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The Palestine Debate: Which is the Promised Land?

The Palestine Debate: Which is the Promised Land?

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For some centuries now, Jews, Palestinian Arabs and Christians are involved in a bitter debate about the "promised land." This little book examines the whole issue from a New Testament perspective. When the Old Testament is interpreted in the light of the Christ event, we will stop fighting about a "shadow" and will rally behind the NT reality.
For some centuries now, Jews, Palestinian Arabs and Christians are involved in a bitter debate about the "promised land." This little book examines the whole issue from a New Testament perspective. When the Old Testament is interpreted in the light of the Christ event, we will stop fighting about a "shadow" and will rally behind the NT reality.

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Published by: ppeapen on Nov 07, 2008
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Promised Land
A Biblical Journey of Discovery

Philip P. Eapen

Tree of Life Publications Cochin, India
The Promised Land: A Biblical Journey of Discovery © Philip P. Eapen, 2002. All rights reserved. AskCorpusChristi@gmail.com Corpus Christi, Cochin India.


DEDICATED To The Memory of The Victims of Violent Zionism


Courtesy: Zondervan Bible Atlas iv

The Sinai Peninsula and Palestine

INTRODUCTION 1 DISPENSATIONALIST VIEW 2 MODERN VIEWS ON LAND 10 Jesus and the Temple, City & Land 11 NT Writers and Land 19 CONCLUSION 27 For Further Reading 29


The Promised Land
A Biblical Journey of Discovery
Introduction The land of Palestine is a bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians. For many centuries after the Jews were scattered away from their land in AD 70, non-Jews, especially the Arabs, inhabited Palestine. The occupation of the land by Israel in the 19th and 20th centuries, the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 accompanied by the partition of the land between Jews and Palestinians resulted in a long and bloody battle between the two parties. In a fresh spate of violence, dozens of Jews and

Palestinians were killed in bombings and missile attacks. Christians, especially Protestants, as a result of their understanding of the Abrahamic covenant and eschatology have been supporting the cause of Jews in Palestine. The Christian community, today, is however divided on this matter. In this paper, the writer intends to study and compare the two major views of Christians – the dispensationalists’ and modern views – on this vexed issue of the land of Palestine. The dispensationalist view considered here is the one proposed by J. Dwight Pentecost. Modern views considered here are those put forward by Elmer A. Martens,

Peter Walker Holwerda.




The Dispensationalist View on “Land” Dispensationalism, a system founded by J. N. Darby, has many notable proponents. Dispensationalism is based on the claim that there are seven distinct dispensations in the history of humanity and salvation, each with a distinct revelation as to God’s will. According to Charles Ryrie, one of the uniqueness of the dispensationalist approach is the adherence to a literal interpretation that leads to keeping Israel and the Church distinct in all theological discussions.


Dwight Pentecost has published his thesis titled Things to Come, enunciating the dispensationalist approach to eschatology. He has dealt with the Abrahamic covenant and the issue of the Promised Land. The major points of Dwight Pentecost’s argument for the Jewish right for a state in Palestine are summarised below: • Pentecost considers the Abrahamic covenant as “the basis of the entire covenant program” of God. These covenants are eternal and are to be interpreted literally. • The Abrahamic covenant includes promises for Abraham, for his seed and for the Gentiles. God promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great

nation (Gen. 12:2); that he would be the father of many nations and kings (Gen. 17:6); that his name shall be great and he shall be a blessing. Abraham’s seed would be countless (Gen. 13:16). The covenant promises the “seed” eternal possession of the land (Gen. 17:8). And by Abraham, all the “families of the earth” shall be blessed (Gen. 12:3). It is Pentecost’s contention that the things promised to Abraham, the “seed” and to the Gentiles be kept separate from each other to prevent confusion. “Personal promises may not be transferred to the nation and promises to Israel may not be transferred to the Gentiles. …The Abrahamic covenant

deals with Israel’s title deed to the land of Palestine, her continuation as a nation to possess that land, and her redemption so that she may enjoy the blessings in the land under her King.” (Pentecost, 1958; 70). • Pentecost regards the issue of whether the Abrahamic covenant is conditional or unconditional as the “crux” of the land debate. The Abrahamic covenant was dependent only on one condition – Abraham’s obedience to God in leaving his land and people. Abraham obeyed God in that matter and therefore no more conditions exist between the promises and their fulfilment. Pentecost quotes Walvoord:

“The one condition having been met, no further conditions are laid upon Abraham; the covenant having been solemnly established is now dependent upon divine veracity for its fulfilment.” For all purposes, therefore, Pentecost considers the Abrahamic covenant to be an unconditional in nature. • Besides, Pentecost gives several other arguments to prove that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional. The covenant is “confirmed repeatedly by reiteration and enlargement” without any mention of conditions. The covenant was symbolized by a “divinely ordered ritual” in Genesis 15: 7-21. The covenant, he argues, is not

even dependent on the rite of circumcision because the promises preceded the rite. The covenant was confirmed by the birth of Isaac and Jacob and at several times in Israel’s history. What is notable is that such confirmations came even in the midst of apostasy. “Important is the promise given through Jeremiah that Israel as a nation will continue forever (Jer. 31:36).” • While countering Oswald T. Allis’ arguments against Dispensationalism, Pentecost is forced to admit that the Abrahamic covenant is selective as is demonstrated in the case of Esau and Jacob. “The rejection of Esau illustrates the fact that the

covenant was selective, and to be fulfilled through God’s own chosen line.” In addition, he makes a distinction between the covenant and blessings, the latter being conditional on obedience. Accordingly, Israel could be excluded from the land and blessings without rendering the covenant inoperative. • The above observations about the Abrahamic covenant led Pentecost to assert that God must preserve, convert and restore the nation of Israel to her promised land. “If it is an unconditional covenant, these events in Israel’s national life are inevitable.” This is so because the promises of the covenant include a land and seed. “Unto thy seed

will I give this land” (Gen 12:7; 15:18). “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever…” (Gen 13:15). • Pentecost identifies the “seed” of Abraham with the physical descendents of Abraham and not with a “spiritual seed” or “continuing covenanted community.” The Church, in Christ, is Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29). However, the Church will fall in the category of “all the families of the earth” in Genesis 12:3 and therefore does not inherit the promise of the “land,” which is reserved for physical descendants. The Church has not replaced Israel as is shown by the references to “Jew” and Israel as a nation in the

New Testament, after the establishment of the Church. At the same time, Pentecost struggles to find a relationship between the Church and the covenant. He agrees with Peters that the “Seed” who will inherit the land is Jesus Christ and affirms that the Church shares this inheritance in the “One in whom the promises find fulfilment.” Yet he contends that “the national aspects [of the promise] must await future fulfilment by the nation Israel.” Dispensationalists such as Hal Lindsey have been gathering the support of evangelical Christians towards the Zionist agenda. Noted Dispensationalists formed the International Christian Embassy,

Jerusalem (ICEJ), in 1980 to “encourage and facilitate the restoration of the Jews to Eretz Israel.” They regard the formation of the state of Israel as a work of God. Johann Luckoff said in 1985: “The return to Zion from exile a second time (Is. 11:11) is a living testimony to God’s faithfulness and his enduring covenant with the Jewish people.” Thus they interpret current political events in the light of biblical prophecies. It is interesting to note that American dispensationalists of nineteenth century were more zealous for the formation of a Jewish state than the Jews! Timothy P. Weber, in his book On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (Grand

Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) traces the history of Evangelical support for the nation of Israel. He observes that, in the 1890s when the Zionist movement was formed, few Jews were enthusiastic about the idea. Conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, were hard selling the concept of a homeland for the Jews based on their interpretation of the Scriptures. A similar zeal for the restoration of the nation of Israel and the Temple at Jerusalem is seen among most Brethren and Pentecostal Christians of Indian origin. In the 1980s, sermons on the fulfilment of biblical prophecies regarding Israel and the “End Time” were very commonplace in Kerala. Christians rejoice when they

