By Mark Ellick
Is modern-day Israel the fulfillment of prophecy? In this article we will consider and evaluate various positions and determine whether it is or not.
A Closer Look at Replacement Theology
What is “replacement theology”? This theology claims that because of the Jewish people’s disobedience and general rejection of Messiah, God has rejected Israel and replaced it with the church. It asserts that the church is the “New Israel,” and states that the promises made to Israel in the Tenach (Old Testament) have been transferred to the church. Replacement theology also holds that the prophecies in the Tenach regarding a re-gathering of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the reestablishment of Israel as a nation should be interpreted allegorically, not literally. Thus, replacement theology argues that modern-day Israel is not a fulfillment of prophecy.
However, God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants (the Jewish people) would possess the land God promised to Abraham is initially found in a covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional, meaning that its fulfillment does not depend on the obedience of Abraham or his descendants. Rather, its fulfillment depends solely on the faithfulness of God. The Abrahamic Covenant is mentioned a number of times in Genesis. Two of these are particularly relevant to our study:
“And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are-northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.'” (Genesis 13:14-15).
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)
Neither of these passages place any conditions on Abraham or his descendants, and it is in these passages that God promises Abraham, “all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” God, who never lies, promised Abraham that his descendants would possess the land forever – and He will keep that promise!
The prophetic Scriptures concerning Israel’s future are founded on the promises contained in the Abrahamic Covenant. Because the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant are unconditional, these same promises found in the prophetic Scriptures must also be unconditional. This includes the promises concerning the re-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel that they might possess the land.
Allegorical Or Literal?
Replacement theology’s claim that the prophecies concerning Israel’s future should be interpreted allegorically is also incorrect. The promises God made to Abraham were clearly literal. For example, God’s promise that He would make Abraham a great nation (Genesis 12:2) has been literally fulfilled. Likewise, the covenant promises concerning Israel’s future – and the prophecies that elaborate on these promises – will be literally fulfilled as well. Additionally, the prophecies regarding the reestablishment of Israel are part of a group of prophecies concerning the second coming of Messiah. Because the prophecies concerning Messiah’s first coming were fulfilled literally, consistent interpretation dictates that the prophecies concerning His second coming – and the reestablishment of Israel – should be interpreted literally as well.
We may conclude that the teachings of replacement theology are not the most literal interpretations of the teachings of Scripture, and replacement theology must be carefully scrutinized. The covenant promises made to Israel still apply to Israel, and they will be fulfilled literally. This includes the possession of the land of Israel by the Jewish people.
Israel And The Prophetic Scriptures
Let’s now consider one of the prophetic Scriptures that elaborates on the promises made to the Fathers concerning the land.
“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 judgments 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)
In this passage, Ezekiel prophesies that the Jewish people will be gathered from the nations among which they have been scattered and return to live in the land promised to their forefathers. This prophecy records, far in advance, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham concerning the Land. There is neither a literary nor a biblical reason to interpret this prophecy allegorically. Its fulfillment is, as Ezekiel clearly indicates, literal.
We have established that the promises God made concerning the land of Israel still apply to Jewish people and will be fulfilled literally. Now we will determine whether modern-day Israel is a fulfillment of these promises.
There are some who say that while it is true that God will restore the Jewish people to the Land, it is possible that there may be a number of “non-prophetic” re-gatherings preceding the prophetic re-gathering. According to this view, modern-day Israel may be a work of man, not a work of God – and therefore not necessarily a fulfillment of prophecy.
However, according to the Scriptures, there are to be only two re-gatherings of Israel. This is confirmed by the prophet Isaiah:
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11-12)
Isaiah chapter 11, which contains the prophecy of a second re-gathering, describes it as a final and permanent re-gathering. Scripture thus indicates that there will be precisely two re-gatherings – no more and no less.
One view of this passage asserts that the modern-day re-gathering and reestablishment of Israel is the first re-gathering, a re-gathering in unbelief for judgment – and that a second re-gathering in belief for blessing will follow this first re-gathering. However, this view does not account for a previous re-gathering: the return of the Jewish people to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity. This appears to contradict Isaiah 11, which calls for precisely two re-gatherings.
A different view of this passage, which accounts for precisely two re-gatherings, asserts that the first re-gathering took place when the seventy-year Babylonian captivity prophesied by Jeremiah ended (Jeremiah 25:8-11), and the Jewish people returned to their homeland (Ezra chapters 1 and 2).
According to this view, since the prophecy concerning the first re-gathering has been fulfilled, the modern day re-gathering of the Jewish people and the reestablishment of Israel as a nation must be the second and final re-gathering and a fulfillment of prophecy. This view is consistent with the promises made in the Abrahamic Covenant and the prophetic Scriptures based on that covenant.
Based on our study of the Abrahamic Covenant and the prophetic Scriptures, we may conclude that God has declared unconditionally that Israel would one day be reestablished – and God has been faithful in keeping this promise. The prophetic Scriptures, properly interpreted, indicate that modern-day Israel is indeed a fulfillment of prophecy.
* The views above are those of the author.
Mark Ellick serves with Chosen People Ministries in Irvine, California