Anytime Israel enters the news cycle, things get apocalyptic. And that is usually because of something that is only described with very big words. The short words would be Left Behind or The Late Great Planet Earth. If you have read either one of those works you have dipped your toe in dispensational eschatology of the premillennial variety. Now if I told you that this particular understanding of “what the bible teaches” comes from John Nelson Darby around 1830. It was incorporated into the Scofield Reference Bible in 1907 where it moved from being the peculiar teaching of the small Plymouth Brethren to being the in the air default of American Evangelicals. If I told you that – all true – you wouldn’t believe me. That is how potent an end times story it became. And for me it became so potent because of one particular quirk, it offered Christians what appeared to be a free pass to be “nice” regarding Jews after the holocaust. They are part of an older dispensation is what it offered.
I obviously can’t summarize everything in 700 words. The best I can do is state the Church’s historic teachings and point at where they are based upon.
1. Salvation is through Christ Alone. Nobody has their own dispensation.
Jesus would say “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” He would also say things like “I am the vine and you are the branches (John 15:5).” Paul would pick that idea up and talk about Gentiles as ingrafted branches and the ability to graft the Jew back in (Romans 11:17-23). Christ has always – even in the Old Testament all the way back to the first promise after the fall in the garden (Genesis 3:15) – been the only way. Romans 9 through 11 is Paul’s pondering of this in regards to his kinsman. And his abiding prayer is “that they might be saved (Romans 10:1).” And the meaning behind saved is come to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed. Darby’s dispensationalism says you don’t have to preach Christ to Paul’s brothers of the flesh, which is contrary to the gospel Paul preached.
2. The modern nation state of Israel is not The Israel of God.
The idea of Israel is being a “chosen people” (Deuteronomy 7:6). This chosen-ness is to be in Christ by faith. It is not based on anything in us, but in God’s faithfulness to his promises. Paul says in Romans 9 that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Israel is not Israel by genetic descent, but Israel is Israel by faith. This is how Peter can say the same words in 1 Peter 2:9 that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” to the church – Jew and Gentile. The Israel of God is always by faith by God’s sovereign choice in Christ.
3. This does not mean that “The Jews” are without purpose.
The opposite of dispensationalism’s desire to be nice has often been a Christian hatred of “the Jews”. Luther himself was not beyond such, but it should also be said that Luther was basically expressing common ideas. This misses Paul’s warning in Romans 11. “Do not be arrogant toward the (cut off) branches…”. If God can graft in wild branches, how much easier to restore the cultivated ones? It also misses Paul’s prophecy, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Paul doesn’t elaborate on that, and given the shifting meanings of Israel the saying is complex, but what most have thought is: a) even unbelieving Israel is a witness to the faithfulness of God in that they are not lost to history in that God preserves a remnant and b) all Israel – Jews and Gentiles who believe – will be saved which very well might include a ingathering at a late date after the fulness of the Gentiles.
What does this mean for our current intrigues? The purpose of the Apocalyptic (Revelation, Daniel and a few other places) is not to establish a timeline or a checklist of events. “You know neither the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:13).” Don’t be searching for Gog and Magog to meet at Megiddo. This is just an image of the nations of the world at war. “There will be wars and rumors of war (Matthew 24:6).” “Why do the nations so furiously wage together? (Psalm 2:1)” Because the nations of this old world have always usurped the power of Christ. Gog is always meeting Magog at some Megiddo. But the end is not yet. Likewise, don’t worry about 3rd Temples. The 3rd Temple is already built. It is built of living stones on the cornerstone of Christ. The end has already come in this way. The purpose of the Apocalyptic is to remind you that however big and wild things appear in this old earth, God is steering them for his people. And you have eternity. “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the Kingdom forever, forever and ever (Daniel 7:18).”
I’ve blown past my allotted limit. None of this says anything about what our national foreign policy should be. Which is in the realm of sanctified practical wisdom anyway. What it hopefully has done is remind us of the basics. This world is passing away. Its ruler, Satan, knows his time is short. But all Israel will be saved. Have faith.