WHAT ABOUT ISRAEL?
The flap this week over Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (whom I bumped into once in a department store in Helsinki, Finland—albeit at a secure distance), addressing the U.S. Congress without the invitation or approval of President Obama is no doubt more about personal chemistry than political protocol. But it certainly has raised among the chattering class the question of this nation’s historic ties to Israel. A decade ago Left Behind, the bestselling fictional series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, popularized the evangelical notion that modern Israel is prophetically destined to be a critical player in God’s endgame for this civilization. LaHaye, himself a minister, built his case (as numerous evangelical scholars have done) on the premise that God’s ancient predictions regarding Israel (in Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Old Testament prophets) were intended to remain literal prophecies to be fulfilled through the nation of Israel today. Thus LaHaye announced the hand of God in the formation of the state of Israel (1948), the recapture of Jerusalem, and an eventual rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple and conversion of Jews in Israel at the time of Christ’s return. This evangelical interpretation of Old Testament prophecy strongly undergirds the political support Israel enjoys particularly among Republicans. As Seventh-day Adventists we reject the interpretation that divine prophecies, including those concerning Israel in the Old Testament, must have an eventual literal fulfillment in earth history. Rather we embrace the Bible teaching of conditional prophecy, as God explained it: “‘If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it’” (Jeremiah 18:9, 10). God clearly states that divine blessings upon a people or a nation are contingent upon their response to God. I.e., their destiny is linked to their obedience or disobedience of the principles of God’s Kingdom. Thus we believe that when the leaders of the Jewish nation rejected the repeated overtures of the incarnate God in Christ to return to Him and instead collectively refused to accept the Messiah and manifested their choice through the crucifixion of Jesus and subsequent stoning of Stephen, God radically shifted His mission to reach the world. His strategic base would no longer be the literal nation of Israel, but rather a new spiritual nation no longer bound by borders or genetics—the Christian church, the new “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). As Paul wrote:“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed [children of Israel], and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Thus today the U.S. alliance with Israel is not prophetic but rather military and political. For it is the church of Christ, the new and spiritual Israel, that has inherited the prophecies regarding that ancient nation. And as the community of the redeemed, the new Israel is described in prophecy as “a great number that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). However—and this is a vital “however”—the Jewish people are still very much beloved by God. Through the millennia they have been the keepers of “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). The masses in the time of Jesus joyfully accepted Him (Matthew21:46). Thus the passion of the New Testament is “that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Note this prediction made a century ago: “There will be many converted from among the Jews, and these converts will aid in preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight in the desert a highway for our God. Converted Jews are to have an important part to act in the great preparations to be made in the future to receive Christ, our Prince” (Evangelism 579). God very much still has a heart for the children of Israel! And if He does, shouldn’t we also?