Dr. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, explains why the “Israel of God” is not national Israel, but the elect of God from all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike.
There is much more to “end-times” or ultimate things (Eschatology) than what we say actually happens in the last days. We say what we do about eschatology because of what we think God is doing in history.
At the center of the debate is the question of “the Israel of God” (Gal 6.16). Of course, this is not a new question. During our Lord’s earthly ministry and after his resurrection and before his ascension, the disciples asked him repeatedly, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.6).
Indeed, there was a widespread rabbinic and popular notion that the Messiah should be a powerful politico-military figure of Davidic strength and skill — “David has slain his tens of thousands” (1 Sam 18.7). John 6:14-15 records,
After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
It was not, as some might have it, that the timing was off, but rather that an earthly kingdom was contrary to his every purpose. Again, at the end of his life, during his triumphal entry, he did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but rather to fulfill prophecy, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:15; Isa 40.9; Zech 9.9).
Jesus had taught the disciples and others that he came not to bring an earthly kingdom as they expected, but rather he came to bring salvation from sin. At the end, when “the men of Israel” could no longer tolerate his refusal to submit to their eschatology, their plan for history, they crucified him. Scripture says,
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matt 27.41-2)
It is also a sad fact that many Christians have agreed with the chief priests and teachers of the law. Classic Dispensationalism has long held that the Pharisees had the right method of interpreting the Bible, they simply reached the wrong conclusions.
It is the Dispensational-Premillennial belief that God made a promise to Abraham (Genesis chapters 15 and 17) that he would give to him an earthly, national people with the result that, in the Dispensational view, it has always been God’s intention to have such a people and if the Jews refused the first offer (or Jesus refused their terms!) then there must be an earthly, Jewish, Palestinian, kingdom in the millennium.
According to Dispensationalism, God was so committed to creating such an earthly, national people that this was the primary reason for the incarnation, birth and ministry of Christ. Had they accepted his offer of an earthly kingdom, Jesus would not have died. In this scheme, Jesus’ saving death on the cross is a happy by-product of God’s plan for national Israel.
It is also an article of faith among many Premillennialists that the creation of a modern Israeli state, in Palestine in 1948, is a providential confirmation of their claim that the Jews are God’s earthly, national people and that further, God continues to work out history along two parallel tracks, with an earthly Jewish people and a spiritual, Christian people.
Read the rest of the paper here.
Beale, G. K. 1-2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVPress, 2003.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
Demar, Gary. Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. Atlanta: American Vision, 1999.
Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.
Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Koester, Craig R. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Mathison, Keith. From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.
Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000. (This book is published online by permission of publisher.)
Riddlebarger, Kim. The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist. Grand Rapids: Baker, June 2006.
Venema, Cornelis. The Promise of the Future. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000.