The Glory of Israel

ALTHOUGH HIS PEOPLE were so frequently disobedient and unfaithful, God was supremely patient with them. As the prophet Isaiah reminded them: “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:2). Some suggest that because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, which culminated in them rejecting and killing God’s own Son, He has disowned the nation of Israel. This is not what the Bible says. For example this is what the angel Gabriel told Mary:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30–33).

Son of David

God had made a promise to the Jewish king David about a descendant who would sit on his throne (2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17). Jesus was that descendant. He will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem, and rule over the ‘house of Jacob’ (a term which refers to the nation of Israel). Mary’s song of praise shows that she understood what this meant: “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:54–55).

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth also had a miraculous baby, announced by Gabriel (Luke 1:5–25). These are the words of Elizabeth’s husband Zacharias when their son John was born:

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:67–73).

These words of God which Zacharias spoke affirm the continuity of God’s purpose. The promises made to David and to Abraham would be fulfilled in the Son of God—Jesus the son of Mary, whose forerunner was John.

Preaching to the Jews

John prepared the way for Jesus by preaching repentance to the Jews. He taught them powerfully that merely being descendants of Abraham was not going to earn them God’s favour: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8).

Jesus followed, preaching his message of salvation to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). But when the Jews rejected the message, Jesus’ followers turned to the Gentiles (non-Jews) as well (Acts 13:46).

Sadly so many of the children of Abraham were disobedient and did not accept Jesus as the Christ. As such, the ‘wrath of God abode on them’ (John 3:36). As a nation, this sorrowful situation will continue until the appearance of Jesus from heaven.

The Repentance of Israel

The prophet Zechariah looks forward to the return of Christ. He describes a future attack on Jerusalem which will bring the Israeli nation to its knees, and then the intervention of Christ himself. This appearance will bring about a repentance on the part of many Jews, who will at last return to God (Zechariah 12:9–10).

Clearly God’s purpose is still bound up with the Jews. He made promises to their faithful fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Jews are ‘beloved for the sake of the fathers’ (Romans 11:28). In Romans chapter 11 the Apostle Paul explains that God has not cast away the Jews (v. 1). Rather, when they stumbled through their faithlessness the way was opened for Gentiles to become part of God’s family: “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (vs. 11–12).

The Kingdom of God will be centred on Israel but will bring blessing to the whole world (Isaiah 2:1–4). There will be eternal life for Christ’s faithful followers, both Jews and Gentiles (John 6:54). Jesus Christ will at last be the glory of Israel (Luke 2:32).

Stephen Blake