WHEN THE APOSTLE Paul was being carried as a prisoner to Rome he made an extraordinary statement: ‘It is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain’ (Acts 28:20).
What is the ‘hope of Israel’? We are given a clue from an earlier declaration by Paul: ‘And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers’ (Acts 26:6).
Thus the ‘hope of Israel’ and the ‘hope of the promise made to the fathers’ amount to the same thing. The fathers of Paul’s nation, the Jews, were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jacob was later named Israel).
So what were these promises? We find them in Genesis 12 where Abraham was told to leave his comfortable life in Ur of the Chaldees and go to a land that God would show him. This land turned out to be Canaan—the land of Israel, as it is called today. God promised to give this land to him and to his offspring (Genesis 12:7). The promises were repeated to Abraham’s son Isaac, and to his son Jacob. Sure enough, the descendants of Abraham did capture the land from the Canaanites (as recorded in the book of Joshua), and made it their home.
However, the Israelites were unfaithful and disobedient and so God raised up various enemies and finally the Romans, who drove them out of the land and burned their temple, shortly after the time of Jesus Christ. The Jews were scattered into all the world and have suffered terrible persecution for nearly 2,000 years. God had said He would do this if they were disobedient to Him (for example Deuteronomy 28).
The Jews’ Return
However, this was not to be the end of the nation. God also said He would one day bring them back into the land that He had promised to Abraham:
For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it (Jeremiah 30:3).
Jeremiah prophesied in the days when the Babylonians were destroying the magnificent temple built by King Solomon and taking the Israelites into captivity. This future restoration was not to be temporary but for ever.
Throughout history various attempts have been made to destroy the Jewish people—for example by Haman in the time of the Persian empire (Esther 3), and Adolph Hitler during the 20th Century. But God has always preserved them. On 14th May 1948 the reborn state of Israel was declared. We believe that this is one of the strongest evidences that the God of the Bible is still active in the earth today and is working out His plan. There are today over 7 million Jews living in the land. Israel is a prosperous nation whose economy is the envy of the whole Middle East. However, they are yet to recognise that their Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth!
This recognition must be in the future, and when they accept Jesus as their Messiah, God will be reconciled to the nation. Jeremiah also wrote of this time:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:33).
Thus the future, permanent occupation of the land of Israel will only happen after Christ has returned to the earth and he has been recognised and accepted by the Jews.
The promise of the land was not the only promise made to Abraham. God also promised that in him and in his offspring all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This is a tremendous promise which affects the whole world, not just the Jewish people. The Apostle Paul said that this is in fact the Gospel:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8).
In this wonderful chapter, God also shows us that there was a single very particular offspring of Abraham through whom the promises would be fulfilled: ‘Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings”, referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring”, who is Christ’ (v. 16).
Christ is due to return to the earth and rule it in righteousness as the King of the Jews with a worldwide dominion. Thus he will bring blessings to all the peoples of the earth.
Our Part in God’s Plan
We can be part of this marvellous plan! Later in that chapter of Galatians we read:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (vs. 27–29).
This is a remarkable statement. Everyone, whether or not they are Jews, can be counted as Abraham’s offspring by baptism into Christ. Thus if we share Abraham’s faith we can be part of God’s plan to bless all peoples of the earth.
When Christ returns to the earth Abraham will inherit the land that God promised him 4,000 years ago (Matthew 8:11). However, in order to do that, he must be raised from the dead and given an undying nature fit for an everlasting inheritance. It is our hope that we may also be granted immortality and share these blessings with him.
This was the marvellous hope for which the Apostle Paul was bound with a chain.