Does the nation Israel have a future as a people of God? From the time Israel was constituted as a people, God foretold that the nation would disobey and come under judgment. Israel would lose God’s blessing and be scattered among the nations. Nevertheless, God promised that judgment would not be His final word to Israel. God would regather the children of Israel from captivity and restore them to the land of promise. Most importantly, God promised that He would circumcise the hearts of the Israelites so that they would love and obey their God. Thus, they would live in the land and prosper (Deu. 30).
This promise of a circumcised heart was later explained in different ways. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a New Covenant that God would make with Israel and Judah, a covenant that would not be like the one He made at Sinai. The Sinai covenant relied upon external regulations that the Israelites were unable to keep. Under the New Covenant, God promised to write His commandments on their hearts. Thus, obedience to God’s righteous requirements would flow naturally from within. Given His promise to secure this inner obedience, God could swear that the children of Israel would be a nation before Him forever and that He would never cast them off (Jer. 31:31-37).
A parallel promise is the new heart of Ezekiel 36, made when Israel was already scattered in exile. Ezekiel prophesied that God would regather the Israelites and cleanse them from their idols. He would put a new heart and a new spirit within them, removing their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh. He would put His Spirit within them, causing them to walk in His ordinances and to obey His statutes (Ezek. 36:22-32; 37:24-28).
The circumcised heart, God’s law written on the heart, and the new heart of flesh all represent an inner change that God promised to make within the children of Israel. Because of this inner change, the Israelites would freely obey God’s righteous requirements. Consequently, they would enjoy God’s permanent blessing in the land.
It goes without saying that this covenant has never yet been fulfilled. The Israel that returned from captivity quickly slipped back into disobedience, as is obvious from the rebukes of the final Old Testament prophet. If God had already kept His word—if Israel was enjoying the circumcised heart, the law written on the heart, and the new heart of flesh—then Malachi’s reproofs would have been completely unnecessary.
In fact, the moral condition of national Israel continued to deteriorate until they crucified the Messiah. In consequence, Israel was again driven out of the land to continue an “unpeopled” existence among the Gentile nations. But the rejection of Messiah could never have occurred among a people whose hearts God had circumcised, upon whose hearts He had written His laws, and to whom He had given a new heart of flesh in the place of their old heart of stone. The crucifixion of Messiah is proof that God’s New Covenant promises to Israel remain unkept. If God intends to keep that commitment, then national Israel must have a future.
This future was foreseen by Hosea, who depicted the relationship between God and Israel as a marriage. Israel broke the marriage covenant through unfaithfulness, receiving the judgment of divorce (Hos. 2:1-13). Nevertheless, God committed Himself to restore His marriage to Israel so that Israel would be betrothed to Him forever in faithfulness (Hos. 2:14-23). The return from the Babylonian captivity cannot stand as a fulfillment of this promise. Israel did not return to remain faithful forever. If the promises that God made through Hosea are ever going to be fulfilled, then Israel must have a future.
Similarly, Isaiah foresaw a day when God would fulfill His covenant with the children of Israel. He would put His words in their mouths, and those words would never depart. At that time, Israel would shine like a beacon of God’s glory, drawing the Gentile nations that had lived in darkness (Isa. 59:21-60:3). Such a restoration of Israel has never occurred. It belongs to the future.
Immediately before His crucifixion, Jesus pronounced doom upon Jerusalem. He yearned to gather its inhabitants as a hen gathers her chicks, but they rejected Him. Now their house was to be left desolate. They would not see Him again, said Jesus, until they said, “Blessed is the one who is coming in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:37-39). In other words, a day is coming when Jerusalem (standing for all Israel) will pronounce blessing upon Jesus as He returns. If Jesus Himself foretold a day of national repentance for Israel, then Israel must have a future.
Romans 11 provides further evidence for Israel’s future. There, Paul announces new revelation (a “mystery”). The partial hardening of Israel is only temporary. When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, all Israel will be saved. For the moment, and viewed from the standpoint of the gospel, the children of Israel are enemies of God. Viewed from the standpoint of election, however, God loves them for the sake of the patriarchs, for His gifts and calling are irrevocable. God has permitted Israel to become disobedient so that He might show them great mercy (Rom. 11:25-33).
In the eschatological future, Israel will be restored to full blessing as a people of God. There will always be something special about Israel. Since Israel’s mission was always to attract Gentile nations, however, Israel will someday be joined in the worship of Jehovah by many peoples. Egypt and Assyria are mentioned by name, but many others are implied. These nations will still be identifiable peoples with their own ethnicities. They will all stand with Israel as peoples of God.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Yet, Saith the Lord
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
“Yet,” saith the Lord, “if David’s race,
The children of my Son,
Should break my laws, abuse my grace,
And tempt mine anger down;
“Their sins I’ll visit with the rod
And make their folly smart;
But I’ll not cease to be their God,
Nor from my truth depart.
“My cov’nant I will ne’er revoke,
But keep my grace in mind
And what eternal love hath spoke
Eternal truth shall bind.
“Once have I sworn (I need no more)
And pledged my holiness,
To seal the sacred promise sure
To David and his race.
“The sun shall see his offspring rise
And spread from sea to sea,
Long as he travels round the skies
To give the nations day.
“Sure as the moon that rules the night
His kingdom shall endure,
Till the fixed laws of shade and light
Shall be observed no more.”