hear about Israel’s exploits in war and about Israel’s plans to build a Temple in Jerusalem. Special prayers are offered for the “peace of Jerusalem.” Modern Views on the “Promised Land” According to Peter W. L. Walker, what Jesus and the New Testament writers said about the covenant promises and about the land are of utmost importance for us today to shape our understanding on the “promised land.” This is because of the similarity that exists between the Jewish religious environment and understanding pertaining to the “land” during Jesus’ time and that of today. Jews of modern times subscribe to a literalistic interpretation of the prophets concerning the

restoration of the kingdom to Israel just as the Jewish teachers did during Jesus’ time. Jesus and the Temple, City and Land Jesus did not explicitly teach about the land. In order to understand Jesus’ views on the “promised land,” it is important to understand what Jesus said about the Temple and about the city of Jerusalem. Within a first-century Jewish worldview the temple, the city and the land were understood as three interconnecting theological realia. They were like concentric circles. So a new approach to one aspect of this triad might well

signify a new attitude towards the others as well. (Johnstone and Walker, 2000; 119) Walker moves from the explicit New Testament teaching about the fulfilment of the Temple in Christ to less explicit areas of city and the land. He charges the dispensationalists with failure in allowing the “New Testament teaching concerning the temple adequately to shape their thinking about the land.” The New Testament’s reevaluation of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, claims Walker, began with Jesus Christ. Jesus was critical of the Jews who felt devoted to the temple of God without recognising the Lord of the temple. He was

“greater than the temple” and “greater than the Solomon,” the builder of the temple (Matt. 12:6, 42). Moreover, “by forgiving the paralytic his sins, he implicitly set up a challenge to the temple as the unique place for the assurance of sins forgiven” (Mark 2:1-12). The tension between Jesus and the temple is heightened by Jesus’ statement: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up” (John 2:19). “In the light of the resurrection (v.22) John was convinced that Jesus himself, in his own body, was a new ‘Temple’ […] The Temple has been eclipsed and replaced by the advent of a new Temple – namely, Jesus himself.” Jesus had no doubts about Jerusalem’s importance in

God’s plans. It surely was “the city of the great king” (Matt. 5:35). Jesus affirmed the importance of Jerusalem over Mt. Gerizim (John 4:20, 22). Yet, Jesus announced the beginning of a new era to which the temporal city of Jerusalem and the temple pointed: “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Jerusalem and her inhabitants failed to see Jesus’ arrival into the city on a donkey as the much-awaited visitation by God. Therefore Jesus wept over the city and predicted her downfall (Luke 13:34; 19:42). Jesus then entered the temple and cleansed it – an act that served as “a portent of its

imminent destruction.” Colin Chapman notes a major distinctive of the prophecies of Jesus regarding God’s judgment on Israel and Jerusalem. Unlike the prophets of Old Testament who predicted both judgment and restoration of the city and the people to their land, Jesus spoke just of the city’s destruction with no mention of any restoration. Jerusalem was the city of God but Jesus pointed out the city’s most “defining” characteristic thus: the city that “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:34). Jesus, the Jew, should have been aware of the nationalistic fervour of his people. However, he did not subscribe to popular

nationalism. He was willing to praise the faith of – of all people – a Roman centurion! (Luke 7:9). He commanded his disciples to go the extra mile for a Roman soldier! He taught his disciples to love their enemies and to pay taxes to the Caesar. To the Jews who held their land and inheritance as dear as they could, he spoke of leaving houses and farms for His sake (Mark 10:29). He refused to arbitrate between a man and his brother in their dispute over land (Luke 12:13-15). Family and property both functioned symbolically within the total Jewish worldview. Those who followed Jesus, who were loyal to his kingdom agenda, would have to

be prepared to renounce them, God-given as they were. [Jesus’ coming] will not reaffirm Israel’s symbolic, and zealously defended, territorial inheritance and possession. On the contrary: the unfaithful tenants will have their vineyard taken away … (N.T. Wright, 1996; 105) Though Jesus acknowledged his primary mission as that to the Jews, his eyes went far beyond the limits of ethnic Israel. According to Robertson, “Jesus’ choice of Capernaum for his base of operations may reflect his more universal goal.” He ministered to the Samaritans who lived within the borders of Israel and to the Syro21

