THE RESURRECTION OF NATIONAL ISRAEL
The prophet Ezekiel foretold a special resurrection that will only include national Israel. In order to understand why there will be a special resurrection for national Israel, it is important to review some of the promises that God made to Abraham and the Israelites.
A Promise to Abraham
"That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your Seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in your Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed as a reward in that you have obeyed my voice" (Gen.22:17-18 Para.).
The promise to Abraham not only assured him multitudes of descendants but also that all the inhabitants of the world would be blessed through these descendants.
A Promise to National Israel
After God delivered the descendants of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai, he offered to make a covenant with them:
"And now if you will surely listen to my covenant, you shall become a special treasure to me above all the nations, for all the earth is mine. And you shall become a kingdom of priests for me, a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the sons of Israel. And Moses came and called the elders of the people. And he put all these words before them which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, All which the Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord" (Ex.19:5-8 Para.).
In Deuteronomy 28:1-13, God promised wealth, protection, health, happiness, and many other fantastic blessings to the Israelites for their obedience.
If the Israelites had performed their part of this covenant, God would not only have granted them enormous physical blessings but also spiritual salvation.
The Promise of Life
Immortality and eternal life were also offered to those who lived under the Old Covenant. But in order to obtain it, they had to fulfill the conditions of the covenant. Those who obeyed God deserved life because they kept their covenant agreement with God. A partial list of those who gained salvation under a covenant relationship with God is given in chapter eleven of the Book of Hebrews.
"You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in (by) them: I am the Lord" (Lev.18:5 KJV). See also Job 14:14-15; 1.Thes.4:13-15; Heb.11:33-40.
We know from history and the scriptures that national Israel failed to keep their part of the covenant, so God canceled the agreement with them by giving them a bill of divorcement through the written word of the prophets. See Isa.50:1; Jer.3:8-9.
Although national Israel failed to fulfill their agreement with God, they still had an opportunity for national greatness and salvation because of God's unconditional promise to Abraham. Because of these prior commitments to the patriarchs (2.Chron.6:14; Psa.89:34; Zech.2:10-12), God will continue to work with Israel until his purpose for mankind is completed:
"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be his own treasure out of all the people on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love on you or choose you because you were more in number than any people, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you, and because he kept the oath which he swore to your fathers, the Lord has caused you to go out with a strong hand, and redeemed you from the house of slaves, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Because of this, know that the Lord your God, is God, and who is a faithful God, keeps the covenant and mercy with those who love him, and with those who keep his commands, to a thousand generations" (Deut.7:6-9 Para.).
God Has Not Forsaken Israel
In his letter to the elect at Rome, the apostle Paul clearly explains that God has not forsaken Israel, but he has only set them aside for a short time in order to give the Gentiles an opportunity to have some of the promises given to national Israel.
Romans 11:1-27 Paraphrased
"I say then, Did God thrust away his people? Let it not be! For I am also an Israelite, out of Abraham's seed, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not thrust away his people whom he foreknew. Or did you not know what the scripture said in Elijah, how he pleaded with God against Israel, Saying, 'Lord, they killed the prophets, and they took down your alters; and only I am left; and they seek my soul.' But what does the Divine answer say to him, 'I reserved to myself seven thousand men who did not bow the knee to Baal'. So then, also in this present time a remnant according to election of grace has come into being, But if by grace, no longer is it of works; else grace no longer becomes grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; else work is no longer work" (vs.1-6).
The terms and conditions of salvation through the Covenant with Israel included stipulations for the performance of physical works for justification before God, but this all changed when Jesus became the supreme sacrifice for the sins of mankind. After his sacrifice, works could no longer secure salvation, because salvation had become a gift of grace under the New Covenant. See our study paper about the covenants.
"What then? What Israel seeks, this he did not obtain, but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened; even as it has been written, 'God gave to them a spirit of slumber, eyes not seeing and ears not hearing' until this day" (vs.7-8). See 2.Cor.3:13-18; 4:1-4.
Paul says that the majority of Israel obtained neither the blessings promised to Abraham nor salvation. However, those specifically selected by God (the election: Gr. 'ekloge') for salvation did obtain it (see verses 2-5), but the rest had become unresponsive to God. Therefore, they became unable to understand the way to salvation. See Mk.3:5; Rom.2:5; Ezk.3:7.
"I say then, Did not they stumble that they fall? Let it not be! But by their slipping away came salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy. But if their slipping away is the riches of the world, and their default the riches of the nations, how much more their fullness? For I speak to you, the nations [i.e., non-Israelitish nations], since I am the apostle of the nations. . .. I glorify my ministry, if somehow I may provoke to jealousy my flesh, and may save some of them. For if their casting away is the reconciliation of the world, what is their reception, except life from the dead?" (vs.11-15).
Paul further explains that national Israel's opportunity for national greatness and salvation is still a part of God's plan for humanity:
"Now if the first-fruit is holy, so also the lump. And if the root is holy, also the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and become a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you that bears the root, but the root bears you. You will then say, the branches were broken off that I might be grafted in" (vs.16-19).
Israel was the nation God chose to begin his redemptive work to the world and to be a righteous example of God's way of life that others could follow. Although Israel failed to be this example, they are still the nation that God will use after the return of Christ to be an example for humanity: See Deut.30:1-6; Isa.44:21; 51:2-3; 52:1-11; Jer.31:35-38; 32:36-42; 33:1-26.
"Well for unbelief they were broken off, And you stand by faith. Do not be high minded, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, lest he will not spare you either. Behold, then, the kindness and severity. But on you, kindness—if you continue in the kindness. Otherwise you will also be cut off. And those also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in. For God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the natural wild olive tree, and were against nature grafted into a good olive tree, how much more these being according to nature will be grafted into their own olive tree?" (vs.20-24).
The English word 'unbelief' in verse 20 is the Greek word 'apistia', which means 'unfaithfulness.' Israel was not temporarily set aside because they did not believe what God said; they were set aside because they were not obedient to his law and the covenant that they had made with him. See Hos.4:6; Joe.2:19-20; Psa.78:10, 36-37; Jer.18:15-17; Rom.1:21-22.
Everyone who has a covenant with God should take heed to honor their agreement and remain faithful to their word, or God will reject them as he did Israel. Verse 23 shows that the consequence of disobedience is the separation from God and the blessings and benefits of this relationship, but obedience brings acceptance:
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers—so that you may not be wise within yourselves—that hardness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the nations comes in; and so all Israel will be saved, even as it has been written, 'The deliverer will come out of Zion, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (vs.25-27).
The Covenant People
When reviewing the new covenant that God has promised Israel, it is important to remember that it is the contract made at Mount Sinai that is spoken of. Moreover, it is this contract with the nation of Israel that will be revised and codified.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 Paraphrased
"Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—which covenant of mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says the Lord" (vs.31-32).
Those with whom God made the original contract are all dead along with millions of their descendants who died without a new covenant. Israel of the original covenant is not a nation today; its descendants are scattered throughout the nations of the earth, which was prophesied by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. However, because the majority of the Israelites who have ever lived are dead, when will God make this new contract with them and their descendants?
"But this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, declares the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (v33).
Notice that the new contract will be made "after those days." The phrase "after those days" refers to an indefinite period of time after Christ returns as a conquering king. Before Christ's return, Israel, as a nation under the direction of God, does not exist, because most of the descendants of ancient Israel are scattered throughout the nations of the world.
Israel As Part Of The Rest Of The Dead
It is important to understand that the special resurrection of national Israel is included as the first part of the “rest of the dead.” “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished…” Rev. 20:5
This scripture tells us that all the “rest of the dead”, both Israelites and non-Israelites, are to be resurrected some time after the first thousand years of Christ’s reign on the earth, but this scripture does not state specifically when each group is resurrected nor exactly in what order each group is resurrected. See the study on “God’s Plan to a Thousand Generations.
THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
Ezekiel 37 contains the prophecy of the valley of dry bones, which pertains to racial Israelites who have died throughout the ages. They will be resurrected to physical life some time after the return of Christ in order to have their opportunity for salvation under the New Covenant:
"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. "And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O lord God, you know. Again he said to me, prophesy upon these bones, and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord" (vs.1-6 KJV).
These people will not be given a spirit body like those who participate in the first resurrection who will be made spirit-beings at Christ's coming (see 1.Cor.15:42-5); these people will be brought back to life as physical human beings (i.e., flesh and blood). See also Ezk.37:11 below.
"And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy son of man, and say to the wind, thus says the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army" (vs.8-10 KJV).
This pictures millions of humans who will be brought back to physical life in this great valley. God says these people are from the whole house of Israel—the combined houses of Israel and Judah:
"Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, our hope is lost: we are cut off from our parts" (v11 KJV).
Verse 11 shows that these people who will be resurrected are the whole house of Israel, which also includes the house of Judah. It is apparent that these are the millions of Israelites who have died over the centuries. They all died without hope because they did not have a covenant with God for salvation.
