I am taking a short break in the middle of a multipart blog post series on the question of Christian Zionism, to address topics indirectly related to the main theme. As I have been putting posts out this summer, it occurred to me that there is a whole slew of information here. Would it not be helpful for some people to have a helpful summary, a kind of “cheat-sheet” of the main ideas?
Recently, I was going back through some of Preston Sprinkle’s “Theology in the Raw” podcasts. Preston Sprinkle is the vice president of the Boise, Idaho campus for Eternity Bible College, started by another popular author and speaker, Francis Chan. In these podcasts, Sprinkle addresses some of the tougher problems in interpreting the Bible, and one of his 15-minute topics was about four views regarding the land promise for national Israel.
Perfect! I got my cheat-sheet!
So, here it goes (thanks to Preston Sprinkle): Here are four views regarding how the land promise might be fulfilled for national Israel. It would be good first to read about the original Abrahamic covenant, whereby God promises to give to Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan and beyond, that the Bible defines as being bounded by a river in Egypt, on one side, to the Euphrates River in modern day Iraq, on the other (Genesis 15:18-21):
- The 1948 (Partial???) Fulfillment View: I list this one first for several reasons. First, it serves as the main theme I am addressing in the multi-part blog series. Secondly, this view, or some form of it, is the most popular view held by evangelical Christians today. Essentially, God had promised much of the Middle Eastern land to national Israel back in Abraham’s day, but the promise was never fully fulfilled. The Hebrew people inhabited part of the land for many centuries, but they kept getting kicked out of the land. But this view contends that after the Jewish people have been scattered, that they will be regathered (Ezekiel 28:25-26). This regathering promise has been fulfilled in 1948, when Israel was declared as a modern nation-state…. or at least partially, since the current nation is rather tiny compared to the full borders described in the original land promise. So, the hope is that sometime in the future, probably when the Messiah returns, that the restoration of the land promise will reach its fullness. And God always keeps His promises!
- The Preterist Fulfillment View: “Preterism” simply means “past,” so the idea here is that the land promise to Abraham has already been fulfilled sometime in the past. The main prooftext for this view comes from Joshua 21:43-45, where Joshua states that the “the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, …. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” This is talking about the period in Old Testament history when Joshua and the people of Israel had completed their conquest of Canaan. There you go! Land promise already fulfilled! There is no need for the current Zionism movement today, according to this view. This perspective is a minority among Christians today, though some scholars do embrace it.
- The “Jesus Fulfills the Land Promise” View: This may sound a little odd, but this view contends that Jesus Himself, in a sense, fulfills all of the purposes originally set out for the Abrahamic covenant. If this view seems rather sketchy to you, then you should probably read Hebrews 3 and 4. In this passage, the writer of Hebrews is making the case that the promise of rest to Israel was never really fulfilled in Joshua’s day. God had promised the people the land, according to Joshua through Moses, to give them a place of rest (Joshua 1:13). The people had possessed the land after the conquest of Canaan, as indicated by the Preterist Fulfillment view. But this was only a temporary rest (Joshua 21:44). The people still faced difficulties in keeping the land, and the land promise was meant to be perpetual. According to the Book of Hebrews, Jesus then is the one who finally gives the promised rest, thereby fulfilling the land promise in Himself. In other words, that well-known promise of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), is not just a word of spiritual encouragement, it is a radical re-interpretive fulfillment of the Old Testament Abrahamic covenant!
- The Cosmic Fulfillment at the End Times View: This view sees that the physical piece of real estate in the Middle East is actually a foreshadowing of God’s plan to redeem the entire cosmos, the entire universe as a fulfillment of the land promise, for both believing Jew and Gentile, shared together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, there is no need for a “literal” future fulfillment of the land in the Middle East. See Romans 8:18-25 for the main idea to where this view is aiming.
There could be other views, too. But these are probably the most prominent views of the Abrahamic land promise held by Christians today. Are you still a bit confused? Are you trying to sort this all out? Then I encourage you to explore the whole, multi-part blog post series for details!