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Teachings

Seven Misunderstandings about Israel and the Bible

Rev. Willem J.J. Glashouwer - 14 September 2020

Israel is an awkward topic to many Christians. Does it even matter for a Christian? Why are some Christians so fanatical about Israel and why is it all so complicated? Does Israel mean anything today or is its significance all in the past? In this article Rev. Willem J.J. Glashouwer refutes seven misunderstandings that often come up in conversations about Israel and shows how you can respond.

 

Misunderstanding 1: The Church is God’s New Covenant people

This is absolutely false. All of the Covenants in the Bible were made with Israel. Israel is God’s Covenant people. Some eight Covenants are described in the Bible. The amazing thing is that in His mercy God opened one of these Covenants, namely the New Covenant (which was made with Israel like the rest, by the way), and welcomed us into it. So, as Paul says, we are grafted into that Covenantal relationship of the New Covenant that God made with Israel. We do not become Jews through this and we do not need to move to Israel either. God has called a people for His Name out from the gentile nations. Believing gentile Christians are a chosen people of God but they never ever replaced the Jewish people. We have received a share, a place on the nourishing root of the New Covenant (according to Paul in Romans 11 gentile Christians have become ‘engrafted’).

What about people who say that the Old Covenant has now been discarded and that only the New Covenant counts today? If you follow this line of reasoning you make God a liar. All of the Covenants that He made with Israel – with one exception – are unconditional. They do not depend on Israel’s behavior. They come from the Most High, the Everlasting God. Therefore each of those Covenants is everlasting, eternal, valid for all time, and He has reinforced each of them with an oath, He has sworn by His own Name. Some say, “Wait a minute, that only counted up until Jesus Christ. When the Jews said no to Jesus, God responded, ‘Fine, suit yourselves, I’m done with you.’” No! Eternal is for all time. He has sworn an oath by His own Name and He cannot lie. So if you develop this theory, you make God a liar.

We know who in the Bible is a called a liar from the beginning – the devil. Who is also a murderer from the beginning, John 8:44. This whole theory (which is called replacement theology in the Church) has caused rivers of Jewish blood to flow throughout church history in the past 2000 years. Lies lead to murders. So it is not just false theology, it is a sin before God, which needs to be confessed as sin. The church needs to repent radically of this theology. It is a horrible line of reasoning that goes far beyond a misunderstanding. Its demonic.

 

Misunderstanding 2: The Jews did not accept Jesus, so the Covenant with Israel was broken

This is impossible. God made everlasting Covenants with Israel. Take a look at Jeremiah 31. There you can see that the Creator Himself guarantees Israel’s continued existence. Verse 35 says, “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is His Name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before Me forever.’” As long as heaven and earth exist, as long as there is the Universe, as long as the rhythm of day and night continue – Israel will continue to exist. “But”, those people say, “they did so many wrong things, and they don’t believe in Jesus.” The text in Jeremiah 31 continues, “Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” So the Lord will not even cast them out for what they have done!

This was His choice. The origin of Israel was an act of creation by God. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children yet the biological miracle happened: Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when Isaac was born. God says [of Israel], “My firstborn son, whom I have Created for My Glory, whom I have formed and made.” God joined Himself willingly to them with everlasting Covenants. He loves Israel as a father loves his son. Clearly the Jewish people are not just a chosen people, God Created them. He did this with the intention to bless the whole world – all nations – through this small nation of Israel. And He remains faithful to His plans and purposes by executing His everlasting Promises and Covenants.

 

Misunderstanding 3: The Heavenly Jerusalem has nothing to do with the earthly city of Jerusalem

This is a gross misunderstanding. The roots of the earthly Jerusalem are in the Heavenly Jerusalem. Why is Jerusalem such a special city? Because God Himself decided to make His Name to live there. It was there that the Temple was built. It was there that the Glory of the Lord filled the Temple. It was there, in that same city, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, was raised and ascended into Heaven. It was there that the Holy Spirit was poured out.

