This article continues a new Prophecy Q/A series, where I do my best to answer questions from readers like you.
Have a question you would like answered? Email me here.
Q: Can the Church claim the promises that God gave to Israel?
The short answer is that Isaiah 60 is speaking specifically to the nation of Israel. So, those promises are for Israel and the Jewish people, particularly for the future time period of the Millennial Kingdom.
If we use a consistent literal, contextual, grammatical interpretation method, it becomes clear God has distinct (but connected) plans for Israel and the Church. We were grafted in (as it says in Romans) as part of the fulfillment of Genesis 12:1-3 that all the world would be blessed through Abraham. But God has distinct plans for each group and distinct promises and prophecies for each group.
The long answer is:
There are essentially two theological systems used in understanding that question: Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology.
Covenant Theology (sometimes called Reformed theology as it was the system used by early reformers such as Luther and Calvin) sees the Church as an extension of the Old Testament covenants (Abrahamic/Davidic). In other words, those who hold to Covenant Theology allegorize the Old Testament covenants as referring to all believers of all time, not just to the specific context of God’s plan for the Jewish people and the literal nation of Israel.
They also tend to allegorize prophecies about the end times, and most are Preterists (a view that teaches the events of Revelation were symbolically fulfilled in AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans).
In other words, Covenant Theology allegorizes Scripture relating to Israel, the Jewish people, and end-time events. The problem with this view (in my opinion) is that it uses two interpretation methods—literal and allegorical—and the decision when to use each method is subjective.
Dispensational Theology, on the other hand, uses a literal interpretation method throughout. So, when God or a prophet speaking for God gives prophecies specifically about Israel, we should (I believe) take this at face value.
I believe Scripture is clear that there are two distinct programs for Israel and the Church, which culminate beautifully in the end times.
All believers must accept Christ to be saved, but God still has unconditional promises to Israel (through the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1-3 and the David Covenant in 2 Samuel 7) that will be fulfilled in the future Millennial Kingdom.
Covenant theologians do not believe in a literal future Kingdom age. They think the current age is the Kingdom age. But there are too many specific prophecies about the Messiah literally ruling from Jerusalem during a time period when a Messianic descendent of David (Jesus) will literally rule from Jerusalem. We read about this all throughout the Old Testament and in Revelation 20:1-6.
Jeff and I cover this issue in depth in our book The Prophecy Pros’ Illustrated Guide to Tough Questions About the End Times.