Biblical prophecies about Israel

The Bible contains a number of prophecies relating to Israel in the last days of this age (in the Old Testament the time before the ‘Day of the Lord’ and in the New Testament the time before the Second Coming of Messiah).  Many of these speak of the following happening:

  1. A return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
  2. A time of trouble.
  3. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the church today either ignores this subject altogether or believes in ‘replacement theology’ – that the prophecies about the return of the Jewish people to Israel only apply to the church.  So, for example, where the Lord says about gathering the ‘outcasts of Israel’ from the north, south, east and west (Isaiah 11.12, 43.5-6), replacement theology teaches that Jesus means the gathering of people into the kingdom of God (i.e. the church):

“They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13.29)

According to this view, when God made the new covenant through Jesus the Messiah, He annulled the former covenants made with Abraham concerning the people and the land of Israel and through Moses concerning the Law (Torah).  

On the other hand those who take a literal historical view of scripture believe that God’s covenant with Israel remains in place and so what happens in relation to Israel is significant.  That is the view I am taking in this website.   

In Jeremiah 31.10 we read:  

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’”  

Here the Lord promises that Israel will be kept as a people even after they are scattered among the nations and from there they will be gathered again to the land of Israel.

This is a word which the Lord wants the nations (the Hebrew word is ‘goyim’ or Gentiles) to hear and for this to be declared in the ‘isles afar off’.  In Hebrew prophecy the ‘isles afar off’ represent the nations out of the region of the Middle Eastern countries known to the writers of the Bible – like Britain, America, Australia and distant parts of Africa and Asia.  In the time of Jeremiah and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon there would have been no point in declaring this word to these countries because they would have had no knowledge of events relating to Israel and not much interest either!  Today people all over the world know where Israel is and events taking place there are frequently in the news.   So there is a point in ‘declaring’ this message even in lands on the other side of the world from Israel today. Those who accept the Hebrew prophets as part of the Bible (i.e. Christians) should ‘hear’ (pay attention to and note) what is happening with the Jewish people.  They have literally been scattered into the nations of the world and now in our time they have been re-gathered to Israel.  

Jesus spoke about the dispersion of the Jewish people from Jerusalem following the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem in Luke 21.20-24:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

From this we see that the dispersion of the Jews will not be a permanent condition. The day will come when Jerusalem will no longer be ‘trampled’ or ruled by the Gentiles and ‘the fig tree’ of Israel’s national life will blossom again:

Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”          (Luke 21:29-33)

The fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel’s national life in Hosea 9.10 and Jeremiah 24.  When Jesus spoke of the fig tree that would be ‘cut down’ if it did not bear fruit in Luke 13.6-9, He was clearly speaking about Israel not bearing the fruit of God’s righteousness and the coming judgement on Israel with the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people.  When Jesus cursed the fig tree and caused it to wither in Matthew 21.19 this unusual miracle (actually the only ‘negative’ miracle which Jesus did – all His other miracles were beneficial) had a spiritual meaning – that the national life of Israel was about to wither.  

The budding of the fig tree was to be a visual aid to people around the world of a greater event which is to follow – the return of the Messiah.   Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 24.32-33:   

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!”  

The budding of the fig tree – the rebirth of Israel as a nation along with all the other signs of the second coming which are taking place in our time – is a wake up call to the world that Jesus is coming back.  

The Covenant with Abraham

Nearly 4000 years ago God made a covenant with Abraham, making him two amazing promises:

“Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them.  So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15.5)  

“I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit it.” (Genesis 15.7)

Here we find the promises that God made to Abraham. Firstly he will have innumerable descendants, a promise which Abraham believed.  So the Lord ‘accounted it to him for righteousness’ (i.e. He confirmed the promise on the basis of Abraham’s faith). Today a vast number of people claim descent in some form from Abraham.  Secondly God promised that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Canaan / Israel. Concerning this promise God did something, which we find hard to understand, but Abraham would have had no problem understanding.  He told Abraham to take some animals, ‘a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon’ (Genesis 15.9) and to cut them in two and leave a path between the pieces of the divided animals.  Then ‘there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces’ (Genesis 15.17).  The smoking oven and burning torch represent the presence of God, which passed between the divided animals.  

