Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, November 28, 2011

Defending Premillennialism [8]

israelThe Covenant Reformed Understanding of Israel’s Land Promises

Allow me to re-introduce my readers to a study I left off last fall. A couple of years ago I began a series of posts examining eschatology. They flowed out of some personal reading I was doing on the subject. Once I had finished a general overview of the main systems and the theological issues pertaining to those systems, I then moved to specifically defending premillennialism as it interfaces with amillennialism and postmillennialism.

In my previous articles (which can be read HERE if anyone wishes to “catch up”), I began by noting that the heart of disagreement between premillennialism and amillennialism/postmillennialism centered upon the hermeneutics one utilizes in the discussions. I would like to revisit that disagreement in the future sometime, but as I reboot my study, I believe a better way to explore hermeneutical distinctions would be to examine specific theological points and individual prophetic passages. I began to look at passages before I left off, but I didn’t quite get into what I wanted to study. So, I’ll switch gears a bit, and begin by addressing the land promises made to Israel.

Anyone who gives just a cursory review of the theological literature recognizes the non-premillennial, Reformed covenant position on the land promises to Israel is sharply distinct from the typical premillennial, Dispensational position. Whereas the premillennial position understands the land promises God made to Israel have not been ultimately fulfilled and will be so at the coming of Christ when He establishes an earthly, geo-political kingdom whose government is centered in Israel; non-premillennialists, for the most part, agree those promises were fulfilled according to the terms of the Mosaic covenant in as much as Israel obeyed God, but that they are ultimately typological, pointing to a greater promise fulfilled in the universality of the Christian church and the eternal state of the new heavens and new earth.

So as we consider what the Bible says about the land promises initially given to Abram in Genesis, and reiterated to his descendants throughout the book of Genesis and the remainder of the OT, we can ask some questions about those promises. For example, have the land promises been fulfilled? Will the Jews be restored to the Promised Land? How exactly are those land promises fulfilled? Does the land promises entail physical, geo-political territory?

But before I dive into my study defending the premillennial perspective, it may be helpful to sketch out the basic Reformed covenant view of the land promises. Their view can be outlined according to 5 broad headings:

The NT Church is understood to be the “New Israel.”

The Reformed covenant position recognizes a strict continuity between the OT people of God, Israel, and the NT people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ. According to Romans 4:11, 12 and Galatians 3:15-29, Christians are considered the true spiritual seed of Abraham. Reformed writers, Crenshaw and Gunn state,

Paul argues in Galatians 3 that God intentionally used seed as a collective noun that has both a singular and plural reference so that the singular reference could refer to Christ and the plural reference could refer to those who are in Christ. Paul’s point is that the Abrahamic promises were made to Abraham and to his seed (vs. 16), that the seed of Abraham is Christ (vs. 16) and all who are in Christ (vs. 29), and that therefore the promise given to Abraham belongs to all who are in Christ (vs. 29), … When Paul was explaining the Old Testament promise that belongs to the Christian, he was referring specifically to the land promise … [Crenshaw and Gunn, 234, 235]

Their comment builds upon John Calvin’s views of these passages, who wrote,

In a word, he gives the appellation of the Israel of God to those whom he formally denominated the children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:29), and thus includes all believers, whether Jews or gentiles, who were united into one Church. [Calvin, 186]

Thus, it is understood then, that the Church is the new community of the people of God. O Palmer Robertson writes,

…Paul declares that the “new creation”– the new community within humanity brought into existence by the cross of Christ in its uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one new people of God – is the community that may be designated as “the Israel of God.” [Robertson, 43]

Again, Crenshaw and Gunn state,

In Reformed interpretation, the land-inheriting seed of Abraham are defined not strictly in terms of racial descent but in terms of a continuing covenant community [Crenshaw and Gunn, 233].

The Promises made by God that Israel will occupy the land is said to have been fulfilled

For example, consider these passages:

Joshua 21:43-45

43 So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
44 The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

1 Kings 4:21

So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

1 Kings 8:56

"Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses.

Nehemiah 9:7-8

7 "You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, And gave him the name Abraham;
8 You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, The Perizzites, the Jebusites, And the Girgashites-- To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous.

Patrick Fairbairn sums up what these passages say by writing,

The occupation of the earthly Canaan by the natural seed of Abraham was a type, and no more than a type, of this occupation by a redeemed Church of her destined inheritance of glory; and consequently everything concerning the entrance of the former on their temporary possessions, was ordered so as to represent and foreshadow the things which belong to the Church’s establishment in her permanent possession [Fairbairn, 1:359]

The land promises were conditioned upon Israel’s obedience to God’s covenant

In Deuteronomy 28, 29, God told Israel before they entered the land that their blessing in the land would be contingent upon them obeying the terms of the covenant God made with them. If not, then they would come under judgment to the point that if they persisted in their disobedience, God would send foreign nations to drive them out. The book of Judges, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles records this very thing happening. Israel’s rejection of Jesus only solidified this judgment and they were permanently removed from the land in 70 AD.

Gary Burge writes in regards to Israel’s disobedience and the land,

The connection between covenant fidelity and the promise of land is evident throughout the Torah. Possessing the land was contingent on Israel’s consistently living by God’s righteous standards… Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy warn Israel about righteousness and the land in dramatic terms. In fact, the images are shocking! If Israel does not obey God’s laws, then the land itself will vomit the nation out. [Burge, 61, 62]

See also Jon Zen’s article, Today’s Israel: Is God on her side.

The greater fulfillment of the land promises is the entire earth, the world, or the “cosmos.”

Reformed believers understand that the land promises have their greatest fulfillment in the entire earth. In other words, God’s promises were not just given to one ethnic group of people centered in the physical borders of Israel. Rather, they are made to the whole of God’s people, both in the OT and NT who will inherit the entire earth.

Crenshaw and Gunn write,

… The ultimate fulfillment of the land promise involves the whole world and not just Palestine. Notice what Paul said in Romans 4:13: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world (kosmos) was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”… We know that the Abrahamic land promise ultimately refers to the whole world (Romans 4:13). Adam was originally given dominion over the whole world (Genesis 1:26-28). This inheritance was lost in the fall and Satan became the prince of this world… Through His resurrection-ascension, Christ has received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Christ, from His heavenly throne, is today fulfilling Psalm 2… Even as God gave Palestine to Israel under Joshua and told them to conquer it, so God has given the nations to new covenant Israel under Jesus and has told us to disciple them. [Crenshaw and Gunn, 241, 242, 243]

The People of God await a heavenly land and a heavenly Jerusalem. Their hope is not upon physical, geographic territory in the Middle-East.

The last two chapters of Revelation make it abundantly clear that the hope of God’s people is in a new heaven and a new earth dwelling with God in a New Jerusalem. These images speak volumes as to where the believers will dwell. The land promises were mere shadows and types of God’s greatest promise.

Robertson notes,

The possession of the land under the old covenant was not an end in itself, but fit instead among the shadows, types, and prophecies that were characteristic of the old covenant in its presentation of redemptive truth… Abraham received the promise of the land but never experienced the blessing of its full possession. In this way, the patriarch learned to look forward to “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).”

For those who would like to have a bit more on the Reformed perspective about the land than what I just touch on here, check out Bob Hayton’s lay-level overview of the land promises in a series of articles he wrote up for his blog: Understanding the Land Promises.



Gary Burge, Who are God’s People in the Middle-East

John Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians and Ephesians

Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow

Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture

O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow



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