In his book ‘Coming Events and Present Duties’ (1867/1879), J.C. Ryle summarises his views on prophecy and presents a handful of sermons preached on various aspects of this subject.
Concerning the future of the Jews, Ryle states:-
Ryle develops this conviction in a sermon entitled ‘Scattered Israel to be Gathered’. Based on Jeremiah 31:10, this contains fairly standard teaching for a mid-19th-century Evangelical, and makes the following assertions:-
- The word ‘Israel’ carries only three meanings in Scripture: (a) it means Jacob; (b) it means the ten northern tribes (as distinct from Judah); (c) it means the entire Jewish nation. Ryle infers that it is a great mistake to apply promises and prophecies relating to Israel to the Christian church.
- The people of Israel are at present (i.e. in the mid-19th century) a scattered people. Their dispersion is a result of their sin and disobedience, not least in their rejection of their Messiah.
- The people of Israel, according to biblical prophecy, will be gathered and restored to their own land. This is the consistent testimony of the Old Testament prophets (see, for example, Isaiah 11:11f; Eze 37:21; Hos 1:11; 3:4f; Joel 3:20; Amos 9:14f; Obad 1:17; Mic 4:6f; Zeph 3:14-20; Zech 10:6-10; Jer 30:3). It is probable that Israel will be gathered at first in a unconverted state, and then, after much suffering, turn to Christ. Then shall be ushered in a new order of things, in which the conversion of the Jews will be the stimulus for the conversion of countless numbers of Gentiles.
It is incumbent upon Christians (a) to take a special interest in the Jews, and to pray fervently for them; (b) to remove obstacles in the way of the conversion of the Jews; (c) to use special efforts in order to promote the conversion of the Jews.
In conclusion, urges Ryle,
- let us remember the special blessing God has promised to those who care for Israel (Psa 122:6);
- let us never forget the close connection between israel’s gathering and Christ’s return to this earth (Psa 102:16);
- let each of us make sure of our own salvation.
I hold Ryle in very high esteem. I love his clarity, his forthrightness, and his commitment to gospel truth. With regard to his views on prophecy, I appreciate the fact that he insists that any large-scale coming of Jewish people to their Messiah will be by grace through faith. Nevertheless, I think that his teaching on the present subject is flawed.
Concerning the meaning of the word ‘Israel’, Scripture is clear that the true Israelite is one who is united to Christ through living faith in him (John 1:47; Rom. 9:6). Jewish and Gentile believers together constitute ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9).
Similarly, Paul (in Gal 3) is at pains to affirm that Christ is the seed of Abraham, and that those who are in Christ – both Jewish and Gentile believers – are likewise the children of Abraham. See also (Gal 4:28; Rom. 9:7-8; John 8:33-44; Matt. 3:9). Consider too how Paul identifies a Jew (Rom. 2:28-29) and how he explains true circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11).
The promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants becomes, in New Testament fulfilment, gloriously enlarged, such that believers inherit Christ, and all things in Christ (Rom. 4:13; Heb. 11:9-16). Our place of worship is the heavenly Jerusalem (John 4:21-24; Gal. 4:26-27; Heb. 12:22), of which we are citizens (Phil. 3:20). God dwells with his people not in a temple made with human hands, but in Christ through the incarnation and in the church by his Holy Spirit (John 1:14; 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22).
Of the OT passages cited by Ryle, two (Amos 9 and Hosea 1) are explicitly applied in the New Testament to the calling of the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-18; Rom 9:24-26; 1 Peter 2:10).
See Angus Stewart’s review of Ryle’s sermon.