Phoenician woman. He wanted his disciples to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” All these show how Jesus saw himself, Israel and the world. The King of the Jews was giving a new “twist” to biblical narrative, taking in his fold both Jew and Gentile and extending the borders of his Kingdom to the ends of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). His disciples always envisioned in Him a Messiah who would restore the “kingdom” to Israel. But Jesus – the rightful heir to David’s throne – interpreted the Scriptures differently and claimed that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36) and certainly not according to their expectations. The resurrected Christ spoke many

things concerning the kingdom of God; yet his disciples echoed a major Jewish concern: "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus’ answer was not anything that they had expected (Acts 1:7-8). The kingdom had arrived and at the same time, it was still to come. “Israel has been restored in principle through the resurrection of her Messiah. Hence she will be restored in practice only when she bows the knee before her Messiah. […] Restoration is not a Jewish return to the land, but rather a coming to the Messiah and an acceptance of his rule.”

(Johnstone 2000).



The disciples were to work as witnesses to extend Jesus’ kingdom and let God decide the time for the full revelation of the Kingdom on earth. Jesus thus offered a “different, nonnationalistic model of messiahship” that his contemporaries could not comprehend fully. Summing up the significance of the attitude of Jesus towards the temple, city and the land, Walker says, The focus on the land of Israel was effectively a bridgehead within God’s long term purpose of reclaiming the whole world to himself and of

bringing in his “new creation,” the restored Eden. The land can either be seen either as a temporary phase within God’s eternal purposes or (perhaps more properly) as an eternal aspect of those purposes – but one which in the era of the new covenant is opened out to include all those who are in Christ, the true “seed” of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). It thereby loses its physical particularity, but it still functions as a potent vehicle for God’s purposes of blessing in his world. (Johnstone and Walker, 2000; 112)


New Testament writers and the “land” The New Testament understanding of the “land” will be much clearer with a study of the epistles. In Romans 9:4, Paul makes a mention of the “promises” given to Israel in general and does not refer to the promise of the land in particular. Similarly, in his discussion on the Abrahamic covenant in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 he asserts that the “seed” of Abraham is none other than Jesus Christ. Though in Genesis the word “seed” seldom appears without the mention of the Promised Land, Paul seems to have deliberately avoided any mention of the land in these passages. Davies takes note of this and says that Paul’s interpretation was “a26

territorial.” Paul’s use of the word “world” in Romans 4:13 (“For the promise to Abraham… that he would be heir to the world…”) suggests that the primary NT meaning of “land” is the world. Paul’s use of the word “earth” in the Fifth Commandment (Eph. 6:4) instead of “the land which the LORD your God gives you” (as in Ex. 20:12) is conspicuous and it suggests a basic change brought about in the New Testament concerning the understanding of the Promised Land. Walker supports this view by noting a comparison between the books of Joshua and Acts, “with the apostles” going out with the gospel to “the ends of the earth” corresponding to the Israelites’

entrance land.”




Davies argues that “for Paul the concept of being ‘in Christ’ has effectively replaced the blessings of being ‘in the land.’” In such a case, Christ himself is the fulfilment of the “land.” On the basis of Hebrews, it may be said that the land (or “rest”) in NT corresponds to the eternal rest of the Church. According to Hebrews Joshua did not give Israel rest (Heb. 4:8) and therefore the promise of the rest remains. The statement on Abraham’s understanding of God’s promise sheds more light on this issue. The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham looked beyond the literal fulfilment of the promise concerning the land; “for he

was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Paul reinterpreted various other Jewish practices in the light of the Christ event. Christ is the “Passover Lamb” who was slain for us (1 Cor 5:7). In this new exodus that ensued, people were redeemed, not from Egypt, but from the domain of darkness and sin to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Moreover, Paul presents the Church and the individual Christian’s body as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). The Christian’s baptism is compared to Israel’s journey through the Red Sea with Moses (1Cor. 10:2).


