The Continuing Plan Of God For Israel!
Israel Reject Christ?
was the church age unforeseen by the prophets?
A foundational premise for understanding
A popular modern religious system believes that at our Savior’s first coming, the chosen people of Israel were offered Christ and the Kingdom of God, and totally rejected both. Due to this supposed complete rejection, the people of Israel were set aside in God’s purposes throughout the current age. Is this view accurate?
The answer, of course, depends upon whether any significant number of Israelites believed in Christ, and the facts indicate that large numbers of them did. The Apostle Peter, who wrote his epistle to Israelites, (1 Peter 1:1) “the sojourners of the dispersion,” adds in 1 Peter 2:5-9: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ… Unto you therefore which believe he is precious... show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his MARVELOUS light.” Peter here refers to Old Testament prophecy in Exodus 19:6, where God calls Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” it is Israel who is a royal priesthood and holy nation, Peter says. The apostle clearly confirms that prophecy was being fulfilled already in his day, wherein Israel was being called out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of Christ.
NATION’S LEADERS REJECTED CHRIST
In the same passage, the Apostle Peter pointed out, however, that Christ is also “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” (1 Peter 2:8) Christ was a “stone of stumbling” to some individuals among the Hebrews, although not to all. Peter had just spoken of Israelites who came to Christ, so this rejection could only be partial. Dr. Alva J. McClain, late President of Grace Theological Seminary says, “FOR The unbelieving rejection of her Messianic King [was] by the authorized leaders of Israel.” (“The Greatness Of The Kingdom,” p.357) Similarly, Dr. Andrew C. Zenos, late Dean of McCormick Theological Seminary, speaks of “the apparent disaster threatening Him [i.e., Christ] personally in the intense and bitter hostility of the leaders.” (“Plastic Age Of the Gospel,” p. 105) Christ’s kingdom was clearly a stone of stumbling to the nation’s leaders, contrasting with the favorable reception given to the gospel by large numbers of Israelites, as we will see.
DID ISRAEL RECEIVE CHRIST?
Everywhere Christ went in Israel, we read of the common people who eagerly followed and believed in Him, often in great numbers. For example, Matthew 19:2 says, “Great multitudes followEd Him.” Mark 10:1 says, “Multitudes came together unto Him again.” Yes, multitudes, not of the leaders, but of the common people followed Christ. So many Israelites followed their Savior, that Luke 11:29 tells us, “The people were gathered thick together.” How about that! Thick as molasses, the common people of Israel followed their Savior, Jesus Christ. Luke continues to tell us in chapter 14, verse 25, “And there went great multitudes with Him.” How many Israelites followed and believed in Christ? Great multitudes!!!
Another interesting statement is made by Luke in chapter 12, verse 1: “There were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another.” They stepped on one another’s feet to get to Christ! Notice that there was no room to walk because of the great multitudes of new believers; it was standing room only for Israelites following Christ! Scripture records that the Pharisees said to one another, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after Him.” (John 12:17-19) From a vantage point in Israel of that day, it did indeed appear that the whole world, “an innumerable multitude,” had gone after Christ!
Leading scholars are well aware of the fact that Israelites received their Savior in large numbers. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921), respected Professor of Theology at Princeton Seminary commented, “It is, perhaps, not always appreciated how great a popular excitement was roused when, as Mark puts it... ‘Jesus came into Galilee...saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ (1:14-15) It is not the fault of the Evangelists if it is not fully understood.” (Christology And Criticism, p. 53) Yes, it is not the fault of the Gospel writers that mainstream theology today mistakenly thinks that all of Israel refused to believe. Yet, much of modern theology is based on the false view that Israel totally rejected her Messiah. Upon that foundation are built teachings that the church replaced Israel, and that we are now living in an “interregnum,” an unforeseen church age in which God is not dealing at all with Israel, but only with a completely different group of people called “gentiles.” Conversely, if it can be shown that any significant number of Israelites followed Jesus Christ, then the foundational pillar of modern dispensational theology completely crumbles.
