Spiritual Blindness in Israel and in the Church
Both are blind – but both will come together in Christ
The Blindness of Israel
In 2015 there were some 14.2 million Jewish people in the world, link, of which some 350,000 were Messianic Jews, link. That is, just 2.5% were Messianic, and in Israel the percentage was even lower. Of some 6.2 million Jews in Israel (2015) only some 20,000 were Messianic, just 0.3%, link, link. Perhaps this reflects the strong opposition within the current Jewish community to the evangelization of Jews, link, link. To the Jewish community today the word ‘missionary’ is a negatively-charged word, and when Christian missionaries press their beliefs on Jews they regard it as ‘harassment’. So it seems that at this time God has still blinded their eyes and deafened their ears:
God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear (Rom 11.8).
Paul goes on to explain that this blindness is only for an appointed time:
blindness in part has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Rom 11.25)
Much has been written on the meaning of this verse. Let’s take a dispensational view. The church has been growing for 2,000 years and now billions have ‘come in’ to the kingdom of God through Christ. Clearly, the kingdom includes all past saints, all the ‘tribulation saints’ of Rev 7.9-17, and all Messianic Jews. Now, prophecy indicates that a time is soon coming when all these saints (some ‘asleep’, some alive) will be removed from the earth (1 Thes 4.13-18) and the so-called ‘church age’ or ‘age of grace’ ends, link. It is logical to conclude that this is the time when ‘the full number of the Gentiles has come in’.
It is around this time, and towards the very end of the age, that Israel’s blindness will be removed. Even today there are orthodox Jews in Israel who admit that their real problem is not the Palestinians but their need to return to their God. There is a spiritual stirring, and prophecy says this will grow to a real seeking of God. Just prior to the time of Israel’s full spiritual restoration (see below), she will experience a time of testing through ‘Jacob’s trouble’ (Jer 30.7). Most likely this involves the last end-time wars around Israel, link and persecution of Israel from the end-time world dictator, link. It is a time of real spiritual awakening as Israel starts to earnestly call upon her God:
And they will seek My face, in their misery they will earnestly seek Me (Hos 5.15)
This is the time when Israel, like an unfaithful wife, is called back to the Lord, her husband. God talks like a husband to a wayward wife:
For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back (Isa 54.6,7)
Israel’s Spiritual Restoration at the End of the Age
The good news is that, at the end of this age God promises to pour out His Spirit on all people:
I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, … for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance (Joel 2.28-32)
The first part of this text is often quoted in Christian circles as pertaining to the church, implying some spiritual revival and empowering of the end-time church as in Acts 2. Whilst the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did indeed birth the church, the scriptural context of Joel 2.28-32 is broader than this and certainly embraces the people and land of Israel at the very end of this age. But, as already pointed out, currently only some 0.3% of Jews in Israel are Messianic, and the context of Joel 2.28-32 and other prophecies indicates that only at the point of Jesus’ return to earth does the remnant of surviving Jews turn on-mass to Christ and finally recognize Him as Saviour and Lord:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him … (Zech 12.10)
Again, the context of this text is at the very end of this age, when the problem of how to deal with Jerusalem is like ‘a heavy stone’ for all the nations, when Judah defends Israel against attack and when the LORD destroys all nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech 12.1-9).
God’s New Covenant with Israel
This is the time of Israel’s spiritual restoration and cleansing. It is the time when the God of Israel makes a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Jer 31.31). Rather than the Law being written on stone, God writes His Law on their hearts and minds and puts a new spirit within them (Jer 31.33, Ezek 36.26). At last, God forgives Israel for her backsliding:
For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more … I will pardon those whom I preserve
(Jer 31.34, 50.20)
He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Israel); for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins
Clearly, at this time God applies the New Covenant recognized by the church (Heb 10.16) specifically to His people, Israel, and all Israel (national Israel and spiritual Israel – the church) become one in Christ (Rom 11.26). From this time onwards the people of Israel will be blessed and will know the LORD. They will acknowledge that Yeshua is their Messiah. Hear what twelve Jews say about Yeshua.
Spiritual Blindness in the Church: Replacement Theology
As with the majority of Jews today, many in today’s institutionalized church suffer from spiritual blindness and a hardening of the heart. The view of most Christian theologians and mainstream churches today is that, because the Jews rejected their Messiah, then the Church has replaced the people of Israel and now inherits all the Abrahamic covenant blessings, link. Put simply, today’s church is often blind to her Jewish roots. This ‘Replacement Theology’ was introduced to the Church shortly after Gentile leadership took over from Jewish leadership, and adopts the Greek way of spiritualizing scripture. Many in this church believe:
- The Jewish people are no longer God’s chosen people. Instead, the Christian church now makes up God’s chosen people
- The Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no calling in the plan of God. They are like any other nation
- In the New Testament after Pentecost, the term ‘Israel’ refers to the church
- The Mosaic covenant of Law (Exodus 20) is replaced by the new covenant (Luke 22:20)
- Actual circumcision is replaced by a circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29)
- The stern God of the Old Testament is not the same God of grace of the New Testament
This is the church of the Christmas tree rather than the olive tree of scripture (see below). These beliefs are Satanic deception and result in part from a lack of teaching on end time prophecy. Today there are approximately 100 million American church members who have very little or no understanding of Bible prophecy. They look at prophetic scriptures as allegorical and not literal and so do not understand the importance of Israel today. There is great spiritual ignorance and lack of understanding of the significance of world events, especially in the Middle East. Such ignorance then leads to an anti-Israel position, as held by the Church of England and the Baptist Union of Great Britain, for example, link. It also leads to increasing antisemitism in the West, especially in France and Germany and anti-Zionism via the United Nations.
This (often rich) end time church could be described as a Laodicean Church since it suffers from worldly thinking and spiritual blindness (Rev 3.14-22). It has forgotten that the majority of believers in the first century were converted Jews, and the big issue of the day was whether Gentiles could joint the New Testament Church. The good news is that the theological error of Replacement Theology is easily exposed by observing the restoration of Israel via aliyah over the past 100 years – a direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Honest acknowledgment of this fact leads to the abandonment of Replacement Theology in favour of Christian Zionism, which understands the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and the nation he would birth.
The True Role of the Church – To Bless the Jews
What is the true role of today’s church in relation to Israel? When talking to His twelve disciples (the early church) Jesus commanded them to “go out and preach, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Mat 10.7). He also told them to heal the sick. There are modern Spirit-led evangelical churches that practice these commandments, but invariably to Gentiles. Why omit God’s people, Israel? Where was Jesus sending His disciples – just to the Gentiles? No. He told them:
Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mat 10.5,6)
Jesus made it clear that His primary mission was to the lost people of Israel: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat 15.24). In a strictly theological sense, the ‘house of Israel’ was, to a large extent, already scattered amongst the Gentiles, and the people Jesus was talking to were essentially descendants of the houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites who had returned from Babylon (Ezra 1.5). It is more likely then that Jesus was referring to the lost sheep around Him, as in Mat 9.36, rather than to those scattered abroad. Some people (the sheep) listened, but the majority of the Jews in Jerusalem eventually rejected Him and eventually Jesus despaired, saying to the people of Jerusalem:
I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mat 23.39)
At this point, Jesus was really giving them up! So, in essence, Jesus was saying to His disciples in Mat 10, “the Gentiles must not hear the gospel until the Jews have refused it”. Paul confirms that this restraint on preaching was only an initial restraint until the Jews had heard; after that the Gentiles could hear (Rom 1.16).
So what should be the reaction of the church today? If Jesus rejected the Jews at Jerusalem by condemning their rejection of Him, should the church do the same today? After all, prophecy suggests that God’s people in Jerusalem will have to truly mourn for what they did to Jesus before they recognize Him as their true Messiah (Moshiach) – and that at the very end of the age (Zech 12.10). Despite the failings of present-day religious and secular Israel, the answer is, in fact, simple; the church should bless Israel:
I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you (Gen 12.3)
Blessing God’s people means helping them, praying for them and telling them (if they will hear) about their coming Moshiach (Messiah), Jesus. In turn, those who bless will be blessed, and vice-versa. Remember, the partial blindness of Israel has only occurred for the benefit of the church and the blindness will soon be removed (Rom 11.25).
