Covenant Reformed believers insist there is no future restoration of the Jewish people in a geopolitical kingdom situated in the land of Israel. Their main proof for that conviction is what they consider to be the complete lack of any mention in the whole of the NT of such a restoration. For instance, Bruce Waltke writes,
“….not one clear NT passage mentions the restoration of Israel as a political nation or predicts an earthly reign of Christ before his final appearing. None depicts the consummate glory of Christ as an earthly king ruling over the restored nation of Israel. The Spirit’s silence is deafening” [Feinberg, 273].
Covenant Reformers further insist such passages like Romans 4:13-15 and Hebrews 11:10 indicate that those OT promises in which the Jews are given a kingdom in the land of Canaan as an inheritance are now fulfilled in a spiritual sense. In other words, the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise is not merely limited to a “restoration” of the Jewish people, but involves the whole world, both Jews and gentiles.
The burden then is upon the future premillennialist who believes Israel will experience a political restoration to demonstrate from the NT where exactly such a situation is confirmed. If the NT is the culmination of God’s revelation to mankind, the greatest revelation being the very person of Jesus Christ, then it would only seem reasonable to expect God to provide us some indication as to whether or not the Jews are restored to a kingdom in the land of Israel. However, as one searches the NT, allegedly no clear verse can be found to affirm any restoration whatsoever.
Before considering a few passages of Scripture I believe do indicate a physical restoration of Israel to an earthly kingdom, we must consider a couple of hermeneutical factors, because how one approaches the Bible will factor heavily into how one interprets passages detailing Israel’s future.
First, as Christians we believe both the Old and New Testaments are of equal authority as divine revelation. On the surface, that is a rather simplistic, even patronizing comment. Of course everyone in whatever eschatological camp he may find himself will affirm that truth.
However, while everyone will certainly say he acknowledges such an obvious point, when it comes to discussions regarding the nation of Israel as it relates to the NT, and particularly the NT church, there will be those who will throw greater authorial weight behind the NT over the OT. They do so because it is understood the NT is the fullest expression of God’s revelation. We are to read the OT through the lens of the NT, as the exegetical “rule” states.
But as I have argued in previous articles in my eschatological series, the fact the NT is the fullest expression of God’s revelation and brings into sharper clarity areas in the OT, doesn’t mean it cancels out, voids, or otherwise reinterprets the OT in matters pertaining to the promises made to Israel.
It’s my contention that where the OT speaks of a future restoration of Israel, we as Christians need to understand those promises being fulfilled just as they are revealed in the OT. Those promises were made to a specific audience, the Jews, who were God’s people of the covenant. That audience would have understood those promises revealed by the prophets applying specifically to them as a national people. They would not have in mind those promises being fulfilled by an unknown group yet to be formed on the day of Pentecost perhaps 500 years in the future from when the prophecy is given.
To suggest there is some hidden meaning in the words of the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel when they spoke of a future restoration of the nation of Israel I believe treats God as being dishonest. Especially if we insist specific promises naming the nation Israel no longer apply to the original recipients in the manner originally revealed by the Lord, but is fulfilled by other means by another group.
A second point to keep in mind is that the NT isn’t particularly focused upon the restoration of Israel. It’s focus is new revelation for the kingdom citizens, both Jew and gentile, who will populate the coming kingdom. That is why we read the Bible in its entirety, as a collective whole. Though there may not be precise, detailed teaching on the restoration of Israel in a future kingdom found in the NT, it is found in the OT, and Christians should consider both testaments together in this regards.
I’ve heard some Covenant Reformed folks chide future premillennialists as being too “Jewish” with their reading of the Bible, or disregarding the NT in favor of the OT, or any number of similar comments. But both testaments are divine revelation that convey to us the mind of God. Could there not be an opposite “danger” of being too “Judeo-phobic,” or perhaps a woefully imbalanced christological hermeneutic in play with such thinking?
Again, I believe we should strive to study both the OT and the NT together as God intends for us to understand them. We accomplish that by utilizing a consistent hermeneutic that handles the biblical text in the manner the inspired authors intended for their message to be understood by their original audience.
