Retracing the Argument
Typology is at the heart of Progressive Covenantalism’s position that the land promises are fulfilled in the new earth for all of God’s people with no specific fulfillment for Israel in a particular land. In this view, the land of Israel is a type. The type gives way to the reality of the new earth.
Previous posts have noted two problems with Progressive Covenantalism’s typological reasoning. First, it is not accurate to say that the land of Israel is a type. It was only a type at certain points in history. Second, God promised the land to Israel and promises entail obligations. God must fulfill his promise to Israel.
In response to this second problem, Progressive Covenantalists would likely respond that Israel itself is a type that is fulfilled in Christ. Thus the promise is not fulfilled for national Israel but for Christ. This is dubious reasoning because of the nature of a promise. If someone promised us something and then fulfilled the promise for someone else, claiming that we were merely standing in as a symbol for the other person, we would rightly claim to be wronged. Second, even if Israel does play a typological role in Scripture, that role does not eliminate Israel as an entity for which the land promise can be fulfilled. Brent Parker observes: “[I]t is important to recognize that when a person or entity is identified as typological, this does not include every aspect of the person or entity. . . . Israel as an ethnic group is not a type” (“The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship,” in Progressive Covenantalism).
Thesis and Counter-thesis
The simple acknowledgement of that Israel as an ethnic group continues and could receive land in the eternal state is all that needs to be acknowledged for a rapprochement between my view and that of Progressive Covenantalism. We both agree that the land theme expands to encompass the entire new earth and all of God’s people. All I’m asking is for an acknowledgement that within this broader fulfillment of the theme the specific promises that God made will also be fulfilled.
Parker, however, resists this idea by rejecting the claim that national identities persist into eternity: “[A]though the language of ‘nations’ is employed in Revelation 21-22, such does not establish that separate national identities or entities will continue throughout the consummated state” (Ibid., 108).
The basis for Parker’s assertion that national identities cease in eternity is not clear. It may be that Parker is advocating the idea that the New Jerusalem is not a city but the people of God. Thus imagery of nations coming into the city indicates that the people of God is multiethnic.
If this is Parker’s line of reasoning, it is unconvincing for two reasons. First, if this is the point, why mention kings? Second, the New Jerusalem cannot be reduced to the people of God. Grant Osborne notes,
Yet while it is possible that John transformed the Jewish tradition of an end-time New Jerusalem into a symbol of the people themselves, that is not required by the text. In Deutsch’s study of the transformation of the images of this text, she concludes (1987: 124) that John chose this as a contrast to the evil city of Babylon the Great. . . . Babylon was both a people and a place, and that is the better answer here. It is a people in 21:9-10, when the angel shows John the New Jerusalem as ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ and in 21:13-14, when the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles are the gates and the foundations of the city. But it is a place in 21:3 where God ‘dwells’ with his people, in 21:7-8 where the readers either ‘inherit’ it or face the lake of fire, and in 21:24, 26 where the glory of the nations are brought into it. [Revelation, BECNT, 733.]
Nations in Biblical Theology
Parker’s view also suffers from a major theological flaw. It does not allow a major theme of the Scriptures to be consummated in the biblical storyline. Christopher J. H. Wright observes,
The nations of humanity preoccupy the biblical narrative from beginning to end. . . . The obvious reason for this is that the Bible is, of course, preoccupied with the relationship between God and humanity, and humanity exists in nations. And where the Bible focuses especially on the people of God, that people necessarily lives in history in the midst of the nations. “It is clear that ‘Israel as a light to the nations’ is no peripheral theme within the canonical process. The nations are the matrix of Israel’s life, the raison d’être of her very existence. [The Mission of God, 454, citing Christensen, “Nations,” ABD, 4:1037.]
Wright argues that the nations are part of the creation order: “[T]he Bible does not imply that ethnic or national diversity is in itself sinful or the product of the Fall . . . . Rather, nations are simply ‘there’ as a given part of the human race as God created it to be” (Ibid., 455-56). Paul affirms this in Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Wright holds that Paul is here drawing on Deut. 32:8; Ibid., 456). Wright concludes, “National distinctives, then, are part of the kaleidoscopic diversity of creation at the human level, analogous to the wonderful prodigality of biodiversity at every other level of God’s creation” (Ibid.).
Likewise, Daniel Strange argues the structure of Genesis 10-11 supports the claim that the diversity of nations is part of the creation order. The order of those chapters is not chronological. By placing the Babel event later, Genesis avoids the idea that the division into nations is itself a curse and confirms that the “scattering” was not merely a judgment but an enforced fulfillment of God’s command (and thus tied to blessing) (Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock, 124; cf. McKeown, Genesis, THOTC, 72; Mathews, Genesis, NAC, 1:467).
If nations are part of the creation order, it is also clear that nations have been affected by the Fall. And if nations are affected by the Fall, then they form a part of the creation order in need of redemption: “The mission of God is not merely the salvation if innumerable souls but specifically the healing of the nations” (Wright, 456). Thus in new creation one would expect to see nations, and this is what one does see in Scripture:
The inhabitants of the new creation are not portrayed as a homogenized mass or as a single global culture. Rather they will display the continuing glorious diversity of the human race through history: People of every tribe and language and people and nation will bring their wealth and their praises into the city of God (Rev 7:9; 21:24-26). The image we might prefer for the Bible’s portrait of the nations is not a melting put (in which all differences are blended together into a single alloy) but a salad bowl (in which all ingredients preserve their distinctive color, texture, and taste). The new creation will preserve the rich diversity of the original creation, but purged of the sin-laden effects of the Fall. [Ibid.]
The Abrahamic covenant itself would cause us to expect the salvation of the nations. Mathews observes,
The language of the call [of Abraham] evokes the Table of nations as the theological setting for its interpretation. In the Table’s refrain (10:5,20,31-32) are ‘lands’ (’arṣôt), ‘families’ (mišpĕḥôt), and ‘nations’ (gôyîm); also the table has the recurring verb yālad, translated ‘father of’ and ‘born; (10:8,13,15,21,24,25,26). These four terms appear in 12:1-3: ‘country’ (’ereṣ, v. 1), ‘peoples’ (mišpĕḥôt, v. 3), ‘nation’ (gôy, v. 2), and ‘people’ (mô;edet, v. 1), which is related to yālad. Although the call is directed to the individual Abraham, it is intended ultimately for the salvation of the world’s peoples. [Genesis, NAC, 2:105.]
If eternity is lived on a new earth, and if nations exist on the new earth, and if Israel is one of these nations, why would God not fulfill his specific promise to give Israel land? In fact, it would be odd for Israel to receive some other land or no land in such circumstances.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture: