Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 3 – The Restoration of Israel
by Gerald R. Thompson
Deut 30:1-5 / Jer. 23:1-8 / Jer. 32:36-44 / Ezek. 28:25-26 / Ezek. 34:11-31 / Ezek. 36:16-38 / Ezek. 37:11-14, 24-28 / Ezek. 38:8-12 / Isa. 11:11-16 / Zeph. 3:14-20 / Zech. 8:1-8 / Rom. 11:25-27
The restoration of Israel in the end times is foretold in numerous scriptures throughout the O.T. I have listed only some of the principal texts above. They are so extensive that I will not reproduce all of them here except in summary fashion below. But I want you to see that this is not a passing thought found in only one or two texts. It is a pervasive theme of the Bible.
The Root and the Graft
The restoration of Israel as a nation is important because it shows that God has not forgotten about Israel, “switched” from Israel to the Church, or merged the two together. When people consider Israel and the Church to be merged, it always means that the Church takes over and Israel goes away, i.e., that the Church replaces Israel in prophecy. Merge is code language for replace. In contrast, I want to emphasize that Israel is important in the prophetic future and is not replaced or superseded by the Church.
Take Rom. Chap. 11, for example, which starts out with the statement, “God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite …” In fact, the whole chapter, while explaining how Gentiles have been grafted into the “olive tree of God” (i.e., the chosen people of God), affirms that Israel has not been cut off from the tree. According to Rom. 11:17-18:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and [Gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root [Israel], but the root that supports you.
Therefore, if the Church does not support Israel, then it cannot replace it, either. The grafting process does not convert the cultivated olive tree (to use the metaphor of Romans) into a wild olive tree. As anyone familiar with horticultural grafting knows, the graft is an add-on, not a replacement. In other words, among the chosen people of God, Israel is primary, the Church is secondary, and nothing in this respect has changed since the Church came along. See Rom. 11:23-24:
And even [Israel], if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if [Gentiles] were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
God is not done with Israel as a nation yet. Jesus did not come to obliterate the distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church. Furthermore, God has prepared from the beginning of the Church, to re-integrate unbelieving Israel back into the olive tree. Thus, Rom. 11 foreshadows the turning of Israel to Christ in the end times. As if to put the matter to rest, Rom. 11:26 says, “all Israel will be saved,” and v. 29 says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses are intended to be understood literally, taken at face value. Don’t denigrate them by forcing an allegorical interpretation upon them.
The idea that the Church has become the Israel of God, and God’s future plans for Israel and the Church are one and the same, is an idea held by postmillennialists and amillennialists to fit their narrative of the supremacy of the Church. Besides ignoring the clear instruction of Rom. 11, it is based on a wrong understanding of God’s covenants with man throughout history. This view conceives of the divine covenants all applying to believers only, and therefore constitute successive chapters in a single “progressively revealed” covenant.
However, the divine covenants (other than the covenant in Christ), according to the scriptures, apply to those who made them at the time and their physical descendants. Therefore (as I said in the Introduction), some of the covenants apply to everyone and others apply only to the Jews. Only the covenant in Christ applies to Christians (or the Church), per se. For purposes of the present discussion, we will adopt the view of the premillennialists – otherwise, none of the prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel have any future importance and there wouldn’t be any point discussing them.
Hallmarks of the Regathering
The regathering of the Jews is the second phase of the restoration of Israel (after the firstfruits of Israel – the 144,000) and is important for three reasons (national, spiritual, political):
1) it means the restoration of the full extent of Israel’s territory (i.e., land);
2) it means the spiritual renewal of the Jewish people who will eventually follow Jesus; and
3) it means the destruction of all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
But first, a little history. After the judges, Israel had only three kings for less than 120 years as a unified nation. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom divided into two parts, each with a separate kingly line – the 10 northern tribes, commonly called Israel; and the southern two tribes, commonly called Judah. Each of these were separately conquered and taken into captivity – Israel by the Assyrians about 721 B.C., and Judah by the Babylonians around 606 B.C.
In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was destroyed. Around 538 B.C., Zerubbabel started to rebuild the temple, completed by Ezra beginning in 458 B.C., and Nehemiah followed around 445 B.C. to rebuild the city walls. The Temple Mount was expanded and fortified by King Herod about 20 B.C. These stood until 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered among the nations. No Jewish king has reigned over the nation of Israel since the Babylonian deportation. And in spite of the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Jews remain largely scattered among the nations today.
Most of the O.T. prophets wrote during the time between 721 B.C. (the first deportation) and the rebuilding of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. So one thing to watch for is prophecies relating to the rebuilding of the temple by Nehemiah (the Second Temple), and the return of the Jews from deportation. This initial return of the Jews to Jerusalem is not the “restoration” of Israel. Neither is the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. Why? Because neither of these past events signify:
1) the turning of the Jews to Jesus spiritually;
2) restoration of the full extent of the Promised Land (we’re talking real estate here); or
3) the destruction of all surrounding hostile nations.
I encourage you to read all of the texts cited above to see just how pervasive this theme of restoration is in the O.T. You can easily see why the Jews in Jesus’ time were expecting a conquering king, rather than a suffering savior. They were looking for the restoration of Israel, which obviously hadn’t happened yet. And it hasn’t happened since, either.
The following are some representative scriptures relating to the regathering of the Jews:
Return of Jews to Palestine
Deut 30:1-5 – “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, … then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. … And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it.”
Jer. 23:3 – “Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”
Jer. 32:37 – “Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety.”
Ezek. 34:12-13 – “As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.”
Restoration of the land
Ezek. 28:25 – “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob.”
Ezek. 36:24 – “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.”
Ezek. 37:21-22 – “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.”
Ezek. Ch. 45-48 – Detailed measurements are given to Ezekiel for re-allotment to the tribes of Israel “When you allot the land as an inheritance.” Included in these measurements is a metes and bounds description of the entire Promised land, like the kind used in legal descriptions for deeds today. Ezek. 47:13-23.
Jer. 32:38-39 – “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.”
Ezek. 36:26-28 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules … and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
Rom. 11:26 – all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
Destruction of hostile nations
Joel 3:19 – Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
Zeph. 3:15, 19a – The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. … Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.
Zech. 8:7 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country.
Zech. 14:12-13 – And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other.
Precious little is overtly stated as to when the regathering of the Jews will happen. We can infer that the regathering will most likely occur at the beginning of the Millennium, because multiple texts refer both to Israel being ruled by Christ, and the surrounding nations being judged, all about the same time. However, Rom. 11:25-29 indicates it will happen after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, that is, a highly probable reference to the end of the Tribulation (see discussion below).
Ezek. 38:8-12 overtly suggests, and other texts imply, that the regathering will begin (but not be completed before) Armageddon, because Gog and Magog will attack Israel when the Jews already “have been gathered from many nations” and “are living securely” in unwalled villages. In other words, some measure of restoration will come before Armageddon, principally the physical (or geographical) regathering of the Jews. If there is a seven year peace treaty with the Antichrist, this may be the time of living securely. But more likely, this refers to the time since 1948 when the Jewish people regained their status as a nation-state.
However, the Bible never says that the Jews will turn their hearts to Christ prior to the Second Coming. Therefore, it is most probable that the spiritual renewal of Israel will not come until after the Second Coming, if not in fact on that very day. This is a necessary implication of the 144,000 of Israel who by definition are the first part of the nation of Israel to turn to Christ. The rest of the nation will not turn to Christ until after the 144,000 have finished their task (i.e., after the Tribulation). Similarly, the direct rule of Christ and the covenant of peace will come after Armageddon, not before. So I am not convinced the regathering precedes Armageddon since all these things should happen at the same time.
The regathering will undoubtedly take some time (How quickly can the Jews all return to the Promised Land?), may unfold in stages instead of all at once, and may be ongoing while other things are happening. God never says the various events which are prophesied will not overlap each other. Be wary of end times charts and graphs that show one event stopping before another event starts. One thing we do know is that a remnant of Israel will be sheltered and nourished in the wilderness for 1260 days (Rev. 12:6), ostensibly during the reign of the Antichrist, so once he is defeated, that particular remnant will probably return to Israel very quickly.
But one thing is for certain – the regathering of the Jews in its full prophetic sense hasn’t happened yet. The formation of the civil state of Israel in 1948 wasn’t it. Otherwise, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights would not be in Palestinian hands, the spiritual renewal would already have occurred, and the hostile nations around Israel would be destroyed. Clearly these things have not yet taken place.