God says of the land of Israel, “It is My land and I give it to you”. And of Jerusalem He says, “It is My city.” When Solomon prays in 2 Chronicles 6 that wonderful prayer at the dedication of the Temple he says, “The heavens cannot contain You, let alone this house in this city, with all of its gold and silver, all its beauty and grandeur. But it was Your desire. So Lord, I have built it as You wanted it. Will You now come and live in Your house?”

Every believing Jew completely understands that the earthly Jerusalem will only properly function and become the true Jerusalem when it is bound with its spiritual roots, with the God of Jerusalem. The Creator of heaven and earth. The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. The God of Israel. Who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that Jerusalem will find its true place in the world. And later, as you can read at the end of the book of Revelation, even that Heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth. Then the dimensional boundaries will be broken, eternity will fill time and God will live with humankind. As it was in the beginning. Then the nations will go to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem peace will cover the whole earth.

 

Misunderstanding 4: Modern-day Israel (the State) has nothing to do with the Israel in the Bible

This is another gross misunderstanding. What is modern Israel? It is a direct continuation of the Jewish people that started with Abraham, 2,000 years before Christ. A nation that was created by God and received His revelation. God has spoken to them during various times, in various places and to various people: the prophets of Israel. He nurtured them and made them grow into a very special people and nation, Genesis 12:1-3. To bless the world. He gave them the Promised Land of Israel, Psalm 105:7-11. He made them possess the city of Jerusalem. He made them to build the Temple, as the dwelling place for His holy Name. That Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were driven out of the land of Israel twice. The first time was between 500 and 600 before Christ. We call it the Babylonian Captivity or Exile. At that time the Babylonians razed the city and the Temple to the ground and carried many Jews away as captives. Later they were allowed to return.

Then came the second Temple, which was subsequently destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The city and Temple were razed to the ground and the Jews were carried into exile a second time. The Roman Captivity. Yet throughout the past 2,000 years there have always been Jews living in Israel. It was their land. So the Jewish people today are simply the descendants of the Jewish people that we read about in the Bible.

But isn’t the modern state of Israel a secular state, in contrast to the Biblical state of Israel that lived closer to God, as some say? I challenge you to read the Bible more carefully, especially the books of Kings and Chronicles. You will see just how ‘closely’ the people of Israel lived to God. It was a stiff-necked people, as the Bible itself says. They were constantly going after other gods and leaving God by the wayside. They sought security in political alliances with the regional powers of their day. Over and over they heard the lashing words of the prophets and the disobedient son was disciplined by the Most High. Israel has never been a faithful people. But yes, they were deeply connected with the Most High. They knew very well who their Father was. Just as you may have stubbornly done your own thing as a child. Of course you knew who your father was, but you always thought you knew better.

Recognizing that they are still the same people, in the same land, is not the same as approving of everything the state of Israel does. That is not the point. When God started to gather the Jews from the four corners of the earth, from north, south, east and west (Isaiah 43:5-8), back to the Promised Land and they grew in that land as a nation, at a certain point they had to make a decision. They lived there as a people, as a nation in a country: What form of government should they choose? Would it be a dictatorship, an oligarchy, a democracy or a theocracy? They chose democracy following the western model. Is that the very best form of government according to the Bible? No, that would be Theocracy, in which you are led by God and obey Him. So it is clear that Israel has a long road ahead to grow into what it is meant to be in the end, namely a light for the nations under the leadership of the Messiah.

What the Bible teaches us and what Israel needs to learn as well is that you need to listen to God’s perspective and rules and try to act according to that. Fundamentally this is the meaning of the Thora: To realize, not just individually but also as a nation, how to achieve a just, peaceful and secure society under His leadership and with administrators who are deeply conscious that they have to answer to Him.

 

Misunderstanding 5: Jews have a head start with God

No more than anyone else. Jews are just as much descendants of Adam as we all are. Sin is in our blood. Jews are exactly the same. They are not better than others. But God created them and uses them to bless others. We are all equally sinful, whether we are born Jewish, Chinese or Dutch. This is also a good thing. Luke reports in Acts 17:22-34 that the apostle Paul said to the people of Athens that God created the entire human race from one single person. That means that this fundamentally contradicts and goes against every form of discrimination. We can never say, “I am better than you.” My race is better than yours. My village is better that yours. My country is better than yours. We all have the same lineage as human beings. We are all sinners.

