It is a perilous thing to start taking God at His word. He tends to change one’s paradigms in most uncomfortable ways. When once we begin studying the Bible with the same amount of devotion with which we study our bank accounts, or the record of our favorite sports team, or the latest offerings from Hollywood, we find that what we have held to be true all our lives is often not quite so. Take, for example, the message of one of the world’s most cherished Christmas carols, Away in a Manger. For the most part this pleasant song is a wonderful hymn to our Savior Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) Who humbled Himself to become one of us. But then we come to the last lyric:
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care;
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there.
A very nice sentiment, but not biblically sound. The truth is that we are not going to heaven for all eternity. Whatever may happen between death and resurrection, it is most certain that humans do not inherit heaven. We inherit the earth. That was the promise and commission to our first ancestors when God said:
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 NKJV)
We have also this assertion from the Psalms:
The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; but the earth He has given to the children of men. (Psalm 115:16 NKJV)
And then we have these words from Yeshua Himself:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5 NKJV)
Where do we get this idea that the eternal home for God’s people is in heaven? Apparently from the fact that the saints of God become part of the Kingdom of Heaven (see Matthew 5:3, 10). But how can we become part of the Kingdom of Heaven if we do not live in heaven? Because Heaven comes to earth to dwell with us. That is the meaning of these words from the Apostle John:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:1-3 NKJV, emphasis added)
Let that concept soak into your consciousness for a moment. Consider how it shapes our understanding of God’s eternal plan. Does it help explain why there has been so much trouble and pain on this earth for all of recorded history? I hope so. If the Holy God of all the universe is to make His home right here on this insignificant little planet, He must make it a suitable dwelling. Moreover, He must make us, the inhabitants of His new home, suitable to attend His Presence. The Scriptures explain that process in some detail, but it is not the subject of this particular writing. What I would like to address is who exactly inherits the earth, and where precisely they will live.
This is where we get to another of those long-held misconceptions. The misunderstanding in question concerns the land and people of Israel. What we know for certain is that Messiah Yeshua will reign from the land of Israel, from the city of Jerusalem, both during His Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-4; Ezekiel 43:1-9; Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6) and in eternity when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Revelation 21). What gets muddled in our thinking is who exactly gets to live in Israel. To answer that we must examine Scripture and see to whom God promised to give the land. When we do that we learn a shocking truth: God did not promise the land of Israel exclusively to the Jews.
The promise concerns that particular land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea between the River of Egypt and the River Euphrates. According to Scripture, the Lord promised it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants forever. In other words, to the seed of Abraham, which God named Israel. The key passage is Genesis 15:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:1-21 NKJV, emphasis added)
The Lord later confirmed that eternal covenant, promising again to give the land to Abram, and changing his name to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-15). In the next generations, God renewed the covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5) and grandson Jacob, whom He renamed Israel (Genesis 28:10-15, 32:22-32, 35:9-15). Still later, the Lord renewed the covenant with the entire nation of Israel after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus19:3-6). Much later still, as judgment was coming upon the remnant of Israel for breaking that covenant, the Lord promised to renew the covenant once again. His exact words in this New, or Renewed, Covenant are:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know theLord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done,” says the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.” (Jeremiah 31:31-40 NKJV)
Did you notice a peculiar thing about all of those covenants? All of them apply to Abraham and his descendants, and since the time of Jacob those descendants have been called “Israel”. But did you see Jews mentioned in any of these covenantal passages? That is the peculiar thing.
I assure you that Jews are indeed in each of these covenants. Jews are very much of the seed of Abraham (Romans 9:3-4). In the Renewed Covenant they are identified as the “House of Judah”. However, Jews are not the only persons in this covenant. The Lord God makes His covenants with the entire nation of Israel, not just the Jews. In fact, when He renewed the covenant with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, the people who would eventually become the Jews constituted only about one-fifth of the thirteen tribes numbered in the first census of the people (Numbers 2:1-3:28). Specifically, they were the royal tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the priestly tribe of Levi. When the kingdom of Israel split into two parts after the reign of King Solomon, those three tribes became the Kingdom of Judah, so named after the ruling tribe (I Kings 12:21; II Chronicles 11:1, 13-15). The other ten tribes became known as the House of Israel, or House of Ephraim, because Ephraim, the ruling tribe, carried the name of Israel. That was the birthright inheritance passed from Jacob through his son Joseph to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:12-16).
