For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land (Ezekiel 36:24).
Simply mention the “End Times,” and you are sure to generate as many different opinions as people have favorite colors. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you understand the point.
The study of eschatology (the study of the End Times) and apocalyptic writings in the Bible certainly bring no end to varying interpretations and opinions.
The truth is, none of us knows the specific events that will occur, or especially when. Even Jesus stated that only the Father knew the precise day or hour of the eschaton — the end of all things as we know them:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).
While there is much about the End Times, that is unknown and falls into interpretation or even speculation, a lingering question remains — what about Israel? After all, throughout Scripture — both Old and New Testament, the nation of Israel is God’s “chosen people.”
Where does the nation of Israel fit into God’s plan for the End Times? What does God have in store for Israel and the gift of eternal life at the end of the world? Is the existence of the current State of Israel a fulfillment of God’s promises to them?
The Current State of Israel
The name of the nation of Israel is derived from the name given to Jacob — the grandson of Abraham and the son of Isaac.
Jacob’s 12 sons were the forefathers of the 12 tribes that became the Jewish nation — the nation of Israel.
It is easy to recognize the trials that the people of Israel — in other words, the nation of Israel, the Jewish people — have survived over the past 3,500 to 4,000 years:
1. Four hundred years of exile and slavery in Egypt, then escape only to wander in the desert for another 40 years before arriving in the “land of milk and honey.”
2. Another 70 years of exile in Babylon after the defeat of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
3. Two thousand years of dispersion and exile from their homeland under the rule of multiple empires. While the Romans are best known, there were also the Babylonians, Persians, Greek Hellenists, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, British — even Christian Crusaders who came from Europe to capture the Holy Land.
4. Dispersion throughout other lands — referred to as the Diaspora — which, of course, could easily have resulted in absorption into other cultures through mixed marriages and simple assimilation or absorption, yet did not.
5. Subjugation — many nations did not willingly accept the Jews into their countries. Russia, for example, was known for its harsh treatment of the Jews, who had no rights. Even during the British rule of their lands, the Jews suffered a great deal of violence at the hands of nearby Arab populations.
6. Genocide — the Holocaust, wherein six million Jews or more were brutally murdered. As much as 60% or more of the entire Jewish population.
And then…in 1948, against all odds, a return to the Promised Land. The new State of Israel. The Jewish community re-established Israel as a sovereign nation with a declaration of independence.
At the time, many orthodox Jews and non-Jews around the world were horrified. Political clashes exist to this day.
And yet, with all of this, the people of Israel have endured. Charles Krauthammer once had this to say about the Jews of Israel:
“Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store” (Weekly Standard, 5/11/1998).
Against all odds, the Jewish people have once again returned to the “land of milk and honey” promised by God in Exodus and as exclaimed by prophets throughout the Old Testament.
But — is this the true and final fulfillment of God’s promises and the multitude of prophecies, or simply an event that foreshadows what is to come?
Foreshadowing in Scripture
We can certainly disagree on many things in Scripture, but we can agree on this — the Bible is replete with events and promises that often serve only to foreshadow later events.
For example, Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross — God’s one and only son.
Dr. Dan Sered, COO of Jews for Jesus, makes the point:
“…Israel (the people) have never really occupied the full land that God promised Abraham in Genesis 15, just like the people of Israel have never really all 100% believed and followed the Lord. It seems that there has been partial fulfillment all throughout redemptive history but the full fulfillment of all of God’s promises will only occur in the future after the 2nd coming” (It should be noted that this and other statements represent Dr. Sered’s personal views and does not represent those of his organization).
Dan absolutely sees another, more fulfilled future for the nation of Israel:
“With regards to Israel I find that there are many passages and examples of how God fulfilled His promises to Israel and those examples give me all of the assurance and confidence that God will also fulfill all of His promises to Israel in the future. For example, the prophecy that we find in Ezekiel 37:1-14. This text is written while Israel is in exile. And God fulfilled the promise of gathering the dry bones back to the land of Israel (Ezra & Nehemiah) in 538 BC.”
Ezekiel 36:24-27 indeed states God’s promise.
Again, from Dr. Sered:
“But in this prophecy, we see that God would also at some point (future point) fill all of Israel with His spirit and that all of Israel would serve the Lord (in Ezekiel he even refers to Israel as an army for the Lord and in the explanation of the prophecy vs. 11-14 the Lord mentions that all of Israel would know Him). That still has not happened. And following the first return of the people of Israel to the Land, we had another exile and are now back in the land of Israel (1948). So I see this prophecy is being fulfilled again but still Israel is in unbelief.”
Certainly, a national spiritual revival or regeneration by turning to Jesus is not foretold by the Bible prior to Christ’s return, nor is such a prerequisite for the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel. Dr. Sered sees fulfillment upon Christ’s return, as foretold by the prophet Zechariah:
“Romans 11:25-27 assures me that this won’t always be the case. I believe that when Jesus returns all of Israel (all of the Jewish people that are alive in that moment in history) will be saved, will come to know the Lord, they will recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah”(Zechariah 12:10-13:1).
The Valley of Dry Bones
In Ezekiel 37:4-6, the prophet describes a rather unforgettable vision of a “valley of dry bones.” These dry bones come back to life in stages: tendons, then flesh, then skin.
Then God tells Ezekiel,
“Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’ (v. 11).
And yet, God clearly has plans for Israel. Dr. Sered put it perfectly:
“God is NOT done with the Jewish people and that in the future God will fulfill all of the promises that He has made to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e., the Jewish people) in the flesh. This does NOT mean that God won’t fulfill His promises to the church and to humanity. God will fulfill all of His promises to all people according to what we are told in God’s word.”
The dry bones. Israel, in exile, without hope, and cut off from their God, and yet, still with God’s promises of a return to their land. Their entire land. To him (Ezekiel 36:27).
And as we know, God will fulfill his promises.
Zechariah 14 describes a future day when Jerusalem will be plundered by her enemies. This is foreshadowed in 2 Kings, when the forces of Nebuchadnezzar broke through Jerusalem’s walls, conquering the city. But then… in verse 14, the prophet says this:
On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south(Zechariah 14:4).
“That day” is a reference to the very day of the return of our Lord — the second coming of Christ — to the very spot from where he ascended 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-12).
Indeed, God is not done with Israel.
(Thank you to Dr. Dan Sered for his awesome contribution and cooperation with this article!)
For further reading:
What Is the Importance of Israel?
What Is the Meaning of Israel in the Bible?
What Is the Significance of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Bible?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/e-crow
Greg Grandchamp is the author of “In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins” — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected] and on Facebook.