HAS THE CHURCH REPLACED ISRAEL?
Pastor Jannie Viljoen
Does the Bible really teach that the Church has replaced
Israel in God's plan for the ages? ……………………………………. 1
The Jews (Israel) will continue as a distinct entity, separate
From the Church ……………………………………………………………. 6
New Testament examples ………………………………………………. 6
Old Testament prophesies ……………………………………………. 10
The Promise of a Land …………………………………………………. 10
The dispersion of Israel out of her land and her ultimate
Restoration …………………………………………………………………. 11
Modern Israel in prophecy ……………………………………………. 16
The Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth and the Restored
Nation of Israel …………………………………………………………… 19
Will the Church establish God's Kingdom on earth? …….. 23
Bibliography ………………………………………………………………. 24
Does the Bible really teach that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plan for the ages?
This view, that the Church is the new "Israel," and that God had permanently finished with the Jews as a nation after they had rejected Christ as the Messiah, has become the predominant view of many in the church today. This is also called "Replacement Theology." Although this view has always prevailed mostly in the Reformed traditions in the past, it has never been a distinct teaching in evangelical Christianity until recently! As Reformed theology became more and more embedded and accepted in Evangelical Christianity, this idea, that the Church is a continuation of Israel, has gained much ground.
Why do I say that this teaching was never part of Evangelical Christianity until recently? To see the truth of this we have to look at the origin of this teaching. This teaching, that the church has replaced Israel, can first be found in the writings of one of the so-called "Church Fathers" by the name of Augustine, in the latter part of the fourth century. Why is this "church father" so significant in determining whether the teaching, that the Church has replaced Israel, is Scriptural? In the first place, Augustine can rightly be called the architect of the Roman Catholic Church with all its doctrinal errors!
"Sir Robert Anderson reminds us that the Roman [Catholic] Church was molded by Augustine into the form it has ever since maintained. Of all the errors that later centuries developed in the teachings of the church, scarcely one cannot be found in embryo in his writings. Those errors include infant baptism for regeneration, … purgatory, salvation in the church alone through its sacraments … Augustine also fathered acceptance of the Apocrypha, allegorical interpretation of the Bible (thus the creation account, the six days, and other details in Genesis are not necessary literal), and rejection of the literal personal reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years (we are now supposedly in the millennial reign of Christ with the church reigning and the devil presently bound)" [Emphasis added].(1)
In rejecting the Biblical physical millennial reign of Christ on earth, Augustine erroneously taught that it was the Church that would usher in the millennial reign. He taught that Christ would reign the world through the Church. (This is the same teaching being propagated today by the false Transformations Movement, Kingdom Now Theology, The Emerging Church, The New Prophets, and of course most Reformed churches). To justify this teaching, that the Church is now in the millennial reign of Christ, and is to rule and reign over the nations, and that the devil is now bound, it not only became necessary to replace Israel with the Church, but the promises God made to the Jewish nation also had to be "spiritualized" in order to apply them to the Church!
It is interesting to see that Replacement theologians take the promises God made to Israel and apply them to the Church, but the curses, which was often part and parcel of the same prophesy concerning Israel, are plainly ignored as if they never were given!
"If you go back to Deuteronomy27, 28, 29 in that section of blessing and cursing and ask yourself this, 'Were the blessings on Israel literal or figurative?' Well, it's easy to answer the question, because the blessings and the curses came in the same event, and if you ask the question, 'Were the curses given to Israel intended for Israel?' the answer is 'yes' because they all came to pass. So, if the curses all came to pass, literally, in the history of Israel, why would we split the hermeneutic and say the blessings were all intended for some nonexistent group of people (that is, the Church which only came into being in the New Testament), but not Israel"(2)[Explanations in brackets added].
It is not sound Biblical exegesis to take the blessings and apply them to the Church, but ignore the curses and apply them only to Israel!
