Galatians 4 Shows That Isaiah 66 Is Not About Modern Israel


I grew up in a church where Christian Zionism and dispensationalist theology was (and still is) taught. In that setting, and in others, I was repeatedly taught that Bible prophecy was fulfilled when Israel became a nation in 1948. Furthermore, I was told, this event “restarted God’s prophetic time clock.” Two passages of Scripture allegedly foretold that event, Isaiah 66:7-9 and Matthew 24:32-33. In neither case does this ring true, and both passages carry an entirely different message.

Isaiah 66:5-13

Many believe that Isaiah was looking ahead about 2700 years to the political events of 1948 when he wrote the final portion of his book. They often point to verses 7-9 in particular, and insist that Isaiah foresaw the birth of national Israel “in one day.” Before looking at what this passage says, let’s consider Isaiah’s patterns and themes in the final eight chapters of his book:

  • Isaiah 59 concludes with a Messianic prophecy (“The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob…”). This prophecy, quoted in Romans 11:26-27, foretold Christ’s work on the cross as a sacrifice for sin.
  • Isaiah 60 is filled with prophetic decrees of the coming new covenant age (this present age), when the nations come to the light of the gospel.
  • Isaiah 61 contains a prophecy about the Lord’s anointed One and the good news, healing, and liberty He would bring; Jesus said this was fulfilled during His earthly ministry (see Luke 4:18-19).
  • Isaiah 65 speaks of new heavens and a new earth, in which sin, death, childbearing, and labor would continue (this makes sense if his prophecy is viewed as the establishment of the new covenant age rather than an overhaul of this planet and the galaxy). Our study on Matthew 24:35 discusses more fully the view that the Bible sometimes uses covenant language when speaking of “the heavens and the earth.”
  • From these and other examples in the final chapters of Isaiah, we see that Isaiah looks repeatedly to what we know were first century events. Let’s look now at Isaiah 66:5-13.

5 Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: “Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’ But they shall be ashamed.”  6 The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, who fully repays His enemies!  7 “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child.  8 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.  9 Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the Lord. “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God.  10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;  11 that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.”  12 For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees.  13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Verse 5: This is clearly the Lord’s comfort for those who would be persecuted, hated, and cast out for His sake. Albert Barnes (1834), John Gill (1763), and Matthew Henry (1710) all taught that Isaiah was referring to the first century when Jesus, the apostles, and the early church preached the gospel and were opposed by the religious leaders of Israel.

Verse 6: Noise and a voice are heard from the city and the temple, and the voice is the Lord’s as He repays His enemies. Who are His enemies here? The text doesn’t say, at least not explicitly. However, if verse 5 is about the religious (temple) authorities persecuting the followers of Christ, then they are the enemies being repaid here at the time of the temple’s downfall; and Matthew 23 and I Thessalonians 1 also foretell this event:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …you are sons of those who murdered the prophets… I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth… all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:29-36).

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Verses 7-8: Isaiah sees a woman, identified as Zion (verse 8), in labor. She delivers “a male child” (verse 7) and gives birth to “children” (verse 8). A nation is born “in one day” and “at once” (verse 8). Matthew Poole (1683) and John Gill (1763) are among those who taught that Isaiah foretold what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 Jews heard Peter preach the gospel and believed (Acts 2:41).

Verses 9-11: For those who love Jerusalem, this birthing is cause for rejoicing (verse 10). They are invited to “feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom” and to “drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”  (verse 11).

Verses 12-13: This woman is given “peace like a river,” and she is filled with “the glory of the Gentiles” (verse 12). [Interestingly, those who insist that this is a prophecy of Israel becoming a nation in 1948 are often fixated on the goal of “a Jewish state,” and sound as if they would be happy to see each and every non-Jew exiled from Israel. The Jerusalem Isaiah saw would be marked by the glory of Gentiles – of Gentiles finding salvation in Christ.] Those who feed from this woman would be carried on her sides and dandled on her knees. God would comfort them in Jerusalem as one is comforted by his own mother.

Where else does Scripture depict Jerusalem as the mother of God’s people? And which Jerusalem is that, the earthly one or the heavenly one?

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem ABOVE is free, which is THE MOTHER OF US ALL” (Galatians 4:24-26; see verses 21-31 for a fuller context).

In the next verse Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1, a passage which is parallel to Isaiah 66:

For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband’ (Galatians 4:27).

Observe how Paul goes on to interpret Isaiah 54:1.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:27-31).

