Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Joy to the World

If there's a nationwide revival in the modern State of Israel, and all its citizens become born-again Christians immediately before the return of the Lord, that will be wonderful!

But it's somewhat less than clear to me whether Bible-Prophecy necessitates that.

Jesus seemed (to me) to portray a slightly different picture of Israel in the 'end-times'. For example:

He spoke of disciples being persecuted and martyred, in Judea, prior to the coming of the Lord.

He said the days of tribulation in the land of Israel would need to be shortened for the elect's sake (for the sake of the believers among them), otherwise no-one in the land at all could survive (not even those who believe).

He taught Israelites that the children of the wicked (the tares, unbelievers) would coexist alongside the children of the kingdom (the wheat, believers) all the way until the very end of the world.

John the Baptist had previously warned the Jews that the coming of the Lord won't necessarily be a day of bliss for all Jews, but will be a day of fiery judgment for many of them. He was picking up on Malachi's theme: Who may abide the day of His coming?

Jesus spoke of 'foolish virgins' (in Israel, He said this) who will not be ready when the Bridegroom comes.

He asked the Jews, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

He said there are few (even in Israel) that find the path that leads to eternal life.

So when He told Jewish leaders of His day that they will not see Him anymore until they see His second coming and they shall say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord', it's not clear to me that He meant literally all Israel must be saved prior to the Second Coming.

Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord - but that won't mean everyone will be saved before He comes, does it?

The Book of Revelation doesn't seem (to me) to overtly predict the nationwide salvation of all Israelis either. It speaks of the two witnesses being martyred, and all the people rather than repenting, gloating instead over their deaths. And it says, "Let the righteous be righteous still; and, Let the wicked be wicked still".

Daniel didn't seem to foresee such an outcome either. He was told that while many would be converted and eventually shine forever, many at the same time would fall.

Messiah was to be a stone of stumbling - a rock of offence - to many in Israel, said the Prophet; but to those who believe, He is precious.

If James was expecting such an outcome in Israel before the Lord can come, He certainly didn't mention it. Neither did Peter. Their warnings seem to have show they had the opposite expectation!

And it's less than clear to me that Paul intended to forecast it either. In Romans 9-11 Paul was clearing-up misconceptions about the Gospel-scheme which he'd just finished expounding (in chapters 1-8) - I'm not sure that he was pronouncing a prophecy, per se. Rather, he was responding to specific questions or issues which he lists.

One misconception was that the overall unbelief of the nation of Israel meant God had permanently ended the opportunity for Jews to be saved. Gentile members of the church at Rome were in danger of gloating over the Jews, so much so that some could have become at risk of not being careful enough about their own faith and relationship with God.

In response to that, Paul asserted that despite the widespread unbelief in Israel, any Jew could still believe and be saved - just like Gentiles must. In fact, God was even then using the salvation-experience of Gentiles in an attempt to provoke that very outcome. Paul himself is an example of a once-blind Jew turning from unbelief to God.

So Paul was primarily explaining a first-century reality - not issuing a prophetic forecast per se.

He summed his argument up this way:

"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

And so [not 'and then...' but 'and so...'] all Israel shall be saved: as it is written [then he quoted a prophecy which had already been fulfilled before he wrote, or else no-one has ever yet been saved!], There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins [that had already been fulfilled, at the time Paul wrote. He wrote so, in his epistles.]

As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.

For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:

Even so have these also now [now - he's explaining a first-century reality, not looking thousands of years ahead] not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all [and that was happening - Paul's salvation was an example of it happening]."

Paul (it seems to me) was explaining an aspect of the Gospel-scheme, as it was already happening then.

"Until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" means the very end, I think - because Jesus said "this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached to all nations, and then the end will come". He didn't say, "And then God will play His best card for Israel." God is already playing His best card for everyone - including for Israelis! It's called the Gospel.

So in other words, Paul was explaining the scheme that was happening then - and that very same scheme is to happen until the end. God isn't planning on introducing a separate scheme prior to the end.

The scheme (or outcome, or manner in which Prophecy is being fulfilled) according to Paul, is:

Blindness has happened to many Jews, but any Jew can still turn from unbelief and be saved. And that's how it will be until - the end.

But in any case (even if we do see a nationwide revival in Israel), salvation can only be on the basis of faith in Israel - not through modern Judaism. Paul wasn't keen on mixing Judaism with faith. In fact, he was sternly against it.

And even if that happens, could it really be said that "all Israel" has been saved? What about the millions who previously lived and died without believing? It would still only mean a portion has believed.

I think the Bible often uses the word "all" without intending literally all. Many examples could be given. For example it says Jesus is the saviour of all men, specially of those who believe. It means salvation was procured for and offered to all men, and all Israel - but only believers will experience it. That was Paul's take on Prophecy I think. He explained it never meant literally all Jews would be saved. In fact, he showed that the Prophets actually foresaw that many wouldn't believe. And he used that in defence of his Gospel.

I'm even more unclear that all Israel can be saved 'after' the second coming (as the AOG states in its Fundamental Doctrines). To me that implies a two-tiered way to salvation: one for Jews, and another one for everyone else. That conflicts with the soteriology of the New Testament, I feel.

What I'm saying takes nothing away from modern Israel, either - it's not antisemitic - rather, it establishes the basis on which good can come to modern Israelis. It refocuses our attention on the real program of God for Jews, which is the same as it is for anyone - the Gospel. The sky is the limit for modern Israel! - but the only basis for spiritual blessing is faith in Jesus Christ.

Christmas is a nice time to reflect on the joy of what God was making available to Israel - and to all of us - when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Blessings are available to us today (including to modern Israelis) because the Prophesied salvation has come - it's not that they're still waiting for it to come.

It's like the Christmas gift has already been given - now it's just a matter of unwrapping it.

We're not still waiting for God to make His new covenant with Israel, to turn them away from sins, to send the deliverer, to establish salvation in Sion - He's already done it: now we need only believe, then and only then can the salvation become real in our experience.

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