According to the New Testament writers (in this case, Paul), the prophecies of Israel’s future restoration are not fulfilled in a reconstituted national Israel, which appears after Jesus returns—as dispensationalists claim. The ramifications for this upon one’s millennial view should now be obvious. If Jesus is the true Israel of God, and if the New Testament writers apply to Jesus those Old Testament prophecies referring to Israel as God’s son or servant, then what remains of the dispensationalist’s case that these prophecies remain yet to be fulfilled in a future millennium? These prophecies vanish in Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled them!
If we stand within the field of prophetic vision typical of Israel’s prophets after the exile, and we look to the future, what do we see? Israel’s prophets clearly anticipate a time when Israel will be restored to its former greatness. But will that restoration of Israel to its former glory mirror the former days of the Davidic monarchy—i.e. a restored national kingdom? Or does the prophetic vision of restoration point beyond a monarchy to the ultimate monarch, Jesus the Messiah, who is the descendant of David, YHWH’s servant, and the true Israel?
The prophetic vision given the prophets is remarkably comprehensive. The nation had been divided, and the people of both kingdoms (Israel and Judah) were taken into captivity or dispersed as exiles throughout the region. Judah was exiled to Babylon five centuries before the coming of Jesus. Since the magnificent temple of Solomon was destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar and the Levitical priesthood was in disarray, any prophetic expectation related to Israel’s future would naturally speak of a reversal of fortune and the undoing of terrible calamity which had come upon the nation. The restoration to come in the messianic age therefore includes not only the fate of the nation, but also the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem, a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (the so-called “second temple”), as well as the long anticipated heir to David’s throne—the coming Messiah.
Yet, once Israel’s Messiah had come, and the messianic age was a reality, how do the writers of the New Testament understand these Old Testament prophecies associated with Israel’s future restoration? With a Spirit-given sense of apostolic hindsight, Peter says . . .
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
According to Peter, Israel’s prophets predicted the coming of Jesus and tie the age of restoration to his person and work.
In Isaiah 41:8-9, the prophet spoke of a future restoration of Israel in the following terms. “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, `You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off.’” The same promise is reiterated in the next chapter of Isaiah (42:1-7), when the LORD declares of his coming servant, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (v. 6). Isaiah continues to speak of this servant in chapters 44 (vv. 1-2) and 45 (v. 4). Based upon these passages and how they are interpreted in the New Testament (more on that momentarily), we can say with a fair bit of certainty that Jesus Christ is the true Israel because Isaiah’s Servant Songs are fulfilled in him (i.e., Philippians 2:7).
Furthermore, looking ahead to the “latter days,” Israel’s prophets speak of Gentiles being identified with Israel (see Isaiah 19:24-25; 56:3, 6-8; 66:18-21; Zechariah 2:11). As the gospel goes out to all the earth (the Gentile nations), all Christians become members of Israel through union with Christ–the true Israel (Isaiah 44:1-5). Those who are of faith are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9, 21). For Paul, every believer in Jesus, Jew or Gentile, is a member of the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). In Philippians 3:2-3, Gentile Christians are said to be “the circumcision.” In Romans 9:25-26, the Gentiles are even called “my people.” This is a rather impressive list identifying Christ and his people with Israel.
Not everyone agrees with the preceding, however. Given their so-called “literal hermeneutic,” our dispensational friends are bound to interpret those passages concerning Israel’s future restoration, “literally.” Yet, they cannot make good on this assertion while refusing to acknowledge that the New Testament writers re-interpret these prophetic texts in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. Dispensationalists contend that the Old Testament tells us in advance, what the New Testament must mean. Yet, the Apostle Paul does the very thing dispensationalists say cannot be done. In Galatians 4:24, Paul specifically tells his readers that in light of the coming of Christ, he must look at significant elements of the Old Testament drama of redemption allegorically (i.e., the Abraham story, and the giving of the law to Moses).