"… those who identify the Church with Israel are only interested in claiming her blessings, while leaving Israel with the curses God pronounced upon her. Such an approach encounters two major problems: 1) Most of the blessings God gave Israel, by their very nature, could never apply to the Church; and 2) the curses and the blessings go together, so that the Church cannot claim the one without accepting the other also"(3)
Most, if not all Reformed churches, hold to this belief that Israel has been replaced by the Church. To understand this, we need to realize that the father of the Reformed movement, namely John Calvin, derived all of his theology from Augustine.
"The main features of Calvin's theology are found in the writings of St. Augustine to such an extent that many theologians regard Calvinism as a more fully developed form of Augustinianism … Calvin himself said: 'Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.'"(4)
We therefore conclude that Replacement Theology, which substitutes the Church for Israel, does not derive its teachings from Scripture, but were formed in the mind of a man called Augustine who were steeped in theological error and gave birth to the many false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In turn John Calvin, the father of Reformed theology, derived most of his teachings, according to his own words, from Augustine, and from whom he also inherited the error that Israel has been replaced by the Church.
The Jews (Israel) will continue as a distinct entity, separate from the Church.
When it comes to Biblical exegesis, it is a dangerous thing to "spiritualize" or "allegorize" scripture passages that clearly in its context do not justify such exegesis. To do so would open the scriptures to all sorts of erroneous teaching and false interpretations. It is therefore of utmost importance to say what the Word says!
First of all, there is no Scriptural evidence that the Church ever existed in the Old Testament! Yes, the promise of the Church is prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:10; 42:6), but only in the context of a "mystery" (Eph. 3:9). The Church only came into being after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ at Pentecost. The Church is called the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Therefore the Church is not a continuation of Judaism, nor is it to be identified with Israel.
New Testament examples:
The Apostle Paul makes a clear and ongoing distinction between Israel and the Church:
1 Cor. 10:12
"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God."
Here the Apostle Paul clearly distinguishes between Israel and the Church. This contrast was made well after the church had been established.
Galatians 2:7 - 9
"… when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised [the Gentiles] had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised [the Jews] was to Peter … they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised [the Jews]."
The Church was now well established, yet we find the Jews as a distinct entity in the plan of salvation.
Rom. 10:1; 11:11 - 12, 25 - 31
In the following Scripture passages, the Apostle Paul deals specifically with Israel, not only as a separate entity from the Church, but also with their future restoration to God as a nation!
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israelis that they may be saved" (10:1).
"I say then, have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not!" (11:11a). Here is one of the clearest Scripture passages that God had not finished with Israel as a nation!
"But through their [Israel's] fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles." (11:11b). Here it is clear that the Church is not a continuation of Israel, but rather a result of Israel's disobedience. And as we shall see in verses 25 - 31, Israel continues as a distinct people until their ultimate salvation.
"Now if their [Israel's] fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness [restoration]!" (11:12). Paul makes it clear that Israel is still in the future plan of God, separate from the Church!
"For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles [the Church] has come in. And so all Israel [as a nation and distinct from the Church] will be saved, as it is written:
'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob [that is, Israel - the Jews!] … (This is still future, for Israel has not yet accepted her Deliverer) … For this is My covenant with them [Israel - the Jews], When I take away their sins." (This is still future, for Israel has not yet repented from their unbelief).
"Concerning the gospel they [Israel - the Jews] are enemies for your [the Church's] sake, but concerning the election they [Israel - the Jews] are beloved for the sake of the fathers [God's covenant promises to Father Abraham concerning Israel]. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (11:25 - 29).
"For as you [the Gentiles who would make up the Church] were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Israel's] disobedience, even so these [Israel - the Jews] also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you [the Church] they [Israel - the Jews] also may obtain mercy" [in the future] (11:30 - 31).
These verses in Romans make it abundantly clear that there is a clear distinction between the Church and Israel, that Israel continues as an entity and a nation and that God will still deal with Israel as a separate nation of Jews in the future (More of that later). There is no other way to interpret these verses without doing harm to the clear meaning of the Word!
Old Testament prophesies concerning the promises of a land, Israel's eventual dispersion to all the nations, their eventual return to the land and the restoration of Israel as a distinct nation, separate from the Church, during the last days.
