In the Bible, ‘the law’ often refers to the covenant that God made with Israel, which Christians know as the Old Covenant. It required of them, amongst other things, to keep God’s moral law. It is especially in this regard that Paul called it a ministry of condemnation (see Gal. 3:10). For, though it was good, in that it highlighted God’s perfect moral law (see Rom. 7:12), it pointed out the error of those who were ‘under’ it, thereby condemning them.
The law was unable to save those who were ‘under’ it from the penalty of their past, present and future sins. Nor could it save them from their sinful nature or enable them to keep its requirements (see Rom. 8:3). It essentially pointed out human sin and sinfulness, and to their desperate need for another way. The Bible puts it like this: ‘Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith’ (Gal. 3:24).
The same principle is also true for those not ‘under the law’ (i.e. those not part of the Old Covenant). This is because, ‘They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them’ (Rom. 2:15 NIV).
In contrast, Christians (Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ) are in a new covenant with God. And, though we also seek to fulfil God’s moral law (see 1 John 5:3), we don’t do this by being ‘under the law’ (i.e. under the Old Covenant), but by being in Christ. We no longer try in our own strength to satisfy the law’s requirements in order to please God or avoid His punishment. Instead, the good news is that Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice satisfies all that the moral law of God requires of us, justifying us (see 2 Cor. 5:21). Furthermore, His life in us enables us to keep His commandments (see Php. 2:13 & Rom. 6:4). This is especially true when we as a matter of lifestyle ask God to empower us by His Spirit and when we walk in step with His Spirit (see Eph. 5:18 & Gal. 5:25).
‘Therefore, my brothers, you also died to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God’ (Rom. 7:4).
I’m Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy
Debate 3: Ron Rhodes asks, “What Can We Know About the Signs of the Times?”
(My response is also to Rhodes’ teachings found in his other “end-time” dispensationalist literature.)
In this post I continue to answer, with PART 2, the 1st of the following 3 questions put forward by Rhodes:
Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment?
Is America in Bible Prophecy?
Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur?
The Rebirth of Israel
Before I begin, let me point out that according to dispensationalist Ron Rhodes, no signs precede the Second Coming. Therefore, by this reasoning the modern rebirth of Israel cannot be a sign, but only a shadow of a sign, which is how he describes something that resembles a sign in this ‘dispensation’. However, surely such a phenomenal contemporary happening in our time constitutes much more than just a shadow of a sign, but the sign itself.
So, is the modern rebirth of Israel a prophesied sign, or even a shadow of a prophesied sign? And, as significant as the modern rebirth of Israel is, to what extent does it match the prophecies concerning Israel being gathered again? Also, is there any evidence that these prophecies have already been fulfilled?
Firstly, the modern rebirth of Israel cannot possibly be a shadow of a sign. It’s far too dramatic an event for that. Therefore, it is either a sign, which messes up Rhodes’ dispensationalist theology, or it’s a phenomenal occurrence like many others that have happened and weren’t prophesied about. Take for instance the Holocaust where 6 million Jews lost their lives. This awful tragedy to the Jews, astonishingly wasn’t prophesied about.
Gathered to Christ
I believe the modern rebirth of Israel that we are witnessing is a sign. However, it’s not a sign in relation to some or other end-time event, but of God’s faithfulness to the promise of the land of Israel to Abraham’s natural posterity. Abraham was promised this land for his descendant s. Later, under Moses, they were brought into a covenant with God and were given the land. Subsequently, according to the covenant, they punished for their idolatry by being ejected from the land. Nevertheless, prophecies concerning their return to the land were given. Significantly, along with such prophecies, the prophets also spoke of a promise of another regathering too. However, this isn’t related to the modern regathering of Jews to their land. Instead, it relatesto the Jews regathering in Christ, regardless of where they are found.
When Christ came, the Jews for the most part rejected Him. In fact, before His crucifixion He said, ‘I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.’ Yet, it did not remain all doom and gloom, because after Pentecost thousands received Christ. Nevertheless, because Israel on the whole would reject Christ, He prophesied that they would once again be ejected from the land, which happened in AD70. Note, that by this time the second gathering had begun to take place, only this time Jews were being gathered to Christ rather than to the land.
