Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 369 pp. Pb. $16.99 Link to Kregel
Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in two other books published by Kregel (To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History, 2008 and The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, 2012). These two volumes collected papers from conferences sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, an evangelistic mission to Jews led by Mitch Glaser. This new book is based on a conference held at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City in 2013. Most of the participants are Evangelical who have a high view of Scripture and several are involved in some sort of ministry aimed at Jewish evangelism. Not a few of the scholars participating in the conference can be fairly described as “Progressive Dispensationalists” (Bock and Blaising, especially) although that language does not appear in the book.
Michael Brown’s chapter “The People of Israel in Jewish Tradition” is placed in the book between the Old and New Testament sections, leading me to think it would cover the Second Temple Period, but that is not the case. After spending a few pages on making six points drawn from the Hebrew Bible, Brown offers a few examples drawn from late rabbinic literature. Sadly, his longest example is taken from a website rather than the Talmud itself. He also cites Midrash Tanchuma Qedoshim, a text dated A.D. 370 attributed to Rabbi Tanchuma bar Abba and Rashi (d. 1105). By juxtaposing these later writers with the list of messianic expectations drawn from Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, he gives the impression that Jews at the time of Jesus thought of Jerusalem as the “navel of the world.” Perhaps they did, but the evidence offered here does not support the claim.
The second section continues the survey by examining what the New Testament has to say about Israel. Michael Wilkins contribution surveys the Gospel of Matthew, highlighting the tension between Jesus’ command to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and the emphasis Matthew places on the salvation of the Gentiles. Matthew has the most negative view toward Israel, especially toward the religious leadership (Matt 23, for example). The gospel also has strong statements about Gentiles participating in the Kingdom. But Wilkins does not see this as replacement theology, since Israel will be in the land in the eschatological age (Matt 23:37-39), worshiping in the temple, (Matt 24:14-16), and the disciples will be ruling a restored Israel (Matt 19:28)
Darrell Bock discusses Luke/Acts. Like Matthew, Luke does not indicate God replaces Israel with Gentiles, even if that was part of God’s plan from the beginning (p. 104). Bock highlights a number of texts throughout the Gospel of Luke indicating Luke’s belief that Israel’s judgment is only for a time and they will participate in the eschatological age (p. 109). Of considerable importance is Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:18-21, in which he states clearly the “times of refreshing” will come and Israel will once again be blessed. There is nothing in this sermon even hinting that the Gentiles will replace Israel and that the promises of a “time of refreshing” has been transferred to the Gentiles.
Michael Vanlaningham examines the question of Israel’s restoration in the book of Romans. Romans 9-11 can fairly be described as the most important text in the New Testament for understanding Israel’s future since Paul deals with God’s faithfulness to his promises and a potential objection that faithfulness. If God has canceled his promises to Israel, perhaps she will do so with the Gentiles. Vanlaningham shows that replacement theology has trouble dealing with Romans 11, especially the clear statement that “all Israel will be saved.”
In perhaps the strangest article in the collection, Craig Evans examines Hebrews and the General Epistles. The chapter is strange because the General Epistles have very little to say about the replacement or restoration of Israel and almost nothing about the land. Evans simply points out each book in this General Epistles is written by a Jewish writer to Jewish Christians (with the possible exception of 2 Peter). That James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora is significant since it presupposes Israel in the Land. While I agree with everything Evans says in this chapter concerning the Jewishness of these letters, it really has little to do with the theme of the book.
The third section of the book takes on the topic from the perspective of hermeneutics and theology. Craig Blaising, Mark Saucy, John Feinberg and Michael Vlach each contribute articles challenging the supersessionist view of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible. It is significant that all four of these writers are associated with dispensationalism, but with the exception of Vlach’s historical survey, there is no clear indication they are using a dispensational hermeneutic. Blaising challenges supersessionist views on Israel by appealing to the overall narrative of Scripture, arguing popular supersessionist writers have made a “reality shift” when moving from the promises of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in the New Testament. He associates this first with W. D. Davies and his students, but Reformed biblical theology is guilty of using typology to downplay the literal fulfillment of the land promises to Israel. Mark Saucy examines the overall narrative of the Bible and argues that de-emphasizing the role of Israel in the fulfillment of Old Testament promises misses the point of the story of the Bible. Jesus clearly believed in the future new covenant hope of the Prophets. John Feinberg examines three prophecies from the Old Testament and simply observes they cannot be fulfilled if Israel has been replaced by the church because the presuppose Israel is in the land and worshiping in the Temple.
Michael Vlach article on Israel in Church History demonstrates replacement theology began very early in church history. After Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and 135, Gentile membership in the church became the majority and Church leaders became less interested in Israel and the Land. As allegorical interpretations of Scripture became the standard hermeneutic of the church, replacement theology developed rapidly, so that by the early third century, Clement of Alexandria could describe Israel as “divorced” from God and replace by the Church as a faithful spouse (p. 201). While few in the writers Reformation dealt with the restoration of Israel, seventeenth century saw a great deal of interest in evangelizing the Jewish people, often in an eschatological context. Puritan millennialism, for example, understood the conversion of Israel as a pre-requisite to the second coming (p. 206), a point he illustrates by citing Charles Spurgeon. Vlach points out Dispensationalism did not create this interest in the early nineteenth century (as is often assumed), but continued a trend with respect to the restoration of Israel.
