I stood upon the level ground of Al Haram Al Sharif, better known as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, one hot August day in 1993. Not for the first time though, as I stood at the same spot seventeen years earlier in June, 1976. On both occasions I admired the beauty of the Islamic Dome of the Rock with its blue and white octagonal marble structure, topped with a golden dome, covering the precise site once occupied by the Temple built by King Solomon, then later the Second Temple which was so familiar to Jesus Christ and his disciples.
|Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem|
As I stood to admire the structure, I couldn't help asking myself, Why did the Muslims build their mosque right on the very spot where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood? I found this to be both intriguing and puzzling. It was while I was meditating on the goodness of God in allowing me to visit such a location, when a thought entered my mind. The reason why this mosque was built on this very site was to block the Jews from rebuilding their Temple. The Jews rebuilding their Temple, which must be at that very site and nowhere else, would this time serve as the throne of the Resurrected King Jesus, according to Ezekiel 43:1-9. The blocking of the construction of the Jewish Temple by the presence of a mosque allows this time of grace to flourish. Until Israel is ready to receive Jesus as their risen Messiah, the grace of God at work in the churches will continue when people worldwide are born from above and enters God's family. I think it would be safe to say that the Lord will not return to sit on David's throne until the Dome is taken out of the way, at least. Whether the Temple will be rebuilt before that great Day is another matter. But until then, the Dome of the Rock is serving an important purpose, allowing many to turn to the Lord for salvation.
Consider also that Israel is the only nation in the world that has a fortress built over the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. This cave entombs the graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. There must be something about this fortress which seems to serve as a sentinel, a witness and testimony that the land belongs to the children of Israel, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The fortress was built by Herod the Great, and completed some time before the birth of Jesus. This is another indication that there may be a future for Israel as a nation. Furthermore, no other nation in the world has a monument over the tomb of its founding fathers standing high, passing the test of time and surviving wars such as the one which razed Jerusalem to the ground in AD 70.
But this whole Third Temple scenario, to me, beggars belief - why on Earth the need of a Temple, with its animal sacrifices? Didn't the Lord Jesus Christ become the final sacrifice to end all Jewish sacrifices? But reading on Ezekiel's narrative, there is much about the Levites "bearing their own sins" along with the sons of Zadok "sacrificing sin offerings". I have to admit, there are many things which remains beyond my understanding, however, one possibility being Israel's deliberate rejection of Jesus as their Messiah for at least two thousand years. But the main clue that all this is still future from our point in time lies in Ezekiel 47:1-12. Here a river flows out from under the Temple, eastwards towards the Dead Sea. Where the river is only ankle-deep at first, after four thousand cubits (a little over a mile) the river is deep enough to swim in (probably after cascading waterfalls and the slower flow of the river within the valley east of Jerusalem.) Such a geological phenomenon does not exist at present. There is no river flowing out of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea is called that because of its high salt content, and therefore unable to sustain life. Yet the prophet writes about the Dead Sea being home of a variety of fish species.
But further clues are given by the prophet leading up to the description of the Temple. Ezekiel devotes two entire chapters on the return of Israel to their land - chapter 36, where God talks to the mountains, hills, and ravines of the land of Israel, and chapter 37 where the revival of the house of Israel is likened to a valley of dry bones coming back to life, and the joining of the two sticks - the northern tribes of Israel with the southern tribe of Judah - into a single nation. Over and over again the writer refers to the house of Israel literally. In Ezekiel 36:24-28, the Lord talks about the regenerating of the heart, sprinkling it clean and filling it with the Holy Spirit. According to history, that has never occurred so far to Israel on the national scale.
This runs parallel to what the prophet Jeremiah has written (31:31-34) which is quoted by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, that is, about a new covenant God will make with the house of Israel (Hebrews 8:10.) This looks to be partially fulfilled in the seventh chapter of Revelation where 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each of its twelve tribes, will evangelise the whole world shortly before the Return of Jesus Christ, resulting in a harvest so large that it cannot be numbered, converts from every nation of the world. Again nothing of the kind has ever occurred throughout history, and concluding that this must be a future event. The fact that the Holy Spirit through John has named each of the twelve tribes of Israel for this future crusade indicates that all twelve tribes of Israel are with us to this day. This seems to concur with a statement which Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, that eventually all of Israel will be saved, that is to say, on a national scale, fully endorsing the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Romans 11:26.)
