Jesus’ Teaching About the Land

This is a very good essay presented by Robert L. Reymond at Knox Theological Seminary in 2006 on the topic of “Who Owns the Land”. (HT to Psalms115three blog).

Below is only one section of this presentation, which I hope those who visit here will take time to read and study in it’s entirety.

Jesus’ Teaching About the Land and the Future of Ethnic Israel

32501_all_021_01-AbrahamWhen Christ came two thousand years ago, the Biblical doctrine of the land experienced a radical advance. By inaugurating his public ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles along the public trade route (Isaiah 9:1, cited in Matthew 4:12-16), Jesus was making a statement. That land would serve as the springboard to all nations. The kingdom of God — the central theme of Jesus’ teaching — would encompass a realm that extended well beyond the borders of ancient Israel. As Paul so pointedly indicated, God’s promise to Abraham meant that he would become heir of the whole world (Romans 4:13). Jesus’ pointing his ministry toward the whole of the world rather than confining it to the land of Canaan cleared the way for the old covenant “type” to be replaced by the new covenant “antitype.”

Teaching that the kingdom of God had appeared in its grace modality with his first coming and that it would appear in its power modality at his second coming, he transformed the imagery of a land flowing with milk and honey into a rejuvenation of the whole of God’s created order. It was not Canaan as such that would benefit in the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom: The whole cosmos would rejoice in the renewal.13

Now what did Jesus teach about the future of ethnic Israel? In his parable of the wicked farmers (Matthew 21:33-45, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19), Jesus tells the story of a landowner who leased his vineyard to some farmers and then went into another country. When the time arrived for him to receive his rental fee in the form of the fruit of the vineyard, the landowner sent servant after servant to his tenants, only to have each one of them beaten or stoned or killed. Last of all he sent his son — Luke says his “beloved son”; Mark says “yet one [other], a beloved son” — saying: “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the landowner’s son, they said: “This is the heir; come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” This they did, throwing his body out of the vineyard. When the landowner came, he destroyed the tenants and leased his vineyard to others. The interpretive intentions of the parable are obvious on the face of it: The landowner is God the Father; the vineyard, the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7); the farmers, Israel’s leaders; the servants, the prophets of the theocracy (Matthew 23:37a); and the son Jesus himself.

The central teaching of the parable is obvious — as indeed it was to its original audience (Matthew 21:45): After having sent his servants the prophets repeatedly in Old Testament times to the nation of Israel to call the nation back to him from its sin and unbelief, only to have them rebuffed, persecuted, and often killed, God, the Owner of Israel, had, in sending Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, moved beyond merely sending another servant. Listen once again to the pertinent verses in this connection: Matthew 21:37: “Then last of all he sent his son.” Mark 12:6: “…having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last.”

From Matthew’s “last of all” and Mark’s “last” it is clear that Jesus represented himself as God’s last, his final ambassador, after whose sending none higher can come and nothing more can be done.14 The Son of God is the highest messenger of God conceivable. In sum, God had in Jesus finally (Matthew: hysteron; Mark: eschaton) sent his own beloved Son whom the nation would reject. But the rejection of his Son, unlike the rejections of those before him, was to entail neither God’s continuance of dealing with the recalcitrant nation nor a mere change of politico-religious administration. Rather, his rejection, Jesus taught, would eventuate in “the complete overthrow of the theocracy, and the rearing from the foundation up of a new structure [Christ’s church] in which the Son would receive full vindication and supreme honor.”15 His very words are as follows:

I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit [Matthew 21:43].

What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others [Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16].

Here is a Biblical “replacement theology,” and it is Jesus himself who enunciated it: National Israel, except for its elect remnant, would be judged, and the special standing that it had enjoyed during the old dispensation would be given to the already emerging international church of Jesus Christ made up of both the elect Jewish remnant and elect Gentiles. So as Jesus predicted, Israel’s rulers rejected him and incited Rome to execute him; the Temple was soon destroyed (see Matthew 24:1-35); the people dispersed; and Israel ceased to exist as a political entity, as Moses had predicted in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (see Deuteronomy 31:24-29). Paul declared in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 that the Jews who “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved — so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last [eis telos16].” Since Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in A. D. 50 or 51 it is unlikely that he intended by his phrase, “God’s wrath has come upon them” the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in A. D. 70. More likely, he was referring to the divine rejection of national Israel that Jesus referred to in his parable of the wicked farmers and elsewhere (Matthew 23:38; 24:15-28), a rejection that Paul declared in Romans 11 has come to expression in God’s hardening the mass of Israel, save for an elect Jewish remnant. So once again Israel as an ethnic entity has become lo-ammi, “not my people,” only now with a finality about it save for an elect remnant (Romans 9:27-29).17 Accordingly, Paul writes in Romans 11:7-10:

Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking [that is, a righteousness before God, Romans 9:31]. The elect [remnant] obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever [dia pantos 18].”

But because God has by no means rejected every Jew, choosing in grace a Jewish remnant (Romans 11:5), today elect Jews continue to be saved by being “provoked to jealousy” (Romans 11:11, 14) by the multitudes of saved Gentiles who are enjoying the spiritual blessings originally offered to their fathers, and who accordingly through faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah, are being grafted back into their own “olive tree” (Romans 11:23-24). The justification of Gentiles is then the primary avenue to the justification of the Jewish elect; indeed, in this way (houtÿs) “all Israel” will be saved (Romans 11:26).19

In light of these Biblical data we can affirm the following five propositions:

1.The modern Jewish state is not a part of the Messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ. Even though this particular political state came into being on May 14, 1948, it would be a denial of Jesus’ affirmation that his kingdom is “not of this world order” (John 18:36) to assert that modern Israel is a part of his Messianic kingdom. To put it bluntly, modern Israel is not true Israel at all, but is rather “the spiritual son of Hagar” (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 4:24-25) and thus is “Ishmaelitish” to the core, does not necessarily intend a small, insignificant number but simply that which is “left.” But when Isaiah declares: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sands of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved,” the implication is that God will harden the mass of ethnic Israel. It has accordingly forsaken any legitimate Biblical claim to Palestine.

2. The land promise of the Old Testament served as a type of the consummate realization of the purposes of God for his redeemed people that encompasses “all the nations” (Genesis 12:3) and the entire cosmos (Romans 4:13). Christians as members of the Messianic kingdom of God are the real heirs, along with Abraham, of the land promise in its antitypical, consummated character.

3. Because of the inherently limited scope of the land promised in the Old Testament, it cannot be regarded as having continuing significance in the realm of redemption other than in its function as a model to teach that obedience and divine blessing go hand in hand while disobedience and divine retribution also go hand in hand.

4. The Old Testament predictions about the “return” of “Israel” to the “land” in terms of a geo-political reestablishment of the state of Israel are more properly interpreted as having fulfillment at the “restoration of all things” that will accompany the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ (Acts 3:21; Romans 8:22-23). To interpret these predictions literally would be a retrograde elevation of type over antitype.

5. The future Messianic kingdom will embrace the whole of the recreated cosmos and will not experience a special manifestation that could be regarded in any sense as Jewish in the “holy land” or anywhere else. Peter, the apostle to the circumcision (who surely would have had his ear tuned to any and every future privilege Jews might enjoy), when he wrote of future things in 2 Peter 3, said nothing about a Jewish millennium or about a restoration of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine but rather divided the whole of Earth history into three periods: the first period — “the world of that time” — extending from the beginning of creation to the Genesis flood (2 Peter 3:5-6); the second period — “the heavens and Earth that now exist” (2 Peter 3:7) — extending from the flood to the final Day of the Lord, at which time the Earth will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7) and the present heavens “will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved” (2 Peter 3:10); and the third period — “new heavens and a new Earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) — extending throughout eternity. If he had believed in a Jewish millennium following this present age 2 Peter 3 would have been the appropriate place to mention it, but he makes no mention of a millennium, much less a Jewish millennium, placing the entirety of Earth history within the three time frames.


What should we conclude from all this? The twin facts of ethnic Israel’s unbelief and God’s wrath exhibited toward ethnic Israel (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16) pose a problem for Christians today. On the one hand, should not our attitude toward these people through whom came not only our Old Testament Scriptures but also our Messiah and Savior according to the flesh (Romans 9:5), indeed, our very salvation (John 4:22) be one of gratitude, and should Christians not do everything in their power to treat the Jewish people as they themselves would wish to be treated? On the other hand, were not the Jewish people complicit in the crucifixion of Christ, declaring him to be one in a long line of false messiahs, and do not these same Jews, when pressed, acknowledge that they regard Christians as idolaters, worshiping as they do a “mere man”?

In response to this problem, I would first say that no Christian should advocate anything evenly remotely resembling discrimination against Jews because of their ethnicity or religion. At the same time, in light of the fact that the only hope of salvation for the Jewish people resides in the provisions of the Christian Gospel, it would be wrong, indeed, unloving and un-Christian, for Christians to encourage or to support Israel in the establishment and maintenance of its ethnicity or religion as the ground of its hope before God.  (For) The Bible denounces every hope for approbation before God that is not grounded in the person and work of Christ. Such approbation pursued through ethnicity or through good works is futile (Galatians 2:16). Therefore, the Jew, if he is ever to know genuine forgiveness by God, must forsake the notion that his racial connection to the patriarchs and/or his allegiance to Torah make him acceptable to God (Romans 2:17-29; Galatians 5:3-4).

It is a strange twist of thinking, if not downright disloyalty to the Gospel, for Christians to aid and abet Israel in the retention of its ethnic/religious distinctives that provide the ground of its hope for divine approbation, the holding on to which only solidifies Israel in its unbelief. And yet, in order that the blessing of Genesis 12:3 might be theirs, and in order to escape the threatened curse enunciated in the same verse, many Christians fervently believe that they must support Zionist causes whatever the cost and must rejoice with every “Israeli advance” in the world. They fail to realize, as they do so (1) that as long as they encourage the Jew to continue to hold his un-Biblical perception of what constitutes “Jewishness,” and (2) that as long as he continues to hold to Judaism as his religion,  just that long will he continue to reject Jesus Christ, who is Israel’s only hope and thus be eternally condemned!

The Roman Catholic Church, in its modern efforts at aggiornamento, has not helped here either, declaring in its 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church that because the faith of the Jewish people — catechetically described as the “the first to hear the Word of God”“unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant” (paragraph 839), because to the Jews belong all the privileges outlined in Romans 9:4-5 (paragraph 839), and because with Christians they “await the coming of the Messiah” (!) (paragraph 840), the People of God include the Jewish people.

Never mind that the Jewish people for the most part deny the deity of Jesus Christ and thus the doctrine of the Trinity; never mind that they for the most part rejected their Messiah, the first time he came, as a misguided prophet at best and a blasphemer at worst, and accordingly believe today that Christians are idolaters because we worship him whom they contend was simply a man; never mind that they see no need for Christ’s substitutionary atonement. According to Rome’s teaching they are still related salvifically to the people of God and may go to Heaven!

The great mass of world Jewry today neither believes that the Old Testament is the inspired, inerrant Word of the living God nor does it have a clue about what the Old Testament teaches. We must think more carefully here, for can one truly believe the Old Testament and not acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, Savior, and Lord revealed therein? No one who has heard of the Messiah and his atoning work and then rejects him believes the Old Testament. Jesus himself expressly declared: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

When the modern Jew claims that he believes and follows Torah, even though he may say that he sees grace taught therein, but who at the same time also believes that he must live a certain way if he is to remain a “son” or “daughter” of Torah, he does not believe the Old Testament and is denying the saving provision of which Torah actually speaks. The Levitical sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who alone takes away the sin of the world.

Christians must realize that to bring any unbelievers, including ethnic/religious Israel, to the Christian faith, they must show them the futility of any and every hope for God’s approbation apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that Jews have Abrahamic blood flowing in their veins (Matthew 3:9; John 1:13), or that they are physically circumcised (Romans 2:25-29; Galatians 5:2-4; 6:15), or that they are practicing “sons and daughters of Torah” (Romans 2:17-24; 3:9; Galatians 3:10; 4:21; 5:1) are all insufficient for salvation.

*Complete essay may be accessed HERE

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3 comments on “Jesus’ Teaching About the Land

  1. This is an excellent article. The Land of course belongs to God. As we read along through the Old Testament, we see that the land is occupied by the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Technically, the land belongs to those tribes and generations of peoples. However, God promised Abraham and His new chosen people the land that is actually already occupied. God is going to take the land away from the existing people because of their wickedness, and thus give it to the Jewish people for their obedience. Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem was ultimately because of disobedience, idolatry etc. Then, after 70 years of bondage, God called out the remnant back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city and temple. Once again, God had to destroy the existing people in order to give the land to His people. In essence, the land only belonged to the Jews only under the authority of God by their constant obedience. Once Jesus arrived, and thusly becoming the Real Temple, there again was no need for a physical building. So once again, by the fact that the Jewish people were becoming disobedient and rejected Jesus, and Jesus Himself replaces the physical building, the Roman Empire came in to destroy this second temple for good as was prophesied. Jesus now stands as the only way for salvation for all mankind. The fact that there is an Israel today has no bearing on prophecy and was created by man, and not placed there by God as the prophecy was already completed by the destruction in 70 AD. Israel today holds no Biblical or prophetic meaning today.

    • In essence, the land only belonged to the Jews only under the authority of God by their constant obedience. Once Jesus arrived, and thusly becoming the Real Temple, there again was no need for a physical building. So once again, by the fact that the Jewish people were becoming disobedient and rejected Jesus, and Jesus Himself replaces the physical building, the Roman Empire came in to destroy this second temple for good as was prophesied. Jesus now stands as the only way for salvation for all mankind. The fact that there is an Israel today has no bearing on prophecy and was created by man, and not placed there by God as the prophecy was already completed by the destruction in 70 AD. Israel today holds no Biblical or prophetic meaning today.

      Amen! Reading through the old testament this is very clear. Why it’s not clear to many Christians today remains a mystery to me.

      I was happy to read you liked this. I did too–the entire essay is very good: biblical and to the point.

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