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§ 5. Conversion of the Jews.
The second great event, which, according to the common faith of the Church, is to precede the second advent of Christ, is the national conversion of the Jews.
First, that there is to be such a national conversion may be argued, —
1. From the original call and destination of that people. God called Abraham and promised that through him, and in his seed, all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He entered into a solemn covenant with him engaging to be his God and the God of his posterity to the latest generations; and that they 806should be his people. These promises have been hitherto fulfilled; God preserved the Hebrews, although comparatively few in numbers amid hostile nations, from destruction or dispersion until the promised seed of Abraham appeared and accomplished his redeeming work. This is an assurance that the other promises relating to this people shall be fully accomplished.
2. The second argument is from the general drift of the Old Testament concerning the chosen people. Those prophecies run through a regular cycle often repeated in different forms. The people are rebuked for their sins and threatened with severe punishment; when that punishment has been inflicted, and the nation brought to repentance, there uniformly follow promises of restoration and favour. Isaiah predicted that for their idolatry the people should be carried into captivity, but that a remnant should be restored to their own land, and their privileges secured to them again. Joel and Zechariah predicted that for their rejection of the Messiah, they should be scattered to the ends of the earth, but that God would bring them back, and that his favour should not be finally withdrawn from them. Thus it is with all the prophets. As these general predictions are familiar to all the readers of the Bible, they need not be specified.
3. There are in the Old Testament express predictions of their national conversion to faith in Him whom they had rejected and crucified. Thus in Zechariah xii. it is said; “I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” This is to be a national conversion, for it is said “the land shall mourn” every family apart.
4. The most decisive passage, however, bearing on this subject, one which may be taken “instar omnium,” is the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Paul had taught, (1.) That God had cast off the Jews as a nation because they as a nation, represented by the Sanhedrim, the High Priest, the scribes and the Pharisees, by their rulers of every class, and by the popular voice, had rejected Christ. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Therefore, as a nation, God rejected them. (2.) This rejection, however, he here teaches, was not entire. There was “a remnant according to the election of grace” who believed in Christ and were received into his kingdom. (3.) This 807national rejection of Israel, as it was not entire, so neither was it to be final. It was to continue until the bringing in of the Gentiles. God had made a covenant with Abraham that his posterity should be his people; and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Therefore, although broken oft from the olive-tree for the present, they were to be grafted in again. (4.) Thus “all Israel shall be saved.” Whether this means the Jews as a nation, or the whole elect people of God including both Jews and Gentiles, may be doubtful. But in either case it is, in view of the context, a promise of the restoration of the Jews as a nation. There is, therefore, to be a national conversion of the Jews.
Second, this conversion is to take place before the second advent of Christ. This the Apostle teaches when he says, that the salvation of the Gentiles was designed to provoke the Jews to jealousy, verse 11; and that the mercy shown to the Gentiles was to be the means of the Jews obtaining mercy, verse 31. The rejection of the Jews was the occasion of the conversion of the Gentiles; and the conversion of the Gentiles is to be the occasion of the restoration of the Jews. On this point Luthardt says: “As our Lord (Matt. xxiii. 39) said: ‘Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ — so it is certain that, when Jesus comes, who will be visible to all the world, as the lightning which cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, whom all eyes, even of those who pierced Him and all kindreds of the earth shall see (Rev. i. 7; Zech. xii. 10), — the Jews must have been converted and have become a Christian nation. . . . . And further when Peter (Acts iii. 19-21) exhorts to repentance and conversion until the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord shall come; so it appears to be to me beyond all doubt that the conversion of Israel is to precede the Second Advent of Christ.”838838Lehre von den letzten Dingen, pp. 71, 72.
Are the Jews to be restored to their own Land?
