This past week I filled out a multiple choice theological questionnaire, and unsurprisingly, I found many of the questions, or more specifically the answers to the questions, woefully inadequate. This was especially true when the questions pertained to eschatology and Israel. The answers always basically boiled down to either national Israel has no future in God’s plans or the modern State of Israel will be the vehicle for all fulfillment of eschatological prophecy. These were woefully inadequate choices, and what is worse the questionnaire was from a dispensational source. In my mind that makes it much worse because I would expect those who approach the prophecies concerning the future restoration of Israel with a true grammatical-historical hermeneutic to take seriously what they say and be careful and thoughtful in their interpretation. These available answers seemed to indicate that they didn’t give these passages the careful thought they demand. There is a third general way to think about Israel and the end times that wasn’t represented. Serious thought needs to be given to the question “Is the State of Israel eschatological Israel?” I think the answer is no.
While I am a committed dispensationalist (I wrote some of the reasons why here) and broadly speaking I think the State of Israel is the “good guy” in the Middle East with by far the best record on democracy and human rights, I don’t think the modern State of Israel is eschatological Israel. I know that is shocking but bear with me, and let me give you a few reasons to give this more thought.
Israel is not Israel
What I mean by this is the modern state of Israel, isn’t representative of all Israel. When it comes to eschatology there seems to be a blind spot on the division of Israel. After the death of David’s heir Solomon, his son Rehoboam ascended the throne, and even though he had been raised in the house of the wisest man ever to live, and even though Proverbs was largely written for his personal benefit, he acted foolishly. He ignored the counsel of his father’s trusted advisors, placed his confidence in his friend’s counsel (1 Kings 12:8), and when faced with a plea from the people for leniency in forced national service, he responded with one of the most memorable and most foolish utterances in all of Scripture “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions (1 Kings 12:14),” to which the people under the leadership of Jeroboam memorably replied “what portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents O Israel! Look to your own house David (1 Kings 12:16).” At that moment Israel split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (comprised of the tribes Judah and Benjamin) never to be reconciled again. This is key to understanding eschatological Israel.
While there is biblical evidence that some from the other tribes made their way into the southern kingdom and retained their tribal identity, such as the prophetess Anna being identified as of the tribe of Asher in Luke 2:36, the northern kingdom was never reconstituted.
Why this matters is that eschatological Israel doesn’t just result from the Jews (those descended from the kingdom of Judah) returning to the Land, but from the exiles of the northern kingdom returning as well. Witness Isaiah 11:10-12:
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Note that not only are the exiles recalled, they are recalled from specific places; this cannot be fulfilled by northern tribe members who sought refuge in Judah, returning to the land in either the return from Babylon, or the post 1948, ongoing return of the Jews who were scattered post A.D. 70 to the modern state of Israel, largely from Europe. Many of the places the banished of Israel are called from are in Mesopotamia, and Cush in Sub-Saharan Africa. There has never been a mass migration of Jewish people from any of these areas into modern Israel.
Ezekiel 37:21-22 adds that the two kingdoms will be united under the leadership of a Davidic king. Hosea 1:11 concurs, and adds that when the two kingdoms are united under one head that Jezreel will rejoice; Jezreel being the possession of the tribe of Issachar and often used to represent the Northern kingdom.
When I consider these passages as well as other key eschatological passages like Ezekiel 36:8-9, and Isaiah 56:8, I have to concluded that the state of Israel as it is currently constituted is not eschatological Israel as described in the prophets.
Israel is Not Secure
This is really what got me thinking. All you have to do is watch the news, or even poke around social media a bit, and it becomes clear that Israel is not safe from military and terrorist threat or even the kind of vitriolic hatred that enabled genocide in the previous century. Israel has fought multiple wars since 1948, and rockets are frequently lobbed into Israel from the surrounding countries. While the Israel Defense Force is without question the finest military in the region and the Iron Dome missile defense system has been largely successful, there is no disputing that Israel is under constant threat of attack and largely exists on perpetual war footing. This is very different from how eschatological Israel is described in Scripture.
Ezekiel 28:25-26 couldn’t be more clear:
Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.
Jeremiah 23:5-8 agrees while adding both Judah and Israel make up eschatological Israel and that a new united kingdom will be ruled by the Davidic King:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.
Zechariah 14:11 adds Jerusalem shall dwell securely and Ezekiel 39:26 adds that eschatological Israel will have no fear.
Israel is Unrepentant
There is nothing in Scripture, at all, indicating God will gather an unrepentant and unbelieving people back to the Promised Land. In fact Scripture clearly says that in repentance they will be gathered. Jeremiah 31:9 makes this clear, “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”
Perhaps the most overlooked passage in terms of the true nature of eschatological Israel is Zechariah 12:10-14:
“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. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.”
The ingathered Israel will weep over their rejection of the Messiah in great and sorrowful mourning. Nothing of the sort has ever happened, in fact missionary efforts are heavily restricted by the Israeli government.
Undeniably it is an incredible work of God’s providence that there are still millions of people descended from the inhabitants of Judea and who identify themselves as Jews. It is an incredible work of providence that God has brought many back to the land. And I am in no way saying that God may not work in part through the modern nation of Israel, but I don’t think that the State of Israel is eschatological Israel. And I would challenge you to give it some serious thought too.