As early as the 8th century, the prophet Hosea said, ‘the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim’ and such is the position with the nation today, following their rejection of the Lord Jesus and then the destruction of the temple in AD 70, Hos. 3. 4. As to national and judicial life, no king nor prince. As to spiritual and religious life, no temple, no sacrifice, no priesthood and no ephod. And neither image or teraphim, i.e., a standing idol and household gods. But although they have lost the distinctive national features of king and prince, their distinctive spiritual features of temple and priesthood, they still ‘abide’, distinct from the nations, and so it has been for ‘many days’ as Hosea prophesied. What Balaam prophesied centuries before respecting them is still true, ‘the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations’, Num. 23. 9.
Some 200 years after Hosea, the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision a valley of ‘dry bones’, bones bleached in the sun, disconnected the one from another, Ezek. 37. 1-11. As to its significance, Ezekiel was informed ‘these bones are the whole house of Israel’. Another graphic illustration of their present position, dispersed and scattered amongst the nations. Against that background, we might consider three basic themes:
For the present, God has imposed upon Israel, nationally, a state of spiritual blindness. Speaking of it, the Apostle Paul says, ‘According as it is written God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, ears that they should not hear’. Though that is again the present situation with the Jews, nationally, nevertheless the apostle indicates that even today there is a remnant composed of individual Jews saved, ‘according to the election of grace’ of which Paul himself was an example. Believing Jews who, with believing Gentiles, are members of the church, the body of Christ, Rom. 11. 5-8; Eph. 3. 1-6.
In view of their current diminished state, is there a future for the nation in divine purpose? The prophet Ezekiel was asked, ‘Can these bones live?’ To human view, this is an impossibility and so Ezekiel cautiously answers, ‘O Lord God thou knowest’, an acknowledgement that apart from divine intervention there was no hope, Ezek. 37. 3. Present-day exponents of Covenant Theology and Replacement Theology would have answered ‘No’, but the scriptures testify to the contrary.1
The verse quoted earlier from Hosea chapter 3 is followed by the promise, ‘Afterward [i.e., after the “many days" of verse 4] shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days’. So, there is an ‘afterward’. In Romans chapter 11, Paul raises a key question relative to Israel’s future, ‘have they stumbled that they should fall [i.e., fall irretrievably], God forbid?’ He says later, ‘I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 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’, 11. 11, 25, 26. The blindness is not total but in ‘part’, some being saved in the present day according to the election of grace, as we have seen. The blindness is not permanent but ‘until’ the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, then ‘all Israel shall be saved’.2 Could there be a clearer statement? ‘All Israel shall be saved’. Following the rapture of the church, God will turn again to the nation of Israel to resume His dealings with His ancient people and fulfil His purpose concerning them.
For the fulfilment of end-time prophecies regarding Israel, it is necessary for the people to be back in their own land, dwelling in an independent Jewish state. It is now a matter of history that in the late 19th century a Jewish, Austro-Hungarian journalist and political activist Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist Organisation to encourage the immigration of Jews to Palestine with a view to forming an independent Jewish state. Though he died before its establishment, he is credited with being the father of the State of Israel.3 On the 2nd of November 1917, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration supporting the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In Tel Aviv on the 14th of May 1948, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed the founding of the State of Israel. Today, it is estimated that the current Jewish population worldwide is about 14.7 million, 45% of whom are living in the State of Israel. That percentage will undoubtedly increase as the end times approach.
The Bible speaks of a two-fold future return of the Jewish people and it is necessary to distinguish between them: the first, a return in unbelief, intimately related to the tribulation and to judgement; the second, a return in faith related to the millennial reign of Christ and to blessing. It is the former of the two that we are concerned with in this article.
Returning to Ezekiel chapter 37, the prophet is exhorted, ‘Prophesy upon these bones’, and, as he did so, there was a noise, and a shaking, the bones came together, sinews and flesh came upon them but there was no breath, no life in them, vv. 4-8. So, for Israel, after the years of dispersion, there will be a coming together and a return to the land, but in unbelief – the nation void of spiritual life.
This gathering of the people in unbelief is intimately connected to the still unfulfilled week of Daniel’s prophecy regarding the seventy weeks divinely determined upon the people and the holy city, Dan. 9. 24-27, seventy ‘heptads’ or groups of seven, spanning 490 years. These seventy weeks are divided into three periods. The first seven weeks, or forty-nine years, began with a commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem. There followed sixty-two weeks or 434 years, which concluded with Messiah being cut off, leaving just the seventieth week or a final period of seven years remaining to be fulfilled.
That final week is divided in the prophecy into two periods of three-and-a-half years. This will commence with the ratification of a covenant with a Gentile ruler, identified in Daniel chapter 9 verse 26 as ‘the prince that shall come’. He is the first beast of Revelation chapter 13 verses 1 to 8 and the ‘man of sin’ of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 3 and 4. ‘Many’, no doubt those who have returned in unbelief, will readily enter this covenant, v. 27, a covenant which, politically, seems to promise a recognition of Israel’s borders, stability and security militarily and, religiously, despite the prevailing spirit of unbelief, the restoration of the temple and its sacrifices. But it is a covenant called in Isaiah chapter 28 verse 15 ‘a covenant with death’, an agreement ‘with hell’.
It appears that with the ratifying of the covenant the seventieth week commences with a period of peace and tranquillity, but it will be short lived, ‘For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them’, 1 Thess. 5. 3. In Matthew chapter 24 verses 4 to 14, the Lord Jesus spoke of the general conditions that develop during the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week. Days of spiritual deception, political unrest, natural catastrophes and the persecution of those who follow Christ. Verses that closely correspond to the opening of the seal judgments in Revelation chapter 6 verses 2 to 11. Fearsome days, but just ‘the beginning of sorrows’. Worse is to come as the final week of Daniel’s prophecy proceeds!
Ezekiel chapter 20 is another passage that speaks of a return in unbelief, the people being gathered out from the countries whither the Lord has scattered them, into the ‘wilderness of the people’ where He will in His wrath commence the process of eliminating from their number those who have rebelled against Him.4 The language the prophet employs has an historical backdrop, recalling the time when, following the Passover, God, with a mighty hand, brought the people out of Egypt into the wilderness. There, He spoke with them in the giving of the Law, a wilderness where in subsequent years a generation fell because of their unbelief. With that same mighty hand, God will yet bring them forth from the countries in which they are dispersed into another wilderness, to speak to them in His wrath. The process being likened to sheep passing under the shepherd’s staff as he seeks to count and divide the sheep. Applying the figure, the people will pass under the rod of divine judgement to separate the godly from the wicked. The wicked to be removed and the godly preserved to enter the blessing of the millennium age.
Though both come to the same conclusion, they do so from a different approach. Put very simply, exponents of Covenant Theology, believe that the terms ‘Israel’ and ‘The Church’ are interchangeable, not distinct entities, and so view the Church as but an extension of the nation. Replacement Theology asserts that when the nation rejected their Messiah they forfeited all the blessings promised to them and the Church has inherited the promises initially given to the nation and, as the title suggests, replaced the nation in divine purpose.
The meaning of ‘the fulness of the Gentiles’ is not easy to determine. Some suggest it refers to the full quota of Gentiles according to the election of grace, the time when God completes His purpose as stated in Acts chapter 15 verse 14 in visiting the nations to take out of them a people for His name. If that be the case it corresponds in time with the rapture. But, since Paul is dealing with dispensational truths, it could correspond to Luke chapter 21 verse 24, ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’. If so, the ‘fulness of the Gentiles’ includes the vast number who will be saved in the tribulation period, Rev. 7. 9-17. In which case, the phrase goes forward to the Lord’s revelation in glory, His coming to Sion as the Deliverer, at which point all Israel is saved!
3rd July 1904, aged 44 years.
Ezekiel 20. 33-44. Will news of the covenant being ratified be the motivation for these Jews to return? Here it is only the godly who will enter the land and that after the purging of the tribulation. Thus, the people of the Ezekiel chapter 20 passage must be distinguished from those resident in the land during the tribulation and mentioned in Zechariah chapter 13 verses 8 and 9.