Israel and the promises of God (part 3 of ‘Rightly dividing the word of truth’)

‘The Old Testament promises a national salvation of Israel, it promises a natural restoration when the Jews will live in peace in the whole Promised Land, and nothing in the New Testament can cancel those divine unconditional promises, and if it does so it becomes a fraudulent document. If it precedes [proceeds?] to provide additional information, that is a different issue.’  


The additional information provided in the New Testament confirms how the Old Testament promises are fulfilled. Paul told the Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33).

In Genesis 17:8 we see that the Land was promised to Abraham himself as an eternal possession. Since Abraham is the principal heir to the Land, the promise cannot be fulfilled by bringing his descendents to live in peace in the whole Promised Land, even in perpetuity.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50). In order for God to fulfil His promise literally, i.e. to give the Land to Abraham, so that he and his seed may inhabit it as an eternal possession, He will have to raise them up in immortal flesh. (The Talmud in Sanhedrin 98b uses this argument to prove resurrection from the Torah.)

Jacob and Joseph both gave instructions for their mortal remains to be carried from Egypt and buried in the Promised Land. (According to Rashi, Jacob knew that Messiah will resurrect the righteous into their Inheritance – commentary on Gen. 47:30).

After the Exodus, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were permitted to settle on the other side of the Jordan, in an area not previously designated for Israel (Joshua 22:9). Israel’s inheritance was thus expansive. At the conclusion of the exile, Daniel was told to live out his days in Babylon, instead of returning to Judea: “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance” (Daniel 12:13).

The New Testament reveals that Abraham is ultimately heir to the whole world2, namely the new earth to be revealed when Messiah returns in glory, having destroyed all dominion, authority and power (1 Cor 15:24), when also the perishable will be clothed with immortality (1 Cor 15:54).

The destruction of sin is a critical prerequisite to the resurrection. Man’s rebellion against God cannot endure in the immortal state, neither can the perfect peace and glorious bounty of that condition be jeopardised by the wilfulness of man. The resurrection hope of the patriarchs was thus precarious until the solution to sin was put into effect. Once Jesus defeated sin and death, and became for us the first fruits from the dead (1 Cor 15:20), that hope was secured.

“None of them, [the patriarchs and men of faith through the ages], received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Jesus’ resurrection is itself the absolute proof that sin is conquered, and the guarantee of our inheritance in the world to come. The faithful can now attain to the resurrection with absolute confidence. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Pet 1:3-4). From the victory over sin and death stems the good news that Paul proclaimed so emphatically to the Jews: “What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33).

The Spirit is given to believers as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor 5:5). We thus participate in Abraham’s blessing when in faith we receive the promise of the Spirit (see Gal 3:14).

Who is Israel?

The identity of Israel, namely Abraham’s seed and co-heirs, is a further point on which the New Testament has cast great light. While Dispensationalists cling tenaciously to the idea of an unconditional covenant which must be fulfilled specifically to the naturaldescendants of Abraham, the New Testament is at pains to show – from Old Testament authority – that Israel is a nation founded by election and defined by its faithfulness to Abraham’s God.

God’s covenant with Abraham was conditional upon faithfulness and obedience. I am the Almighty God! Walk before Me and be perfect. And I will make My covenant between Me and you.3 The same faithfulness was also required of Abraham’s descendents in order for the promise to be fulfilled: “And YHVH said, shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do, And Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the persons of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his sons and his house after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment, that YHVH may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him” (Gen 18:17-19).

After Abraham’s faithfulness was established beyond doubt in the sacrifice of Isaac, he was given an absolute assurance of the covenant blessing, when God swore his inheritance to him on oath (Gen 22:15-18). God promised Abraham irrevocably –

  • descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore;
  • your seed will possess the gate of his enemies;4 and
  • through your seed all nations on earth will be blessed.

When John the Baptist warns the Pharisees, “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9-10), he is simply affirming what was already clear from Old Testament history: God would sooner bring forth descendants for Abraham out of stones than fulfil His oath through unfaithful natural seed. Our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea … Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert (1 Cor 10:1-5).

God could reduce Israel to a single progenitor and still fulfil his promise to Abraham. This was demonstrated at the time of the Exodus when God twice threatened to destroy the entire nation and create a new Israel out of Moses (Ex 32:10; Num 14:12). As a later fulfilment of this threat, Jesus did, in a manner of speaking, become the sole progenitor of Israel under the New Covenant.5

When the prophet like Moses was revealed, all those who did not receive the word that God spoke through his mouth were completely cut off from among their people (Acts 3:22-23), i.e. ceased to be part of Israel. The nation was reduced to a remnant made up of believers in Jesus.

Throughout Israel’s history, the falling away of unfaithful natural descendants was compensated by the addition from other nations of those who became faithful to the God of Israel. Caleb, Ruth and Rahab serve as types, while the process of assimilation was probably continual and widespread.

Aliens living among the Israelites were required to obey the terms of the Mosaic covenant6and a demonstrable faithfulness would lead to their eventual acceptance into Israel: “Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD” (Deut 23:7-8).

The prophets hinted at a time when the influx would swell to unprecedented proportions: “‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people’” (Zechariah 2:10-11).

Psalm 87 reads: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. I will mention Rahab and Babylon to those who know me; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. And to Zion it shall be said, This man and that man was born in her; and the Highest shall establish her. The LORD shall count, in recording the peoples, that this man was born there. Selah.” (verses 3-6)

After the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon, aliens would be counted as native-born Israelites and receive their allotments among the twelve tribes: “‘You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23)7

When Paul explains that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6), it is in response to the question: did God’s word fail? Paul addresses the apparent failure of God’s promise to Israel by refuting the simplistic ethnic definition of Israel (not by deferring the hope of fulfilment to a future time). Using Jeremiah’s analogy of Israel as an olive tree (Jeremiah 11:16-17), Paul explains the cutting off of unfaithful branches of natural stock and the grafting into Israel of those formerly excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise (Eph 2:12) who had now received the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.8 The grafting-in process would also have the consequence of provoking some of the cut off branches to jealousy, so that these would repent of their unbelief and be grafted back into Israel, receiving life from the dead.

Joel prophesied (i) the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, (ii) the judgment that God would bring upon the unrepentant “cut off branches” in 70 AD and (iii) the opportunity of salvation that was yet available to all who would believe.

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
And all who call on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:28-32)

And so all Israel will be saved. (Rom 11:26)

All Israel is equivalent to all who call upon the Lord, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

In its fullness, the olive tree, God’s holy nation, is comprised of the remnant of natural seed who heeded the Prophet like Moses, grafted-in believers from every nation, and cut off branches who repent of their unbelief and are grafted back into Israel.9

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Rom 11:33)


In Part One we showed that there is no absolute or incontestable interpretation of Old Testament scriptures based on their original context and understanding. Thus the New Testament explanation of how God fulfilled His promises cannot be said to totally change what the Old Testament says.

Instead, the notion of “an original contextual meaning” that differs from God’s eternal purpose revealed in Christ, becomes an artifice for those who want to escape the full implications of the New Testament message, especially its implication for Jewish nationalism.

From Dr Fruchtenbaum’s perspective, if the New Testament does not conform to his views of who the Old Testament promises were made to and of what is required for their fulfilment, then it [the New Testament] becomes a fraudulent document. But it is rather the sincerity and faithfulness of the believer that is at stake, for Scripture proves our faith and reveals the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

In Part Two we showed that the New Testament discloses mysteries contained in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, but purposefully concealed from former generations. These mysteries were made known in Christ by God’s eternal command and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. What was formerly understood in part was fully revealed in Christ. The Morning Star appears at the first light of dawn, eclipsing the prophets that shone like stars in a dark place.

Jesus does not follow the Old Testament as additional information, but is pre-existent and pre-eminent. He was with God from the beginning and God has ordained the restoration of all things to Himself in him.

The dilemma of the Jewish nation, its alienation from the Land and its inability to obtain God’s blessings because of sin, points to the plight of all mankind – living as it does in the aftermath of Adam’s fall, exiled from Eden and separated from the Source of Life. By the work of the cross the consequence of Adam’s sin is reversed through forgiveness and the destruction of the sinful nature.

