All Israel, Part 5 – The Church and Israel

IV-The Church and Israel

We have concluded thus far in our study, based on an analysis of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church, there is absolutely no connection to be made between the Israel of God, and Israel purely of the flesh. It is also vital to understand that Paul was not referring to some future event when he penned these words “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 has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” (Rom. 11:26). Nor does Paul imply anything political in his quotation from Isaiah of the term “Zion,” as though that is what it meant. The Zion of God, both Old and New Testament, is the eschatological, spiritual ideal of His kingdom. It’s the place where the spiritual citizens of heaven reside. In short, Zion as the city of God has reference to the Christian church (Rom. 9:33; Heb. 12:22; I Pet. 2:6).

So everything Paul said in Romans’ chapter’s nine through eleven had as their aim, to make a distinction between the true and false people of God, in reference to Israel and the Old Testament. It is also clear that Pauls immediate concern, and therefore, the context of his remarks, was made concerning the application of this to the church in his day. It is also reasonable, we assert, to apply the teaching contained in the narrower context of verses 25-27 of chapter eleven, to the entire church, in the period between the first and the second advent of Christ. So, in that respect we suppose, there is something to say about it as applicable to the future, but only in that way. Concerning the present political state of Israel, Paul had nothing whatsoever to say in these words, or, any others for that matter. But that is certainly not the end of the subject for us as Christians in our present day and circumstance. This is because there is an Israel that now exists in our world as a political state. Therefore, following the general rules of biblical interpretation, joined with the consideration of a number of particular historical facts, we will endeavor to arrive at a proper Christian view of the matter.

A-Israel and the church

A distinction between Israel and the church is, the single most overriding concern for many Christians today when it comes to Scripture interpretation. This is, we think, what drives the whole issue concerning the meaning of the words “all Israel” for most Christians. Until about one hundred years or so ago in America, it was a non issue in the church. But that all changed due to the widespread acceptance of Dispensationalism among Christian Fundamentalists in the early part of the twentieth century. The rise of Fundamentalism, had its occasion from the devastating onslaught of theological Liberalism that engulfed the church, beginning in the middle of the previous century. Fundamentalism as a movement was both reactionary and reductionist at the same time. Desiring to preserve the historic church that was under attack by the Liberals, Fundamentalists grasped at Dispensationalism as a means of applying what was in their minds, a conservative, literal understanding of Scripture to the Christian faith. In the process of doing this however, they also introduced a fundamental change in the church’s overall thinking about itself in redemptive history.

Before the introduction of Dispensationalism to the American church, going back to the early days of church, nearly all Christians had a covenant view of salvation. There was little dispute, if any about this. Now, there have always been some differences of thought among Christians of how it, the covenant that is, is applied in the history of redemption. The main differences have their expression primarily in the three main interpretations people have had concerning the book of Revelation, chapter twenty on the millennial kingdom. The three main views which emerged from the reformation were either, the Premillenial, Postmillenial, or the Amillenial understanding of prophetic fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament.[1] There were other differences in covenant thought too. These were concerned more or less with the conditionality and extent of God’s covenant, and the extent of the kingdom in regard to civil government. But regarding the issue of Israel and the church, there was unified agreement among all Christians, that the promises of God have their fulfillment in the church.

Liberalism did untold damage to the church by its interpretation of the Bible, in that it corrupted all of its essential doctrines through Higher Critical analysis. This was the biblical hermeneutic of the Liberals. It borrowed on a particular theological discipline, which they perverted, called Biblical Theology, that originated in the seventeenth century.[2] This type of hermeneutic was developed out of a criticism against Reformed scholasticism, by Enlightenment skeptics in the eighteenth century.[3] It is not our aim here to examine the subject of Biblical Theology and all its particular issues. But we mention it in connection with our present subject, as foundational to what took place, concerning a transformation of thought in the church. Biblical Higher Critics did many things to Scripture, none of them any good. One thing they did was to view Scripture entirely according to its historical development. What we mean by this is, they, the critics, separated everything in Scripture according to historical dates and events, rather than by doctrinal categories. By doing this, they denied the essential unity of Scripture in the way they chose to interpret it.

Higher critics viewed the Bible as simply a collection of ancient documents, pieced together by many men, rather than an inspired document, revealing the mind of God. Through a process of literary analysis, they concluded there were numerous contributors to books that were historically ascribed to single authors. For instance, Higher Critics believed they saw more than one author in the book of Genesis. These different authors introduced several different theological traditions in the book. They called them redactors of the Bible narrative. What these redactors did, was to introduce contradictions that make the Bible inconsistent. The narratives are according to these critics, simply mythical in nature, in much the same way that Greek and Roman epics are. In rank unbelief, they denied the veracity of the Bible by denying its miracles. One such miracle they denied was the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus. One interpretation of it is, the Red Sea was actually called the reed Sea, due to it being a shallow pond that could easily be crossed over by foot. In other words, Israel’s redemption narrative, typical of Christ and His, was nothing but a myth designed to provide a religious basis for the nation of Israel.

Every important doctrine in Scripture was mishandled this way by the Higher Critics. This made Liberalism a distinct religion that was not Christian at all.[4] As this method of teaching spread from the Seminary to the pulpit, churches everywhere in America succumbed to its influence. There were many in the churches however, who saw through such perversions of the word, and resisted it. As the pernicious influence of Liberalism began to engulf the entire church, it became increasingly difficult for the faithful to find acceptable teaching and fellowship. Of special concern was the gospel itself, and its propagation throughout the world. There was a yearning among these folk for a return to essential biblical teaching in the church. For many who found themselves in this predicament, the only source of learning the Christian faith open to them was, simply to study the Bible on their own, and come to their own conclusions concerning its teaching.

Shortly after the turn of the century, a certain development occurred that served as a means to satisfy the sense of spiritual need many people had. This new development also served to provide a basis for resisting Liberalism. It came about through a grassroots movement within the organized church known as Fundamentalism. This new development came about largely through the introduction of a newly published Bible, one which contained a compendium of doctrinal information in its pages that reflected the essential teachings of Christianity. We refer here of course, to the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909.[5] With a Bible like this in hand, it acted as an orthodox commentary on the fundamentals of the faith, to the faithful who read it. The true Christian felt personally empowered, as well as spiritually energized by this, to take the gospel to a needy world. With this Bible in hand, Fundamentalism had in each member a foot soldier, who was able to undermine Liberalism, right where it lived.

