One of the most important foundations of Bible interpretation is: No scripture contradicts other scripture. If it’s all inspired by God, it must all agree with itself. This means you cannot set one set of verses against another set of verses to see which wins out because all of the Bible agrees with itself. If one passage seems to contradict another passage, you can be sure you have a wrong understanding of one or both passages. If something does not make sense, you must be open to the possibility that a doctrine you believe in may be wrong. It’s not enough to have select proof-texts to support what you believe. You must look at all of scripture to determine if the interpretation of the proof-texts is correct. If one text appears to teach the opposite view of another, then a deeper study is in order to resolve the apparent conflict. With that in mind, lets see what the Bible says about the nation of Israel in relation to this topic.
I believe the key to identifying who Israel is in the end-times can be found in the book of Deuteronomy. While this is not a prophetic book, it contains the Bible’s most complete prophetic summary of the history of Israel up to modern times.
Deuteronomy 28 begins with what God would do to Israel if they obeyed Him. He said He would bless them greatly. He would prosper them and give them victory against their enemies. This was a conditional promise, and it seemed for a while that it would never be fulfilled. But God fulfilled it all by Solomon’s time (1 Kings 8:56). (By the way, I have a theory that all of God’s promises, even the conditional ones, will eventually be fulfilled at some point in time to prove God is willing and able to perform them—to prove they are not just empty promises.)
But Israel’s history was one primarily marked by disobedience, and the remainder of this chapter describes what God would do to them if they disobeyed Him and refused to repent. Things would get bad, then go to worse.
- Verse 25 predicted Israel’s repeated defeats before their enemies in the book of Judges.
- Verses 21, 22, 27-29, and 35 predicted the later environmental disasters and deadly diseases (as fulfilled in 2 Samuel 24:15 for example).
- Verse 53 predicted the cannibalism of 2 Kings 6:24-29 and Lamentations 4:10.
- Even the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were foretold in verses 48 to 52.
And if, after all these calamities, Israel continued to resist God, God promised in verses 63 to 67 to scatter His people among the nations:
It shall happen that as Yahweh rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so Yahweh will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; …
– Deuteronomy 28:63-64
This happened immediately after Titus conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D, which led to the Jews being scattered around the world.
It is very important to recognize that Israel’s stubborn refusal to submit to God was not a surprise to Him. He knew it would happen and told them in advance what He would do. He even said in verse 68 He would bring His people back into Egypt to be sold as slaves, yet no one would buy them. This was also fulfilled after the fall of Jerusalem. Titus deported the surviving Jews to Egypt for slaves, but people didn’t buy them because they already had too many 1.
It seems by this point God was done with Israel, and many theologians have taught that as fact. But two chapters later Israel’s prophetic history continues:
It shall happen, when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall call them to mind among all the nations, where Yahweh your God has driven you, and shall return to Yahweh your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul; that then Yahweh your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the peoples, where Yahweh your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of the heavens, from there will Yahweh your God gather you, and from there he will bring you back: and Yahweh your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and he will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers. Yahweh your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live.
– Deuteronomy 30:1-6
Notice who this prophecy was given to:
- “…when all these things have come on you.” The promise will happen to the same people who experienced the blessing and curse of chapter 28.
- “…according to all that I command you this day…” The promise will happen to the same people God had commanded through Moses that day.
- “… and gather you from all the peoples, where Yahweh your God has scattered you…” The promise will happen to the same people God had driven out of the land and scattered among all the nations. This must be Israel, for it makes no sense to say the Gentiles were scattered among the Gentiles, or God will restore the Gentiles to their land.
- “…your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed…” This promise will happen to a particular group of people whose ancestors had possessed a particular land. This cannot refer to the Church which never had a land to be scattered from. The church consists of believers who live as strangers and pilgrims on earth.
So this passage can only apply to the descendents of Jacob, and it must occur after all of the blessings and curses of chapter 28 were completed. Even though Israel was scattered to the four winds, God would remember them and eventually bring them back to live in the land He gave them.
This promised regathering of Israel is repeated throughout the Old Testament…
He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
– Isaiah 11:12
Just as in the Deuteronomy 30 prophecy, Israel is regathered from all around the world. This is not a return from a regional Assyrian or Babylonian captivity. It is a global return. This prophecy was never fulfilled in Bible times, but it has happened and is happening in our time.
Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured nor numbered; and it will come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ The children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint themselves one head, and will go up from the land; …
– Hosea 1:10-11
Here God informs us of His plan to bring, not only the descendants of the tribe of Judah back together, but also the other tribes of Israel. In verse 9, God called Israel “not my people.” But at some point in the future, the same people God said this to will be called “sons of the living God.” They will unite under one ruler that they themselves have appointed. This is also a prophecy never fulfilled in Bible times.
and I will multiply men on you, all the house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places shall be built; and I will multiply on you man and animal; and they shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited after your former estate, and will do better [to you] than at your beginnings: and you shall know that I am Yahweh. Yes, I will cause men to walk on you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no more henceforth bereave them of children.
– Ezekiel 36:10-12
This prophecy, spoken in a symbolic way to the holy land, says the people of Israel will never again be scattered once God brings them back into the land. We know this didn’t happen in Bible times because Israel departed from the land in 70 A.D.. Therefore this prophecy must be for a later time, and it must occur to the people to whom it was written: the whole house of Israel.
There are many other scriptures that show God is not done with the descendants of Jacob. If you think these promises now apply to the church, you must ask yourself if God reneges on His promises. If I promise to give you $1000, but I give the money to someone else instead, have I kept my promise? Of course not! In the same way, God also does not make promises to one person or group of people, then fulfill it to a different person or group of people. God made many promises to Israel, and He will fulfill them to the same Israel. God always means what He says! 2
Supersessionists believe God abandoned the descendants of Jacob because they rejected their Messiah. Israel blew their last chance to be reconciled to God. But we can see from Deuteronomy 28 and other passages that God knew they would reject Him. And this divine knowledge was part of His plan to save us:
He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of suffering, and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him.
– Isaiah 53:5
How could Christ have died for the sins of mankind if the Jews 3 as a whole accepted Jesus as their Messiah right away? No, it had to happen the way it did.
God still has a plan for national Israel. At a minimum, this plan is an earthly plan, with earthly promises. But for the faithful remnant, His plan is eternal, for the remnant will be saved. This salvation will happen the same way a Gentile is saved (Acts 15:11): by grace through faith in Jesus.
Next, we’ll look at what the New Testament says about Israel.
- Josephus, De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 2., and Hegesippus, De excidio Urb. Hieros. l. 5. c. 47. p. 645 ↩
- If God can renege on His promises to the seed of Jacob, He can renege on His promises to us. The apostles will then have been deceived in believing and teaching that we can have assurance of our salvation. ↩
- One point of confusion is the meaning of the word ‘Jew’. This word originally meant a descendant of the tribe of Judah, but by New Testament times this had changed to apply to descendants of all twelve tribes (John 2:13, 5:1). Paul repeatedly speaks of Jews and Gentiles as if these are the only two groups of people in the world. There is no hint of a third ‘lost’ group of people. ↩