Guests: Douglas Clark and Zdravko Stefanovic
Relevant Biblical Passages: Gen 35:12, Deut. 28-29; Ezek. 16; Gal. 3
Abraham’s Seed. One of the most divisive issues in Christianity today is whether or not the church is to be seen as a “spiritual” Israel, thus “spiritualizing” and “universalizing” the concrete promises of land and descendants originally given to Israel. Until the 19th century, most Protestants adopted the view that through the church, the body of Christ, the original promises of land and descendants given to Abraham are fulfilled. The literal land of Israel and its temple are no longer central to the divine plan. The heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly, and all those who accept Jesus, not just the Jews, are the true descendants of Abraham.
But what is now known as dispensational theology, projects a future restoration of land, temple, and people: literal, physical Israel will yet play the role in the final events of this world’s history. The current conflict between Israel and the Arabs is fueled by Christians who take this view and believe the temple must be re-built on its ancient site in Jerusalem, a site now occupied by a Moslem mosque. The passages below should be explored in connection with the question as to whether God’s promises are conditional or fixed.
Genesis 35:12. God’s promise to Jacob of land and descendants.
Deuteronomy 7:6. God’s promise to Israel that they would be a special people.
Deuteronomy 28-29. Blessings for the obedient, curses for the disobedient.
Ezekiel 16. God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration of a humiliated people
Galatians 3. God’s promise through Paul that in Christ all are Abraham’s seed.
The crucial question: What is the biblical foundation for each position and the psychological realities which underlie them? Is it possible to adopt a position which takes seriously God’s sovereign promises and the human response to those promises?
EXCURSUS: Differing Perspectives on the “End”
Given the fact that the covenant focuses on the “future” of God’s people, it is well to be aware of the differing ways in which this “future” is understood. Modern dispensationalism, which predicts that literal Israel will again play a key role in God’s plan, is the most wide-spread way of viewing the covenant promises, at least in conservative “evangelical” communities. But there are at least four different ways of viewing the biblical predictions of end and restoration. These can be summarized as follows:
- “All-time Road Map”: HISTORICISM: The single road-map through history leading up to the end-time events. The traditional Adventist perspective, rooted in Daniel 2 and 7 and shaped by the teaching of the great reformers.
- “Yesterday”: PRETERISM: Predicted “end-time” events were in the author’s own day. In its pure form, held by “liberals” who deny any predictive element in prophecy or any “real” end of time.
- “Tomorrow”: FUTURISM: “End-time” events yet to come. In its pure form, denies conditional prophecy; it is the most popular view of eschatology among conservative Christians today (cf. “Left Behind” [movie]). Unfulfilled events in the Bible (especially from the OT) are predicted to take place at some future point to a literal and restored Israel (the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem at the present site of the Moslem mosque, Dome of the Rock). The best-known modern form of futurism is Dispensationalism. Note the seven-fold division of history (fully developed in the Scofield Bible notes):
- Innocence: Before the fall
- Conscience: Before the flood
- Human government: Before Abraham
- Promise: Before Sinai
- Law: Before the Cross
- Grace: Before Second Advent
- Kingdom: 7 years and millennium.Note: The seven year period falls between the secret coming of Christ (“rapture” [parousia]) and the public coming [epiphaneia]; the saints spend the next 1000 years on earth in an existence which includes birth, death, and animal sacrifice (cf. Isaiah 65-66 and Zechariah 14.)
- “Today, Today, Today!”: IDEALISM: Multiple applications for “end-time” events. From an Adventist perspective, this approach suggests that there were several points in history when Christ could have come. It builds on the concept of “conditional” prophecy and seeks to take seriously the events described in Isaiah 65-66, and Zechariah 14 which describe a “new earth” where some traces of evil still seem to linger. Note the summary of God’s “original” plan for Israel, based on SDABC 4:25-38
- Innocence: Before the faOn-site Evangelism. The world would be attracted to God by Israel’s witness and prosperity. Many would ask to become part of Israel.
- Salvation through the Messiah. God’s anointed one (the messiah) would have come, died, and risen again, but would have been accepted by his own people.
- Jerusalem as Missionary Headquarters. The present city of Jerusalem would have become a center for outreach into the whole world.
- Final Confrontation but the Gradual Elimination of Evil. A confrontation would finally take place between good and evil; God’s rule would be established; but the marks of evil would gradually disappear.