There was a second consequence to this that came about from the widespread acceptance of the Scofield study Bible that served to transform the thinking of Christians within the movement. The Scofield Bible notes contained the Dispensational theology of J.N. Darby and his followers in the Plymouth Brethren movement that originated in England seventy five years earlier. The editor of this Bible, C. I. Scofield, purposefully adapted this theological system to his own peculiar ideas along the same line in his notes. So the Fundamentalists who read the Scofield Bible, with their desire of being spiritually liberated from theological Liberalism, ended up accepting this theology as though it were from Jesus and the apostles in the first century church. The amazing thing about this too, was most people were unaware of the source of this theology in the Scofield Bible. These notes, and the theology that accompanied it, were presented as though they conformed to Bible inspiration and infallibility. And that is exactly how they were received by people in the Fundamentalist movement.

So what took place in the Liberal Fundamental divide, was a shift away from the authority of the institutional church, toward the idea of individual authority. The Scofield Bible replaced it and made the individual Christian his own minister, in his own church, with his own Bible and theology. Most Christians who agree with Dispensationalism, to this day, know little or nothing of its origin or originator, J. N. Darby. In fact, there is a tendency among them to view the last two thousand years of church history and thought, in the light and context of Scofield and his notes. According to definition as presented by the Scofield Bible, Liberalism was seen to be an aberration, a departure from fundamental historic Christianity. And this was not only in matters of salvation, concerning the doctrine of God and Christ, but in Eschatological matters too. Whereas, the Liberals still maintained a covenant view[6] of redemptive history, Fundamentalists rejected it along with everything else that Liberals believed in and stood for.

This brings us to another aspect of the matter, as we move toward our own understanding of the transformation that took place back then between these two systems, Liberalism and Fundamentalism. Although Dispensationalism was a new and novel way of thinking that found its way into the American church at the beginning of the twentieth century, there was much about it that retained certain features of the Liberals. We refer to the earlier remarks in this essay about the influence of that discipline called Biblical Theology. Today, another term is often used for it, being that of the Historical Redemptive narrative. This is not to be confused with the theological term known as Redemptive History, though it sounds like the same thing. Redemptive history is simply the biblical account of God’s working in history, to bring about the establishment of a kingdom of redeemed people, through the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. Historical Redemptive Theology is something that is entirely different. It teaches there are different redemptive revelations associated with different epochal events in history.[7]

As novel an idea as Dispensationalism is, J. N. Darby was still a creature of his time, which was very much influenced by early Liberalism. We are referring to that form of Biblical Theology in his time, shared by the Higher Critics. Dispensationalism borrows from it some very basic thought patterns.[8] The best way to describe the Biblical Theology of nineteenth century Liberals, and the skeptics who preceded them, is this. Liberal Biblical Theology views redemptive history as something that is horizontally linear in terms of time, but vertically singular in terms of revelation. This is to say, history moves in a vertically linear fashion toward the kingdom ideal Liberals see as Christianity. But in history, there were numerous events connected to important Bible figures, in which their written narrative is recorded as revelation from God. Each one of these recorded events, along with the particular revelation associated with them, constitutes a vertical connection to God. At the same time, each one is disconnected from all the others. Any horizontal connection between them is incidental within the progression of time.

The Higher Criticism of the Liberals viewed these revelatory epochs as different theological traditions. For instance, they viewed each contributor to Scripture as presenting their own theology. There is a priestly theology that much of the Old Testament and Israel are based on. There is also a prophetic theology that the church is based on. These traditions are distinct and mutually exclusive of each other. There is a theology of Jesus as well as that of the other gospel writers. There is a theology of Paul, as well as that of the other apostles. And so, on and on it goes. Each one is entirely different from the other. There need not be any harmony in the Bible of each particular theology, from each contributor. The net result of this is to think of the Bible as a document of complete disunity and contradiction. There is no consistency to it because of its many authors, who have provided us with their own idea of redemption.

The Dispensational view of Bible history is very similar to that of the Higher Critics. Their thinking is the same in many ways, even though it purports to be in opposition to it. It is actually a reconstituted form of Higher Critical thinking. The Bible is divided between different theological traditions too. It is from this they arrive at one tradition for Israel, and one tradition for the church concerning the way of salvation. And it does this largely based on some of the very same reasons that Liberal Higher Critical thinking does the same. While Liberalism has a purely naturalistic view of the Bible, Dispensationalism has a purely supernaturalistic view of it, yet, each one is satisfied with having a logically disunified, disconnected explanation of its contents. Each one sees no necessity in Scripture for harmony, unity, or logic in how they interpret it. The publisher of the Scofield Bible, C.I. Scofield, wrote a book which describes what he sees in Scripture as its method of interpretation. The book is entitled, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, which he based on Paul’s words to Timothy of the man who is an able interpreter of Scripture (II Tim. 2:15).

The title of Scofield’s book says it all about Dispensationalism. It views Israel as utterly distinct from the church, not only from an ontological point of view, but from a historical, and ultimately a theological one. The Dispensational hermeneutic is one of extreme literalism. It severs the connection shown in Scripture by God, of everything that points toward Jesus Christ and the church. It uses language as a means of developing a theology, but not in a common sense manner. For instance, there is generally speaking, in every language, multiple words and phrases that can be used for the same objects or ideas. We understand this is not an absolute principle, but generally, it is true of most languages. We offer one amazing example of what Dispensationalists do to Scripture by their hermeneutical approach to interpretation. They view the two phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” as meaning two entirely different things.

They go even farther with this idea in what they think about salvation itself. We refer to a comment from the Scofield Bible on Revelation 14:6, which text reads “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth — to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.” What does Scofield have to say about the “everlasting gospel” in this verse? He says there are four different gospels revealed in Scripture, the Gospel of the kingdom, the Gospel of the grace of God, the everlasting Gospel, and what Paul refers to as “my Gospel.” These four different gospels are based on four different phrases that are used in the New Testament. To Scofield, this is a consistent use of language. But does the Scriptures teach there are four different gospel messages? The analogy of the Christian faith contained in the Bible shows otherwise. Paul, the apostle said “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:4-6).

This might sound like an amazing approach to interpretation by some, but it’s exactly what Dispensationalists do with Scripture. So when John the Baptist preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2), and Jesus preached “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14), they were talking about two different kingdoms, not the same one. And when this is applied to Israel and the church, we also end up with two entirely different kingdoms, one that is Christian, and the other that is Jewish. In all fairness to the Dispensationalists, they wanted to defend Scripture against Liberal attacks on doctrine. The Liberals denied clearly stated truth in the Bible, doctrines like the virgin birth, the substitutionary sacrifice, and the hypostatical union of Jesus’ two natures. Fundamental Christians viewed this sort of literalism as a defense of these doctrines. So the Scofield Reference Bible notes certainly did succeed in doing this for them.

It was in this intellectual climate that Covenant Theology became replaced in American Christianity by the literalism of Dispensational interpretation. And so the classical idea of Israel and the church changed with it as well. We can certainly see from these turn of events, how the current idea today has come about, that the state of Israel in the Middle East is somehow an eschatological reality apart from the Christian church. So when we turn our attention once again to Romans chapter eleven, and consider the words “all Israel” stated by the apostle Paul, we can see how it must mean to the Dispensationalist a physical Israel, over in the Middle East. When Paul presents what seems to be a contrast between “Israel” in verse 26, and “Gentiles” in verse 25, he must mean two entirely different kingdoms, with two entirely different gospels. One kingdom is Christian, and the other kingdom is Jewish. This is according to Scofield, consistent with the principle of rightly dividing the truth.

1-Displacement Theology

Christians have always had the arduous task of reconciling the Old and New Testaments together in light of the cross. This also is true of the Israel church distinction. Any new believer to the Christian faith, who has no prior teaching from the Bible, is immediately struck by the contrast displayed between the two Testaments. Of course, in reading the Bible, it should be obvious to all that the Jews were waiting for a Jewish Messiah. The Jew Jesus Christ appears in the New Testament, and though He understated His Messiahship in many ways, it is obvious too, that He is indeed the One to whom all prophecies pointed, the Savior of Israel (Luke 2:11). The Jews rejected Him by and large, but He was received by a larger community of people throughout the world, many more than just the Jewish people. Therefore, Jesus Christ has become known as the “Savior of the world,” and His followers are called “Christians” (John 4:42; Acts 11:26).

Beyond this however, there are a multitude of questions to be asked. And these questions are not often easily answered. For instance, what happened to Israel, why does it begin to fade from view in the New Testament? There is an entire shift of focus from Jews to Gentiles by the end of the book of Acts. Outside of the gospels and the book of Revelation, there seems to be little emphasis, if any on Israel. Another question is, why didn’t, then, and why haven’t since, there been very many Jews who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah? Everyone knows that devout Jews still await the coming of their messiah and his kingdom, so there is a need to find an answer to certain obvious questions like these. And not only an answer to these questions, but also, there is a need to find a solution to the circumstances of our day, in light of the Bible, as events unfold in the Middle East. It is against this backdrop, and the influence of Scofieldism that Christians today, tend to look at Romans chapter eleven, and draw certain conclusions.

Let’s take a look at Romans chapter eleven again. Paul asks and answers the question himself saying “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” (Verses 1,2a). Although it appeared to many in his day that Israel was left outside of the gospel blessing, Paul informs us it was not. Further down in the chapter however, Paul presents the contrast to us of Israel being cast away so that the world might be reconciled to God (verse 15). Paul explains this by drawing a picture for us of a tree which represents Israel (verse 16). He states that God has broken some of the branches off of this tree, and grafted new ones in (verse 17). So Israel is the main tree whose root remains, even though branches of it have been broken off. This tree is holy to the Lord. The Christian church made up of Gentile believers, is a tree with wild branches, that have been grafted into this first highly cultivated tree.

Further down, Paul continues with his analogy of the tree, stating the possibility of it undergoing more cultivation through branches being added or taken away (verses 21-24). So this is a tree that seems to undergo continuous change over time. It is a tree that seems to be in the process of development. Eventually, we get to the place where Paul brings it all together for us. The tree God planted, nurtured, and brought to maturity is a mysterious tree, but Paul is going to explain its purpose (verse 25). He answers our first question about what happened to Israel, by saying they were blinded, at least in part, so that Gentiles could come into a relationship with God through the gospel. But here is where the matter turns for us today in Pauls discourse. He says that “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Beginning with this statement “the fullness of the Gentiles,” Paul draws his conclusion of the matter in verse 26 about Israel, that “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.”

The imagery Paul presented here in this discourse leading up to his conclusion needs interpretation. This is where the presuppositions of the Dispensationalists lead them to their conclusion about present day Israel. Several presuppositions are actually imposed on this text in that interpretation. First, it is assumed that the words “until the fullness of the Gentiles” is referring to a specific length of time future to Paul’s day. The beginning of this time was the advent of the Christian church, the end of it is when God removes the blindness of the Jews to the gospel. Which brings us to the next supposition, that there is an absolute, literal difference being made here by Paul between Israel and the church. Even though the church is not even mentioned, it is assumed, the words “fullness of the Gentiles” means the church age. And lastly, therefore, the words “And so all Israel will be saved,” which follow the church age, must absolutely and literally be taken to mean the state of Israel and all Jewish people in the world, when this time ends.

It should be pointed out too, that not only is the church not mentioned in Paul’s words, but neither are the Jews. It is simply assumed that Israel means all Jewish people. And Dispensationalists are not the only ones to arrive at this interpretation. More than a hundred years of influence from the Scofield reference Bible, have lead the vast majority of Americans to come to a similar, if not the same conclusion. And these suppositions go even farther, and is what concern us here. Not only is Paul talking about all Jews when he says “All Israel,” and not only does he mean a literal state of Israel, but he is talking about the present state of Israel in the Middle East. This would make Paul’s words here prophetic in nature, rather than didactic. The emergence of a present nation state of Israel is supposed to follow this time of the Gentiles, or the Christian church.

What we have here in this list of presuppositions imposed upon Paul’s words in chapter eleven, is a theology of displacement. The church displaced Israel at the cross, and Israel will displace the church in the very near future. Present day Israel is the beginning of this fulfillment that will follow the fullness of the church age. There is however, one obvious problem to this theory. In Paul’s day, there were many Jews who were Christians. In fact, the beginning of the New Testament church recorded in Acts chapter two, was made up of mostly Jews. The rejection of Jesus by the Jews was only in part, as Paul said in verse 25. We simply point this out to show the reader what sort of extreme literalism is being imposed on this text, without taking into account everything in it. So there is actually a great deal of liberty being taken here in this interpretation.