1. The promise of a land.
"The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' "
It is not possible to interpret the "land" here as pointing to heaven, as Replacement teaching does by referring to Hebrews 11:9 - 10, and replacing Abraham's literal offspring (the Jews) with spiritual offspring (the Church).
In this verse the Lord refers, not to "a" land, that can be interpreted in more than one way, but to something specific by using the demonstrative pronoun "this," land. The "land" to which God refers, is further qualified in Genesis 15: 18 -21 by physical borders:
"On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt, to the great river, the Euphrates …"
It is interesting to know that Israel has never in its history possessed all the land up to all the physical borders that God had promised them! Therefore this prophesied possession must still be in the future, otherwise God is not true to His word!
While some of the promises of blessings extended to all of Abraham's descendants (which would include his spiritual descendants - the Church), the promise of a physical land was limited only to Abraham's particular line of descendants, which included Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, and their descendants - the Jewish nation!
2. The dispersion of Israel out of her land and her ultimate restoration.
Because of her rebellion and sin, God punished Israel by bringing heathen nations against her and leading her away into captivity for a time. During all these banishments from her land, her captivity was never to more than one nation, the longest being her captivity to Babylon in about 605 B.C., which lasted for about 70 years.
In Jeremiah we find an interesting prophecy concerning a dispersion - not a captivity! Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find a dispersion of the Jewish people, only captivity. This prophecy therefore deals with an event after the Old Testament dispensation. This prophecy can only refer to the events at the final destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the following dispersion and persecutions thereafter.
"And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth - to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven [dispersed] them" (Jer. 29:18).
The only time in Israel's history that they were driven (that is, forced - not taken captive), to all the nations of the earth, was after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. And history shows that in all those nations where they found themselves, they were persecuted, put to the sword, [for example, Hitler's holocaust] and was seen as a curse in every society [many unjust things in the world were wrongly blamed on the Jews], just as the prophecy predicted!
Yet, not only have they kept their unique identity as Jews for almost 2000 years (No other people in all of history, that was assimilated into other nations, ever kept their own identity for so long), but also became united, against all odds, as a restored Jewish nation, with a restored pure Hebrew language, just as God's Word had prophesied!
"… the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, … and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it." (Deut. 30:3 - 5).
During 1948 the returning Jews became, for the first time in nearly 2000 years, a legitimate nation in Israel, being recognized by the United Nations. This constituting of a nation happened in one day! This was prophesied in Isaiah 66:8 -
"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 [Israel] was in labor, she gave birth to her children [the Jews]."
Not only was the new nation of Israel "born" in one day in 1948, they have also since restored the pure Hebrew language:
"For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language …"(Zeph. 3:9).
Another interesting Old Testament prophecy that can only apply to literal Israel and her restoration as a physical nation, and which has partially been fulfilled in our time with the complete fulfillment still future, is found in Ezekiel chapter 37:
"The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones … and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' So I answered, 'O Lord God, You know.' Again He said to me, 'Prophecy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord" (Verses 1 - 6).
Who are these bones? Could it be the Church? No! For verse 11 gives the answer! "… these bones are the whole house of Israel." Since the division of Israel into the Northern and Southern kingdoms, she has never been united even up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Yet God prophesied that they will be united into one nation in their own land: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land … they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again" (Verses 21 - 22).
It is impossible to spiritualize this to mean the Church! Only the physical nation of Israel was ever divided into two kingdoms! This prophecy of the dry bones speaks of the ultimate restoration of Israel as one physical nation of Jews in their own land after their dispersion to all the nations. During their dispersion and persecution amongst the nations they felt there was no hope and that all was lost: "They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' (Verse 11).
But then this amazing prophecy continues: "… and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling (Remember the sudden way Israel became a nation?), and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over (the restoration of Israel as a nation!); but there was no breath in them" (Verse 7 - 8) Although Israel is back in their promised land today, they are still in unbelief - no spiritual life!. But that will also change in the future: "I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live"(Verse 14).
