From the Book of Romans:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. [Rom 11:1]
There is an errant teaching within the body of Christ that the “church” has replaced Israel in God’s plan of salvation. It is taught that the LORD’s promises to Israel have been rescinded; that His covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is null and void; that YHWH has transferred His blessings to the “church”, and that the physical state of Israel is no longer in the will of God.
Consider what this means. Israel, then, has no rightful claim to the ancient land of Judea nor the capital city of Jerusalem. How would this affect the politics of the Middle East if it were true that Israel had no legitimate right to exist? If the land was ceded to the Palestinians would there have been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the greater war on terror, or even the attacks on 9/11?
Has the “church” replaced Israel, and is this what Replacement theologians teach?
Dispensationalists believe that Israel is front and center with regards to end times prophecy. They believe the “church” will be raptured before the Great Tribulation begins, and that God will turn His attention once again to the people, and land, of Israel. Jerusalem will be restored, and the temple rebuilt. The people will take possession of all the land promised to the physical seed of Abraham; and God will destroy Satan in one great battle of Armageddon.
As we’ve noted in previous articles the “church” did not teach dispensational theology until the 19th century when it was introduced by John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish evangelist. The doctrine of imminent return (see our post, The Return of Christ) had worn thin after so many centuries had passed with no visible sign of Messiah’s return.
The Millerites, Russellites, Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnessess sought to revive the doctrine of imminent return by focusing their teaching on the Second Coming of Christ. Charles Taze Russell, for example, taught that Jesus had returned invisibly in 1874.
Understand that Dispensationalists similarly believe the Replacement view that the people of Israel and the “church” are two distinct groups, but dispensationalism teaches that God will fulfill His promises to Israel after the “church” is raptured. One of these promises is the land promise given to Isaac and Jacob through Abraham. YHWH had ceded Israel a great inheritance from Arabia to Syria, from the Euphrates to the Nile and from the Eastern Desert to the Mediterranean Sea.
Today, they possess only a slice of the land given to them by YHWH, and are under intense political pressure to surrender even more of their territory in exchange for peace.
Popular theology, taught by pastors such as John Hagee, suggests that Israel, because of rebellion and captivity, never occupied their inheritance fully, but will do so in the end times. Thus, they see the birth of Israel (by U.N. proclamation in 1948) as a sign that God’s promise is coming to pass; and even take the following scripture out of context to prove their flawed eschatology:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near: So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. [Mt 24:32-34]
Some believe that the countdown to the last day began in 1948, and that the generation (genea) spoken of by Christ are the people who were alive at the time Israel was restored. Because the Psalmist suggests that a generation is 70-80 years (Ps 90:10) this means that the last day could occur as early as 2018. Of course, this reasoning is flawed because Jesus was speaking precisely to His generation who lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem.
With regards to Israel possessing the land we read in the Tanakh that the children of God did, in fact, possess the land:
So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. [Jos 21:43]
It is true that they never possessed Tyre and Sidon, nor completely dispossessed the pagans who dwelt there, nor destroyed the molten images and altars of false gods as the LORD commanded Moses (Num 33:51-53). YHWH warned Moshe that the inhabitants left remaining would be as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live (Num 33:55). That is so true even to this day.
If a father promises to his son the family car upon the son’s graduation, but the son does not take possession of the car, it does not alter in any way the father’s promise. We must understand, as well, that God’s covenant with Israel was conditioned upon their obedience and faithfulness. Their rebellion led to Israel’s captivity under Assyria, and Judah’s captivity by the Babylonians.
Even so during the reign of David, and his son Solomon, the kingdom did expand from the Euphrates River even to the land of the Philistines (what is today the Palestinian territory of Gaza), and as far as the border of Egypt (2Chr 9:26).
The catch is if we don’t see the fulfillment of Matthew 24 in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD) then we must project those things that were to happen in that generation (Mt 24:34) to a future generation much further out.
So the dispensationalists will look for signs of the resurrected earthly kingdom of Israel (1948), but ignore the very clear statement of our Lord that His kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36). Christ is sitting on the throne of David—not in Jerusalem—but in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
Paul asks a fundamental question, Did God reject His people? The Hebrew word used here means to cast off, or push away. The apostle reminded his readers of Elijah’s lament that he was the only man of God left alive:
He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” [1Ki 19:10]
The LORD reminded Elijah, as Paul reminds us, that He has always preserved a remnant of the seed of Abraham. In Elijah’s day they numbered only 7,000. If we consider that 100 billion people have been born since the beginning of time it is a wonder that any of us will be saved, but by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ we are born again.
Read and study Romans chapter 11 carefully and you will learn that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Rom 11:25). What does this mean? One Bible commentator said that it means until the abundance or the great multitude of the Gentiles shall be converted. We cannot even guesstimate what number that might be. The Pew Institute computes that there are 2.18 billion Christians in the world—about a third of the world’s 7 billion people. Does that number seem small? Yeshua said that only a few will walk the narrow path that leads to life:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. [Mt 7:13-14]
Sadly, not everyone sitting in a pew is going to heaven. Examine yourselves carefully for the train bound for glory can leave the station at any moment…in the twinkling of an eye (1Co 15:52).
The blindness of Israel has opened the door of redemption to the Gentiles who, by faith, are grafted into the olive tree which represents the spiritual, not physical, state of Israel. By their transgression, Paul writes, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make the descendants of Abraham jealous (Rom 11:11).
And who are the sons of Abraham?
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham (Gal 3:7).
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. [Ro 4:16]
Gentiles do not replace Abraham, but are his spiritual sons by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. But you who are grafted in must not boast, or be in any manner arrogant lest you, too, be broken off (Ro 11:17-21). This is a mystery, writes Paul, that by God’s grace all Israel (both Jew and Greek) will be saved.
To really understand this mystery we must disassociate the material promise of the Abrahamic covenant and recognize that God’s blessings were fulfilled in Jesus Christ so that Gentiles might receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:14).
Replacement theology is so-called by many dispensationalists who have popularly adopted a competing eschatology that was not even introduced until 18 centuries after Christ was crucified. The idea that the “church” has replaced Israel has somewhat anti-semitic overtones, and does not convey what is really upheld by Reformers, taught by Paul and confirmed by the Psalmist:
For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance. But judgment shall return to righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it. [Ps 94:14-15]
We are the inheritance, but not by the law for then it would no longer be a promise (Gal 3:18). And we are the righteousness that is given in faith through Christ Jesus (Ro 3:22). For now there is no distinction—and certainly no replacement—for we are all one in Messiah (Ro 10:12).
The Messianic revival that we see in Israel, and around the world, is a clear sign that the veil is slowly being lifted from their eyes, and the fullness of the Gentiles is nearly complete. Christ said He would not return until the people of Israel proclaimed, Baruch HaShem Adonai! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! [Mt 23:39]
Bottom line: Christ will not return until Israel receives Him as Lord and Savior.
Editor’s Note: Dispensationalists would have us believe in not just a Second, but also a Third Coming of our Lord. One pastor said recently that Jesus will come to rapture the church, and come again with the saints to judge the world. Some believe He came in 70 AD to judge Israel which simply begs the question: How many times will Christ return before the last day? It might be another 2000 years before He comes, but the elect are commanded to be ready as if He might return today. Time is short and the harvest is ripe. Contemplate this parable of our Lord to better understand:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. [Mt 25:1-13]