“The logical development of this would be that through Christ’s work believers had now been ushered into the promised land, albeit a quiet different “land” from the former one. […] In other words, through Christ’s act of redemption […] they had been brought into all that the promised land had been intended to signify: the true inheritance, the “kingdom of God.” (Johnstone and Walker, 2000; 86) Hebrews shows how the earthly temple was just a shadow of the heavenly temple (Chap. 7-10). Based on this, Walker explains: “Just as the temple was

now eclipsed by the revelation of the ‘heavenly sanctuary’, so the land was eclipsed by the new focus on the heavenly ‘rest’. […] The temple could not fully effect the forgiveness of sins (10:4), nor could the land give complete rest. With the coming of Christ, what was lacking was now revealed.” (Johnstone and Walker, 2000; 89-90). Walker argues for a date of Hebrews before AD 70. In that case, Hebrews addressed the issue of the Church’s attitude towards the Jewish temple, their priesthood, and sacrifices. At that time, followed by the Jewish revolt of AD 66, the Jewish community was eager to

affirm the “centrality of the temple within their religious and political identity.” The Jewish Christians were hard pressed between the social pressure to identify with the political cause of Israel and their commitment to Christ. The writer of Hebrews urged his readers to make a bold stand for Jesus Christ even if they had to suffer social disgrace from the Jewish community. “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13). These reinterpretations of the temple, land, Passover, and the city of Jerusalem in the New Testament is not a mere “spiritualization” of the Old Testament concepts but are rooted in the historic Jesus and his interpretation of these. Those

who stick to literal interpretation fail to notice that Aaronic priesthood, which should have continued “forever” (1 Chron. 23:13) is no more. There is no descendant of David who is ruling over Israel either (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Yet, both of these – the Aaronic priesthood and Davidic kingship – “have been fulfilled (really, if not literally) in Jesus.” Chapman concludes his treatment of the Abrahamic covenant thus: “The New Testament encourages us to see the coming of the kingdom of God in Christ as the real and substantial fulfillment of every aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. It is therefore impossible to distinguish between literal and spiritual fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies.”

Chapman finds it difficult to acknowledge the return of Jews to Palestine in the modern times as a fulfillment of biblical prophecies. The arguments that he presents are the following: • Modern Jews are not returning to their ancestral homes or lands as the exiles were during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. • The returning exiles tolerated the presence of foreigners in their midst and gave them full rights of inheritance (Ezek. 47:21-23). Present day Jews will not settle for any such agreement. Modern return to Palestine is more like a conquest than a peaceful return. • The Mosaic covenant

afforded a return to repentant Jews from exile (Deut 30:1-5). Daniel and Nehemiah repented in God’s presence. No such repentance or turning to God accompanied the modern return. In this connection, Chapman notes: If the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and Jews exiled from the land, as Jesus taught, as a judgment for their failure to recognize him as Messiah (Luke 19:41-44), the repentance required in the terms of Deuteronomy 30 would from a Christian perspective, mean recognition of Jesus as Messiah. This would be the condition of return.

(Johnstone 2000; 176).



Conclusion In the above discussion, it is amply clear that the Dispensationalist view of the land of Palestine fails in comparison with its modern counterparts. Christians should be willing to reconsider their respective positions in the light of scriptural teaching. A scriptural view on the Promised Land might win us the disfavour of Jews but we must be willing to “go out” and suffer scorn with Jesus who was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem. We cannot stand for Jesus and the New Testament and still be in the good books of the Jews. If it were possible, the apostles and the early Jewish Church could

have avoided persecution at the hand of the Jews. For Further Study Chapman, Colin, ‘Ten Questions For a Theology of The Land.’ Philip Johnston and Peter Walker (ed). The Land of Promise. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000 pp. 172-187. Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1958. Sizer, Stephen R. ‘Dispensational Approaches to the Land.’ Philip Johnston and Peter Walker(ed). The Land of Promise. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2000 pp. 142171. Walker, P.W.L. ‘The Land in the Apostles’ Writings.’ Philip Johnston and Peter Walker(ed). The Land of

Promise. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000 pp.81-99. Walker, P.W.L. ‘The Land and Jesus Himself.’ Philip Johnston and Peter Walker(ed). The Land of Promise. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000 pp.100-120. Walker, P.W.L. Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem. Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996.


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