The Future of Israel, Early Christian Hermeneutics, and the Apocalypse of John -- By: Alexander Stewart

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:3 (Sep 2018)
Article: The Future of Israel, Early Christian Hermeneutics, and the Apocalypse of John
Author: Alexander Stewart

The Future of Israel, Early Christian Hermeneutics, and the Apocalypse of John

Alexander Stewart*

* Alexander Stewart is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of NT Language and Literature at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Badhoevedorp, The Netherlands. He can be reached at

Abstract: This study seeks to demonstrate that John did not interpret the OT promises to Israel as if they had to be fulfilled by ethnic or national Israel in the present or the future. He freely applied such promises to the community of God’s people in his time, which was made up of both Jew and Gentile, or to the new creation. For John, God’s promises to ethnic and national Israel were fulfilled by the community of both Jews and Gentiles brought into existence by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah. In the Apocalypse of John, there is no sense that the church (as some Gentile association or organization distinct from God’s people) had replaced Israel but that God’s renewed people, centered on her Messiah, welcomed Gentiles into Israel’s restoration which had begun and would after a period of tribulation culminate in eternal life in God’s new creation.

Key Words: Revelation, Apocalypse of John, hermeneutics, Israel, prophecy, eschatology

In the mid-twentieth century, the hermeneutical principle of literal interpretation was widely popularized by Charles C. Ryrie, J. Dwight Pentecost, and John F. Walvoord, among others.1 Robert Thomas’s support for a literal interpretation of Revelation in his two-volume commentary has been influential at the popular level.2 This literal hermeneutic insists that promises to ethnic Israel in the OT must be fulfilled by ethnic Israel in the future. Progressive dispensationalists recognize that a literal-spiritual hermeneutical dichotomy is too simplistic but still tend to favor a

literal hermeneutic in practice in regard to the future of national and ethnic Israel.3 All forms of dispensationalism are united by maintaining a distinction between Israel and the church.4

Arguments for holding to a literal future fulfillment of God’s promises to ethnic and national Israel are motivated by a desire to protect God’s integrity by fulfilling the promises as originally given.5 Craig Blaising draws attention to the performative force of ...

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