When Will Israel Possess the Promised Land?
Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

The position of many sincere saints that there is no future for national Israel in a socalled “Promised Land” may be a result of reading the letter initiated by Knox Theological Seminary in 2002, “An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel and the Impartiality of the Gospel.” The letter insists that “it is a serious misreading of the Holy Scripture” and “a false claim” that “the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or holy land, perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group.”

Actually, a careful and literal reading of the promises to Abraham and his descendants bears out the expectation that national Israel will someday possess the Promised Land.

1. The first reference to God’s promise to Abraham.

When God chose Abraham He said to him, “Get out of thy country. . .to a land that I will show thee. And I will make thee a great nation and I will bless thee, and make thy name great and thou shalt be a blessing. . .and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3).

These promises to Abraham are of a personal, universal and national nature. Certainly, the personal and universal promises have been literally fulfilled. Abraham became a great man (Gen. 13:1). Through his greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ, all the world is blessed (Gal. 3:14). Part of the national promise awaits future fulfillment. Abraham’s seed indeed became a great nation. But the promise includes the inheritance of a piece of real estate, “for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:15). Thus believers are not mistaken when they expect a literal Israel eventually possessing the “Promised Land.” As John F. Walvoord notes, “The term land however, as used in the Bible, means exactly what it says. It is not talking about heaven; it is talking about a piece of real estate in the Middle East” (Charles Lee Feinberg, ed., Jesus the King is Coming, 128, italics in the original).

2. The formal ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Genesis 15 records the solemn ratification of the covenant made by God with Abraham. God followed the custom of ancient nations in the ritual of the covenant. As Ryrie notes, by passing alone between the pieces of the animals, (manifested by the fire and smoke), God “swore fidelity in His promises and placed the obligation for their fulfillment on Himself alone” (Ryrie Study Bible, Gen. 15:17, note). The covenant is called everlasting (Gen. 17:7), it includes the possession of the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen. 15:18), “all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession” (Gen.16:8).

It seems that only four alternatives concerning the land promise to Israel are possible:

A. The promise was figurative, a reference to heaven. The Open Letter claims that Christ “reigns from heaven upon the throne of David.”

B. The promise is forfeited because of Israel’s disobedience.

C. The promise was fulfilled in history. Only gross spiritualization can lead the Reformed theologians of the Open Letter to claim that “the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua.” Do our Reformed friends not realize that God’s promise includes the possession of the land from Egypt to the Euphrates, and that forever?

D. The promise is future and will be realized in the Millennium. This appears to be the only tenable position. The promises to Abraham and his descendants are undeserved, unconditional and unending.

3. The frequent repetition of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The observant Bible student will notice that nowhere in the Scriptures are any of God’s promises to Israel canceled. In fact, even when Israel lives in unbelief among the nations, God promises to bring them back into the land as a nation and redeem them (Ez. 37). When Israel is in apostasy, God does not cancel His promises; but rather reiterates them. “In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David. . .I will also plant them on their own land and they will not be rooted out from their land which I have given them” (Amos 9:11-15, emphasis added).

4. The future realization of the land promises.

The prophets predict a glorious future regathering and redemption for Israel, coinciding with the return of the Lord at the end of the tribulation period. Thus Zechariah foretells the return of the Lord (14:4), the routing of His enemies (14:12), the reign of Christ (14:9) and a lasting rest of his people, “For Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited” (14:11).

Reformed theologians insist that there is no future for Israel as a separate nation in a special land. Nonetheless, God promises that in the future all of Israel “shall live on their own land that I give to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers lived, and they will live in it. . .forever” (Ez. 37:25; 39:28).

God’s undeserved favor and unending faithfulness in keeping His promises to Israel should be a source of encouragement to all Christians. He promised to regather Israel to their land—and He will. He promised to rapture the saints before the tribulation—and He will.

© Manfred E Kober

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