Israel in Prophecy
1 Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
2 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard.
3 But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.
4 And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted.
5 Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed.
6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
7 But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'
8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
Back in 1970, I encountered Hal Lindsey's book, The Late, Great Planet Earth. It was one of the best selling works of non-fiction in the seventies. Coming on the heels of the Six-Day War in which Israel won a stunning victory over its Arab foes, the book benefited from the pro-Israel sentiment of the time. The book maintained that the Jews are the "chosen people of God" and that the foundation of the modern state of Israel began that period that is sometimes called “the end of time.” The book has since been published in 54 languages, has reported sales of over thirty-five million copies, and is still in print.
In The Late, Great Planet Earth, Lindsey wrote that since the United States is not mentioned in the books of Daniel or Revelation, that the USA would no longer be a major power when the “end times” arrived. Lindsey also predicted that the European Common Market, which we now call the European Union, was destined (according to Biblical prophecy) to become a "United States of Europe," which in turn, he said, was destined to become a revived Roman Empire ruled by the Antichrist.
Hal Lindsey forecast that the end times would consist of the lifetime of the generation that began with the establishment of Israel in 1948, and he wrote in The Late, Great Planet Earth that a generation is "something like forty years." Therefore, by roughly 1988, Jesus should have returned and established his kingdom.
Today, some 36 years after the publication of The Late, Great Planet Earth, we acknowledge that Lindsay got it mostly wrong. Nothing he predicted has occurred. Worse yet, he failed to notice the major event of the eighties--the collapse of the Soviet Union.
To be fair to Lindsay, he was a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and in The Late, Great Planet Earth, he just put down in a very readable format what was being taught at DTS, and indeed at many fundamentalist seminaries in the sixties and seventies. What was being taught was dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism teaches that the Christian Church is a parenthesis in God's dealings with the Jews. Jesus and his church interrupted the flow of history. Dispensationalists say that all history is really about God’s holy nation Israel.
Dispensationalism originated in England in the 19th century among a group known as the Plymouth Brethren, and especially in the writings of one member of that group, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
In America, a number of folks adopted dispensationalism in the late 1800’s. One of the most important was Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843 - 1921). The Scofield Reference Bible, which consists of Scofield’s notes interspersed in the King James Version of the Bible, promotes dispensationalism. It is largely through the influence of this reference Bible that dispensationalism grew and prospered among fundamentalist Christians in the United States. Scofield's notes on Revelation are a major source for the various timetables and judgments elaborated by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth.
Dispensationalists differ among themselves but most all of them believe in a Jewish restoration. They say that the Jews are the chosen of people of God, and that when the Jews reestablished the nation of Israel in 1948, the prophecy clock started ticking on the end of time.
That is what dispensationalists say. Is it so? Is the modern state of Israel a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy? In other words, is there prophecy that demands that the nation of Israel be reestablished? I cannot find any passages in the Bible that make such a demand. Plenty of Old Testament passages talk about the reestablishment of Israel. These passages were written during the Babylonian exile and have to do with the reestablishment of a remnant in Israel under Nehemiah and Ezra. But the main evidence that leads us to deny any prophetic value to modern Israel comes from specific passages in the New Testament that assure us that Jews are no longer the chosen people, and that there is a new Israel.
Who are the chosen people? The chosen people are people who believe in Jesus. They may be Jews, they may be Chinese, they may be Rwandan, they may even be Americans. In the Old Testament, the twelve tribes of Israel were God’s chosen nation. But in the New Testament God altered his manner of choosing a people so that the chosen nation now consists of believers in Jesus.
Thus, we read in I Peter 2:9, where Peter is addressing Gentile Christians. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people.” This is language that in the Old Testament was addressed to Israel. It is now transferred to Christians. In v10, Peter goes on to expound on this saying, ”Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Before they accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, these Gentiles were not God’s people, and had not received God’s forgiveness and mercy for their sins, but now, in Christ, they are God’s forgiven people.
So, the holy nation today is the church of Jesus Christ. The church inherits the privileges and responsibilities that formerly belonged to Israel. This is the significance of the parable of the vineyard in Mark 12.
In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s vineyard. Psalm 80, for example, speaks of God bringing a vine out of Egypt and clearing out the nations of Palestine and planting his vine and caring for it. This helps us toward an interpretation of the parable.
Jesus tells us that there was "a man [who] planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower;” then he leased it to some sharecroppers and moved to the city (1). When it was time to harvest grapes, the man sent his slave back to get his share of the harvest (2).
But the sharecroppers beat up the slave and ran him off. So the man sent another slave, but they also beat him up and ran him off. The man sent still others, and some they beat, and some they killed.
The man had one dearly beloved son, and he thought, surely they will respect my son. So he sent his son to them. But the sharecroppers thought, if we kill the son, we get his inheritance, we get the vineyard. “So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard” (8).
In v9, Jesus asks a question: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” And Jesus supplies us with an answer: “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
As we interpret this parable, we see that the owner of the vineyard is God. God made the vineyard and installed a system for maintaining the vineyard. The system was the nation of Israel. God sent his servants to his vineyard; he sent the prophets to Israel, but the controllers of the vineyard—the Jewish establishment—beat and murdered and ignored the prophets.
Finally, God sent his own son, and they crucified him. So Jesus asks, what should be done about this? The vineyard is taken away from its former controllers and given to others. Notice that the Jewish people are not condemned in this parable. The Jewish establishment is condemned. The authorities, the movers and shakers, are condemned because they consistently disobeyed God. Therefore, another system, another establishment, is put in their place. The old establishment was based on biology. You were born a Jew. The new establishment is based on faith. You must be spiritually reborn through faith in Christ. Can a Jew be saved then under this new covenant in Christ? Of course, but the Jew is saved in the same way the Greek or the Roman is saved, by belief in Christ.
In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus is the heir of the vineyard. In the gospel of John, Jesus is the vineyard itself. Jesus says in John 15: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” Thus, Jesus has replaced Israel as vineyard of God. Thus, those who believe in Jesus are in Christ, are in his body, and are the true Israel.
The apostle Paul spells this out in Galatians when he says in chapter 3:7 “Those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.” He says the same thing again in v9, “Those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.”
Ask a Jew what basis he has for saying he is one of the Chosen People of God, and he will give you his genealogy. He will trace his ancestry back to Abraham, and he will say that God made a covenant with Abraham to give his descendants the land of Canaan and to bless his descendants. So the Jew’s status as a Chosen Person depends on his biological descent from Abraham.
That was true in the Old Testament; it is not true in the New Testament. The new covenant in Christ is not biological but spiritual. Who is a son or a daughter of Abraham? Galatians says, those who believe like Abraham are sons and daughters of Abraham. Your biological credentials are no longer important. Only your spiritual credentials matter. In effect, Paul says, I don’t care who your momma and your daddy were or who your grandmamma or granddaddy were. That kind of thing does not matter when it comes to dealing with God.
In Galations 3:28-29, Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
The chosen people are Abraham’s daughters, Abraham’s sons, by faith. Believers inherit the covenant with Abraham. God no longer deals with people in any other way. There is only one covenant operating today. That is the covenant with Jesus Christ.
What then about the modern state of Israel? What prophetic significance does it have? None at all. Do not get me wrong. I support the modern state of Israel. I support them because they are the only democracy in the area. The rulers of all the Arab states are a bunch of thugs that maintain themselves by murdering and imprisoning their opponents. They may call themselves kings or presidents or whatever, but they operate like the mafia. So, I am pro-Israel, but for political reasons, not for religious reasons. The only Israel today that has religious significance is the church.
Where do I find the true Israelites? I am looking at them. I am looking at them. You are. I am. We are Israelites. All those who rest their hopes in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are Israel. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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