|Sentinel of Israel -the Cave of Machpelah, Hebron|
So what has brought me to write about this subject? It was after listening to a preach delivered by one of our Elders last Sunday, which featured a chart showing that out of the house of Israel, only one tribe remained, the tribe of Judah, from which the word "Jew" originated. All the other tribes remained lost, marrying into their surrounding nations, leaving the churches as the sole possession of God's people. In other words, a belief that God is forever finished with Israel because of their constant sinning and their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Instead, the churches of our day remains God's only people, but any Jew who turns to Christ for salvation becomes a member of the church as well. This theory is known as Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, and although our Elders believe in it and preach it, they are by no means alone. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church believed and taught it, along with many Protestant churches. Supersessionism is accepted in many Anglican churches and I believe, many charismatic churches as well.
But does this theory of Replacement Theology really draw me closer to God? As a matter of curiosity, how would I perceive the character of God if he is truly finished with Israel as a nation, and now only the God of Christians only? My perception would be that God himself is not wholly trustworthy to stay true to his promises. Since God has made an eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that their descendants will inherit a specific land, instead I see God rescinding on his former promise by throwing Israel out, and starting again with a new group of people, that is, the Church. Roman Catholicism teaches this, and even Martin Luther and the Reformation also held on to this. On a parallel case, Islam insist that Allah was the God of the Jews until the seventh Century AD, when the prophet Mohammed insisted that Allah was done with the Jews, and prepared for the rise of Islam, which ended up becoming Israel's sworn enemy.
Supersessionism had brought some quirky ideas about England in the last few hundred years. William Blake's poem, And did those feet in ancient times referred to the whole of England as the new Jerusalem, and that after believing that God is through with the Church in Rome! Since Jerusalem was the actual capital city of Israel, maybe this was the thinking that enforced the building of Empire. If England is the new Jerusalem, as Blake believed, then I can't see why the Empire itself couldn't have been perceived as the New Israel. Perhaps fortunately, the Empire folded in on itself in the 1960's, and England perceived as the new Jerusalem might have passed on, in theory at least. But the hymn And did those feet continues to be sung in various institutions and in international sporting events such as rugby. There was even talk of making this hymn the new English National Anthem.
But the main point of this blog is that God cannot be trusted fully to keep his promises if Replacement Theology is proved to be Biblical. Consider this: If God in the past has, in a sense, dumped Israel as a nation of God's people in favour of the Church, then what could stop him from dumping the Church for something new? After all, Blake believed that the original Church in Rome was dumped for England. A similar idea is believed by every Christian-based sect. All of them - Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, even the Church of Christ - all believing that the early church went astray after a few centuries, and God called out a new group of people. Even among more orthodox churches, the idea that they are the Israel of God is taken from Galatians 6:16. But I don't think Paul was referring to Gentile Christian churches here. After all, I don't consider myself Jewish at all, and I have never met a non-Jewish Christian referring to himself as Jewish. Neither do I consider myself an Israeli. The "Israel of God" Paul mentions must be referring to Jewish believers of his day, who we call "Messianic Jews" today.
|I doubt if anybody here would call himself a Jew!|
And that is the same referred to the one who is a "proper Jew" in Romans 2:29. In verse 17, the apostle addresses those who "call themselves Jews," who have the Law and attempts to keep the Law of Moses. He concludes that even a man who isn't circumcised but has faith is more akin to Abraham than a Jew of genetic link but does not have Abraham's faith. To conclude, a real Jew has both Abraham's genetic link and his ancestor's faith as well.
And finally, I can ask myself: If God has dumped Israel in favour of the Church, then who can stop God from dumping me in favour of somebody else for salvation? If God is seen as having finished with Israel, then he can finish with you and with me - if we depart from the faith or allow our sins to pile up.
It looks to me that we have gone the full circle. Namely this: If God has finished with Israel in favour of the Church, then you as an individual can lose your salvation if you depart from the faith, and give it to someone more faithful. But if God's promises to Israel remains standing, and will in the future restore the nation physically and regenerate the Jewish heart on the national scale - as foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28, and Romans 11:26, then you too will remain eternally secure in your salvation - you will never lose it (if you are a true believer) because God will always be the same - yesterday, today, and forever.