These people will include Israelites who were scattered throughout the nations of the world (most without even knowing they were of Israelite decent) and have lost their national identity as part of national Israel's punishment for disobedience to God:
"And the Lord says, because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, and have not walked in it; but have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart, and after Baals, which their fathers taught them; so the Lord of host, the God of Israel, says this: Behold, I will feed them, this people with wormwood, and make them to drink water of poison. I will scatter them among the nations which they have not known, nor their fathers. . ." (Jer.9:13-16 Para.). See also Jer.18:15-17; Ezk.12:1-15; Rev.8:10-11.
"Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel" (vs.12-13 KJV).
In verses 12 and 13, God speaks to the Israelites as a nation and as specific individuals when he says that he will bring them back to physical life. He calls them "my people"—a phrase that he only uses for the covenant people.
This scripture describes a people who do not know the God who brought their nation into existence and formed a covenant with them and their ancestors. The only logical reasons that these Israelites who will be resurrected do not know God is that they have either forgotten who he is or have never known who he is.
In order to understand why God said they will know him in verse 13, some of what the Bible records about Israel before, during, and after Christ's first coming must be researched.
The following two texts show that national Israel as a whole had forgotten God long before Jesus came as the Messiah:
"With strange gods they moved him to jealousy; and with idols they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they did not know, new ones who came lately; your fathers had not dreaded them. You forgot the Rock that brought you into being; and neglected God who formed you. And the Lord looked and despised because of the provocation of his sons and of his daughters. And he said, I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness" (Deut.32:16-20 KJV Para.).
"O generation, see the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of darkness? Why do my people say, We roam; we will come no more to You. Can a virgin forget her finery, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jer.2:31-32 Para.). See also Jer.3:21; 13:25; 18:15-17; 23:23-27; Ezk.22:12.
DURING CHRIST'S LIFETIME
"Then they said to him, Where is your father? Jesus answered, You neither know me nor my Father. If you had known me, then you also would have known my Father. . .. Jesus answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, whom you say is your God. And you have not known him; but I know him, and if I say that I do not know him, I shall be like you, a liar. But I know him, and keep his word" (Jn.8:19,54-55 Para ).
The Jews who lived in Jesus' time did not know God the Father nor did they recognize Jesus who was the Creator God. Here, we find a people devoid of the knowledge of God the Father and his Son, the Creator and Covenant God of Israel.
The history of Israel from its inception through its division into the ten tribes of the House of Israel and the House of Judah shows a rebellious people who do not have knowledge and faith of the true God. Since the time of Christ to this very day the majority of national Israel who are scattered throughout the nations still do not know their God.
But, there will come a day when the dead of Israel shall rise and know who God is and they will know what great blessings he has in store for them.
Sometime After Christ's Return
Both the prophets Hosea and Isaiah spoke of the great resurrection when the dead of Israel will be brought forth from their graves and have their opportunity for salvation:
"O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is in me. Where is your king? Where is any other who may save you in all your cities? And where are your judges of whom you said, Give to me a king and rulers? I give to you a king in my anger, and take him away in my fury. The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hidden. The pains of a woman in travail shall come to him; he is not a wise son; for he cannot stand still in the time of the breaking forth of sons. I will ransom them from the hand of Sheol; I will redeem them from death. O death where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your ruin? Repentance is hidden from my eyes" (Hos.13:9-14 Para.).
Hosea was inspired to speak of Israel—past, present, and future—and its destruction for national and personal sins. He spoke of the future when the elect of God will come forth to rule the earth and the dead will be brought out of their graves to an opportunity of redemption through Christ:
"The Lord stands up to plead his cause, and stands up to judge the peoples. The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and their kings. For you have eaten up the vineyard, the plunder of the poor is in your houses" (Isa.3:13-14 Para.).
"Thorns and briers shall spring upon the land of my people; even over all the houses of joy in the jubilant city, because the place is forsaken; mound and tower are instead of caves, until forever, a joy of wild asses; pasture for flocks; until the spirit is poured out on us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field; and the fruitful field is reckoned as a forest. Then justice shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness shall dwell in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the service of righteousness shall be quietness and hope forever. And my people shall live in a peaceful home, and in safe dwellings, and in secure resting places" (Isa.32:13-18 Para.).
"Israel is to be saved in the Lord with everlasting salvation. You shall not be ashamed nor disgraced to the forever of eternity" (Isa.45:17 Para.).
These scriptures show that God will resurrect the rebellious of Israel from their graves to give them an opportunity for salvation, not to destroy them.
Alive in the Promised Land
"And I shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then you shall know that I the Lord have spoken it and performed it, says the lord" (Ezk.37:14 Para).