The idea of displacement suggests to us there are certain implications concerning a Christian view of the church and Israel. The first thing it suggests is that when Jesus died and rose again, and the New Testament church followed, this was simply a postponement in the plan of God. The Jewish dream was and still is today, that Messiah will come and establish His rule on earth from Jerusalem, freeing them from all oppression by their enemies. This is exactly what Dispensationalists think is at work in all this. They believe they see Scripture clearly where the Jews were blinded. The unbelieving Jew simply doesn’t see things accurately like the Dispensationalist does. When that generation rejected Jesus, there was a postponement of God’s fulfillment to them of His kingdom. So all that is needed for them now is to have these blinders lifted. If all Jews around the world have migrated into the nation of Israel, all is in place for this to happen.

It also suggests to us that the church is far less important to God than the nation of Israel. Why do we say this, is this what the Dispensationalist teaches? The answer to that is an emphatic yes. They would not put it in those crass terms, but their teaching does assert that very thing. For God to leave off with Israel, only to come back to them at a future date, does most certainly minimize the importance of the Christian church. For one thing, the Messiah came and accomplished redemption, supposedly for the Jew first. This gave birth to the church named after its Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, Scripture is clear that Jesus’ death was for the redemption of those believing Jews under the Old Covenant (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). But the Scripture also declares Jesus is the end of the law to those who believe now (Rom. 10:4). This is what the Christian faith entails, reception of Jesus as the Messiah, who fulfilled the law’s requirement, and instituted a New Covenant church.

So exactly what are these people trying to say here anyway? If Jesus is the focal point of history, and the end of the law to those who believe, how is it Christians are to be displaced by Israel? The answer given to this is one of postponement. It is the idea that Israel was displaced by the church in postponement of what God originally purposed for them in Christ. The idea here is that the earthly kingdom of Israel is really what Jesus came to accomplish in His redemption. The problem for Him was those pesky Jews would not receive Him, therefore God shifted His attention to others in postponement of His plan. The Christian church is plan B then, instead of the main end in the eternal purpose of God. This is why God will come back to them, He’ll give it a try once more.

But of course, as Paul stated in his answer to the question he raised in chapter eleven “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” (Verse 2a). The key word here for the Dispensationalist is “foreknew.” Since God knows in advance what everyone will do according too free will, He knew Israel would reject Jesus.[9] So God postponed His main plan for a time, while He worked things out in the world, only to come back again at a more opportune time. God therefore, predicted through Paul there would be a reversal of events at a future time, because He knows what they will do this time, when they are given the opportunity to receive the Messiah, once again. So this makes the Christian church an after thought on the part of God, something to occupy His attention till He works out His prophetic will providentially on the world. The Christian church is a sort of parenthesis to this greater, grander scheme which God has for the world until the restoration of Israel. The modern state of Israel is fundamental to this plan, as it’s viewed as the resurrection of ancient Israel.

So the Dispensational system has this unique way of defining the Israel church distinction in relation to redemptive history. To them, Israel did not cease being the eschatological kingdom of God when Jesus came, it was merely displaced by the church, temporarily set aside for another time in history. This belief is that since Israel failed to recognize Jesus as their King, and rejected Him as their Savior, God has temporarily rejected Israel too. It’s as though God put His first and main concern away for a time, in order to concentrate on another one for a while. And now, in the twentieth and twenty first century, Israel as a nation is re emerging in the importance of Gods dealing with men on earth. This would explain then all of the trouble in the world surrounding present day Israel. That is the place of God’s interest. And not only now, but also in the future to a much greater degree. So all attention in the world, and of the Christian, should focus on them there.

2-Replacement Theology

Indeed, all the worlds’ attention is focused on Israel today. Its focus is on the never-ending conflicts that surround its relationship to its neighbors in the Middle East. And America seems to be inextricably drawn into its affairs from a geopolitical point of view. This reality provides a great deal of opportunity for Dispensationalists, who are always busy in trying to define current political events in light this situation. So it is no mere passing fancy to explore the exact meaning intended by the apostle Paul, when he writes about “all Israel,” in a context which appears, at least on the surface to have eschatological implications. And it is more important than ever then, for the Christian to understand exactly what the overall analogy of the Bible is, and has to say about this, and all other related issues on the subject of Israel and the church. We remind the reader here, that Dispensationalism is but two hundred years old in the making, compared to the covenant view, which is two thousand. Is the idea of an Israel church distinction, and of the temporary displacement of one by another introduced by the Dispensationalists then, a progress in theological understanding? We think not, but let us, for this reason, look into the matter more fully.

If the apostle Paul, in keeping with a Dispensational view of history and prophecy, does teach a displacement theology, how does this square with the historic covenant view? Most of the Christian church has always viewed the matter as one of progressive development, rather than the displacement of one entity with another. In other words, in the history and development of redemption, Israel in due time became the Christian church. This transformation occurred through the fulfillment of Jesus Christ, both in His person and work, of all the promises and types of the Old Testament. In so doing, the implication is that God has made the church sort of an organizational replacement for Israel. In other words, the church is now the primary focus of God’s covenant purpose in the world. So there is nothing beyond this in terms of whatever future activity there is to come from God concerning His kingdom. It also implies that all of the promises, and intended blessings of God given in the Old Testament, are the sole possession of the Christian church, and therefore, will never be handed back (II Cor. 1:20; Heb. 8:6).

But this idea has led many within reformed circles to view Israel as the church, and the church as Israel, without much, if any, distinction between them. This has especially been the case in matters of state enforced moral obligations, such as existed under Moses in the ancient kingdom of Israel. Dispensationalists are quick to accuse those who do not accept their Israel church division, as holding to a sort of replacement theology, as though there is a one to one parallel between them. They accuse the covenant view of history of obliterating clearly articulated distinctions in the Bible. Even though they do this, based solely on the use of terminology, as we have already pointed out, still their complaint does have some validity to it. Dispensationalists hold when the Bible says Israel, it must refer to the nation of Israel at all times. When the Bible says church, it must refer to the Christian church at all times. There can never be any crossover of one entity to another. To say that Israel and the church are identical at all times certainly does seem to obliterate the possibility of any distinction.

a.  Rejection of that generation and its leaders

In spite of what seems to be an obvious problem for Covenant Theology, as is believed by some, Scripture does in some respect appear to lend itself to the idea of replacement. Covenant theology points to a large body of teaching, both in the Old and the New Testament, to support this notion. And nowhere in the New Testament is this more prevalent than in Jesus’ teaching to His disciples.[10] His application of the Old Testament, sets before us a profound difference between the Jewish dreams of His day, and the eschatological realities of God’s kingdom as they are found in the Christian church. Jesus constantly sounded the theme of rejection and replacement to His hearers. The religious leaders of Israel taught the people their own doctrines and traditions, rather than Gods word (Matt. 15:8,9). So when Jesus rebuked them in His public teaching for it, they were offended (verse 12). When the disciples came to Jesus with the report “He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” (Verse 13). The imagery Jesus used here for rejecting Israel’s leaders is both extreme and informative.