Now, with those two items in mind, let me move to three specific passages. Two of them will be found in Luke’s history of Acts and one in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Acts 1:3, 6-7. Luke opens his history of the early church by explaining how after Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days appearing to His disciples and teaching them concerning the Kingdom of God (vs.3). What it was specifically that Jesus taught the disciples about the Kingdom is not told to us. However, we can get a hint of what He taught and draw some conclusions by how Jesus responded to the question asked of Him in verse 6.
Immediately before He ascended into heaven, the disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. “Restoring” is translated from the word apokathistemi and it has the idea of returning something to its previous state. In the context, the disciples are asking about the kingdom promised to Israel, because the concept of “restoring” Israel is found extensively throughout the OT in key prophetic texts like Isaiah 49, 57, Jeremiah 30, 31, and Joel 2.
The answer Jesus gives his disciples in response provides us with three important insights.
First, the disciples expected an earthly restoration just as was prophesied in the OT. They certainly had to have had in mind the OT promises of a future restoration of Israel that is found in such prophets as Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Second, they expected a kingdom. This would be a national, geopolitical kingdom, one that is the same as David’s and Solomon’s.
Third, they expected that earthly kingdom to be restored to the nation of Israel. Not a spiritual “remnant” called the “Israel of God,” but an ethnic, Jewish people known as Israel.
Jesus’ response to the question is telling, for He states, “It’s not for you to know the times and seasons.” In other words, the disciples need not concern themselves with knowing the exact, divinely appointed time of that restoration. His response further demonstrates that the disciples’ understanding of a literal, earthly kingdom had to be the same or Jesus would have corrected their misconception. He had been teaching them, as was noted in verse 3, “things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” off and on for forty days prior. All the disciples had misunderstood concerning the kingdom was its timing, not its substance.
Acts 3:19-21. Here we have Peter’s words calling Israel to repentance so that the “times of refreshing” may come from the presence of the Lord and Jesus will be sent at the “restoration of all things.” The question for us is what does Peter mean when he says “times of refreshing” and “restoration of all things.”
Let’s consider the word “restoration” first. It is the same word form found in Acts 1:6, apokatastasis. Again, it has the idea of restoring something to a previous condition. This restoration is further defined by the word “times,” or karios as used in Acts 1:7 which means a divinely fixed time frame, a period of time ordained by God’s sovereign choosing.
Peter’s words here are an expansion of what Jesus stated to his disciples immediately before his Ascension. Moreover, his audience is also the Jewish people who would certainly have an OT understanding of what the prophets meant by restoration. In their minds, they would be thinking about the kingdom of Israel with their Messiah as king. They would not be pouring into his words a notion of a “spiritual remnant” that is now a new Israel comprised of by Jews and gentiles.
A similar idea would also be considered with the phrase, “times of refreshing.” Old testament prophetic passages like Isaiah 11:6-10, 35:1-10, Ezekiel 34:26, and even Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 that anticipate what He calls “a regeneration,” speak of a special time of extensive blessing when the land is renewed and the people experience uninterrupted prosperity, especially the presence of the Lord dwelling in the land with His people Israel. Thus, the “restoration” and “times of refreshing” are events connected to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom land promises to Israel.
Romans 11:25ff. One final passage I believe tells us about Israel’s restoration is Paul’s words in Romans 11:25ff. Interestingly, Covenant Reformed folks are divided among themselves as to whether or not this passage speaks to a future restoration of national Israel.
There are three notable camps.
Some, like John Calvin, O. Palmer Robertson, and P.E. Hughes argue the “all Israel” that will be saved in 11:26 is the NT Church, or the “New Israel.” Others, like Sam Waldron, Robert Reymond, and Louis Berkhof understand the “all Israel” to be a Jewish remnant that is presently being saved and added to the Church. Whereas a third group, for example John Murray, Leon Morris, and F.F. Bruce, understand the “all Israel” to be a total regathering and salvation of national Israel. The fact that there exists a diversity of opinion regarding Romans 11 even among Reformed Covenant believers, demonstrates that there isn’t an airtight case against Israel’s national restoration as future premillennialists believe.
