Further signs of the End 2


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  • In his predictions about the End Times Jesus said of the Jewish people: “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Some people try to relate this only to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The first part clearly does refer to AD70: Many Jewish people did “fall by the sword” and the vast majority were “taken as prisoners to all the nations.”  It is also true that after that Jerusalem was trampled on by the Gentiles” i.e. subject to Gentile rule for 2000 years. All of this is literal. But then Jesus predicts that the Jewish people will regain control of Jerusalem (the unavoidable implication of “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”). Are we therefore to see the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem after 2000 years of exile and the re-establishment of the State of Israel (whatever else needs to happen) as a sign of the End Times?  I believe we are, although I am aware of all the questions that raises.
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  • I was brought up to believe that Israel is still significant in God’s purposes and, although I no longer accept many of the reasons I was given for this belief, I cannot ignore what the Bible teaches on the subject.
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  • Another important factor is that I have been put off by a great deal of Christian Zionism (the view that God still has a purpose for Israel and the Jewish people) because it is often based on unbalanced interpretation of Scripture and linked with lack of care, or even negativism towards the Palestinians and Arabs. I believe strongly God is a God of justice, yes for Israel, but also for the Palestinians. (See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/calltojustice.html). 
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  • When I was General Director of the Church of England’s mission to the Jewish people and Rector of Christ Church, Jerusalem, I came across many most unhelpful Christian Zionist views, some of them quite crazy. Some Christians get quite carried away by their excitement about the subject and this puts off more sensible Christians.  I have already explained that I do not accept the view known as Dispensationalism (on which I was brought up), namely:
  • ·         That God’s dealings with Israel are totally separate from his dealings with the church.
  • ·         Israel and the Church belong to different “Dispensations” (Ages)
  • ·         God has different plans for Israel and the Church
  • ·         Whatever God said to Israel should never be applied to the church and vice versa.
  • ·         That for the last 2000 years (the “Church Age”) he has only been working with the church, not with Israel. So the current dispensation is the Church Age.
  • ·         That God won’t start working with Israel again until the church is taken out of the way – in the Secret Rapture, which will end the present dispensation to an end.
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  • However we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have to look at what the Bible says and seek to interpret it in an unbiased way. Given the amount of prediction of an End Time return to the land in the Bible (not just from Babylon etc.) the most remarkable re-establishment of the State of Israel is, to say the least, a huge coincidence if it is not the beginning (only the beginning) of the fulfilment of those prophecies.
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  • It is important to note that many Christians accept what is called “Replacement Theology,” namely the idea that the church has totally and finally replaced Israel in the purposes of God. (Sometimes it is called “Supersessionism” i.e. that the church has superseded Israel). This view holds that all the OT prophecies concerning Israel which have not already been literally fulfilled are now to be applied exclusively to the Christian Church. Sometimes this view is strengthened by a rather rationalistic embarrassment with the idea that we could be seeing any great fulfilment of prophecies today. It can also in some people be linked with anti-Semitism (anti-Jewishness), which, sadly, is still alive and well in the world today, but I want to make it clear that many people who hold to Replacement theology are not anti-Semitic.
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  • I also want to make it clear that it is legitimate to apply many O.T. prophecies, originally made concerning the Jewish people, to the Church, Jewish and Gentile. But, as we shall see, this is not to deny the continuing relevance of these prophecies to the Jewish people and Israel.
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  • The New Testament teaching on the land

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  • In approaching the matter of the significance of the land of Israel it is important that we approach the matter through the eyes of the NT writers. We need to note the following objections to the land having any significance in God’s purposes:
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  • 1.      OT prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus

  • Paul states this clearly in 2 Cor 1:20 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”   (cf. Rom 15:8-9)  It is vital that our approach to the NT and particularly to eschatology (the doctine of the end times) and the issue of the land focuses on Christ.  In eschatology, what really matters is not so much the future of the Jewish people or the significance of the land of Israel, but how God intends to bring glory to Christ.  The NT has that focus concerning OT prophecies, so we see that:
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  • ·         The Servant, of Isaiah’s prophecies, is no longer Israel or the godly remnant, but Jesus
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  • ·         Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29) fulfilling the OT animal sacrifices
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  • ·         Jesus is the fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39; 8:12)
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  • ·         The earthly Temple, in a particular geographical location – Jerusalem - was destroyed but Jesus is greater than the Temple (Matt 12:6). In John 2:19 Jesus says: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."   John comments “But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”
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  • ·         Jesus speaks not of the land of Israel but of the universal kingdom of God which is open to all who believe. Hence prophecies concerning the land are also fulfilled in him. He gives eternal life in the Kingdom of God which transcends life in the promised land.  
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  • However as we shall see there are hints that Jesus still did see the land as of significance to the future of the Jewish people.
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  • 2.      Jesus re-interprets important OT concepts

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  • He:
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  • ·         taught that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. He allowed acts of mercy on the Sabbath and he did not rebuke hissciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath.
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  • ·         criticised an emphasis on external rather than internal cleanliness. According to Mark 7:19 “Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’.”
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  • ·         emphasised heart attitudes rather than merely external observation of the law on adultery or murder.
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  • The argument is that therefore Jesus would re-interpret the OT emphasis on the land. 
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  • However Jesus never broke the written Torah (law), he only reinterpreted the oral law.  On the contrary, he said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands
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  • The OT prophets often emphasised the importance of right heart attitudes as more important than ceremony
  • (Isa 29:13; 58:3; Eze33:31-32; Joel 2:13 cf. Isa 57:15; 66:2)
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  • Again, there are hints that Jesus did regard the land as important.
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  • 3.      The land “was unimportant to Jesus and the NT writers

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  • It is claimed that the land was unimportant to Jesus and the writers of the NT.
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  • a.     Jesus teaches that worship should be in spirit and in truth rather than in a particular geographical location, even Jerusalem. (John 4:19-26). The Samaritan woman says: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
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  • b.       God now “tabernacles” amongst his people rather than in a particular location (John 1:14).  Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus is present (Matt 18:20).
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  • c.       Simeon and Anna longed for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25, 38). Zechariah believed God would rescue the nation from their enemies (Luke 1:74). Yet Jesus says Jerusalem will be destroyed  (Luke 19: 41-44; 21:20-24).
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  • d.      Paul includes no reference to land in his list of Israels privileges in Rom 9:4.
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  • e.       In Paul’s references to the Abrahamic promises in Rom 4 and Gal 3, he omits reference to the land. There may have been political reasons to avoid this in Romans but not in Galatians.
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  • However:
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  •         i.            Too much weight is being put on John 4:19-26. Jesus is saying that worship will not be tied to a particular place, be it the Jerusalem Temple or Mt Gerizim, but people will worship anywhere. The destruction of the Temple may well have been in his mind. But this does not settle the matter of the future of the Jewish people and the significance of the land for them. The same may be said for point b.
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  •       ii.            It is true that Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple. But he also foretells that Jerusalem will eventually come back under Jewish control (Luke 21:24).  The destruction does not therefore mean the final abandonment of the land as significant. Also, when the disciples ask him in Actss time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” his reply is significant. He does not rebuke them for being slow to understand that thoughts of the land are now totally replaced by focus on the Kingdom. Instead he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father hasset by his own authority.”
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  •     iii.            Points d. and e. are an argument from silence and so inconclusive. The matter of the significance of the land must be settled from the teaching of Scripture, not from the mere absence of reference to the land in Paul's lists (cf Luke 21:24 and Acts 1:6).
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  • 4.      The land “was replaced by the world in the NT”

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  • a.       Jesus teaches that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5) whereas Psalm 37:11 states: “the meek will inherit the land.”
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  • b.      In Rom 4:13 Paul teaches that Abraham would inherit the world, not just Canaan.  He would be the father of many nations (Rom 4:1-17). All believers are children of Abraham and the blessing given to Abraham is the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:6-9, 14.29; Rom 4:11). Some therefore see the land as merely a stage in God’s plan to reach the whole world.
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  • c.       In Ephesians 6:3 the original reference to the land in the fifth commandment is changed to “earth”
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  • d.      The context of salvation in the NT is world-wide or cosmic (Eph 1:10; Phil 2:10 cf. Rom 8:22-23). In Hebrews 3:1-4:13 the idea of entering “rest” which in the OT meant entry into the land (Deut 3:20; 12:9-10; 25:19) becomes entry into an eschatological salvation in heaven.  Abraham “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” His numerous descendants “did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such thingsshow that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”(Heb 11:9-16).  They were looking for “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28).
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  • e.       The NT looks towards the new Jerusalem (Rev 22)
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  • However:
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  • i.                    Too much weight is being put on Matthew 5:5 and Eph 6:3 (points a. and c.). The latter reference particularly was addressed partly to Gentiles and therefore the promise of the land was broadened to refer to the earth.
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  • ii.                  God promised to Abraham: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). His descendants would be ass as the stars (Gen 15:5; 22:17). He would be “the father of many nations. (Gen 17:3-6)  So there was always the bigger vision beyond the promise of the land. Both the land and the world-wide influence were promised together in the OT. The NT is simply drawing out the OT teaching on the world-wide vision, and so, in itself, it does not rule out the continuing significance of the land.  The same can be said in response to point d.
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  • iii.                The ultimate vision of the new heavens and the new earth, with the new Jerusalem, does not rule out the current significance of the land.
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  • 5.      The return to the land “is re-interpreted by the NT as world-wide success of the gospel”

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  • ·         Jesus speaks of many coming from the East and the West into the Kingdom (Matt 8:10-12) which some say fulfils the OT prophecies of a return of the Jews to the land. R T France comments that “Jesus took OT prophecies that had that connotation and applied them instead to the ingathering of the Christian community, in this case, to the exclusion of some Jews.”
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  • However
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  • i.                    Jesus also foretold the eventual return of Jewish control to Jerusalem (Luke 21:24 – this is only a passing reference but it is the tip of an iceberg of prophecies in the OT as we shall see).
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  • ii.                  A metaphorical use of the OT prophecies of return to the land does not rule out a literal fulfilment.
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  • 6.      Other points


  • a.       In Isa 19:19-24 the prophet foretells that in the last days “there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border” that “ the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them.” More than that  “the Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together” and “in that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.”   Some people have claimed that this somehow undermines Israel’s status as the promised land. But surely it is merely foretelling an end time scenario when the gospel will have been widely embraced so that other nations will become a blessing. It has no relevance to the chosen status of Israel or the prophecies of its significance in the end times.
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  • b.      Some claim that the promise of the land is merely transitional and it is difficult to imagine it remains literally true now that the greater fulfilment is begun.  However, this would be an argument for Supersessionism/Replacement Theology. Now the church (in which there is “neither Jew nor Gentile”) exists it is difficult to imagine that God has a purpose for the Jewish people as an ethnic group. However, the NT teaches that he still does (Rom. 9-11).
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  • c.       As for modern Israel:
  • It has no Temple (although there is a significant movement to build one):  see the comments on the Temple above.Israelis are, by and large, not believersssiah so, it is claimed, they cannot be the covenant people. However, there are two levels in God’s purposes:
  • o   God has promised to preserve the Jewish people as a people, but this does not mean individual Jewish people are therefore saved. That requires faith in Jesus. 
  • o   More and more Jewish people are coming to faith in Jesus and the NT foretells a massive turning to him eventually. Nobody knows for sure how many “Messianic Jews” (Jewish Christians) there are in Israel. Estimates vary from 75 to 120 Messianic congregations and some 10 to 15,000 individual believers. There are many Messianic Believers elsewhere in the world, especially in the US. Estimates in the US vary from 50,000 to 175,000. Whatever the accurate figures it is clear that a large number of Jewish people have come to faith in Jesus as Messiah and that number is growing quite quickly.
  • Israel has no rest: but Scripture foretells great turmoil before an ultimate rest.
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  • 7.      Conclusion on the objections to the return of the Jewish people being a sign of the End Times

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  • To summarise:
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  • 1.      The broadening out of the concept of the land to that of the world or the Kingdom does not seem to exhaust the NT material on the subject.
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  • 2.      Jesus foretells that Jerusalem will eventually come back under Jewish control (Luke 21:24), which surely indicates that the land remains significant in his thinking.
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  • 3.        When the disciples ask him in Acts 1:5 if he will restore the kingdom to Israel he seems to imply only that it is inappropriate to speculate on the timing of that event.
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  • 4.     The broader, world-wide vision of the NT (e.g. inheriting the earth) is foreshadowed in the OT and does not in principle rule out continuing significance for the land, which is hinted at in the NT.
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  • 5.      The idea that the land is of only temporary significance, being replaced by the world (or the church) is very similar to Supersessionism/Replacement Theology, namely that church supersedes/replaces the Jewish people in God’s purposes, which is contradicted in Romans 9-11.
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  • 6.      The re-establishment of the nation of Israel, for all its failings and problematic implications, is an amazing coincidence if it does not relate to prophetic fulfilment.
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  • There seems to be no biblical reason to doubt that the land could have continuing significance in God’s purposes. Rather, if God has a future purpose for the Jewish people as a distinct people group (see below), then there is no reason to deny that he would also have a purpose for them to live in the land.
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  • We need to examine what Scripture teaches positively about the place of Israel in God’s purposes. 
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  • The biblical teaching on the future significance of the Jewish people and their land
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  • We note the following points.
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  • 1.      God has a purpose for the Jewish people

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  • In Romans 11 Paul asks concerning the Jewish people (v1) "Did God reject his people? By no means".  (v2) “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.”  He asks again in vv.11-12 “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!  Rather because of their transgression, salvation hass to make Israel envious.  But if their transgression means riches for the world and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fulness bring!”
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di will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-19) 1:5 “Lord, are you at thi numerou in Me come to the Gentile

  • Commenting on the word “fullness” Prof. F F Bruce says, “The large scale conversion of the Gentile world is to be followed by the large scale conversion of Israel”

  • [1]
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  • Paul continues (v15) “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!”  Clearly the “rejection” of the Jewish people is temporary and partial (since many Jewish people have come to faith in Christ).
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  • Finally, Paul states, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:    The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.  And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.  As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned they are loved on account of the patriarchs.  For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (vv 25-29)
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  • Sanday and Headlam commenting on “all Israel” in verse 26 say: “The whole context shows clearly that it is the actual Israel of history that is referred to.  (This is quite clear from the contrast with ‘to pleroma ton ethnon’ (the fullness of the Gentiles) in verse 25, the use of the term Israel in the same verse, and the drift of the argument in vv l7-24.  It cannot be interpreted either of spiritual Israel, as by Calvin, or the remnant according to the election of grace, or such Jews as believe, or all who to the end of the world shall turn unto the Lord ... ‘pas (‘all’) must be taken in the proper meaning of the word:  Israel as a whole, Israel as a nation, and not as necessarily including every individual Israelite”[2]
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  • Professor Bruce agreesIt is impossible to entertain an exegesis which takes ‘Israel’ (in v26) in a different sense from ‘Israel’ in verse 25. To the argument that Paul does not say and then all Israel shall be saved, but ‘and so all Israel shall be saved’ (as though the ingathering of the full tale of Gentiles were in itself the salvation of all Israel) it should suffice to point out the well attested use of the Greek ‘houtos ("so", "thus") in a temporal sense”[3]
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  • Griffith Thomas says “there is no possibility of questioning the Apostle's prediction of a future national restoration for Israel. His words cannot be interpreted in any other way.....Israel as a whole is to be saved.....As to whether the Jews will go back to Palestine, or what happens there, he says nothing, but what he does say is perfectly clear.”[4]
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  • H.C.G. Moule commenting on v 25 says: “It seems best to explain the present verse as predicting that the in-coming of the nations to the Church of Christ shall have largely, but not perfectly, taken place when Israel is restored to grace: so that the closing stages of the in-coming may be directly connected with the promised revival of Israel, and may follow it in respect of time.”[5]
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  • Prof. C E B Cranfield writes: “The meaning of ‘pas Israel’ has been much disputed down the centuries. Four main interpretations have been proposed:
  • (I)                 all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles;
  • (ii)               all the elect of the nation Israel;
  • (iii)             the whole nation Israel, including every individual member;
  • (iv)             the nation Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member.

  • Of these (i) most surely be rejected; for it is not feasible to understand ‘Israel’ in v.26 in a different sense from that which it has in v. 25, especially in view of the sustained contrast between Israel and the Gentiles throughout vv. 11-32. That ‘pas Israel’ here does not include Gentiles is virtually certain.
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  • Almost as unlikely is (ii); for, on this interpretation, the statement ‘pas Israel sothesetai’ [all Israel will be saved] would be so obvious a truth as to be, at this point, an anti-climax. The references to ‘to pleroma auton’ [their fullness] in v.12, to ‘he proslempsis [their acceptance] in v. 15, and to the grafting in again of the broken-off branches in vv.23 and 24, point unmistakably to something more than what would simply amount to the salvation of the elect remnants of Israel of all the generations.
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  • The most likely interpretation is (iv). We may compare the use of ‘all Israel’ (LXX: pas Israel) in I Sam 7.5: 25.1; I Kgs 12.1; 2 Chr 12.1; Dan 9.11. Various commentators also refer to the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin 10, in which the statement, ‘All Israelites [so Danby, but Hebrew is ‘All Israel’] have a share in the world to come,’ is followed by a considerable list of exceptions. ....
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  • Sanday and Headlam seem to understand ‘sothesetai’ [will be saved] to refer to a situation to be brought about within the course of history; but it seems more probable that Paul was thinking of a restoration of the nation of Israel as a whole to God at the end, an eschatological event in the strict sense.”[6]
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  • Prof. James Dunn states: “There is now a strong consensus that ‘pas Israel’ [all Israel] must mean Israel as a whole, as a people whose corporate identity and wholeness would not he lost even if in the event there were some (or indeed many) individual exceptions.”[7]
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  • Dunn continues: “Paul specifiesall lsrael’, by which he presumably means ‘Israel as a whole,’ since it is unlikely that he is now offering a greater definition or more comprehensive hope than that already expressed by the word ‘fullness’ (vv 12,25) ....  In quoting Isa 59:20-2l, especially as supplemented by Isa 27:9, [Paul] catches hold of two other still more strikingly characteristic features of the faith and hope cherished by many Jews. The one is the confident hope that in the last days the dispersed of Israel would return to the promised land and those who had fallen into error would be restored to righteousness. The other is the emphasis, unusual in Paul but deliberately heightened by the fusion of the two Isaiah passages, on God's forgiveness of sins.[8]
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  • Prof. John Zeisler comments: "What is meant by ‘all Israel’? Is it literally every single Jew, or only the vast majority of Jews without being dogmatic about every last man, woman and child? Is it a pre-determined number within Israel (cf. v. 25 and the full number of the Gentiles)? As there is no doubt about the salvation of the remnant, we can hardly be talking here about a minority within Israel. It is also a near-impossibility that ‘all Israel’ is the newly defined multi-racial Israel, for in v. 25f. we are clearly concerned with races, with peoples. When Paul says ‘all Israel’ we therefore take it that he means ‘all Jews.’ If we try to press the question harder, and discover whether this is all Jews without any exception whatsoever then we shall receive no answer. All we can say is that the argument requires that historical Israel as a whole will come in. Paul surely cannot be saying merely that rather more Israelites than at present will come in. Both parts of historical Israel, those now in the remnant and those not, will find salvation.”[9]
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  • We may now ask a very important question.  Why have the Jewish people been preserved over 2,000 years (a unique and most remarkable fact) if God does not have some important corporate purpose for them?  Why not let them be assimilated to the Gentile world and be open to individual conversion like the Gentiles?  But it is not just this fact of history.  Paul makes it clear that the Jewish people, as distinct from the Gentiles will experience a massive turning to Christ.  Again, why is this if God has no corporate purpose for them?
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  • We may also reflect on Jeremiah 31:35-40 “This is what the Lord says, he also appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the Lord Almighty is his name:  'Only if these decrees vanish from my sight' declares the Lord, 'will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me!'  This is what the Lord says:  'Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done!' declares the Lord.”
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  • 2.      Jesus foretold Jewish control of Jerusalem in the end times

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  • Speaking of the Jewish people in Luke 21:24 Jesus says, “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.  Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
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  • Now the first part of this prophecy was fulfilled literally in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, killed many of the people and exiled the rest to many nations.  Subsequently, Jewish people have moved to every nation.   It is to be expected, therefore, that the second half of the prophecy will also be fulfilled literally.  Is it a coincidence that in 1967 the Jewish people took control of Jerusalem for the first time in some 2,500 years (apart from a brief period in the second century AD)? Whatever the rights and wrongs on both sides in the Six Day War, it appears that this prophecy began to be fulfilled then.
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  • Numerous commentators agree that this verse is literal and some would link it with Romans 11: 25 concerning the fullness of the Gentiles being achieved. 
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  • Ellis interprets “the times of the Gentiles” as “the Gentile possession of Jerusalem. Cf. Rev. 15.2. The period may extend to the parousia [return of Christ]. But it is also possible that Luke understands the final ‘sign saying’ (25-33) to follow the Gentile ‘times.’ If so, a future repossession by the Jews is anticipated.”[10]
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  • C A Evans writes on the phrase: "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled": J. T. Sanders (p. 218) does not believe that this phrase implies the restoration of Jerusalem. He believes that this Lucan oracle [saying in Luke] (21.20-24) is one more passage that betrays the evangelist's anti-Semitic perspective. Sanders is, however, once again incorrect. By itself the phrase probably hints at Jerusalem’s restoration in that it clearly implies a limit to Gentile domination (see Dan. 2:44; 8:13-14; 12:5-13; 1QS 4.18-19: “God has appointed a time for ... wrongdoing but at the time of visitation he will destroy it for ever”; from a positive perspective-Rom. 11:25-27: ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved)….’
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  • Tiede (p. 365) rightly finds the phrase implying that “God is not done with Israel” The wider Lucan context also points to an expectation of Israel's restoration .... In view of the question that the disciples put to Jesus in Acts 1:6 (‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’), the saying certainly does leave open the possibility of Israel's restoration.”[11]
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  • Writing in 1922 Ragg comments: "This predicted scattering of the Jewish people has constituted them, through the centuries, a living fulfilment of prophecy, which no Zionist movement seems ever likely to obliterate.  Yet the punishment of Israel has a limit, as the next verses make clear ... Since AD 70 Jerusalem has been  trampled down by Romans, Saracens, Turks, and Christian Crusaders, until in 1916 the ‘Last Crusade’ treated her with a reverence and a gentleness unknown in more than thirty centuries of warfare.”[12] He was speaking about the British takeover of Jerusalem (although he wasn’t to know that British rule would eventually not be gentle and reverent).
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  • Prof. Howard Marshall writes: “The period is one of gentile domination of the city, but a limit is set to it, namely the fulfilment of an allotted time, here called the times of the nations ... The theory has been put forward that the period in question is one during which the gentiles will be converted (cf. Mk. 13:10, omitted by Luke earlier; Rom. 11:25).”[13]   
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  • Thompson says that “The times of the Gentiles” is “the period in which the Jews are subject to the foreigners and the period in which the Gentiles have the opportunity to hear the gospel (cp. Mark 3:10; Roms.11:11-25).”[14]
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  • The plain and direct implication of Luke 21:24 is that the Jews will re-take control of Jerusalem and this may well be linked with the fullness of the Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God.  If so it does not mean that no more Gentiles would be converted, but it does signify God turning his attention to the Jews to bring about Romans 11:25.  There is evidence that this is happening today in Jewish evangelism.
  •  
  • However, it is not sufficient to take one verse like this to establish that the End Times restoration of the Jewish people to Israel is prophesied.  We must look at the O.T. prophecies.  But before doing so, it is interesting to note that when in Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” he does not reply negatively but says “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  Is Jesus implying the kingdom will be restored to Israel but the time is unknown to anyone but God?
  •  
  • Prof. F F Bruce comments on this passage: “The apostles maintained their interest in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God realized in the restoration of Israel's national independence ... Jesus’ answer did not take the form of a direct ‘No.’ ... Even for the nation of Israel according to the flesh, God may have purposes of His own; but these were not the concern of the messengers of Christ.”[15]
  •  
  • Later on in the same chapter (Acts 1:11) it is prophesied that Jesus will return in the same way as the disciples had seen him go.  It is thought that this means he will return to the Mount of Olives and it seems that Zechariah 14:4 is a confirmation of this.  If Jesus is returning to Jerusalem, why there?  Is this another indication that the land of Israel is significant in the End Times?
  •  
  • Now we look at the O.T.
  •  
  • 3.      The O.T. teaches that Israel remains the promised land

  •  
  • (a)                I counted that on 109 occasions the O.T. refers to the land as given or promised to the Jewish People.
  •  
  • (b)               In addition on a further 36 occasions it states that God swore a solemn oath to give them the land.[16]
  •  
  • (c)                And on a further 15 occasions the land is promised ‘for ever.[17]
  •  
  • (d)               So strong is the emphasis on this in the O.T. that it is clear that the people and the land are very deeply and closely associated.  If the two are separated something is seriously wrong.
  •  
  • (e)                The Lord states that Israel does not deserve the land (Dt.9:4-6).  He is driving out the Canaanites because of their evil practices but he says to Israel, “understand then that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff necked people” (v.6).
  •  
  • (f)                More than that, each generation of Israel will only keep and enjoy the land if they are obedient to God. This is made clear on 22 occasions.[18]
  •  
  • (g)                However, although the Lord threatens judgement and eventually the people are exiled for their disobedience, yet he constantly assures them that, even then, he is willing to forgive and restore then.  He says this on 24 occasions.[19]
  •  
  • (h)               The Lord is so merciful that although he lays down repentance as the condition of restoration yet he doesn't seem to keep strictly to this.  The Israelites had already returned to the land before Ezra led them in repentance in Nehemiah 9.  J.A. Thompson commenting on Dt. 30:3-5 says: “The total picture is of a repentant people being restored to their homeland, a very different picture from that which obtains in modern Israel, where there is little evidence of repentance and where great numbers of people are agnostic. Comparison with Ezk. 36:24-36, 37:23-28 is of interest.  Cf Rom. 11:25-27.  In these passages God seems to be taking the initiative in restoring his people and in cleansing them for his name's sake, apparently before they repent.  However, no contradiction need be suggested.  The O.T. writers were not always concerned with exact chronological sequence.  The one thing that seems clear is that a new heart and a new spirit would characterize a restored people.”[20]
  •  
  • It is true that there was a good deal of fasting during the exile lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and there were genuinely godly individuals amongst the exiles, such as Daniel who expressed penitence for the nations sins (Dan. 9:1-19).  But the Lord said through Zechariah (7:4-7) that much of the fasting of the exiles was insincere.
  •  
  • The first group returned from exile in 538 BC (see section 4).  But in 520 Zechariah is still calling them to return to the Lord (Zech. 1:1-6).  In the same year Haggai accuses them of selfishly neglecting to build the temple (Hag. 1:1-11).  The Lord said through him that whatever the nation did and offered was defiled (Hag. 2:14).
  •  
  • In 458 BC Ezra discovered to his horror that the returned exiles had intermarried with pagan wives, a practice which would almost inevitably lead them into idolatry.  And idolatry was the main cause of the exile.  Ezra leads them in public repentance (Ezra 9-10).
  •  
  • In 446 BC Nehemiah mourned the “great trouble and disgrace,” of the exiles who had apparently suffered some recent destruction in Jerusalem (Neh. 1:1-4).  He went on to confess that the people had “acted very wickedly towards” God.  It included himself and his house (Neh. 1:6-7).

  •  
  • The following year Ezra publicly read the Book of the Law to the people, who were clearly ignorant of it.  The people wept at its contents (Neh. 8). Ezra led them in public repentance acknowledging that the exile and their present state was a just judgement by God (Neh. 9)  The people then covenanted to obey God (Neh. 9:38-10,39). This major repentance, reading of the neglected law, and covenant to obey God's law took place 93 years after the first exiles were restored to the land. Even so Malachi, after this (probably after  433 BC), prophesied against the sins of the people which included offering blemished sacrifices (1:6-14); intermarriage with pagans (2:10-16); sorcery, adultery, perjury, social oppression (3:5) and withholding tithes from the Lord (3:6-15).  The Lord pronounces a curse on the priests who have dishonoured him and led the people astray (2:1-9).
  •  
  • All of this supports the contention that God in his mercy restored the exiles to the land before there was real, widespread repentance.  At the very best it may be said that there was no more repentance in that exile than there has been in the wider exile in the last 1,900 years.  So there is nothing in this area of consideration to rule out the idea that the recent return to Israel is divine restoration.
  •  
  • Therefore in view of the fact that:
  •  
  • i.                    God swore on oath that the land is an eternal possession of Israel though they didn't deserve it.
  •  
  • ii.                  Although he judged and exiled them for disobedience he promised restoration and actually did restore them before they repented.
  •  
  • Would it not be strange if God decided against fulfilling his strong and numerous promises to Israel about the land? If God breaks such promises, how reliable is he in other promises?
  •  
  • Also the O.T. stresses that the people and the land are so deeply and closely associated that only persistent disobedience will separate the two.  Is it not therefore reasonable to expect that when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25) they will be restored to the land.  We have seen that such restoration could precede such turning to Christ. (point h. above).
  •  
  • However there are stronger considerations, as we shall now see.
  •  
  • 4.      The O.T. foretells the return of the Jewish people to Israel in the last days

