Whose Promised Land: Israel and
Debate between Neil Cornell (CMJ & ITAC) and Stephen Sizer
Guildford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship
St John's, Woking. Surrey
18th March 1997
There are two essential questions I want to try and answer this morning, one political and one theological. They are multi-faceted and interwoven.
The political question is this. How should we as Christians view the situation in Israel/Palestine today, where two peoples claim the same territory? Is Israel a democracy or an apartheid State? Specifically, do we believe the Israeli authorities should continue to resist Palestinian aspirations to autonomy and statehood? Should they continue to occupy, settle and annexe more and more of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, creating small urban Bantustan reservations for Palestinians living under military occupation within a exclusive Jewish state.
Or, do we believe that the Palestinians have fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? For example, to live in the land of their birth, to freedom of movement, to work, education and religious practice, and collectively to the right of self determination, political expression, autonomy and nationhood. May I say at this point that I oppose anti-Semitism (remembering also that the Arabs are a Semitic race also) and I do affirm the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure but internationally recognised borders. That is the essential political question.
The central theological question is this: Does possession of the land by Jewish people today, and the existence of the State of Israel, have any theological significance in terms of the fulfilment of biblical prophecy within the purposes of God? Or should we believe that this understanding of the Land is inconsistent with the Gospel proclaimed by, and summed up in, Jesus Christ? The question is whether we have good biblical and theological reasons for giving whole-hearted support to the Zionist vision? Or do we find in Scripture grounds for criticising and rejecting this ideology as sub-Christian or heretical?
At the outset, I want to insist that this is not a debate between evangelicals and liberals. As someone who is critical of Christian Zionism, I nevertheless affirm the full inspiration and authority of Scripture. It will be in our interpretation of Scripture that we may differ, but not I hope in our view of inspiration. It is easy for some evangelicals to dismiss those who criticise Zionism as liberals. I believe that criticism is unwarranted.
I shall base my case against Christian Zionism on seven propositions taken from Scripture. Each of these can stand on their own, but each also forms a vital link in a logical and progressive argument based on the flow of biblical history and revelation. For this outline I am indebted to Colin Chapman, in particular, and to Palmer Robinson, Naim Ateek, Peter Walker, Don Wagner and many others.
1. The Relationship of the Old Covenant to the New Covenant
I believe that Christian Zionism errs most profoundly because it fails to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the ways in which the latter completes, fulfils and annuls the former. It is fundamental that we read the Scriptures with Christian eyes, and that we interpret the Old Covenant in the light of the New Covenant, not the other way round. Here are just a few verses that should guide us in our hermeneutical approach to the Old Covenant.
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians. 2:16-17
8:1The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. 3Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." 6But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. Hebrews 8:1-6
10:1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Hebrews 10:1
Under the Old Covenant, revelation from God came in shadow, image, form and prophecy. In the New Covenant we have reality, substance and fulfilment. The question is not whether the promises of the covenant are to be understood literally or spiritually. It is instead a question of whether they should be understood in terms of Old Covenant shadow or in terms of New Covenant reality. This is the basic hermeneutical assumption I will make.
So, for example, there is the sacrifice of animals and food which anticipate the offering of the body of Christ. There is a transportable tabernacle foreshadowing the abiding presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ. We have the Israelites wandering through the desert and God providing them with manna from heaven, water from a rock and a serpent on a pole. All these images found their fulfilment not in more manna, or more water or in a higher pole but in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ which the Old Covenant forms could only foreshadow. By their very nature the Old Covenant provisions must be seen as shadowy forms rather than substantial realities.
The same principle applies to the promises concerning the Land which are also serving as revelational shadows, images, types, prophecies, anticipating God's future purposes, not only for one small people the Jews, but the whole world, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ. Hebrews sums this up succinctly.
1:1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1-2
2. The Meaning of the Abrahamic Covenant
We must begin our consideration of the Abrahamic Covenant not in Genesis 12 but Genesis 2. The covenant began with Gods creation of a paradise, represented in the garden. This was the place where people could receive all of God's blessings and commune in fellowship with Him. This is where the image of land begins in the Bible. This land of paradise was lost in the Fall but a foretaste of heaven is reflected in the imagery of the promise made to Abraham.
