What Should Christians Think about the Nation of Israel Today?

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What should Christians think about the modern state of Israel? This is an important question, especially given the diverse views within the church regarding Israel’s role in God’s plan and whether there are still future promises to be fulfilled for Israel as a nation. Furthermore, given the present war in the Middle East, the ongoing Jewish-Arab conflict in the world, debates in our own country regarding who is morally justified in the present conflict between Israel or Hamas, and who we ought to support, the church cannot ignore this question. Hence, this is the reason why Christ Over All has devoted this month to such a crucial subject and why we are seeking to offer biblical, theological, and moral clarity on what is presently occurring in the Middle East.

In this article, I will attempt to answer the question concerning what to think about the modern state of Israel in two steps. First, I will offer only a biblical-theological synopsis of who “Israel” is in Scripture, given that this topic has been discussed in greater detail in Brent Parker’s article “A Biblical and Theological Perspective of National Israel.” Unless we know what Scripture teaches about the nation of Israel in God’s plan and who they are presently—now that Christ has come and ratified a new covenant—our answer to the question will be less than biblically warranted. Second, building on the biblical analysis of what Israel is across the Bible’s covenantal story, we can then answer the question of what we should think about the modern state of Israel. Our answer helps us to think through the brutal attacks of Hamas on October 7, 2023, along with ongoing questions regarding Israel’s right to exist and to defend herself as a nation, along with her future in God’s plan.

Israel in Scripture: A Brief Synopsis

In Scripture, we can think of the nation of Israel in four complementary ways.

1. The Chosen Nation from Whom the Savior Comes

First, Israel is God’s chosen nation to bring forth our Lord Jesus Christ (Deut. 7:6–12). From the initial promise of Genesis 3:15 regarding God’s provision of the seed of the woman, God has promised to provide a Redeemer for his people, which we now know to be the greater Adam, God’s eternal Son become human for us (John 1:1, 14). Due to this first gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 (protoevangelium), unfolded through the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants, Israel is the mighty nation (gôy) promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:2). Christ comes as Abraham’s true seed (Gal. 3:16), David’s greater Son (Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:30–33), and ultimately as the last Adam. He comes as our great high priest who gloriously undoes what Adam did and accomplishes our eternal salvation (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:21–28; Heb. 2:5–18; 5:5–10).

2. Corporate Adam

Second, Israel is not only God’s chosen nation by which our Lord Jesus comes but also a corporate Adam within the Bible’s story. But sadly, like Adam, Israel too fails in her task, thus revealing and underscoring not only the problem of the human heart (Gal. 3:19) but also the need for God to provide a greater Israel who will obey perfectly (Gal. 3:19–25; cf. John 15:1–17). Evidence for this truth is that under the Mosaic covenant, Israel is identified as a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exod. 19:5–6), indeed God’s firstborn son (Exod. 4:22), which speaks of the nation both in “kingdom” and “Adamic” terms. Israel, as a nation, is called to be “another Adam,” the son of God (Luke 3:38) and a corporate representative of Yahweh and to exercise kingly rule as priest-kings. In so doing, as a nation and as God’s son, Israel was to demonstrate to the other nations what God intended for humanity and to enjoy access to God’s presence through the tabernacle-temple structures in the land.

In this way, the Promised Land is to Israel what Eden was for Adam. In the land, Israel was to know God and to learn from his Torah what it means to be true image bearers and thus fully obedient sons who are wholly devoted to Yahweh in worship and service. By their covenant relationship with Yahweh, God’s rule was to be extended through them, and Israel was to make known the ways of God to the nations and to bring the nations into a right relationship to God. But sadly, as noted above, like Adam, Israel broke the covenant and came under divine judgment, thus revealing the need for a greater Israel to come. And thankfully due to God’s covenant promises, despite Israel’s sin, God graciously kept his word by providing the promised Redeemer through them, which leads to the next point.

3. A Type of the True and Greater Israel

Third, Israel functions not only as a corporate Adam but also as a type of the true and greater Israel and Adam to come, namely our Lord Jesus Christ. As Israel was called to obey and fulfill the role of Adam, they typified Christ who, unlike them, perfectly obeyed his Father’s will thus resulting in our salvation. This truth is especially evident in the Davidic covenant. As Yahweh’s son (2 Sam. 7:14), the sonship applied to corporate Israel (Ex. 4:22–23; cf. Hos. 11:1) is now applied to the individual Davidic king, who, in himself, is “true Israel.” The Davidic king is the mediator-administrator of Israel’s covenant, thus representing God’s rule to the people and to creation (2 Sam. 7:19–24; cf. Psalms 2, 75, 110). In the Davidic king, the previous covenants reach their fulfillment, and it’s in the Davidic king that the promised “seed” will finally come and undo what Adam did. As history unfolds, this is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, Abraham’s true seed (Gal. 3:16), the true Israel, and David’s greater Son—who in himself and his work fulfills all the previous covenants and brings them to their God-intended end (i.e., their telos). This is why, now that Christ has come and ratified the new covenant, Israel’s role as a nation has now reached its appointed end in Christ and the establishment of the church, which leads to the last point.

4. A Type of the Church

Fourth, Israel is not only God’s chosen nation to bring forth Messiah and typological of Christ; Israel also typifies the church as the true people of God, constituted under the new covenant as a regenerate community consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–22). Under the old covenant, Israel was God’s chosen people to bring forth Christ, but it was also a “mixed” community, namely that it was constituted by believers (elect) and unbelievers (non-elect) within it. This is why Paul can say that under the old covenant “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Within the nation of Israel, there were true believers or Old Testament saints, who are part of the one people of God throughout the ages, but Israel as an entire nation was not the elect, in the redemptive sense of that word. Yet that nation typified something of what the church would be, hence the reason why Peter can say that the church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9), which is language taken from Israel (Ex. 19:6) and applied to the church. Or Paul can make the same point when he identifies the church as the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), namely that the church is the true eschatological people of God, that which Israel typified, but which Christ has built by his cross-work and the ratification of a new covenant (Matt. 16:18).

Implications

Given these four ways of viewing Israel in Scripture, what implications follow for how we should view the nation of Israel today? There are many implications, but the most significant one is that as vital as the nation of Israel is in God’s plan, the modern state of Israel is not under any special covenant status now that Christ has come and brought all the previous covenants to fulfillment in him. In other words, in contrast to dispensational theology, Scripture does not teach that there are still outstanding covenant promises that belong to Israel as a nation, or that previous covenants such as the Abrahamic, Mosaic, or Davidic still need to be fulfilled. Instead, all the Old Testament covenants have reached their fulfillment in Christ and now await their final consummation at Christ’s return. It is the church, as God’s new covenant people, constituted by believing Jews and Gentiles, that has received all of God’s promises in and through Christ. This does not mean, as I will discuss below, that God is finished with the Jewish people. Instead, what it means is that Israel’s role in God’s plan as a nation has reached its fulfillment in Christ and the establishment of the church. What is now true of all the peoples of the earth, including Jewish people, is that they must find their salvation in Christ alone and become part of his new covenant, new creation people, namely the church.

Now given what Scripture teaches about Israel, what more can be said about what we should think about the state of national Israel today, especially given the current conflict in the Middle East? Let us now answer this question more specifically by building on what Scripture says about Israel and applying it to our current historical context, living as Christians under the new covenant.

Thinking about Israel Today in our Redemptive-Historical Context

Building on the points made regarding Israel in Scripture, I offer four points to help us think about the modern state of Israel today, especially considering the current Middle East conflict.

1. Israel Has All the Rights of Other Sovereign Nations

First, although the modern state of Israel has no specific covenant status as she did under the old covenant now that Christ has come and ratified the new covenant, she does exist as a specific nation in the world with all the rights and privileges pertaining to nations.

Modern-day Israel was re-established as a nation in the land of Israel on May 14, 1948. Regardless of the various debates and circumstances surrounding the geo-political history that led to this establishment of the state of Israel, Israel was constituted as a nation and as such she has the right to exist as a nation. In the formation of modern Israel in 1948, a government was instituted with a recognized constitution, specific geographical boundaries, the establishment of the rule of law, and legal right to citizenship. Furthermore, Israel is recognized as a nation by all the nations of the world. Although some people, for example those associated with Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), question Israel’s right to exist, the fact is that Israel is one of the recognized nations in the world and she should be viewed and treated as such.

Additionally, in a post-fall world, nations are both good and necessary. Ever since Genesis 11 when God scattered people by the creation of a diversity of languages, nations were inevitably formed that served not only as judgment on human sin but also to curb human depravity and to provide protection for people in a fallen world. Geerhardus Vos reflects on this exact point. He acknowledges that if sin had not entered the world, “the unity of the race, unbroken by national distinctions, [would have been] the ideal.”[1] But, “for the present intervening period this is not the will of God. Nationalism, within proper limits, has the divine sanction; an imperialism that would, in the interest of one people, obliterate all lines of distinction is everywhere condemned as contrary to the divine will.”[2] Thus, as Vos continues, under God’s providence each “nation has a positive purpose to serve” and also the establishment of nations sets the stage for “the carrying out of the plan of redemption.”[3]

1. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 60.

2. Vos, Biblical Theology, 60.

3. Vos, Biblical Theology, 60.

No doubt, when our Lord Jesus returns, executes judgment on sin, and establishes the new creation, we can talk about “globalism” under his sovereign rule. But until then, nations have been established to provide protection for their citizens, allow for the flourishing of human endeavors, and in the big picture to thwart fallen humanity from vainly seeking to enact their rebellious attempt to usurp the place of God in the establishment of a one-world, globalist utopian dream with humans at the center.

Furthermore, in the establishment of nations and their governing authorities, God has ordained and appointed rulers to uphold what is good, to enact justice on evildoers, and to work for the flourishing of their citizens (Rom. 13:1–7; cf. 1 Pet. 2:13–17). To uphold what is “good” and “just” is not, as our secular postmodern society thinks, relative to a specific culture. Instead, when Paul says that ruling authorities are to uphold what is “good” and “just,” he undoubtedly is referring to God’s standard of what is good and just. What exactly is this law? Minimally, it’s God’s moral standard given to all people in creation, what we rightly identify as moral or natural law, which all people know regardless of their suppression and denial of it (Rom. 1:18–32). Thus, for governing authorities to uphold what is “good” and “just” minimally obligates them to protect: the sanctity of human life from womb to tomb; the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and the family unit as the basic building block of society; and private property so that image-bearers are able to carry out their task of fulfilling the creation mandate in their lives and work.

All of these truths are universally grounded in pre-fall creation, reaffirmed in the post-fall creation context of the Noahic covenant, and thus are true and binding for all people, cultures, and nations. Thus, when ruling authorities fulfill their God-ordained role and stay within their sphere of authority, they are doing what is good, right, and just. However, when such authorities fail to uphold what is good and just, they are unjust and stand under God’s judgment. For any nation, and more specifically for the state of Israel, this means that she not only has the right to exist as a nation, but also that her governing authorities have the duty and responsibility to uphold what is good and just. This includes many things, but certainly it includes the protection of her citizens from immoral, wicked, and unjust attacks from both within and outside the nation.

2. Israel Has the Right to Self-Protection

Second, given the unjust and brutal attack of Hamas on the nation of Israel and her citizens, Israel not only has the right to protect herself; her governing authorities have the responsibility and duty to do so. On October 7, 2023, Hamas (an acronym for “The Islamic Resistance Movement”) carried out an unprovoked brutal terrorist attack on unsuspecting citizens at the Supernova Music Festival in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Nearly 1,400 Israelis were brutally murdered. Most of them were civilians, including the elderly, women, and children. Not only were these citizens murdered, many of the women were raped, and unthinkable atrocities were committed.

Who exactly is Hamas? Presently, they are the ruling authority in Gaza since 2007, and their name and charter strikingly reveal who they are and why they exist, something A. S. Ibrahim has noted in his article, “What does Hamas really represent?”[4]As Ibrahim documents from Hamas’s own charter, their main objective and reason for their existence is to resist “Israel’s existence by establishing an Islamic state to replace the Jewish state.” But note: when Hamas talks about “replacing” the Jewish state, they mean eradicating Israel as a nation for the larger cause of Islam, a chilling fact that was reflected in their attack on October 7.

