by Chris Eisbrenner
The Christian world was filled with awe and excitement when the United Nations granted the Jewish people rights to a home land in Israel in 1948 after nearly nineteen hundred years of Jewish dispersion outside the land. In the years following 1948, Christian support for the return of Israel to her land as being a direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy was a popular position in the Christian world. But time drug on since 1948 to fifty years, then sixty years, and theological support for the 1948 return has waned in recent years. What many thought to be a significant event in the prophetic calendar has turned to indecisiveness and skepticism, if not abandoned altogether by many in the evangelical world. Even in traditional dispensational circles, the response often given is, “Israel today may or may not be significant, we simply don’t know.” This reluctance to support Israel in the land today comes from a fear of being wrong or lumped in with the “date-setter” crowd if Israel should fall. What if the Arab world should succeed in destroying the current nation of Israel? How would that make them look if they held a position that the 1948 return was the actual biblical and promised return?
The Babylonian Captivity and Return
When asking ourselves if we should stand by the 1948 return as the promised biblical return, it is necessary to first examine the Babylonian captivity and return. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 are the main passages on the blessings and cursings of the Mosaic Law. The cursings promised to the Jewish people if they disobeyed came in five increasing levels ( level one, vs. 14-17; level two, vs. 18-20; level three, vs. 21-23; level four, vs. 24-27) to get their attention, and the final level of cursing was to be kicked out of the land (vs. 28-33). Twice Israel has made it to the level five judgments in their history. The first time was in 586 BC through the Babylonian captivity where they were kicked out of the land for 70 years, and the second was by Rome in 70 AD where they were kicked out for 1878 years before their return in 1948.
The return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity took place in three phases. The first came shortly after the Persian conquest of Babylon in 538 BC when Cyrus (king of Persia) decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland. The first wave of Jews, 50,000 in number, made it back to Jerusalem in 536 BC (Ezra 1-2) led by Zerubbabel. The second came 77 years later in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus in 459-458 BC (Ezra 7-8) led by Ezra when 5,000 returned. The third and final phase came 13 years after the second, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus in 445-444 BC (Nehemiah 2), led by Nehemiah. However, the Bible doesn’t say exactly how many returned in that phase.
All together it can be said that about 60,000 Jews returned over a 92 year period in three phases. It is important to see that the first return happened in phases because many anti-Israel theologians today fail to recognize that the Bible talks about the latter return happening in phases as well. The Scriptures teach that the Jewish people would be gathered back to their land in the last days in two phases: first in unbelief in preparation for judgment and tribulation, and the second phase for the purpose of national salvation and restoration at the second coming of Christ.
The Biblical Basis for the 1948 Return
There are two main scriptures that speak of the Jewish return in the last days, the first being Isaiah 11:11-12. This passage is speaking of the second coming of Christ and the setting up of the millennial kingdom. Isaiah says in verse 11, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people.” To understand what Isaiah meant by “second time,” one has to ask, when was the first time? As has already been mentioned, the only other return from being kicked out of the land was after the Babylonian captivity, so that has to have been the first time. What Isaiah 11 is speaking of is a second return that will be worldwide and that will take place at the second coming of Christ. What is missed by the anti-Israel theologians is that this latter return happens in phases. Isaiah 11 is actually speaking about the climax or final phase of the second return, a return that started in 1948. This biblical understanding makes 1948 very significant and does not deny the obvious return of over six million Jews that has been taking place before our eyes over the last 64 years.
The second main scripture that speaks of the Jewish return in the last days is Ezekiel 37:1-14. God brings Ezekiel to a valley with dry bones and tells him to prophesy over the bones that they may live. As Ezekiel prophesies, the bones come together and flesh and skin are restored to them, but verse 8 tells us that there was no breath in them. “Breath” is the same Hebrew word as “spirit” and it implies that the corpses came together, but they had no spiritual life in them. The bones being restored without life are a picture of Israel today back in her land as a secular people, but without spiritual life since the nation still does not believe in Jesus as their Messiah.
What is interesting about this passage is that God brought the bones together with flesh, but purposely left them breathless. God then told Ezekiel to prophesy a second time, but this time to the breath (or spirit). God commands Ezekiel to tell the breath to enter the newly formed fleshly corpses to give them life (v. 9). Further, God says in verse 12, after He has defined these corpses as the whole house of Israel, that He would bring them into the land (corresponding to Ezekiel’s first prophecy). Then in verse 14 He tells the dead corpses, “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live” (corresponding to Ezekiel’s second prophecy). Clearly there are two prophecies to Israel. One to go into the land without the Spirit in unbelief (the 1948 return), and the second to go into the land with the Spirit in belief (the Isaiah 11:11 return at the second coming of Christ).
The First and Second Phase
Isaiah 11 established that there would be a second return, and that it would be from the whole earth. Ezekiel 37 revealed that it would be in two stages, first in unbelief and second in belief. If these passages are taken literally then the world should see re-gathering of Jewish people to their land in unbelief as the end of this age grows near. This is exactly what the world has witnessed since 1948. But do the scriptures tell when and why the bones must first be re-gathered in unbelief?
Zephaniah chapter one describes some of the details of the “Day of the Lord”, which is a very common Old Testament term that almost always stands for the future tribulation period and millennium. Zephaniah 2:1-2 describes a call to the nation of Israel to gather together: “Gather yourselves together…O undesirable nation…Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!” This re-gathering takes place while the people are undesirable (or better, ignorant and unrepentant), so this re-gathering has to be in unbelief since the nation is not yet aware or repentant of their sins. Verse two warns Israel that the Lord’s fierce anger is coming and this re-gathering will be “Before the day of the Lord’s anger” (a reference to the future tribulation).
Daniel 9:27 tells us that “he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week.” A study of Bible prophecy reveals that this passage is speaking about the anti-Christ and how he will make a treaty with Israel in the future which starts the seven year Tribulation period. In order for the anti-Christ to sign a treaty with Israel, there has to be an Israel in place, which did not happen until 1948.
Zephaniah and Daniel reveal a Jewish re-gathering while they are in unbelief (undesirable, unrepentant nation), before the day of the Lord (the tribulation), and before the anti-Christ signs a treaty with Israel. These passages all reveal necessary aspects of the timing of the return.
The question of why the Jews must first be gathered in unbelief (the purpose) is answered in Ezekiel 20:34-38 where it is revealed that God has gathered them in preparation for the judgment of the coming tribulation. The purpose of the 1948 phase (of the second return) is to purge out the rebels by having them pass under the rod of tribulation. Ezekiel 22:17-22 further defines this judgment as purging the dross from Israel. God will use the tribulation to purge out the dross (rebels) through the refining fire of His wrath, and sift out the redeemed remnant of Jews for salvation at the end of the tribulation period. God even goes so far as to reveal the number of the dross in Zechariah 13:8-9: “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die;…And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.”
Ezekiel 20, 22, and Zechariah 13 make it clear that the dross that will be purged out and die in the judgment of the Tribulation is two-thirds of the Jewish population. The one-third remaining will pass through the fire refined as silver and gold, and will be the remnant of Israel that will all believe at the second coming of Christ. This is the purpose of the 1948 phase of the second return.
The Importance of the 1948 Return
Not only are the scriptures filled with the common theme of a return of Jewish people to the land of Israel in the last days, but in 1948 it became a reality and since then we have seen millions of Jews return to the land. For the Christian, this ought to bring excitement and hope. For we know that the anti-Christ cannot rise to sign a treaty with Israel if there is no nation of Israel. So when the nation of Israel was restored in 1948 we can be assured that God is setting the stage for the prophetic events of the Tribulation and we know that the Rapture must be near. Thus Israel being in the land today should indeed give every Christian a great hope, something to rejoice about, and a reason to stand by Israel in these last days as we await the return of Jesus, our great God and Savior. There should be no doubt in the evangelical Christian world today that Israel in the land since 1948 is truly a direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy!