Middle East Violence
“Israel and the End Times” by David Ewert appeared in The CHRISTIAN LEADER, 25 October 1977, organ of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Church.
Ewert provides an excellent treatment of how a Christocentric reading of Scripture might challenge many widely held views regarding the present day nation-state of Israel. Below, without commentary, I submit some excerpts from this article.
As believers we take seriously Jesus’ word, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22), and gratefully acknowledge God’s grace by which we were grafted onto the Abrahamic tree (Rom. 11).
The question, however, whether there is a special place in the end-times for the Israelitic nation, has to be settled not on emotional or political, but on exegetical grounds. Unfortunately, the issue has become so highly charged, that those who question the hope of a national restoration of Israel are quickly charged with anti-Semitism or unfaithfulness to the Scriptures.
When J.R.W. Stott was asked about his position on this matter he frankly stated that there was not a single New Testament passage that promised a return of the Jews to Palestine. And he added, “I am hesitant about any Old Testament prophecy that is not confirmed in the New Testament.” That, I submit, is the proper perspective (Christocentric) from which to discuss the question of “Israel and the end times.”
As we turn to the Gospels to see what Jesus said about national Israel, we discover very quickly that He came not to restore the Jewish nation to political independence, but to usher in the kingdom of God. Also, we discover that Jesus and the apostles looked upon the prophetic hopes of the Old Testament as fulfilled in the new people of God which Christ came to create.
It is clear from Jesus’ teachings that Israel as a nation has lost its privileged status, and because of its rejection of the message which Jesus brought, Israel has no national-political hopes guaranteed to her by God (Mt. 3:9; Mk. 1:15; Mt. 11:21-24; Lk. 13:34, 35; Lk. 19:41-44; Mk. 12:1-9; Mt. 21:43; Jn. 10:16; Mt. 20:16; Mt. 8:11, 12; Lk. 12:32).
The Old Testament promises, which hold out a glorious future for Israel, however, are being fulfilled in a new Israel, a people that is bound together not by blood ties, but by its willingness to do the will of God (Mk. 3:31-35). Descent from Abraham is now irrelevant; repentance and faith pave the way for membership in this new people of God.
If we still think of the Jew in nationalistic terms, how easy it is to take a militaristic attitude when in our day the state of Israel is attacked. And when the Israelis beat the Arabs (with the help of American jets), that’s because God is on their side, it is said. Some of the strongest supporters for arming Israel with American military hardware are evangelical Christians. Whether 90 percent of the Israelis are agnostics or not, doesn’t seem to matter. They are God’s people. Really?
Those who hold to a national restoration of Israel have a difficult question to answer with regard to the New Testament concept of the church. It was the purpose of Jesus’ coming and the goal of the apostolic ministry to establish one body of believers, composed of Jews and Gentiles. It is hard to see that in the end there should be two peoples of God—the church and Israel. We should then be careful not to drive a wedge between Jews and Gentiles. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12).
The view presented in this article will not sit well with many of my brethren in the church who have adopted the dispensational system of interpreting the Bible—a system not known in Mennonite circles until the late 19th century. But if one accepts the New Testament as God’s final revelation, it is hardly legitimate to bypass the New Testament and go straight from the Old Testament to current events, and to affirm that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes.
As we await the return of our Lord, let us join Paul in his concern that both Jew and Gentile hear the Good News as long as God’s mercy allows us time.