Home > Book of Isaiah, Book of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Promised land > Does the church inherit Israel’s land promise?

Does the church inherit Israel’s land promise?

May 10, 2011

In the New Testament the church is compared to Israel in the wilderness, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, and in Revelation 12:6, and 14, where the woman who flees to the wilderness represents the church in the present age. This wilderness implies she seeks a future “rest.”

The wilderness experience for the Israelites was a period of trial, and testing. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 says, “God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.”

In the New Testament, the wilderness in which the church finds herself is not a literal desert. And her destination is not the literal territory of Canaan. In Hebrews 11:16, the saints desire a “better country,” which indicates that the promised land the saints hope to enter is something other than the literal territory of Palestine.

The church is described as not yet having received her promises:

Hebrews 11:39-40
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Why does the author of Hebrews refer to the promised inheritance as “some better thing”? It is the reality that the promised land of ancient Israel represents, as a type, or a “shadow.”

Baptist minister and author John Piper believes that the Church is the rightful inheritor of all the promises made to ethnic Israel, including the promise of the land. Piper presents his views in “Israel, Palestine and the Middle East,” where he wrote: [1]

The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel. …

By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

Here’s the most sweeping statement of this truth– Ephesians 2:12-13, “Remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Therefore Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers will inherit the Land. And the easiest way to see this is to see that we will inherit the world which includes the Land. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians will not quibble over the real estate of the Promised Land because the entire new heavens and the new earth will be ours. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” All followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, will inherit the earth, including the Land.

These views were challenged by Rabbi Baruch. [2] In the second part of his response, Rabbi Baruch wrote: [3]

Under his third point, Mr. Piper has no trouble quoting Scripture that speaks to terrible curses that will (have been) placed upon Israel. For example he writes,

    “…in the terrible list of curses that God promised to bring on the people if they broke his covenant and forsook him was this, ‘And the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you. So the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.'” (Deuteronomy 28:63)

He continues to write, “Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the land.” This is a gross misstatement of the Word of G-d. First of all Mr. Piper willfully ignores numerous Scriptures that speak to the fact that in the last days God will return the Jewish people to the land. This returning to the Land of Israel is part of the plan that will lead to masses of Jewish people accepting the Gospel.

The promise that the migration of Jews to Palestine will “lead masses of Jewish people” to accept the Gospel, who would then influence others to believe in Christ, has been a vain hope of a large number of American Christians, who have contributed funds to finance the migration of tens of thousands of Jews from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet block to the state of Israel. But there is little evidence that this has influenced many of them to believe the Gospel.

Rabbi Baruch wrote:

Why does his article only deal with an explanation of the consequences of Israel’s rejection of the Gospel and not the second half of the verse which speaks to Israel’s election and the fact they are beloved by God? Although Mr. Piper affirms that Jewish people still have human rights he writes,

“Israel still has human rights among nations even when she forfeits her present divine right to the Land.”

Yes, while it is true God Himself has exiled the Jewish people from the Land, He also promises to return them to the Land. In fact Jesus will not establish His Kingdom until the Jewish people have returned to the Land. It is important to consider a few of the numerous Bible verses that speak to this point. When the context for these verses is also understood the case is made in the strongest manner.

First, Isaiah informs his listeners that the Jewish people will, in the last days, return to the land according to the commandment of the Lord. In the following passage Isaiah expressly says that the Jewish people must settle in the places where they dwelt previously.

Rabbi Baruch cited Isaiah 54:2-10, Jeremiah 23:1-8, and Ezekiel 37:21-28, to support his claim that the scripture supports the land claims of Jews and Zionists, and political policies of the Israeli government.

On Isaiah 54:2-10 Rabbi Baruch commented:

This passage confirms not only God’s plan to have the people resettle the land, but the fact that although Israel will suffer for her disobedience, the covenant will be maintained by God Himself. To those like Mr. Piper that present Israel as without a covenant today, this passage speaks strongly against them. It is most significant that this passage comes immediately following the famed Isaiah chapter 53. Isaiah chapter 53 speaks about the suffering Messiah and it is Messiah’s suffering that ultimately will establish the covenant of peace, i.e. redemption. This is why God is spoken about in this passage from Isaiah chapter 54 as the Redeemer.

The verses from Isaiah quoted by Rabbi Baruch omit the first verse of the chapter, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.” As many readers will no doubt immediately recognize, that verse, from the LXX, was quoted by Paul, and applied to the church, in the New Testament. [Galatians 4:27]

Paul’s interpretation of Isaiah 54 identifies the church as the wife who was “barren” and desolate. This destroys the interpretation of Rabbi Baruch who wants to apply it to ethnic Jews. The identification of woman with the church was supported in Joseph Addison Alexander’s commentary on the chapter, in Isaiah Translated and Explained.

On Jeremiah 23:1-8 Rabbi Baruch commented:

This passage is as well Messianic, and it likewise speaks to the fact that in the last days there will be a great return of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel. Why is it so hard for individuals like John Piper to read these Scriptures and understand that part of Israel’s coming to faith in Messiah Jesus is inherently linked to the Jewish people returning to the Land? For one to stand against Israel and her borders like Mr. Piper does, is to stand against God’s prophesied plan for the Jewish people’s salvation experience in the last days. His failure to grasp this when so many Biblical verses speak to this point seems most puzzling.

Jeremiah wrote: “Woe, O, Shepherds who scatter and spread the flock of My pasture, says the Lord.  Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd My people, you scattered My flock and drove them away and will I not visit upon them; behold I will visit upon you the wickedness of your deeds, says the Lord.” [Jeremiah 23:1]

Who are the shepherds who scatter the flock? Well, in the New Testament, God’s “flock” refers to Christians, rather than ethnic Jews. Christ is the shepherd of the sheep. [John 10:1-12] Those who scatter the sheep are false teachers.

On Ezekiel 37:21-28 Rabbi Baruch commented:

This is perhaps one of the strongest sections in the Bible that speaks to how God will gather up the Jewish people, not because of any merit on their part (And they shall not be contaminated any longer with their idols, or with their abominations, or in their transgressions), but because of the Lord’s grace and His faithfulness to His covenant, which although John Piper sees as broken beyond repair, the Prophets do not. In this passage as well the Jewish people’s return to the Land is linked to their coming to Messiah. Once again although David is mentioned, this is clearly a reference to the Son of David, Messiah Jesus.

I suggest that Ezekiel’s prophecy, like the passages quoted from Isaiah and from Jeremiah, also applies to the saints, rather than to ethnic Jews. But that naturally leads to the question, how is the land promise fulfilled to them? What does the promised land represent, if not literal land?

In the passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet speaks of shepherds, and sheep who are scattered, no one imagines the prophet meant literal sheep, or that the shepherds are literal shepherds. And so, why assume the land is literal? Similarly in the passage from Ezekiel, where David is said to be king, this is readily identified as a reference to Christ, as even Rabbi Baruch admits. So, why assume that the land means the literal land? And similarly, where God is said to be Israel’s spouse in Isaiah 54:5, this is a metaphor picturing Christ and the church, just as Paul showed in Ephesians 525-32.

I suggest that in these prophecies the land is metaphorical, not the literal territory of Palestine. The woman in Revelation 12 who flees to the wilderness is the church; the wilderness is figurative and represents the unsettled state of the saints. They are scattered in tens of thousands of denominations and sects. The promised land set before them, a paradise like Eden, is the truth, into which the Spirit leads the saints, as Jesus promised his disciples. [John 16:13]


1. John Piper. Israel, Palestine and the Middle East

2. Rabbi Baruch. A Response to John Piper’s Article “Israel, Palestine and the Middle East”

3. Rabbi Baruch. “Israel, Palestine and the Middle East” A Response to John Piper’s Article (pt 2 of 2)

The two articles by Rabbi Baruch are also found at Flotsam and Jetsam: part 1, part 2.