Dr. Thomas McCall, the Senior Theologian of our ministry, has written many articles for the Levitt Letter. He holds a Th.M. in Old Testament studies and a Th.D. in Semitic languages and Old Testament. He has served as Zola’s co-author, mentor, pastor, and friend for nearly 30 years.
This article appeared originally in the December 2003 Levitt Letter.
Liberals and Amillennialists have for many centuries attempted to diminish or erase the role of Israel in relation to the Church and Prophecy. They say that Israel has ceased to have any distinct significance, that the Church is the new Israel, and that there is no future for Israel in prophecy. Thus, to them, Israel has become something like a vestigial organ, an appendix, which is not performing any useful purpose.
When the Premillennial movement rediscovered the Biblical truth about Israel in the early 1800s, Bible teachers began to understand and teach that the Church is not Israel and has not replaced Israel, but rather the Church is a new creation in Christ, and that Israel has a great future when Christ returns, redeems Israel, and establishes His millennial kingdom on earth. As these Biblical discoveries continued, it became clear that Israel and the Jewish people have important significance also in the Body of Christ (Jewish believers as fellow heirs with Gentile believers), as well as in the restoration of the nation that is currently happening in our time.
The major Premillennial schools were teaching these great truths, and considerable support for the modern state of Israel was developing among evangelical Christians after the War of Independence in 1948 and especially after the miraculous Six Day War in 1967. Prophetic books began to proliferate, Jewish evangelism exploded in the Jews for Jesus movement, and one of the favorite songs in the churches was “The King is Coming.”
Then something happened to change all of this. The devastating Yom Kippur War in 1973 exposed the vulnerability of Israel to attack, even though the newly revived nation survived. The Arab oil embargo on the United States for assisting Israel had a decidedly negative impact on American-Israeli relations. Then the major media in America began to take on an Anti-Israel bias.
Instead of seeing Israel as a struggling new nation in a sea of hostile Arab nations, the press started looking at Israel as an oppressor, and the poor Arabs living in their midst (“Palestinians”) became the oppressed. Some evangelical Christians then became somewhat embarrassed to be associated with what was being described in the media as an oppressive Jewish state. The struggling “David” nation gradually became the oppressive “Goliath” in the minds of these previous supporters.
The Bible, however, teaches that God has given the Land to the Jewish people, and that Gentiles and the Church should support Israel in its return to the Land. Nevertheless, there developed a theology that would enable the evangelicals, who were embarrassed about Israel, to withdraw their support for Israel.
This new theology was called Progressive Dispensationalism. While still maintaining that the Bible predicts a future for Israel in the Millennium, the new view undermined any understanding among Christians that the current restoration of Israel is a part of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They chose to ignore those many prophecies that indicate that the Jewish people must return to the Land in unbelief in order for all of the events to take place during the Tribulation.
The Antichrist must confirm a treaty with the many of Israel, two thirds of the nation must be judged, and the remaining nation must be in the Land in order to receive the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, at His return. How can anyone doubt that what is happening today is setting the stage for all of these End Time events?
And yet, that is exactly what they are doing. The Progressive Dispensationalists think that all of this can be reversed, the Jews can be removed from Israel, and that the prophetic return might be sometime in the distant future. This has the result of minimizing and demeaning the Scriptural significance of the present nation of Israel, and gives the impression that Israel has no more meaning in today’s world than Madagascar, or Bolivia, or some other small country.
For all intents and purposes, then, the formerly strong dispensational schools, teachers and students begin to have an attitude toward the Jewish people and Israel that can hardly be distinguished from the Amillennialists. The nation Israel, Jewish evangelism, Messianic believers among the Jews, and even the Rapture of the Church and the Millennial reign of Christ eventually dim. New interests take hold, such as family counseling, church growth, and self-help programs, leaving Biblical prophecy way in the background. Israel is particularly slighted in this process. Many of the new leaders and professors in circles that were formerly strongly dispensational now have no more use for Israel and the Jewish people than do the liberals and Amillennialists.