God is not waiting for the end of the church age in order to “resume his dealings with Israel”. Instead, the history of Jacob’s descendants serves as an example for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come (1 Cor 10:11). The true Jew is revealed as one who is circumcised by Christ.10 We have the assurance: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29).

The New Testament describes the church as the fulfilment of God’s eternal purposewhich he has accomplished in Christ (Eph 3:10-11). The blessing that was promised to Abraham is described as the gospel proclaimed to him in advance. The widespread incorporation of Gentiles into Israel, and their forming one body with the faithful remnant of Jacob and sharing with them in the same promise and inheritance – although a mystery – was always God’s plan.

We cannot escape the conclusion that the New Testament interprets the Old, nor that it claims to reveal the original intention behind God’s promises and to be their ultimate fulfilment. In order to understand the Old Testament independently of the New, as advocated by Dr Fruchtenbaum, we would have to –

  • contradict what the New Testament says about the way in which the promises were originally intended and understood;
  • refuse to accept that the gospel of the kingdom succeeds the Law and the Prophets;
  • disregard the teachings of the New Testament on how the Old Testament promiseshave been fulfilled; and
  • ignore the verdict that those who read the Old Testament without the light of Christ are veiled.

That Jesus and his kingdom that “is not of this world,” did not fulfil popular expectation is evident from the widespread rejection of Christ among the Jews, both during his lifetime and in subsequent generations.

Jesus continues to be a rock of offence and a stumbling block, and is still causing therising and falling of many in Israel. Ironically, certain Christians are currently falling away from Israel as they stumble anew over the fundamental claims of the New Testament and adopt the same misguided hope that led to the rejection of Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. Paul’s warning that branches that were grafted into the olive tree can equally be cut off again, must surely also apply to those who betray the gospel of Christ and sell out to the idea of a geo-political fulfilment of the Old Covenant promises for an ethnically defined “Israel”. In the idiom of Esau, some are exchanging their birthright as children of the resurrection for a temporal sop.

Jesus must remain in heaven until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21). Having once taken on the guise of human flesh and secured our inheritance by his sinless death, Jesus has now been exalted to the Highest Place and is ruling from the right hand of the Father. Jesus will not return in the veil of mortal flesh to a world that has been condemned (John 3:18) in order to establish a Jewish homeland that is destined for destruction when the new heavens and earth are revealed. Instead he will appear in heavenly glory and those who have not yet believed will be destroyed in the sheer splendour of his coming. For who shall stand when he appears? At the same time, all who have held unwaveringly to the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints – Jew and Gentile alike – will be transposed from the present earth in order to be with him forever, where he is (John 14:3).

It remains a tragic consequence of ethnic and religious pride that “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 8:11-12).

Those who have gained complete understanding will know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and thus not be deceived by fine-sounding arguments which fail to see everything in his light (Col 2:2-4).

1. The Hebrew לך is “you” singular.
2. In the Greek, Romans 4:13 uses κόσμος instead of γη.
3. Gen 17:1-2. At the outset, Abraham had to leave Mesopotamia to receive the blessing. See Gen 12:1-5.
4. Note the singular and compare Hebrews 1:13.
5. Galatians 3:16 and John 15:5 can also be understood in this light. “I am the vine …” draws on the typology of Psalm 80:8 and Jeremiah 2:21, implying that Christ is Israel, and those included in him.
6. See Leviticus 16:29 and 17:8-13 for some examples.
7. The events of Ezra 10 must be understood in relation to women who had not demonstrated faithfulness to Israel’s God and remained outside of the Israelite community. The returning exiles had themselves become ignorant of the terms of the Sinai Covenant and were highly susceptible at this time to outside influence.
8. 2 Corinthians 4:6. In his choice of words (2 Cor 4:6), Paul was probably alluding to the events at Peniel, where Jacob was first named Israel.
9. Dispensationalists conclude that it is not the tree, but the cut off branches who are Israel – the heirs of the promise, to whom it must yet be fulfilled in the future. Some Dispensationalists even contend that a cut off branch ceases to be part of Israel once it is grafted back into the tree.
10. Col 2:11-13.