God’s Plan for Natural Israel

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God has a plan for natural Israel and He is not done with them yet!  (If you missed yesterday’s lesson, we defined natural Israel and spiritual Israel.  Without the definitions, today’s lesson may not make sense.)

Natural Israel (the nation and the people) are still the custodian of God’s Word.  God has entrusted His Word to them and He will not let them fail.  In Romans 11:24-26, Paul describes Gentiles as “cut from a wild olive tree,” indicating those who trust in Jesus Christ as Messiah are grafted into His cultivated tree.  Then, he explains a mystery (verses 25-26), ending with this promise: “…so all Israel will be saved.”

ALL Israel.  How does that happen?  It’s a mystery that Paul is revealing.  In simple terms:

  • Natural Israel will be restored.
  • Natural Israel will be grafted back into her own tree.
  • Natural Israel will join spiritual Israel as the true Israel of God.

Verse 25 tells us that will occur when the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.  When the last Gentile says “yes” to the Lord’s invitation to salvation, God’s focus on redemption returns to His people…and they will be saved!

When spiritual restoration of natural Israel occurs, it will fully fulfill Ezekiel 37, the Messiah will return to earth and the greatest revival in history will take place!

Romans 11:11-15 summarizes the events, then ends with this exclamation:

 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

The last great account of life from the dead was Jesus’ resurrection, and Paul is likening this event to such great occurrences!  But before that, we have work to do!  That passage implores us as Christians to move the Jews to jealousy.  We have their Messiah…and we must share Him!

Believers, are you praying diligently for Jewish eyes to be open to the saving grace of their Messiah?  Are you showing the love of Christ by supporting Israel and the Jewish people?  Have you asked the Lord how you might be used to move them to jealousy?  I hope you are inspired to do so.  Time on this earth is fleeting and the season to make jealous is coming to an end.  Let’s seek the Lord and His ways for us, then do what He leads us to do!

Tomorrow we’ll look at preparations for the Kingdom that is to come.  I’ll hold your place at the study table!

One Olive Tree, One Flock, One Family

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Let’s pick it up where we left off yesterday.  We’ve established, based on Galatians 3:7, 29, that those who are in Christ are descendants of Abraham.  God invites us (Gentiles) into a special family, and we will dive deeper into that today.

Let’s think of Israel in two ways: natural Israel and spiritual Israel.  Natural Israel is the nation itself, to whom God gave a destiny.  Natural Israel is the custodian of God’s Word, as it was written by Jews, primarily for the Jews (though we certainly benefit from it!), and it was preserved in Israel!

Spiritual Israel, on the other hand, is the true family of God.  It is those circumcised in the heart by the Holy Spirit and “born again.”  Spiritual Israel is made up of both Jews and Gentiles who trust in Jesus the Messiah.

Paul describes spiritual Israel in Romans 11:17-23.  It’s a familiar passage if you’ve hung out at our virtual study table, but I encourage you to read it in the New Living Translation.  Here, Paul uses the spiritual symbol of Israel, the olive tree, to describe spiritual Israel!  Notice:

  • Only believers in Jesus (Jew or Gentile) are part of the olive tree.
  • Jews and Gentiles alike must believe in the Messiah in order to be grafted into the olive tree.
  • Unbelieving Israel is cut from the tree…though they may be grafted back in.
  • Christians are those grafted into the Jewish heritage spiritually (but not naturally).
  • Those grafted in have no room for arrogance or boastfulness, as they do not support the root, but the root supports them!

There you have it!  God made a way for Gentiles to be “grafted into” His family tree!  We gain the spiritual benefits as adopted children.  But let’s be clear: this DOES NOT mean Gentiles become Jews ethnically, nor does it mean all God’s promises now belong to us Gentiles.  That is part of the teaching of Replacement Theology and it is not true.  God’s promises to the the Jewish people still belong to them, and the church has in NO WAY replaced Israel.

Before we call it a day, let’s see how the apostle John describes the relationship.  Read John 10:14-16.  Here, John refers to “other sheep, which are not of this fold.”  That reference is to unbelieving Israel.  But His intent is to bring them into the fold, so we become “one flock with one shepherd.”

Again, God’s view is a worldwide view.  He desires that none perish, but all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Those who do are “one flock with one Shepherd”…Jesus Himself!

The Old Testament prophets looked forward in history and saw the shadow of the cross.  By forward-looking faith, they were saved.  In New Testament times, substance replaced shadow.  Jesus Christ lived, died, was buried and rose again to free us from sin.  The faith we have is backward-looking, to the cross, and we are saved.

We are one family in Christ Jesus, and Abraham is our father.  This is spiritual Israel…this is the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

Amazing how God creates His family, isn’t it!  By His grace alone, we Gentiles have been granted access to the family tree of His chosen.

But what about natural Israel?  God still has a plan for them, and we’ll touch on that tomorrow!  See you then.

4 Biblical Principles Regarding Israel

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We’re into week 7 of Why Israel Matters, and I hope you are enjoying our study together.  Our focus this week has been on the parting of ways between Jews and Christians.  What a sad history has passed, but what tremendous hope if we abide by the apostle Paul’s instructions to us in Romans 11!  (We studied that chapter earlier.  If you missed it, catch Has God Rejected His People? and Life from the Dead.)