A number of important schools and seminaries that used to be fountains of prophetic information and truth, now tend to ignore significant events in the restoration of Israel and even downplay the promise of the Rapture of the Church as something that is irrelevant. Lamentably, we have become used to the sad fact of this desertion by these leading schools.
With regard to Israel and the Jewish people, there seems to be what amounts to a “code of silence” by these same institutions about the restoration of Israel and the role of the Jewish people in End Time events. What is troubling at this time are the tendencies of even strong Premillennialists who have a reputation for accurate Biblical prophecy to be affected by this same code of silence about Israel.
We don’t want to be overly critical of our brethren in the realm of Biblical prophecy, for we share their love of the Scriptures and the Second Coming of Christ. However, when we see a glaring omission or error in their teaching, we have a responsibility to point it out. We also must realize that when these people are idolized by the evangelical Christian public, sometimes they become insulated from any criticism. We all have to subject ourselves to being challenged on our Scriptural teaching. We are not concerned about being politically correct, but we do strive to be Scripturally correct.
It came as a great surprise to us, for instance, that one of the leading proponents of Biblical prophecy had the following paragraph in an article on his website:
Gentiles could be saved in the old economy — but they had to become Jews, since they were God’s chosen representatives. Now the reverse is true. An Israelite can be saved in the new economy, but he must come to a Church in which Gentiles are the predominant and the chosen representatives of God on earth. They do not have to become Gentiles, but they do cease being Jews.
Zola contacted this esteemed brother, and I wrote the following refutation (which we sent to him for his consideration) of the view that Jews who believe in Christ cease being Jews. I also discussed the whole issue of “Gentile predominance” in the churches and the issue with regard to the Messianic congregations:
Is this accurate? Is this Biblical? Do Jews actually cease to be Jews when they receive Jesus as their Savior? Our conviction is that this is not the case. Below are some of the reasons why we believe that Jews who believe in Christ are still Jews:
- Paul, a Jewish believer and apostle of the Church, considered himself to still be a Jew. When Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, and was being hauled up the stairway into the Tower of Antonio, he stopped to ask his Roman guard to allow him to address the Jewish crowd at the foot of the stairs in the Temple courtyard:
But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day (Acts 21:39-22:3).
Paul told the Roman guard that he was a Jew from Tarsus and wanted to speak to his own Jewish people there in Jerusalem. Thus he made clear to this pagan soldier the fact of his Jewishness. He did not consider that he had stopped being a Jew when he became a believer in Christ.
Furthermore, as he began his message to the Jews in Jerusalem, he makes the same declaration, “I am verily a man which am a Jew.” There was no question in Paul’s mind that he continued to be a Jew even though he was also an apostle of the Church. How can anyone say that a Jew ceases to be a Jew upon faith in Christ, when the apostle to the Gentiles said very clearly that he was still a Jew?
- Paul confronted Peter in Antioch when Peter separated from the Gentile believers with the following argument:
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:14-16).
Not only did the Apostle Paul consider himself to be a Jew, he also considered his fellow apostle Peter to be a Jew. Then he confirms that they are both Jews as he continues his argument. One has to be entirely ignorant of, or oblivious to, these statements to say that a Jew who believes in Christ ceases to be a Jew.
- Paul says that a real Jew is one who has been circumcised in the heart, not just in the body:
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:29).
Not only does a Jew who receives Christ continue to be a Jew, but he is a special Jew, who has been doubly blessed as a Jew in the flesh and in the heart.
The writer also says in the above quotation that, “An Israelite can be saved in the new economy, but he must come to a Church in which Gentiles are the predominant and the chosen representatives of God on earth.” The term Church is used in two ways in the New Testament: as the universal body of Christ, and as a local congregation. It is true, in the former usage, that when Jews believe in Jesus, they do become a part of the Church, the body of Christ, in which Gentiles do predominate numerically.
However, the Scriptures indicate that believing Jews are not grafted among believing Gentiles, but the other way around (Romans 11:17). When a Gentile believes in Jesus, he is accepting and swearing allegiance to the Jewish God, the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish Bible. Who is changing most, when he receives Christ, a Jew or a Gentile?