12:1The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1
In Genesis 15:18 God is more specific and indicates the extent of that land, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" (This prophecy has been fulfilled in so far as Ishmael's descendants do indeed extend throughout the Middle East. Neither Ishmael nor Isaac had been born when this promise was given). In Genesis 17 the promise is repeated and amplified.
17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Genesis 17:1-8
The promise that God is going to give access to the land again is restated to Moses and the land is described as flowing with milk and honey in Exodus 3:8 and a number of other passages in the Pentateuch.
8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Exodus 3:8
These images are paradigms. The land of the Bible is not and never ever did flow with milk and honey. It is a beautiful land but the biblical imagery points to a restored paradise in the future. From the very beginning this Old Covenant shadow would have to wait for the New Covenant for the actual fulfilment of the promise. The land in the Old Covenant was not an end in itself.
The tabernacle, the place of worship in the Old Covenant was never intended to have a settled location in God's plan of redemption. It pointed to Christ who would tabernacle among His people in the incarnation and since Pentecost through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The sacrificial system could never atone for sins but only foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of the sinless, perfect Son of God. So the patriarch Abraham receives the promise of the land but he himself never possessed it. This is not to spiritualise the promise away. It will ultimately be experienced in paradise. This was the promise of the covenant, not the permanent and everlasting possession of the Middle East. In Hebrews 11 we learn that by this non-possession the patriarch learned to look forward to the city with foundations whose architect is God. This is the only legitimate interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant.
10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:10-16
It is important to stress once again, in Hebrews, heavenly does not mean allegorical or spiritual or non-literal. It is just the reverse, as C.S. Lewis tries to describe in Great Divorce, the heavenly is the consummate true state of things, it is the consummate true reality. In the same way, the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly city for which the Patriarchs were looking is not a nebulous ethereal idea. It is the ultimate reality which we can only foretaste in our present state.
It is significant to note at this early stage in Genesis how the role of Jerusalem is central. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizadeck, the priest king of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). At this significant place Abraham offered his son Isaac as an offering to God (Genesis 22). But in both these shadowy events pointed to the greater realities of the New Covenant, ultimately realised in the heavenly priesthood of Christ after the order of Mechizadeck (Hebrews 7) and the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God at Calvary.
One more thing about the Land. The Land never belongs to Israel in the Torah. The Land belongs to God. Land cannot be permanently bought or sold. It cannot be permanently given away, let alone stolen or confiscated. The Land is never at the disposal of Israel for its national purposes. Instead it is Israel who are at the disposal of God's purposes. The Jews remain tenants in God's Land.
23" 'The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Leviticus 25:23
There are four aspects to the Abrahamic covenant. Any interpretation of the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant cannot be divorced from the other strands of the covenant. As Christians we have no difficulty in seeing the fulfilment of the promise in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Him God has indeed first, blessed people of all nations, second, by drawing them into a covenant relationship with God in which, third, there is now neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, members of one holy nation. If these three strands of the one covenant find their fulfilment in Christ in His Church, how can we put the promise concerning the land into a totally different category?
Don't be misled by the statement God made to Abraham that the land would be "an everlasting possession." Insisting on literal fulfilment is a double-edged sword. In 1 Chronicles 15:2, for example, David insists that the Levites would carry the ark of the Lord and minister before Him for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally on earth or figuratively in Christ? In 1 Chronicles 23:13 God promises that the Aaronic priesthood would continue "for ever". Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ? In 2 Chronicles 33:7 God says that he has put his name in the temple in Jerusalem for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ and the Church? In 1 Chronicles 23:25, God promises that He has come to dwell in Jerusalem for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ and the Church? Likewise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promises that a descendent of David will sit on his throne for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally on earth or figuratively in Christ? Let me address another form of wooden literalism Christian Zionists are particularly partial to.
You will find some who insist that because the Jews have never literally occupied the entire land promised to Abraham, from the Nile to the Euphrates, this promise must still await future fulfilment. Hence their support not only for the settlement of the West Bank but the rest of the Middle East. Such reasoning ignores the way the Old Testament writers themselves understood the promise made to Abraham. God reaffirmed that same promise to Joshua.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. (Joshua 1,6)
The question then arises, did Israel do so? While it is true that, notwithstanding the aspiration depicted on the modern Israeli national flag, the Jews have never exercised political sovereignty over all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. Nevertheless the Book of Joshua makes clear that the covenant promise was indeed regarded as having been fulfilled in that generation.
