Jesus and the land promise

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The Creation Concept

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Abraham was promised a land

The land of promise in the OT

Israel's restoration-which Israel?

Can Zionism deliver?

Did Walvoord sell out the church?

A heavenly city, or literal land?

What does Jesus promise his saints?

What did God teach Jacob at Bethel?

Why was Jacob's name changed?

Is heaven open, or shut?

The ladder to heaven

Holy ground

In the wilderness

What are Israel's borders?

What do landforms represent?

A land of milk and honey

Connection with Eden

An inheritance unseen

Zion's foundations

Enter into the rock

New heaven and new earth

Israel's return to the land

How the land swallows up the serpent's flood

Did God abandon his promise of the land?

Is the promised land a symbol of paradise?

The knowledge of God, a better promised land

Isaiah 6:11, 'How long, Lord?'

Is the promised land a symbol of the earth?

Threshing the mountains

The mountains of Isaiah 40 & 41

Barry E. Horner and the land promise

The desert will blossom as the rose

Links related to the land promise

Did God abandon his promise of the land?

Christian Zionists and dispensationalists view the formation of the Jewish state as the fulfilment of ancient biblical prophecies that seem to predict a return of the Jews to the promised land. But those ancient prophecies link the promised restoration to a spiritual return to God, which has not occurred among the Jews in Palestine. Evidence of it is also sadly lacking in the policies of the Lukid party, or the present government in the Jewish state.

One of the prophecies describing the restoration is found in Jeremiah 31:7-9. Verse 9 says, "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel..."

Other Christian writers have concluded that the land promises in the OT have become obsolete; they say the land promises were mostly ignored by Jesus, and are seldom referred to in the writings of the apostles. Dispensationalists, they say, are misguided. Colin Chapman, in his article A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine, wrote:

Jesus had little or nothing to say about the land; the only clear reference is Matt 5:5 (cf Psalm 37:11). The reason for this silence is not that Jesus took traditional Jewish hopes for granted and affirmed them, but that the fulfilment of all these hopes is now to be understood in the context of the coming of the kingdom of God in and through Jesus (Mark 1:15). Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple; but instead of speaking about its restoration, spoke about the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21:5-36).

Restorationists and Dispensationalists argue that if Jesus said little about the land, it's because he didn't need to say anything about it and could take traditional Jewish teaching or granted. The other possible explanation, which I find much more convincing, is that Jesus could not affirm all the nationalistic expectations of the Jewish people. In his teaching about the kingdom of God there was no place for traditional Jewish ideas that the kingly rule of God revolved around the Jewish people and the Promised Land. In Mark's summary of the message of Jesus (Mark 1:15), he says in effect, 'The time that the prophets looked forward to - when they said "In that day ..." - has at last come! The kingly rule of God is just about to come and God is about to establish his kingly rule on the earth.'

Chapman cited W.D. Davies' book, The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine [U. of California Press 1974]. He wrote,

This is how Davies summarises the way Jesus transformed traditional Jewish ideas about the land:

'In the last resort this study drives us to one point: the person of a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord only to die accursed on a cross and so pollute the land, and by that act and its consequences to shatter the geographic dimension of the religion of his fathers. Like everything else, the land also in the New Testament drives us to ponder the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, who by his cross and resurrection broke not only the bonds of death for early Christians but also the bonds of the land.'

Chapman's comments on the Olivet Discourse of Jesus seem to support preterism, in the following paragraph:

Recent studies of the eschatological discourses suggest that the main thrust in what Jesus says in these passages concerns the immediate future and the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and that it is only in the last section of the discourses, when he speaks about 'that day', that he is speaking about the end of the world. This interpretation helps to resolve a major difficulty in the traditional interpretations which has frequently been recognised, namely that Jesus seems to be jumping from the immediate future to the end of the world and then back again to the immediate context. In Daniel's vision the coming of the Son of Man is not a coming to earth but a coming into the presence of God to receive kingship and kingly authority. In this interpretation, therefore, the whole sequence of events including the death and resurrection of the Jesus, the ascension, the giving of the Spirit and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are to be taken together as a series of events in which Jesus is seen to be entering into his kingly rule. Sayings about the coming of the Son of Man can still be related to the Second Coming; but their primary reference in the context of these discourses is to the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. This interpretation then helps us to make sense of Jesus' saying that 'there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power' (Mark 9:1).

In his book, Whose Promised Land?: The Continuing Crisis over Israel and Palestine (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2002, pp. 161-62.), Chapman states:

Is there anything to suggest that after the ascension of Jesus his disciples continued to look forward to a restored Jewish state in the Land? Given the political situation in first-century Palestine, the writers of the New Testament had every reason to hope for a national restoration for the Jewish people. But did they in fact do so? There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that they held onto these hopes.

Gary M. Burge has also discounted the land promises to Israel. Preterist author Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., in a review of a recent book by him, [Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology by Gary M. Burge. (Baker Academic, 2010)] wrote:

[Burge] points out that despite the longing and perspective of many (not all!) first-century Jews, Jesus downplays the Land -- as well as two other "holy places" for Israel: Jerusalem and the Temple. In a later chapter Burge captures this point well: "the lens of the incarnation had now refocused things completely. Christian theology had no room for 'holy places' outside of the Holy One who is Christ." ...
Burge shows that "early Christian preaching is utterly uninterested in a Jewish eschatology devoted to the restoration of the land." ... Acts shows that "the Land of Promise was the source of Christianity's legacy but no longer its goal." ... Thus, "the striking thing is that Paul here can refer to the promise of Abraham and not refer to the Land of Promise. ... Paul is consistent with all the speeches in the book of Acts. Paul as well as Peter can consistently ignore the central elements in Abraham's life according to Jewish teaching: land and progeny."

Other Christian authors have said similar things; they tend to minimize the land promises, which dispensationalists see as paramount.

In Leviticus 26, God said he will "remember the land."

Leviticus 26:42
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.

Some scriptures describing the land promise that God made to Abraham, recorded in Genesis are:

Genesis 12:2-3
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Genesis 13:15
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

Genesis 15:18-21
18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Genesis 22:18
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Many Christian writers see the promise of the "seed" fulfilled in Christ, yet they neglect the land promise, that is so prominent in those same promises to Abraham.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. wrote in The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View [Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981) 302-312],

For Paul, no one of the previous promises has changed -- not even the promise of the land. Since the Old Testament has an authority equal to that of the New Testament, the permanency and directness of the promise of the land to Israel cannot be contravened by anything allegedly taught in the New Testament. Tal is wide of the mark when he summarizes the view that the Old Testament can be set aside now that the New Testament era has dawned. He holds that all geopolitical rights promised in the old covenant have been cancelled and that the best that Israel can hope for now is to be part of the new people of God, the church, but without nationality, land, or statehood. But such a view does not square with either the Old covenant or the New covenant.

[The work cited above was: Uriel Tal, Jewish Self-Understanding and the Land in the State of Israel, Union Seminars Quarterly Review 26 (1970):353-54.]

There are also scriptures that describe a future restoration of Israel to the land. Some of these are couched in very figurative language; the land is possessed by enemies; invaders from many nations come against the mountains of Israel. [Ezekiel 38:8] Locust invaders leap on the tops of mountains. [Joel 2:5] The mountains of Israel are possessed by heathen, and made desolate, and "are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people." [Ezekiel 36:3] Edom, the long-time enemy of Israel, claims to possess the mountains of Israel. [Ezekiel 36:5]

The mountains of Israel, representing the promises of God, will be possessed by Israel, which is the church. [Ezekiel 36:12] The mountains will become fruitful. [Ezekiel 36:8] The mountains will sing. [Isaiah 44:23; 49:13; 55:12] The mountains will be soaked, or melted, with the blood of the armies of the nations. [Isaiah 34:3]

Ezekiel wrote about a river, flowing out of the temple, with an abundance of fish. The river heals the country it flows through. Isaiah wrote of trees growing in the desert, the wilderness becoming fruitful, beasts becoming docile, lions eating straw, venomous snakes becoming harmless, trees clapping their hands, and mountains and the hills breaking forth into singing. Joel and Amos wrote about mountains dropping wine. Joel said all the hills will flow with milk.

When the nations come against the church, and against the mountains of Israel (which represent the promises given to the church), fire from heaven falls upon them. [Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 20:9] They all fall by the sword. [Ezekiel 39:23] Their flesh is eaten by birds and beasts, in a sacrifice to God. [Ezekiel 39:17-19, Revelation 19:21]

Consider how the land promise is viewed in the New Testament: Jesus said the meek shall "inherit the earth." [Matthew 5:5] Other scriptures show many things given to Israel were fulfilled to the church in a spiritual way. Chris Wright wrote:

Hebrews' affirmation of what "we have" are surprisingly comprehensive. We have the land, described as the rest into which we have entered through Christ, in a way which even Joshua did not achieve for Israel (3:12-4:11); we have a High Priest (4:14, 8:1, 10:21) and an Altar (13:10); we have a hope which in this context refers to the reality of the covenant made with Abraham (6:13-20). We enter into the Holy Place, so we have the reality of the tabernacle and the temple (10:9). We have come to Mount Zion (12:22) and we are receiving a kingdom, in line with Haggai 2:6 (12:28). Indeed according to Hebrews (13:14), the only thing we do not have is an earthly, territorial city. 'For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.' (Hebrews 13:14)

[A Christian approach to Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel, by Chris Wright, in P.W.L. Walker (ed.), Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God (revd. ed., Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1994. pp. 18-19.)]