When the term Church is used in the latter sense, as a local congregation, the New Testament ideal is of a group containing both believing Jews and Gentiles, “seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Together, they make a powerful statement concerning the saving power of the Redeeming Messiah. There are some local congregations in which this ideal Biblical circumstance is continued to this day.
Regrettably, however, it has been difficult for Jewish and Gentile believers throughout Church history to gather together in local churches with mutual respect. During the last few decades, when so many Jewish people have become believers in Christ, we have become somewhat polarized in the evangelical movement into so-called Gentile churches and Jewish churches (or Messianic congregations). The Gentile churches have a tendency to be anti-Semitic, sometimes without realizing it. Negative and unscriptural statements about the Jewish people frequently crop up in sermons and Sunday School classes. Jewish believers feel very uncomfortable in these situations, and seek refuge in predominantly Jewish congregations. Predominantly Gentile churches need to be more sensitive to the concerns of Jewish believers. (By the way, it is not the Gentiles, as such, who are “the chosen representatives of God on earth,” but rather the Church, composed of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.)
On the other hand, the Messianic congregations have a tendency to be separatist and legalistic in nature. Sometimes there is a heavy emphasis on rabbinic traditions, and an effort to keep the Sabbath and dietary regulations, as something that all Jewish believers are supposed to be required to do. These problems are not evident in all of the congregations, but it happens often enough that many in the movement realize that these are difficulties that need attention.
As we draw closer to the Rapture and the Tribulation, we can expect more and more Jewish people to receive Christ, and it is important for the churches to find Scriptural solutions to the spiritual needs of both Jewish and Gentile believers. We should strive to attain the ideal situation in which we are both “seated together in heavenly places,” not just positionally but also experientially.
What our colleague told us he was thinking about when he wrote that Jews cease to be Jews when they become Christians was the passage in Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
In other words, in our standing before Christ, there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, for we are one in Him. On the other hand, the same is true of men and women, and yet we remain distinctly men and women even though we are the same in our standing before the Lord.
After reflecting on the matter, he realized he had not presented an accurate and balanced explanation that Jews and Gentiles still remain Jews and Gentiles even though they are believers in Christ, just as men and women retain their gender. This is the kind of response and reconciliation we had hoped for. We believe our friend will be more aware and sensitive to the Biblical position of Israel and the Jewish people as a result of this exchange.
Yet another outstanding Bible prophecy teacher recently wrote an article about the Tribulation in a newsletter. In the article, he makes a brief mention about the role of the 144,000 in the Tribulation:
He will commission 144,000 special Spirit-Filled witnesses to go out and reach a “multitude which no man can number” (Rev. 7:1-15).
What he wrote about the 144,000 was Scripturally accurate, but somehow he neglected to mention in the description that the 144,000 men were Jewish, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes! This is a point that is made with considerable repetition in Revelation 7. Why did he avoid stating this obvious fact?
When our ministry inquired about the matter, our friend stated that it was just an oversight, that he indeed believed the Biblical description that the 144,000 were Jews from all twelve tribes of Israel. Furthermore, his support for Israel throughout the years has been consistently strong. The omission may well have been an oversight. Later in the same article he shows that the Antichrist:
“… will try to destroy the Jewish nation (pictured in Revelation as a woman), beginning the worst persecution in history (Rev. 12:13, 15)… God will lead His people — maybe a million or more Jews — into the wilderness. Most prophecy scholars think they’ll head to Petra, the rock city in Edom.”
Clearly, this esteemed scholar believes in the special place of Israel in the present, in the Tribulation, and in the Millennial Kingdom. We have continuing good relations with him in the Lord.
Nevertheless, we do need to be careful to make sure that when we write on Biblical matters, we “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). Through the years, our ministry has served in a role as watchman within the church on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people in the teaching of the Word of God.
We must not allow any code of silence about Israel to seep into the fellowship of those who teach Bible prophecy. With the Lord’s guidance, we hope to continue this not always popular ministry.