In the aftermath of Hamas’s invasion of Israel on October 7, one of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently is this: Are the Jews still God’s “chosen” people? The question is foundational to our understanding of Israel’s continuing presence in the Middle East.
By way of background, let’s note that God makes two kinds of covenants with humanity as recorded in Scripture: unconditional and conditional. Here’s an example of a conditional promise:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5–8)
In this text, God’s promise to grant us wisdom is conditioned on our asking “in faith.”
ou” (Matthew 6:33). We must do the former to experience the latter.
By contrast, Jesus assured us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This promise is unconditional—there is nothing Christians can do to earn his presence and nothing we can do to forfeit it.
Are God’s promises regarding the Jewish people and their land conditional or unconditional? The answer is crucial to determining if they are still his “chosen” people today. And it addresses ways we can and should support Israel in its ongoing conflict with its enemies in the Middle East.
This is a highly complex issue that has been debated by theologians for centuries. My purpose in this brief paper is less to explore this question in depth than to survey the issues involved and lead us to practical and redemptive responses.
NOTE: This resource article belongs to a series regarding the foundational issues behind the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The full series is also available as a free ebook.
God’s seven covenants with humanity
To begin, let’s outline God’s seven covenants with humanity as recorded in Scripture.
The first was with Adam and Eve, a conditional commitment based on their obedience to his command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). They violated this condition and thus “fell” into sin and were expelled from Eden (Genesis 3:16–24).
The second was with Noah, an unconditional covenant never to flood the earth again (Genesis 8:20–9:17). There was nothing for Noah to do to keep this covenant with God.
The third and fourth were with Abraham and regarded the promised land. We will discuss them below.
The fifth was with Moses, a conditional covenant to bless or judge the people based on their obedience to the law (cf. Deuteronomy 28). We will discuss this below as well.
The sixth was with David, a covenant that was both conditional and unconditional.
God promised David, “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). The psalmist quoted God: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations’” (Psalm 89:3).
However, God also stated: “If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne” (Psalm 132:12). Solomon clearly did not keep God’s covenant: “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods and his heart was not wholly true to the Lᴏʀᴅ his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4).
We will discuss below the relationship between these two Davidic covenants and their relevance to our questions.
The seventh is often called the “new” covenant. It is described in two passages:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lᴏʀᴅ,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31–34)
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezekiel 36:24–32)
These passages both disclose unconditional commitments by God to his people. In fact, the latter expressly notes, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ” (v. 32).
Now, let’s see how these covenants relate to our question regarding the Jews’ status today.
Is God’s covenant with Abraham unconditional?
At the heart of our discussion is the question of whether God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants was irrevocable regardless of their sins or whether it depended on their obedience to his law and ultimately on their acceptance of his Son as their Messiah.
As with much of this paper, this topic is deeply complex and much debated among theologians. We will seek only to summarize the chief arguments and biblical factors.
Arguments that the covenant was unconditional
In Genesis 12, the Lord said to Abram,
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1–3)
This covenant marked the beginning of what would become the Jewish nation. God said later of them: “You are a people holy to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God. The Lᴏʀᴅ your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6; cf. 14:2). The psalmist similarly declared, “O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (Psalm 105:6).
And the Lord stated through his prophet: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off’” (Isaiah 41:8–9).
No conditions are stated here, which would seem to indicate that the Jews retain this status today.
After bringing the ark to Jerusalem, David exhorted the people:
Remember his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant.
(1 Chronicles 16:15–17; cf. Psalm 105:8–10)
Peter exhorted the Jewish people: “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:25–26).
Some interpreters believe the Jews’ present-tense status as “sons . . . of the covenant” means that even after they rejected Jesus as their Messiah, this status continued. However, as we will see, others believe that they could continue in this status only by trusting in Christ.
In addition, some believe that Abraham’s descendants will one day turn to Jesus as their Messiah (cf. Zechariah 12:10–14; Romans 11:25–27), continuing God’s unconditional Abrahamic covenant with them as a people.
Arguments that the covenant was conditional
The Lord told Isaac that he initiated his covenant with his father “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5). This would seem to indicate that the covenant was conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience.
God also told the Jewish people, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5, my emphasis).
His covenant with Moses is relevant to our question as it states to the Jewish nation: “If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1).
Conversely, he warned, “If you will not obey the voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today . . . . the Lᴏʀᴅ will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (vv. 15, 20). The Lord clearly instructed the nation that they must keep their covenant with him to experience his covenant blessings in return (cf. Hosea 4:1–6).
Paul stated, “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28–29).
He added: “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6–8).
The apostle clearly believed that the Jews of his day needed to trust in Christ: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). This is why he testified that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for them (Romans 9:2).
However, Paul also noted that the Jews’ rejection of Christ did not mean that God had rejected them: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2). It is not too late for them to turn to God through Christ: “If they do not continue in their unbelief, [they] will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
He even assured the Romans, “In this way all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a). This does not mean that all Jews automatically go to heaven since not all have trusted in Christ as their Savior, which is essential for salvation (cf. John 3:18; 14:6; Acts 4:12). Rather, it points to the “way” in which Jews can be saved: by trusting “the Deliverer” who has “come from Zion” (Romans 11:26b), the Lord Jesus.
Interpreters debate whether Paul is referring to the present or to some future event perhaps related to the end times. But either way, it is clear that Jews can still go to heaven, though they must do so through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9).
To summarize: Jews can still experience God’s covenant blessings through Christ, but their covenant with God through Abraham was not unconditional or irrevocable.
The relationship between Israel and the church
Let’s consider three biblical facts, then combine them to explore three answers to our question regarding Israel’s status in the world today.
Three biblical facts
One: God “chose” the Jewish people as the means by which the Messiah would come and “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Jesus inherited “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32), fulfilling God’s promise to David: “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). (Otherwise, the destruction of Judah’s monarchy by Babylon in 586 BC would break this promise.)
Peter saw Jesus’ coming in this context, saying to the Jewish leaders: “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:25–26).
When John the Baptist was born, his father Zechariah likewise saw this miraculous event within God’s promise to “remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:72–75).
By his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus is now “the guarantor of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22; cf. 9:11–15). This fact leads to our second observation:
Two: All people, Jews and Gentiles, can now come to God through Christ.
Paul assured the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When Peter learned that God was calling the Gentile Cornelius to himself, he responded, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34–35).
After Gentiles responded to the gospel through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council welcomed them into the larger body of Christ (Acts 15:22–29). Clearly, Gentiles are invited to God through Christ as fully as Jews (cf. John 3:16; Revelation 7:9–10).
Three: Jews who refuse Christ as their Messiah face the judgment of God.
When the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, he responded: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43). In his parable of the wedding feast, he similarly warned that those who were invited but rejected their invitation (the Jews) would face the wrath of God: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7).
Of course, anyone—Jew or Gentile—who refuses to trust in Christ will face God’s judgment as well. Jesus said of himself, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). Accordingly, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
As you might expect, theologians respond to these facts in a variety of ways. Let’s summarize them into three positions.
One: The modern State of Israel is an ongoing fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Theologians known as “dispensational premillennialists” believe a “rapture” that will remove the church from the world is coming, followed by a seven-year Great Tribulation. At the rapture, in their opinion, the nation of Israel will become the primary focus of God’s plan on earth once again. They believe that the Jews will come to Christ through the seven-year Great Tribulation, fulfilling God’s covenant with Abraham.
In this view, Israel is still the “chosen” people, though they will not return to this status in the world until after the rapture of the church. In the meantime, the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 fulfills prophecy and enables God to keep his biblical promises to the nation of Israel.
We will say more on this when we consider God’s covenant regarding the land of Israel in the next section.
Two: We should distinguish between ethnic and spiritual Israel; the latter constitutes the church today.
We noted earlier Paul’s admonition: “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:6–7). Accordingly, “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (v. 8).
Here the apostle seems clearly to distinguish between ethnic Jews (“the children of the flesh”) and spiritual Jews (“the children of the promise”). The former no longer “belong to Israel”; it is only the latter who are “counted as offspring” as the Israel of God.
The ultimate purpose of being God’s “chosen” people was to bring the Messiah into the world. Jews who reject him forfeit this unique status. By contrast, those who trust in him are now part of his “chosen” people.
Paul’s greeting of Gentile Christians in Galatia as “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) therefore indicates that the church is the “new Israel.” James likewise addressed Christians as “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1). And Peter called Christians “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9), terms that would have explicitly described the Jewish nation prior to the coming of Christ.
In this sense, the church has become the “spiritual” Israel, replacing ethnic Israel in God’s plan for the world today.
Three: God is still using the Jews in unique ways.