Ezekiel was a prophet who prophesied concerning the salvation of the house of Israel and the gift of the Spirit saying, ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules’ (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Oddly, Rhodes cites this prophecy in relation to the ‘international regathering of Jews in unbelief’ since 1948. Yet, though the previous verse reads, ‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land,’ in context, Ezekiel was prophesying to the ten northern tribes known as the ‘house of Israel’.
The house of Israel was scattered over the then known world by the Assyrians. Afterward, some of these providentially returned on the wake of Judah’s return from Babylon. Centuries later, at Pentecost, the Spirit was given to many of them who turned to Christ and has continued to be given to those who repent, regardless of where they are.
Consider Acts 2:5 where Luke writes ‘Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.’ Here the term “dwelling” is more than just visiting. Centuries before Christ came, Judah had returned from captivity in Babylon. However, Acts 2:5 clearly indicates that a significant number of Israelites from the ten tribes had returned too. This is corroborated further in Acts 2:36 when Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” By using the terms “all” and “Israel” together, Peter clearly addressed those of Judah along with those of the ten tribes that had previously been scattered over the known world by the Assyrians.
There are a number of Old Testament prophecies that are aligned to a second regathering and which are clearly fulfilled in Christ. He came to gather, to Himself, the remnant of Judah and Israel regardless of whether they were in the Land or not, along with people from all nations. For example, Isaiah 11:10-12 reads: ‘In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.’ The second recovery is not to a land, but to the root of Jesse, who is Christ, the ‘signal for the nations’.
Israel Gathered to Christ
Dispensationalists like Rhodes believe that God’s purposes for Israel and the Church are separate. They thereby detract from the union that Jews and Gentiles, who have come to faith in Christ, have in Him. They believe that the Jews missed their moment and, as a result, a delay has set in before God will work with them again. However, did they miss their moment?
Clearly Peter’s message to “all the House of Israel” (Acts 2:36) was that, though they had crucified Jesus by handing Him over to the Gentiles, they could repent and be part of their Messiah’s Church. After all, it was to Israel that the promises had been given, especially the promise of their Messiah. The result of Peter’s message was that ‘three thousand souls’ were added to the church. These were all Jews who believed and who were given the promise of the Holy Spirit, which had long before been prophesied to them. Clearly, God’s purposes for Israel and the Church are not separate. In fact, those of “all the House of Israel” who believed comprised the very early church!
Furthermore, in order to explain the outpouring of God’s Spirit that was evidenced in the disciples speaking in other languages, Peter quoted Joel 2:28 saying, ‘And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.’ Sadly, Rhodes places this prophecy for future fulfillment thereby missing the obvious application that Peter was making to his own day and beyond.
Besides those three thousand Jews who were saved, the text goes on to say, ‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47). Then, thousands more were seen to be added in Acts 4:4 where it says, ‘But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.’
A careful examination of Scripture shows that many Jews came to faith. Consider also these texts that speak of Jews being saved in the early church: ‘Yet more and more believers were brought to the Lord–large numbers of both men and women’ (Acts 5:14). ‘In those days when the disciples were increasing in number’ (Acts 6:1). ‘So the word of God continued to spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew rapidly, and a great number of priests became obedient to the faith’ (Acts 6:7). ‘Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced a time of peace. It grew in strength and numbers, living in the fear of the Lord and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 9:31).
This church growth by Jews who had returned to their land was phenomenal by any standards. Even on Paul’s missionary journeys, though many Jews rejected the message, countless came to faith too. In fact, percentage wise, the number of Jews who have come to Christ even up to our era is comparable to many other nations.
The Scriptures and the last 2000 years are clear testimony that God’s purposes for Israel and the Church are not separate. Many Jews are being gathered into the Church, just as many Gentiles are. If anything, the nature of Israel’s regathering into Christ is a sign that not all will be saved and that God resists the proud, regardless of nationality.
In John 11:51-52, the high priest ‘prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.’ God’s plan for the Jews is clearly to gather them to Christ.
Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’: