“Israel’s future guarantees our salvation.” —Amari Tsarfati, prophecy speaker
In other words, if God can break His covenant with the likes of Abraham, Jacob, and David, what does that say about His promises to us? If God does not keep His covenants with Israel, what does that say about His character, His faithfulness to us as New Testament believers?
Do you see the implications? Refuting those who claim God replaced Israel with the Church is not merely some meaningless squabble among theologians. It’s so much more than that!! The debate has far reaching implications impacting where we put our hope each day as we step out of bed.
Because God is trustworthy, our hope in His promises remains secure. Eternal life is a done deal for those in Christ.
Why, however, are we so confident that God’s promises to Israel remain in effect?
It Begins with a Question
I like to begin the defense of Israel’s continuing place in God’s program with the question the disciples asked Jesus just before He ascended back into heaven, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Earlier, such kingdom hopes led to arguments among the disciples as to which of them would have the greater positions of honor in Israel’s restored kingdom (Mark 10:35-40). Although such arguing seems to have ended, they clearly expected to soon be a part of this glorious realm.
Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Jesus did not contradict or refute the premise of their question that He would restore Israel someday. Instead, He simply told the disciples they could not know the timing of this restoration as it was something the Father alone had determined “by his own authority.”
Why Would They Ask Such a Question?
The confidence of the disciples regarding a future kingdom raises certain questions in my mind. After watching the Jewish leaders reject Christ and demand His crucifixion, what made the disciples so confident the Lord would restore the kingdom to these very same people? Why did the disciples think Jesus would soon initiate a glorious restoration for the very same people whose rejection had led to Him being mercilessly mocked, scourged, whipped, and nailed to a cross?
Many people in the history of the church certainly used this behavior on the part of the Jews to justify their belief God had forever rejected Israel. But the not the disciples, the ones who watched their fellow Jews reject Christ and witnessed His suffering. They remained confident of the Lord’s intention to still give Israel an amazing kingdom in spite of her recent condemnation of the Messiah.
Why So Confident?
Why were the disciples so sure of this after all they had witnessed?
The Old Testament prophets provide us with the answer. After His resurrection, Jesus spent time explaining to His disciples how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). With all this recent insight from their Master regarding how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the disciples still believed the Lord would restore Israel as a nation.
Either they were still terribly confused and had not at all understood Jesus’ recent teaching, in which case the Lord surely would have corrected them as He had done earlier (John 14:8-9); or, they based their question on what Jesus had recently taught them regarding how He fulfilled prophecy.
I believe the disciples correctly understood Jesus’ teaching on how He fulfilled Old Testament Scripture for both His first and second coming. They assumed the Lord would one day restore the fortunes of Israel because that is precisely what Jesus taught them after His resurrection.
The Grand Story of the Old Testament Prophets
The Old Testament prophets tell a grand story; one I am sure Jesus repeated to His disciples after His resurrection. It is a story of great hope for the people of Israel revealed in the midst of their rebellion and impending judgment for their sins.
The prophet Zephaniah, for example, not only warned of imminent disaster upon Judah but also prophesied of a glorious future for the nation, “At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord” (3:20). The disciples used the same terminology as Zephaniah in their question to Jesus in Acts 1. Could the Lord have quoted this same verse to them before His ascension? I believe that is highly likely.
The Lord, in no uncertain terms, declared through the prophet Jeremiah that Israel would always remain a nation in His sight (Jeremiah 31:35-36). If the sun comes up tomorrow morning, Israel remains a country before the Lord. If we see the moon or the stars tonight, Israel still exists. Based on this passage alone, it’s easy to understand why the disciples expected to see a restored Israel even after watching the Jews reject and crucify the Savior. Perhaps Jesus discussed these verses from Jeremiah with His disciples after His resurrection. That would explain their continuing hope for Israel’s restoration.
Many more such passages from the Old Testament prophets could be quoted with promises of a future restored kingdom for Israel. Those who seek to replace Israel with the church ignore many great promises from the Old Testament regarding Israel as well as the apostle Paul’s clear denial that God had rejected His people Israel (Romans 11:1).
Our security rests in God’s faithfulness; He is a covenant keeper. That’s why we regard Israel’s hope as the guaranty of our hope. He will keep His covenants with Israel despite their rebellion and sin. His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 was unconditional; it never depended on the worthiness of his descendants to inherit the Land and still does not.
In the same way, our salvation never depended on us nor will it ever depend on our behavior! God will keep His promises to Israel and to us. It’s impossible for God not to keep His Word regarding the future of His people.
He is faithful forever.
Jonathan C. Brentner
North Liberty, Iowa