On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’’            (Genesis 15.18)  

What was all this about?  In Abraham’s culture if two parties were making a land deal, they did not go to the estate agent and the solicitor.  They cut animals in two, passed between the divided animals and said in effect, ‘May God (or the gods) do to us as we have done to these animals if we do not keep our word.’  Now it was not the best day in the life of those animals when they were cut in two, so the people making the covenant were invoking a curse upon themselves if they did not keep their word.  God put Abraham to sleep so that he did not have to pass between the divided animals. By doing this God was communicating something very important.  This covenant, by which He was giving the title deeds of ownership of the land to Abraham and his descendants, depended on God’s faithfulness, not theirs.  God would keep His side of the covenant despite the unfaithfulness of Abraham’s descendants.

The major problem from Abraham’s point of view was that he did not have even one descendant, let alone a multitude, and his wife Sarah was barren and past childbearing age.   So Sarah suggested that Abraham had a child by Hagar, her maid, which he did. So Ishmael was born but God told Abraham that this son would not inherit the promise. Instead, Sarah would have a son supernaturally and this child was to be called Isaac:

“Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant and with his descendants after him.  As for Ishmael, I have heard you.  Behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly.  He shall beget twelve princes and I will make him a great nation.”      (Genesis 17.19-20)

God says that the covenant relating to the land applies to Isaac and his descendants and not to Ishmael and his descendants.  Ishmael will become a great nation, but the covenant will be with Isaac.  Today the conflict over the land of Israel involves the Jewish people, who claim descent from Isaac, and the Arab people, who claim descent from Ishmael. In Islam, the dominant religion of the Arabs, Abraham is believed to be a prophet of Islam and the promised son is believed to be Ishmael and not Isaac. Therefore the promises given to Abraham are attributed to Ishmael and his descendants, the Arabs, and not to the Jews.  

However in the Bible it is clear that the promise is given to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e. the children of Israel).  The promise given to Abraham was repeated to Isaac (Genesis 26.2-5) and to Jacob (Genesis 28.13-15).  It was the basis on which God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land (Exodus 6.6-8).  As they made their way through the wilderness God gave them the Torah (Law / commandments), which He told them to live by.  God also made provision for their failure to keep His commandments, by giving them a system of sacrifices to be offered at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple, by means of which they could receive atonement and forgiveness for their sins.  

According to Deuteronomy 28, if they obeyed the Lord they would enjoy the land with good harvests, peace and prosperity, and they would defeat their enemies and be a light to the surrounding nations.  But if they worshipped other gods and disobeyed God’s commandments, a series of disasters would come upon them as a judgement, with the final judgement being removal from the land:  

“You will be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.  And it shall be that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked off the land, which you go to possess.  Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples from one end of the earth to the other.”  (Deuteronomy 28.62-64)

In these verses we see the reversal of the promise given to Abraham.  They would become few in number and be removed from the land.  However, even if this most severe judgement took place, they would not be permanently out of the land but would return in God’s time:

“If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you and from there He will bring you.  Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it.”    (Deuteronomy 30.4-5)

Much of the Old Testament can be seen as the outworking of these principles.  At times when Israel was faithful to the Lord they were blessed in the land and overcame their enemies.  At the height of Israelite power under David and Solomon they reached for a brief while the promised boundaries of the land (2 Samuel 8.3, 1 Kings 4.21). But more often disobedience to the Lord and the worship of other gods caused Israel to be diminished by the surrounding nations, and eventually to suffer exile from the land (2 Kings 17. 24-5, 2 Chronicles 36.14-21).  

Jeremiah was the prophet who God raised up to speak to the generation before the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon.  As a prophet he did three main things:

  1. He told them what was going to happen.
  2. He gave a reason for it.
  3. He gave a promise of restoration.

For forty years Jeremiah warned his generation that the Babylonians were going to invade and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple and take them into captivity unless they repented of their sins.  The reason why it was going to happen was the worship of idols and the breaking of God’s commandments:

“Behold you trust in lying words that cannot profit.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?” (Jeremiah 7.8-10)

Far from repenting, Jeremiah was mocked and rejected as the people preferred false prophets who said they were going to have peace and safety.  But Jeremiah was not just a prophet of doom.  He also promised a return from Babylon:

For thus says the Lord:  After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.  For I know the thoughts that I have towards you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29.10-11)

This promise was fulfilled when the Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire and the Persian Emperor Cyrus issued a decree that the Jewish people should return to the Promised Land and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1.1-4).  In this way the covenant was being fulfilled as the descendants of Abraham returned to the land God promised to Abraham.

Jeremiah looked further ahead than the return of the Jews from Babylon.  He prophesied a time when God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel through which their sins would be forgiven:

“Behold, the days are coming, says 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 that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31.31-34)

Here God refers to the covenant made through Moses at Sinai after the Exodus as a ‘broken’ covenant which Israel was not able to keep.  He promises a new covenant through which sin will be forgiven and God’s law will be written on the heart of His people and they will know the Lord.  All of these provisions are made through the sacrifice of Yeshua (Jesus) and the new covenant which He has brought in.  Whether or not professing Christians are faithful to this covenant does not affect its validity from God’s point of view.  Those of us who call on the Lord in repentance and faith in the Messiah Jesus who died for our sins and rose again from the dead know that our sins are forgiven.  God also writes His law on our hearts through the Holy Spirit being given to us and we come to know the Lord as our Saviour.

On the other hand God has not removed the covenant He made with Abraham.  Significantly the very next verses, in Jeremiah 31.35-36, read:

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever”.

In other words after the giving of the new covenant, Israel will remain a nation before the Lord, even in the dispersion.  

The new covenant points to the Messiah who was to come to deal with the problem of sin, which causes us all to break God’s commandments.  According to Isaiah 53, this One would be the Suffering Servant of the Lord:

He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid as it were our faces from Him: He was despised and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows:  Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.            (Isaiah 53.3-6)

When Jesus came in fulfilment of this and many other prophecies, He brought in the new covenant, through dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the world at the time of the Passover.  At the time that the Jewish people were offering the Passover lambs to remember the blood of the lamb, which protected them from the Angel of Death (see Exodus 12), Jesus was put to death by crucifixion in fulfilment of Psalm 22, Daniel 9.26 and Zechariah 12.10.  He was the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1.29).  He saves all those who come under the protection of His blood from eternal death.

Did the coming of the new covenant mean that God was finished with the Jewish people and that the covenant made with Abraham no longer applied?  Much of the church actually teaches this.  But as we have seen, after God gave His promise of the new covenant He said that as long as the sun, the moon and the stars exist, so long will Israel be a nation before the Lord (Jeremiah 31.35-36).

If we look carefully at Jesus’ words we discover that in relation to Israel, Jesus too functioned in the same prophetic way that Jeremiah did:

  1. He warned of the coming catastrophe.
  2. He gave a reason for it.
  3. He gave a promise of restoration.

As Jesus was riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week which would lead up to his crucifixion and resurrection, He stopped half way down the Mount of Olives and wept over the city.  He said:

“If you had known even you especially in this your day the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and level you and your children within you to the ground; and they will not leave on you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”  (Luke 19.41-44)

Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.  He told those who believed in Him to flee from the city when they saw the armies gathering, because this was going to lead to a time of terrible slaughter and destruction:

“For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they shall fall by the edge of the sword and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”   (Luke 21.20-24)

In these verses Jesus warned of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jewish people into the lands of the Gentiles.  He also gave a reason for it: “Because you did not know the time of your visitation”.  In other words, the dispersion happened because of the failure to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and to believe that He died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead, as the Apostles taught. Of course the twelve disciples were all Jewish and there were many Jewish people who did recognise Jesus as Messiah in the Book of Acts. Through them the faith has gone out into all the world.  But the Jewish religious leadership rejected His claim and continued to offer the animal sacrifices for sin in the Temple, after Jesus had come as the final sacrifice for sin.  After the sacrifice of Jesus, the offering of the sacrifices became an act of unbelief, rather than faith, because the blood of the animals had been replaced with the blood of Jesus as the means whereby sin was atoned for.  The Letter to the Hebrews warns Jewish believers in Jesus not to go back to the animal sacrifices in the Temple.

For this reason Jesus said:

“Your house (the Temple) is left to you desolate; for I say to you (i.e. Jerusalem), you shall see me no more until you say ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.”  (Matthew 23.38-9)  

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ is not just any old phrase.  In Hebrew it is ‘Baruch ha ba be shem Adonai’, the traditional greeting for the coming Messiah.

In this verse, Jesus was not only pointing to the desolation in Jerusalem which happened with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, but also to the time when the desolation of Jerusalem will be reversed.  The revelation of Jesus as the Messiah will cause this change in the fortunes of the city as the Jewish people will call out to Him to return.  Then He will come as the Reigning King Messiah and Jerusalem will no longer be ‘trampled (ruled) by the Gentiles’ (Luke 21.24).

A number of Old Testament prophecies tie in with this.  In Ezekiel 36-37 there are prophecies of a physical restoration of Israel, from being a barren land, denuded of its trees and with its cities forsaken, to becoming a fertile land ‘like the Garden of Eden.’  But more importantly there is also a prophecy of the spiritual restoration of the people:

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them.  Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people and I will be your God.”   (Ezekiel 36.24-28)

Ezekiel 37 speaks of the ‘dry bones’ of Israel coming to life and then the Spirit blowing on them and causing them to arise.   This passage points to Israel being born of the flesh and then born of the spirit, the very process which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about when he said:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said unto you, ‘You must be born again’.’’ (John 3.6-7)

The Covenant with Moses

The main event of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to which all of the rest of the Old Testament looks back is the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law / Torah at Mount Sinai.  God gave Israel the Commandments through Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20).  In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 God shows Israel that if they are faithful to the Lord and keep His commandments He will bless them in the land.  He will deliver them from their enemies, give them good harvests and make them a witness to the nations round about of what it is to have the Lord as their God.  But if they are unfaithful and go after other gods of the nations round about them and break God’s commandments, then He will bring a series of judgements upon them.  The last and most severe of these judgements is to be cast out of the land and dwell amongst the Gentiles.  But God also promises that He will bring them back again on the basis of the covenant with Abraham which we have looked at before.

The New Testament shows that God has replaced the covenant with Moses as the way in which we approach God. Jesus’ sacrifice for sin on the cross replaces the animal sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus and Jesus Himself becomes our High Priest who mediates salvation.  Therefore the Levitical priesthood and the animal sacrifices are no longer required to do away with sin.  Significantly God gave Israel 40 years to learn this lesson after which the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood ceased.  

When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans, the Sanhedrin reconvened in Yavneh (Jamnia) under the leadership of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who developed a theology which became the basis of Judaism today.  The Temple no longer stood and therefore there was no access to the place appointed by God to offer the sacrifices. As a result of this teaching it was believed that God was able to forgive sins through repentance, prayers, fasting and good deeds which replaced the blood of the animal sacrifices.  On this basis, you could say that rabbinic Judaism has its own ‘replacement theology’ whereby modern Orthodox Jews replace a large number of commands which are there in the Torah with their own way to approach God.  

This led to the development of Talmudic Judaism. According to this view when Moses received the written Torah recorded in the first five books of the Bible he also received an unwritten set of instructions known as the Oral Law, showing how to apply the written law.  This was said to have been passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation until around 200 CE when Rabbi Judah Hanasi compiled the document called the Mishna.

He saw that the conditions for the Jews were going from bad to worse, with the Temple destroyed, the Sanhedrin no longer able to meet and no central authority functioning as Jews fled the land of Israel and endured persecutions.  In order to preserve the oral traditions he decided the time had come to write them down, so he went to as many rabbis as he could in order to extract from them their entire memories.  He put those recollections together, edited them and the result was the Mishna (which means repetition).  A commentary on the Mishna was added called the Gemara, the entire compilation being known as the Talmud.  This form of Judaism explained the absence of the sacrifices and said that God was pleased to accept prayer, fasting and good deeds to cover sin, thus replacing the animal sacrifices required on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in Leviticus 16-17.  

This was actually a fulfilment of the prophecy of Hosea concerning Israel:  

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.  (Hosea 3.4-5)  

‘Many days’ here means a long period of time during which there will be no central authority for the Jewish people (king or prince), no sacrifice for sin and no revelation from God.  As a result of this the prophetic word became as a ‘sealed book’ in which the religion was based more on man made rules than the word of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 29.10-13.  However, it is clear from the Scriptures that this is not to be the permanent condition of Israel.  In the prophecy above, Hosea wrote that after ‘many days’ during which there was no king, sacrifice or revelation, Israel would seek the Lord.  

The Problem of Christianity

In the first century many Jews believed that Jesus was the Messiah who has shed His blood as an atonement for sin. Those who understood this realised that the blood of Jesus had replaced the blood of the animal sacrifices offered by the High Priest in the Temple as the letter to the Hebrews explains:

According to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.  … Now, once at the end of the ages, He (Messiah) has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Messiah was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.  (Hebrews 9.22-28)

At the same time the majority of Jewish people rejected Jesus as Saviour in the early years of the Messianic faith.  But this did not mean that Christians should reject the Jewish people.  In his letter to the Romans (chapters 9 to 11) Paul told the Gentile Christians to pray for Israel’s salvation and to remember the Jewish roots of the faith.  He looked forward to the day when Israel would be saved and reminded the Romans that the Jewish people are ‘beloved for the sake of the fathers.’  (Romans 11.28).

However the Romans and the majority of Christians ignored Paul’s message.  As more and more Gentiles entered the church and an anti-Jewish spirit took over, which ended up condemning the Jewish people as Christ killers and breaking all links with the Jewish roots of Christianity. At the Council of Nicea in 325CE the Roman Emperor Constantine said, “It is right to demand what our reason approves and that we should have nothing in common with the Jews.”   

This resulted in the development of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and the imposition of a form of Christianity which Jesus and the Apostles would hardly have recognised.  Instead of offering salvation and life to all, it became an oppressive religious political system which denied the fact that Jesus died as the Saviour of all humanity, Jewish and Gentile, and that He came firstly for the Jewish people. It placed the entire Jewish people under a curse as ‘Christ killers.’

This goes against the teaching of the New Testament.  Jesus said of His approaching death:

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”  (John 10.17-18)  

Here Jesus says that He was voluntarily laying down His life as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.  Through His death God’s purpose would be fulfilled.  

On the human side there was a Jewish and a Gentile responsibility, as is made clear in the Book of Acts:

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”   (Acts 4.27-28)

This passage shows that the ultimate responsibility for the death of Jesus is with God Himself in order that God’s predetermined purpose would be fulfilled.  This is also made clear in the prophecy of Isaiah 53.10:  

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief, when You make His soul an offering for sin.

In a sense, we all killed Jesus because we are all sinners and He died for our sins. But His death is in order that our sins may be forgiven through the Gospel (good news).  This good news is for both Jews and Gentiles:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Messiah, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”    (Romans 1.16-17)  

As the church rejected its Jewish roots and the Jewish people – exactly what Paul said it should not do in Romans 9-11 – so Jewish people began to see ‘Christianity’ as a hostile anti-Semitic religion.  Paul says:

Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written: “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins”.  As concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.  (Romans 11:25-29)

A Time of Trouble

Paul encouraged the early Christians to pray for the salvation of Israel (Romans 10) which is what God wants us to do today.  End time scriptures show that God wants to bring Jewish people to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and to cry out to Him for salvation in the end times.  He will bring this to pass through ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble’:

For thus says the Lord: “We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.  Ask now and see whether a man is ever in labour with child?  So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labour and all faces turned pale?  Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.”  (Jeremiah 30.4-7)  

(See also Ezekiel 38-9, Daniel 12, Joel 2-3, Zechariah 12-14, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Revelation 6-19).