This spiritual restoration of Israel in the end times is also prophesied by Zechariah:
"And I will pour on the house of David [that can only mean Israel!] and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem [the physical city, representing Israel] the Spirit of grace and supplication [that is the Holy Spirit!]; then they [the Jews] will look on Me [that is Jesus!] whom they [the Jews, not the Church!] pierced" (Zech. 12:10).
This prophecy is clear that it is Israel that now realizes that the One whom they had crucified (pierced) was indeed the true Messiah! This can only happen at the return of Christ - therefore Israel is back in her land when Christ returns!
"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him"[That is the Jewish nation who had given Christ over to be crucified - see Zech. 12:10 - 14] (Rev. 1:7).
Reformed and Replacement theologians say this happened when Christ came in judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The only problem with this idea is that Revelation, which contains this prophecy, was written about 20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.!
In line with the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:14, where God puts Spiritual life into the restored nation of Israel at the end, Zechariah confirms it in chapter 12:10 that, at the return of Christ, He will pour out His Spirit of grace upon Israel!
This can only happen if there is a nation of Israel at the return of Christ. We have also seen that this cannot be the Church, for it was not the Church that had Christ crucified!
Modern Israel in Prophecy.
Israel, as a nation, has been brought to, and kept, up till now, against all odds in her own land. God has promised to do this! He has also promised to keep her!
"And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zech. 12:3).
Jerusalem is today the main focus of world politics. She has indeed become a "heavy stone" for all peoples. She has become a thorn in the flesh of world government leaders who have been desperately trying to solve the Middle East problems. Even though she is a small nation, surrounded by a sea of hostile Muslim enemies, every nation, and even combined groups of nations, that had attacked her and tried to "heave her away," since her birth in 1948, have been defeated [cut in pieces]!
Israel is also the only country in the whole of the Middle East that is a democracy, have free elections, accept Arabs as full citizens [no Jew can be a citizen in any Arab or Muslim country!], allow freedom of religion and worship [no Muslim country allows freedom of religion], and have equal rights for women [In many Muslim countries woman have no political rights, cannot vote, are not allowed education, are not allowed to drive a car, etc.].
Yet, Israel is seen as having no right to exist as a nation. But the Bible is very clear, God gave her the right to exist! And He has promised to keep her right to the end, when He will divinely deliver her and also restore her to spiritual life!
"In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God … It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:8 - 9).
"Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations … And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two …" (Zech. 14:3 - 4).
The Mount of Olives is still there east of Jerusalem. It has never been split in two. This is still future. Armageddon, when the nations under the antichrist come up against physical Israel and the physical city of Jerusalem, is still in the future!
How shall God fight against all these nations that come up against Jerusalem?
"And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet. Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths" [Possible heat destruction as a result of nuclear explosions?] (Zech. 14:12).
At this final battle the Lord will return with the previously raptured saints, "Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You" (Zech. 14:5b),to set up His millennial reign on earth! "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Zech. 14:16).
The prophet Isaiah speaks of this time of the Millennial reign of Christ on earth:
"Now it shall come in the latter days [end times] that the mountain of the Lord's house [physical Jerusalem - not the Church] shall be established on the top of the mountains … and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord [physical Jerusalem], to the house of Jacob [the restored Temple]; He [Christ - not the Church] will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion [Israel] shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He [Christ] shall judge between the nations … They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:2 - 4).
This means that the Church is not now in the Millennium, or that the Church will usher in the Millennium. It is Christ Himself, at His return, who will usher in His Millennial reign on earth (Rev. 19:11 - 20:3).
The Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth and the Restored nation of Israel.
A very clear Old Testament prophecy concerning the physical Millennial reign of Christ with both Judah and Israel dwelling as a restored united nation at that time, is found in Jeremiah 23:5 - 8.
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a Branch of Righteousness…"(verse 5a).
Who is this Branch of Righteousness? Jeremiah's prophecy states that He will come from the lineage of David. In Luke's gospel we read that "Jesus Himself began His ministry at about 30 years of age, being … the son of David …" (Luke 3:23, 31). It is clear therefore that the Branch of Righteousness that is going to rule and reign during the Millennial is not the Church, but Jesus Christ Himself!