Isaiah 66:8 is parallel to Isaiah 54:1, and it ought to be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from unfaithful Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the establishment of the new Jerusalem for the bride of Christ, and the dissolving of the old covenant in favor of the new covenant (which was established at the cross). This is the point of both Isaiah and Paul.

Matthew 24:32-33

Matthew 24:32-33 reads this way: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that He is near—at the doors!” In part 4 of our series on the Olivet Discourse, we noted that dispensationalists are fond of saying that the fig tree represents Israel, and that when Israel became a nation in 1948, the world’s final generation was unveiled. We also noted at least four problems with this view:

[1] When Paul speaks of Israel in his epistle to the Romans (11:17, 24), he uses the illustration of an olive tree, not a fig tree.

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus speaks of not only the fig tree, but “all the trees” (See Luke 21:29-31).

[3] Jesus does speak of a fig tree elsewhere in Matthew, but observe closely what He says about it: “In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’” (Matthew 21:18-19). In light of what Jesus said to that fig tree, one ought to think twice about what it means if national Israel is represented by the fig tree.

[4] In Matthew 24:34 Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” This certainly included the branches of the fig tree, so to speak, bringing forth leaves. James saw the signs and declared, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9; compare with Matt. 24:33).

Modern Israel is not in view in either of these passages which are so often cited as predicting the events of the mid-20th century. Some of those who thunder the loudest against what they call “replacement theology” have attempted to take Isaiah’s prophecy about the birth of the new covenant church, and make it about the (re-)birth of national Israel instead. Scripture interprets Scripture to demonstrate that, while God cast out earthly Jerusalem, He chose new Jerusalem to be the nurturing mother of the church. 

John Hagee and Benny Hinn: Warmongering for the Wrong Kingdom


For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Those who follow Christ are citizens of God’s kingdom. One of its characteristics, says Paul, is peace. This truth and others concerning God’s kingdom seem to be completely lost on some of today’s most popular teachers, as we will see shortly. According to Jesus, His kingdom is also not earthly or political, not even observable by the human eye:

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst [or ‘in you’]” (Luke 17:20-21).

John the Baptist and Jesus both preached the nearness of God’s kingdom during their time, repeatedly saying that this kingdom was “at hand” (e.g. Matthew 3:2, 4:17). In Mark 1:15, Jesus even prefaced His statement by saying “The time is fulfilled.” Did His assurance on this point reflect any time statements in the Old Testament regarding the kingdom? The writings of the prophet Daniel are most helpful in this regard. Daniel 7:13-14 pictures Jesus ascending to His Father and receiving an everlasting kingdom that would never be destroyed (“…behold with the clouds of heaven there came One like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom…”).

At this point, Daniel looks to a subsequent time when the saints would soon possess this kingdom forever (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). This would occur following a time when “the fourth beast” would make war with the saints “until the Ancient of Days came” (verses 21-22). Many say that this has not yet happened. We know, however, that Jesus promised to come [1] in His kingdom [2] in the glory of His Father [3] with His angels [4] and in judgment while some of His disciples (Matthew 16:27-28) and some people among His larger audience (Mark 8:34-9:1) were still alive, i.e. in the first century AD. This timing is further substantiated when we see that Jesus, in the Parable of the Tenants, told the religious leaders of Israel that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and “given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43-45), i.e. the Church, or in Daniel’s words, “the saints of the Most High.” This was to take place in their generation, as Jesus outlined in great detail in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21).

Yet another indication of this timing can be seen clearly earlier in the book of Daniel, when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: “And in the days of those kings* the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people” (Daniel 2:44). [*Biblical scholars hold a virtual consensus that the four kingdoms in Daniel’s vision were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Since Rome was destroyed in 476 AD, we know that, for this prophecy to be true, the kingdom was set up before that time.] A first century fulfillment fits; a 21st century fulfillment doesn’t.

