And the second question vitally related to this, “Are the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel Still ‘Lost’?” The program for March 11 addresses this topic and the relationship between the Church and Israel. Is it going to be dry? I assure you it is more than lively, given the high energy of Douglas Krieger, the interviewee I put on The Hot Seat for 110 minutes! Not to mention the fact that many evangelicals have grown to challenge those who call themselves “Christian Zionists.” So, should Christians be Zionists? Is the nation of Israel a sign of the last days? All these great points will be discussed in this episode.
A bit of historical background: The Southern Kingdom, Judah, consisted of two tribes… but the Northern Kingdom, usually referenced as Ephraim (and sometimes simply as Israel with a distinction made between Israel and Judah) had ten tribes. Over a period of about 30 years, from about 743 B.C. to 712 B.C., the Empire of Assyria repeatedly invaded Israel. They carted off millions of Hebrews and dispersed them throughout their vast empire in the Middle East and North Africa. Then they replaced these Israelites with other Assyrian subjects. Soon this revamped region became known as Samaria. The mixture of Assyrian with the remnant of the Hebrews who remained became the Samaritans (made famous in Jesus’ parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’), who were hated by the Jews at the time of Christ. But did Israel persist despite this dispersion (the beginnings of the ‘Diaspora’)? A second dispersion would take place when the two remaining tribes of the Southern Kingdom would be conquered by the Babylonian Empire roughly 100 years later (607 B.C. covering a 70-year period). The Judeans, i.e., the Jews, were captive in the land of the Babylonians for the larger-part of this time; then governed by the Medes and Persians until a remnant returned to Jerusalem led by Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest, circa 537 B.C. About 530 years later, Christians believe, the Messiah came offering the Kingdom of God to the Jews. But he was rejected. The Romans would complete this dispersion in the final act, just over 100 years later, at the defeat of Simon Bar Kochba in A.D. 135. Then, all the tribes of Israel were removed from Palestine.
So what of the Kingdom of God aka Kingdom of Heaven? When would this prophetic fulfillment come to pass? Whether conservative students of the Bible believe the bulk of fulfillment took place in the first century (the ‘Preterists’) or remain still to be fulfilled in the future (the ‘Futurists’), the subject of the Kingdom of God is pivotal.
Students of eschatology are familiar with two competing positions regarding how we understand the teaching of the Bible’s Kingdom of God/ Kingdom of Heaven. The first owes itself primarily to Reformation Theology. It is known as Covenant or Covenantal Theology. The second is called Dispensation or Dispensational Theology. It is generally traced back to John Darby in 1830 (19th Century) England, although a more enlightened history of English Theology will demonstrate that Dispensational Theology owes its origin to what is known as “Restorationism” (circa 17th and 18th century) referring to a future physical return of Israel to the land of Palestine.
The trigger point in prophecy studies is the nature and timing of the translation of believers at the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) aka ‘the rapture of the Church’ and the meaning of the ‘Millennium.’ Will Christ reign for 1,000 years on the physical earth before a recreation of the world into a “new heavens and new earth” as called for in Revelation? Or is the Millennium a symbolic vision of the Church bringing about the Kingdom of God through its agency (Amillennialism); and apart from the physical, visible return of Jesus (Chiliasm) to reign for 1,000 literal years on Planet Earth.
For the past two hundred years, Covenant Theology and Dispensation Theology have gone at each other’s throats (sometimes literally), debating this issue. What is generally the underlying challenge between the two schools of thought has to do with the relationship of the Church to Israel. Does the Church replace Israel as Covenant Theology supposes? Or is the Church a mysterious form of the Kingdom (sometimes seen as the Kingdom of Heaven) which is to be distinguished from the earthly reign of Christ with Christ seated on the Throne of David, ruling from Jerusalem (an agreed status seen as the Kingdom of God). Dispensationalists say the Kingdom of God is postponed. Meanwhile, the ‘Church’ is being called out separately from Israel. God’s has two distinction programs: one for Israel’s redemption (which is suspended until the rapture of the Church), and one for the Church taking place now (the so-called ‘Church Age’) which culminates with the rapture and the onslaught of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24).
Enter Commonwealth Theology. A group of men and women called of God are attempting to create a ‘third-way.’ They believe that the Kingdom of God is being built today but won’t be realized until the return of Christ. And God has not stopped his program for Israel’s redemption. While the ‘action’ is through the Church in which both Jews and Gentiles are being knit together in unity through the saving blood of Jesus Christ, what is yet future with the millennium will be the full realization of the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles are seen to be associated with the dispersed 10 tribes of Israel. They understand the gathering of the nations into a ‘commonwealth’ of Israel… a future single Kingdom which is already formed today but awaits a dramatic completion with the physical return of Jesus.
The position of CWT is millennial, but it is not usually associated with a ‘Pre-Tribulation’ rapture, inasmuch as God’s program with the Church (aka Ekklesia or congregation) continues deep into the Tribulation (for some, until the very end of the Tribulation period). CWT insists that the Church doesn’t replace Israel, there aren’t two programs for salvation, and there aren’t ‘two covenants’ of salvation – one for the Jews and one for Gentiles. Hence, CWT seeks to mediate between the two positions.
This mediation isn’t without its challenges. But the first step is to understand the interpretation of the Bible that Commonwealth Theology proposes. That is the goal of this 110-minute ‘interrogation’ of Douglas Krieger, its foremost but not exclusive spokesperson.
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The program should be a great study of the Old Testament seen very much through a new filter. For both ‘Dispies’ and Covenant folk, it will challenge your interpretation of the Bible. So be prepared to watch and listen carefully.
CLARIFICATION: Despite some of the idiosyncracies of Dispensationalism (reconciling apparent contradictions by demanding there are “two of everything” i.e., covenants, brides, suppers, holy cities, etc.), it still remains the strongest theological basis for affirming the importance of Judaism and the future salvation of Israel. CWT provides for a helpful balancing and makes a strong case for Ephraim representing gentile nations and a coming together at the end of days – “the two sticks.” But I remain in the dispensational camp, generally speaking, seeing a pre-tribulation rapture for the saints (whether Gentile or Jew, for all who believe in Jesus Christ), not because of the “two programs” but because of the words of the Bible promising us “the blessed hope.” Please read an article I wrote in 2017 on Christian Zionism and the English history supporting the return of the Jew to his/her land just before the Parousia. See https://faith-happens.com/the-theological-basis-for-why-israel-should-matter-to-christians/
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