Q346 : Does Israel have Continued Significance in the Plan of God and in Relation to Evangelization?

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Q346 : Does Israel have Continued Significance in the Plan of God and in Relation to Evangelization?

I’m recently involved in a debate with a dear brother In Christ, who loves the Lord and is very evangelistic, but is steeped in replacement theology. He appears questioning over my support for Israel and a heart of gospel outreach to the Jewish people in general.

I wonder if you could respond to a series of related questions I have on this issue (below).

A346 : by Tony Garland

Q: My friend feels that my view, that God is using Israel to bless the whole world is limiting Jesus’ role to a narrowly defined ethnic based view of God’s work in saving mankind.

Saying that God plans to use Israel to bless the whole world is quite different than saying that's the only way that God will bless the world. The problem here is not so much that you want to uphold the biblical teaching that Israel will be used to bless the world, but that your friend wants to maintain there is no special role in God's plan for Israel.

Paul certainly saw the role of Israel in God's redemptive plan as bringing eventual blessing (Rom. 11:11-15). Paul says that the fullness of Israel will bring even greater "riches for the Gentiles" — the rest of the world. That implies that it will be through Israel's eventual obedience that greater riches will accrue to the rest of the world—right in line with what you are saying.

If your friend holds to replacement theology, then I would think he might agree that the first portion of Zechariah 8:13 is in effect today, that Israel "is a curse among the nations" — being in dispersion, perceived as trouble-makers, at the heart of the conflict over land and the status of Jerusalem. But what does the entire verse say? "Just as you were a curse among the nations . . . so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing [among the nations]." This passage infers that Israel will eventually be a blessing among the nations—a reversal of their current affect upon the nations while in disobedience. This dovetails with Paul in Romans 11—blessings will flow to the world when Israel recognizes her Messiah and walks in obedience.

I believe it to be a false dichotomy to say that Jesus' work on behalf and through Israel is in conflict with His work in saving mankind generally. Jesus has a dual ministry: "to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel," but He is also given, "as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:6). Saying that God is working through Israel is not limiting Jesus' role—unless one (incorrectly) held that this is the only mechanism by which God is blessing the world.

Q: My friend believes that since The promise from God to Abraham is inherited by people of belief regardless of ethnic background, there is no longer any particular preference why the gospel has to go to specifically the Jewish people in particular.

Tell that to Paul.

Your friend needs to study the book of Acts more carefully—all of which was written after the cross. Following Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost, the Church has now been born and the evangelistic focus of Paul and others is no different than it should be for us today—still in the Church age. Look at the pattern of Paul: everywhere he goes he visits the synagogue first (Acts 13:5,24,46-47; 14:1; 17:1-2,10; 18:4-6,19; 28:17). He's still doing so in Acts 28—which is dated somewhere around AD 67—more than three decades following Pentecost and the foundation of the Church. Why? Because he knows there is unfinished work specifically with the Jews within God's plan. We see much the same in Paul's letter to the Church at Rome written circa AD 56 (Romans 1:16) — about 25 years after the formation of the Church. What has changed between AD 67 and AD 2019 which justifies moving away from this emphasis?

Ask your friend to explain what Jesus means by what He says in Matthew 23:37-39.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under [her] wings, but you were not willing! "See! Your house is left to you desolate; "for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed [is] He who comes in the name of the LORD!'1

Who is He talking to and what is the precondition He sets for His return? Clearly, there is a Jewish precondition before Jerusalem ever sees Jesus again. Is He saying this to the world-at-large? No: He may be the Lord of all Creation, but He remains Israel's Messiah and his unfinished work of turning ungodliness from Jacob remains (Rom. 11:26).

Evangelists often emphasize taking the word to all nations (and rightly so), but remain woefully ignorant of the role of Israel as a precondition to the return of Jesus. All the Gentiles throughout the world could come to faith—without exception— but still Jesus would not come unless the conditions of His words over Jerusalem to the Jews are addressed. That's one of several reasons why we should maintain a priority on reaching the Jews for Jesus.

Q: I’m arguing from Romans 11 that God will restore Israel while my friend argues that Israel will at best be saved but not restored, but he is finding my argument that true Israel are the believing Jews ridiculous. He just quoted Galatians 3:28 there is neither Jew nor Gentile out of context in response.

Well — you've answered this one well enough: he is abusing the verse. The verse is talking about the means and availability of salvation—it has nothing to do whatsoever with erasing ethnic distinctions—any more than it does away with distinctions between men and women within the body of Christ. Yep, we are all saved the same way and have the same access, but we do not all have the same role in the plan of God. One might as well cite Galatians 3:28 and ask your friend why he doesn't attend a church where women are pastors? His abuse of the verse is akin to that of egalitarians.

True Israel has always been the believing Jews. In support, I can offer is my response (and diagram) in my Q&A titled Who is a True Jew?a Various passages, when taken as a whole, are abundantly clear. The logic of Romans 9:6 is plain enough: "they are not all Israel who are of Israel". It's a simple Venn diagram relationship.

  1. The superset: those "who are of Israel" - those born in the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (renamed Israel) — a line of physical descent which is entirely Jewish. Note that this is the superset—no other people groups are in view.
  2. "They" who are not — some of those born in that line are not considered true Israel (unbelieving Jews)
  3. The rest are — others in that line (believing Jews)
To attempt to shoehorn believing Gentiles into this verse is running roughshod over the rules of logic. The context of Romans 9:6 also makes plain that Paul is grieving over Israel and explaining how so many of the Jews came to reject Messiah—but he considers that they are not true Israel.

Q: Are there any arguments that would address my friend’s opposition?

Sure, there are plenty of arguments that address his opposition. But is that really the issue—arguments and logic? Usually, below the surface, there is much more to this matter of rejecting the plain sense of Scripture on God's plan for Israel. After all, the OT is full of it—and expectations continued in that regard until the moment of Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:6-7). After all, it is Jesus who says there remains a relevance to Jewish/Gentile distinctions continuing down to our present time. We are still in "the times of the Gentiles" — our own Lord said that G-word (Luke 21:24). He is making a distinction between Israel vs. the rest of the world. And He defined it, in part, as involving the continued dispersion of Jews out of their homeland to wander among the nations. Surely this time still holds today and God sees an important distinction between the affairs of Jews vs. the rest of the world.

In closing, it might be valuable to consider whether discussion/debate is a productive avenue with your friend right now? Perhaps prayer and time will be better avenues—waiting and watching for Spirit-led openings where the truth on these issues can pour into a crack. Being equipped from the Scriptures is one thing, finding thirsty ground to soak up those truths is another—even where it concerns fellow believers. Consider Israel—having crossed the Red Sea in faith and then arriving at the border of the promised land only to reject God's plan in disobedience.


1.NKJV, Mat. 23:37-39


NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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