"A King shall reign and prosper…" (verse 5b).
The Church is never referred to as a "King." Scripture is clear that this is a title reserved for the Lord Jesus Christ: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Rev. 19:16). Also, in referring to this King in Jeremiah 23 verse 5b, He is called "The Lord our Righteousness," (verse 6b)- a clear indication that Jeremiah is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ!
"… and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth"(continuation of verse 5b)
The Bible is clear that this world is under the influence of Satan, also called "the wicked one." The Epistle of John, written long after the establishment of the Church in Acts, between 85 and 95 A.D., states clearly that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). 1 Peter 5:8, also written long after the establishment of the Church, at about 63-64 A.D., warns the Believers to "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." The Scriptures are therefore clear that the Church is not now in the Millennial reign of peace, and the Devil is not yet bound!
It is only when Christ returns after the Great Tribulation (Revelation 19:11 - 21), that He (not the Church) will "execute judgment and righteousness in the earth" (Jer. 23:5b). It is only at His return that "He Himself (Christ - not the Church)will rule them (the nations) with a rod of iron" (Rev. 19:15), will bind the Devil: "… that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Rev. 20:2), and bring about His thousand year reign of peace, "so that he (the Devil)should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished." (Rev. 20:3).
"In His days (that is during Christ's Millennial reign on earth) Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell safely …" (Jer.23:6a).
Since the split of Israel into a Northern Kingdom ("Israel") and Southern Kingdom (Judah) in the Old Testament times, these two Kingdoms have never been united again. But here the prophet Jeremiah speaks of both Judah and Israel who will be "saved" and "dwell safely" - and that this will happen in "His days," speaking of Christ! At the first coming of Christ Judah and "Israel was not united, or saved and did not dwell in safety - being under the cruel Roman yoke! This prophecy can thus only refer to the Millennial reign of Christ and the physical nation of Israel united in her own land. There is no other way to interpret that this is the nation of Israel, the physical Jewish descendants, and not the Church that the prophet has in mind here! This is further confirmed in the words of the prophet when he states that God will do this by bringing, "… the house of Israel from … all the countries where I had driven them. And they shall dwell in their own land." (Jer. 23:8). The Church has never had a land of her own, has never been scattered to all the nations and has never been brought back to own a land! The Church's destination is heaven!
Will the Church establish God's Kingdom on earth?
Instead of the Church taking over the world, as Dominion, Restoration, and Reformed teachers are telling us, the Word of God warns us of a great falling away from God and the truth of the Word (2 Tim. 3:1 - 5; 2 Pet. 3:3 - 17; 2 Thess. 2:3) and the church becoming luke-warm (Rev. 3:14 - 17).
The Word of God is clear concerning the end-times, that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … famines and pestilences … distress of nations … men's hearts failing them from fear in expectation of those things which are coming on the earth … for it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth … WATCH THEREFORE … THAT YOU MAY BE COUNTED WORTHY TO ESCAPE [in the Rapture] ALL THESE THINGS THAT WILL COME TO PASS AND TO STAND BEFORE THE SON OF MAN" [before Christ] (Luke 21).
The Christian is not encouraged to wait for heaven on earth, but rather to live soberly and to "… take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly" (Luke 21:34).
Jesus Himself said: "My kingdom is not of this world …" (John 18:36).
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him … And the world is passing away …" (1 John 2:15 - 17).
The Apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between those who live for this world and the things of this world "… that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction; whose god is their belly [that is, selfish ambitions], and whose glory is in their shame - who set their minds on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18,19), and those who truly belong to Christ, whose "… citizenship is in heaven, from which they also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …" (Phil. 3:20).
1. What Love Is This? Dave Hunt. The Berean Call, Bend, Origon, 2004. P.56, 57
2. John MacArthur - www.biblebb.com - 10/12/2010
3. When will Jesus Come? Dave Hunt. Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1993. P. 209
4. What Love Is This? Dave Hunt. The Berean Call, Bend, Oregon, 2004. P. 52