Israel: A Prophetic Sign?

Part II: Israel and the Church Today

Vatican II and Nostra Aetate

Vatican II played a crucial role in changing the Christian attitudes towards Judaism.  Elias Friedman goes as far as to say that the council dealt "a mortal blow" to the theory of substitution.[1] Though one may question whether this blow was really "mortal," considering the amount of anti-Semitism and replacement theology that still linger in the Church more than forty years after the end of the council, the impact of the council's declarations remains nonetheless inestimable.

The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism, especially when rationalized on theological grounds: "What happened at [Christ's] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.  Although the Church is the new People of God,the Jews should not be represented as rejected by God or accursed, as if this followed from Holy Scripture...The Church decries hatreds, persecutions and manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jew at any time and by anyone."[2]  Quoting Romans 11, the document also condemned the theology of substitution and confirmed the eternal election of Israel: "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their fathers; he does not repent of the gifts he makes or of the calls he issues," a statement that was also echoed in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.[3] The expression "New Israel" is used only twice in the council documents[4] and never in the sense of the Church replacing natural Israel.  Nostra Aetate also recalled Paul's illustration of the olive tree: "The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy concluded the ancient covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles."[5]

From Vatican II to the 21st Century

The decades following the Council witnessed the publication of a number of additional Church documents that reinforced the Church's new position towards the Jews.

Pope John Paul II at the Wailing WallIn 1974 the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism published Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate.  It acknowledged that "although Christianity sprang from Judaism...the gap dividing them was deepened more and more, to such an extent that Christian and Jew hardly knew each other."  It encourages Christians to "acquire a better understanding of whatever in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value, since that has not been cancelled by the later interpretation of the New Testament," for "it is when ‘pondering her own mystery' that [the Church] encounters the mystery of Israel...the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone."[6]

In 1985 the Vatican published Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. One of its key points was, "We shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending towards a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah even if they start from two different points of view. It is more clearly understood that the person of the Messiah is not only a point of division for the people of God but also a point of convergence."[7]

On March 16, 1998 the Vatican published We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. It was a striking apology for the misdeeds of churchmen during centuries past, and a promise of better days to come: "At the end of this millennium the Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance (teshuva), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins as well as the merits of all her children."[8]

On March 7, 2000 the Vatican published Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, a statement continuing the call to a "special examination of conscience" regarding the relationship between Christians and Jews and condemning the hostility of Christians toward Jews in the course of time as "a sad historical fact" and "the cause of profound remorse for Christians aware of the fact that the Jews are our dearly beloved brothers, indeed in a certain sense they are ‘our elder brothers."

In 2001, the Pontifical Biblical Commission published The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, confirming many of the points discussed above:

In the Letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear that for Christians who have come from paganism, what is involved is a participation in Israel's election, God's special people. The Gentiles are "the wild olive shoot", "grafted to the real olive" to "share the riches of the root" (Rm 11:17,24). They have no need to boast to the prejudice of the branches. "It is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you" (11:18) (...)

The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected. From the earliest times, the Church considered the Jews to be important witnesses to the divine economy of salvation. She understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel, despite the fact that only a small number of Israelites accepted it. (...)

The apostle emphasises that "God has not cast off his people" (Rm 11:2). Since "the root is holy" (11:16), Paul is convinced that at the end, God, in his inscrutable wisdom, will graft all Israel back onto their own olive tree (11:24); "all Israel will be saved" (11:26).[9]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in addition to reaffirming God's irrevocable election of Israel (paragraph 839), and pointing out the common goal towards which Israel and the Church tend, the coming - or return - of the Messiah (840), also mentions how this return is dependant upon Israel's future redemption:

The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel," for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus... The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles," will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," in which "God may be all in all."[10]

The Promised Restoration of Israel

Old Testament Promises of Restoration

We finally arrive at the point where we can consider Israel's eschatological role and ask ourselves how she will be grafted back onto her own olive tree. This section of our study is the hinge that will lead us into the second part, which examines contemporary developments in modern Jewry and modern Israel.

