Most of the Jews of the first century A.D. did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah mainly because they misunderstood the prophecies concerning him. They thought the Messiah would lead the Jewish nation to earthly glory and domination over all other nations. They were wrong of course but these “Jewish myths” (Titus 1:14) persisted in the first century.
Surprisingly these “Jewish myths” are still around today having been revived in the last 150 yrs. or so. It is again common to find Christians who believe that the modern state of Israel was regathered by God to Palestine and became a nation in 1948. It is believed by many that those that call themselves “Israelites” according to the flesh are still God’s chosen people. Is it Israel’s hope to occupy the Promised Land and regain earthly glory?
Paul let’s us know what Israel’s hope is in Acts 26:6,7 – “And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 [the promise] our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day. Because of this hope I am being accused by the Jews, O king!”
Paul was preaching the true hope of Israel. The Jews however didn’t agree and persecuted him. Paul was not preaching some future regathering of Jews to Palestine or some earthly glory for that nation. He was preaching about the gospel of Jesus. This and only this was the hope of Israel and the promise made by God to Israel’s forefathers.
We can see how Paul and other New Testament bible writers interpreted the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel’s restoration and regathering. Let us see how they applied those prophecies.
Isaiah 10:20-22 “On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no longer depend on the one who struck them, but they will faithfully depend on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. 21 The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God. 22 Israel, even if your people were as numerous as the sand of the sea, [only] a remnant of them will return. Destruction has been decreed; justice overflows. 23 For throughout the land the Lord God of Hosts is carrying out a destruction that was decreed.”
Let us see how and to who Paul applies this prophecy in Romans 9:27,28 – “But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of Israel’s sons is like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His sentence completely and decisively on the earth.”
You will see in Rom. 9:24 that Paul applies this prophecy of regathering to the faithful remnant of Israelites who accepted Jesus along with the Christian Gentiles.
Let us see another example in Amos 9:11-15 “In that day I will restore the fallen booth of David: I will repair its gaps, restore its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old, 12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that are called by My name- [this is] the Lord’s declaration- He will do this. 13 Hear this! The days are coming- the Lord’s declaration- when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the one who treads grapes, the sower of seed. The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and all the hills will flow [with it]. 14 I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel. They will rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce. 15 I will plant them on their land, and they will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them. Yahweh your God has spoken.”
Let us see how James applies this prophecy in Acts 15:14-18 “Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: 16 After these things I will return and will rebuild David’s tent, which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins and will set it up again, 17 so that those who are left of mankind may seek the Lord- even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does these things, 18 which have been known from long ago.”
James applies this prophecy to the first century when the Gentiles were becoming part of God’s people by believing in Jesus. At this same time according to the prophecy in Amos, God would “restore the fortunes of My people Israel“. This could not have been natural Israel since the nation was devastated shortly after in 70 A.D. Instead this would apply to the true Israelites, the faithful ones who believed in Jesus. (Compare Romans 9:6)
Let’s see another example of how the New Testament Christians applied the Old Testament prophecies of restoration in Isaiah 49:8 – ” This is what the Lord says: I will answer you in a time of favor, and I will help you in the day of salvation. I will keep you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land, to make them possess the desolate inheritances,”
Did this perhaps become fulfilled when Jews returned to Palestine in the 20th century and restored the land and made the desert blossom? No. Let’s read 2 Corinthians 6:2 – “For He says: In an acceptable time, I heard you, and in the day of salvation, I helped you. Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation.“
Paul cites Isa. 49:8 and says that back then in the first century it was the acceptable time and the day of salvation. It was also the time to possess desolate inheritances. This of course must be understood spiritually.
Also read Ezekiel 37:21-28 carefully “This is what the Lord God says: I am going to take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will rule over all of them. They will no longer be two nations and will no longer be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will not defile themselves any more with their idols, their detestable things, and all their transgressions. I will save them from all their apostasies by which they sinned, and I will cleanse them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God. 24 My servant David will be king over them, and there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow My ordinances, and keep My statutes and obey them. 25 “They will live in the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They will live in it forever with their children and grandchildren, and My servant David will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. I will establish and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 When My sanctuary is among them forever, the nations will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel.”.
What is verse 24 talking about? God’s servant David of course is Jesus. What will he do? Compare with John 10:16 and John 11:52. Verse 26 says God will have an everlasting covenant with them. Is this not the new covenant? Now see how Paul applies vs.27 in 2 Corinthians 6:16.
Suddenly we realize this whole prophecy has to do with the unification of faithful Israelite Christians with faithful Gentile Christians in the first century. In other words, they will become one flock with one shepherd under the new covenant. Together they will possess the spiritual land of Israel.
Now having reviewed how the apostles applied the restoration prophecies of the Old Testament let’s read a prophecy that often is IMO wrongly applied to the modern state of Israeli Jews. Ezekiel 11:17-21 “”Therefore say: This is what the Lord God says: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. 18 “When they arrive there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19 And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts pursue their desire for detestable things and abominations, I will bring their actions down on their own heads.” [This is] the declaration of the Lord God .”
This prophecy is similar to other restoration prophecies that we have already considered. It is very similar to Jeremiah 31:31-33 “”Look, the days are coming”-[this is] the Lord’s declaration-“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 [This one will] not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant they broke even though I had married them”-the Lord’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”-the Lord’s declaration. “I will place My law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
The prophecy in Jeremiah of course is talking about the New Covenant for Christians who accept Jesus. Paul goes into detail about the application of this text in Hebrews chap. 8.
Does not the prophecy in Ezekiel 11:17-21 appear to be talking about the same thing as Jeremiah 31:31-33. Isn’t the “heart of stone” reminiscent of the Old Law written on stone tablets and the “heart of flesh” reminiscent of the New Covenant written on our hearts? Let’s compare 2 Corinthians 3:3 – “since it is plain that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.“
Aha! Now we understand what Ezekiel was prophesying about. Not the nation-wide conversion of modern Israelis, but the faithful remnant of Christian Jews together with Gentile Christians who came under the New Covenant and became the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
Notice what was to happen to the first century Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Peter quoting from Duet. 18:15-19 says in Acts 3:23 – “And it will be that everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.”
All Jews who did not accept the Messiah were not even considered Israelites by God. That is the why behind these texts:
Romans 2:28,29 – “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and [true] circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart-by the Spirit, not the letter. His praise is not from men but from God.”
Romans 9:6 – “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”
The true descendants of Abraham and the inheritors of the promise are those under the New Covenant. Galatians 3:7 – “so understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons.” Galatians 3:29 – “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”
Paul goes into great detail in the difference between the 2 covenants, the old and the new, in Gal. 4:21-31. His whole point is that those under the old covenant will not be inheritors with those under the new covenant. Instead they were cast out. They stopped fulfilling the qualifications to be God’s people.
God did not cast away His people because there was a faithful remnant of Israelites that remained faithful by accepting Jesus. Paul was one of that number (Romans 11:1,2,5)
In my opinion the scriptures could not be any clearer on these matters. The Old Covenant was done away with. The New Covenant is for those who walk with Christ. If today’s unbelieving Israelis are God’s people, then what covenant are they in? God fulfilled all the unconditional promises he made to the old nation of Israel -Joshua 23:14 ““I am now going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the Lord your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed.“
All the rest of the God’s promises were made on the condition of faithfulness. The faithful remnant received them the unfaithful did not.
Again, although I do feel strongly that what I have presented in this article is what the bible truly teaches about the O.T. prophecies made to Israel, I have been known to be wrong many times before. So I ask you with prayer to meditate on the texts and the reasonings of this article.