Dispensationalists believe that the Jews are still God’s “chosen” people today; “replacement” theologians believe that this status has been transferred to the church (in which Jews who trust in Christ are included).
A third perspective disagrees with dispensationalism and, while affirming that Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) are now “the Israel of God,” asserts that God continues to use the Jewish people in unique ways in the world.
In their fascinating book, The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World, Dan Senor and Saul Singer document a number of remarkable facts about Jews living in Israel today. For example, they point to the World Happiness Report, which ranks the happiest countries in the world based on GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. The report ranks Israel No. 9 in the world.
Consider the other nations, in order:
- New Zealand
Do any of them face anything like the terror and geopolitical challenges Israel faces? By contrast, according to Senor and Singer, more than half of Israeli adults surveyed during periods over the past twenty-five years said they had been victims of terror attacks or had family or friends who had experienced one.
The authors also note that Israel’s teen suicide rates are among the lowest in the world, less than a quarter that of the United States, Australia, Finland, and Canada.
Their book cites four societal characteristics among contemporary Jews in Israel as explaining their unique resilience and overall happiness.
- The first is hevre, which refers to relational connections that function as almost a “supra-family.” These social circles include lasting relationships formed in high school, university, youth groups, the army, and work.
- The second is gibush, which is “the act of bringing people together with the goal of deepening the bond uniting them.” Gibush is founded in Israel’s belief that they were forged as a community at Mount Sinai and in the wilderness on their way to their promised land. Schools, mandatory military service, and youth movements (somewhat akin to Scouting in the US) have forged a collective commitment to serving one another and the nation of Israel.
- The third is a foundational commitment to children and family. Israel’s fertility rate remains nearly double the rate of the US and Europe and triple that of wealthy Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Children are welcome at the workplace; maintaining a healthy balance between life and work is paramount; Israelis help each other, including families and children, on a level that promotes a remarkable sense of safety and community.
- The fourth is rituals, from Shabbat (Sabbath) on Friday night to the traditions of Judaism. Even highly secular Jews keep their forms of these rituals as a way of staying connected with their families and society. More than 70 percent of Jewish Israelis have a traditional Friday night dinner with friends and family each week. One essayist noted, “More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”
- After my many trips to Israel over the decades, I would add a fifth: a remarkable commitment to literacy and education. The Jews can rightly be called “people of the Book.” Their identity is found first in Scripture. For religious Jews, their home is their first synagogue and their father is their first rabbi. Theirs is an intense commitment to preserving and continuing the beliefs and traditions of their faith and culture.
Israel holds a unique geopolitical position in the world. Their tiny country served in the ancient world as a land bridge between the nation of Egypt to the south and various empires to the north—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome across the biblical eras. As a result, scores of battles were fought on their land. And many of the world’s major trade routes came through their small country as well. Theirs is the only true democracy in their part of the world and one of the most advanced militaries and economies on the planet.
From then to today, Israel is a “hinge point in history.” The present conflict is just one example of their continuing significance to the world.
Of course, none of these factors equate to biblical arguments for Israel’s continuing status as a “chosen” people in God’s economy. But they illustrate the belief that God continues to use the Jews in unique ways in the world. And they help us understand why the US should support both the State of Israel and the Palestinian people in the current war.
Was the covenant of the land permanent?
Every time I led a study tour to Israel, we visited the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is the holiest site on earth to the Jewish people. It is the western retaining wall of the massive platform built by King Herod upon which he constructed the Jewish temple. When the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70, they left this wall and the platform it supports intact.
Since Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount (where the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque stand), they pray at this wall to be as close as possible to the site of their ancient temple. As our groups prepared to join them, I read this promise made by God to Solomon upon the construction of the first temple at this site (ca. 1000 BC):
Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. (2 Chronicles 7:15–16, my emphasis)
This promise would seem to indicate that God intended the Jews to possess this land permanently.
However, the text continues:
And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, “You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.”
But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, “Why has the Lᴏʀᴅ done thus to this land and to this house?” Then they will say, “Because they abandoned the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.” (vv. 17–22)
In fact, the temple to which the Lord referred was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second temple built at this site by Herod was destroyed in AD 70 and has never been rebuilt.
Here, in a single chapter of Scripture, we find the dilemma before us: Did God give the land of Israel permanently to the Jewish people?
“To your offspring I give this land”
God promised the land we call Israel today to Abram forty centuries ago: “All the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:15). He then made a covenant with him: “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18).
He renewed this covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac: “To you and to your offspring I will give all these lands” (Genesis 26:3). And to Isaac’s son Jacob: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring” (Genesis 28:13).
He later assured his people, “I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:31). He kept this promise by leading the Jews to conquer the land (Joshua 21:43–45) where Solomon later “ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:21).
It is noteworthy that Moses told the Jewish people that God gave them this land “for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:40). However, he also warned them before they entered it:
When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lᴏʀᴅ will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lᴏʀᴅ will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:25–28)
Many believe this prediction was fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed the temple in 586 BC and exiled most of the nation (cf. Ezekiel 33:21–29). However, Moses then predicted:
But from there you will seek the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and obey his voice. For the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:29–31)
Even though many of the Jews were exiled by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the Babylonians in 586 BC, a remnant remained in the land. As I note in my recent paper responding to the claim that Israel “stole” its land from the Palestinians, there was never a time when the Jews completely abandoned the land. Throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, large waves of Jewish settlers began repopulating the region, leading to the modern founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Three interpretive positions
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was reborn. Broadly speaking, theologians interpret this event in three ways.
First, dispensational premillennialists see this event as fulfilling the prophecy, “Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” (Isaiah 66:8). They point to this prophecy:
“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lᴏʀᴅ your God. (Amos 9:14–15)
And to this:
From beyond the rivers of Cush
my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
shall bring my offering. (Zephaniah 3:10)
And to this:
Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lᴏʀᴅ and to seek the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts; I myself am going.” Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lᴏʀᴅ. Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zechariah 8:20–23)
Some also see Moses’ word to the nation in this light:
And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lᴏʀᴅ your God has driven you, and return to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lᴏʀᴅ your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lᴏʀᴅ your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:1–6; cf. Ezekiel 20:40–44; 36:1–37:28)
Second, historic premillennialists believe that these promises await their fulfillment in the coming reign of Christ on earth. They do not believe there will be a “rapture” of the church out of the world, but they do believe that Christ will return to set up a millennial (“thousand-year”) rule. They point to this passage as evidence:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1–6)
In this view, the millennial reign of Christ fulfills the prophecies cited above, not the 1948 founding of the State of Israel.
Third, non-millennial theologians disagree with both views summarized above. This is a broad category of perspectives, but it shares the viewpoint that the promises we have discussed in this section relate specifically to the rebuilding of the nation after the Babylonian captivity. To the degree that they possess a larger significance, they relate to God’s continuing kingdom in the world established by Christ and continued through the church.
Conclusion: Fulfilling God’s “new” covenant today
To summarize: some interpreters believe the Jews’ status as God’s “chosen” people was irrevocable regardless of their sins and rejection of Christ as Messiah. Many with this viewpoint expect God to renew his covenant with them in the Great Tribulation following the rapture of the church.
Others believe that God “chose” Israel as the people through whom to reveal himself, his word, and ultimately his Son to the world. Now the followers of Jesus, including both Jews and Gentiles, are the “new Israel.” Some, however, believe that God is continuing to use the Jewish people in unique ways in the world.
These perspectives translate to views regarding the land we call Israel. The former believe it was irrevocably intended for God and see the 1948 founding of the State of Israel as continuing a commitment that will extend into the millennium to come. The latter believe the land was part of God’s work in using the Jewish people to bring his Messiah into the world. They view promises regarding its restoration as related to their return from Babylonian exile and perhaps God’s continuing work through the church today.
Whatever our position on these issues, we can agree on three biblical facts of enormous practical significance.
First, God intends all people—Jews and Gentiles—to experience his “new” covenant in which he forgives our iniquity and leads us to know him personally (Jeremiah 31:31–34; John 3:16–17). In this way, God promised, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). As Paul noted, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Second, God wants to use all people—Jews and Gentiles—to bring the good news of his love to the world. Abraham’s descendants were not to be a container of his blessings but their conduit: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). When Peter preached at Pentecost to Jews gathered from across the Roman Empire, he claimed that they were fulfilling God’s prophetic promise, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32).
Third, we should join Paul in seeking earnestly for Jews who do not know Christ as their Messiah to turn to him in faith. This is the opposite of antisemitism—it is our heartfelt desire for Jews to experience God’s “abundant” life in this world and the next (John 10:10). We should therefore testify with Paul: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
In this way, we will obey the biblical command to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) with our intercession, compassion, and witness, to the glory of God.