Review: The Israel of God

Saturday, February 3, 2018

History used to bore me. Especially American history. I mean, really, that’s over two centuries old. Talk about boring.

But then something fascinating happened. Like many, as I grew older, I began to understand the importance and the richness of history, both in American and the world.

I’m also not alone in my desire to understand the perspective of culture and history from other countries. By traveling to other nations, one can discover that American perspective on things is not so universal.

One example is that American Christianity has a certain, shall I say, flavor that becomes apparent when traveling overseas. Not bad, per se, but like food from one region, it definitely has a distinct flavor.

And O. Palmer Robertson dives into one specific flavor of American Christianity in his book, The Israel of God.

American Flavored Christianity

One of those flavors includes a close affection with the state of Israel, especially in the past 70 years (when Israel was founded). This can come in many forms, but one of the most dominant is the view that Israel will bring in the second coming of Christ by building the third temple, on the very spot where the second Jewish temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago.

Of course, there are hurdles to this, like the fact that currently the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine built around 1300 years ago, occupies the spot where this third temple is to be built.

Regardless, the belief is that the Jewish people will all return to the state of Israel and they, from Jerusalem, will usher in the end times as the third temple is built.

In a similar direction, the Messianic ‘Jews’ are Christians who attempt to straddle the line between Judaism and Christianity. They profess Jesus as Lord, and read the New Testament, but also adhere to many Jewish customs.

They rest on the Shabbat (Sabbath), abstain from eating pork and shellfish, and also observe holidays like Sukkot and Passover. Oddly, they do ignore other Jewish writings, like the Mishnah and Talmud, but that’s another topic altogether.

The dangerous mix with this is that this group has politicized Christianity and will support Israel in the hopes that she eventually does rebuild the temple.

Who Is Israel?

This is the question that O. Palmer Robertson answers in his book, The Israel of God. To begin, Robertson holds multiple degrees and is director of the African Bible College in Uganda. He also has served and lectured in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Opposing View Many have claimed Israel in the bible is the same nation of Israel today, like our American Evangelicals I discuss above.

Robertson fills his book with a substantial amount of history, geography and exegetical analysis of scripture to back his thesis. This thesis is, simply, that the land of Israel is not the Israel of God.

He spends much time to help us understand, in rich detail, the land of Israel and the people of Israel, showing how neither fit the scriptural descriptions.

He goes into the lifestyle of Israelis and how this lifestyle of Israel doesn’t fit with the scriptural description of a people faithful to the God of Abraham. It also doesn’t fit with what many Americans perceive.

Robertson asks if the lifestyle of those living in the state fit the pattern of life for the Israel of God. He asks if this pattern is “a military, conquering kingdom, overcoming the secular governments of the world,” for example.

He then goes into great detail describing the lifestyle of the scriptural people of God. He ties together those addressed in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews to those who live there now. Having spent time in Israel, I can attest to the accuracy of his writings.

Robertson also points out Israel has been a place, a person, and a people.

This last question has deep implications. For example, are you Israeli by birth (being a descendant of Abraham) or by circumcision? Are you included by faith or blood? What about the less than half of Israelis who do not follow the Jewish faith? Will an Israeli citizen who is atheist be one of the people ushering in the New Kingdom?

Exegetical Insights

Finally, Robertson spends significant time in the epistle to the Hebrews (a dedicated chapter) as well as Romans 11 (another dedicated chapter).

For me, these two chapters were the most significant and the two that had the most convincing arguments.

This said, Robertson still adheres that the Jewish people still are playing an important role. I found myself nodding in agreement in full with his conclusion:

In conclusion, the promised messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ has come. Its arrival marks the focal point of all human history. This kingdom of the Messiah is continuing to realize its fullness as elect Jews and Gentiles are added to the community of the redeemed in every generation. The same kingdom will be manifested in its final form with the return of Christ the King in all his glory.

The Jewish people have always played a role in the coming of the messianic kingdom. They will continue to have a vital part in the Messiah’s reign throughout the present age and into eternity. Yet not all Jews will experience the blessing of participation in this kingdom, for “they are not all Israel who are of Israel (Rom 9:6). It will always be a remnant that is saved.

The present state of Israel is not a concrete realization of the messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, a day should not be anticipated in which Christ’s kingdom will manifest Jewish distinctives either by its location in “the land,” or by its constituency, or by its distinctively Jewish practices.

I highly recommend this book. It is a fantastic book that is thought provoking and filled with enough bread to fill your appetite. Robertson is a scholar, theologian, and often a pastor in “The Israel of God.”

As an example of the latter, you can hear his own anticipation coming through in the final words of the book:

Instead, this present age will come to a climactic conclusion with the arrival of the final phase of the kingdom of the Messiah. At that time, all eyes will see the King in his glory. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.

Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ, author, AI programmer, and animator. I spend my time split between the countryside of Lancaster, Pa, and Northern Italy, near Cinque Terre and La Spezia.

In addition to improving lives through data analytics with my BS in Computer Science, I also published, Searching For Me, my first memoir, about my adoption, search for my biological family, and how it affected my faith.