will only occur because of the faithless Jews living in the land and the virulent antisemitism they inspire in the rest of the world.

Unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem and Judah in Zechariah 12

So here we go. First, Zechariah 12:

“Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep my eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.’

“On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves. And they shall devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem.

“And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah. On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

Look at the language Zechariah uses here. Terms like “the house of Judah”, “the clans of Judah”, “the tents of Judah” and the “house of David” are about as explicitly Jewish and a profoundly residential as you can possibly get. There is no possible way he is talking about either the church or unregenerate Gentiles living in Jerusalem. Moreover, the Lord Jesus is called “him whom they have pierced”. Like it or not, the New Testament writers assign the Jews primary responsibility for the death of their own Messiah. “You killed the author of life” is not ambiguous, and Peter did not address it to Gentiles.

Note also that the repentance of the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem comes at the end of great persecution and existential threat from the nations, not prior to their return to the land of Israel.

Unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem in Zechariah 14

“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.”

Fully half the Jews of Jerusalem will still be there when the Lord returns. If we doubt that, he confirms it later on: “Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem.”

What we read in Zechariah is the standard pattern of prophetic scripture concerning Jerusalem. The prophets picture her in a state of abject wickedness, then confronted with her imminent demise as the whole world assembles against her, then repentant, then blessed. To see only a restored, repentant Jewish people prospering in the millennial reign is to miss everything that leads up to it.

Unbelieving Jews and Daniel’s Seventy Weeks

It’s too long to quote here in its entirety, but the description of Daniel’s seventy weeks begins with this statement:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”

We can argue about the fine details, but two aspects are glaringly obvious: (1) this has nothing to do with the church, it is entirely concerning the restoration of the Jews and Jerusalem; (2) it is not an intermediate revival or restoration, but rather the final act in God’s plan for the Jewish people. Bringing in “everlasting righteousness” sounds as conclusive as it gets.

Daniel goes on to say the “people of the prince who is to come” will destroy this holy city (Jerusalem) and its sanctuary (Herod’s temple). That happened in AD70. Next he says this about the prince, whose coming is still future as of AD70:

“And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Neither the covenant nor the abomination of desolation have occurred to date. They are said to come after the destruction of Jerusalem, and so they are still future today. But remember, the seventy weeks are all about the Jews and the holy city. That’s the covenant in question, and it has yet to be made. When this prince breaks his word halfway through the prescribed period, he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. To have sacrifice and offering in Jerusalem, we need a rebuilt temple. To have a rebuilt temple, we need Jews in Jerusalem under the temporary protection of this prince who will go on to betray them. They certainly could not build a new temple in Jerusalem today! Contrary to what Matt Littlefield is saying, these temple builders don’t have to be Christian Jews. In fact, they can’t be, because sacrifice and offering mean they are worshiping Old Testament style, still failing to recognize the Messiah they crucified. They’ll likely be as hypocritical and fake-devout as the first century Pharisees, or worse, all about form with no content.

Fast forward to Daniel 11, where we get more information about this prince who will make then break a covenant with Israel. He is called a “contemptible person” and “deceitful”. This person will engage in many conflicts with other nations and will become dominant on the world stage and will be entirely anti-God. He will divide up the earth for a price.

Now we reach “the time of the end”. Daniel writes:

“He [this contemptible person] shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall.”

The glorious land cannot be anything but Israel, and this invasion looks awfully familiar (we find something resembling it in Joel as well), but the invasion will be cut short. After this, Daniel introduces us to the great tribulation, “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” In Joel, this final conflict is preceded by Israelite repentance on a massive scale, and God will then begin to act in defense of his restored people.

Daniel confirms: “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” In other words, unbelieving Jews will perish in large numbers in Zion. Repentant Jews will live, prosper and conquer.

Unbelieving Jews in Judah in Matthew 24

The Lord Jesus further explained these events to his disciples, putting them in the same order in Matthew 24: the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel, the great tribulation never to be surpassed (so it didn’t take place in AD70), and finally the coming of the Son of Man at which all the tribes of “the earth” (which word may also be translated “land” and often refers to Israel) will mourn. I believe that’s the Jewish “mourning” we previously read about in Zechariah. It is only after all this that “He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

That’s not the rapture. That’s the gathering of the ten tribes and others descended from Israel dispersed throughout the world, the one that comes packaged in the very same language as the promise of a return from exile in Deuteronomy 30:4, the one Matt Littlefield says definitively has not yet happened. And he’s right about that; it hasn’t. Still, all these events are related and they are all part of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel.

In Summary

I haven’t even touched Revelation. This is all by way of the Old Testament prophets and the explanation of their prophecies by the Lord Jesus. To sum up then, in order for Israel to be restored, there must be:

  1. A return to the land of unbelieving Jews in large numbers. That may well be what is now underway. We can’t say with certainty, but it may be. Perhaps Israel will be pushed out of Palestine for a few more centuries. I think not, but whatever the case, some sort of return of unbelieving Jews to Palestine is absolutely necessary for prophecy to be fulfilled. Once the church is taken out of the world, massive numbers of Jews will also come to faith. These will not be Christians or members of the church, but Messianic Jews practicing true, unadulterated biblical Judaism. I believe we have that in the 144,000 sealed Israelites of Revelation. These will be a testimony to the whole world and many Gentiles will be won to Christ because of them during the time of the end.
  2. A rebuilt temple. That has not happened yet. But a rebuilt temple requires Jews either mired in Old Testament thinking, devout but deceived, or else members of the faithful Jewish remnant. Nobody else needs it. Christian Jews of this era do not need it and will not remain on earth to enjoy it. They are already worshiping in spirit and truth. For them, the symbolism of the old ways is obsolete. Christians don’t need a temple in Jerusalem. What has that to do with us? Only Judaism needs a temple.

Everything else, including the great tribulation, Armageddon and the regathering of the twelve tribes scattered abroad that Matt anticipates with joy follows from these things, which all start with unbelieving Jews living in Israel. We cannot have Christ’s return without them.

Knowing this is the case does not require Christians to attempt to immanentize the eschaton, or to deliberately put roadblocks in the way of our testimony to Palestinians, Jordanians and other nations in the Middle East. It certainly does not require evangelicals to cheer for apostate Judaism doing apostate things, or for the current government of Israel to exterminate its enemies. The Lord will deal with them in his time. Our job as Christians is to quietly make the best use of the time we have. Unlike Matt Littlefield, I do not think we will have to wait very long.

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