This scripture shows that God will place the spirit of life that belongs to him (See Ecc.12:7; Ezk.18:4; Num.27:16) back into the physical body. The spirit that is placed into these bodies is the spirit of man (Jms.2:26), not the spirit of God, which makes one a spiritual son of God. The spirit of God is only given when a person believes God, repents of sin, and is baptized. These people obviously did not make these kinds of decisions in their first life, because if they had, they would not be included in this resurrection.
Into the Land
"And I shall place you in your own land . . ." (Ezk.37:14 Para).
This means that these millions of Israelites will be resurrected into the land that God originally gave to ancient Israel.
The land promised to Abraham lies between the Nile and Euphrates rivers. A very conservative estimate would allow a minimum of well over a million square miles of territory for this vast multitude to occupy. See Gen.13:14-17; 15:18; Ex.23:31; Deut.11:24; Ezk.chps. 47; 48.
There will be no doubt in any of these Israelite's minds who God is when they are resurrected and placed in the promised land; not just because they have been resurrected but also because Christ and the elect of God will be there to lead and teach them into all truth.
Is all of Israel to be Saved?
A scripture that is often used in an attempt to prove that all of Israel is predestined to be saved is Romans 11:26. Few understand it, yet if all preconceived ideas are put aside the meaning is clear:
"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom.11:26 Para.).
Because this scripture says that "all Israel shall be saved", many who believe a doctrine of predestination think that all Israel shall be saved regardless of their behavior. This surely seems to prove their point; however, after further research, it becomes apparent that this scripture does not say this at all.
Some Bible scholars say the Greek word 'pas', which is translated as 'all' in English, could also mean that not all of Israel will be saved, but the majority as a whole will be saved. However, the true meaning of this scripture is found in the original Greek translation.
The following is the correct translation according to the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by George Rickerberry: "So all Israel shall be saved according as it has been written . . .."
The key to understanding Romans 11:26 are the words "as it has been written", which refer to how God says we can obtain salvation. The intent of this scripture is not that all will be saved, but that the Israelites must all accept Christ as their savior to be saved
The overall plan of God for salvation has not changed from the foundation of the world. Part of this plan is that humans must come into conformity with his laws for physical and spiritual behavior. A fundamental teaching of both the Old and the New Testaments is that an individual must stop breaking the laws and precepts of God and obey him before God can bless that individual.
The Promise to the Apostles
On two different occasions Jesus promised that the twelve disciples would rule on the earth with him:
"Then answering, Peter said to him, Behold, we have left all things and followed you. what then shall happen to us? And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, You who have followed me; in the regeneration, when the Son of man sits on his throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt.19:27-28 Para.).
"You are those having continued with me in my trails. And I appoint a kingdom to you, as my Father appointed to me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Lk.22:28-30 Para.).
Four hundred years after the death of king David, the prophet Ezekiel also spoke of this same event. See Ezk.37:24-28.
The resurrection of National Israel will occur sometime after the return of Christ and the resurrection of the elect of God (Rev.20:4-6). And a considerable time after the Israelites who live through the great tribulation are brought to Palestine to reestablish the nation of Israel (Ezk.36:24-28).
In this futuretime of peace and prosperity, all the dead of Israel will be raised out of the dust to meet their God and be taught his laws, which lead to salvation and eternal life in the Family of God:
"And they shall no longer each man teach his neighbor, and each man his brother, saying, Know the Lord. For they shall all know me, from the least of them even to the greatest of them, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more" (Jer.31:34 Para.). See also Heb.8:7-10.
When Christ returns, he will fulfill the promise he made to ancient Israel when he was their covenant God, and Israel will again have an opportunity for national greatness, and an opportunity for salvation under the New Covenant:
"Remember these O Jacob, and Israel. For you are my servant, O Israel; you shall not forget me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud. Return to me, for I have redeemed you" (Isa.44:21-22 Para.).
"And my Servant David shall be king over them. And there shall be one Shepherd to all of them. And they shall walk in my judgments, and keep my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell on the land that I have given to my servant, to Jacob, there where your fathers dwelt in it. And they shall dwell on it, they and their sons, and the sons of their sons, forever. And my Servant David shall be a ruler to them forever. And I will cut a covenant of peace, and everlasting covenant it shall be with them, and multiply. And I will put my sanctuary in their midst forever. And my Tabernacle shall be with them. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the nations shall know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in their midst forever" (Ezk.37:24-28). See also Zech.12:8 10 and the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15-17 about the children killed by Herod, their return to the land of Israel, and their victory over death after Christ's return (v16;1Cor.15:24-28).