He did not choose the Jews because they are better people. He chose them because He wanted to use them as an instrument in His hand. He set them apart. Chosen in this sense means: set apart, as does the word ‘holy’. Israel is not a holy people in the sense of ‘holier than others’ or ‘perfect’, like some Roman Catholic saints are considered to be. To be holy means to be set apart. The same goes for Christians. Christians are not better than other people either but God has taken hold of them, has chosen them, to be an instrument in His hand to serve Him in this world – by loving Him with all of their heart and one’s neighbor as oneself. That is how it is with Israel too. Chosen to become a blessing for the world.

That puts you in a difficult position. If you are the chosen one, you suffer in this world. No one can stand a teacher’s pet, who is often bullied and hated by the rest of the class because of this. Clearly being chosen brings suffering. No other people has suffered in this world like the chosen Jewish people. Among the Jewish people the Chosen One, Jesus, has suffered like no other person in this world.

Christians, chosen out of the gentile world, suffer too. Millions are being persecuted around the world at this very moment. The entire history of the church is one long tale of suffering. Being chosen does not mean “I am better”. It is absolutely to your disadvantage. But in the end, what you receive from Him through this, discovering something of Who He is, brings a deep joy. Nothing in the world can compare and when we see Him, this joy will be perfected. Then that love will become so intense, so great and mighty, that you will be completely filled. To follow Him means suffering, persecutions plus everlasting life, according to Jesus in Mark 10:28-30.

 

Misunderstanding 6: Jesus was a Christian

This often reminds me of the story of an American Sunday school teacher. She told the children, “Children, you should all follow Jesus’ example. He was a perfect Christian. He went to church every Sunday.” There are several things wrong with this statement. A: He was not a Christian, but He was a Jew. B: He did not go to church but to synagogue. C: He did not go on Sunday but on Saturday, the Shabbat. So Jesus was a faithful Jew. When Jesus was asked what the most important law of Israel was, He said, “Love God with everything you have and everything you are: your reason, your will and your emotions – with all your strength. And after that: love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the law and the prophets.” Right up until the present day, every faithful Jew will give the same answer.

The name ‘Christians’ first showed up in Antioch, much later when the gospel started to spread among non-Jews. At that point they started to be called followers of Christ, ‘Christians’. The word ‘Christ’ means ‘Anointed One’. It is exactly the same as the Greek word ‘Chrestos’, or in Hebrew, ‘Messiah’. This means Anointed One as well, just in a different language. The new believers were followers of this Christ; that is why they were called Christians. The negative connotation of the name Christians to the Jews was caused by these theological developments in Church History that claimed that the Jews were rejected by and hated by God. According to this new replacement-theology or super-sessionism Christians, the Church, were considered to be God’s new [chosen] people, having replaced Israel. Wrong! Chosen? Yes! Replacing the Jewish people? No!

Misunderstanding 7: The New Testament replaces the Old Testament

I am reminded of a former professor in Utrecht, Dr. van Ruler. He called the New Testament a glossary at the end of the Old Testament. This is a very different approach. But what he meant was this. The whole Bible is simply one continuous revelation from God. Old Testament and New Testament. Inseparably connected.

Yet you always sense the tension: Them (the Jews) versus us (the Christians); The New Testament that is said to have replaced the Old Testament.  It started early in church history and the more anti-Jewish thinking developed, the more the ancient church fathers started asking themselves, what use is the Old Testament to us? This way of thinking has continued throughout history.

Nowadays you still see Christian mission organizations and churches handing out New Testaments “because that’s what it’s all about.” Under the Nazi regime the Old Testament was seen as a Jewish book one Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with. So this is another strange line of reasoning that shows how deeply rooted replacement theology is and how deep our internal resentment against the Jewish people and God’s relationship with them goes.

 

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