Some people, who usually hold to a theological position known as dispensationalism, believe that the land of Israel does indeed have significance in the plans of God for the purpose of history, and in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Their main argument for this is appealing to a commonsense literal interpretation of the text. All throughout the Old Testament, the land is referred to, as it is originally in Genesis 12, as a literal land. It is promised that Israel will be sent into exile away from her land, which literally happened, and then it is promised that Israel will return from exile back to her land, which will have the Messiah come to reign from it over the nations of the earth. Furthermore, Jesus talks about the future of Jerusalem in a similar literal way in Luke 21:20-24. So there is no good reason to interpret it as anything other than literal.
Other people, who usually hold to a theological position known as covenantalism, hold that there is no longer any significance in the physical land of Israel today, as in the New Testament, the land of Israel is nearly always interpreted as a symbolic picture of Heaven to come. For example, in Hebrews 3-4, the writer tells us that the story of Israel’s failure to enter the land of Israel under Moses was a picture of our need to be sure that we will enter God’s “eternal rest”, which is Heaven. Furthermore, throughout Hebrews and also in Galatians 4, we are pointed to the “heavenly Jerusalem”, rather than an earthly one to look forward to. In Hebrews 11:16, we are told that Abraham himself would find the ultimate fulfillment of the promises of the land to be given to him in “a heavenly country”, not just an earthly one. This fits with the general theme found in the New Testament that “we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ in heavenly places” in contrast to the earthly promises of the Old Testament. Thus, it is suggested that just as the Old Testament system of sacrifice was a picture of the final sacrifice of Christ to come, the Old Testament language of the land is a picture of Heaven which we will enjoy Christ’s presence perfectly.
My position is that there is truth in both these views, and they can be united in a way which allows for the strong points of both positions to be expressed. This is by recognizing very simply that the Bible speaks of the future uniting of the earthly and heavenly land. This is a position held in a variety of midway theological positions, such as progressive dispensationalism, and historic premillienialism.
For example, we see this in the following passages. Isaiah 65:17-25 and 66:22-24 speaks of the future land of Israel as “new heavens and new earth”, yet this phrase in the New Testament is usually interpreted to refer to the eternal Heaven (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). Revelation 20, a description again of this new heaven and new earth is full of allusions to Isaiah 60, a passage describing the future land of Israel. We see the uniting of the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems explicitly described in Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2,10.
Rev 3:12- I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God;
Rev 21:2-3, 10- I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
What about the land of Israel today? Does it hold any significance? My position would give a qualified “yes”. It is not significant in its political influence and in the application of Old Testament religious ritual which take place there. However, it is significant as being the central home of God’s national people, the centre of God’s activities on earth in history and where we may well expect to see an ongoing revival amongst Jewish people take place as more Jews place their faith in Christ as their Messiah. For Jewish believers, it may take on a memorial significance, when believers like Paul (Acts 20:6, 16, 21:26, 24:17), celebrate their Jewish heritage and reflect on how Christ has brought the fulfillment of the ceremonies laid down in the Old Testament.
A related question is whether there is any significance in being Jew or Gentile today, but that question will have to wait for another post.