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The Illegitimate State of Israel
Israel - Middle East
Friday, January 31, 2014
Alf Cengia

On the subjects of premillennialism, the national conversion of Israel and its return to the land, one 'very notable' theologian has written:

"Premillennialists have exploited this Scriptural teaching for their particular purpose. They maintain that there will be a national restoration and conversion of Israel, that the Jewish nation will be re-established in the Holy Land, and that this will take place immediately preceding or during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. It is very doubtful, however, whether Scripture warrants the expectation that Israel will finally be re-established as a nation, and will as a nation turn to the Lord. Some Old Testament prophecies seem to predict this, but these should be read in the light of the New Testament." ~ Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology (Emphases mine)

In another place he also noted that:

"The theory [premillennialism] is based on a literal interpretation of the delineations of the future of Israel and of the Kingdom of God, which is entirely untenable." (Emphases mine)

Interestingly, Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology was first published in 1939. At some level he must have been aware of the deep yearning in the hearts of Jewish Zionists at the time. These had gained momentum in the previous century as a result of the hardships Jews had endured spanning over the centuries.

His theological presuppositions must have ruled out any possibility of God's intervention on behalf of the Jewish desire to return to "Palestine". Furthermore, he most likely would have been skeptical that any Zionist movement could successfully bring to fruition a modern State of Israel.

And yet it did.

Nine years after the publication of his book and after the world emerged out of the 2nd World War to confront the horrors of the holocaust, and after two thousand stateless years, Israel once again became a nation in 1948. Berkhof died in 1957, nine years after modern Israel's birth. Even so, subsequent publications of his Systematic Theology did not revise his stance on the biblical legitimacy regarding Israel's rebirth as a nation.

I wonder what went through Berkhof's mind when Israel was officially recognized a State on May 14 1948. How did he rationalize it away? How did he come to terms with fledgling Israel's miraculous victory against an invasion by five Arab Legion nations? This victory was achieved while the world watched in the wings.

As the years slowly roll by, the memory of the holocaust, the Jewish struggle for survival and the nation's success against monumental odds has been largely dimmed.

Replacing these distant memories of Israel's struggles are the latest Zionist conspiracies. Popular books such as "Christian Zionism - Road-map to Armageddon?" have affirmed Berkhof's Replacement Theology. They argue that modern Israel's existence is solely indebted to the political and social lobbying of fanatical Christian and secular Zionist groups, rather than God's providence.

These materials find their voices in conferences and presentations that promote political, academic and economic lobbying against Israel. This activism recently raised its head in the anti-Israel rhetoric that appeared in many 2013 Christmas Church messages. The NGO Monitor observed:

"These organizations often use offensive and inflammatory rhetoric in Christmas carols, holiday messages and cards, nativity scenes, and other items. This year, verses and prayers that promote anti-Israel themes are prominent, polarizing Jewish-Christian relations and exacerbating an already complex and violent conflict...The abuse of Christmas messages is part of a broad international campaign to introduce political warfare against Israel into churches." (Emphasis mine)

Getting back to Berkhof - his view on Israel is the dominant church view. It's rare to find a volume on Systematic Theology that hasn't replaced Israel by the church, or argued that the church is the extension of Old Testament Israel. These theologies (amillennialism & postmillennialism) do not see a future one-thousand-year millennial kingdom with Israel in the land.

Even many who believe in a future thousand-year millennium do not necessarily see a future for Israel as a nation. These theologians often refer to themselves as "historic premillennialists." The word "historic" serves as an appeal to historical legitimacy. However, their interpretive approach to prophetic Scripture is too often determined by their reliance on the relatively recent introduction of Covenant Theology. And Covenant Theology generally teaches that the church is Spiritual Israel.

Berkhof's admissions above are revealing and should be investigated by anyone who takes God's word seriously. If Old Testament texts "seem to predict" Israel's re-establishment as a nation, it is because they "predict" exactly that. Here are just a few: Isaiah 46:10; Jeremiah 7:7, 31:31-37; Ezekiel 37:21-23; Hosea 5:15; Malachi 3:6; Acts 1:6-7; Romans 11:28-29.

Furthermore, dispensational premillennialists do take these texts literally because Jesus also expected His disciples to understand prophecy literally (Luke 24:21). The disciples didn't have access to the revisionist theologies we have today. They were expected to understand the prophetic texts as they were plainly written.

One straw man argument sometimes raised against dispensationalism is the so-called postponement of the kingdom problem. It goes something like this - if Jesus really offered Israel the literal kingdom as outlined in the OT then what of the cross? If Israel had accepted the kingdom Christ would not have gone to the cross for the world's sins. Therefore the kingdom offer to Israel must have been "spiritual."

However, dispensationalist Henry Thiessen pointed out that Israel's rejection of a literal kingdom had been prophesied, and the parable in Luke 19:11-27 clearly depicts this postponement. Charles Lee Feinberg also noted that objections to the postponement are: "like asking what happens if one of the nonelect of the earth should accept Christ as Savior." (Millennialism p 274)

Those who deny God's hand in establishing modern Israel forget that He used the agency of man to do so in the Old Testament. In fact God used man to punish and re-establish pre and post exilic Israel. There is no biblical reason to doubt God's intervention in 1948.

It appears to me that the sole reason to deny a literal interpretation of Israel's promises is that the church has become accustomed to the idea that She is Israel. Under that premise all Old Testament and New Testament references to Israel are re-interpreted by non-dispensationalists.

This blurring of distinctions between Israel and the church has created confusion in the study of eschatology (Last Things). God's future intervention to bring about Israel's repentance is now replaced with a Tribulation to purify the church.

In summary:

Those who consider modern Israel as being biblically illegitimate have discarded God's clear promises to that nation. Because of this apathy, anti-Israel sentiment has been adopted by Christians today.

One sad casualty of this re-interpretation and blurring of distinctions is that it has also become commonplace to deride those who look forward to an imminent coming of Christ for His church.

What a pity!

About Alf Cengia

Last week: The Cosmic Conspiracy

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