I plan to have a more comprehensive overview of Romans 9-11 at a future point, but for now, it is important to realize these 3 chapters in Romans is Paul’s explanation as to why the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah. Primarily that rejection is due to God’s sovereign, electing purposes with gathering the gentiles to Christ for salvation.
In order to accomplish that electing purpose, Paul says in Romans 11:25 a divinely appointed spiritual blindness, or partial hardening has come upon Israel UNTIL the fullness of the gentiles comes in. I’ll pause here and point out Dr. Samuel Waldron’s exegetical argument against the view of a national restoration of Israel because it is well known as an anecdote against the premillennial perspective.
He argues that the word “hardened” has to do with the mystery of God’s election. He notes that Romans 11:7 presents two types of people from the standpoint of election, the chosen and the hardened. The chosen are saved, whereas the hardened are lost, and that hardening will never cease [Waldron, 137].
The problem with Dr. Waldron’s exegetical point is two-fold. First, Paul uses two distinct words in Romans 9-11 to speak of “hardening.” The first one in Romans 9:18 is translated from the word sklerno, which has the idea of “making hard” or “rendering obstinate or stubborn.” The second use is found in Romans 11:7, 25 where the word translated as “hardened” is from porosis, which has the idea of “covering with a callus” or “obtrusiveness with mental discernment.” Some translations, like the NKJV, translate the word “blindness” rather than “hardness” at 11:25.
Secondly, contrary to his assertion that the hardening spoken of in Romans 11:7 can never cease, the same word is used in Mark 6:52 where the disciples are described as being “hardened” about what had happened when Jesus fed the 5,000. Jesus later asked the disciples in Mark 8:17 if their hearts were hardened when Jesus warned about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Obviously, this wasn’t a permanent hardening.
Rather than this being a permanent hardening that has happened to Israel, we have what the text states as a partial hardening, or better, blindness that will be removed. It is a divinely induced blindness for a period of time, that being while God brings in the “fullness of the gentiles.” Oddly, Waldron’s and Roberston’s exegesis of the phrase “until the fullness of the gentiles” only serves to reinforce the future premillennial view, even though they believe it undermines it. Waldron writes, “…the idea is the partial hardening of Israel continues right up until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in – at which point Jesus returns.” [Waldron, 138]. But it is as the moment of Christ’s return, when the people look upon their Messiah that they believe in faith upon Him. In other words, the moment God finishes with the “fullness of the gentiles” is the moment the hardening is removed and the moment all the nation believes.
Paul goes on to say in 11:28, Israel is considered enemies for “your sakes,” meaning the gentiles who are the recipients of salvation. However, Israel won’t be left in their spiritual blindness, but will experience national salvation after that gentile fullness has been completed (vs. 26).
Additionally, Matt Weymeyer has pointed out the grammatical nuance of the correlative conjunctions used by Paul to describe Israel in Romans 11:28. Those conjunctions, rather than contrasting an “old” Israel with a “new” Israel, express the idea of “on the one hand…but on the other” and reveal a dual status for Israel that makes them at the same time both beloved by God and enemies toward the gentiles for God’s purposes [Weymeyer, 65].
They will not, however, remain in that state. We know this because of three theological truths Paul mentions in the verses 28, 29.
– God has an electing purpose for Israel that will see completion.
– Israel is beloved for “the sake of the fathers,” meaning the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to whom God gave the promise of national identity in the land of Canaan.
– Because God’s calling is irrevocable (vs. 29). In other words, it is a calling God can never take back, and thus He can never undo His original covenant He made to His people Israel.
So, rather than there being no passages that speak to Israel’s future restoration, I believe there are some significant ones, particularly Paul’s words in Romans 11. Both Jesus and the apostles expected a future restoration and nowhere do they reinterpret or reject what the OT prophesied regarding that restoration.
John Feinberg ed., Continuity and Discontinuity
Matt Weymeyer, “Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28.” TMS Journal, Vol.16, No.1, Spring 2005 on-line here.
Samuel Waldron, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto