So Much Agreement…
One of the problems I’ve had in discussing today’s secular state of Israel with Philip is that he doesn’t seem to realise that I already agree with much of what he argues for – our premises are pretty much the same. Here’s seven, for a start:
(i) We both believe Jesus is fulfilling all the promises of God.
We only differ as to whether He’s keeping His promises today to the still unbelieving earthly descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – I think He is, and Philip thinks He isn’t.
(ii) We’re agreed on the appalling plight of the Palestinians.
I too have researched this for years, expressing my own anguish in 2011 in my Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. Where Philip and I differ is that he thinks their biggest problem is Israel whereas I believe they have two far bigger problems: their horrendous treatment by all of the Arab nations going back to 1948 and their own corrupt leaders who divert vast amounts of foreign aid (e.g. Palestinians Don’t Need Financial Aid) fail to build or maintain infrastructure including water distribution (a third is lost in leaks) and sewage treatment (e.g. Palestinian Water (and Martin Schulz)), and imprison or kill their critics and opponents (e.g. Palestinian Journalist in Prison).
(iii) We’re agreed the Temple won’t be rebuilt.
It doesn’t help that Philip sets up straw men to knock down instead of learning where we agree:
As far as I can tell Graeme thinks these references [in Rev 11] are to a rebuilt temple in the earthly Jerusalem…
I don’t think that – for the umpteenth time, I’m not a Dispensationalist – we’re agreed this is metaphorical. In my book on Rev 11, Silencing The Witnesses, I explain that John’s measuring of “the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it” couldn’t have been literal because the Romans had flattened it all twenty-five years earlier. ‘Measuring’, ‘calculating’, ‘marking off’, and ‘weighing’ are Jewish metaphors for comprehending or understanding so John was actually confirming in pictorial form what Jesus1 and Peter2 taught plainly: rather than rebuilding the stone Temple, God is building us as living stones into a spiritual house to worship at a spiritual altar.3
(iv) We’re agreed that the forty-two months (Rev 11:2) is an eschatological metaphor.
In fact, this is the heart of my exposition of Revelation 11, 12, and 13. Philip thinks it refers to an undefined but limited ‘time of eschatological trouble’ whereas I think it is specific to the mystery of the two comings of Elijah,4 immediately prior to the two comings of Messiah.5
(v) There are two Jerusalems.
Philip and I are also agreed that we have to keep in mind both ‘this present Jerusalem’ and ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’ to properly understand Galatians 4, Hebrews 11-13, and Revelation 11 and 20-21. When it comes to Rev 11:8, he thinks Jesus was crucified in ‘Babylon’, ‘centred in Rome’, whereas I think He was crucified in ‘this present Jerusalem’ which at the time was acting like ‘Sodom and Egypt’, as earlier charged by Isaiah,6 Jeremiah,7 and Ezekiel.8
(vi) We agree that God will judge both Israelis and Palestinians.
Given that we agree on so much, there is no need for us to portray each other as extremists:
I disagree with Graeme on almost every point. I have no desire to pull rank. But I will indulge in a little folly (2 Cor 10:21). I have been reading the New Testament in Greek for over forty years and the Old Testament in Hebrew for almost as long. I am a specialist in the literature of the Second Temple period. There is little about biblical interpretation or about Judaism in the first century that Graeme can teach me, and to be frank I am a little tired of this whole discussion. Graeme is a deeply committed Christian and a devoted follower of Jesus, but in this area he is quite wrong, and his erroneous reading of the Scriptures spills over into his uncritical support of Zionism. That is quite sad.
Personally, I’m always happy to be taught as we all really need to understand whether or not God has miraculously restored the nation of Israel in our days – it’s just that I prefer a Biblical basis rather than confident assertions from ‘experts’, although I’m also open to be corrected by children or donkeys, if the Lord chooses. Philip should be too because the vast majority of those he thinks are experts, i.e. those who can read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek as well as all the literature of the Second Temple period, were almost universally wrong in the 1st Century. Paul, for example, needed time away from the scholarly clamour to reread his Bible and see what it actually had been saying all along.9
What I find ‘quite sad’ is Philip’s ‘erroneous reading’ of me as offering ‘uncritical support of Zionism’ – that’s as silly as me claiming that because Philip’s always siding with the Palestinians, he’s pro-suicide bombings, stabbings, and car-rammings of Jewish men, women and children. I’m sure, instead, that we actually both agree with Paul:
God will render to each person according to his deeds… There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek.10
Who could doubt that any Jewish sins against Palestinians today are sins and will be judged? All I’ve ever asked for is a fair hearing for the Jews rather than the usual media lynch-mob approach, and for simple justice regarding the population transfer in 1948.
(vii) We agree that Abraham and Jesus have not yet inherited the world but they will.
Ironically, even when Philip thinks we disagree, he often ends up agreeing with my point. For example:
Graeme claims, “Abraham and Jesus haven’t yet inherited the whole world to share with us have they?” Graeme is wrong. He hasn’t noticed… Ps 110:1? “The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool?”
When I replied that this verse includes an ‘until’, that it exemplifies inaugurated eschatology because Jesus has not yet received the world as His inheritance, and won’t until He returns, Philip first dismisses my view as ‘deficient as [Graeme] puts too much emphasis on the “not yet” and not enough on the “already”’ but then admits:
God promised Abraham the world (Rom 4:13), and by spreading the gospel the people of God are taking the world for Christ.
Of course we are – that’s why I’ve been an evangelist for the last forty-five years – but this proves my point: ‘Abraham and Jesus haven’t yet received the whole world to share with us’ so why is it ‘wrong’ when I say it but not when he admits it? On the bright side, we’re now agreed on this point. Can Philip now please answer the questions this naturally raises, as in my opening article?
What about in the meantime? Does this mean that Abraham’s [Jewish] descendants get no land at all until Jesus returns? After all, Abraham’s Arab descendants have twenty-one lands today, and are arguing for Palestine to be No. 22, so what should happen to their lands? …Who should they give them to? But if they’re allowed to keep their lands, why can’t Abraham’s Jewish descendants have the one land promised them, according to Genesis 17:8, as ‘an everlasting possession’? …Or has God broken this particular promise to today’s Jews, giving it instead to the Palestinian Arabs or, one day, to Jesus?
The Issues To Be Resolved
Let’s now consider where we do disagree:
Graeme asserts (without providing any evidence) that the land was not an issue prior to AD 70, because “[the NT] was written before Israel lost the land.” On the contrary, the land was the issue in the time of Jesus. Israel might have been living in the land, but they didn’t have the land. Rome did.
Firstly, why does he try to ignore the evidence provided in my original post, collated from all four gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters, James, Jude, Hebrews, and the Revelation? See for yourself in: A Colloquium and Its Book. Perhaps he didn’t read it because he hasn’t tried to counter any of it.
Secondly, Philip has made the simple mistake of conflating the land and sovereignty. The land wasn’t the issue but sovereignty was, as the passage he quotes (Neh 9:36-37) explicitly states:
Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they have power also over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.
This prayer, offered by those who had returned from the exile in Babylon, was not asking if they could return from exile but for sovereignty, freedom from Gentile domination. In Nehemiah’s time, they were being ruled by the Medo-Persians but about to be invaded by the Greeks11 and then by the Romans.12 It was, therefore, still the issue in 30 AD when the disciples asked Jesus, not “When can we live in our land?” but “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”,13 “hoping it was He who was going to redeem Israel” from the Romans.14
Sorry, Philip, but you can’t avoid this – the land wasn’t an issue in the NT because it was almost completed before Israel lost it – the only exception is Revelation which does explain the consequences to Israel in chapters 11, 12, 16, and 20.
(ii) Who exactly are the experts on this?
As evidence for us to accept his erroneous conflation, Philip asserts:
Several Old Testament texts show that the end of exile for Israel was supposed to mean sovereignty over the nations…[e.g. Mic 4:1-4]. These data in themselves ought to be enough to convince Graeme that the land was an issue, but there is evidence both in the literature of Second Temple Judaism and in the New Testament of the Jewish reaction to this.
The trouble is, for all his expertise, Philip has misread those Old Testament texts, along with the majority of highly-educated 1st Century Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Qumran communities, and Zealots. The end of Israel’s exile wasn’t ‘supposed to mean sovereignty over the nations’, as Jesus carefully explained:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return…”15
This is what inaugurated eschatology means – Jesus inaugurated the kingdom in the 1st Century and we the church are to urge all unbelievers to enter His kingdom for as long as it’s still called ‘Today’, but His sovereignty won’t be complete until the last trumpet and our Resurrection Day:
Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”16
This is when Jesus will at last inherit the earth. In the meantime, Israel has been returning again from exile and been granted sovereignty by the United Nations. So now, can we please get back to the subject – what should we make of these indisputable facts on the ground?
The Land of Israel Today
Despite Philip’s desire to rush to the end of the age, avoiding questions about ‘in the meantime’, these ‘untils’ really matter. It really matters that we recognise what God is doing before the Lord returns and this is where we really differ in our Biblical understanding:
(i) I believe present-day Israel’s restoration as a sovereign nation and regaining of Jerusalem is miraculous and fulfilling promises made by Jesus Himself, as well as Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi, in the Old Testament, and predicted by Paul, James, and John in the New. I’ve provided Biblical evidence for my perception e.g. Lev 26:42-45 cf. Rom 11:1 & 11; Jer 31:35-37 cf. Matt 5:17-20; Rom 11:28-29.
(ii) Philip believes I’ve misread these because Jesus fulfilled all of these promises and that present-day Israel is an anachronism, brought about by carnal colonialism and political manoeuvring. However, he is yet to explain away God’s promise of His land as an ‘everlasting possession’ to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and ‘Israel according to the flesh.’
I agree, of course, that because Jews are human, they can be as carnal and political as the rest of us but then, when has God ever used perfect human beings? As I see it, He explained this very clearly when Israel returned from Assyria and Babylon in the 5th Century BC and it’s just as true in our day:
“I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” Thus says the Lord GOD, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it.”17
In 2011, Peter Walker wrote that we should be considering ‘how to evaluate the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in our day’. I agree. It’s not good enough that Laidlaw and Carey allowed themselves to become so partisan as to present only one view of this very important issue.
On the morning of the resurrection, Peter and John ran to see for themselves that the tomb was empty and only then, John records, did he believe, and for an intriguing reason:
For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.18
Some of us have seen the resurrection of Israel from the dead; some of us just do not believe it’s God at work. Surely the answer is for us all to better understand the Scriptures and that will require more loving and respectful dialogue, and a willingness to address how to apply them.
Earlier Article in this dialogue: Philip Church’s Response Critiqued