According to one view, the Jews after their conversion are to be restored to the land of their fathers and there constituted a distinct nation. According to another, their restoration to their own land is to precede their conversion. And according to a third view there is to be no such restoration, but they are to be amalgamated with the great body of Christians as they were in the times of the Apostles.808
In favour of a literal restoration it is urged, —
1. That it is predicted in the Old Testament in the most express terms. Luthardt says a man must “break” the Scriptures who denies such restoration. To him it is certain and undeniable that the Jews are to be brought back to their own land and reestablished as a nation.839839Lehre von den letzten Dingen, p. 71.
2. It is argued that the promise of God to Abraham has never yet been fully accomplished. God promised to give to him and to his seed after him all the land from the river of Egypt (understood to be the Nile) to the river Euphrates. They were, however, during all their national history pent up m the narrow strip between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, except for a while when the two and a half tribes dwelt on the eastern side of Jordan. As the promise cannot fail, the time must yet come when the whole region granted to Abraham shall be occupied by his descendants.
3. A presumptive argument is drawn from the strange preservation of the Jews through so many centuries as a distinct people. They have often been compared to a river flowing through the ocean without mingling with its waters. There must be some purpose in this wonderful preservation. That people must have a future corresponding to its marvellous past.
4. Reference is also made to the fact that the land promised to the Jews is now empty, as though waiting for their return. It once teemed with a population counted by millions; and there is no reason why it may not in the future be as densely inhabited.
The arguments against the assumed restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land are, —
1. The argument from the ancient prophecies is proved to be invalid, because it would prove too much. If those prophecies foretell a literal restoration, they foretell that the temple is to be rebuilt, the priesthood restored, sacrifices again offered, and that the whole Mosaic ritual is to be observed in all its details. (See the prophecies of Ezekiel from the thirty-seventh chapter onward.) We know, however, from the New Testament that the Old Testament service has been finally abolished; there is to be no new temple made with hands; no other priest but the high-priest of our profession; and no other sacrifice but that already offered upon the cross. It is utterly inconsistent with the character of the Gospel that there should be a renewed inauguration of Judaism within the pale of the Christian Church. If it be said 809that the Jews are to return to their own land as Jews, and there restore their temple and its service, and then be converted; it may be answered that this is inconsistent with the prophetic representations. They are to be brought to repentance and faith, and to be restored to their land, or, to use the figure employed by the Apostle, grafted again into their own olive-tree, because of their repentance. When Christ comes, “He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. xxiv. 31.) But further than this, in Zechariah xiv., it ia predicted that after the restoration, all the nations of the earth “shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” In Isaiah lxvi. 22, 23, it is said, “As the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” The literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies relating to the restoration of Israel and the future kingdom of Christ, cannot by possibility be carried out, and if abandoned in one point, it cannot be pressed in regard to others.
2. It is undeniable that the ancient prophets in predicting the events of the Messianic period and the future of Christ’s kingdom, borrowed their language and imagery from the Old Testament institutions and usages. The Messiah is often called David; his church is called Jerusalem, and Zion, his people are called Israel; Canaan was the land of their inheritance; the loss of God’s favour was expressed by saying that they forfeited that inheritance, and restoration to his favour was denoted by a return to the promised land. This usage is so pervading that the conviction produced by it on the minds of Christians is indelible. To them, Zion and Jerusalem are the Church and not the city made with hands. To interpret all that the ancient prophets say of Jerusalem of an earthly city, and all that is said of Israel of the Jewish nation, would be to bring down heaven to earth, and to transmute Christianity into the corrupt Judaism of the apostolic age.
3. Accordingly in the New Testament it is taught, not in poetic imagery, but didactically, in simple, unmistakable prose, that believers are the seed of Abraham; they are his sons; his heirs; they are the true Israel. (See especially Romans iv. and ix. 810and Galatians iii.) It is not natural descent, that makes a man a child of Abraham. “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom. ix. 8.) The Apostle asserts that the promises are made not to the Israel κατὰ σάρκα, but to the Israel κατὰ πνεῦμα. He says in the name of believers, “We are the circumcision.” (Phil. iii. 3.) “We are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. iii. 29.) The promise to Abraham that he should be the father of many nations, did not mean merely that his natural descendants should be very numerous; but that all the nations of the earth should have the right to call him father (Rom. iv. 17); for he is “the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised.” (Rom. iv. 11.) It would turn the Gospel upside down; not only the Apostle’s argument but his whole system would collapse, if what the Bible says of Israel should be understood of the natural descendants of Abraham to the exclusion of his spiritual children.
4. The idea that the Jews are to be restored to their own land and there constituted a distinct nation in the Christian Church, is inconsistent not only with the distinct assertions of the Scriptures, but also with its plainest and most important doctrines. It is asserted over and over again that the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has been broken down; that God has made of the two one; that Gentile believers are fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the household of God; that they are built up together with the Jews into one temple. (Eph. ii. 11-22.) “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. iii. 27-29.) There could not be a more distinct assertion that all difference between the Jew and Gentile has been done away within the pale of the Christian Church. This, however, is not a mere matter of assertion, it is involved in the very nature of the Gospel. Nothing is plainer from the teachings of Scripture than that all believers are one body in Christ, that all are the partaker. of the Holy Spirit, and by virtue of their union with Him are joint and equal partakers of the benefits of his redemption; that if there be any difference between them, it is not in virtue of national or social distinctions, but solely of individual character and devotion. That we are all one in Christ Jesus, is a doctrine 811which precludes the possibility of the preeminence assigned to the Jews in the theory of which their restoration to their own land, and their national individuality are constituent elements.
5. The Apostles uniformly acted on this principle. They recognize no future for the Jews in which the Gentile Christians are not to participate. As under the old dispensation proselytes from the heathen were incorporated with the Jewish people and all distinction between them and those who were Jews by birth, was lost, so it was under the Gospel. Gentiles and Jews were united in undistinguished and undistinguishable membership in the same Church. And so it has continued to the present day; the two streams, Jewish and Gentile, united in the Apostolic Church, have flowed on as one great river through all ages. As this was by divine ordinance, it is not to be believed that they are to be separated in the future.
6. The restoration of the Jews to their own land and their continued national individuality, is generally associated with the idea that they are to constitute a sort of peerage in the Church of the future, exalted in prerogative and dignity above their fellow believers; and this again is more or less intimately connected with the doctrine that what the Church of the present is to look forward to is the establishment of a kingdom on earth of great worldly splendour and prosperity. For neither of these is there any authority in the didactic portions of the New Testament. There is no intimation that any one class of Christians, or Christians of any one nation or race, are to be exalted over their brethren; neither is there the slightest suggestion that the future kingdom of Christ is to be of earthly splendour. Not only are these expectations without any foundation in the teachings of the Apostles, but they are also inconsistent with the whole spirit of their instructions. They did not exhort believers to look forward to a reign of wealth and power, but to long after complete conformity to the image of Christ, and to pray for the coming of that kingdom which is righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost. Any Christian would rejoice to be a servant of Paul, or of John, of a martyr, or of a poor worn-out missionary; but to be servant to a Jew, merely because he is a Jew, is a different affair; unless indeed such should prove to be the will of Christ; then such service would be an honour. It is as much opposed to the spirit of the Gospel that preeminence in Christ’s kingdom should be adjudged to any man or set of men on the ground of natural descent, as on the ground of superior stature, physical strength, or wealth.812
The Scriptures, then, as they have been generally understood in the Church, teach that before the Second Advent, there is to be the ingathering of the heathen; that the Gospel must be preached to all nations; and also that there is to be a national conversion of the Jews; but it is not to be inferred from this that either all the heathen or all the Jews are to become true Christians. In many cases the conversion may be merely nominal. There will probably enough remain unchanged in heart to be the germ of that persecuting power which shall bring about those days of tribulation which the Bible seems to teach are to immediately precede the coming of the Lord.
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