The Olive Tree: The Future ‘Oneness’ of Israel and the Church
Paul likened Israel to natural branches of a cultivated olive tree (Romans 11.24). Let’s examine the biblical symbolism. The tree grows from a holy Root (Rom 11.16) symbolizing the holy and eternal triune God (John 1.1). Christ, the Word, was with God and was God. Man’s knowledge of this holy Root (the Word of God) was delivered by the Spirit through Moses, and then through the Patriarchs (Abraham and his descendants) and subsequently through the prophets. The trunk of the tree is seen prophetically as a ‘Shoot from the Stem of Jesse’ (Isa 11.1). It is seen as a shoot from the line of David, when that family was like a tree cut down, and its stump only left in the ground. That Shoot grows out of the root and represents Jesus the Messiah. It is via the root (the Word of God) and the trunk (the Messiah, Christ) that the branches receive the sustenance of life. So all the branches grow from and are sustained by Jesus, the Word of God, but the branch that breaks away from Jesus and the Word of God dries up and dies!
The ‘cultivation’ Paul mentions is seen in the Abrahamic covenants, and from these the Jewish nation was placed under a program governed by covenants. So the natural branches are the people of Israel. Gentiles, on the other hand are like wild branches in that they had no covenants (Ephesians 2.11-12).
The olive tree represents the place of blessing in God’s program. But due to unbelief (rebellion, stumbling, transgression) God broke off some of national Israel (some natural branches) from the tree and grafted Gentiles (the wild branches) into the place of blessing. In horticulture the wild olive is unfruitful, or its fruit is very imperfect and useless. So, as in horticulture, Gentiles can only bear good fruit once they are grafted into the living tree, Christ. Currently the Gentiles occupy the place of blessing formerly held by Israel, and those who choose this path form the true church (note – there is also an apostate church). There, contrary to nature (see sidebar), the true church bears good fruit as she feeds and is sustained by the Root and Trunk of the tree, Christ, (Rom 11.16). But this end time church also needs to recognize that she is really like wild branches that have been grafted into the this olive tree, and that God will soon graft the chosen remnant (Rom 11.5) of national Israel, the broken branches, back into their own olive tree (Rom 11.23,24). At that time we see God’s people, Jew and Gentile in one tree. Referring to Jewish Israel’s spiritual restoration and to her future ‘oneness’ with the true church, Paul wrote:
And so all Israel will be saved (Rom 11.26)
Jesus made the same point:
I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also … and there will be one flock with one shepherd
(Jn 10.16, NLT)
We can now see the full symbolism of the olive tree described by Paul: it signifies the covenanted congregation of Israel made up of both Jew and Gentile, and where Gentile Christians are really spiritual Jews. Clearly, this deep symbolism of the olive tree completely destroys Replacement Theology since it underscores the future role of Jewish Israel, link. Looked at another way, upon their turning to Christ both Jews and Gentiles will be incorporated into one church. Recall that ‘church’ (Ekklesia in Greek) means ‘the called out ones’ or simply an assembly of followers of Christ. So, one shepherd makes one sheepfold and all one in Christ makes one church!
Israel in the Future
In the millennial world (when Christ reigns from Jerusalem) we see the two arms of this ‘one’ church serve Christ in two distinct ways; Jewish Israel is a witness to the nations and spiritual Israel (resurrected believers) reign with Christ:
In those days ten men from every nation shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’
Blessed is he who has part in the first resurrection … they shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years
The ‘oneness’ of Israel (Jewish Israel and spiritual Israel, today’s true church) is also clearly seen after the millennial age. Revelation 21 describes in beautiful symbolism the Holy City of the future, the New Jerusalem where only the righteous dwell. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the twelve gates of the city, and the high city wall has twelve foundations holding the names of the twelve apostles of Christ (Rev 21.12-14). So entrance to this city (salvation and reconciliation to God) is only via God’s chosen people, Israel, and via the ‘lion of the tribe of Judah’, Jesus Christ. The church needs to remember that Jesus was a Jew! And, like that of the apostles, the essential role of the church is to proclaim that salvation is via Christ and Christ alone. The high walls standing on apostolic foundations symbolize that there is no other way to God and that the church has the key!