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11,23)
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21,43-45)
It is significant that we are told Joshua took 'the entire land' because the Lord had given 'Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers'. To the claim that certain promises have yet to be fulfilled, Joshua is emphatic, 'Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.'
Likewise, Nehemiah, writing after the second exile, looked back to the first exile and could testify in praise to God for the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham,
You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers... You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess. (Nehemiah 9,22-23)
These passages record the first re-gathering of the Israelites to the Promised Land. Nehemiah even refers in the past tense to the fulfilment of the metaphorical promise to make Abraham's descendants 'as numerous as the stars in the sky' (cf. Genesis 22:17). Since the promise given to Abraham concerning the Land is to be understood as intimately bound up with the covenant relationship with and blessings for all peoples of the world, to insist on an interpretation that now gives people of Jewish origin an exclusive title deed to Palestine in perpetuity runs contrary both to the promise itself within its Old Covenant context as well as its New Covenant fulfilment. The four strands of the Abrahamic covenant comprise a package deal and are interwoven together not only in pre-figurement and in their fulfilment in and through Christ.
3. The Promise of Exile and Return
The possession of the land was never perfected. Dominion over the land remains a struggle and tantalising possibility which never comes to full realisation. Solomon even at the zenith of his reign and power ruins the prospect by importing foreign gods and tolerating the noisy and abominable worship assemblies of his heathen wives and their priests just the valley from the Temple Mount. During this period invading armies sent by the Lord chasten the people for defiling the Land. In fulfilment of the promises made through Moses and the Prophets, they are dispossessed and driven out, exiled from the promise of the Land that had been given to their forefathers. Jerusalem was safe from foreign armies as long as shekinah glory of God dwelt in her midst. That is the significance of Ezekiel's visions in which step by step he sees the departure of God's glory from the city.
Once the shekinah glory of God had departed, Jerusalem was as vulnerable as any other place on earth. Its was no longer a consecrated city guaranteed God's protection. The exile and dispersion of Jerusalem's inhabitants could not be averted. But the history of the Jews under the old covenant did not end with the exile. At God's appointed time about 49,000 returned in contrast to the estimated 3 million that had come out of Egypt a thousand years before. They returned to only a small part of the original territory and built only a small replica of Solomon's temple. But God's prophets were not distracted from their vision of the greatness of God's redemptive work. In fact they paint a picture of restoration so glorious that it cannot be contained within the boundaries of the Old Covenant form of realisation. Haggai and Zechariah, for example give us a picture of what is to come to God's people that breaks all the bonds of the Old Covenant shadow forms. Zechariah 2 says that Jerusalem shall be a city without walls, so expansive it cannot be measured. Instead it would have a wall of fire around it. The reconstructed temple would manifest a greater glory than Solomon's magnificent structure.
9'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty." Haggai 2:9
The language of the restoration prophets is inspiring but the reality experienced under the Old Covenant was much less impressive. Indeed this extravagant picture of a great city without stone walls, a wall of fire around it and into which the Gentile nations come streaming totally breaks the bonds of the Old Covenant. This vision found its fulfilment only in the days of the New Covenant since when people worship not in Jerusalem or Samaria but everywhere since the shekinah glory of God is present with every child of God. So, according to the irreversible fulfilment values of the New Covenant, it is the Jerusalem above not the Jerusalem below that is the mother of us all. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. Galatians 4:26
Here again we are not talking about some esoteric nirvana. This Jerusalem is not a spiritual concept or phenomenon. Indeed, according to Hebrews 12:22, when ever we assemble for worship, we are meeting in the presence of the angels in the real Jerusalem.
22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, Hebrews 12:22
Once this consummation has been reached, never again would the revelation from God suggest that his people should aspire to the paradigms of the Old Covenant. Retrogression to the older shadowy forms of the Old Covenant were forbidden. God's children have become temples in which His shekinah glory dwells. To suggest therefore that the shekinah is to return to a single local geographical shrine to which we must come to worship is to regress from the reality to the shadowy, to re-erect the dividing curtain of the Temple, to apostasize from the New to the Old Covenant, because it is to impugn the atoning work of Christ.