Friedman points out how the chain of disasters that overtook Jewry a generation after Calvary closely corresponds to the curses that were uttered in Leviticus and Deuteronomy should Israel persist in unbelief.  Jesus also prophesied in great detail the successive catastrophes that would follow Israel's rejection of Him.  These included the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction (Lk. 21:20), the destruction of the Temple (Mt. 24:2), the departure of the divine presence (Mt. 23:38), the defeat of the Jewish armies, their exile, and the occupation of the Holy Land by Gentiles: "they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Lk. 21:24)

This last prophecy is remarkable in that it implies that once the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, they will no longer trample Jerusalem.  What could this mean but that Jerusalem will fall back into the hands of the Jews?  "It follows, therefore," writes Friedman, "that Jesus is implicitly predicting in Lk. 21:24 the return of the Jews to the Holy Land after a long exile."[11]

A difficulty with this interpretation is that according to the Mosaic Law the return of Israel from exile to their land was conditional upon their repentance (Deut. 30:1-6), as seen previously in the case of Nehemiah's prayer above.  But it remains no less true that God's promise of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was unconditional, and never revoked in the New Testament.  In order to shed more light on this mystery, it is necessary to return to the prophecies of the Old Testament that speak of Israel's restoration. 

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, "As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. (Jer. 16:14-16, emphasis added; also Jer. 23:7-8)

This first prophecy clearly describes a physical return of Israel to their own land, a New Exodus that cannot possibly be seen as a purely spiritual restoration.  Yet to apply it to the return from the Babylonian exile is problematic because it speaks of a return from "the land of the north and all the lands" where Israel had been driven, implying an Exodus of much greater scope than the partial return from Babylon.  The next passage from Jeremiah reveals more:

See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jer. 32:37-44, emphasis added)

This second prophecy describes a sovereign move of God returning Israel to their land preceding the establishment of the everlasting covenant that will give them a new heart.  This passage is also inapplicable to the return from Babylon since Israel did not then receive a new heart - on the contrary, they rejected the New Covenant that would be proposed to them soon after.  The passage implies, then, that the return to the land may happen while Israel is still in a state of unrighteousness, and that their turning to the Lord will only follow this return.

The next prophecy from Amos speaks of a rebuilding of Israel along with its landscape flourishing anew.  Again, the promise to plant them in the land cannot apply to the return from Babylon since the text says that they will never again be plucked up out of the land after their return.  Whereas the return from Babylon was only temporary, with Israel again exiled in 132-135 A.D., Amos speaks of a permanent return that is yet to come:

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.  I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:14-15, emphasis added; see also Jer. 24:5-6)

Ezekiel is even more explicit in describing the same sequence of events as Jeremiah.  First comes the ingathering into the land, and only following this physical restoration comes the outpouring of the Spirit and the new heart:

Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone. Therefore say: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. When they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek. 11:17-20, emphasis added; also 28:25-26)[12]

The most extensive passage describing the eschatological restoration of Israel is found in Ezekiel chapters 36 to 39, where we again find the same pattern.  It begins in chapter 36 with a physical ingathering of Israel accompanied by a rebuilding of the cities and a renewed fruitfulness of the land.  Only after this ingathering will God give Israel a new heart and a new spirit:

But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt; and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. (Ezek. 36:8-11)
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezek. 36:24-28, emphasis added)

The promise of cleansing water (an allusion to baptism) giving a new heart is intimately connected with the return to the land.  Chapter 37 illustrates the same thing using the imagery of the valley of the dry bones.  The bones that Ezekiel sees are the "whole house of Israel" who have been cut off and whose hope is lost (37:11).  As Ezekiel prophesies a first time, sinews, flesh and skin cover them; but they still have no breath in them (v. 7-8).  Only after he prophesies a second time does breath come into them and they are brought back to life (v.10).  There is no room for speculative interpretation here because the meaning of the prophecy is immediately revealed in the next verses:  the sinews, flesh and skin represent the physical restoration of Israel, while the breath of life represents their spiritual resurrection:

Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD. (Ezek. 37:12-14, emphasis added)

The rest of chapter 37 is even more stunning.  It describes a reuniting of Judah and Ephraim, the ingathering not only of the Jews who are the descendants of the two tribes who returned from Babylon, but also of the ten tribes of Israel that had been lost since the conquest of their territories by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.:

I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. (Ezek. 37:22)

Moreover, God's servant David will be king over them forever as they dwell in the land that God gave to Jacob.  The Lord will set his sanctuary and his tabernacle in their midst forevermore, "and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Ezek. 37:24-28)  There is a great mystery hidden in these last verses of chapter 37: Undoubtedly the passage speaks of Jesus, Messiah of Israel and Son of David, ruling over his people as they dwell in the land of Israel.  But how and when will this happen?  And how will the ten tribes that have been lost for twenty-seven centuries ever be found?  Could these be the Gentile Christians who have been grafted into the roots of Israel of which Paul writes in Romans 11? 

