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Israel: In the Past, the Present and the Future

by John Ritchie (1853-1930)

John RitchieThe history of God's ancient covenant people, the children of Israel, is a living parable. From the time of Abram's call from Ur of the Chaldees, until they are established under the sceptre of their true Messiah in Immanuel's Land, the thread of their chequered history may be traced throughout the pages of the Bible. More than half the Bible refers to Israel. [Note 1] Infidels and sceptics have always found it hard to deny what God has said regarding them. They are a standing witness to the mercy and the judgment of God, and their history has been preserved as a warning to Christendom in her boastfulness and pride (Rom. 11:17-21).

Israel's history begins with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1), and the promises made to him as the head of the nation (Gen. 17:1-8; 22:15-18). They were confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4), and to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15). Their bondage in Egypt, their redemption, and deliverance were foretold (Gen. 15:13-18), and when the time came, God fulfilled His promise made to Abraham (Psa. 105:42-44). Their possession of the land, their idolatry and punishment, are fully given in the Books of Joshua and Judges, followed by their desire for, and choice of a king, the beginning of kingly rule, with its full development and decay in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

Two and a half tribes were carried captive by the King of Assyria—Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29). Somewhat later, other seven and a half tribes were carried to Assyria, by Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:6). This was the end of the kingdom of the ten tribes. About a hundred and forty years later, Judah and Benjamin were carried into Babylon. [Note 2] Thus Israel as a nation passed out of their land, and were scattered among the Gentiles. After seventy years, a feeble remnant returned to Jerusalem, and in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, rebuilt the temple and walled in the city, but they never recovered their national testimony. They were tributary to Persia, then to Greece, and finally to the Roman Emperor, who ruled over them when Messiah was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:1). It was to the descendants of this remnant that Jesus presented Himself as Zion's King (Matt. 11:5), but the leaders of the Jews refused Him, and said, "We have no king but Caesar." "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). They joined hands with the Gentiles in crucifying the Lord of Glory (Acts 4:27). Pilate wrote in mockery above His Cross"—THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Matt. 27:37). Even then, the long-suffering of God lingered over the earthly people. In answer to the prayer of their crucified Messiah—"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" grace waited upon their repentance, and Peter preached repentance and remission of sins, in the Name of the dead but now risen Christ, in the city where He had been rejected (Acts 2:38). He told them that through "ignorance" they had rejected Christ, and that God was even then willing to fulfil the promises made to Abraham, and to send back Jesus Christ from heaven to bless them (Acts 3:17-26). But they would not listen to the testimony. Stephen's testimony was also rejected, and the witness stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60), praying as His Lord had done, that the sin might not be laid to their charge. How marvellous were these two prayer! One by the rejected Messiah dying on a Cross, the other by His first martyr Stephen, as the stones battered him to death! Both prayed for mercy to the blinded Jewish people, and God in longsuffering still lingered over them. Paul carried his message of Gospel grace everywhere to the Jew first, and was in continual heaviness for his kindred (Rom.1:16; 9:1-3), but they would not listen (Acts 22:22). Pride and hardness of heart, made them close their ears (Acts 28:27). Then wrath came upon them to the uttermost (1 Thess. 2:16). "Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentile become in." Jerusalem must be "trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).

The Present Age.

Throughout the present age, the Gospel is preached to all nations (Matt. 28:19), and to every creature (Mark 16:15). Wherever sinners are found, to them the glad tidings of full and free salvation comes (Titus 2:11). God is forming a body for Christ called out from Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14-15), and when His present work of grace is completed, and the body of Christ formed by the Holy Ghost has been perfected and presented in glory, at His coming to the air to call His sleeping and waking saints to Himself (John 14:3; Eph.5:27), then God will turn again to His earthly people (Acts 15:16). [Note 3].

The gathering of Judah back to their land, their sufferings under Antichrist, and their future blessing and glory under their true Messiah, form the subject of very many chapters of Old Testament prophecy. Passages have been "spiritualized" and applied to "the Church," which unquestionably belong to Israel and Judah in days to come. The New Testament Scriptures are not silent on the subject. Israel's conversion and future blessing are plainly foretold in Romans 11:25-26; 2 Cor. 3:14-16, and many other passages. Out of these we select the following. Deut.30:1-9, their restoration as a nation is spoken of. In Psalm 102:13-16, a "set time" for the Lord to favour Zion, and to build it up is predicted, and fixed to be when "He shall appear in glory." Surely no one thinks that this has been fulfilled. In Psalm 110:1-3, Jehovah sends the rod of His strength out of Zion, and says His people shall be willing in the day of His power. How different from their unbelief and unwillingness in the day of His grace! In Isa. 14:1-2, mercy upon Jacob, setting them in their land, with strangers joined to them, whose captives they once were, then to be ruled over by them, clearly refers to the future. No such period has been in the past of Israel's history. The glowing words of lsa. 60:1-15 concerning Israel's future glory, her sons and daughters coming from far, with the Gentiles coming to her brightness, clearly point to a period in the future. Amos 9:9-15 tell of the return of "My people Israel," their building of waste cities and dwelling in them, in the land which Jehovah hath given them.