Jesus draws the plant analogy from Isaiah, where it is said of Israel that they are “His vineyard” (Is. 5:1). In the Isaiah passage God calls on Judah to judge between Him and His work among them (verse 3). God has done everything necessary to bring forth from it “good grapes” (verse 4). Instead, all He got from it were “wild grapes.” Hear what God said He will do. “And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.” (Verses 5,6). It is interesting to note, where Paul refers to Israel as a tree whose branches are broken from it, Gods says in Isaiah He will destroy the tree. And where Paul says Israel is a natural branch, he also says the Gentile is a wild branch to be engrafted.

Now bring this all back to Jesus talking about the Pharisees and that generation of Israel. He says “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” (Matt. 15:13). So, there is a tree called Israel, which God intended to destroy. And the tree God destroys, is not really of His planting. So what has happened in this analogy of the tree, where Jesus alludes to what was said by Isaiah previously? The suggestion Jesus makes are that Israel is not God’s tree anymore. God will plant a new tree made of people that “shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified.” (Is. 60:21). “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Is. 61:3). There appears to be a true and a false Israel, one of Gods planting, and one of His uprooting. Clearly though, one replaces the other in God’s purpose.

Since Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, it is hard to make any other argument than He was talking about the church, made up of those who believe in Him, unlike those unbelieving Jews. Further on in His ministry, Jesus came to the place of predicting the destruction of Jerusalem as vengeance from God on that generation. But He spoke of that vengeance as a time of fulfillment to His disciples (Luke 21:22). In other words, there was a finality to it concerning Israel. When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, there was a complete cutting off of these people from covenant blessing. By then, the Christian church was well established in the world. The only access anyone had to the covenant was in Jesus, by association with the church. The question is, was Paul backtracking on this theme when he presented his analogy of a single tree, or is it to be understood differently than the displacement theologians teach?

In fact, Jesus spoke of Gods rejection of Israel in the gospels, making allusion to three different predictions of disaster for Israel from the prophets. Based on Jesus’ words, these disasters all appear to be a foreshadowing of one great judgment to come on Israel, for their sin of rejecting Him as the Messiah. In the first instance, Jesus alluded to Hosea’s proclamation of Israel’s coming destruction in 722 BC, as an actual prediction of what was to happen in 70 AD (Luke 23:28-30; Hos. 10:6-9). In the second instance, Jesus pointed to Jeremiah’s vision of Israel’s desolation in 587 BC, in reference to God’s judgement which was about to come on them (Matt. 23:38; Jer. 22:5, 12:7). In the third instance, Jesus applies Daniels’ prediction of the temple desecration that took place in 167 BC, to something that would precede the complete end of the temple sacrifices in Jerusalem (Mark 13:14; Dan. 11:31, 12:11). Jesus brings all of these prophecies and the events that fulfilled them before His coming, together as one final disaster upon Israel (Luke 21:24). And He ties them together as fulfillment of Daniels vision recorded in chapter eight of his book (Dan. 8:13).

This is very instructive of the way in which God has constructed Bible history. The Old Testament is historical and eventful concerning the establishment of the kingdom. But it is also typical of the final product, if we can use such a word. We see in Scripture a repetitious pattern of God’s activity in blessing, warning, judgement and fulfillment. There are many instances where there is a temporal fulfillment of a prophecy that occurs, but it is in substance less than the predicted ideal. A good example of this is in the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra’s day. This would, for all intents and purposes, appear to be the fulfillment of a prophecy (Hag. 1:1,2). Yet, it could not really be the fulfillment, for it did not exceed the former glory of the previous one, though the prophetic expectation of it required it to be so (Hag. 2:3). In fact, it was far less than the previous temple, as recorded by Ezra (Ez. 3:12,13). That temple was not only diminished in terms of its foundation, it was missing the Shekinah glory in the sanctuary, the visible symbol of God’s presence with Israel.

When we come to the gospel narratives, and the words recorded by the writers for us there, suddenly we see a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies being spoken of as either, present, or, as future. So the pattern God presents to us in Scripture of His ways are, one of both temporal and spiritual fulfillment of these four things blessing, warning, judgement and fulfillment. The many temporal judgements on Israel before Jesus came in the flesh were all anticipatory of one final event. According to Jesus, the temple rebuilt by Ezra is destroyed again, along with Jerusalem, expanding on this theme of type and anti type. The actual fulfillment of covenant blessing was designed for another, spiritual people which replaced Israel in substance. This explains how Jesus applied the words of the prophets to them. They were to end as a type of something far greater to come.

In keeping with this theme of national disaster and replacement, Jesus used astronomical metaphors to illustrate the nature of the cataclysmic change that was about to come upon Israel and the world. Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem as something that coincided with certain cosmic disturbances (Mark 13:24,25). His words appear to be taken from Isaiah’s prophecy of judgement to the nations, beginning in chapter thirteen. Jesus took God’s final judgement on the world, termed “the day of the LORD,” and applied it to Israel (Is. 13:9-11). In other words, the nation of Israel is a partaker of this final judgement. This is incredible, because Isaiah seems to be predicting the end of the world in his prophecy by this language (Is. 34:4). The world didn’t end when Jesus came the first time, nor did it come to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem. So the substance of these words presents something far more comprehensive than just the end of the world. It depicts catastrophic change in the world, one which will end with a final destruction, and the final appearance of God’s kingdom.