  •  
  • It is important to distinguish prophecies referring to a return from exile in the Last Days from the prophecies (now fulfilled) of a return from the exile which took place in O.T. times.  In 722 BC Israel (the northern kingdom which consisted of 10 tribes of the people) was exiled to Assyria because of persistent disobedience to God (2 Kings 17:6).  The exact places of exile mentioned are in present-day N.E. Syria/Turkey and Iran.  There is no evidence that these tribes ever repented and we do not hear of them again.  However, in accordance with ancient practice, maybe some of the ordinary people (agricultural workers) were not exiled but left to care for the land.  And archaeology shows that some of the Israelites from the North fled to Judah during the Assyrian attacks.
  •  
  • Then in 586 BC Judah (the southern kingdom consisting of the whole of the tribe of Judah plus parts of Benjamin and Simeon) was exiled to Babylon, again because of persistent rebellion against God.  The exiles were taken to Syria and to modern Iraq which is where ancient Babylon was.  Some Jewish people fled to Egypt (2 Kings 25:25-26).  Then in 538 BC the exiles began to return from Babylon to Jerusalem.   (Later groups returned with Ezra in 458 and Nehemiah in 432).
  •  
  • Note that the people from Israel and Judah were exiled only to modern N.E. Syria/Turkey, Iraq and Iran (with a few fleeing to Egypt, most of whom did not, apparently, return).  All these countries are north or north east of Israel.  Compare this with the return promised from a much wider geographical exile as seen in the following passages.  We know from N.T. passages that prophets often conflate into one passage prophecies about events thousands of years apart.  See for example Matthew 24 when Jesus prophesies the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 in verses 2, 15-22 and the End Times in verses 4-14, 23-31.  He moves from one to the other without any indication of the change.  It is therefore possible to see O.T. prophecies about the return from the Babylonian exile and the return from an End Times exile similarly interwoven.  The prophets did not always fully understand the significance of their prophecies according to 1 Peter 1:10-12.
  •  
  • The following passages seem clearly to refer to an End Times restoration associated with the Messianic Age
  •  
  • (a)        Isaiah 11
  •  
  • In the context of a chapter prophesying the coming of the Messiah to establish his ultimate rule over the earth, Isaiah states (vll-12) “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from lower Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.  He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.
  •  
  • John Bright comments that a worldwide dispersion of Israel is presupposed.[21]  J. Skinner says, “verses 10-l6 describe mainly the formation of a new messianic community by the home-gathering of Israelites from all parts of the world .... Here a definite historical situation is assumed which can only with some violence be harmonised with the actual circumstances of Isaiah's time.  Jews are in exile not only in Assyria, but in Egypt, Ethiopia, the Mediterranean lands etc. It is no doubt possible as Delitzsch and Bredenkemp believe, that Isaiah might have been transported into the future and dealt with a state of things which was not to arise till long afterwards.”[22]
  •  
  • Prof. E J Young comments: “In Isaiah's day there was no such dispersion as is here described. As yet the people had not been so widely scattered....The dispersion to come will be world-wide in its extent; but from every nation, kindred and tongue God will a second time stretch out His powerful hand to regather His people.”[23]
  •  
  • (b)        Isaiah 60:4, 9, 21, 22, 61:4.5
  •  
  • Again in the context of the Messianic Age (see particularly 60:10-61:6) Isaiah prophesies:
  •  
  • “Lift Up your eyes and look about you.  All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar and your daughters are carried on the arm .... Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar with their silver and gold .... then your people will be righteous and they will possess the land for ever.  They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour.  The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.  I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”
  •  
  • Skinner comments, “The promise of the return of exiles (vv 4, 9) obviously refers to Jews dispersed throughout the world, whose ingathering remained an object of prophetic anticipation, long after the restoration of the Jewish community in Palestine.”[24] (See also 61:4-5).
  •  
  • (c)        Jeremiah 3:12-18
  •  
  • Jeremiah prophesies a return to the land, gradual to begin with, then the people will be given wise godly leaders.  The Lord continues:
  •  
  • “in those days, when your numbers have increased greatly on the land ... men will no longer say,  The ark of the covenant of the Lord'  It will never enter their minds or be remembered, it will not be missed, nor will another one be made.  At that time they will call Jerusalem the Throne of the Lord and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord.  No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.  In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance.”
  •  
  • R.K. Harrison comments on verse 18, “The hope that Israel and Judah would be reunited ultimately is seen in Isaiah 11:12. Ezk. 37:l6-28, Hosea 2:2 (cf Jer. 2:4), but such an event must be preceded by true repentance.  Since there is no indication that the ten tribes ever repented, the projected union must point to the Messianic age of grace.”[25]
  •  
  • Robert Carroll writes: “The pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem belongs to a futuristic strand (cf. ‘at that time’) of belief that the nations would visit Jerusalem to and serve Yahweh.”[26]
  •  
  • Peter Craigie comments: “The verses clearly have a future, indeed eschatological focus. In this, they ... anticipate a future age in which the ark would no longer have a function ... [a] vision of a distant future...”[27]
  •  
  • (d)        Jeremiah 23:7-8
  •  
  • In the context of the coming of the Messiah, Jeremiah writes:
  •  
  • “’So then, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when people will no longer say,  As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the lands of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them,’ Then they will live in their own land.”
  •  
  • Dr. F. Cawley and A.R. Millard comment: “The new (messianic) king will head the nation established after a fresh exodus which will be remembered as a greater saving act than that from Egypt.”[28]
  •  
  • Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment: “The wide dispersion of the Jews at the Babylonish captivity prefigures the present wider dispersion (Isaiah 11:1; Joel 3:6). Their second deliverance is to exceed far the former one from Egypt. But the deliverance from Babylon was inferior to that from Egypt in respect to the miracles performed, and the numbers delivered. The final deliverance under Messiah must, therefore, be meant, of which that from Babylon was the earnest.”[29]
  •  
  • Derek Kidner writes: “The event would prove that he had in mind much more than the return of some forty thousand in the days of Cyrus, although that would he wonderful enough as a first instalment.”[30]
  •  
  • See also Jer. 31:8
  • “I will …gather them from the ends of the earth.  32:37-41 "I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let then live in safety.” 
  •  
  • Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentThe ‘all’ countries implies a future restoration of Israel more universal than that from Babylon.”[31]
  •  
  • R E Clements comments: “Although there was a partial return after the fall of Babylon in 538 B.C., the unfolding process of history was to leave an ever expanding number of Jews scattered among the nations. They experienced, by their very survival, partial fulfilment of the promise of God for their future. Yet this was not to be the full and complete message of hope delivered through prophecy. There was to be a ‘great return,’ so along-side all other expressions of hope for the future and however much its fulfilment was postponed, this needed to be kept constantly in view to remain a feature of Jewish hope throughout the later Old Testament period. The life of ‘dispersion’ was to be understood as no more than an interim manifestation of God's providential purpose for the Chosen People of Israel.”[32]
  •  
  • L Elliott Binns writes: “In trying to understand any prophetic vision of an apocalyptic nature great difficulty is always experienced, and such difficulty is almost unavoidable, in separating the various layers, if one may use that term of a vision, of the future which is coming. A well-known illustration is the account recorded in Matt. xxiv of our Lord's forecasts of approaching destructions. As the sayings are there preserved it is almost impossible to say how much of them refers to the immediate future -the Fall of Jerusalem - and how much refers to that which is remote - the last judgement. So it is with Jeremiah’s forecasts, some quite clearly refer to the time of the return at the end of the seventy years, while some seem to have in view a much later period.”[33]
  •  
  • (e)    Jeremiah 31:35-37
  •  
  • Jeremiah foretells the new covenant which God would make which was, of course, fulfilled in Christ. It speaks of forgiveness, the law being ‘written’ on people’s hearts and minds. However the prophecy also says:
  •  
  • This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name: ‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the Lord.
  •  
  • It seems clear to me that this can only be interpreted as God having a future purpose for Israel as a nation.
  •  
  • (f)     Ezekiel 38:8, 16, 39:25-29
  •  
  • These chapters are generally accepted to be describing the Messianic Age.  They clearly describe an attack by ‘Gog’ on a restored Israel under the reign of the house of David. This amounts to a massive coalition of world powers to destroy God's kingdom.  The children of Israel are gathered from among the nations and resettled in their own land.  The Lord says to Gog: 
  •  
  • “In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate and now all of them live in safety ....  You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covered the land.  In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land so that the nations may know me when I show myself through you before their eyes.”
  •  
  • In Chapter 39:25-29 God says,
  •  
  • “I will now bring Jacob back from captivity ... when I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind.”
  •  
  • D M G Stalker comments: “[Gog] here represents the almost demonic leader of the final assault of the heathen on God’s people - the anti-god who represents the Nebuchadnezzar of the Books of Daniel and Judith, the ‘beast of Revelation’ (Steinmann). In Christian tradition the ‘many days’ of chs. 38-39 became the thousand years of Christ’s reign before the last attack on the Church, Rev. 20.2-9 with 39.2, 4, l7-20 cf. Rev 16.16, 19, 17f.”[34]
  •  
  • Dr Henry Redpath points out that “In late Jewish writings Gog is identified with Antichrist” and comments: “The world powers are to be permitted to make a final struggle against God’s people.”[35]
  •  
  • Walther Eichrodt comments: “As to the time when [Gog] is to be summoned, only a hint is given, as we have an eschatological terminus, in respect of which it is impossible to state accurately whether it is immediately about to come, or whether a long period must first elapse. In any case, it is something that is to happen in 'the last days', as is shown by the picture of the messianic state of peace in v.11, following closely upon v.8, and by the piling up of cosmic catastrophes in vv. 20ff.”[36]
  •  
  • Rabbi Fisch writes: “No specific date for the coming invasion by Gog is given.  The character of the two chapters is apocalyptic and relates to the indefinite future, the advent of the Messiah, indicated by the phrase the end of days ... The identity of Gog is obscure, and probably he is to be understood not so much as a particular person but rather as an apocalyptic figure ... The attack by Gog will take place in the distant future when Israel had been restored and for a time had enjoyed peace and security.”[37]
  •  
  • Dr. G.R. Beasley Murray comments: “These two chapters are unique in O.T. prophecy in that they describe an uprising of foreign powers against the people of God after the commencement of the Messianic Kingdom.  The prophet has already predicted the coming blessedness of Israel (33-37); he now portrays the nation as long settled in their land and transformed into a prosperous community (38:8,11,12,14), a condition which, according to his earlier teaching, involves their prior repentance, regeneration and political revival (33-37).  Whereas he said that Israel's restoration would come ‘soon’ (36:8), he says that Gog would be mustered after many days....in the latter years” (38:8).[38]
  •  
  • (g)   Joel 3:1-2, 17, 20
  •  
  • In Chapter 2:28-32 Joel prophesies “The Day of the Lord”, i.e. the End Times.  These verses are quoted in Acts 2:17-21. He then proceeds to describe the End Time judgements.  The Lord says,
  •  
  • “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgement against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. Judah will be inhabited for ever and Jerusalem throughout all generations.”
  •  
  • These words fit only a description of the restoration of Israel in the End Times, and, as we have seen, Joel puts them in the context of the Day of the Lord.
  •  
  • (h)   Amos 9:14-15
  •  
  • “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them .... I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,' says the Lord.”
  •  
  • Again these words only fit the restoration of Israel in the End Times.
  •  
  • (i)     Zechariah 12:2-3, 10-11; 14
  •  
  • Zechariah foretells a time when “all the nations of the earth are gathered against [Jerusalem]” (Zech 12:3 cf. 14:2). This has not happened in history but, even at the present time, Israel’s ability to create widespread disapproval in the world makes such a possibility hardly seem farfetched. One can imagine a situation where Israel has turned to her Messiah (“all Israel will be saved”) and in the time of the Antichrist (a subject to which we shall return) there is great antagonism towards her.
  •  
  • Joyce Baldwin comments on Zech 14:2 “It was ludicrous that all the nations should fight against one city. The material gain would be negligible, and in any case the numbers involved would make it impossible. The only explanation is that this is an ideological conflict to remove a non-co-operative element that blocked the way to an international world order.”[39]
  •  
  • Two verses later Zechariah goes on to associate this worldwide attack on Jerusalem with the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives. “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem ….” (Zech. 14:4). Baldwin comments: “The ascension of Jesus on the Mount of Olives, and in particular the promise of the angel concerning His return (Acts 1:11), draw attention to the significance of this prophecy and suggest a literal fulfilment.”[40]
  •  
  • The idea that the attack on Jerusalem is caused by Israel turning to their Messiah is, in my opinion, supported by Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
  •  
  • There have been various interpretations of this verse:
  • ·         Some say it refers to some individual in Jewish history such as Simon Maccabeus, High Priest in the mid 2nd century BC or Onias III, High Priest in the later 2nd century BC both of whom were assassinated. But no-one properly fulfils the prophecy.
  • ·         Others say the passage refers to various martyrs in Jewish history but this is not convincing.
  • ·         Others say that the passage is symbolic and it is God whom they have pierced. This does not seem satisfactory.
  •  
  • Baldwin comments: “The murder has occurred in Jerusalem of a man, who is in some way identified with the Lord, and the inhabitants of the city have been responsible for his death. After the event they have been conscience-stricken, and in their deep grief have found within themselves the gift of a new spirit of repentance and supplication for forgiveness, which is closely followed by the promise of cleansing from a newly opened fountain (13:1; cf. Ezk. 36:25,26). Though the word for 'pierced' in Isaiah 53:5 is a different one from that in verse 10 here, Lamarche is surely right in finding significant the fact that both writers express the same idea: with the piercing and death of the messenger of the Lord is connected the forgiveness of sins. Zechariah, however, does not identify his pierced one with either the Servant or the king.”[41]
  •  
  • In my view, the only convincing interpretation is that this passage refers to Israel recognising Jesus as Messiah and grieving and repenting at their rejection of him. This is accepted by many commentators.
  •  
  • Elizabeth Achtemeier writes: “These are not historical battles pictured here, but the final battle preceding the coming of the Kingdom to Jerusalem, when Israel's age-old enemies-and all enemies-are subdued by the Lord.”[42]
  •  
  • She adds: “God will, in his mercy, transform the proud and stony hearts of his people so that they will realize what they have done by killing their Messiah, and they will turn to God in true repentance and supplication .. Judah's future mourning over her Messiah's death will not, moreover, be occasioned only by the realization that she has wiped out her own good future. The third clause of 12:10 should probably read, ‘.... so that, when they look on me whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him,’ following the Septuagint, Syriac, Aramaic, and Latin versions. In slaying God's Messiah, Judah will wound God to his heart, and her weeping repentance will stem from her grief over her injury to her Lord. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4).”[43]
  •  

  • 5.      But what about the way in which the State of Israel was re-established?

  •  
  • Even if we believe that Scripture foretells an End Times return of the Jewish people to the land, how can we be sure that what has happened in the last few decades is a fulfilment of it? Even some Jewish people do not accept the setting up of the modern secular State of Israel as being a divine action because they believe only the Messiah can lead the people back to the land. The recent return was a secular not a Messianic action.
  •  
  • After all, the Jewish people have gone back in unbelief, as far as faith in Jesus as Messiah is concerned and they are largely secular nation with all the failings of a modern secular Western democracy. What is more, as we noted in “An outline history of and background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (see http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/historyofconflict.html) :
  • ·         Some early Zionists wanted all the Palestinians to leave the whole land.
  • Many Palestinians left the land because of Israeli military action or because they were asked to leave their homes temporarily then never allowed back.
  • Since then the Palestinians have been subject to injustice and humiliation. (I am not ignoring the terrible attacks on Israelis and the many acts of provocation they have suffered. But the question here is how can such a process be a fulfilment of God’s purposes and biblical prophecies?)
  •  
  • My response is as follows:
  •  
  • The return of the Jewish people is either
  • ·         a most remarkable coincidence, or
  • ·         an unacceptable human attempt to fulfil biblical prophecy by political manipulation and aggression,
  • ·         or it is the beginnings (no more) of a genuine fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
  •  
  • I find the coincidence idea inherently incredible. Some would find the unacceptable human attempt idea convincing. But:
  •  
  • ·         There seems to be far more than political manipulation and aggression in the return of the Jewish people to the land. It is a most remarkable process. There were many idealistic Jewish Zionists who were praying and hoping for a return to the land. The suffering of the Jewish people, whether in the Russian pogroms or in the Holocaust caused many nations to realize there needed to be a safe Jewish homeland. There was a significant influence on the part of Christian Zionists. There were also various remarkable events, including the UN vote to partition Palestine.
  •  
  • ·         God does overrule the changes, chances and wrong actions of human life so that they fulfil his purposes. For example, he overruled the selling of Joseph into slavery to achieve historic benefits for the Israelites. He used Babylonian expansionism to judge wayward Israel (whilst condemning Babylons wrong motives).  He used the horror of the crucifixion of Jesus – humanly-speaking the result of political intrigue, selfish ambition and betrayal – to save the world.  Wrong motives and actions, though deplorable, do not in themselves mean that God is not using their effects.
  •  
  • It does not seem impossible therefore that, for all the deplorable human failure involved, the return of the Jewish people to the land is the beginnings of a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. To believe such a thing does not imply wholehearted support for the secular state of Israel and its actions.

For example, Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel in early 2015 and just before the election he stated that if he was elected there would be no Palestinian state. His subsequent attempt to back off from that position was not seen as convincing by many people. He had also seriously upset President Obama and the US government. It seems clear that Israel is going to suffer much more political pressure and to become more isolated in the world. The Palestinians are likely to take Israel to the International Court of justice for alleged war crimes. In view of the bleak prospects over the peace process it is also inevitable that violence from some Muslim sources will erupt. The prospect, prophesied in Scripture, of the nations eventually turning against Israel is, to say the least, increasingly credible. However, one must be aware that one (but only one) factor is Israel’s current political intransigence over Palestine.

6. Current Anti-Semitism

The idea that anti-Semitism is growing, including in Europe, is controversial. Some surveys have been criticised as unreliable. What is the truth? I found it helpful to read what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi says because he is a man of great integrity and intellectual ability. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in October 2014 he said: “This year, Europe’s Jews entered Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, with a degree of apprehension I have not known in my lifetime. Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. Never again has become ever again.”

He instanced a French synagogue congregation being surrounded by “a howling mob claiming to protest Israeli policy;” four people being murdered in a Jewish museum and a synagogue being firebombed in Brussels; a London supermarket feeling forced to remove kosher food from its shelves and a London theatre refusing to stage a Jewish film festival because it had received a small grant from the Israeli embassy.

He added: “More than once during the summer, I heard well-established British Jews saying, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel afraid.’ And Jews are leaving. A survey in 2013 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that almost a third of Europe’s Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism, with numbers as high as 46% in France and 48% in Hungary. Quietly, many Jews are asking whether they have a future in Europe.”

Lord Sacks explained that in the Middle Ages Jews were hated for their religion, in the 19th and 20th century for their race and today for their nation state. “Israel, now 66 years old, still finds itself the only country among the 193 in the United Nations whose right to exist is routinely challenged and in many quarters denied. There are 102 nations in the world where Christians predominate, and there are 56 Islamic states. But a single Jewish state is deemed one too many.”

He believes the new anti-Semitism was started at the U.N. Conference against Racism at Durban in 2001 where “Israel was accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.”

Lord Sacks concluded: “Human rights matter, and they matter regardless of the victim or the perpetrator. It is the sheer disproportion of the accusations against Israel that makes Jews feel that humanitarian concern isn’t the prime motive in these cases: More than half of all resolutions adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council since 2006 (when the Council was established) in criticism of a particular country have been directed at Israel. In 2013, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a total of 21 resolutions singling out Israel for censure, according to U.N. Watch, and only four resolutions to protest the actions of the rest of the world’s states.”

There were a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in 2014, many of them related to the Israel – Gaza conflict. The Community Security Trust recorded 1168 incidents compared with 535 in 2013. This was the highest number since records began in 1984. Most were verbal abuse but 81 involve physical abuse.

In France synagogues were firebombed and Jewish shops attacked. Gangs roam the streets shouting “Death to Jews.”

In September 2004, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, a part of the Council of Europe, gave examples of anti-Semitic comments on Israel:
•    Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour;
•    Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;
•    Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis;
•    Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
•    Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.
Howard Jacobson recently wrote in the Independent: “A calm, responsible view of Israel, which includes understanding the rationale of its existence, might not make you like it or agree with it, but it will make you halt before the malicious caricature of it as a country unlike any other in its blood-thirst and intransigence, a caricature so reminiscent of the medieval figuration of Jews as Christ killers and child murderers that either the medieval imagination had it right and the Jew is indeed uniquely evil, or else the Jew, personified by Israel, is uniquely maligned.” 

A 2013 poll of Jewish people for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 76% thought anti-Semitism had increased over the last five years, and 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish. A third were worried about being physically attacked, and 57% said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.

John Mann, chair of the UK’s all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, was shocked by the poll and commented: “It is extraordinary that 75 years after the terrible events of Kristallnacht, Jews are again living in fear. The inaction of the European Commission in combating anti-Semitism is inexcusable.”

Danny Cohen director of television at the BBC has said he has “never felt so uncomfortable as a Jew in the UK” as it was revealed that anti-Semitic incidents in Britain hit record annual levels in 2014. He added that levels of hatred were on the rise across Europe. “You’ve seen the number of attacks rise, you’ve seen murders in France, you’ve seen murders in Belgium.”

The deceptive nature of anti-Semitism

Some anti-Semitism in various right wing political groups is quite deliberate and blatant. But a lot of it is more deceptive. Rabbi Sacks clearly shows how laudable concerns for justice for the Palestinians and legitimate criticisms of some of Israel’s actions can very easily mask or lead to perhaps unwitting anti-Semitism. The problem is that anti-Semitism (“the world’s longest hatred) is an underlying racist attitude and spiritual problem. It is a particularly pernicious and widespread form of racism. I have said before that the only explanation for its prevalence is that it is a demonic influence opposing God’s continuing purpose for the Jewish people. God has an End Time purpose for the Jewish people in Christ. The time will come, says Paul, when “All Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26) and this will have a dynamic influence on the world when Israel recognises her Messiah and proclaims him as such. The devil’s plan is, quite simply, to prevent this happening by destroying the Jewish people.

Consequently, we, especially those of us who, like me, are deeply concerned about justice for the Palestinians and do have legitimate criticisms of some of Israel’s actions, must be very careful not to fall into anti-Semitic attitudes. That does not mean that we should cease criticising Israel when appropriate. (I believe those who are really positive towards Israel will be critical of her at times. Christian Zionists who don’t make fair criticism of Israel are failing her). But it does mean we need to be self-critical so we don’t fall into an unbalanced, unfair criticism of Israel.

We also need to try to enter into the mind-set of Jewish people in general and Israelis in particular. Whereas history is a long time ago for us British Gentiles, the Jewish people are one of those groups who feel history is much ‘closer.’ To put it simply, the Holocaust happened yesterday. Not only that, some 2000 years of persecution preceded it. This ‘closeness’ of history engenders insecurity and in some cases understandable paranoia. Israelis have this insecurity. It’s obviously not altogether to do with history. There are countries and political groups today who are determined to destroy Israel. If we don’t understand this sensitivity we shall not understand Israelis and we won’t communicate effectively with them.
The evil of anti-Semitism is a clear sign of God’s End Time purposes for the Jewish people.

  •  

  • 7.      Conclusion that the return of the Jewish people to Israel is a sign of the End Times

  •  
  • So we maintain:
  •  
  • 1.      God has a (corporate) purpose for the Jewish people (Rom 11). This purpose is to be fulfilled only in Christ. It is only as they are saved through turning to him. It is not separate from the church but distinct within it. When Paul’s prophecy that “all Israel will be saved” is fulfilled then the people of Israel (in so far as they have turned to Christ) will be a part of the church that happens to be gathered in a particular nation for which God has had and does have a special purpose.
  •  
  • 2.      Jesus foretold Jewish control of Jerusalem in the End Times (Lk. 21:24)
  •  
  • 3.      The O.T. teaches that:
  •  
  • (a)                God swore on oath that the land is an eternal possession of Israel though they don't deserve it.
  •  
  • (b)               Although he judged and exiled them for disobedience, he promised restoration and actually did restore them before they repented.
  •  
  • (c)                The people and the land are inseparable except in a time of persistent disobedience.  (It is therefore reasonable to expect that when "all Israel will be saved" - Rom. 11:25 - they will be restored to the land. Point (b) shows restoration to the land could precede repentance and salvation)
  •  
  • 4.      The O.T. foretold the return of the Jewish People to Israel in the last Days and massive attacks against Israel by other nations, which presupposes that the people of Israel are back in their lands.
  •  
  • We can also note the following very significant facts:
  •  
  • (i)                 The remarkable, unique of the survival of the Jews for 2,000 years
  •  
  • (ii)               The remarkable, unique re-establishment and preservation of Israel
  •  
  • (iii)             The hatred of the world against the Jews and Israel. What is the reason for the world’s longest hatred? There are secondary causes but it seems inexplicable except from a supernatural point of view. God’s remarkable past salvation purpose, leading to the Incarnation and his future purpose (Rom 9-11) seem to be the real target.
  •  
  • (iv)             The deep intercessory concern which millions of mature Christians have for Israel.



 



[1] F.F. Bruce, Tyndale Commentary on Romans (Tyndale Press, London, 1963) p 216.

[2] Sanday and Headlam, International Critical Commentary on Romans (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1960) p. 335.

[3] Bruce, op. cit. p. 221.

[4] Griffith Thomas, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, (Eerdmans, Michigan, 1955) p. 313.

[5] H.C.G. Moule, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Cambridge, 1899) p. 199.

[6] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1979)  pp.576f

[7] Prof. James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.38, Romans 9-16, Word, Waco, 1988, p.138

[8] Dunn, op. cit., pp.691f

[9] Prof. John Zeisler, Paul's Letter to the Romans, TPI NT Commentaries, SCM, London, 1989, p.285

[10] E E Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, Century Bible, Nelson, London 1966, p.245

[11] Prof. C A Evans, Luke, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson, Peabody, 1990, p.313

[12] L.Ragg, St Luke, Westminster Commentaries, Methuen, London, 1922, p.56 (emphasis mine)

[13] I Howard Marshall,  The Gospel of Luke, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Paternoster, Exeter, 1978, p.773

[14] G H P Thompson, The Gospel according to Luke, New Clarendon Bible, Oxford University Press, London, 1972, p.250

[15] Prof. F F Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1956, p.38

[16] Gen. 26:3, 50:24, Ex 6:8, 13:5,11,  32:13,  33:1, Num 11:12, 14:16,23, 32:11, Dt.1:8,35, 6:10,18,23,  7:13,  8:1, 10:11, 11:9,21, 19:8, 26:3, 28:11, 31:7,20,21,23, 34:4 Josh. 1:6, 21:43, Judg. 2:1, Neh.9:15, Jer. 11:5, 32:22, Ezk. 20:28.

[17] Gen 13:15, 17:8, 48:4, 32:13, Ex. 32:13, 1 Chron.16:15-18, 28:8, 2 Chron. 20:7, Psa. 37:29, Isa. 60:21, Jer.7:7, 25:5, 33:17-26, Ezk. 37:21-28

[18] Lev. 18:28, 20:22, 25:23, 26:32-35, Dt. 16:20, 28:36,63,64, 29:22-27,28, 30:18,20, Josh. 23:15-16, 1 Kings 9:5-9, 14:15, 2 Kings 17, 2 Chron. 7:14 Psa.37:29, Isa 57:13, Ezk. 33:24-26

[19] Lev 26:40-45, Dt. 30:1-10, 1 Kings 8:46-53, Jer. 12:14, 24:6-7, 27:22, 29:14, 30:3,10,11, 31:4-5,10, 16,17,23, 33:7, 42:12, Ezk. 11:17-18, 28:25, 34:12-16, 36:21, 37:21-28, Zech. 8:7-8, 10:9

[20] J.A. Thompson, Tyndale Commentary on Deuteronomy (Tyndale Press, London, 1974) p. 285

[21] John Bright, Peake's Commentary on the Bible (Nelson, London, 1964) p. 499

[22] .J. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah I-XXXIX (Cambridge 1900) p. 95.

[23] Prof. Edward J Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 1, The New International Commentary, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1965, p.395f

[24] Skinner op.cit.,p.196

[25] R.K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Tyndale Press, London, 1973) p. 67.

[26] Robert P Carroll, Jeremiah, OT Library, SCM., London, 1986, p.150f

[27] Peter C Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 26 Jeremiah 1-25, Word, Dallas, 1991, p.61

[28] Ed. Guthrie and Motyer, The New Bible Commentary (IVP., London, 1973) p. 641.

[29] R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, Complete Commentary (Collins, London, no date) Vol. 2, p. 554.

[30] Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah, The Bible Speaks Today, IVP., Leicester, 1987, p.90

[31] Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, p. 564.

[32] R E Clements, Jeremiah, Interpretation Commentaries, John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1988, p.139f

[33] L Elliott Binns, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Methuen, London, 1919, p.lxivf

[34] D M G Stalker, Ezekiel, Torch Commentaries, SCM, London, 1968, p.261

[35] Dr Henry A Redpath, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Methuen, London, 1907, p.204f

[36] Walther Eichrodt, Ezekiel, OT Library, SCM., London, 1970, p.523f

[37] Rabbi Dr S Fisch, Ezekiel, Soncino, London, 1950, p.253f

[38] Ed. Guthrie and Motyer, The New Bible Commentary (IVP., London, 1973) p. 681.

[39] Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Tyndale OT Commentaries, Intervarsity Press Leicester 1972, p. 200.

[40] Baldwin, op. cit., p. 201.

[41] Baldwin, op. cit., p. 194.

[42] Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi, Interpretation Commentaries, John Knox, Atlanta, 1986, p.147

[43] Ibid., p.161f



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