Most people pay little attention to either Israel or the church. In fact, many despise both and see them as sources of conflict in the world, as in the Middle East and Northern Ireland. It is true that both present-day Israel and the present-day church have their major faults. But dig deeper and you will find truths and events that will soon shake the world. Bible prophecy says that Israel and the (true) church have major roles to play, both today and tomorrow. Their roles are complementary, not mutually exclusive.
Israel and the Church
are joint servants of God
Israel – God’s Servant and Witness
God’s planned blessing to the world is symbolized by an olive tree rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant (Rom 11). God promised Abraham he would become a great nation (Israel) and promised Israel her own land (Gen 12.2, 17.8, 35.12). In return Israel was to be God’s servant (Isa 41.8-13) and witness to the nations (Isa 43.10). Moreover, through this Covenant the whole world would be blessed (Gen 22.18) – as in the promised Messiah (Mathew 1). That was God’s plan A.
God’s Plan B: History tells us that branches were symbolically broken off the true olive tree (Rom 11.17) due to Israel’s disobedience and unbelief. So, in reality, God scattered the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel (all twelve tribes) throughout the nations. A remnant of the Jews returned to Jerusalem after their deportation to Babylon, but when Jesus came their descendants didn’t recognize Him as their Messiah.
So God had another plan for mankind – the Church. The New Testament sees the true Gentile church as a wild olive tree grafted into the true olive tree (Rom 11.17) in the sense that her mission was to be God’s witness to the nations in the absence of ‘exiled’ Israel. The church was to feed on and so be supported by her Jewish roots (Rom 11.17,18). She was not a separate tree; she was not to replace Israel.
Today’s Church doesn’t see it that Way!
The error of Replacement Theology is common in Western churches. It teaches that, since Israel was scattered amongst the nations:
- the Christian church has replaced national Israel regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God
- the Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no calling in the plan of God
- the Jewish people are no longer God’s chosen people and that the Christian Church now makes up God’s chosen people
Many Anglicans hold this view, and the World Council of Churches (WCC) supports numerous UN Resolutions against Israel’s so-called ‘land occupation’, and advocates peaceful protest e.g. a goods boycott (the BDS campaign). But the institutionalized church is wrong and is believing a lie.
The truth is that God has not totally rejected Israel:
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54: 7-8)
The church should really be comforting Israel as she returns home to Canaan (Isa 40.1). Soon national Israel will once more take up the baton and fulfill her planned role in the world (Rom 11.23-27). Even now we see Israel as a light to the nations (Isa 60.1-3) as Jews return to their Promised Land and national Israel plays a major role on the world scene. God’s Covenant to Abraham is being fulfilled.
Israel and the Church – Tomorrow
Where does the true Church go at the End of the Age?
Let’s assume the so-called Pre-Millennial view of prophecy since this seems compatible with observations of today’s world. This view holds that the risen Christ will (soon) return to rule the Earth from Jerusalem for the so-called Millennium (1,000 years). So where is the Church when Christ returns?
The term ‘church’ in the New Testament means ‘a called out group’ and comprises both believing Gentiles and believing (Messianic) Jews, as well as all those who have died (are asleep) believing in Christ. Most Christians accept that born-again believers will be removed from the earth around the time of Christ’s Second Coming (the so-called ‘rapture’). Paul puts it like this:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thes 4.17)
This is the time of ‘the redemption of the body’ (Rom 8.23), the time when ‘the perishable body is raised an imperishable body’, the time when ‘the natural body is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor 15.42-44). This is the biblical ‘first resurrection’:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet … the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed … this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15.52,53)
What happens then? Jesus said that when He returns He will reward believers according to their works (Mat 16.27). Believers who have used their talents for the kingdom will be rewarded (Mat 25.20-23). And this is the time of the “marriage supper of the Lamb”, when the true church – the bride of Christ – is united with her husband – Christ (Rev 19.1-10).
So when Christ returns to Earth, prophecy indicates that the true church has been miraculously changed. Believers have been resurrected and now have immortal bodies, and it is this ‘immortal’ church which returns to Earth with Christ. Jesus comes back “with all His saints” (1 Thes 3.13):
Behold, the Lord comes with many thousands of His holy ones (Jude 14)
When does the true Church ‘go’ to Christ?
Recall that Jesus said no one knows the day or hour when He returns (Mat 24.36, 25.13). But He did give us signs so that ‘watchers’ would know He is “at the doors” (Mat 24.33). One of these signs concerns the in-gathering of the true church – a concept rarely mentioned in Christian circles. In the light of end time prophecy, a time is soon coming when the church will be ‘complete’ and the so-called ‘church age’ ends. Jesus implied that many will not have made a decision to follow Him before He returns. He Himself will ‘shut the door’ and many will be locked out of the kingdom of God at this point in time (Lk 13.25-28). The apostle Paul refers to the same concept. Speaking to the church, Paul said:
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery … Israel has experienced a hardening (blindness) in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in … (Rom 11.25)
Here again is the concept of the church being ‘completed’ at some point in time. A similar but broader view (spanning from Old Testament times to the Second Coming) is found in the book of Revelation. In Rev 6.9-11 we find the concept of ‘waiting’ until the number of servant martyrs has been “completed”.
So it seems that God’s order of events is to first take out from the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15.14). That is the (true) church. Romans 11.25 suggests that only after the church has been gathered to Christ (raptured) and the door shut does God turn His full attention to the blindness of His people, Israel. Continuing on in Acts 15 God says:
After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it .. so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD … (Acts 15.16-17)
If we read this text as referring to a post-church period (‘after these things’), we might expect the true church to be taken to be with Christ before Israel’s blindness is removed and before she recognizes her true Messiah. This is the so-called pre-tribulation view of prophecy. During this short but traumatic period at the end of this age, with the church gone, some see 144,000 Messianic Jews evangelizing the Gentile nations, link. As a result, many more are brought into the kingdom of God, although many through martyrdom (Rev 7.9-17). Returning to the main point, a detailed study shows that Israel’s blindness to their true Messiah is largely removed by end-time war against Israel, link.
So the rapture of the church could be before the next major war against Israel, possibly the so-called Gog-Magog war, link.
“All Israel will be Saved”
What does the Bible mean by this statement (Romans 11 verse 26)? Let’s continue with the pre-tribulation view of Bible prophecy. As just discussed, a time is soon coming when the true church will be miraculously removed from the earth, most probably before the final major wars against Israel. There then follows a brief period, probably about seven years (corresponding to Daniel’s 70th week) during which time Israel will suffer “great tribulation”. The prophetic timeline could be as follows:
- The true church is taken to be with Christ. She is the ‘bride of Christ’. But she is also ‘spiritual Israel’ since she is symbolically grafted into the true olive tree rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant (see above)
- The ‘man of sin’ is revealed who exalts himself above God and persecutes re-gathered Israel (2 Thes 2.1-12)
- Through war and persecution Israel cries out to God. In their suffering they at last recognize Jesus as their true Messiah. Through this suffering they are ‘refined as silver and ‘tested as gold’. Just one-third come through this traumatic time (Zech 13.9)
- The present age ends as Christ returns with His bride – the church. So in the following millennial age the earth sees “two Israels”. It sees spiritual Israel (resurrected saints of the church, and resurrected martyred saints from the great tribulation) and also refined Israel (God’s refined chosen people). The age sees “all Israel” in that both spiritual and saved national Israel are present with Christ
Israel and the Church in the Millennium
The Millennial scenario appears paradoxical to say the least! On the one hand we have the remnant nations and national Israel – all ‘in the flesh’ – whilst on the other hand it now appears that Earth’s ranks are to be swelled by millions of immortal beings! A clue might be in Jesus’s comment on marriage:
But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead … are like angels (Lk 20.35,36)
It seems the saints operate like ministering angels in the Millennium. During the Millennium they reign over the people of the earth as priests of God and of Christ (Rev 5.10), but their true home will eventually be the New Jerusalem in the New Earth. Summarizing, we can say that the Millennium is essentially Jewish, reigned over by Christ and His resurrected saints (the Church). For more detail see The Millennial Reign of Christ.
The Final ‘Oneness’ of Israel and the Church
Prophecy says that the two scattered kingdoms of Israel will be reunited as ‘one stick’ (Ezek 37.15-22) and will take root again (Isa 27.6). We are seeing this today as God’s people are drawn from the nations to Israel their homeland. So the “grafted-in olive branches” (the church) and Israel itself (the rooted olive tree) are seen as ‘one’ in the Millennium in the sense that they both serve the God of Israel amongst the nations. They are also seen symbolically as ‘one’ in the New Heaven and the New Earth. The book of Revelation describes a heavenly city with ‘twelve gates’ (the twelve tribes of Israel) and ‘twelve foundation stones’ (the twelve apostles representing the church):
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Rev 21.10-14)