Jesus taught the disciples through parables how they were to understand His Messianic kingdom. First of all, the message of the parables present a completely different view of the kingdom than any Jew would have expected. Second of all, since parables present truth in picture form, these parables therefore, paint for us the picture Jesus wished to convey to His people in the New Testament about the nature of the kingdom. And third of all, these parables explain how to understand those cosmic changes He spoke of, that would usher in His kingdom in the world. Instead of suggesting in these parables the nation of Israel was to be the recipient of the kingdom, Jesus did otherwise in them. Instead, He presented example after example of Israel’s replacement by others who were chosen for it by God.

Jesus continued in the parables to focus on the theme of God’s vineyard, alluding once again to Isaiah’s prophecy (Is. 5:1-7; Matt. 20:1-16). This parable is about the people of God’s kingdom, likened to a vineyard. In this vineyard there are workers, those hired both early and latter. Both agreed on, and worked for their wages based on that agreement. But when the time came for them to be payed, the early workers objected to their wages, seeing they were hired first. We can see what the nature of their complaint was. The first workers objected to being equal with the late comers in terms of pay (Matt. 20:11,12). Since the purpose of the parable is to convey truth concerning the kingdom, we can see the payment at issue here is the reward for works. Jesus brings the point to its conclusion when He, the landowner, says to the complainers “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? ‘So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matt. 20:15,16).

This is the heart of the matter that Jesus wanted His disciples to see in the parable. Those who were first in the kingdom have been replaced by the latter. The logical question then is, how does Jesus make this conclusion from what he said in the parable about hired workers and their wages? It is simply this, the complaint of the first is really that of compensation for work. When compared, it is obvious the latter workers were given more than the first, based on the fact they did less for it. This brings us to the issue of preferential treatment. Jesus ended the conclusion with a further statement of clarification saying “For many are called, but few chosen.” The latter workers of the vineyard were given preferential treatment over the first. Both were called to work in God’s vineyard, but only the latter have received His kingdom favor. The wages of both workers are the same in terms of what they deserve, as Paul says in his epistle (Rom. 6:23). But God has conferred kingdom grace on one, not the other.

The language here is also reflective of Paul’s teaching in Romans on Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9:12,13). Zionists today interpret his words to mean God has chosen Israel over Edom. This is certainly true, but there is much more said in Romans nine about election than that. We point the reader to the issue of preferential treatment concerning salvation, which is, after all, what we are considering here about “all Israel.” The point of Pauls text is the replacement of the naturally pre-eminent son, Esau, for the second, or, latter son Jacob. The promise was supposed to go to Esau from a natural or human perspective. Instead, by God’s providence it went to Jacob, who turned out to be the true son of promise. Zionists would like us to interpret Matthews Parable of the vineyard in terms of individual salvation, rather than kingdom favor, while at the same time interpreting Paul’s text in Romans nine otherwise.

We do not discount the words “For many are called, but few chosen” as having no relevance to individuals, any more than objecting to Jacob and Esau as having relevance to the election of a certain family. But the inverse truth in both of these texts cannot be overthrown either, without doing damage to the whole of Scripture. The same principle applies in both cases. God has chosen the latter, though not the natural choice, to replace the first in His kingdom. Paul says this about God’s sovereign, unmerited favor. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). God calls many to His service in the world. He also commands men everywhere to repent. But God choses to save, and gives His kingdom to whomever He wills, and the rest He hardens (Rom. 9:18). So the nation of Israel has been replaced by another nation. And they have hardened their hearts against God, just as Pharaoh did with Moses (Rom. 9:17).

If there is an objection made to the comparison of two sons, Jacob and Esau in Romans chapter nine, to the two kingdoms, Israel and the church in Matthew chapter twenty, consider the point Jesus made in the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). Once again, the parable is set in the context of a vineyard, showing a consistent theme concerning God and His kingdom. This time however, Jesus teaches God’s preferential replacement of one son with another in a different way than before. Here, the first son, rather than the second is the one preferred by God (verse 31). But notice who the first son represents in this parable “tax collectors and harlots.” And notice further, “Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” Jesus was talking to the chief priests, elders, and Scribes of the Jews who balked at His ministry to those who were lost.

It is clear by what Jesus says here in the parable that those who “relent and believe Him” are those to whom the kingdom goes. So the principle of replacement emerges from this. The Jews were those who said they would do the will of the man, but didn’t. These are the self-righteous Jews who rejected Christ when John came preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 21:32). But the son who repented and believed the gospel was preferred over the other one. Now, the “tax collectors and harlots” were obviously not both sons. This is why a parable is not to be taken as entirely literal. But the principle of God’s preferment of one son over the other is evident in the contrast given here by Jesus. The kingdom is lost to one and given to another. The Jews as people who trusted in the law of Moses, on account of their relationship to Abraham, were those who did not become Christians (Matt. 3:7-9). The “tax collectors and harlots,” made up of both Jew and Gentile sinners entered the kingdom.

Jesus continued this very theme of replacement, in reference once again to God’s vineyard in the parable of the wicked vine dressers (Matt. 21:33-43). This parable really builds upon the theme of the last parable of the two sons. And the idea of preferment of the kingdom, concerning Israel and the church cannot be more explicitly shown than it is here. This time, it is shown by the example of a landowner who leases his vineyard to certain vine dressers before he goes away. At harvest time, the landowner sends his servants to gather the fruit he expects to receive from these tenants. But what did they do, but kill the servants who were sent? Again, more servants were sent, but with the same result. Finally, the landowner sends his own son, with the presumption he will be respected, but they kill him as well. This they did, recognizing him as the rightful heir of the vineyard. So they killed him in order to take his inheritance for themselves.

The vineyard pictured here is obviously God’s kingdom, with the landowner being God Himself. The fruit the landowner expected from it is the fruit of righteousness through faith in Him. The servants are the many prophets, sent on many occasions to gather this fruit from the vineyard. The son of the landowner is none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The wicked tenants are the Jews who bore no righteous fruit, but killed the prophets sent to them. And finally, when God sent His Son to the Jews, they killed Him, the same as they did to the prophets. But that is not the conclusion of the whole parable. Keep in mind the Jews are tenants of God’s vineyard, He can evict them any time at will. So Jesus asks His listeners to tell Him what the landowner should do saying “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” (Verse 40). They answer the question correctly, and in the process, condemn themselves and properly state exactly what God did do to them. “They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” (Verse 41).

Jesus concluded this parable by stating what the Jews said should happen, would happen to them saying “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Verse 43). The concept of replacement could not be more explicitly stated than it is here by Jesus. God’s kingdom was in the hand of the Jews for many a long year, but just like the example of the parable, it bore no fruit unto God’s glory. Therefore, it was taken from ethnic Jews, and given to another nation. We contend here that the nation was and is the Christian church, made up of Jew and Gentile alike. And the ground of this judgement of God upon Israel is stated as well in the text, it was their rejection as a nation of the Son of God, the Messiah (Matt. 21:42,44). The fact that Jesus quoted this prophecy from Isaiah and applied it to them, the nation of Israel shows that it was the express intention of God to reject and replace them with those who would honor His Son.

The theme of unfruitfulness was continually brought up by Jesus in His teaching of the parables. Earlier in His ministry, He likened Israel to an unfruitful figtree in His vineyard (Luke 13:6-9). When the owner of the figtree came to it and found it barren, he saw no other course but to cut it down, for it took up space better used for some other plant. Of course, in this particular parable a plea was made to give it time to grow. Fair enough, declares the man. But if it doesn’t, it should be removed. Is it not clear to the reader what to make of this? Further down in the gospel record, where we have already seen, time was given for this tree to bear fruit (Matt. 21:34-39). Generations of time were given to Israel, but nevertheless, no fruit came of it. And there was a three-year span of a public ministry by the Lord, in which Israel was afforded tremendous opportunity to repent and receive Him as their Messiah. The Lord is longsuffering, but there is an unforgivable sin, one that blasphemes Him by denying His power in Jesus through unbelief. Those who reject Jesus in unbelief may be cut off forever from any further opportunities.

This brings us next to the cursing of the unfruitful figtree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-24). This event recorded in Mark’s gospel took place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, in the final week before His crucifixion (Mark 1:1-11). Here, we do not have a parable as before, but rather, a true event in the life of our Lord. As He approached a figtree, looking to find something to eat, He found it barren (verse 13). And notice the reason given for the trees lack of fruit, “for it was not the season for figs.” So why then in the next verse (14), does Jesus pronounce a curse on this tree, for after all, was it not the wrong season for it to do so? The meaning of the curse, once again, is something that pertains to Israel as a tree of the Lords planting. If Jesus came to this tree expecting to find fruit, but there was none, it was deserving of the curse. But what about the matter of the season, was it not to be expected? Of course it was to be expected, and so it is with Israel, for this particular season of barrenness would be their last.

This is the point of the curse Jesus pronounced upon the fig tree. The Lord’s kingdom tree certainly has its seasons for bearing fruit or otherwise. But every natural tree has its final season and it dies, this was certainly true of Israel, as it was nothing more than a natural kingdom. Nature is under the curse of God for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17,18). So the example given by the apostle Paul of Israel being a natural tree fall’s under the same judgement (Rom. 11:21). The kingdom tree that lives forever does so because it gives spiritual fruit, on account of God’s grace (Ps.1:1-3; Jer. 17:7,8). Once Israel as a natural tree had served its purpose on earth, it died under the curse of God. Furthermore, it serves the purpose of being the perfect example to us of natural kingdoms and their end. Earthly kingdoms are all under the curse of God for they are made up of natural citizens. But the true kingdom of God is otherwise, for its citizens are spiritual.

There is more to say about this event which is recorded for us in the same chapter (verses 20-24). Passing by the figtree the next day, Peter asked of Jesus an explanation for the curse by which it died. Our Lord’s explanation however, does not seem to fit the event as an answer, other than to use it as an opportunity to teach a certain doctrinal lesson to the disciples. This doctrine is obviously that, of having faith in the power of God to do anything, which is usually looked at by most Christians as the reason for the event. So it is taken as an object lesson to this end, to teach God’s people to have faith in God’s power when we pray. Now, our Lord Jesus as God had power to curse this tree unto death, to forgive sins, to calm the stormy sea, or to raise from the grave if He so chose to do so. Many times He performed miracles as a testimony to the power of God, which cannot be denied here. But what may be missed in this is the significance of His use of the figtree receiving the curse for its unfruitfulness.

In doing this to the figtree, then using it as an example of faith in the power of God, we are presented with several other truths all related to the subject of Israel and the church. The unfruitfulness of natural Israel was in their lack of faith, something attested to many times and in many places throughout Scripture (Heb. 3:7-15). This is in contrast to those who have believed in God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the unbelieving Jews waited for an earthly Messiah to come and overthrow their Gentile oppressors in the wake of a violent war, Jesus called on His disciples to believe in God to remove mountains if necessary, in order to accomplish His ends in the eternal kingdom of His Son. The Jews expected miracles from God in overthrowing their enemies, just like He did at the Red Sea, but they had no faith in their heart concerning His redemption from the curse of Adam.

It took no faith on the part of Israel to leave Egypt when they were being so sorely oppressed. And it was the faith of their typical redeemer Moses, that was effective in calling upon God as the Egyptian army closed in on them. That redemption was typical, unlike the gospel which is spiritual. But Moses was a spiritual man who called upon God in faith, and God parted the Red Sea so that he and the people of Israel could pass over to the other side unharmed. Yes, Jesus used the figtree as an example of His power, as an attestation of who He is to His disciples. But He chose to curse the figtree after using it as an example of unfruitful Israel. Jesus used this event to teach His disciples about the difference in these two kingdoms, the natural one they were born into, and the spiritual one they were reborn into. One was cursed, the other blessed. One was done away with by His coming, the other was established by His sacrifice, His resurrection, and His power. In short, the gospel of the kingdom was no longer contained in the types and shadows of an earthly nation, unable to bear any fruit to His glory.