So the meaning of all this is that God’s kingdom is now fully present (and has been for many centuries), it is spiritual and not physical, and one of its characteristics is peace. Similarly, God’s people now belong to Jerusalem, not the earthly one, but rather the heavenly one. Observe what the author of Hebrews wrote to his first century audience:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22). This truth does not await a future fulfillment, but again has been a present reality for the body of Christ for many centuries. An overview of Hebrews 12:18-28 equates the heavenly Jerusalem with [1] the new covenant (verse 24) and [2] a kingdom that cannot be shaken (verse 28), and contrasts it with the old covenant given through Moses at Mount Sinai (verses 18-21), represented by things that were about to be shaken and removed at that time (verses 26-27). This was accomplished during Israel’s great tribulation (67-70 AD), at which time God’s kingdom was also fully established and set up. This same comparing/contrasting of the two covenants (new and old), and the two Jerusalems (earthly and heavenly) can be seen in Paul’s great allegory of two women (Galatians 4:21-31). Most interestingly, two women are also pictured in the book of Revelation, [1] the adulterous harlot known as “Babylon the Great” and [2] the bride of Christ. One is thrown out, the other is chosen forever. The striking similarities between Galatians 4, Hebrews 12, and Revelation regarding the covenants, Jerusalem (above and below), and God’s kingdom are no coincidence.

The blessings of God belong to those who are His by faith in His Son Jesus, and not according to ethnicity, another truth lost on some of today’s most popular teachers who insist that ethnic Jews are God’s chosen people. Paul couldn’t have been more clear about this (e.g. Galatians 3:16-29).

Enter two of America’s most influential teachers and televangelists, John Hagee and Benny Hinn. In this incredibly sad and disgusting video clip, John Hagee, hosted by Benny Hinn, openly prays (see the 1:05 mark) for God to lead the United States into war against “the enemies of righteousness” (apparently Iran), for the alleged benefit of Israel:

Keeping in mind that peace is one of the traits of God’s kingdom, recall Jesus’ famous and powerful words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). PJ Miller well points out the excellent commentary on this verse by Albert Barnes (in 1834):

Those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war; who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits and hostilities in families and neighborhoods. Every man may do something of this; and no man is more like God than he who does it. There ought not to be unlawful and officious interference in that which is none of our business; but without any danger of acquiring this character, every man has many opportunities of reconciling opposing parties. Friends, neighbors, people of influence, lawyers, physicians, ministers of the gospel, may do much to promote peace. And it should be taken in hand in the beginning. “The beginning of strife,” says Solomon, “is like the letting out of water.”

I’m not sure if it’s possible to more blatantly contradict Jesus’ teaching on being peacemakers than what we see in this video. Furthermore, Iran should not be considered the enemy of God’s people who live in America or Britain. Yet, even if we could (hypothetically) say that Iran fills this role, we come face to face with these very powerful words of Jesus, also found in the Sermon on the Mount:

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Unless I’ve missed something in the news, how is Hagee so confident that the United States WILL go to war? He says this twice, at the 1:33 mark and again at the 1:55 mark in this video. The way he prayed this “prayer,” one would think he was a close presidential advisor equipped with key inside information that most don’t yet have. His use of the phrase “against the enemies of righteousness” implies that the whole of the United States is righteous and outsiders are not. The angels of heaven even allegedly go before the US army, and Britain’s army as well (2:00 mark).

Just as John Hagee seems to care nothing about the Christian Palestinian population (instead “favoring” mostly unbelieving Jews**), he also implicates the Christians in Iran with his warmongering schemes that would result in their demise, if he could have his way. According to some, Iran is quietly experiencing its greatest revival ever in terms of people coming to Christ:

John Hagee is warmongering instead of seeking peace, and he’s doing so for the wrong kingdom, one that is earthly instead of heavenly, visible instead of spiritual. The Christian Zionist movement he so openly represents is also deeply concerned with (in a distorted way) the wrong Jerusalem, again the earthly one instead of the heavenly one. My hope is that blatant displays of disobedience to God’s word like this will cause even more people to question and turn away from Christian Zionist theology.

John Hagee and others who hold to futurist, dispensationalist teachings tend to believe and proclaim that this generation is ripe for worldwide judgment, that we’re on the precipice of great doom and destruction and decline, that we’ll soon see the end of world history, etc. I believe this generation is pivotal for reasons that are quite the opposite. Many are awakening to the truth that God’s kingdom is already fully established, and that His people are called to advance it in peaceful and spiritually powerful ways. If this generation of God’s people turns away from the doomsday message of teachers like John Hagee, and instead embraces the truth of the New Testament and walks in the realities of the New Covenant established by Christ, great things can happen in the near future and in generations ahead of us. May it be.

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**John Hagee, who many might think deeply cares for Jews, raises millions of dollars to bring them to Israel, where, according to his teaching, two (2) out of every three (3) Jews will one day soon be slaughtered in a tribulation that is greater than anything the Jews experienced in 67-70 AD or during the Holocaust of the last century.