Question and Answer

Followup question to "The OPC and National Israel"

Question:

A previous post on Q&A discusses the significance of the present nation of Israel. At one point it states: "Therefore the Orthodox Presbyterian Church holds that the political/geographical entity known as Israel is not significant in and of itself. We pray for the blood descendants of Abraham, the Jews, that they might also believe in Jesus (see Romans 9-10). But our position would be that the present day nation of Israel is no more significant than any other nation, and yet ought to hold a significant place in the work of the Church in making disciples of every nation." Further down the page, the website states that the questions are answered by individual pastors.

Sorry for the multiple questions, but I'm struggling with the notion that the present day existence of Israel is unimportant/insignificant. My eschatological view is classical (historical) premillennialism. Thanks in advance for what I hope will be a thoughtful response.

[The inquirer's five questions are listed below with their answers.]

Answer:

Thank you for your question. I appreciate the fact that you read and thought about the answer given on the website regarding Israel. Your consideration generated some logical questions, which I will try to answer, one by one:

1. Is there an official statement of the significance of the modern-day nation of Israel that has the "stamp of approval" of the OPC General Assembly?

The answer is actually found in Scripture and history. Scripture refers to Israel in the New Testament under the name "sons of Abraham" in Romans 4:1-25. You would agree with Paul that we are children of Abraham, not by natural generation but by virtue of our faith (see also Gal. 3:25-29). Surely you also agree that the children of Israel are the children of Abraham, or to use a mathematical formula, Israel = the children of Abraham, through Jacob who was named Israel. Now these children of Israel are addressed by Paul in Romans 1:1-7 as the Church, which consists of both Jewish believers (natural descendants of Abraham) and Gentile believers. Thus, we may say Israel = the Children of Abraham by faith = the Church. This is why Paul refers to the Church in Galatians 6:16 as the "Israel of God." In other words, the official statement of the significance of modern day Israel is found in Scripture which gives the name of Israel now to believers in Jesus, Christians, rather than any geographical-political entity. As our General Assembly takes the Scriptures as its only rule for faith and practice, that is our official statement.

2. Given the numerous passages in Scripture that speak of a restored Israel as a place where Christ will descend to earth at his second coming, and that the final battle of all time will be fought in Megiddo in Israel, are these not enough to make us aware of the special place that the nation of Israel has in the world today?

The battle of Armageddon, as described in Revelation 16:16, is but a representative battle. As Christ's return approaches, and it has been approaching since the day of his ascension to heaven, the opposition to Christ by fallen humanity only intensifies. Psalm 2 tells us of the kings of the earth gathering together against the Lord and against his Christ to throw off their rule over the world. It is a futile battle but it has been raging since the fall of Adam! Interestingly, Megiddo (which appears to be another name for Armageddon) was the site of battles in the book of Judges (see Judges 4 and 5) and this is why it is mentioned by John in Revelation. The real battle is between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). It is a series of battles, not just one, but in Revelation the final battle is portrayed in a context familiar to Jewish believers especially to make the point that man will fight against Christ and his Kingdom to the very end. He will lose because Christ will come and conquer all (Rev. 19:11ff). So the significance of Megiddo and its location in geographic Israel's territory is not the significant point. The significant point is the rebellion of mankind against Christ its true King.

3. Or does the OPC believe that the prophecies referenced above are allegorical and that neither will happen at some point in the future, i.e. that upon his return, Jesus Christ will not arrive (set his foot upon the Mount of Olives outside the old city of Jerusalem) from where he ascended into heaven and that there will not be a final battle in the Valley of Megiddo prior to Christ's return?

I truly respect your desire to make sense of Scripture by trying to keep the meaning of it consistently literal. But what you are referring to occurs in Zechariah 14:4 and must be considered in its context, namely that of the Day of the Lord, when all the nations will be gathered against the Lord's people. Zechariah wrote for Old Testament Israel, which meant he used imagery that Old Testament Israel would be familiar with. But, as you have gathered, this represents the final battle between the Lord and his enemy, whose servants are gathered against the Lord (cf. Rev. 16-21; 19:11-16). The description Zechariah gives us is of the Lord's decisive victory over his enemies, the victory being graphically portrayed, but symbolically, as the splitting of the Mount of Olives in two (Revelation 16 has the city split into three parts—which will you choose? Two or three?). In vs. 8 living waters are said to flow out from Jerusalem to the western and eastern seas. This picture is also given in Ezekiel 47:1-12, and in Revelation 22:1-4 and is clearly meant to represent the final condition of the saints in New Jerusalem. In other words, the picture in Zechariah 14:4 is not literal but figurative.

4. Are we to assume that the passage in Romans 11:25-36 either has already been fulfilled in the Church (replacement theology) although Paul was writing to Christians, i.e. the Church; or it will be fulfilled in some allegorical manner, not mattering where the Jews are at the time of their conversion.

I believe there are two views of this passage. One is that literally all the elect among physically descended children of Abraham will be converted (no less a theologian than the late Professor John Murray of Westminster Seminary held this view) or, secondly, it is a reference to both Gentile and Jewish believers being saved in their full number. There is a third view that says that Israel as a people will be restored in some fashion out of which the elect will be saved. In other words there will again be a nation of Israel, but that this awaits the future, meaning not now, much less in 1948 (this view is held by Dr. Cornelis Venema of Mid-America Seminary). As this has been disagreed upon over the years, I am hesitant to be dogmatic. Indeed, the OPC holds that there is freedom to hold any of these views so long as it is done on the basis of careful exegesis. In fact, the OPC, while having a majority of trained theologians holding to the views as I have tried to give them in pts. 1-3, has also historically held that these matters are not dictated by the OPC¸ but rather there is freedom to disagree.

5. Finally, if restoration of modern day Israel is not significant, what are we to make of the passage in Zechariah 12:10-14 that speaks of the inhabitants of Jerusalem looking upon the Messiah whom they have pierced at some future time from Zechariah's perspective? Are we to assume that we believers today are the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem spoken of in Zechariah?

The answer to this is found in John 19:37 where the context is that of the Romans piercing his side and they and the Jews looking upon him as the one they had pierced (the Romans as the ones who physically did it and the Jews as the ones responsible for his crucifixion). Yet, in a sense, we who believe that Jesus bore our sins also look by faith upon the one who was pierced for us. Zechariah's prophecy, in other words, had wider meaning than Zechariah could possibly have known and wider than we might ordinarily appreciate.

There is no need to apologize for the many questions. But in the end there is significance to present day Israel—as a nation to be reached with the Gospel. And in the end it is right to be jealous as Paul was for the salvation of Abraham's blood descendants (Rom. 9:1-chapter 11). I do not claim perfect understanding, but you have given me opportunity to reflect on these things with a fresh mind, and I thank you for that.


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