THE RETURN OF ISRAEL AS A NATION
Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God promised that, although he would scatter his people throughout the nations as a judgment for their sin because they had forsaken him, he would also regather them. There are an overwhelming number of verses, passages, and even whole chapters, dedicated to the return of the tribes of Israel to the land. Here are some of them.
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. – Isaiah 11:12
“Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 32:44
Therefore say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.” – Ezekiel 11:17
“I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered – with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath.” – Ezekiel 20:34
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob.” – Ezekiel 28:25
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” – Ezekiel 36:24
The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. – Psalm 147:2
One of the challenges regarding these passages is not whether they were fulfilled in 1948, but rather whether they were already fulfilled by Judah’s return from the First Diaspora—when Israel was scattered by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians. First, we’ve already established that prophecies can be fulfilled more than once. Second, Isaiah specifically mentioned that he would gather the remnant of Israel a second time, and that this time they would be gathered from the four quarters of the earth. Isaiah also mentioned several nations by name, all of which have had large Jewish populations returning to Israel. We are even told by Hosea that this final regathering is one of the principal signs of the last of the “last days.” He wrote that Israelites would be without a king or sacrifices or high priest (alluded to by the mention of the sacred stones and ephod), for a very long time, but afterwards, they would come trembling back. As we look back on history, this is exactly what happened.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. – Isaiah 11:11-12
For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days. – Hosea 3:4-5
ONE NATION UNDER ONE KING
Another distinguishing factor from the first regathering is that it was primarily made up of the tribes of Judah and Levi, whereas Ezekiel wrote that the regathering in the last days would include the whole house of Israel. The temple records were destroyed in AD 70, but DNA analysis and oral traditions passed down for generations indicate that the lost tribes of Israel have been returning. One can only speculate about whether representatives from every tribe have returned yet, but with Jews returning from all around the globe, even from places like India and Ethiopia, it is reasonable to suppose that they have.
As for you, O house of Israel, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you! But afterward you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols. For on my holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel, declares the Sover-eign LORD, there in the land the entire house of Israel will serve me, and there I will accept them. There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts, along with all your holy sacrifices. I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. – Ezekiel 20:39-42
Ezekiel later specifically prophesied that when Judah and Israel returned to the land, they would be joined together into one nation; never again to be divided into two different nations. Modernly, most Jews have lost confirmation of their tribal affiliations. The associated connections to specific geographic portions of land, by tribe, have also been totally lost. Consequently, there is no longer even a basis for dividing Israel into two kingdoms.
“Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:19-22
This also presents a good reason to question the wisdom of the so-called “Two-State Solution,” which aims to permanently divide the land of Israel between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians—when we consider that God said, “and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms…”
THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL DESPITE THEIR CORRUPT PRACTICES
Ezekiel also wrote that the Israelites would be returned to their land despite their “evil ways and corrupt practices.” According to a study conducted in 2009, almost half (46 percent) of Israeli Jews were secular. This means that although they might still participate in some of the religious festivals (like non-Christians, celebrating Christmas because it’s a cultural tradition), they were not observant Jews. They didn’t believe in the “World to Come” or the Messiah, either. Still, about 80 percent of all Jews said they believe that there is a God; however, only 40 percent said they observe religious practice meticulously or to a great extent. Any time God is not the primary object of worship in a person’s life, then there is an idol taking that place. Therefore, we can see that the first part of this prophecy is complete. Israel was restored to the land, even though they had not all returned to the Lord. Now we are waiting for the second part, when they will repent and loathe their former actions.
Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your fathers. There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled your-selves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, you people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 20:42-44
And as Ezekiel prophesied, God is overlooking their sin until he brings them to repentance. Paul affirms their future repentance in Romans, saying that God “will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” Godlessness is clearly seen in Israel today, where about half of the population would describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. In modern Israel, a relationship with God and the application of his Word is not a ruling factor in the lives of most of its citizens. To be fair, though, America is very similar, except substituting Christianity for Judaism, of course. In fact, secularism has been growing since the late nineteenth century, and it saw tremendous growth worldwide nearing the end of the twentieth century and following.
“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hard-ening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliv-erer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” – Romans 11:25-27
We need Christ to come back and turn godlessness away from not only Israel, but also the whole world. God has been waiting for the “full number of Gentiles” to come in, but he will not forget about his people. And that isn’t just a promise in the New Testament. Zechariah also prophesied that the Jews would return to God and receive Christ as the Messiah—the one they pierced. God’s spirit of grace and supplication will enable them to understand how Jesus fulfilled all the messianic scriptures. And when they do, their repentance and faith will also be a light and a sign for the Gentiles. The question is, “When will these things happen?” The Scriptures don’t tell us precisely, but the references to weeping and Megiddo in the last line suggests that we are talking about a time well into the tribulation. But praise God that many Jewish people have already come to know Jesus as Messiah. According to Jewish sources, using data from 2008, their best estimate was that at least 500,000 Jews already believed in Jesus.