The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

By O. Palmer Robertson
Phillipsburg, N.J. : Presbyterian and Reformed (2000). ix + 204 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 121-123

The ongoing political struggles in the land of Israel continue to be a cause of great concern for world leaders and a never-ending source of material for modern prophecy “experts.” The “prophecy by current event” genre of literature creates a great deal of excitement, sells a lot of books, and now even creates movie screenplays. Fortunately a more safe and sane approach to prophetic matters is still in the Scriptures when examined carefully and thoroughly.

One such book is this effort from the longtime professor of Old Testament at Knox Seminary. Robertson has examined the concept of “The Israel of God” from five directions: Land, People, Worship, Lifestyle, the Coming of the Kingdom, and a detailed examination of Romans 11. He concludes with a series of 12 propositions that summarize the key points of his thesis. He affirms the standard amillennial viewpoint that “the promised messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ has come” (195).

In keeping with the amillennial perspective, Robertson makes a strong presentation that any theological viewpoint that sees a restoration of Israel to the land or a reign of Christ in an earthly kingdom is a “retrogression” (31). Those who believe and teach that viewpoint are a “primary tool in misdirecting their [Jewish people’s] faith and expectation” (ibid). He affirms that “in the realm of new covenant fulfillments, the land has expanded to encompass the whole world” (ibid). With this opinion Robertson seems to have abandoned his previously published view that the land promises to Israel were fulfilled in the reign of Solomon (Understanding the Land of the Bible [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996] 9, 19). He never deals with the key New Covenant passage, Jeremiah 31, in relation to either God’s affirmation of the perpetuity of Israel (35-37) or the geographic expansion of Jerusalem (38-40). In relation to the land issue, though Robertson notes several works, he fails to interact with the important work by Robert L. Wilkin, The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 1992) or with H. Wayne House, ed., Israel: The Land and the People (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), both of which would challenge his thesis at several levels.

In dealing with the subject of the People, Robertson presents a detailed explanation of Gal 6:16 and all the possible interpretations. Although dispensationalists would disagree with his conclusion (that Jews and Gentiles combined constitute the Israel of God), even if his interpretation were correct, he is attempting to pack far too much theological freight into an admittedly difficult and somewhat obscure phrase.

The final two chapters (the Coming Kingdom and Romans 11) are a natural continuation of the author’s amillennial presentation. He postulates that since “Israel” is rarely mentioned in the Book of Revelation, “Nowhere in this book are the Jewish people described as having a distinctive part in this kingdom” (165). However, passages abound elsewhere that discuss the distinct role of Israel in the future kingdom (Isa 61:6 et al.). In dealing with Romans 11, Robertson asserts, “[N]othing in this chapter says anything about the restoration of an earthly Davidic kingdom, or of a return to the land of the Bible, or of a restoration of a national state of Israel” (191). That may be true, but the chapter does say that all Israel will be saved and that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Romans 11 makes clear that God is not through with Israel as a people. In the future, the totality of all the promises made to national and physical Israel will be fulfilled in a national and physical manner.

Despite clear disagreements dispensationalists have with the conclusions of this work, it remains a worthy addition to the library of those interested in this important subject. It will certainly become a standard text for those affirming covenant theology and an amillennial eschatology and one that cannot be ignored by those holding to dispensational hermeneutics and premillennialism.