In previous articles in this prophetic series the subject of the certainty of Israel’s future restoration and its part in God’s prophetic programme has been dealt with. In this article the primary purpose is to look at the national repentance and conversion of Israel, how it will take place, who will be involved, and why it will happen.
A cursory reading of the history of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament will reveal an often repeating pattern of rest, then rebellion, retribution, repentance, and, finally, restoration. This is illustrated in the figure below.
This is particularly evident in the times of Joshua and the Judges. For example, in Joshua’s day the people had rest, but soon after his death rebellion quickly set in, followed by divine retribution through attacks by their enemies, and then a cry of repentance from the people. God’s means of restoring the people was to raise up a deliverer (a judge) who would then give them rest. However, soon after his death the cycle would begin again, until God raised up a new deliverer for the people.
The same pattern can also be seen in the life of Joseph and his brothers. Following their rebellion and rejection of Joseph, there was a period of testing during the drought when things reached such a point that they had to seek the help of God’s appointed deliverer. Their restoration depended on their repentance and acceptance of help from Joseph’s hand.
It is not difficult to see that God was putting on record the blueprint for how Israel would be restored in the future. They are currently in a state of rebellion, a state which began at the end of the Old Testament after the revival under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. It reached its zenith with the crucifixion of Christ and the persecution of the early church, and continues to this day in their rejection of the gospel. As Paul writes, ‘As concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sakes’, Rom. 11. 28.
Although there have been varying degrees of divine retribution over the past 2000 years, such as the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and the anti-Semitic persecution over many centuries, it is only the beginning. The seven-year tribulation period, known as ‘Jacob’s trouble’, will bring a period of retribution upon the nation as it has never known before. The purpose, however, is not to wipe them out of existence but, as the cycle suggests, to bring them to a state of repentance, with the ultimate goal of restoration and rest. This rest will be enjoyed throughout the millennium, and throughout the eternal state. Israel will finally be restored to never roam and rebel again, and will finally live up to its name and be a prince with God.
A study of the seven feasts of Jehovah, Lev. 23, shows a similar pattern. It is generally accepted that the feasts give an outline of God’s prophetic programme. The first four feasts take us from the cross (the Passover) to the day of Pentecost (feast of weeks), and are linked with the beginning of the harvest around April to early May in our calendar. Quite clearly these have been fulfilled and we are currently in the intervening period when the harvest is being gathered. At the end of this period there were three feasts linked together: feast of trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of tabernacles.
As far as Israel is concerned the feast of trumpets represents a regathering of the nation. Ezekiel suggests that the purpose of the regathering is to judge Israel, ‘I will bring you out from the people and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out … and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me’, Ezek. 20. 34, 38. These events typify the tribulation period, and show us that the judgement that will fall is not just intended for the Gentile nations but for Israel as well.
The next feast after the feast of trumpets was the Day of Atonement. It followed soon after and represented a national day of repentance for the nation. The tribulation period will accomplish the goal of bringing the nation to its knees so that it will cry out for deliverance. In answer to their cry God shall send a Deliverer and, as Paul wrote in Romans chapter 11 verse 26, ‘And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob’. The sight of the risen Christ will bring about recognition that they, as a nation, had wrongly crucified the Messiah, and the words of Isaiah will ring in their minds, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’, Isa. 53. 5. Following on from their restoration they will enjoy a period of rest, which will be the fulfilment of the feast of tabernacles.
Therefore, it is apparent from a study of Israel’s past that God is not finished with them. Their rebellion is not the end. God always intended them to enjoy His rest and, through retribution and repentance, they will eventually come into God’s eternal blessing.
As has already been suggested, Israel’s deliverance has both physical and spiritual components. They will be delivered out of the hand of the enemy, and they will be saved from their sins. In Romans chapter 11, Paul makes it clear that the salvation that Israel will experience will be of a similar nature to that enjoyed by believers in this present age. Just as Gentiles are currently experiencing the mercy of God on the basis of faith, so too will Israel when their sins are taken away, Rom. 11. 27, 30, 31.
The forgiveness of their sins is linked to a covenant that God made with the nation. Just as His covenants with Abraham regarding the land, Gen. 15, and David with regards to the throne, 2 Sam. 7, were unconditional, so too was the covenant that He made regarding their forgiveness. It is likely that the covenant that Paul refers to is the new covenant, as stated in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, where God promises to bless the nation spiritually through the work of the Holy Spirit. Although we Gentiles are beneficiaries of these spiritual blessings now, we must remember that this covenant was made with the houses of Israel and Judah, Jer. 31. 31, and God intends to keep it, despite the present rebellion of the nation. In that day the law will be written in their hearts, they will know God, and once more they shall be His people and He shall be their God, Jer. 31. 33.
As we have seen from Romans chapter 11 verse 26, Paul states that all Israel shall be saved. Two immediate questions arise from the verse: who is ‘Israel’, and how many are included within the word ‘all’. In the context of the chapter, it seems clear that when Paul refers to Israel he is referring to the physical nation itself. He constantly contrasts Israel with the Gentiles so he must be referring to the physical descendants of Abraham rather than the spiritual sons of Abraham, which can, at times, include Gentiles, in Paul’s use of the term.
The word ‘all’ is used in the chapter in contrast to the term ‘remnant’. In the first half of chapter 11, Paul reminds his readers that for many years God preserved a small faithful remnant of believers. It was true in Elijah’s day; it was true in Paul’s day, and it will be true even during the tribulation period when many will pledge allegiance to the antichrist. This, in itself, raises a question: why has God preserved a remnant for all these years and not allowed the nation to be obliterated by its enemies? The obvious answer is that He must have a future purpose for them. The ‘all’ in verse 26 must, at least, mean the majority, as opposed to the small remnant that is currently being saved. Further, as all that oppose Christ will be dealt with at His coming, the ‘all’ may also be taken literally, as only believers in the nation will be left to enter into the kingdom after Christ returns to earth.
There are many reasons why God will ensure the national conversion of Israel. Firstly, it is in keeping with His character. He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He will not break these, Rom. 11. 27. This is not only an essential truth for Israel but for us as well because if God could break His promises in the Old Testament what guarantee have we that He will not break His promises with us?
Secondly, it will be for the benefit of Israel and the nations around. God’s primary purpose for Israel was that she would be His servant nation. The nations around should have come to know Jehovah through what they saw in Israel. Instead, the opposite happened and Israel became like the nations around them, taking on their practices and idols, and losing their distinctiveness. For this reason God had to set them aside. But after they are restored to their rightful place as God’s servant nation and the head of the nations, there will be untold blessings for the world at large. Paul foresees this when he compares the present blessing that Gentiles enjoy, despite Israel’s current failure, with the blessings that will be enjoyed when Israel are restored. He says it will be like life from the dead for the world, Rom. 11. 15.
Finally, the restoration of Israel, like the conversion of any soul, is ultimately for the glory of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. God will bring the nation to the same point that every believer is brought to when they will recognize that they are without strength, need a Saviour, and are entirely cast upon God’s grace and mercy. You could almost hear them singing in a day to come, ‘To God be the glory, great things He has done’, cp. Rom. 11. 33-36.