ISRAELITES WHO EMBRACED CHRIST
In the time of Christ, the nation of Israel was divided into two distinct societies: the Pharisees and the Hellenists. The latter were Israelites who rejected the legalistic life-style of the Pharisees for the relative freedom of the Greek culture. They were not pagans, but refused to follow the traditions of men invented by the Pharisees, most of which tradition (as Christ often pointed out, see Matt. 23:23-33, etc.) was not clearly authorized by the law and prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, Israelites who were not bound to the Pharisaical traditions of men followed Christ in large numbers. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, says, “We usually underrate the proportion of Jews who embraced Christianity. Hellenistic Judaism disappeared as Christianity became widely diffused, and was probably for the most part absorbed into the new faith.” (Vol. IV, page 207) We no longer hear of Hellenistic Judaism, because that entire whole section of Jewry (a majority of Judean Israelites; see box below) was converted to Christ within a few decades of the Crucifixion! Their Christian descendants are not known as Jews, and of course are never even aware today of the blood of Abraham flowing in their veins. Jewish historian, Alfred Lillienthal, has commented, “Here’s a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox: in anthropological fact, many Christians may have much more Hebrew-Israelite blood in their veins than most of their Jewish neighbors.” (What Price Israel, page 223)
The map shown on the previous page is reproduced from “The Atlas of Jewish History,” by Martin Gilbert, and outlines in black the large “areas of Jewish settlement in which Christianity had become the dominant religion…” Most theologians ignore the large numbers of Israelites who embraced Christ, and whose descendants are therefore not found among the followers of Judaism today. Messianic Jewish author, Battya Wooten, in her recent book, “Who Is Israel?” concisely states, “The problem is… to separate Christians and Jews based on genetic heritage creates a dilemma, because the Early Church was composed of “Jewish Christians.” And surely they had children. Further, their descendants would have remained in the church... To say they are no longer physical heirs, is to say the reward for following the Jewish Messiah is to be cut off from being part of Israel. But this contradicts Romans 11:17, 20: Yahveh “broke branches off the olive tree for unbelief.” Those who did not follow the Messiah were broken off Israel’s olive tree, not vice-versa. To say the Jewish Believers and their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., are no longer part of Israel on a physical basis because they believe in and follow Messiah – opposes Scripture.” (p. 97)
THE WIDE INFLUENCE OF HELLENISTIC JUDAISM
“Hellenic influence was nowhere stronger than on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean... The Hellenic influence pervaded everything, and even in the very strongholds of Judaism it modified the organization of the state, the laws, and public affairs, art, science, and industry, affecting even the ordinary things of life and the common associations of the temple...The Hellenists were not confined to the aristocratic class, but were found in all strata of Jewish society.” -Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. VI, p. 336 (Note that Hellenist Jews largely embraced Christ.)
PROPHECIES OF ISRAEL’S CONVERSION TO CHRIST
The Apostle Paul, quoting Old Testament prophecy of the coming Messiah, said, “and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’” (Rom. 11:26; Isa. 59:20) The fact that this Deliverer comes “out of Zion” and not “out of heaven” indicates that the conversion of Israel relates to the first and not the second coming of Christ. Noted Christian scholar, Dr. C.H.H. Wright, in his Oxford University lectures (1878), entitled, “Zechariah And His Prophecies,” states, “Prophecy was fulfilled when thousands and tens of thousands of Jews believed in Christ in the early ages of the Christian Church, as such believers, scattered among the peoples, composed in the majority of instances the basis of the Christian Churches founded by the Apostles.” (p.287) Pastor Wright corrrectly pointed out that many Old Testament passages speak of Israel coming to faith in the Messiah, as symbolized by their prophesied remarriage to Him (the marriage supper of the lamb.) For example, five times in just one chapter of the Old Testament, Hoseh chapter 2, Israel was prophesied to embrace their Messiah in faith. (see box below) Isaiah 45:17 says, “But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.”
New Testament prophecies also speak of Israel’s conversion to Christianity. Romans 11:25 tells us, “that blindness in part is happened to Israel,” not in total. Although some may seek to dispute the exact percentage of Judean Israelites who accepted Christ as Savior, the facts indicate that at the very least, a significant representative number of Israelites became Christians. Matthew 1:21 reminds us that our Savior’s name means ‘Salvation’ and, “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people (i.e., Israel) from their sins.” Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first…”not last during the final 3-1/2 years of the age as is popularly taught! Galatians 3:7 assures us that Abraham’s descendants became Christians. (see below) John 4:22 states that, “salvation is of the Jews.” In a Spiritual sense this is Christ, who was born in Bethlehem in Judea, but in a physical sense it was Israel who were foretold in Isa. 49:6 to proclaim the good news of “Salvation unto the end of the earth.” The Apostle John testified in Revelation 12 that Israel would be a people of faith. Israel is symbolized as a woman who brings forth the manchild, Christ; in verse 17 her seed (or descendants) “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 6:15-16 connects Israel with faith in Christ, saying, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” The believing Israel of God are augmented by large numbers of believers of all races who have joined in worship of Israel’s Savior. They are a new creation today through faith in Yeshua the Christ. Messianic Jewish author, Battya Wooten, insightfully observes, “The truth is, it is entirely possible that the “non-Jewish” believer… in reality may be a descendant of one of Yeshua’s apostles. [Conversely,] the so-called “Jewish” believer could descend from one [of another race] who converted to Judaism (Esther 8:17). Again, no one can prove their pedigree.” (ibid., p. 137) British-Israel scholar, C.F. Parker, referred to this as a “situation of contrasts,” wherein many Christians are of Hebrew descent, and many Jews are of non-Hebrew descent. He added, “Thus at [the time of Christ] and in the centuries since, many Jews have abandoned Judaism and, losing their identity as such, have become known as Christians. Many modern families are of Jewish origin, but so long have they followed the Christian religion that they no longer remember that they are so descended.” (“An Indispensible Key,” pp. 13-14)
HOSEA’S PROPHECY OF ISRAEL’S FAITH IN CHRIST
And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. (Hosea 2:7) And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi [husband]; and shalt call me no more Baali. (Hosea 2:16) And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. (Hosea 2:19) I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD. (Hosea 2:20) And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God. (Hosea 2:23)
AN EXAMPLE OF SHALLOW FAITH
But the New Testament gives us examples of the shallowness of many people’s faith. Matthew 27:20-22 says, “But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.” These Israelites, many of whom believed Christ to be the true Messiah, yet were caught up in an effort, led by the chief priests and elders of the Pharisees, to crucify Christ. The Pharisees very effectively used crowd psychology to prevent the Romans from releasing Christ. Some may take this shallowness of their faith as total rejection of Christ, but the very same argument could then be used concerning the Apostle Peter, who was also a victim of the same crowd psychology. We read in Luke 22:55-57, “And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him [Christ], saying, Woman, I know him not.” In fact, Christ had predicted that Peter would deny his Savior three times before the cock crowed. (verse 61) Yet no one would seriously aver because of his temporary weakness, that Peter had turned atheist. It was an example of temporary shallow faith, not a rejection of faith in Christ. In fact, Peter’s travail of faith paralleled that of the Israel people as a whole. The Book of Acts tells us that the faith, not only of the early disciples, but of many thousands of Israelites was later strengthened when the Holy Spirit began His Work on the day of Pentecost. (see Acts 2:5-12, 36-41, 47; 4:4,17,21; 5:14,26; 6:1,7 etc.)
A popular view today assumes that by the collective act of weakness in denying their Savior at the crucifixion, the Israel people were actually totally rejecting Christ, and that virtually no Israelites outside of the Apostles expressed faith in Christ from that time on. Some will even state that God doesn’t want Israel converted in this age; others say that it is not necessary because ‘Jews are saved without Christ.’ This latter opinion, known as “Dual-Covenant” theology, proclaims Jewish salvation by race, and denies the basic salvation doctrine of the New Testament. (see Erwin J. Kolb, “How To Respond To Judaism,” p. 7, 24) These un-Scriptural teachings are built upon the mistaken notions that all of Israel rejected Christ, and that the modern Jews constitute all of Israel’s descendants.
“They which are of FAITH, THE SAME ARE THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM.” -Galatians 3:7
CONVERTED TO CHRIST
A steady stream of Israelite conversions to Christianity has occurred throughout the church age, and is a major reason that Jews by the 20th century numbered only about 14 million. Bible prophecy in the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed that Israel would be “as the sand of the sea shore for multitude” (Genesis 17), and “a thousand times” their half to three-quarter million number at the time of the Exodus. Certainly the present few Jewish religious adherents do not constitute all of the physical descendants of Israel in the world today. Funk & Wagnall’s Jewish Encyclopedia relates an incident of an entire Jewish region of Europe converting to Christianity in the Middle Ages. (IX:644) Similarly, the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia speaks of “the rising tide of conversion” of Jews to Christianity in the 18th century. (V:641) In addition to conversions, intermarriages between Jews and Christians have been increasing to the point that a study cited in the Detroit News (8-25-97, 4B) states, “intermarriage... is running above 50 percent in the whole Jewish community.” According to “polls conducted by several organizations, most mainstream Jews indicated that they would be more upset if their children brought home devout Orthodox Jews as marriage partners than if they brought home Christians.” Jewish author Alan Dershowitz has documented that the rate of Jewish intermarriage is increasing, and “if other cases are any guide, his own grandchildren will not be raised as Jews.” Should we ignore the multitude of Israelites who are now a part of the Christian world? Perhaps it could be said that many Israelites who did not convert to Christ through evangelism have seen their children converted through intermarriages. Through one method or the other, multitudes of true Israel have indeed been converted to Christ in this age.
