Purpose Statement: Dr Boyle began his argument by focusing on the Abrahamic land promise in Genesis 17:7-8. I responded that the Bible teaches that the inheritors of God’s promises to Abraham are now those who have faith in Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile (Galatians 3:7, Romans 9:6-8) and that the land promise is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom all God’s promises are ‘yes’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Thus the church – consisting of those who believe in Jesus – is not simply, as Dr Boyle asserts, ‘how the People of God are perceived today’. It is now and forever more the sole agency through which God is working his redemptive purpose in the world. The church is a single entity, the body of Christ with Jesus at its head (Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18), tasked with preaching the Gospel to the world until he comes again (Matthew 28:16-20).
I will now address Dr Boyle’s second article, which shifts away from the Abrahamic land promise to a possible future role for Israel in God’s plans, apparently alluded to in Acts 1:6-8. Here Dr Boyle narrows the definition of Israel to ‘Jewish Christians…a separate group among the redeemed’ and links this with the 144,000 people identified in Revelation. Dr Boyle argues that these 144,000 are not the Church but what he calls the ‘faithful remnant of Israel’, and that they have a future role in God’s redemptive plan, although Dr Boyle does not expand on what this might be. I believe that this interpretation of Revelation ignores its complex symbolism and disconnects it from the rest of the New Testament, which teaches that God’s redemptive work through Christ was completed on the cross (John 19:30).
Investigating the evidence
1. Terry Boyle: Acts 1:6-8 points to a future role for Israel.
The disciples appear to anticipate a future role for Israel in their question to Jesus: ‘are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’. But the Gospels record numerous occasions when the disciples get the wrong end of the stick (eg Mark 4:39-40, Mark 8:1-8, Luke 9:49-50, John 13:7). Dr Boyle bases his case on the fact that Jesus does not respond with a simple ‘no’ to their question. But the refusal of Jesus to answer directly and the disciples’ lack of understanding are flimsy bases upon which to build fundamental doctrine. Indeed, Jesus was often talking in ways that were difficult for the disciples to understand (Matthew 13:34-35, Luke 8:10). In fact, Jesus makes clear in his response that there is no place in the future for narrow territorialism. Instead, his vision is of a Spirit-filled church which will reach beyond the borders of biblical Palestine and include non-Jews: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’. The disciples should already have grasped this: Jesus had made clear that he had come to proclaim a kingdom which did not have an earthly king (John 6:15) and indeed which was ‘not of this world’ (John 18:36). In his Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:14) Jesus said (my emphasis): ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ We risk undermining the kingdom message of Jesus if we try to introduce the notion of a second kingdom in the End Times built around ethnicity. There is no Scriptural basis for this.
2. Terry Boyle: the references to the 144,000 in Revelation point to a future role for Israel
With its vivid imagery and symbolism, complex numerology and hundreds of allusions to the Old Testament (an evangelical theologian recently counted almost 700 in just 405 verses!), the Book of Revelation is notoriously difficult for modern readers to understand. It is tempting to adopt a simplistic approach to Revelation which takes individual verses out of their Old and New Testament contexts. Most Bible scholars see the 144,000 as symbolically representing all the redeemed, described in Revelation 7:3 as ‘the servants of our God’ (ie without any ethnic qualification). The figure 144,000 is itself highly symbolic, being the square of 12 (this being a number representing the completion for God’s people, with 12 tribes of Israel but also 12 apostles) times 1,000, which is a generic number implying a large number. So 144,000 is a way of saying all of God’s people who have faith in the Lamb ’who will be their shepherd’ (Rev 7:17). And there is still only one people!
In A Nutshell
A future role for ethnic Israel in God’s plans can only be justified by taking individual Bible verses out of their context. Taken as a whole, the New Testament and the explicit teachings of Jesus point clearly to a unique future role for the church as the body of Christ and the means by which God works his redemptive purpose in the world. As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:21 (again my emphasis): ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’
Jeremy Moodey is the CEO of Embrace the Middle East. He speaks on behalf of the organisation in churches and at conferences and festivals, and writes regularly in the press and through social media. Any opinions expressed here are entirely personal. Embrace does not take a view on such matters.
Follow Jeremy Moodey on Twitter @JeremyMoodey