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The Fortunes of Israel

Augustinian Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Covenant and Reform theology, as well as all cult writings agree, one way or another, that God is no longer concerned or committed to national (Old Testament) Israel. That His partial dealings with that nation terminated with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his army in 70 A.D.; its inhabitants dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and eventually throughout the world.

However, this presumptive conclusion is not based on a literal interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures, but a theological presupposition which originates not in the mind of God - but of men. In other words, rather than humbly approaching and examining the Scriptures, allowing them to speak for themselves (which is the only way a reader can discover an author's true intent, much less the mind of God in Scripture), they superimpose their own presupposed notion upon the prophetic Scriptures and then, based on that preconception, commence to develope their own eschatological (end times) scheme.

A good example of this type of presuppositional interpreting process, i. e., ignoring the literal text and spiritualizing it to conform to one's own theological conjecture, is Matthew Henry's commentary on Isaiah 2:1-4:

The text:

"The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths. For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for the many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war"
(Is. 2:1-4).
Matthew Henry's Commentary On The Above Text:

"The prophet here fortells, I. The planting of the Christian religion in the world. Christianity will then be the mountain of the Lord's house. The gospel church shall then be the rendezvous of all the spiritual seed of Abraham. Now it is here promised, 1. That Christianity will be openly preached and professed; it shall be prepared (so the margin reads it) in the top of the mountains, in the view and hearing of all... 2. That it shall be firmly fixed and rooted;... 3. That it shall not only overcome all opposition, but overtop all competition; it shall be exalted above the hills.

II. The bringing in of the Gentiles into it...

III. The mutual assistance and encouragement which this confluence of converts shall give to one another. "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord; though it be up hill and against heart, yet it is the mountain of the lord, who will assist the ascent of our souls towards him. The gospel church is here called, not only the mountain of the Lord, but the house of the God of Jacob...."

IV. The means by which this shall be brought about: Out of zion shall go forth the law, the New Testament law, the law of Christ.... The gospel is the law, a law of faith..."

V. The erecting of the kingdom of the Redeemer in the world...

VI. The great peace which should be the effect of the success of the gospel in the world...
(Matthew Henry's Commentary In One Volume)

As you can see by the above commentary, Matthew Henry conspicuously ignores the literal text and spiritualizes the first five verses of Isaiah chapter two and assigns them not to Israel, as the text conveys, but to the Church and the preaching of the gospel of grace during this Church age - a program and age which was virtually unknown to an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah (Eph. 3:3-6, 9; Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26). Consequently, "Judah," "Jerusalem," and "Zion" are not understood in their literal or normal sense, but the idea that they somehow, collectively, mean the Church is superimposed on the text. And then, not surprisingly, starting with verse six he conveniently changes back to a literal interpretation of the text and assigns the next verses, which speak of sin and judgment, to "National Israel's demise."

This frivolous form of hermeneutics is justified by a presupposed, unbiblical, notion that God, since the coming of this Church age, is forever finished with national Israel. Hence Matthew Henry's faulty reasoning that the prophet could not possibly be speaking literally of Judah and Jerusalem in the first four verses. But in truth, based on a consistent, literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures, a future time of great glory for national Israel is exactly what Isaiah and all the ancient Hebrew prophets predicted.

The following verses speak explicitly of the future restoration of Israel in Kingdom glory -- but there are literally hundreds of passages which expand on this prominent Old Testament theme (quotes are taken from the NASB):

"Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion" (Is. 52:8).

"And I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have dirven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile" (Jer. 29:14)

"For, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah." The Lord says, 'I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers, and they shall possess it'" (Jer. 30:3).

"Thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwelling places;'" (Jer. 30:18).

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, "Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities when I restore their fortunes..." (Jer. 31:23).

"Men shall buy fields for money, sign and seal deeds, and call in witnesses in the land of Benjamin, in the environs of Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the lawland, and in the cities of the Negev; for I will restore their fortunes," declares the Lord" (Jer. 32:44).