Why, then, does the world suppose that Jews constitute the entire nation of Israel? One reason is because Jews are the only visible remnant of the nation of Israel still identifiable today. The greatest reason however, is because few people bother to read the entire Bible. If they did they would see that the name “Jew” does not even appear in Scripture until II Kings 25:25, after the final Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judah. Chronologically speaking, the first consistent use of the name is in the book of Jeremiah, again at the time of the Babylonian conquests, and almost 800 years after the death of Moses. This testimony of Scripture indicates a need to distinguish between these two parts of Israel. But who, then, are these other Israelites who are not Jews?
That answer is also clear in Scripture. Although the world has come to understand a distinction between Jew and Gentile, the Scriptural distinction is between Israel and the nations (Gentiles; or goyim (גֹּויִֽם) in Hebrew). God has made eternal covenants with Israel, but He has not made any covenants with the nations. Anyone who wants to enjoy eternal life in the Presence of the Lord must be part of Israel. Scripture abounds with promises to regather and restore all of Israel – both the Jews and the Ten Tribes – under the rulership of Messiah. Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel 47:13-48:35, and Revelation 7:1-8 are prominent among these abundant references promising to restore the entire nation, tribe by tribe, into the land. But what is perhaps the most exciting part is that this restoration will not be limited to physical descendants of Abraham. Just like in the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:38), a mixed multitude of peoples from every tribe and tongue and nation will be included in Israel and will become integrated into the tribes. These are the “companions” of the House of Judah and House of Israel mentioned in Ezekiel 37:15-20.
Where are these companions now? Many of them are Christians. Regardless what their ancestry, by virtue of their profession of faith in Messiah Yeshua, they are grafted into the nation of Israel. That is the unmistakable lesson of Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. When Paul writes about the “fullness of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:25, he is not necessarily discussing a certain number of people who will be saved, but the multitude of nations to be gathered into the House of Israel. In fact, that term “fullness of the Gentiles”, corresponds to the Hebrew term melo ha-goyim (מְלֹֽא הַגֹּויִֽם). That phrase appears in Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, when he says of them:
He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations. (Genesis 48:19 NKJV)
The understanding from this and related Scripture is that Ephraim, the birthright tribe which bears the name of the House of Israel, has the mission of gathering the nations (Gentiles) of the world and bringing them into the nation of Israel. They do this by bringing the testimony of salvation in Messiah Yeshua, and thus fulfilling the promise of God’s covenant with Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:13-29). Then, at the end of the age, Messiah will gather again all the tribes, joining Israel/Ephraim with Judah and restoring the whole nation to the land.
This brings us back to the question of the moment: who shall live in the land of Israel? Obviously the nation of Israel inherits the land, but who is Israel? Israel is those who have the testimony of Yeshua and keep the commandments of God (Revelation 12:17, 14:12). It is not just the Jews, and it is not just the Christians. In fact, it is none of them if they lack one of those two key elements. We are seeing the truth of this manifested before our eyes right now as Jews are awakening to the identity of Messiah and Christians are awakening to the eternal Torah of God. It will not be long before the realization dawns on us that we all have a place in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). There is no need to push the point at the moment. Our brethren of Judah have done just fine returning to the land and reestablishing the nation under the outstretched arm of the Lord. We of Ephraim have the obligation to help them as much as we can, not the least by continuing in prayer for Judah, and by living out the commandments (all of the commandments) of our King so that they recognize Him as Messiah (Romans 11:11-14). In time, though, we will need to come home, and then we will all have some adjustments to make. Isaiah explained this to us long ago when he wrote:
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. Your sons shall make haste; your destroyers and those who laid you waste shall go away from you. Lift up your eyes, look around and see; all these gather together and come to you. As I live,” says the Lord, “You shall surely clothe yourselves with them all as an ornament, and bind them on you as a bride does. For your waste and desolate places, and the land of your destruction, will even now be too small for the inhabitants; and those who swallowed you up will be far away. The children you will have, after you have lost the others, will say again in your ears, ‘The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell.’ Then you will say in your heart, ‘Who has begotten these for me, since I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? There I was, left alone; but these, where were they?’” (Isaiah 49:14-21 NKJV, emphasis added)
It is going to be a very interesting homecoming.