Chapters 38 and 39 then reveal the great war of Gog and Magog that will occur when many great nations will attack Israel after her regathering into the land.  This is not the place for speculating on the details of how this will happen, but suffice it to say that Israel will be delivered by a sovereign intervention of the Lord (39:6).  It is plausible that Zechariah refers to the same conflict when he writes that all nations will be gathered against Judah and Jerusalem (Zech. 12:2, 14:2).  The prophecies in these chapters cannot refer to past events, such as the Roman destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., because it is in the midst of this ultimate trial of Israel that God will "pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced.   They shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son, and grieve for him, as one grieves over a firstborn." (Zech. 12:10)  Thus Israel's long awaited recognition of the pierced Messiah will occur in their hour of great trial as they are under siege by a multitude of enemy nations - something that has certainly not yet happened.

The Restoration of Israel: An Evaluation

The question whether these prophecies can be reconciled with modern day events is a hotly debated one.  Can modern Zionism receive divine sanction?  What should be the Christian - and Catholic - response?

Without a doubt, modern Zionism - the return of the Jews to the land of Israel - has been a largely secular phenomenon that has fallen way short of fulfilling God's promises of a full restoration to Israel.  But could it be the first step to something greater?  The prophecies we have seen that speak of a physical restoration preceding the spiritual restoration strongly support this hypothesis.  This means that the Jews would initially return to Israel in a state of sin and unrighteousness, with all of the evils that this may imply, and only afterwards would come to faith and therefore to righteousness.

Yet how could God return the Jews to their land before their collective repentance? Would this not contradict the law of the Covenant (Deut. 30:1-6)?  Though this mystery cannot be entirely solved here, some partial explanations are plausible.  Since "what happened at [Christ's] passion cannot be charged against the Jews of today,"[13] and considering how the Christians' treatment of the Jews made their acceptance of Christ next to impossible, can we really assume that God has ignored the innumerable Jewish prayers of Daniels and Nehemiahs - prayed in a state of blindness to the Messiah, perhaps, but for which the Church was at least partly responsible - that rose up to him for nineteen centuries, imploring Him to fulfill His word spoken by the prophets and return the children of Israel to Jerusalem?  We should also not forget the small but significantly growing remnant of Jewish Christians of the past two or three centuries who have fervently prayed for the restoration of Israel and the conversion of their people.[14]

To these considerations we should add another important one: Has the collective suffering of the Jewish people throughout their history, culminating in their being led like a lamb to the slaughter in the Nazi gas chambers perhaps been sufficient ground to atone for their unbelief and "move God" to an act of mercy towards them?  An eminent Jewish-Catholic voice who believed this was St. Edith Stein, who perished at Auschwitz.  She realized that "[the savior's] Cross was now being laid upon the Jewish people, that the few who understood this had the responsibility of carrying it in the name of all."[15]  She also saw a special relationship between what was happening to the Jewish people and their rejection of Jesus: "This is the shadow of the cross that falls upon my people! Oh, if they would only realize! That is the fulfillment of the curse which my people have called upon themselves!"[16]  Roy Schoeman, another Hebrew Catholic, writes of how "by being both Jewish and Catholic, she...was able in a unique way to bring the suffering of the Jews to the Cross of Christ."  She saw in the Holocaust "an aspect of expiatory suffering, expiating for the Jews' rejection of Christ," and "a specific link between her sacrifice and the special grace needed to bring about the conversion of the Jews."  Is it a coincidence that the word "Holocaust" means a burnt offering, and was first applied by Elie Wiesel to the Nazi extermination of Europe's Jews in reference to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac?  Schoeman is also convinced of a relation between the Holocaust, the formation of the State of Israel and the Second Coming: Since "grace is always ‘purchased' by suffering," Schoeman wonders whether it may be that "the spark [that will prepare the world for Jesus' final coming] could be the suffering and sacrifice of Auschwitz - the offering of the Holocaust - purchasing the grace of the Second Coming?"[17]

One last point: Though the Mosaic covenant was conditional, we must also not forget the unconditional nature of the promise of the land to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants.  Though with the coming of Christ the Mosaic Law came to its fulfillment, God never revoked His election and promises to Israel.  Moreover, any attempt to "spiritualize" the above prophecies by interpreting them as only representing the conversion of the Jews and their entrance into the Church would do violence to the texts and violate a basic principle of biblical interpretation by bypassing their literal sense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that "all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal" (CCC 116). And on reading the Bible in the liturgy, Cyprian Vagaggini elaborates that "when the liturgy, reading a text, sets it forth in a light which far surpasses that meaning, this "surpassing" never means the annulment or evaporation of the depth realized by contemporaries"[18](emphasis mine).  Similarly, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible states: "It would be wrong to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament as some kind of photographic anticipations of future events. All the texts, including those which later were read as messianic prophecies, already had an immediate import and meaning for their contemporaries before attaining a fuller meaning for future hearers."[19]

With no need for adopting a dispensationalist theology that would imply a pre-millenialism, rapture, rebuilding of the temple, reinstitution of blood sacrifices, or the restoration of the national kingdom of Israel independent of the Church, Scripture seems to point to the fact that the physical ingathering of Israel must precede their final redemption.

The Catholic Church and Modern Israel

In light of this compelling evidence, the next question is to ask how the Catholic Church today sees the re-birth of Israel, especially in light of her change of attitude towards the Jews since Vatican II. 

Somewhat predictably, the early Zionist movement found little support to be gained from Church leaders who still viewed the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in Palestine through the lens of traditional replacement theology rather than in the light of Scripture.  Sergio Minerbi, in his book The Vatican and Zionism, relates about Pope Pius X's audience with the founder of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl in 1904: "'Non possumus,' the pope told him.  These two words, translated as ‘we cannot [support Zionism]', summarize the Vatican's position on Zionism from the early twentieth century to the present."[20]  In contrast to many Evangelical Christians, Catholics to this day still tend to be reticent in frankly and honestly appraising the role of Israel in light of biblical prophecy and the signs of the times.  Yet while considerable opposition to biblical Zionism can still be found in the Church (often due to the influence of Arab nations and churches), manifestations of support are also increasingly heard.

In 1973, for example, the French Episcopal Commission for Relations with Judaism declared: "It is more difficult than ever today to pass a calm theological judgment on the movement of return of the Jewish people to "its" Land.  That being so, first and foremost we cannot, as Christians, overlook the gift vouchsafed long ago by God to the people of Israel of a Land wherein it was summoned to dwell again (cf. Genesis 12:7; 26:3-4, 28:13; Isaiah 43:5-7; Jeremiah 16:15; Zephaniah 3:20)..."It is a cardinal question that faces Christian and Jew alike, to know whether the regathering of the scattered congregations of the Jewish people, end-product of the interplay of persecution and political forces, will, in the end, prove, or fail to prove, to be one of the paths of Divine justice for the Jewish people, and, at the same time, for all the peoples on earth.  How can Christians remain uninterested in what is being decided in that Land today?"[21]

Flannery is only slightly bolder.  He assesses modern Zionism in the same way as Fathers Faccio, Congar, Iglesias, Monsignor Journet, Hruby, André Richard, Paul Claudel, Jean Toulat, Marcel Dubois, and René Laurentin, who "in one way or another, suggested that the State of Israel may be a stratagem of divine providence to drive Israel into a blind alley of grace.  With Congar, we may think that God wished to bring a representative cross-section of the Jewish people to the Holy Land in order to bring it face to face with the great question of the Messiah.  Israel's restoration to the land of the promise, even though under secular auspices, may thus be a distant preparation for her final encounter with grace."[22]

Elias Friedman and the Association of Hebrew Catholics see as signs of the times the "coincidence in time of the admission of the Jews and the apostasy of the Gentiles."  Paul himself, in Rom. 11:19-23, associates the re-grafting of the Jews to the cutting off of the Gentiles.  Friedman sees this apostasy, prophesied by Our Lord (Lk. 18:8) and Paul (2 Thess. 2:1-11) as "synonymous with the collapse of Christendom, not with the disappearance of Christianity."  It remains to see whether the Church will become more aware of the prophetic significance of the modern rebirth of Israel.  In part II of this project, I will elaborate in greater detail on the disastrous consequences of the current Catholic shortsightedness in respect to Israel and the conversion of the Jews.  For the moment, suffice it to say that to oppose today the physical restoration of Israel is not only to oppose a theological position but also a living fact.  Except in the unlikely event of a new exile, the conversion of the Jews spoken of by Paul and the Catechism must necessarily involve the land of Israel, since it has again become the home of a large proportion of the world's Jewish population.  Moreover, this conversion has already begun in our own generation (see part II).

Israel's Passion, Death and Resurrection?

The typological relationship between Israel and Christ did not come to an end at Jesus' first coming.  The Messiah's deep identification with his people Israel is not limited to biblical Israel, but also continues with post-Christic Israel, in their rejection, exile, and sufferings.  This identification is not perfect, of course, because of the wide gap between the type's sinfulness and the archetype's sinlessness.  Still, as Jacques Maritain has pointed out, "the agony of the Jews is one in which Christ participates," and "the passion of Israel is more and more clearly taking the shape of the Cross," [23] and "the Jewish Diaspora within Christian Europe is one long Via Dolorosa."[24]   Flannery adds: "Was not this the supreme defection: that the most severely and persistently persecuted of Christian history were not those to whose persecution was promised by the Master but rather the people from which He came?"[25]

Some have perceived in the hatred of the Jew "an unconscious hatred of Christ, a rebellion against the Christian yoke no longer found sweet; in a word, a Christophobia.  Incapable of hating Christianity openly, the Christian anti-Semite, through an unconscious displacement of affect, diverts his animus to the Jews, kinsmen of its Founder." Maurice Samuel's judgment on the Nazis can be extended to Christian anti-Semites: "They must spit on the Jews as ‘the Christ-killers' because they long to spit on the Jews as the Christ-givers."[26]

Elias Friedman sums up: "As he walked slowly across the stage of history, the Jew took on an uncanny resemblance to Jesus: beaten, spat upon, mocked, derided, bleeding from his judicial scourging, crowned with the thorns of incomprehension, bearing his cross of the way to Golgotha." "Mystically speaking, Jewry as a whole was nailed to the cross and died under Hitler."  "'We all died in Auschwitz' cried out that great soul A.J. Heschel, in the name of all the Jews of his time.  On the third day, three years after the conclusion of hostilities in 1945, Jewry rose from the dead; the State of Israel was proclaimed." 

In summary, the parallels between Christ and Israel can be summarized as follows:

Jesus
Israel
Came out of Egypt (Mt. 3:15) Came out of Egypt (Ex. 1-14)
Baptized in the Jordan (Mt. 3:13-17)   Baptized in the Red Sea
Tempted in the desert for 40 days (Mt. 4:1-11)   Tempted in the desert for 40 years (Ex.-Deut.)
Gave Israel a New Law on a mount (Mt. 5-7)   Received the Law on Mount Sinai  (Ex. 20)
Revealed his glory at the transfiguration (Mt. 17) Revealed her glory in the reigns of David and Solomon (2 Sam 7- 1 Ki. 10)
Took the road to Jerusalem towards his passion (Lk. 9:51-19:27) Exiled to Babylon and then to the nations
Betrayed by a friend (Mt. 26:22-25), rejected by his people, and considered accursed by God Rejected by the Christians as accursed by God
Endured humiliation, scorn, mockery, scourging by his people (Mt. 27:1-34) Endured humiliation, scorn, mockery, scourging at the hands of Christians.
Crucified and died at Calvary (Mt. 27:35-50)   Crucified and died at Auschwitz
Rose from the dead the third day (Mt. 28) Nation of Israel reborn 3 years after the end of the Holocaust
Poured the Holy Spirit onto the Church (Acts 2)   Will receive the Holy Spirit as they recognize Christ

Interestingly, the post-Christic exile of the Jews is known in rabbinic literature as the "Edomite exile."[27] Are we about to witness in our day and age the heart-rending reunion of the two brothers Jacob and Esau - father of the Edomites - depicted in Genesis 33?  Will we see Jacob return after a long absence in fear and trembling to his stronger brother, expecting the worst and terrified that he might yet experience more persecutions and threats of death at Esau's hand?  Will he instead encounter a transformed Esau - a transformed Church - who will instead fall in his arms, embrace him, kiss him and welcome him home?  We will attempt to answer these questions in part II of our study of Israel, where we will examine in greater detail and in light of what we have developed here the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, as well as the rebirth of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Christianity. 

From Old to New: Shadow, Image, Reality

God's plan of salvation is revealed in Sacred Scripture through three major steps of fulfillment: Old Testament, New Testament, and eschatological reality - shadow, image and reality.  These three successive steps unify the contents of the Bible and form the divine economy by which God reveals who He is through what He does.

Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, describes the intermediate stage of the New Testament as "the between-time, as image between shadow and reality," and as "a mixture of already and not yet."[28] 

Everything we have said about Israel must be seen in this proper perspective of the divine economy.  Israel is not an end in itself, but a shadow, a type of the greater, heavenly things in which we now participate - albeit still in a veiled form - through the New Covenant liturgy and sacraments.  Yet this does not mean that the Old Testament types and shadows are unimportant.  After all, are they not God's great works of salvation which he commanded Israel to remember perpetually?  Thus the New does not abolish the Old, the heavenly does not destroy the earthly, the divine does not dissolve the human, and eternity does not swallow up time.  Rather, the lower, earthly shadows and images are perfected and elevated to a higher meaning in a transformative union that preserves the unity of the entire divine design.  So it is with the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem:  The fact that the earthly Jerusalem points to the much superior reality of the heavenly city does not mean that the earthly has now been discarded as devoid of spiritual significance.

This equilibrium of the Old transformed yet not abolished by the New is not an easy one to hold.  It is much easier to tend towards one of the opposite extremes of Judaizing or Marcionism, manifested today in the respective errors of dispensationalism (a separate plan for Israel, independent of the Church) and replacement theology (no more role for Israel apart from their assimilation into the Church).

Author David Currie, in his otherwise impressive book Rapture, is an example of a Catholic falling in the second category.  In his zeal for refuting the dispensationalist error of the rapture, he adopts the opposite error by denying any possible role to post-Christic Israel in the plan of salvation.  Commenting on the prophet Zechariah, Currie writes: "Zechariah makes it crystal clear that God will never return to His Old Covenant with ethnic Israel - that God broke that relationship forever during Daniel's seventieth week."[29]  He believes that Zechariah's depiction of the breaking of a staff "symbolizes the annulling of the covenant between God and Judah"[30] - though the prophecy is in fact addressed to Lebanon (11:1) and there is no mention of either Israel or Judah in the context.  Zechariah later refers to a second broken stick as being the breaking of "the brotherhood between Judah and Israel," but there is nothing in the text that implies the breaking of their covenant with God (Zech. 11:14).

Currie is right in opposing the rapturist idea that "during the Great Tribulation and the Millennium, God will reinstate the Old Covenant, along with its ceremonial blood sacrifices."  Yet he apparently fails to see that the end of the Levitical priesthood and God's judgment on the Jewish religious establishment in 70 A.D. do not necessarily imply the "the annulling of the covenant between God and Judah."   One wonders how he interprets Jeremiah 31:35-37, Romans 11 and paragraph 839 of the Catechism that all affirm the irrevocability of God's covenant with Israel.

Though Currie criticizes the rapturists for inserting a 2,000 year parenthesis in Daniel's prophecy and for applying Zechariah's prophecies alternatively to Christ's first and second comings,[31] he is himself not entirely innocent of dubious exegetical gymnastics in the attempt to prove his point.  Whereas he interprets the siege of Jerusalem by all nations in Zechariah chapter 12 to be the siege of Titus in 70 A.D., in the very next verses, when God delivers the city, he suddenly interprets this to refer not to the earthly but to the heavenly Jerusalem:  "God will not be fighting for Old Jerusalem, but for the citizens of New Jerusalem."[32]  Currie's replacement theology is strangely reminiscent of the patristic view that all curses of the Old Testament were meant for Israel and all promises of blessings for the Church.

Unlike Currie, Cardinal Ratzinger believes that "Israel still has a mission to accomplish today.  We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say Yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world."[33]

Conclusion

The New Testament goal of the divine economy is indeed the "One New Man" - Jew and Gentile united in faith and Sacraments in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  But if Currie is right that "the distinction of Jew and Gentile no longer exists"[34] because the scriptures say that there is "neither Jew nor Greek," then it follows that the New Covenant has somehow also rendered man and woman androgynous, since the same verse states that there is "neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:27-28).  In reality, just as male and female are indeed one before Christ but retain their distinct roles, so are Jews and Gentiles now equal before God while yet retaining their distinctiveness within the plan of salvation.  The restoration of Israel, then, is not an end in itself that would place the Jews in a somehow privileged position versus the Gentiles.  But neither can it be a mere transitional phase preceding her dissolution into the Church since, as we have seen, their very survival and existence was to remain a witness to all nations until the end of time (Jer. 31:35-37).  God's preservation of Israel, then, is for His own honor and cause in the world.

Fr. Peter Hocken is a Catholic priest who is convinced of "a link in the divine plan between the gift of the spirit and the gathering of the scattered people of Israel with their return to their land".  He believes that "the return of Israel to the land of Palestine is more significant than mainline Christians have generally recognized, but significant in a different way from what many fundamentalists proclaim."  These "deserve credit for taking the details of Old Testament prophecy seriously.  However, the widespread adoption of a dispensationalist schema has resulted in the separation of the destiny of Israel from that of the Christian Church, and thus a failure to hold together the two covenants."  Hocken sees as the root problem "the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual," the result of "centuries of a wrong kind of spiritualization" that have weakened the understanding of signs in the biblical sense, in which the immediate physical reality mediates and makes present the deeper spiritual reality to which it points and which it embodies."  Thus, "the promises to Israel have to be understood in a Christocentric framework in which the higher-level heavenly fulfillment of the Old Covenant is firmly upheld.  In this light, we should see the promises concerning the land as being fulfilled eschatologically: their total fulfillment will be in the new land at the center of the new earth, upon which the New Jerusalem will come down ‘out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2)".[35]

Go to Part III: Messianic Judaism and Christian Zionism


[1] Friedman, p. 92.

[2] NA 4.

[3] NA 4, LG 16.

[4] LG 9, AG 5.

[5] NA 4.

[6] Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate as quoted in Friedman, pp191-197.

[7] Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, II.10.

[8] Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, V

[9] The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, 36.

[10] CCC 674.

[11] Friedman, p. 114.

[12] See also Isa. 11:12, 14:1, 43:5-6, 49:12, Jer. 3:16-18, 31:10, Zeph 3:19, Zech. 2:6, 10:8-9, Ps. 147:2 for more prophecies regarding the return of Israel to the land

[13] NA 4.

[14] The Hebrew and Zionist Christian movements of the nineteenth century will be examined in part III.

[15] Herbstrith, Edith Stein, p. 119.

[16] Schoeman, Salvation is from the Jews, p. 161.

[17] Schoeman, p. 165, 169.

[18] Cyprian Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, p. 462.

[19] The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, 21.

[20] Sergio Minerbi, The Vatican and Zionism, p. xiii.

[21] Declaration of the French Episcopal Commission for Relations with Judaism, V.

[22] Flannery, as quoted in Friedman, Jewish Identity, p. 159.

[23] Flannery, p. 277.

[24] Friedman, p. 124.

[25] Flannery, p. 277.

[26] Flannery, p. 271.

[27] Friedman, p. 111.

[28] Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 54.

[29] Currie, Rapture, p. 144.

[30] Currie, op. cit, p. 440, see Zech. 11:10, 13-14.

[31] Currie, op. cit, pp. 432-433.

[32] Currie, p. 446.

[33] Ratzinger, God and the World, pp. 149-150.

[34] Currie, p. 366.

[35] Peter Hocken, The Glory and the Shame, pp. 145-146.