4. Also see A. S. Ibrahim, “Hamas and the ideology of hate,” October 9, 2023.

Much more could be said about Hamas and their sheer hatred of the Jewish people. And much more could be said about the history of conflict between Israel, Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and some of its Arab neighbors. And no doubt, the historical conflict between these nations and peoples is not all one-sided. However, in the case of Hamas’s attack on October 7 and their larger aim to eradicate the state of Israel, Israel is certainly morally justified, indeed obligated, to defend herself and to bring Hamas and those who support Hamas to justice.

Everyone wants peace to exist in our world. But unfortunately, in a fallen world, sinful actions and brutality often occur, and in such a situation, governing authorities must protect their citizens from such attacks. Scripture allows for what is called a “just war.” As Christians have worked out what constitutes a “just war,” there have been three major questions to address:[5] (1) Is there a legitimate governing authority behind declarations of war? (2) Is there a just and good cause for such a war? War cannot be justified if it simply desires to enact revenge on one’s enemy. War is only justified if some terrible wrong has been committed and justice must be enacted to preserve human life and the life of the nation as a whole. (3) Is there a just intent? Or, in other words, is this war carried out not only for a just cause, but also to bring about a good end, namely some form of “peace” and the reduction of evil?

5. On these points, see Tom Ascol, “What Should We Think About the Attack on Israel by Hamas?

Based on these criteria, Israel’s war declared against Hamas is certainly just, necessary, and ultimately good, especially if it results in the removal of Hamas and the establishment of peaceful relations in the region. However, what makes this war and battle between Israel and Hamas complicated is both Hamas’s ideology and their tactics of warfare.

In terms of the former, as Ibrahim reminds us, “Hamas is not only a political and military group, but explicitly a religiously militant group driven by commitments to Islam.” Moreover, “Hamas does not separate religion from state and is deeply rooted in Islam as its driving force.”[6] This means that Hamas’s actions are viewed by them as religious actions, which makes Israel’s war against them a religious war. No doubt, many who claim Islam will argue that Hamas does not represent “true” Islam, but this is a highly disputed point. Regardless, Israel’s war against Hamas is complicated because it involves more than a military conquest; ultimately, it cannot be separated from larger worldview/religious issues. For Christians, we know that even if Israel brings “peace” to the region, there is the deeper need for the gospel to penetrate the Middle East and for both Jews and Muslims to find their salvation in Christ.

6. Quotes from A. S. Ibrahim, “What does Hamas really represent?

In terms of the latter, Hamas does not follow standard rules for engagement. Given its religious cause, it has no problem in using civilians, including women and children, to become suicide bombers and human shields. Or, Hamas has no problem in placing their assets, personnel, and rocket launchers underneath hospitals and in civilian places knowing that Israel is hesitant, along with most nations in the world, to bomb such places. For this reason, in the past and the present, Israel has had to make some very difficult decisions on how to engage war with such an enemy, and often she has lost many lives in seeking to engage war in a more just manner. Sadly, it seems that the only solution for Israel is that she must remove Hamas once and for all, otherwise the threat of continued terrorism and murder will continue. In Israel’s war against Hamas, she deserves our full support.

3. Israel Is a Close Ally of the United States

Third, Israel not only has the right to exist as a nation and to protect herself against such unjust attacks, but furthermore, Israel is a U.S. ally in the Middle East, and given that this is a just war, we as Christians, and the United States as a nation, have even a greater reason fully to support Israel in this just cause. Although Israel is not a blameless nation (which also applies to our own nation!), in the Middle East, Israel is one of few nations who upholds democratic values. Unlike many nations in the world, Israel seeks to uphold human dignity, the rule of law, free elections, religious liberty, private property, and limited government, which are all values that we ought to support. Although no nation is fully consistent in upholding these “good” and “just” things, Israel is better at these than most nations, and as such, they deserve our continued support as long as they continue to do so.[7]

7. However, the same must be said for our country as well. As long as the governing authorities of our country continue to uphold what is “good” and “just,” we as citizens ought to support them. But once these values are not upheld (which sadly is occurring more often than not in our country) then Christians will have to stand for righteousness over against the nation, and not merely capitulate to what the ruling authorities demand of us.

What does support for Israel look like? This is a complicated question and it is best left to our ruling authorities to decide. But minimally it means that we should let Israel run her own affairs, and that our government must not speak out of both sides of its mouth by propping up terrorist regimes such as Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Iran while simultaneously giving lip service to the support of Israel.[8] On this score, our present government has failed miserably. Sadly, this failure has increased the tension in the Middle East, which makes Israel’s task of waging war against her enemies much more difficult. On the home front, Christians have a responsibility to hold our own government responsible for her duplicitous actions both domestic and foreign.[9]

8. For some helpful suggestions of what America can do to support Israel at this time, see Daniel Horowitz, “10 ‘America first’ ways Congress can stand with Israel,” October 31, 2023.

9. On this point, see Daniel Horowitz, “Can we at Least Stop Funding Hezbollah,” October 23, 2023.

4. God Has not Rejected Modern-Day Ethnic Israel

Fourth, although Scripture teaches that the modern state of Israel has no specific covenant status as she did under the old covenant now that Christ has come, this does not mean that God has rejected ethnic Israel. In Romans 9–11, specifically 11:1–32, Paul argues that despite widespread Jewish unbelief in Christ, God is not finished with the Jewish people. In God’s eternal plan, the larger Jewish rejection of Christ not only allowed for God’s elect among the Gentiles to believe, but God is also using it to provoke jealousy among the Jewish people (Rom. 11:11–16). Gentiles, as “wild olive shoots,” must not become arrogant, since God is able to graft back Israelites (“natural branches”) who come to faith in Christ (Rom. 11:17–24). In fact, the partial hardening of Israel remains until the full number of Gentiles has come in, which results in “all Israel being saved” (Rom. 11:25–27). Scripture is clear: God is not finished with Israel (Rom. 11:28–32).

Yet, there is a legitimate debate over the meaning of “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26) and when this will occur. The majority view is that “all Israel” refers to ethnic Israel, yet within this view, some argue that elect Jews are now being converted throughout church history, while others see a mass conversion of the Jewish people at the end of history. It is difficult to decide between these two options (although I presently lean towards the latter). But all of this is to say: although Israel as a nation has reached its fulfillment in Christ and the church, God is still bringing his elect Jewish people to Christ and making them part of the one new humanity, the church. In Christ and to his church, all of God’s promises are realized, and the future hope for Israel is not as a nation who is still awaiting future promises to be applied to them, but to be brought to saving faith in Christ and to become new creations in him.

This truth may explain the irrational hatred of the Jewish people that has existed and continues to exist today. Obviously, the reality of anti-Semitism is complicated and indeed shocking. But I am convinced that at its core, there are spiritual reasons for this hatred. In our sin, fallen humanity are enemies with God. Sinful humans detest that God in his sovereign and gracious purposes chose the Jewish nation to bring forth Christ, and that he continues to uphold them until all of the elect from Israel come to saving faith in Christ and have become members of his church. The nations continue to rage against Christ and his people, and I am convinced that the anti-Semitism we see all around us is a reflection of this larger rage against Christ and his people.

Conclusion

In the end, in light of the present conflict in the Middle East, Christians must not only think rightly about Israel, but we must also simultaneously proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only this good news can change the human heart and bring peace with God and our neighbor. We must pray that God’s elect from Israel and all the nations of the earth will come to saving faith. As we work and pray to see Christ’s name spread throughout the entire world, we also pray that our governing officials, both in the USA and Israel, will have the wisdom and conviction to act justly and to uphold what is good and right. Ultimately, our hope is not in our governing officials, for they too, apart from Christ, stand in opposition to what is right and good. But our hope is found in the truth of the gospel and the coming of King Jesus, who alone will make all things right for the glory of his own name and the eternal good of the church.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author

  • Stephen Wellum

    Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).