The following things have happened in the last week:

  • A terrorist plot to blow up ten U.S.-bound jets was foiled when authorities in the United Kingdom arrested 24 suspects. London's deputy police commissioner, Paul Stephenson, called it an attempt to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
  • The threat level on flights from the U.K. to the U.S. was raised to red, meaning there is a severe risk of terrorist attacks.
  • President Bush said that the foiled plot shows that "this nation is at war with Islamic fascists."
  • Israel announced plans to expand its ground offensive into southern Lebanon and then pulled back some troops, waiting to see if the United Nations can pass a ceasefire resolution.
  • Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that Israeli attacks had not weakened its rocket capabilities and its fighters would turn south Lebanon into a "graveyard" for the Israeli forces.
  • Lebanon announced plans to send 15,000 troops to patrol the region south of the Litani River, an area filled with Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops.
  • On Sunday Hezbollah launched its largest barrage of Katushya rockets on northern Israel, killing 12 IDF reservists in the town of Kfar Giladi.

Last October, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that "Israel must be wiped off the map." It is no surprise that former Israeli deputy defense minister retired Maj. Gen. Efraim Sneh says that war between Israel and Iran is "inevitable."

Does Israel have a future? Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? As storm clouds gather in the Middle East, the prospects for a lasting peace look increasingly dim. The events of the last 24 hours remind us that none of us are totally safe. Americans used to think that war happened "over there," on the other side of the world, far removed from our shores. But 9/11 burst our bubble of false security. Given the level of hostility and instability, it is perhaps easier to imagine that we are seeing the run-up to the events predicted for the last days before the return of Christ.

Does Israel have a future? That question has enormous implications for Christian theology that go far beyond the current crisis. In Romans 9-11 we come to the culmination of Paul's examination of the problem of Jewish unbelief in Jesus Christ. After looking at the issue from the standpoint of God's sovereignty (Romans 9) and Jewish unbelief (Romans 10), he considers whether or not God has a plan for Israel in the future (Romans 11). His conclusion must have seemed amazing to his first-century readers, for Paul foresees a time when "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25).

What does he mean? And how does that statement help us think biblically about the current crisis in the Middle East? Let's begin by dealing first with a very fundamental question:

What does the term "Israel" refer to in Romans 9-11?
Bible commentators have offered various answers to the question. Some have said that in Romans 9-11 the term "Israel" refers not to the Jewish people or to the nation of Israel, but to all the redeemed children of God in this age, both Jew and Gentile. Some have gone so far as to say that the church replaces Israel in God's plan so that there is no definite future for the Jewish people in God's plan. Others say that Israel refers to the Jewish people or to what we might call "ethnic Israel." So here is the issue put plainly. The term "Israel" refers either to...

Jews and Gentiles together in the church ("spiritual Israel"), OR
Jews alone ("ethnic Israel").

In his commentary on Romans, Charles Hodge offers a succinct discussion of these two main options, and offers eight reasons why the second option ("ethnic Israel") is the proper meaning of the text:

1) The context favors the reference to the Jewish people as a whole. 2) Paul argues that the Jews will be restored in the same sense that they were rejected. 3) Paul anticipates a vast event ("all Israel will be saved" v. 26) that that will be world-shaking its impact. 4) When Paul says, "I do not want you to be ignorant" (v. 25), he uses a phrase that introduces a truth that they had not previously known. 5) Paul even calls this truth of Israel's future conversion a "mystery" in verse 25. A "mystery" in the New Testament refers not to a secret, but to a truth once known only to God but now revealed to the world. The "mystery" can't be that individual Jews are coming to Christ because that's how the Christian movement started. 6) The term "all Israel" can't refer only to "spiritual Israel" because in verse 25 he clearly distinguishes between unbelieving Israel and the Gentiles who are coming to Christ in this age. 7) The "until" sets a definite time limit in the future for Israel's conversion. 8) The following verses require this interpretation: Isaiah 59:20, Isaiah 59:21, Isaiah 27:9, Zechariah 12:10-12, Zechariah 13:1.