Despite the popular teaching that Israel rejected their Savior, some Dispensationalist scholars readily admit that large numbers of Israelites believed and followed Jesus Christ. “A Dispensational Theology,” by Charles F. Baker, President Emeritus of Grace Bible College, states, “Paul was an Israelite in the flesh, and many such Israelites were saved.” (p. 528) This is in accord with the evidence we have provided from many sources. Yet later on the very same page he remarks, “The fulfillment [of the Kingdom] was doubtless conditioned upon Israel’s acceptance of their Messiah. Because Israel rejected...” The contradiction is obvious here. If “many” Israelites became Christian, how was the kingdom refused? The incorrect rationale used is that an Israelite national rejection occurred due to her leaders’ rejection of Christ. Not so! Here is a key point in understanding the fulfillment of prophecy: The common people’s acceptance of Christ, and their leader’s rejection of Him, are actually two separate prophetic issues which should not be combined and confused. Indeed, Bible prophecy clearly foretold both that the religious leaders would slay Christ, and also that many Israelites would accept Him.
This is an example of two prophetic “cross-currents” outworking at the same time in God’s Plan. First, in order to fulfill the types and shadows of the Old Covenant, Christ the prophetic lamb had to be slain by the hand of Hebrew priests in accordance with the law of God: “If he offer a lamb for his offering, then shall he offer it before the LORD. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it…Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about.” (see Lev. 1:10-11; 3:1-2, 7-8, etc.) Isaiah prophesied of the coming Messiah slain for our sins, “He is despised and rejected of men… he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed… the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all… he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isa 53:3-7) If the Romans, or any other nation on earth, had slain the Son of God, the Old Covenant prophetic type of Hebrew priests slaying the lamb would not have been fulfilled. Therefore, Pilat had to state, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” (Matt 27:24) In fact, when caught up in the crowd frenzy, shouting “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25), the people were helping fulfill prophecy concerning the Messiah as sacrificial lamb. Their timeless vow testified in a positive way that the blood of Christ did indeed cover our sins, “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1John 2:2) The Apostle Paul said that, “their offense [slaying Christ] is salvation to the nations.” (Rom. 11:11, Concordant) Therefore the priests, the religious leaders, had to oppose Christ and perform their sacrificial duties upon Him. This was very amply foretold by the prophets.
But a second prophetic cross-current was foretold, as well. Israel was called God’s servant people: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” (Isa. 41:8; compare Isa. 42:1; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 48:20; 49:3, etc.) and told that they “shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isa. 49:6). God further promised, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Gen. 18:17-19) It is popular today to accuse the prophets of having defective vision concerning latter-day Israel and the church age, but this is God speaking! Let us put far from us the notion that God Himself did not know whereof He spoke. Israel, God said, would keep the way of the Lord, and all the nations of the earth would be (materially and spiritually) blessed in him. New Testament fulfillment in the Book of Acts indicates that the Old Testament prophecies were true and that Israel was indeed fulfilling her servanthood role. Israel became God’s servant, evangelist, and blessing to the whole world! Our separate study, “The Hebrew Foundation Of Christ’s Church,” takes an in-depth look at Israel’s central role in the New Testament Church.
God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, further declared that He would give Israel “pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:14-17). This was a prophecy of redeemed Israel entering Zion, and was quoted by Pastor John Robinson (1575-1625), minister to the Pilgrims, at the time they set sail for America.
Israel’s conversion was a hallmark of the New Covenant ratified at Christ’s first coming. “New Covenant Israel” is therefore to be found today within believing Israel, rather than among unbelieving Israel: “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb 8:8-12)
Pray that those remaining among Israel who still do not know their Messiah and Redeemer will soon believe in Him, for that time will surely come. “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: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” (Rom 11:26-27) Amen!