Inside View May/Jun 2018
Nowadays, trying to discern between truth and fake news is a full-time job. Such is also the case with the distinction between Israel and the church. I believe God’s Word clearly teaches Israel is not the church, and the church is not Israel. But many Christians do not see it that way.
They believe the church has superseded, or replaced, Old Testament Israel. This position is often referred to as Replacement Theology, and it dates back to the second century AD when the church grew exponentially and church leadership transitioned from being predominantly Jewish to Gentile.
Many Gentile church fathers began to resent the Jewish people, primarily because most refused to turn from Judaism to Christianity. After all, the fathers claimed, the AD 70 destruction of the Temple proved God had rejected the Jewish people for rejecting Jesus as their Messiah.
Soon church leaders began preaching that if God punished the Jewish people, the church should do likewise. They argued that God’s statement to Rebekah in Genesis 25:23 that her older son (Esau) would serve her younger (Jacob) meant the older Jewish people would serve the younger church.
Although we don’t see evidence that the apostles or the firsthand second-generation church leaders held to Replacement Theology, it eventually became a core church belief. Since they argue that the church replaces Israel, Replacement adherents conclude Israel has no future in God’s redemptive program.
Church theologians began to interpret the Scriptures that refer to Israel’s future as applying to the church, rather than to the Jewish people. Consequently, there is no need for a literal, future Millennial Kingdom on Earth—yet the Bible clearly speaks of such a time.
To solve this dilemma, church fathers began to view the references to a Millennial Kingdom as allegorical; that is, they will be fulfilled spiritually, not literally. They accepted past, fulfilled history as literal but argued that prophecy about the future was not literal.
I have always found it interesting that Replacement adherents believe the church, often called the “new” or “spiritual Israel,” supposedly inherits Israel’s promised blessings; but ethnic Israel keeps all of the covenant curses. In Old Testament days, God’s covenants with Israel contained both blessings and curses. If the church claims it has replaced Israel in the covenants, it must accept both. It cannot pick the good and leave the bad for the real Israel.
Recently some theologians have tried to put a softer spin on Replacement Theology, calling it Fulfillment Theology. The idea is the church is fulfilling everything God promised to accomplish through Israel. In the end, this is the same position as Replacement Theology.
The existence of the State of Israel is problematic for Replacement theologians because it aligns with God’s promises of a divine future and purpose for the Jewish people. Its existence makes no sense if God has replaced Israel with the church.
Anti-Semitism also makes no sense if God is finished with Israel. Why would Satan waste his time trying to annihilate the Jewish people if they are irrelevant? It seems Satan believes God has not rejected His Chosen People.
So is Replacement Theology true or fake? The answer can be found only in God’s Holy Word. It is not for us to choose whether Israel has a future; it is God alone who makes that choice. Either God has rejected Israel, or He has not. Both positions cannot be true.
In Jeremiah 31:35–36, God promises Israel will exist as long as the sun, moon, and stars exist. He also says, “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done” (v. 37). In other words, He will never cast off the Jewish people.
The church is important in this period of history and in the future. But the church is not Israel, and Israel is not the church. It’s good to remember that distinction because it speaks the truth of God’s Word.