The fifth Great Mystery of the World is The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel. Today we think of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but before it was used to name a country and its people, Israel was the name given to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob.
The word Israel means “he (who) struggles with God” and this name was given to Jacob after he successfully wrestled with the messenger of God (Gen 32:28). Later, the name was used for the 70 descendants of Jacob/Israel – the people known as the children of Israel – when they went down to live in Egypt because of the famine in their land (Gen 15:13; 41:56; 46; 47:27).
Around 1446BC, the name was applied to the nation that grew out of those descendants, when Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt (Ex 5:2; 12:3) and came back into the land God had earlier promised to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people (Gen 15:18).
Following the Exodus, the name was given to the land the descendents of Israel conquered and ruled for nearly a thousand years. But in 722 BC, after they forsook the God of their father Abraham, Israel was led away into captivity in Assyria, and the great city of Jerusalem finally fell in 586BC. During this long period of conquest and the exile of the Jewish people, many of the faithful Old Testament prophets foresaw the restoration of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
“Behold, days are coming”—it is a declaration of Adonai—“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He will reign as king wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell in safety; and this is His Name by which He will be called: Adonai our righteousness. “Therefore behold, days are coming,” says Adonai, “when they will no longer say: ‘As Adonai lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.’ Rather, ‘As Adonai lives, who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and from all the lands where He had banished them.’ So they will dwell in their own soil. (Jer 23:5-8)TLV
For over three thousand years remnants of the Jewish community have continuously inhabited the land God gave to Israel (Gen 35:12), but over the past century they have returned in numbers and in May 1948, they reclaimed Israel as their homeland. One need only listen to the world news to understand that they do not as yet “dwell in safety” …. “in their own soil”. It seems the full restoration is yet to come and our passage from Jeremiah tells us that this will happen “in His days”.
When Paul taught about The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel, he was not referring to the same restoration Peter spoke about after he healed the lame man in Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:8).
Peter was talking about the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), which was a theme he returned to in one of his letters, when he wrote about the new heavens and the new Earth (2 Peter 3:13). That restoration will follow the final episode in the history of the world as we know it and it will happen when all of the end-times events are fully completed (Rev 21:1). However, the scriptures indicate that Israel’s restoration is an intrinsic part of the end-times story God has revealed through His Word (Hos 3:5). The restoration of Israel will be a time when the Branch/King reigns wisely in the land God gave to Abraham.
Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous passages about Israel’s restoration as a nation and many of them refer to a King who will bring justice and righteousness. In Jesus’ day, the Jews were looking for the restoration of the Jewish nation under the reign of a Jewish King, their Messiah, but God’s plan for humanity was far greater than this one nation He had created – God’s plan was for all of humankind.
Jesus the Jewish Messiah
When Jesus was born, many of the Jews were hoping for a Messiah-King, who would destroy the tyranny of Rome and restore their sovereign power.
They were looking forward to a time when Israel would again be the great nation she had been under David and Solomon. This nationalistic hope was based on the many messianic prophecies found throughout the Old Testament, with the chief prophet of the Messiah being Isaiah.
However, Isaiah’s Messiah was not only a true King in the line of David (Is 7–12), He was also “the Servant of the Lord”, who would bear away sin. Isaiah foresaw this promised Servant obediently enduring the direst of suffering (50:4–9; 52:13–53:12), which would ultimately prove to be the way of salvation (53:11).
Isaiah’s Servant-King was also depicted as the anointed Conqueror (Is 59:21; 61:1–3; 61:10–62:12; 63:1–6). He would bring both salvation and judgment (61:1–2), not only for the Lord’s chosen people, the Jews (48:22; 49:1–6), but also for the Gentiles (42:1–4; 49:6).
Jesus identified Himself with Isaiah’s Messiah – the One bringing Good News to the poor – in the synagogue at Nazareth, when He announced His arrival as the Servant (Luke 4:16-21). After He was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read, He stopped half-way through a verse (compare Is 61:2 & Luke 4:18). Although He has fulfilled the first part of this verse, the second half of the verse – the part Jesus did not read at that time – is yet to be fulfilled. When Jesus returns as the Conquering King (2 Thess 1:7-10), He will bring “the day of God’s anger against their enemies” (Is 61:2b).
The Suffering Servant and Conquering King
When Jesus was born of a virgin (Mat 1:18-25), many of those who knew the circumstances of His birth would also have known this birth fulfilled one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies (Is 7:14). God gave the Jewish people many indicators of His plan to be born into their community (Gen 49:19; Ps 2:7, 72:10; Is 9:6; Mic 5:2); He had intentionally formed the Jewish nation so that He could be born into their midst (John 1:1-3). Our Father carefully prepared the nation into which His Son would be born to redeem humanity from the curse of death (Gal 3:13), but the people were looking for a Conquering King (Mat 21:9), not a Suffering Servant (Mark 8:31-32).
Even the apostles hoped that the restoration of Israel would be part of Jesus’ mission during His incarnation. Just before His ascension the apostles asked Jesus:
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b)
Jesus responded by telling them it wasn’t their business to know the timing of such events. Instead, He instructed them to wait until the Holy Spirit gave them the power to go and preach the gospel to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:6-8); thus indicating that a time for the Gentiles to hear God’s message was about to open up.
Hope for the Gentiles
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote about God’s work amongst the Gentiles, when he told them that he did not want them to be ignorant of our fifth mystery – The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel. Paul told the Romans that even though it might appear that the new Body of Christ would supersede God’s chosen people, the Jews, God had revealed another Great Mystery – His plan to restore Israel. Paul declared that when “the full number of the Gentiles comes to Christ ….. all Israel will be saved.” Paul writes:
I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The One who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and He will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is My covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people He loves because He chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. (Rom 11:25-29) NLT
Some people have tried to explain away the clear meaning of this passage, by saying the church is now “Spiritual Israel” and that as such she will inherit all the promises given to the Jews. But it is obvious that Paul is talking about the people whose physical ancestors were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
There is a great deal of discussion amongst believers on this topic, but our passage is unambiguous and the word “until” gives a definite sense of something yet to come for the Jewish people, after God has finished His work amongst the Gentiles. There are good scriptural reasons to believe there will be a time when we see the convergence of the redemption of Israel and the full restoration of the nation of Israel in their own land.
We have already examined Paul’s teachings on The Mystery of the Rapture. It seems reasonable to propose that when “the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” our Father will take His Church out of the world at the time of the Rapture and once again turn His attention to His chosen people, the Jews. If this is the case it will be during the Great Tribulation that Israel will come to see that Jesus the Christ is indeed the Messiah they have long awaited. It is only then that “all Israel will be saved”. God’s Word tells us:
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on Me whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for Him as for a firstborn son who has died. (Zec 12:10) NLT
Has the Church Replaced Israel?
Perhaps we could be excused for believing that God’s purposes in creating Israel were completed when His Son ascended and His focus moved to the Body of Christ. But God made promises to His chosen people (1 Kings 3:8; Ps 105:15) and these promises can never be broken – they were from God and He never lies (Num 23:19; Tit 1:2).
Nevertheless many believers insist the Jews have been completely written out of the end-times story, declaring that since the Church are the ones who are “truly circumcised” (Phil 3:3), they have completely replaced the Jewish nation. Some people even go so far as to read “Christian” for the word “Jew” throughout the Bible. However, when Paul explained that God has set a time for dealing with the Gentiles, he also informed his readers that God has not abandoned His chosen people, the Jews.
The New Testament is unambiguous when discussing the Gentiles as opposed to the Jews; each term is used specifically for the particular group being mentioned. Consequently, when we read about people from the twelve tribes of Israel in the Revelation an angel imparted to John, there is no reason to believe John was given information about anyone other than descendents of Israel.
The teaching that the church has completely and utterly replaced Israel for all time is called supersessionism. Taken to extremes, this notion would appear to be an unnecessary contortion of the scriptures, where a whole new layer of esoteric meaning is superimposed on much of the Bible.
Christians correctly regard many verses in the Old Testament as referring to Jesus the Messiah, because Jesus made it clear that this was the case (Luke 4:21; John 4:25-26). But this does not in any way mean that God’s chosen nation is now removed from God’s plans for the future. The Jews were the chosen people before the Church Age began and there is good reason to believe they will be the focus of God’s work after the Church Age draws to a close, as Paul’s passage seems to indicate.
All Christians understand that God created the nation of Israel as a national entity as well as a holy people (Deut 7:6). God called Israel to be an example of holiness to the world (Lev 11:44; 19:2) and He made them a great nation so that they would be effective in this work. But because they were often caught up in their traditions (Is 29:13) and law (Rom 2:23-29) and in their national, religious and political power, they constantly lost their way (Jer 2; Ezek 20) and stopped trusting in God for their righteousness (Rom 9:32). By the time of Christ the Jewish leaders had so distanced themselves from their God that when He was born into their midst, most of them did not even recognise Him.
God had carefully prepared the people who would surround and nurture His Son from His birth, and also those who would later realise just who He was and leave all to follow Him. The small band of Jews, who recognised their Messiah during and just after His life on Earth, would be the beginning of a new body of people through whom God would work to proclaim the Truth to the world throughout the Church Age. But does this mean He has completely abandoned the chosen nation (Deut 7:6) He had prepared for His incarnation?
God has fulfilled many prophecies in Christ, but the hope of Israel is still the Lord Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah (Acts 28:20). It will be through Christ alone that Gabriel’s prophecy concerning the Jewish people will finally be fulfilled. Daniel was informed:
Seventy weeks are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to put an end to transgression, to bring sin to an end, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. (Dan 9:24)TLV
Daniel’s people were the Jews. No one could claim that this prophecy has yet been fulfilled. Only Jesus can bring an end to sin and usher in everlasting righteousness. When all Israel is saved, this prophecy will have been accomplished.
What Is Spiritual Israel?
The Romans passage above (Romans 11:25-29) can be harmonised effectively with scriptural passages that appear to support supersessionism, when we understand that God works in different ways in different eras. The old covenant is replaced by the new and the old commandments are summed up in the new (Mat 22:37-40). Peter explained:
And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” Yes, you who trust Him recognize the honor God has given Him. But for those who reject Him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” (1Pe 2:5-10)
Scriptural passages like this one from Peter’s epistle are not in conflict with Paul’s message to the Romans when we understand that there are phases in God’s plan for the redemption of humankind. Although the Bible tells us that there is now no distinction between Gentiles and Jews (Romans 10:12, 1 Cor 1:24, 12:13, Gal 3:28, Eph 2:14, 18, 3:6, Col 3:11) and that we will all be equal members in the Eternal Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection (Romans 3:29, 30), the Father most definitely worked almost exclusively through the Jewish people from the call of Abraham to the establishment of the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4); but as Peter explained, following the incarnation, God’s chosen people are those who trust in Jesus for their righteousness before God (2 Cor 5:21).
Despite this new understanding of God’s chosen people, we know from Paul’s letter that when the Church Age is complete, God will complete what He began with the Jews, all Israel will be saved. It is difficult to reinterpret any of the promises God specifically made to Israel by insisting they are now meant for the Church alone. Although Christ is indeed the fulfilment of many of the promises God made to the Jewish patriarchs, and it is as we abide in Him that we share in these promises, this does not wipe out Israel’s future role in God’s revealed plan.
As with the prophecy in Daniel 9:24, many aspects of the Old Testament promises and prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, and many of these unfulfilled prophecies relate specifically to ethnic Israel. There can be no doubt these verses are referring to the Jewish people. Micah proclaimed:
Where is another God like You, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with Your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us Your faithfulness and unfailing love as You promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. (Mic 7:18-20)
Even in the New Testament it seems clear that many promises have definite national aspects to them (Luke 1:46-55; 70-73). However, those who insist the New Testament depicts no future for Israel often quote Romans, which says:
Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children. (Rom 9:7-8) NLT
This passage establishes the understanding that people will not be part of God’s eternal holy family because of their genealogy, but entirely through the death of Christ. However, this understanding does not in any way nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel. Instead, it reveals that our Father has extended the promises to the Gentiles, whilst reminding the Jews that they must remain people of faith to become part of God’s eternal family – those who are the children of the promise – spiritual Israel.
The Lamb of God
During the time our Father was preparing the nation of Israel to bring forth His Son, He set up symbolic practises that were intended to point His people to their Messiah.
The law and sacrifices are domains that God prescribed for the Jewish people in great detail. Both of these areas of Jewish belief and worship were carefully designed to point to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Rev 6:16; 12:11; 17:14; 21:27; 22:3).
Throughout the centuries many Jewish people have come to see and understand the function of these practises when they recognised that they were shadows and copies of the true heavenly realities (Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 9:23-24; 10:1-22), which centre on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Revelation tells us that there will be a time when many more Jews see and understand that God was born into their community 2000 years ago, even though at that time they did not receive Him. As John tells us:
He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. (John 1:10-11)NLT
Paul confirmed that no one could be made righteous through the law (Rom 3:20), but mercifully, Christ fulfilled the law (Mat 5:17; Rom 10:4); its role was to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24). The writer to the Hebrews also gave us a new understanding of the sacrifices God instituted when He was working through His chosen people, the Jews.
We now understand that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, was far superior to any the Levitical priests could ever make (Heb 8). John the Baptist correctly identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Even the Jewish teachers who questioned Jesus understood that the sacrifices they made were symbolic, and that there was a better way to serve God. As Mark records:
….. the scribe said unto Him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:32-33)
The whole point of the Old Testament sacrifices was to focus the attention of the people on the fatal consequences of sin. Paul told the Romans that it is because of sin that we die (Rom 5:12, 8:10). Jesus declared Himself to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins when He said:
….. “This is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. (Mark 14:24)
A New Covenant
Jesus introduced the New Covenant between the Creator and His people, which replaced the Old Covenant He had made with the Jews. With the death and resurrection of Christ, God created a new covenant people. His people are now those who recognise His Son and accept His gift of eternal life through Him (John 3:16). God has removed the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) – anyone who comes to Jesus can be a child of God – but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that God will honour the promises He made to Abraham and his descendants. There we find:
But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the One who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, He said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to My covenant, so I turned My back on them, says the LORD. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. (Heb 8:6-10)NLT
And Paul adds:
This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.(2 Cor 3:6)
God’s Eternal Family
God’s ultimate goal for humankind has always been the creation of an eternal, holy family with whom He can dwell (Ex 25:8; Eph 2:20-22; 1 John 4:16). Although He created us in His image (Gen 1:26), He created us with free will and tragically our first parents chose to trust Satan’s lies rather than God’s Word (Gen 3:4-6).
Sin entered our world and immediately distanced us from our Creator. God had already warned Adam and Eve that sin would lead to death (Gen 2:16-17), but when the fall removed our access to immortality (Gen 3:22-24) the Father had already devised a plan, which was for the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life that we might have eternal life (1 Pet 1:18-20; Rev 13:8). To this end He created the chosen nation into which He would be born into the world.
The idea that this one Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be the substitute, the sacrifice, who takes upon Himself the penalty for the sins of the whole world, is God’s idea, not ours. This concept is not a human construct, God has revealed that it is His Way and the Truth (John 14:6). Our Father designed His redemption plan before He created the world and He painstakingly implemented it so that we might have renewed access to eternal life.
God foreknew all the problems we would have with sin and He went ahead with His creation. His Son paid the ultimate price for our sin, so that we can each be transformed into immortal people, capable of having a loving relationship with our holy Creator throughout all eternity. People of faith understand, as did the apostle Paul, that the suffering and pain of this world will pale into insignificance in the light of the incomprehensible glory to come (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:14-18). The Lord Jesus Christ died that we might live eternally with Him in a new creation that will never, ever be plagued by sin, suffering and death.
Jews for Jesus
There is now no need for sacrifices, because Jesus was the perfect once-for-all sacrifice (Rom 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18); and we need no longer live under the law, because our righteousness is through Him (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9), but a plain reading of Revelation 7:4-8 nevertheless reveals God working through 144,000 Messianic Jews, taken from the 12 tribes of Israel and sealed for His service. Thus, their genealogical heritage is somehow important during the Great Tribulation.
How we understand God’s plan for the Jews in the future can be easily determined by a plain reading of the Bible, especially the Revelation. God’s first phase of operation through the nation He carefully crafted for His purposes was to bring His Son into the world as the Suffering Servant. His second phase will begin after He brings the Church Age to an end, then He will work through the Jews to prepare the tribulation world for His return as the Conquering King.
The marvelous truth is that following the Church Age and the Rapture, the 144,000 Messianic Jews introduced to us in chapter 7 of the Revelation, will be the most amazing missionaries the world has ever known. While the Great Tribulation is being played out – as civilisation crumbles and modern society loses all of its technological advantages – these 144,000 Jewish missionaries will be reaching out to the peoples of the world by sharing the gospel message.
It is significant that after the 144,000 servants of God are sealed and go forth preaching the gospel, Revelation 7:9 announces a great multitude of believers “out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. It seems clear that the ground upon which the seed of the gospel is sown by these born again Jews during the Great Tribulation reaps a rich harvest of souls for Christ’s Eternal Kingdom.
When people finally realise how fleeting are the rewards of materialism, they will let go of the transitory things of this world and turn back to their Creator in astounding numbers. Revelation 7:14 tells us that “These are they which come out of the Great Tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. This great multitude of believers from all over the world will be saved during the world’s most horrific times, through the evangelistic work of the most blessed Jews the world has ever known (Rev 14:1-4).
I am desperately saddened to think that so many people will have to experience this time of Great Tribulation and so I continue to hope for a great revival of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ before the Rapture. Mercifully, at the end of the seven years of Great Tribulation, the King of kings and the Lord of lords will return to the Earth as the Conquering King (Mat 24:27; Mark 13:26; Rev 19:11-16) to usher in His millennial kingdom, where He will reign in righteousness (Is 5:16; 32:16-18; 33:5-6; 42:6; 56:1; 61:11; Rev 20:1-7). At that time all Israel will be saved and dwell safely in the land.
Even though Jesus told the people that His kingdom was not of this world (Luke 12:33; John 18:36; 2 Peter 1:4), His promises concerning the restoration of Israel will be fulfilled during the very last episode of this present creation’s history. Before the new heavens and the new Earth come into being (Rev 21:1) and God’s Holy Eternal Kingdom is ushered in, the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on this present Earth will see an Israel, which has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their long awaited Messiah and Saviour, dwelling safely in the very land God promised to Abraham 4000 years ago.