Now, we move our focus back to Israel and consider 4 principles regarding Israel and the nations.

Principle of Domicile

Yesterday, we established that some of God’s promises are unconditional, but others are conditional.  Deuteronomy 29-30 provide clear evidence that Israel’s privilege of living in the land is conditional upon their reverence and obedience to God.  However, though they may lose the privilege of living in the land, it doesn’t mean they lose ownership of the land!

Even while in exile, the land belongs to Israel.

Principle of Righteousness

When faithful to God, Israel has a right to live in the land.  God desires righteousness, and He illustrated it to Joshua after leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Take a look at Joshua 5:13-15.

There, Joshua had an encounter with the Commander of the Lord’s Army, who told him to take off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground.  In Hebrew minds, taking off one’s sandals was a sign of humility, respect and honor.  God desires righteousness and humility.  If the Israelites were to stand on holy ground, they must do so with sandals off.

Principle of Discipline

Our key passage is Jeremiah 25:6-11.  Here, Jeremiah prophesies of Israel’s exile to Babylon because of their disobedience to God’s command not to pursue other gods.  When they did, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take them into exile.

God will discipline His people when they disobey.  But we must remember: the root word of “discipline” is “disciple.”  He might use even Israel’s enemies to discipline His people, but He disciplines for their ultimate good.

Principle of Retribution

Though God may use Israel’s enemies to discipline her, those who desire Israel’s total destruction will face retribution.  God spoke this plainly through the prophet Isaiah.  Quick glances at Isaiah 49:25-26 and Isaiah 51:21-23 reveal that God Himself will contend with those who contend with Israel.

But Joel 3:1-2 serves as perhaps the clearest warning to those who would scatter His people and divide their land.  God promises to bring all nations to the valley of Jehoshaphat for the ultimate “Israel Test.”  (Click here to take the test yourself!)

So, in light of current events, Israel is in the land, but is primarily secular and, in many ways, not living righteously.  In times past, God has exiled them for lack of obedience.  Isaiah 11:11-12 indicates God exiling them, then bringing them back a second time…but not a third.  Could God exile and bring them back a third time, though it is not prophesied in Scripture?  Perhaps.

But I believe God’s plan is different now.  God’s correction will ultimately culminate in the tribulation, during which national revival will take place and all Israel will be saved!  God is intent on saving His people!

We are approaching the meat of the study, so stick with us!

Reflection on Israel’s Role

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Welcome back to the study table, friends.  This week’s focus is the parting of ways of Jewish and Gentile believers, and yesterday we ended our session with a list of ways this has played out over the years.  The Jewish people (both believing and unbelieving) experienced great persecution through major world events such as the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation and the Holocaust…all in the name of Christianity.

Is it any wonder, then, that a chasm in relationship occurred between Jews and Gentiles?

Over centuries, the split led to Judaism without the Messiah and Christianity without Jewish roots.  What a sad result.  However, what amazing wisdom God provided Paul in writing Romans 9-11, the blueprint for reconciliation.  I wonder if Paul knew how greatly it would be needed in the 20th and 21st centuries!

But, let’s turn our focus back to Israel for today, and let’s review some key points we have already talked about in this study:

  • Israel was chosen by God for a specific purpose.  Do you remember what it is?  To be the vehicle of world redemption.  Genesis 12:3c  (The blessing is salvation!)
  • God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant, promising land and descendants.
  • Vultures will attack!  (If you don’t know what that’s all about, check out The Suffering Call.)  Spiritual battle rages over Israel.
  • God guarantees Israel’s survival!  God’s promise to Abraham was an everlasting promise.  Therefore, if God’s promise to Israel fails, God fails.  Impossible!

But now an interesting question: are God’s promises conditional or unconditional?  In our live class on Sunday morning, the best answer was: “It depends on which promise!”  Indeed, it does!  God put Abraham to sleep to make covenant with him.  Thus, God depended upon Abraham for nothing.  That is unconditional.

However, in other places, God’s promises are conditional.  While land and descendants are non-negotiable, Israel’s blessings are fully conditional!  Need to see it with your own eyes?  Read Deuteronomy 29:10-13, 26-28.  There, we find God drawing the Israelites into covenant with him (verses 10-13), yet making it very conditional upon their faithfulness to God (verses 26-28).

God often demonstrated it in Scripture, such as in Isaiah 11:11-12 where He talked about regathering His people a “second time” (meaning, there was also a first time)!  Twice He allowed Israel to go into captivity (to Babylon in the 6th century BC, to the 4 corners of the world in 70 AD), yet twice He brought them out!  (I have never found anything about a third exile and return.  Thus, if Israel is disobedient now, I believe God will do a new thing…He will save His people!)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 sums it up nicely as God lays out two options for His people: blessings or curses.  Life or death.  They may have either, and they get to choose by the way they honor God!

Tomorrow we’ll continue our focus on Israel as we talk about four Biblical principles concerning God’s dealing with Israel and the nations.  What does God have to say about choosing blessings or curses, life or death?  We’ll dive into it tomorrow, so check back then!