This time of trouble is equivalent to the Great Tribulation.  It involves all nations and precedes the event known in the Old Testament as the Day of the Lord and in the New Testament as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In this time of trouble God is seeking to correct something, which Israel has got wrong:   

“For I am with you” says the Lord “to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet will I not make a complete end of you.  But I will correct you in justice and not let you altogether go unpunished.”  (Jeremiah 30.11)

What could this be?  Israeli treatment of the Palestinians?  The fact that Israel is a secular state?  All the different branches of Judaism and the often hostile relations between them?  Or the identity of the Messiah?  

If you were to ask 100 Jewish people how they would identify the Messiah, you would come up with maybe not 100, but certainly a good number of different answers.  These are some of the main ones I have heard:  

  1. Messiah is a great man who will create world peace, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and bring the Jewish people back to the Torah.
  2. Messiah is Rabbi Schneerson of Lubavitch, who died in 1994 and who will rise again from the dead.  
  3. There is no personal Messiah, but there will be a Messianic age in which people will live in peace and harmony together and wars will cease.  
  4. There is no Messiah and the whole idea is a superstition, which Jewish people need to put behind them so they can work out their problems by themselves.  
  5. Yeshua / Jesus is the Messiah who has come once and is coming again.

God’s will is that Israel should come to believe the last option on this list.

Israel and the Messiah

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was some hostility between Orthodox Judaism and Zionism.  The goal of secular Zionism was to become ‘a nation like all others.’ This meant that Jewish identity was to be found in a national identity rather than a religious one. Because of this, many rabbis condemned secular Zionism as an attempt to destroy the Torah and traditional Judaism.  They taught that first the Messiah has to come and then he will cause the Jews to return to Israel, rebuild the Temple and create world peace.  

The novel by Chaim Potok, The Chosen, set in New York just after the Second World War gives a good insight into this conflict within Jewish thinking.  It features the friendship between Reuven Malter, the son of a Zionist activist campaigning for the Jewish state in Palestine, and Danny, the son of Reb Saunders, a Hassidic rabbi who vehemently opposes the establishment of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah. When Reuven’s father makes a speech at a pro-Israel rally that is printed in the newspapers, Reb Saunders forbids Danny to speak to Reuven, or even mention his name. Their friendship resumes after the State of Israel is founded in May 1948; Danny explains to Reuven that Reb Saunders has relented, since the new nation is ‘no longer an issue; it’s a fact.’

The main influence leading to an acceptance of Zionism by most of mainstream Judaism was Rav (Rabbi) Kook (1865-1935), the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate period. He heard the ‘footsteps of the Messiah’ in the modern movement to re-establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel.  He believed that even the secular Zionist pioneers could be part of a grand Divine process whereby the land and people of Israel were finally being redeemed from the 2,000-year exile.  As Jews sacrificed themselves for the cause of building up the physical land, they were laying the groundwork for the ultimate spiritual messianic redemption of world Jewry. He once commented that the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate was the first step towards the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin.  Today many Orthodox Jews see modern Israel as ‘the gift God has given us’ as the Jewish state has absorbed Jewish people from around the world and become the main centre of Jewish learning.

At the same time we have to acknowledge that 70% of Israelis today are secular and that the same sins which affect western nations are to be found in modern Israel. I once got involved in an internet discussion with an Orthodox Jew who was very critical of what he described as the ‘filth’ of modern Israel which he typified by gay bars and mixed beaches.  He called for people to accept ‘the yoke of Torah’ which would change the whole moral standing of the country.   He said that if Israel and Jewish people worldwide did this then they would deserve the Messiah and he would come by the way of peace.  If not there would be a time of calamity leading to the Messiah.

