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Israel & Christians Today
Biblical understanding about Israel
I don’t know about you, but I am only just starting to get a grip on God. Each time I think I have put Him in a box, He shows me how much greater He is than I can imagine. And surprisingly, it is Israel who is showing me how little I know, and so more of who God is.
As a young person growing up in Australia, I honestly had no idea about Israel beyond what I read in the newspapers. Fortunately, I had some good Jewish friends, and I knew many Jewish people. Melbourne apparently has the largest community of holocaust survivors outside Israel. One of my favorite memories are the days I spent at an old peoples’ home near our place, where an elderly gentleman by the name of Helmut would tell me about his life in Nazi Germany, how he escaped to Italy where he studied law in Turin, and how he managed to escape to Australia in 1939, where he met his future wife who was at the time a missionary in China. I always thought that was a wonderful testimony, and was amazed at Helmut’s trust in God and the peace he had in his heart.
We received no Biblical or historical teaching about Israel and the “bigger picture” of God’s plan with this world. We were lucky if portions of the Old Testament were read on Sunday mornings, and even luckier if the minister dared to preach about that portion. inevitably the sermon was about how Israel got it wrong, about how important we are as Christians, and about how God is going to redeem the world through the Church.
All of this was important. But I believe we were only touching the tip of the iceberg, and probably missing most of what God wants us to know about Him.
One of the things that great Bible teachers like Derek Prince and Lance Lambert and so many others have taught us in recent decades is that God is a God of history. God’s purposes with His creation go so much further that our personal salvation. God has an amazing plan with the whole creation. The nations and peoples of the earth are part of His creation, and therefore part of His plan of redemption.
This is no new teaching. In fact, throughout the generations and centuries, there have always been those who in different church denominations have studied and taught about God’s greater plans of creation and redemption. Just think of great Messianic Christian teachers such as David Baron and Alfred Edersheim in the 19th century. But somehow this teaching has been pushed into the margins of the mainstream of the church. I suspect because it challenges the validity of much of what the mainstream teaches.
In summary: in Genesis 10, we see the establishment of 70 nations from the sons of Noah (Ham, Shem and Japheth), from which “the nations spread out over the earth after the flood”. In Genesis 9, God sealed His covenant of grace and love for His creation – including, presumably, the nations. In the initial development, “the whole world had one language and a common speech” (Genesis 11:1). But before long, the nations gathered together in Babel to determine their own destiny, and to “make a name” for themselves (Genesis 11:4). It was this spirit of rebellion and self-sufficiency that caused God to intervene: He gave them different languages so they could not understand themselves, and scattered the nations over the whole earth (Genesis 11). But God did not just judge the nations for their disobedience, He also gave them the means for redemption: He called one man out of Babylon to a land that God would give him, and promised to make him into a “great nation” – a nation that would be God’s means for blessing all the nations:
Wow! How amazing! God’s dealing with Israel and the nations (peoples) is a demonstration of His grace and love – but equally of His holiness and righteousness. At all times He holds out to us – both as individuals but also as nations - the means for redemption and peace. But equally He demands that we comply with His paths, with His revealed economy, and not our own.
Israel was created as a nation, and she is and continues to be called to be the first amongst the nations. The coming of God’s Son in the flesh and His work of salvation by dying for our sins did not negate or replace this calling. When Paul concludes in Romans 11, in relation to the people of Israel – he was struggling with their “blindness and deafness” and the fact that they did not (as a whole) accept Jesus Christ as their Savior - that “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable”, He was not just talking about their relationships as individuals with God – he was talking about their calling and election as a nation.
In the Book of Revelation we read that in the future Kingdom of God, the nations will have their place. The last book of the Bible, Revelation 22, speaks about the tree of life, whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). At that time, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city [Jerusalem?], and his servants will serve him”.
God loves individuals. But He also loves the nations. He wants to bless them both, and through them all creation. But we as individuals - in our corporate identity as body of Christ, and as nations - can only be truly blessed when we trust in God and submit to God’s purposes and plans, which flow from His love for His own creation, and not create our own plans and purposes, which flow from our limited understanding and reasoning.
This, in its essence, is the crimson thread throughout the Bible, the Biblical principle that runs through history – are we (as individuals and church, but also as peoples/nations) relying on God to do what He has promised, or are we trying to create our own reality?
This raises a whole bunch of difficult questions that challenge traditional thinking about the identity of Israel and the church. But we need to grapple with these issues honestly. As Christians, we are inclined to focus very much on ourselves, and our salvation as individuals. This is of course very important. As editors of this newspaper we do not for one moment want to challenge the importance of individual salvation. But we would like to suggest that this is just the beginning, just a part of a much bigger story. When we study the Bible in the light of history and current affairs (and vice versa), we start to see so much more about who God is, what He is doing today, and what He plans to do in the future. We just need the keys to unlock these mysteries.