David Pawson, in his book Defending Christian Zionism, asserts that there are not one or two, but five covenants in the Bible. They are: 1. Noahic, 2. Abrahamic, 3. Mosaic, 4. Davidic, and 5. Messianic. Pawson asserts, quite properly, that the New Testament only ever refers to the Mosaic covenant as ‘old’ and therefore replaced by the ‘new’ (Messianic) covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24). As Grudem explains (Systematic Theology, p521), ‘the Mosaic covenant was an administration of detailed written laws given for a time to restrain the sins of the people and to be a custodian to point people to Christ (Gal 3:19, 24).’
The Abrahamic covenant, however, with its promise of ‘the land’ (Gen 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 17:2-9), has never been annulled. It remains in force to this day and (according to Pawson) provides the Jewish people with a divine mandate to occupy their ancient homeland.
We can accept Pawson’s premise (that the covenant with Abraham has not been annulled or replaced) but not his conclusion (that today’s Israelites therefore have a divine right to the land).
Again, it’s about how the New Testament regards the Abrahamic covenant as having been (not annulled or replaced by, but) taken up into and fulfilled in the Messianic covenant (that is to say, in Christ).
The New Testament teaches that the Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled in Abraham’s ‘seed’, Christ, Lk 1:72-73; Jn 8:56; Gal 3:16, 29, and that those who are ‘in Christ’ are God’s ‘chosen people’, Col 3:11-12. God has one people, not two, and his people are the true children of Abraham – those who have faith in Christ, whether physically descended from Abraham or not.
The inheritance we (believing Jews and believing Gentiles together) share is not a piece of real estate, but something far greater. The land of Israel was ravaged by invading armies, defiled by lawlessness and idolatry, and drought-stricken through God’s judgement. But our inheritance, on the other hand, is sure. Peter (1 Pet 1:4) has to describe this inheritance in terms of what it is not, because the reality is beyond our comprehension. It is not a city, or a land, it is ‘salvation’, it is everything that God has for us.
Writing in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Gerard Van Groningen notes that many evangelical Christians teach that God promised the land to Abraham and his progeny unconditionally and as an eternal possession. They cite Deut 28 in support of this contention. According to Van Groningen, the following qualifications should be made (numbering added):-
- Moses emphatically stated that obedience was a basic requirement to inherit the land and to remain blessed possessors (Deut. 4:25–31; 28:15–68).
- the term translated “everlasting” is often translated correctly “for a long time,” “for ages.” The term cannot mean eternal, in the sense of never-ending, for at the Lord’s return at the end of time, the order of the renewed heavens and earth will be ushered in.
- God fulfilled his promises regarding the land and its extent at the time of David and Solomon (2 Sam. 8:1–4; 1 Chron. 18:1–13; 1 Kings 4:20–21; Ps. 72:8).
- the prophetic promise of a return to the land after the exile was fulfilled when a remnant returned (Ezra 2).
- the New Testament does not refer to Israel as a nation possessing the land forever; rather, it speaks of Abraham’s believing covenant offspring inheriting the world (Rom. 4:13).
It might be added that ‘the oft-cited but tendentious argument, that because the Land was given by God to the Jewish people in perpetuity therefore no portion may at any time be relinquished, is refuted by reference to Genesis 13:8-9 and the precedent created by Abraham when he traded land for peace with Lot and his family.’ (John Ross, Christian Zionism)