In modern evangelical (Dispensational) circles, the dramatic political and military events of 1948 were an incredible, visible fulfillment of ancient prophecy– so we are told. In fact,
Zionists such as Thomas Ice and Tim LaHaye tell us that the re-gathering to the literal land of Israel in 1948, constitute the “Super Sign of The End” (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, Harvest House, Eugene, Ore., ). In spite of these claims, the events of 1948 and following have nothing to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. See my Israel 1948: Countdown to No Where, for a full discussion of this.
In a series of articles to follow, we will examine just a few of the OT prophecies of the re-gathering of Israel in light of the New Testament interpretation of those prophecies. We will quickly discover that the New Testament, Spirit inspired writers, believed and taught that those Old Covenant promises were being fulfilled spiritually in Christ.
Jesus, Paul and the Hope of Israel
It needs to be clearly understood that Jesus came to fulfill the OT promises of the gathering of Israel. Paul tells us that Jesus became the servant to the circumcision to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Romans 15:8). Jesus himself said repeatedly that he was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Likewise, John tells us that Jesus’ ministry was “that he might gather together (sunagage) in one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11:52). In one of Jesus’ last expressions of his ministry, Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that stonest the prophets and kills those sent to you. How often I wanted to gather (episunagagein– see our discussion of this word in my Like Father Like Son book ) your children together, as a hen gathers (episunagei) her chicks under her wings, but you would not” (Matthew 23:37).
Just from this small sampling of texts, it is undeniably true that Jesus came to re-gather the lost sheep of Israel. The nature of that re-gathering is of course the centerpiece of modern eschatological discussions and debates. But let’s allow the Bible to settle that debate by examining some key “re-gathering” prophecies. The first is from Isaiah 11.
“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble (sunazei, LXX) the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12)
This Messianic prophecy is highly significant for it focuses on Christ and his work to gather Israel “the second time” from the four winds. The gathering would result in the lamb and wolf laying down together (v. 6), and the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord (v. 9). The Gentiles would then seek the Lord (v. 10), when Ephraim and Judah were re-united (12-13). There are several constituent elements of this great prophecy that the New Testament writers comment upon, and what they have to say is important.
As Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, wrote to the church at Rome, he had been compelled to address the Gentiles who were arguing that Israel had already been cut off. Paul reminded them that their own salvation was dependent on the consummation of God’s promises to Israel, and those promises remained valid (Romans 11:15-28). The apostle concluded his discussion of the salvation of Israel by citing several Old Testament prophecies, not only of Israel’s re-gathering, but of the calling of the Gentiles that was dependent on that re-gathering.
Notice what Paul does in Romans 157f:
He calls for unity in the body because of the work of Christ, first of all to confirm the promises made to the Fathers (v. 7-8).
Not only did Jesus confirm those promises, but because of that, the Gentiles could now praise the Lord and call on His name (v. 9-11).
Notice now that Paul quotes Isaiah 11:11 verbatim in v. 12. Why does he do this?
Paul cites Isaiah because Isaiah foretold the raising of the ensign, when Israel would be re-gathered and the nations would likewise be called to serve and worship the God of Israel. To put it another way:
The ensign (Messiah) would be raised to re-gather Israel and call the Gentiles.
Christ as Messiah had been raised up and the Gentiles were calling on the Lord.
Therefore, Israel had been / was being re-gathered.
It is indisputably true that Paul is appealing to Isaiah’s prophecy for his Gentile mission. It is irrefutably true that Isaiah foretold the salvation of the Gentiles “in that day” when Israel would be re-gathered (Isaiah 11:10, 11), i.e. when Messiah was raised. These facts are undeniable.
Paul was not proclaiming a failed messiah or a postponed mission. Paul was citing one of the foundational re-gathering prophecies and saying that his ministry to the Gentiles was a proof positive that Isaiah was being fulfilled. This serves as prima facie demonstration that Isaiah’s prediction of the re-gathering of Israel was a spiritual re-gathering, not a geographical one.
More to come, so stay tuned.