Does Israel Have a Future? – Part 3

Norbert Lieth and Johannes Pflaum

The return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland is a visible sign from God for the nations, telling them that God won’t disregard His people. But, how is present-day Christianity dealing with such visible evidence of biblical truth? It’s almost as if we’re largely unaware; otherwise, we couldn’t possibly be so half-hearted about Israel or so lukewarm about Jesus’ return.

The Biblical Vision for Israel

Only in the post-Reformation revival period did evangelical Christians slowly begin to rethink their stance. Since then, there consistently have been theologians within the evangelical church who saw the course of Israel’s redemptive history and opposed anti-Semitism. Examples include Sir Henry Finch (1558-1625), Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), Jung Stilling (1740-1817), Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885), Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), and Ernst F. Ströter (1846-1922).

There is a whole progression of Christian theologians in the recent past who advocated for the biblical redemptive-historical view of Israel within evangelical theology and the Church. They were especially well-represented in Pietism [“…also known as Pietistic Lutheranism … a movement within Lutheranism that combines its emphasis on biblical doctrine with an emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life”: Wikipedia]. To mention a sample of their names: Walter Tlach, Fritz Grünzweig, Gerhard Maier, David Jaffin, Heiko Krimmer, and Lienhard Pflaum.

Even within the history of the Roman Catholic Church—in which disinheritance theology, mixed with anti-Semitism, is a clear through-line—there were individual voices in favor of the Jews. For example, the mystic Bernhard von Clairvaux spoke out against the “Christian” atrocities against the Jews.

Well-known Pietist and ophthalmologist Dr. Jung Stilling is considered one of the most famous ophthalmic surgeons. He saved a good 3,000 people from blindness through surgery over the course of his working life. Long before the founding of the State of Israel, Jung Stilling testified on the basis of his belief in the Bible:

“The true believer consistently looks at the golden hand on the clock high up on the temple wall; and he who doesn’t see clearly asks another with sharper vision what time it might be. Some of what you are writing concerning the Jews is known to me. But its return to the fatherland will be an eye-opener to many. That will legitimize the Bible once again to everyone, and we will then definitely know where things stand.”

J. C. Ryle wrote in the 1867 foreword to his book, Coming Events and Present Duties: “I believe that the Jews shall ultimately be gathered again as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ, after going through great tribulation (Jeremiah 30:10, 11; 31:10; Romans 11:25, 26; Daniel 12:1; Zech. 13:8, 9).”

Charles Spurgeon preached in a Sunday sermon in 1855: “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough about it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the Children of Israel […] May that happy day soon come!” 

And in 1864, preaching a sermon from Ezekiel 38 entitled, “The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews,” Spurgeon proclaimed: “The meaning of our text, as opened up by the context, is most evidently, if words mean anything, first, that there shall be a political restoration of the Jews to their own land and to their own nationality; and then, secondly, there is in the text, and in the context, a most plain declaration, that there shall be a spiritual restoration, a conversion in fact, of the tribes of Israel.

“[…] They are to have a national prosperity which shall make them famous; nay, so glorious shall they be that Egypt, and Tyre, and Greece, and Rome, shall all forget their glory in the greater splendour of the throne of David. The day shall yet come when all the high hills shall leap with envy, because this is the hill which God hath chosen, when Zion’s shrine shall again be visited by the constant feet of the pilgrim; when her valleys shall echo with songs, and her hill-tops shall drop with wine and oil. If there be meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter. I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of his own words. If there be anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land, and that a king is to rule over them.”

The last major theological battle that Spurgeon fought was the so-called “Downgrade Controversy.” During the course of this dispute, he co-published a creed which stated in part, “Our hope is the personal pre-millennial return of the Lord Jesus in glory.”

Belief in Jesus’ return and in the subsequent millennial kingdom are inextricably linked to belief in a future for the people of Israel. Spurgeon’s insight into Israel’s importance is all the more remarkable given that he was a Reformed theologian by training. It stands to reason that Spurgeon, because of his understanding of the Bible and his habit of reading the Holy Scriptures as the inerrant and literal Word of God, came to a different conclusion about Israel than the Reformed theology of his time.

Even during the Third Reich, there were theologians and Christians who stood in opposition to anti-Semitism, because of their biblical convictions about the future of the Jews. In December 1943, Bishop Wurm of Stuttgart wrote to the Reich government, saying that the German people were “often feeling the suffering they were having to endure from the enemy bombing raids was in retribution for what was being done to the Jews. The burning of houses and churches, the smashing and crashing at night under the bombs, the fleeing from shattered houses with a handful of belongings, the not knowing where to look for somewhere to run to, reminds the public most painfully of what the Jews had to put up with in earlier times.” Bishop Wurm has even been quoted as asking during WWII, “Why is this fire coming down from heaven? It’s punishment for what we’re doing to the Jews.”

What’s more, men like Jung Stilling, J. C. Ryle, or C. H. Spurgeon had to believe that the Jews would return to their homeland without ever seeing it happen. Today, it’s part of history. We can see it before our eyes, although the people’s conversion is still yet to come.

The return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland is a visible sign from God for the nations, telling them that God won’t disregard His people: “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa 11:12).

When the Jews return, the peoples are meant to recognize that a living God is acting. But, how is present-day Christianity dealing with such visible evidence of biblical truth? If Stilling, Spurgeon, and others saw what we can today, wouldn’t they be appalled at the lukewarm attitude that much of Christendom has toward Israel, the fulfillment of Bible prophecies, and the imminent expectation of Jesus?

Stilling wrote, “[…] and we will then definitely know where things stand.” It’s almost as if we’re largely unaware; otherwise, we couldn’t possibly be so half-hearted about Israel or so lukewarm about Jesus’ return. We tolerate every religion; we sympathize with Israel’s avowed enemies; we accept compromises concerning the Jewish lands and people; we’re liberalizing the infallible Word of God—placing theological constructs, humanistic ideas, and our own reason above God’s own Word … not even noticing that we’re only disinheriting ourselves.

One example of Christianity’s pride is expressed in its ignorant attitude toward the State of Israel and how God is working in this people. We’re becoming blind to God’s miracles with Israel. We consider every idea, no matter how impossible: “Israel, a people like any other…” “the State of Israel, a product of Freemasonry…” “Israel must be prepared to cede land.” There is also the effect of acclimation. We’re in danger of wrongly becoming accustomed to what is happening in Israel and downplaying the miracle that is its statehood. It has long been said that the Church has taken Israel’s place, so it’s inevitable that much of the Old Testament was reinterpreted to support such a position. It was proclaimed from pulpits, taught in Confirmation and Bible instruction, and written in books. Things have been said along the lines of, “When the Bible speaks of Israel, it really means the Church. You can’t take the promises that Israel will return to its homeland literally; they’re symbolic or figurative. Israel is no longer promised a land of its own.”

But in 1948, the Lord Himself took over teaching and clarified to us in a single day that the promises of return (and, by extension, the founding of the State of Israel) were not symbolic, but literal. This was an obvious refutation of Replacement Theology for everyone.

Man’s theories and teachings pass away, but we uphold the Word of the Lord: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt 24:35).

News from Israel - 09/2022

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