The partial return of the Jews (that is the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as contrasted with the ten tribes), to Palestine, is a matter of present day history; but they will yet (and it may be soon), return in greater numbers from all parts of the earth, through which they have for centuries been scattered. But this is not to be confused with their future gathering by the call of God as described in Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 23:3-8; 30:3-11, 18; Ezek. 20:33-42). They will at first have a national existence, and probably the recognition and protection of the great Powers of Europe, rebuild the temple (Rev. 11:1), and their leaders who will evidently be still blinded in unbelief will receive the false Messiah, the Antichrist, and enter into a seven years' covenant with him (Dan. 9:27). For a time he will be very liberal; very likely in order to get them fully under his influence, but in the middle of the week he breaks the covenant with them (Isa. 28:14), and demands that Divine worship be given to Him (2 Thess. 2:4). Some who have the fear of God in them will refuse. Then follows the Great Tribulation. There will be a faithful remnant in the midst of Israel who will refuse to worship the Beast, and for this they will have to suffer, and some of them to die. This will be ended by the return of Christ in glory for their deliverance, and for the destruction of their foes.

This faithful remnant, who no doubt had been truly converted before, will hold fast to the promises of God, and wait for their Messiah. They will be of those who will be brought in, as many in Israel will be, after the present age of God's grace to the Gentiles is past, and the Gospel of the Kingdom is again taken up and preached (Matt .24:14). Judah and Benjamin, the two tribes who were guilty of the rejection and death of Christ, will be especially sharers of this period of suffering, and will be the first to turn to the Lord (Zech. 12:9; 13:1). The ten tribes, on their way back to the land of their fathers, will be restored, evidently later (see Ezek. 20:33-38: Isa. 49:9-19: Isa. 65:20), where their return and affecting welcome by the remnant in Jerusalem is described. A time of judgment and purification follows, during which the Lord will purge out the dross from among His earthly people, cleanse the land from its idols and all traces of Antichrist's reign. Jerusalem will be restored and made the metropolis of earth. "Beautiful for situation...the city of the Great King," (Psa. 48:2), and the millennial kingdom, the glorious reign of a thousand years will follow. In the days to come, the heavenly and the earthly people will alike share the glory of Christ, but in different spheres. Israel will be on earth in "Immanuel's Land," with an earthly temple. in which commemorative sacrifices will again be offered (Ezek. 43:2-5), by an earthly priesthood (Ezek. 43:10-15). These sacrifices will be commemorative of the Great Sacrifice of Calvary, as the Lord's Supper is now. The feast of unleavened bread will be celebrated in the first month (Ezek. 45:21), and the feast of tabernacles commemorated in the seventh (verse 25 ), as of old (Lev. 23). The spared nations, too, shall go up to Jerusalem and there celebrate it (Zech. 14:16). But the heavenly people will be with Christ in heavenly glory, in that glorious city of which John says—"I saw no temple therein," but where without a veil, the glorified saints gaze upon the Lamb, who is the light and glory of the New Jerusalem.

[Note 1—The first eleven Chapters of Genesis cover 2000 years. From the call of Abraham in Chap12, the rest of the Old Testament is the history of the Abrahamic race. Others are only named incidentally, as they appear in connection with that history.]

[Note 2—The revolt of these ten tribes in the days of Rehoboam, and their disruption from Judah and Benjamin (B.C. 975), was the crisis of their apostasy. Two hundred and fifty years later (B.C. 721), they had become idolaters.]

[Note 3—Judah's Servitude and Captivity. The Servitude of the two tribes which had remained in the land, to Babylon, was predicted in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:17), and this came to pass in the third year of Jehoiakim, when Nebuchadnezzar, then Crown Prince of Babylon, invaded the land and seized Jerusalem, but left its king as his vassal ruler, taking with him back to Babylon some of the sacred vessels of the temple, to grace his idol temple, and a few royal youths—among whom was Daniel and his companions—to adorn his court. This was the end of Divine rule in Jerusalem, the beginning of the Servitude to Babylon, and the opening of that period named by the Lord "The Times of the Gentiles.'' Five years after, the armies of Chaldea returned, this time completing the conquest of Jerusalem, leaving only the poorest of the people in the land (2 Kings 24-14). This was "King Jehoiachin's Captivity," as Ezekiel, who was among them, name it (Chap. 1, 2). Zedekiah was then left in Jerusalem as vassal king. Receiving a promise of help from Egypt, he revolted, with the result that Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem the third time, destroying it by sword and fire , and left the land in desolation.].

From The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus, with Subsequent Events in Heaven and on Earth by John Ritchie. 3rd ed., enl. Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, [1917].

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