4. The Ethical Requirements of the Covenant Relationship
The promise of land was never an unconditional right, but always a conditional gift.
During the wilderness wanderings, God prepared his people with these promises,
'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. Leviticus 18:24-28
On the basis of such a passage, the present brutal, repressive and racist policies of the State of Israel would suggest another exile on the horizon rather than a restoration. As one Jewish friend put it to me last week, how sinful do you need to be to get to be on God's hit list?
With reference to the treatment of aliens, 36x in the Hebrew scriptures the Jews were warned to be compassionate to strangers and aliens because they knew what it felt like to be aliens in Egypt.
Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him for you were aliens in Egypt. Exodus 22:21
'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
The Exodus story, retold at every Passover was meant to remind the Hebrew people that they should be freed from the need to dominate and persecute. In the Psalms the inheritance of the land is celebrated as one of the greatest blessings of redemption. Psalm 37, for example, encourages the Jews not to despair over the prosperity of the wicked. They are told to trust in the Lord's promises that they shall inherit the land. In the context of other promises concerning the Land this must always be seen in terms of conditional residency rather than permanent possession. 6x over in this Psalm this virtually identical phrase is used.
1Of David. Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
2for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
3Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
8Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil.
9For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
18The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever.
27Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.
28For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;
29the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
34Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. Psalm 37:1-40
This psalm was celebrated regularly in the assembled congregation of God's people and so it must have had the effect of strengthening the concept in the minds of the people that this land was a gift of God to them. Clearly not to the wicked, nor the unbelieving from among Israel, but only to the righteous and faithful was the assurance given that the land of redemption would be theirs.
Isaiah's great prophecy begins with a similar warning,
16wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:16-17
27Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. 28But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish. Isaiah 1:27-28
Jeremiah reiterates the corollary. 4Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever." Jeremiah 17:4
Daniel and Nehemiah are individuals who personified the individual and corporate repentance required before God would bring back his remnant. (Daniel 9:1-19; Nehemiah 1:4-11). Thus when God does bring the remnant back to the Land, he does so in accordance with the conditions described in Deuteronomy 30:1-5.
30:1When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. Deut. 30:1-5
So repentance is always a condition of return. The assertion that the events subsequent to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 indicate God's blessing on the Jewish people is totally without foundation in Scripture.
Indeed, since the Temple was destroyed in 70AD and the Jews exiled from the land, as Jesus taught, as a judgement for their failure to recognise Him as the Messiah (Luke 19:41-44), the repentance required in the terms of Deuteronomy 30 would, from the perspective of the New Covenant, require recognition of Jesus as Messiah as a condition of return. Never therefore can the promise of the land be claimed by those who fail to exercise true faith and faithfulness in the Redeemer provided by the Lord in the Covenant. Never is the Land promised to Israel apart from faith and obedience.
To affirm that the Land is Israel's apart from the practice of justice and mercy is to contradict the most basic prophetic lesson of redemptive history in Scripture.
My question to Christian Zionists is therefore this. If you appeal to Genesis to claim the promise of the Land, what about Exodus and the commandments not to steal, kill and covet? If you believe in the predictive element of prophecy, what about the prophetic demand for justice? Isn't the present Israeli governments policy of forcibly Judaizing occupied East Jerusalem a 20th century parallel to Ahab stealing Naboth's vineyard? Where are the Elijah's among the Christian Zionist's who, out of love for the Jewish people, are prepared to speak a prophetic warning to the Ahab's in the government of Israel today? I believe we have every right to insist, that the stronger the claim to the Land is made allegedly on the basis of scripture, the more Christian Zionists must expect and indeed invite the whole world to judge what the Jews have done in the Land by the moral standards of those same Scriptures.
5. The Land in the Teaching of Jesus
Teaching about the Land is conspicuous by its absence in the teaching of Jesus.
There are less than five explicit references to the Land in the Gospels and these are indirect. The strongest is found in the Beatitudes. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus quotes from Psalm 37:11. The blessing of the meek and the inheritance of the land as described in the Psalms is echoed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is not the Land but the earth that they will inherit. The Greek term for earth here is the same word used in the Septuagint for land yet the context of Jesus Beatitudes requires that the perspective be stretched beyond mere possession of Palestine. Either that or all Christians who live by the Sermon on the Mount possess the land of the Bible by their meekness. Since the Land was such a fundamental part of Judaism at the time of Christ, his silence can only have been deliberate.
Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord only to die accursed on a cross and so pollute the land, and by that act and its consequences to shatter the geographic dimension of the religion of his fathers. Like everything else, the Land also in the New testament drives us to ponder the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, who by his cross and resurrection broke not only the bonds of death for early Christians but also the bonds of the land. (W.D. Davies)
Like the prophets, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem as a judgement on the Jewish people (Luke 19:41-44). But unlike them he did not promise there would be another return to the Land. Instead he predicted the coming of the kingdom of God in terms drawn from Daniel's vision of the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days to receive his kingly authority (Matthew 24:30-31; Luke 21:25-28; cf. Daniel 7:13-14). It can only have been deliberate that Jesus had so little to say specifically about the Land and so much about the world (78x in the Gospels alone).
6. The Land in the Teaching of the Apostles
The turning point for the Disciples comes with the resurrection encounters and Pentecost. Until this point they seemed to share the same understanding of the land as other Jews of the 1st Century. They had looked forward to God's decisive intervention in history which would restore political sovereignty to the Jews within the Promised Land. This is reflected in the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, 21we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21
It must also have been the idea in the minds of the disciples, when, before the ascension, they asked, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6. John Calvin comments, "There are as many mistakes in this question as there are words." Jesus reply shows him correcting not only their concept of time but also their view of ministry.
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:7-8
The nature of the kingdom of God now re-defines the meaning of chosenness. The extension of the kingdom of God throughout the world necessitates their exile from the land and indeed the turning of their backs on Jerusalem for ever. They are sent out into the world but never told to return. Subsequent to Pentecost, the Apostles use Old Covenant language concerning the Land in new ways.
So for example, Peter speaks of an inheritance which unlike the Land, "can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:4). Paul likewise asserts, 32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:32
In his letter to a predominantly Gentile church in Ephesus Paul applies the promise of the inheritance of the land specifically to Gentile children of Christian believers who are obedient.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Ephesians 6:1-3
The fifth commandment promised that obedient children would live long on the land the Lord God was giving them. Now Paul applies the same promise to the children of Christian parents living 700-800 miles from the land of the Bible. These children of Gentile and Jewish Christians who submit willingly to the authority of their parents will, Paul promises, enjoy long life on the earth.
Land in the New Covenant context has now come to fulfilment in the purposes of God. The limitations of the land type under the Old Covenant has been broken so that it stretches as far as the Great Commission to the uttermost ends of the earth.
In his letter to the predominantly Gentile church in Galatia, Paul says,
21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. .....28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." 31Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. Galatians 4:20-31
In a quite shocking way Paul compares Jerusalem and its bondage to Hagar and her slave children, and compares the Gentile Galatian believers to Isaac as children of the promise. This criticism surely applies to the modern city of Jerusalem just as much as it did in the days of the apostles. The present Jerusalem is in legalistic slavery with its children, captive to the minority religious political parties. It must not be presumed that those living in Jerusalem today without faith in Jesus as the Christ are the elect, chosen of God unto salvation. It must not be presumed that they are.
There may be some among those who are not now believing who one day will believe. But we cannot presume that they are the elect of God until they have proven so by confession of Jesus as the Messiah. Apart from a turning and repentance in faith which is the same requirement of men all over the world the inhabitants of the present Jerusalem continue to be in slavery, without God and without hope in the world. To suggest anything else is to slight Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and at the same time imperil the souls of men by encouraging false presumption. Chris Wright summarises the main argument of Hebrews well,
Hebrews affirmation of what "we have" are surprisingly comprehensive. We have the land, described as the rest into which we have entered through Christ, in a way which even Joshua did not achieve for israel (3:12-4:11); we have a High Priest (4:14, 8:1, 10:21) and an Altar (13:10); we have a hope which in this context refers to the reality of the covenant made with Abraham (6:13-20). We enter into the Holy Place, so we have the reality of the tabernacle and the temple (10:9). We have come to Mount Zion (12:22) and we are receiving a kingdom, in line with Haggai 2:6 (12:28). Indeed according to Hebrews (13:14), the only thing we do not have is an earthly, territorial city. 14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14
There is no suggestion that the Apostles believed that the Jewish people still have a divine right to the Land, or that the Jewish possession of the Land would be an important let alone central aspect of God's plan for the world. In the Christological logic of Paul, the Land, like the Law, both particular and provisional had now become quite irrelevant.
