Does the Bible predict that this tiny, blood-soaked nation will be the center of end-time events?
by Antonella Pedley
The Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip—these are places not found on conventional maps of Israel, but their names have become as familiar to us as London or Los Angeles. To open a morning paper and not find some mention of Israel would be unprecedented. Why does such a tiny nation get such disproportionate coverage?
The surface answer is that Israel remains one of the most hotly disputed and politically volatile regions of our world. But we must ask deeper questions. Why is Israel at the center of international tensions? First, there are the Palestinian Arabs. Touch the Palestinians and you stir up the loyalties of powerful allies who control the world’s oil production. This in turn can seriously affect global financial markets. But more significantly, there is Jerusalem. Considered holy by pilgrims of three major world religions, it draws scores of devoted Jews, Christians, and Moslems to hallowed sites such as the Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Via Dolorosa. The modern State of Israel can no longer claim sole devotion to Jerusalem’s sacred ground.
The most influential world leaders compete in brokering peace between its devotees, and for good reason. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are found in many nations, some holding high positions of social and political influence. Jerusalem symbolizes for these dispersed groups a touchstone of faith and unity. When Jerusalem is at peace, they are relieved. When it erupts in strife and bloodshed, they are distressed, even angry.
Strangely, evangelical Christians excel all others in religious devotion to the future of Israel and Jerusalem. The prophetic books of the Bible are teeming with apocalyptic references to Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple. Evangelicals fervently believe that the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948 and the victory for the Jews in the Six-day War of 1967, were nothing short of the fulfillment of end-time Bible prophecies. Therefore, they conclude, the modern State of Israel must play a significant role in last day events. Hal Lindsey, a popular evangelical writer and speaker, believes that the political restoration of Israel in 1948 is “the most important prophetic sign to herald the era of Christ’s return.”1
But does the Bible actually equate modern Israel with spiritual Israel? Can Bible prophecies of a return to Zion and to Jewish national glory find their fulfillment in Israel’s modern history, present and future?
THE BIBLE AND MODERN ISRAEL
Ancient Israel was God’s chosen people. He called them “Israel mine elect,” “my son, even my firstborn,” and “a vine.” Isaiah 45:4; Exodus 4:22; Psalm 80:8. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” Hosea 11:1. God intended to fulfill His promises to ancient Israel. But His promises were conditional, and He reminded the leaders of Israel of these conditions through His prophets: “And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.” Jeremiah 18:9, 10.
Yet Israel of old did not obey God. Despite repeated calls to repentance through His prophets, “they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.” Hosea 11:2. Finally God sent His Son, and their fate as a nation rested on their response to His mission.
As the Jewish leaders were hardening their hearts to Christ’s message, Bible terminology began to change. Jesus was called by the names reserved for Israel as a nation. Matthew applied Hosea’s prophecy to Jesus: “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Matthew 2:15. In Matthew 3:17, the Father called Jesus “my beloved Son.” Christ was “the firstborn of every creature,” and “the true vine.” Colossians 1:15; John 15:1.
But the application of these prophecies didn’t stop with Christ. They included His followers. Just as Jacob’s descendants were called by his new name, Israel, and claimed his spiritual heritage, so Christ’s followers would take on His name and His heritage. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed….” Galatians 3:29.
The New Testament clearly teaches that true Christians are now God’s spiritual Israel, whether Jews or Gentiles:
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7.
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit….” Romans 2:28, 29.
As the Jewish rulers were plotting to kill Jesus, He revealed their true heritage: “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham…. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” John 8:39, 44.
In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus delivered God’s divorce papers to the Jewish nation. The conclusion reads: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Matthew 21:43. The Bible confirms the identity of this new nation: “But ye [the church] are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people….” 1 Peter 2:9.
Rebuilding the Temple
Those who believe that the modern State of Israel is a fulfillment of end-time prophecies also teach that the temple will be rebuilt and the ancient sacrificial services reinstated. Is this what the Bible teaches about the old Jewish Temple and its services?
The Jewish Temple in Christ’s day was indeed God’s sanctuary. Jesus referred to it as “My house.” Matthew 21:13. But in the face of open rejection, Jesus pronounced the awful sentence on the temple: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Matthew 23:38. From then on, the temple was no longer God’s house. Instead, the believers, individually and collectively, would make up God’s temple: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God.” 1 Corinthians 3:16. “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16.
When Christ died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” signifying the end of the earthly temple services. Matthew 27:51. All the sacrifices and ceremonies of the temple had pointed to this great fulfillment. Once the real Sacrifice had been offered, there was no more need for the blood of lambs. Validating any animal sacrifices today would mean rejecting Christ as the Messiah and despising His supreme Sacrifice.
The New Testament teaches that not only was Christ our Sacrifice, but He is also now our High Priest. Instead of anticipating the return of priestly rituals in the temple in Jerusalem, God bids us understand the work of our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, or temple.
“And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” Revelation 11:19.
The signs immediately preceding Jesus’ Second Coming are linked, not to an earthly temple, but to important activity taking place in the heavenly temple. In the Old Testament, the ark of God, which contained the Ten Commandments, displayed His Shekinah glory. God’s New Testament Israel will also exalt the law. John saw the remnant of God’s people in vision. He describes them as those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
Ignorance of these clear scriptural teachings causes many Christians to blindly accept false teachings about modern Israel. These false doctrines are not innocent delusions. First, they eclipse the work of Christ as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. Second, they cause Christians to downplay their calling to be spiritual Israel and to exalt God’s law. And most seriously, these false teachings lead to a wrong identification of the Antichrist of Bible prophecy.
Jesus warned repeatedly that just before His coming, false teachings and deception would be rampant. “Take heed that no man deceive you,” He admonished. Matthew 24:4. The unscriptural focus on modern Israel is a calculated deception invented by the devil and his agents to lead first the Christian world and then the vast majority of humanity into worshiping the Antichrist.
The promises made to ancient Israel will be fulfilled through spiritual Israel, beginning on this earth and concluding in the new earth. Describing the faithful of all ages, Jew and Gentile alike, Paul wrote, “They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16.
When God re-creates this world after the millennium, Jerusalem will again be the center of holy worship. But before He can do this, the earth will be totally cleansed of sin and sinners by fire. Modern Jerusalem, so filled with strife and bloodshed, will then no longer exist. In its place God promises to bring the Holy City, New Jerusalem, from heaven to the earth as the new capital of the universe. The redeemed of all ages and nations will worship Him in His temple without oppression. The apostle John wrote:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. Revelation 21:1–3.
1. Samuele Bacchiocchi, “Israel in Prophecy,” End-time Issues No.10, June 1999.
Taken from Last Generation, Vol. 26 No. 3. Last Generation is a vibrant 32-page soul-winning magazine published six times a year. To subscribe, call (540) 672-1996, Ext. 283.