FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Christians should pursue a complete, biblical understanding of the Christian hope that takes seriously the role of Israel in God’s plan and purpose, theologian and church historian Craig Blaising said during the 2013 Day-Higginbotham Lectures at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jan. 31–Feb. 1.
“The default is really an exclusion of Israel from any conception in the hope of believers,” said Blaising, Southwestern’s executive vice president and provost and co-author of Progressive Dispensationalism. “And that exclusion goes back to the earliest days of the church.”
According to Blaising, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and then again in 135 A.D., when Jews were banned from the city, various groups began to displace Christianity’s Jewish heritage. The early church father Origen, for example, wrote that the nation of Israel would never again be restored since they had denied and crucified Christ Jesus. Others claimed that the nation of Israel had been replaced by the Christian church as God’s people.
“Well, if you take that view,” Blaising asked, “then how are you going to read Scripture? See, Scripture contains all kinds of promises regarding Israel?”
He then answered that, for those in the early church who claimed that the nation of Israel was no longer a part of God’s redemptive plan, these Old Testament promises had to be interpreted allegorically.
“The Old Testament presents these promises and prophecies and so on, but these need to be understood as types and shadows of a reality that is only clearly revealed in the New Testament,” Blaising said. “And among those types and shadows is Israel specifically itself. It is a type, a shadow, that has been set aside for the reality of the church. Israel’s hopes are types and shadows—the hope of the land, the hope of a nation, the hope of restoration, the hope of a material blessing of God. These are all types and shadows of a spiritual reality that is fulfilled for us as the church.”
After the 16th-century Reformation, however, theologians began to take notice once again of what Romans 11 says about the nation of Israel. Blaising noted that in Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul speaks of the people of Israel, who were Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). These ethnic Israelites will be restored, and still have a part to play in the redemptive purpose of God, Blaising said. For this reason, Paul writes, “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25).
“This expression, “all Israel,” is used throughout the Old Testament to mean the whole of Israel, all of Israel,” Blaising said. “It means a 12-tribal-whole. It doesn’t mean every last individual.”
In relation to the restoration of Israel as a nation, Blaising also pointed out that Christians should remember that God has a plan for all of His creation.
“God doesn’t just plan to restore Israel and their land, but there is a new creation that Isaiah foresaw,” Blaising said, and the people of God will be bodily raised from the dead in order to live within this new creation.
“Our hope is not making the best of death,” Blaising added. “Our hope is the reversal of it. And with the resurrection of the body is shown a power that is going to extend to the whole creation.”
Finally, Blaising added that Christians should recall who God is. In the restoration and salvation of the nation of Israel, God will show himself truly to be the God who took Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt to give them a promised land. God first revealed his name as Yahweh to Moses, and at the restoration of Israel he will reveal himself to all nations as Yahweh. For this reason, God says in Ezekiel, “I will vindicate the holiness of My great name …. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord (Yahweh), … when I prove Myself holy among you (the Israelites) in their sight” (Ezekiel 36:23).
In two other Day-Higginbotham lectures, Blaising discussed, first, “The Day of the Lord” in Scripture and, second, the Rapture and the Great Tribulation. These lectures can be accessed online at swbts.edu/mediaresources under “Lecture Series.”