However establishing modern Israel on Torah values is not so easy.  When the Jews returned from the first exile after a relatively short period in Babylon, they were a unified people who did return to Torah values as we see in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  The Temple was rebuilt and the sacrificial system re-instated.  Ezra read from the ‘Book of the Law of Moses’ and explained it to the people and instructed teachers who were able to ‘give the sense and cause people to understand the reading.’ (Nehemiah 8.1-8)

The second restoration of Israel in our time has come after the Jewish people have been dispersed around the world over a very long period of time.  During this time they have been exposed to a false and persecuting form of Christianity in Europe and at various times discrimination in the Muslim world.  They suffered the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis and an anti-God society under Communism in the Soviet Union. Responses to these experiences from within the Jewish community vary from ultra Orthodoxy to secular humanism.  

As a result there is a gulf between those who would like Israel to be a modern secular country and those who wish Israel to be a Torah observant country.  Many Israelis are disillusioned with religion and have no belief in the coming of the Messiah. Much of Israel does give the impression of being a country like any other absorbing influences from the rest of the world.  I remember standing in Tel Aviv bus station with McDonalds on one side, a bookstall with semi-pornographic magazines on the other side and rock music blaring out from another stall, and thinking, ‘This is a country like any other.’  

But then there are other things which show that Israel is not a country like any other.  These tie up with the prophecies of the Bible – the restoration of the land with trees planted on the hills and the deserts blooming, the ancient cities being repopulated with Jewish people coming from the four corners of the earth and Israel’s deliverance in wars with nations seeking her destruction.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other prophets foretold this happening.  

Ezekiel wrote:  

For I will take you out from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take out the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you shall keep My judgements and do them.   Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be my people and I will be your God.  (Ezekiel 36.24-28)

Studying passages like this in the Hebrew prophets (Jeremiah 30-31, Ezekiel 36-39, Joel 2-3, Zechariah 12-14) led a number of Christian Bible scholars in the 19th century to the conclusion that there would be a return to Zion of the Jewish people in the last days of this age. Among them was David Baron (1857-1926), who came from Orthodox Judaism to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  He attended the first Zionist conference in 1897 and saw there the beginning of the ‘dry bones’ of Ezekiel 37 coming together. He believed that Israel would first be ‘born of the flesh’ (come into being as a nation) and then be ‘born of the spirit’ (experience a spiritual rebirth).  

In the Gospel of John chapter 3 we see the connection with this passage where Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, a leader of Israel, about being ‘born of the flesh’ (natural birth) and being ‘born of the spirit’ (spiritual rebirth).   Jeremiah 31.31-34 prophesies the new covenant through which sin is forgiven and God’s law is written on our hearts. In the New Testament we see how we can receive this spiritual rebirth through the new covenant.

According to David Baron the spiritual rebirth of Israel would come through repentance and faith in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, not through a return to ‘Torah observance’. Today there are Jewish believers (Messianic Jews) living in Israel who have come to know God through faith in Yeshua.  They are often rejected and may face persecution for their faith, but they have the witness in their hearts that they are walking in the truth.

There are a number of prophetic scriptures which indicate a turning to the Lord amongst the Jewish people of Israel in the last days.  In Revelation 7 we read of 144,000 who are ‘sealed’ of the tribes of Israel and who bring a huge number of people to the Lord in the first half of the Great Tribulation period.  In Revelation 11 we read of the two witnesses who prophesy in Jerusalem and are killed by the Antichrist at the mid point of the Great Tribulation.  In Romans 11 we read of the salvation of Israel when:

‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins’  (Romans 11.26-27)

This event ties up with Zechariah 12-14 where we read of Israel looking upon ‘Me whom they have pierced’ and mourning for Him as for an only son (Zechariah 12.10). Following this, a ‘fountain shall be opened for sin and uncleanness’ (Zechariah 13.1).   All of this would be fulfilled in an acceptance of Yeshua / Jesus as the Messiah when the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Jewish people in the last days of this age.