7. The Future of the Jewish People
Paul looks forward to a more glorious future for the Jewish people (Romans 9-11)
In Romans 9 where Paul emphasises how the Lord has not forgotten the Jewish people and that their hardening toward the Gospel would be temporary, he lists the blessings they have received.
...the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. Romans 9:4-5
Paul omits only one blessing, the Land. There is no suggestion that the future salvation of the Jews is related in any way to the Land. Paul's silence about the Land does not suggest that he still held on to a Jewish theology of the Land, rather that he had modified it very considerably. So, in interpreting the promises made to Abraham in Genesis, Paul insists,
13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Romans 4:13
Abraham's descendants would inherit not the Land but the world or cosmos. For Paul the children of Abraham are those Jews and Gentiles who through faith in Christ have been made righteous. The promise of the Land has become a promise of the world.
Now the imagery of the land is a picture of restored paradise, that finally has come to consummation. It is not however just a returning to paradise, to the Land flowing with milk and honey, that never did ever really flow with milk and honey, but a reconstructed cosmos with resurrected people. This is the Land that has been promised, a new heaven and a new earth, something that at least equals or exceeds the state of man as he was originally created and placed in the land of paradise. It is no longer merely a portion of the earth that is the consummation of God's work of redeeming the fallen world, but instead the whole of the cosmos participates. In Ephesians 3 Paul rightly understands the Old Covenant shadow as a mystery that has at last been revealed.
4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Ephesians. 3:4-6
The fundamental question Christian Zionists must answer is this. What difference did the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus make to the traditional Jewish hopes and expectations about the Land and People?
We cannot interpret the Old Covenant as if the coming of Jesus made little or no difference to these particular aspects of the hopes of first century Judaism. Christian Zionists seem to read the Old Testament with the spectacles that the first disciples wore before the resurrection encounters with the risen Christ and Pentecost.
They seem to believe the coming of the kingdom of Jesus meant a postponement of Jewish hopes for restoration rather than the fulfilment of those hopes in the Messiah and Messianic community.
In the process of redemptive history a dramatic movement has been made from type to reality, from shadow to substance. The Land that once was the specific locale of God's redemptive working served well under the Old Covenant forms as a picture of paradise lost and promised, lost then promised, but under the New Covenant fulfilment this Land has been expanded to encompass the cosmos. The exalted Christ rules from the heavenly Jerusalem demonstrating His sovereignty over all the nations. A regression to the limited forms of the Old Covenant must not be encouraged. The reality must not give way to shadow. Why should we want the shadow when we have the reality?
The choice before us is ultimately a choice between two theologies. One based primarily on the shadows of the Old Covenant and one based on the reality of the New Covenant. An exclusive theology that focus on the Jews in the Land and an inclusive theology that focuses on Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world. It is a choice between an exclusive Armageddon theology of racial segregation and war and an inclusive theology of justice, peace and reconciliation.
To answer the question posed at the beginning, politically, Israel will only be able to maintain its hold over the Occupied Territories with continued massive funding from America and by superior military might. She will never enjoy peace with her neighbours until she acts with justice and reciprocity toward the Palestinians.
Until then there will never be peaceful coexistence. Justice delayed is justice denied. Israel is a materialistic society, an apartheid state practising repressive and dehumanising measures against the Palestinians in flagrant disregard of the United Nations and UN declaration of human rights. Theologically, Christian Zionists who endorse such practice would do well to heed Joshua's final words,
14"Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15But just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you." Joshua 23:14-16
Like Isaac's children Jacob and Esau, it is time for Jews and Palestinians to stop fighting over the birthright and start sharing the blessings.
I am deeply indebted to O. P. Robertson and Colin Chapman for many of the insights offered in this paper. Palmer Robertson and Colin Chapman both delivered papers at a Theology of the Land Consultation, The Levant Study Centre, Droushia, Cyprus, June 1996 (Colin Chapman's paper was read in his absence).
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