The eyes of the world were on Washington this week as President Donald Trump helped broker a deal where the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would recognize Israel as a nation. It is a historic agreement as the two Arab nations break from other Middle Eastern nations as they open diplomatic and trade relations with the Jewish state.
Of the 18 Arab nations in the Middle East, only Egypt and Jordan have recognized the Jewish state, which was established in 1948. Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
While political commentators believe rising tensions with Iran are responsible for this week’s actions, many Christians believe there is more to the story. They believe the nation of Israel plays a significant role in God’s future work in the world.
Scholars base the belief on Romans 11:25-27 where the Apostle Paul seemingly speaks of a time when Israel will turn to Jesus Christ as Savior, “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, and sisters so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (CSB)
California pastor and commentator John MacArthur believes God’s special relationship with Israel has not been forgotten and will last forever. “Nothing in scripture is a more dominant historical theme than the purposes of God unfolding to the nation of Israel. You have it all the way from Abraham and the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12, all the way into the Book of Revelation,” MacArthur says.
He believes that Revelation 11 speaks of 12,000 Jewish people from each of Israel’s twelve ancient tribes coming to faith in Jesus Christ during a time of future tribulation. He believes this group of 144,000 people will spark the greatest Christian revival in human history.
Texas pastor and commentator Tony Evans believes similarly. “Once the fullness of the Gentiles has come, God will pick up his program with Israel again,” writes Evans.
“All of this happens during the tumultuous end times when Jesus returns as the Deliverer to eliminate all godlessness,” Evans believes. “In that day, all Israel that survives the great tribulation will be saved.”
Thomas Schreiner, a New Testament scholar at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes the salvation of the Jews will come as a surprise to many. He writes, “God has designed salvation history in such a way that the extension of his saving grace surprises those who are its recipients. Gentiles (non-Jews) were elected to salvation when the Jews were expecting to be the special objects of his favor, and the Jews will be grafted in again at a time in which Gentiles will be tempted to believe that they are superior to ethnic Israel.”
All agree that God’s continued work with Israel speaks of his faithfulness to work in the world. “By constructing history in such a way, God makes it evident that he deserves the praise for the inclusion of any into his saving promises,” Schreiner writes.
Evans adds, “God will fulfill his promises to Israel. Even though a partial hardening has come upon them, they will experience future salvation.”
“God's own veracity is at stake because he promised a kingdom to Israel. He promised a future to Israel. He promised new covenant salvation to Israel and he will fulfill that,” says MacArthur.
In 2016 messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed their belief that Israel has a special place in God’s plan for the world. Based on Genesis 12:1-3 they affirmed, “The Old Testament declares God’s promise to Abram, “I will make you into a great nation…. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you”.
They went on to say the descendants of Jacob, spoken of in Genesis 32:28, represent Israel as an “ethnic, cultural, and national entity” and, “The New Testament affirms that salvation is from the Jews and that God’s Word concerning Israel will be fulfilled”.
In a year of pandemic and uncertainty, some believe this week’s events are laying the groundwork for a certain future established in the Bible.
Brandon Porter is communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.