One of the New Testament passages generally overlooked in the context of the land promise is Matthew 24, and specifically, the words of Jesus, "let those in Judea flee to the mountains."

Matthew 24:15-21
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Is this related to the land promise? I suggest that indeed, it is, but most people, reading the words, forget what Jesus also said about seeking to preserve ones' own life. When he said "flee to the mountains," Jesus did not mean flee for self-preservation! Jesus said,

Luke 17:31-33
In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
Remember Lot's wife.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

Seeking our own self-preservation is not what Jesus meant! This is plain because Jesus said anyone who seeks to save his own life will lose it. Consider what "housetop" means here. What does a housetop represent?

Matthew 10:27
What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.

It represents some means of open communication. It has to do with proclaiming the gospel!

Luke 12:3
Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

So, Jesus warned those who preach the gospel, don't go down into your house -- why? Because if Jesus gives us new understanding, we should listen, and not reject it, and return to old, worn-out interpretations!

Jesus promises to confirm the covenant to the saints. Paul said,

Romans 15:8
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

He is to "confirm us unto the end," Paul said.

1 Corinthians 1:6-8
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus teaches us something from his word, he warns us not to return to our old opinions. Paul speaks of being clothed with truth and righteousness. "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;" [Ephesians 6:14]

The "clothes" Jesus refers to in the Olivet Prophecy are symbolic, and they picture the truth, and brand new understanding, that Jesus gives to his saints.

The church is the woman "clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12:1. The sun which clothes her represents the gospel.

What "sabbath day" means: The sabbath day Matthew 24:20 represents God's rest, that the saints labour to enter, in Hebrews 4:3-11. Be prepared, so you are ready, and don't have to flee in the time when the saints enter their promised rest!

What "winter" means: In the context of the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus refers to summer and winter, the "summer" and "winter" are contrasting seasons. What comes between is the fall, the time of harvest. There are many references to the resurrection of the saints as a "harvest." For example in the parable of the tares and the wheat, Jesus said, "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world." [Matthew 13:38-40]

What comes after the harvest is the winter, so Jesus said "pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:" [Matthew 24:20] Winter is a figure of the judgement. The judgement is called a time of "great tribulation," in Revelation 7:14.

Who are those who "give suck"? Jesus said, "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!" [Matthew 24:19] What does this mean?

Paul wrote to the Christian converts in Galatia, in Galatians 4:19-20: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you." So Paul pictured these believers as unborn foetuses! And he referred to himself as their spiritual mother! And similarly, those teaching the gospel are the spiritual parents of their followers.

The apostle Peter refers to believers as "babes", and the word of God as "milk." He wrote, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." [1 Peter 2:2]

Perhaps Jesus means those who teach the word of God to others, when he refers to "them that give suck." He was clearly not referring to mothers and pregnant girls being in special peril. Why would Jesus pronounce woe to the preachers and teachers of the word, who "give suck"? Maybe this is a warning to those who embrace literalism! The "milk" is food for babes. It does not need chewing. So a literal approach to the prophecies of scripture is represented by "milk." The spirit of Christ exposes all the flawed interpretations, and teachings that have caused the desolation of the Church!

What are the mountains? The promised land is a type, or figure, of the revelations of God. The oracles of God in scripture are connected with the promise of the land. In prophecy, a mountain seems to represent a revelation, or a promise, or a covenant. The Olivet Discourse of Jesus, for example, is likely represented by the mount of Olives, in the prophecy of Zechariah 14. And Paul refers to Sinai as symbolic of the Mosaic legislation, in Galatians 4:24-25. The Sermon on the Mount is pictured by the unnamed mountain where it was given (or mountains). It is included among the "mountains of Israel."

This explains the symbolic meaning of mountains in prophecy. The kingdom of God is represented by the mountain that grows to fill the earth, since it is a revelation, and a promise, and a prophecy. And the "mountain of the Lord's house" in Isaiah 2:2 is established in the highest place, since it is administered from heaven, where Jesus is seated in the Father's throne. So to "flee to the mountains" is a warning for us to seek the kingdom of God, and his promises!

Joel said mountains will drop down new wine, and the rivers of Judah will flow with waters. But the literal territory of Judah includes a large area of desert. The promises of God in scripture are to figuratively "drop down new wine"! This suggests they will provide new insight and understanding!

Joel 3:18
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.

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