"And I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and I will rebuild them as they were at first" (Jer. 33:7, see also vs. 11b).

In Jeremiah 33:25 the Lord says if the universe would disappear "...then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them" (Jer. 33:25-26).

In Ezekiel 39 the Lord expresses the fact that Israel went into exile for their iniquity and He hid His face from them, but based on the future events presented in that chapter He says, "Therefore thus says the Lord God, "Now I shall restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I shall be jealous for My holy name..."" (Eze. 39:25).

"For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; and they have divided up My land. They have also cast lots for My people...(Joel. 3:1-3)

Speaking literally of Zion and Jerusalem and His people Israel, the words of the Lord came to Zephaniah concerning "that day: "At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the Lord"" (Zeph. 3:20).

"Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you, when I restore the fortunes of My people" (Hos. 6:11).

The prophet Amos tells us that: "In that day (a popular phrase used by the Old Testament prophets regarding Israel's future glory) I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them," says the Lord our God" (Amos 9:14-15).

It becomes undoubtedly obvious to the reader, who does not approach the Scriptures with any preconceptions or theological presuppositions, that these prophetic passages regarding Israel and her Kingdom glory cannot possibly refer to the Church. That they are yet to be literally fulfilled as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has clearly promised by His holy prophets.

F.C. Jennings in his book, Studies In Isaiah, makes an objectionable commentary on the Isaiah 2:1-4 passage (quoted at the beginning of this article) toward those who dodge the literal text. But what he states in his commentary on this passage could just as easily apply to all the Old Testament Scriptures that speak of God restoring the fortunes to Israel in the latter days.

"It is difficult to see how any words could be selected to be less equivocal as to the subject of the prophecy. How can any presume to divert them from Judah and Jerusalem, of whose destiny the hearts of both prophet and his people were full, and apply them to the Church, of which neither he or they knew, nor could know anything at all, for it was divinely hidden from them, "kept secret since the world began, but now (to the apostle) is made manifest" (Romans 16:25). If that does not mean that all who press the Mystery into the Old Testament [he refers here to the "Mystery" of the Church], are doing so without one letter of warrant, then it is difficult to see how words can convey any clear truth" (Studies In Isaiah, by F.C. Jennings, emphasis mine).
New Testament

The Old Testament canon closed with the hope of restoring the fortunes of Israel as yet to be fulfilled. However, the nonliteralist argues that its fulfillment is now being realized in the Church. But a close examination of the New Testament writings reveal that this prophetic, national hope of Israel was not met in the formation of the Church, but continued to be expressed, taught and anticipated by the New Testament writers.

John The Baptist, Jesus, His Disciples Announce "The Kingdom At Hand."

The Gospel of Matthew is often referred to as the "Royal Gospel" because his Gospel, in particular, presents Jesus as the long awaited Messiah-King who would restore the fortunes to Israel. At His birth magi from the east followed His star to Israel and inquired of king Herod, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" Herod inquired of all the chief priests and scribes as to what the prophets had predicted regarding the Messiah's birth, and referring to Micah 5:2 they answered Bethlehem. When the magi found the child they presented Him their royal gifts, worshipped, and departed (Matt. 2).

The forerunner to Jesus' ministry was John the Baptist and his message was that the kingdom of heaven was "at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Jesus continued this same message during His earthly ministry (4:17) and sent out His disciples with it as well (Matt. 10:7). But because of Israel's rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 21: 33-46), that message ceased and Jesus eventually suffered death by crucifixion. But after His bodily resurrection, and just before His ascension, His disciples asked Him if it was at this time He was restoring the kingdom to Israel. Jesus did not reply to them that they were in error by misunderstanding the prophetic Scriptures, but He simply told them that it was not for them to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Instead they were to receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be His witnesses starting from Jerusalem and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:6-8).

What became evident to them was that instead of the "fortunes of Israel" being restored at that time, beginning with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they being baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4; 1Cor. 12:13), a whole new administration virtually unknown to the Old Testament prophets (a "mystery") was about to embark (Eph. 3:3-6,9; Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26). The fulfillment of Christ's words in Matt. 16:18, in which He said He would build His Church consisting of those who, like Peter, understood and believed in Him to be Messiah and Savior of the world. In other words, the Old Testament prophetic hope of the Kingdom for national Israel would yet be set aside until the Church, which is the Body of Christ called out from both Jews and Gentiles into one new man and reconciled to God (Eph. 2:15-16), is formed, sealed (Eph. 1:13) and delivered (1Thess. 4:15-18) - to the glory of the Son.

The Chronology Of James

Starting from Jerusalem the Word regarding salvation through faith in Jesus Christ reached out to Samaria (Acts 8:14) and then introduced to the Gentiles in Caesarea by Peter (Acts 10). Eventually a missionary Chuch was established in Antioch, Syria and by commandment of the Holy Spirit, Paul (Saul) and Barnabas were sent out into the Roman Empire with the Gospel message of God's infinite grace toward all mankind through faith in the substitionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Acts 13; Titus 3:4-7).

Upon their return a controversy erupted by some brethren from the Jerusalem church stating that unless the Gentiles were circumcised according to the custom of Moses they could not be saved. In other words, Gentiles must become Jews. This dispute was taken to Jerusalem to be settled by the Apostles there. There Peter testified of his experience "in the early days" (i.e., the conversion of Cornelius and his family in Caesarea) how God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, saving Gentiles as well as Jews by grace through faith alone (Acts 15:7-11). Paul and Barnabus also related to the brethren the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles on their missionary journey. Finally James answers and acknowleges Peter's testimony to how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles (as Gentiles) a people for His name and then conveys the chronological order by making reference to Amos 9:11.

"After these things I will return,
And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David
Which has fallen,
And I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will restore it,
In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord, who makes these things known from old."
The original contextual setting of Amos 9:11 is a prophetic passage that speaks of a future calamity that will come upon the house of Jacob (Israel, Amos 9:9-10). Then verse eleven states that "In that day," that is, in the day of that calamity, the Lord will raise up the fallen booth of David (national Israel) and rebuild it as in the days of old. He will restore the captivity (or fortunes) of His people Israel, rebuild the ruined cities and they (the Jews) will live in them, plant vinyards, drink wine, make gardens - and they will not again be rooted out of their land which He has given them (vss. 14-15). A passage which when read and interpreted in its normal sense could not possibly refer to the Church.

Now take special note that in order to make his point James, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, changes the beginning words of Amos 9:11 from "In that day" to " After these things." So the question arises, what "things" is James referring to? Obviously the things pertaining to the issue addressed in Acts 15; that is, the bringing into the Body during this Church age, believing Gentiles along with the believing Jews. As Paul says in Eph. 2:15-16, "making the two into"one new man," reconciling them both in one body to God through the cross." The introduction of a whole new and different program (the Church) which is distinct from, but not a replacement of, the prophetic program God revealed for national Israel in the Old Testament.

James clearly sets up the prophetic chronological order: First God calls out from both Jews and Gentiles the Church/Body of Christ during this Church age. Then "after these things," and during a time of great calamity (the future Tribulation period), the Lord will return to "rebuild the fallen booth of David" (Israel and the earthly Theocratic Kingdom), and restore her fortunes according to the promises presented by the ancient Hebrew prophets. It is important to understand that James (as well as all the other New Testament writers) does not change or spiritualize the Old Testament prophetic scriptures regarding Israel and her future Kingdom glory but inserts, prior to their literal fulfillment, the mystery of this Church age.

The Pauline Assurance

As God chastised both Israel and Judah through the Assyrian (721 B.C) and Babylonian (605 B.C.) captivities because of incessant idolatry; so national Israel was again chastised by God through the Romans in 70 A.D. - this time for unbelief. The people, as before, were dispersed throughout the Empire. A dispersion which lasted for almost two millennia, resulting in the Jews to wonder worldwide as civilization changed from Graeco-Roman to Romano-Germanic, from the east to the west, from western Europe to the Americas. This was the state of things until 1948 when the nation was once again, against all odds, brought back to life. Jewish people not only came back, worldwide, to form a nation in their ancient homeland, but even revived their ancient Hebrew language as well (see Ezekiel's prophecy of the dry bones: Eze. 36:22-24; 37:11-13).