The last article in this section also takes a historical perspective. Barry Leventhal examines “Israel in Light of the Holocaust.” While Leventhal has written books on this topic, I found this chapter to be disappointing. First, he has too many extremely long citations from other writers, to the point that several pages have virtually nothing from Leventhal. Most of these citations are appropriate to the topic and some are probably necessary for Leventhal to make his point, but the fact some appear in the article virtually without comment does not strike me as good use of resources. Perhaps the article would read better if he summarized the lengthy quotations and cited the source for further reading. Second, he argues toward the end of the article for a three-exile/three return model for understanding modern Israel. The first exile is the sojourn in Egypt after Joseph, the return was the Exodus. The second exile began in 586 B.C. after the destruction of Jerusalem and the second return was after the seventy year captivity was complete. Leventhal considers the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to be the third exile, with the third return still in the future when God calls his people back to the Land (p. 239). Leventhal does not consider Bar Kokhba in his discussion of the beginning of a third exile. On the one hand, this “third exile” sounds like standard Dispensational theology since he describes an antichrist and a great tribulation (supported with copious citations of Scripture, see his list on p. 241!) While I agree with many of the details, I question the validity of the sojourn in Egypt as an Exile, since it was not a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness. Joseph’s generation are not judged with slavery in Egypt for their failure to keep the God’s commands, in fact, Gen 50:19-21 specifically states God intended the sojourn for the good of Jacob’s family. Perhaps a better way to make a similar point is to adapt N. T. Wright’s “ongoing exile” as a way of explaining why Israel remains in exile after the return in 538 B.C. and even after the events of A.D. 70.
The final section of this book looks at the question of Israel and practical theology. Michael Rydelnik looks at the Jewish people as evidence for the truth of Scripture. This essay considers the remarkable history of Israel and their survival as a people as a kind of proof that the Bible contains truth. Since both the Old and New Testaments indicate Israel will continue to exist until the end times and Israel has miraculously overcome attacks and persecution. This supernatural survival is “strong evidence of the truth of Scripture” (259).
Mitch Glaser discusses the controversial topic of evangelism directed at the Jewish people. Glaser makes a clear distinction between national promises made to Israel in the Bible and personal salvation of individuals. All people must accept Messiah Jesus as savior, “being Jewish” is not sufficient to guarantee participation in the coming messianic age. Glaser believes Paul’s message “to the Jew first” is fully understood when it is coupled with Romans 11:25-27. He states that Paul himself believe that “if Jewish people are successfully evangelized then Jesus the Messiah will return” (p. 274). For Glaser, this means prioritizing evangelism to the Jews because they are God’s chosen people. This is possible and although the opposite may be true as well, that if the “full number of the Gentiles” are saved, then Messiah can return. In Acts 21, Paul hurries to return to Jerusalem by Pentecost with a gift from the Gentiles as a firstfruit offering.
David Epstein tackles this same question from the perspective of a local pastor. Epstein is a Jewish Christian who has pastored Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and has been active in reaching Jewish people with the Gospel for many years. Drawing on his own experience in New York, Epstein argues continued evangelism of Jewish people is a compassionate and biblical practice because Jewish people are still loved by God.
Finally, Gregory Hagg surveys “The Various Positions on Israel Currently Taught in Theological Schools.” Hagg constructed a survey seventy primarily Evangelical institutions in North America. His questions attempt to gauge the interest in these institutions in premillennial and somewhat Dispensational views of Israel and Palestine as well as their views on evangelism to Jews and Arabs. Only about twenty percent returned the survey, so the results are far from a definitive statement of what Evangelicals are doing in their seminaries. In general, the results indicated less enthusiasm at self-identifying as a Dispensationalist, and most schools do not have courses on evangelism to Jewish or Arab peoples.
Darrell Bock offers a few words as a conclusion to the book highlighting the main contours of the articles. In short, these articles indicate God has made promises to Israel which he will keep in the future. Israel’s past or current unfaithfulness does not cancel out the promises of God to bring his kingdom into this world.
Conclusion. I find this book fascinating since it is essentially a book on Pre-millennialism and Dispensational Theology even if it rarely uses the language of classic Dispensationalism. Most (but not all) of the writers are associated with Dispensationalism in some way or teach in traditional Dispensational institutions. Perhaps the writers avoid explicitly using the language because of recent backlashes against Dispensationalism generated by the Left Behind phenomenon or some of the invective commonly used against this once popular way of reading the Bible.
Each chapter ends with a series of study questions to facilitate further discussion of the topic of the paper. A “for further reading” section appears for only paper, Bock’s contribution on Luke/Acts. Throughout the book there are URLs and QR Codes to access conference videos and additional interview material with the individual contributors to this volume.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.