Of all the places I have been — and I’ve been to a few — some of my favorite are located in the Middle East. The Sea of Galilee is a lot smaller than you might expect, but it’s amazing to stand on its shores. Megiddo, while it’s not as well-known, is a wonderful site that includes an ancient Israelite water tunnel you can actually walk through. But nothing compares to a visit to Jerusalem. It has history and poltiics, faith and tradition, all (like Galilee) in a remarkably small area.
All of which is to say: I love visiting Israel. I have been there twice, and both times were a delight. All throughout the Bible, the land and the location of Israel play an important role. And Jerusalem, from the days David conquered it, to the final pages of the Bible, plays a central role.
So, what are we to make of the land today? As Bible-based Christians, how are we to understand the land of Israel, and what happens there?
In short, let me say it this way: my hope is not in a place. Or a country. Or even an amazing city like Jerusalem. Our hope, instead, is for a New Jerusalem. God’s work is rooted in Israel; but it has also spread throughout the world. (For a good article that expands this theme, read this piece by Shane Scott in Public Discourse.)
Ultimately, God is at work, not in a land, but in people — in all who respond to his call to become a new creation. As Paul writes in Galatians 6.15-16: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything;what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” What counts is not being circumcised, or not; or having the right end times theology, or not; being a Zionist, or not; supporting Israeli politics, or not. No, what counts is becoming a new creation, through Jesus. For this, Paul says, rather remarkably, is what it means to be the New Israel.