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, explains very clearly the situation with national Israel during this Church age. In chapter eleven, the first verse, he asks the rhetorical question, "God has not rejected His people (Israel) has He?" He answers with a resounding, "May it never be! He goes on to explain that not only did God include His people, individually, as part of the formation of the Church during this Church age, represented by the "remnant according to God's gracious choice" (vss. 5-6), but that the breaking off of the nation from the "rich root of the olive tree" (vs. 17) because of unbelief (vs. 20) was to be only temporary. This of course was congruent with God's Word through the Old Testament prophets because, as stated previously, the prophecies regarding the restored "fortunes of Israel," at the close of the Old Testament canon and this parenthetical introduction of this Church age, were yet to be fulfilled.

In verse eleven Paul asks another rhetorical question, "I say then, they (national Israel) did not stumble so as to fall (i.e., never to recover), did they? Again he answers with a resounding "May it never be! He explains, "Now if their transgression (unbelief) be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles (during the Church age), how much more will their fulfillment be!"

And in verse fifteen Paul affirms, ""For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" Paul makes it unequivocally clear to his readers that national Israel's rejection is not permanent, but she will again be divinely accepted. And in accordance with Ezekiel's prophecy, according to God's infinite mercy, the nation will experience restoration and "life from the dead" (Eze. 36-37).

Mystery Of Israel's Partial Hardening

A "mystery" in the Bible refers to an unrevealed divine truth that has now been revealed. In verse twenty-five of Romans eleven Paul informs his Gentile readers of the mystery regarding the "partial hardening" that has happened to national Israel, lest they (Gentiles) become wise in their "own estimation" and not according to God's wisdom. Paul reveals that Israel's hardening is; (1) partial in that there is a divine Jewish remnant that makes up part of the Church which is being built today (Eph. 2:20-22) and; (2) temporary in that it lasts only "until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in." The "fulness of the Gentiles" refers to the full number of Gentiles that must come into the Church (alongside believing Jews) during this Church age. Once this "fulness" is complete Paul reveals, in complete agreement with the Old Testament prophets, that God will revert back to fulfill His prophetic program with national Israel...

"...and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
"The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob."
"And this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.""

(Rom. 11:26-27; cf. Zech. 12:10; 13:9; Jer. 30:18-24)

Paul concurs that national Israel, while in her temporary state of unbelief during this Church age, is an enemy of the gospel; and that for the sake of the Gentiles since it was because of Israel's transgression of unbelief that the gospel went out to the them in the first place. Yet he goes on to state, "But from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" (vs. 28). That is for the sake of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for it was promised that their descendents would inherit and possess the land of Canaan forever (Gen. 17:18; 26:2-6; 28:10-17). And to King David an everlasting Kingdom with a descendent of his to sit on his throne and reign over this everlasting, earthly Kingdom (2Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:20-37; Dan. 2:44; Lk.1:32-33; Rev. 3:21). For this reason Paul says, "the gifts and calling of God (regarding Israel) are irrevocable" (can never be withdrawn, vs. 29). These promises will be literally fulfilled at Christ's return to earth when He will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords, reigning over Israel and the Gentile nations from His father David's throne in Jerusalem (Rev. 19; Zech. 14).

So it has been clearly shown that the Old Testament canon closed with the "fortunes of Israel" yet to be fulfilled; and contrary to Augustinian (Roman Catholic) and Covenant (Protestant Replacement) Theology, the writers of the New Testament canon continued with this same God glorifying expectation. God is faithful to His Word and is watching over it to literally perform it (Jer. 1:12).

"In that day I will also make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
The birds of the sky,
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land,
And will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
Then you will know the Lord.

Hosea 2:18-20

Written by Gary Nystrom

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