And lastly, notice should be taken of this event of the cursing of the figtree, in reference to another event recorded by Mark in his gospel, the same chapter (verses 15-19). The Holy Spirit placed this event, the cleansing of the temple, squarely between the cursing of the figtree and its lessons taught to the disciples the following day. When Jesus went into the temple, He expected to find spiritual activity going on in it, for as He pointed out from Scripture “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?” Instead, what Jesus found in it was the sin of unbelief, the foundation of spiritual unfruitfulness which He stated in these words to those inside “But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.” What else is there to expect from natural religion but corruption and the desecration of all that is holy? So this temple, just like the figtree, was doomed to be destroyed, which it was in 70 AD. It was replaced by a new spiritual temple in Christ “for all nations” just as it was foretold in Scripture.

b.  Inclusion of Gentiles changed the complexion of Israel

This last quotation of Jesus “for all nations” is really where the matter at hand leads. If there were any truth to the notion that ethnic Israel has a permanent abiding presence in the kingdom of God, surely it would require a restored, exclusive temple to do so, not one “for all nations.” Yet, this is exactly what is expected of us when Paul’s words in Romans chapter eleven are used to justify the re emergence of the nation state of Israel. This of course, agrees with the dispensationalist position. They would have all nations subservient to the political state of Israel, something they are currently trying to impose on their neighbors now as we write. But there is a problem here in it too, for if ethnic Israel is to emerge as the result of a Covenant renewal, complete with temple and sacrifice, where does Jesus Christ and His sacrifice fit in? Remember, the Jews are expected to receive the Messiah in this new millennial kingdom. The problem they create from this is insurmountable, and therefore, should be rejected.

But there are a large number of non dispensationalist Christians who still see a future state of Israel and a Covenant renewal to them in Paul’s words. So we come back to the very first question already posed in regard to the temple, what about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and what about all the nations? If a great many Jews, indeed, if all Jews in some future time period are to come into the body of Christ, they will have no use whatsoever for a new temple. This is because Jesus Christ Himself is the temple of God in His kingdom, we know this from the very same circumstance concerning the temple, that marked the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22). When Jesus went into the temple on this occasion and drove out the bankers, they objected on the grounds that He displayed no authority to do such a thing. The objection was lodged with the utmost in venomous hatred against Him, one that would ultimately lead to His crucifixion at their request (Mark 11:18). But “Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:19-21).

These verses from John’s gospel reveal to us what the true temple of God’s kingdom is, it is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. More specifically, the temple of God is the mystical body of Christ, and we are told by the same apostle that wrote the words “all Israel,” the church is His body (Eph. 1:22,23)! The Jews were not far off from the truth about this however, even if they did not believe in Him as the Messiah. The temple would be destroyed, and it would be raised in three days. A replacement of one temple for another would take place, and there would be no more use for a physical building in God’s kingdom. The death of Jesus was the reason why the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple happened in 70 AD. The death of Jesus was also the reason for God’s ultimate rejection of national Israel concerning any claim to His Covenant and its blessings. It was the final straw with Him, so to speak concerning this earthly people and their obstinate refusal to submit to Him.

This is all done in the context of introducing the world to the kingdom of God in the gospel. The inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom irreversibly changed the character of the visible earthly kingdom. And this was the glory of it, that God joined the two together in a single body, in one temple, according to one Covenant of grace (Eph. 2:14-22). Once having done this in Christ, there is absolutely no revealed reason in Scripture to expect God will raise an ethnic Israel, in a political state, in order to bring them back into His kingdom apart from the church of Jesus Christ. And the Jews should have expected this from their own oracles given to them by God, for the Scripture looked ahead to something new and different to come from a natural perspective, something that was to be entirely inclusive of the world. God said this to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, in clear and unambiguous language when he spoke saying “Indeed He says, ‘ It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ (Is. 49:6).

This prophecy does not say for a minute the Gentile world would be second class, or, subject to the dominance of a political state of Israel in the Middle East. Rather, it says the kingdom would be large and inclusive of Gentiles on equal terms. Now, as there is no going back to a temple or a political state, so there is no salvation to the Jew outside of the Christian church.

Instead, there is a new kingdom replacing a distinctly Jewish Israel and its people with the nations, which is exactly what Jesus meant when He said “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:11,12). By this, Jesus was saying the natural sons of the kingdom would perish in hell as reprobates, while all those who were justified by faith in Christ through the gospel would enjoy eternal life in glory with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The natural children were out in terms of earthly blessings and benefits from the fathers, but the nations who believed and received Israel’s Messiah was to have them (Psalm 107:3; Isaiah 43:5-6; 49:12).

This truth was further driven home to the disciples by Jesus, when He spoke of the ingathering that would take place throughout the earth in the future, when the gospel is preached to all nations (Mark 13:27). This we understand to mean the church age, which is the eschatological millennium of Revelation chapter twenty. There are two ways in which this ingathering which Jesus spoke of take place. First, those who are called effectually through the gospel into the Christian church. These are saved and brought to glory as individuals in each successive generation that passes until the Lord returns. When that happens, He will gather all who are His upon earth at that time together. The new heaven and the new earth will appear, the old being done away with. And then, and only then will the kingdom become fully consummated. The reign of Jesus Christ as king upon earth can only take place in a reconstituted situation, one that is free from sin and all that offend a holy God.

So the concept of replacement is surely present in Scripture when viewing the Israel church distinction. It must be understood however, that replacement is not that of changing one saved person for another. This is what is said by those who accuse the Covenant redemption view of doing, for they are the ones who pit one entity against the other. The church did not begin at Pentecost, any more than ethnic Jews before and after the cross, are in two different kingdoms now. It is true that until Jesus came in the flesh, the Messiah could not be fully known or believed in as such. Jesus made it clear that He has only one kingdom that all who believe in Him belong to. Perhaps, instead of using terms like displacement or replacement, it is better to think of the church as the fullness of the kingdom. What we mean by that is to say the kingdom was not complete until it was enlarged by the nations. This is really an expansion theology. The Jews were not done away with, they were simply added to the church. And the church did not really replace Israel, but it became Israel.

B-Israel of God

Dispensationalism totally rejects the idea that Christians have always had that the church is the one main interest of God, and therefore, whatever Israel is in relation to her, is comprehended in this. When the Dispensational system gained control of the American church, just as it had in Britain, it replaced the covenant view of redemptive history with this new, divided concept of the kingdom. The covenant view of history sees the church everywhere throughout Scripture, from beginning to end, as the one main overriding concern of God. When “men began to call on the name of the LORD,” that was the church in ancient times, long before Israel was revealed as a nation (Gen. 4:26). Not so, says the Dispensationalist, the church began at Pentecost, and it will end on earth at the time of the rapture. At that time, Israel will once again, be the kingdom of God on earth, as it was once before. Then Israel will be all in all, complete in the purpose of God, when this happens. This is how “all Israel” is to be saved.

But we reject this notion on the grounds that Scripture talks about completeness, not displacement, or, segregation, or any other term which chops the kingdom up into segments. Many examples of this concept could be given, but we confine our interest to this one text in Romans chapter eleven. Is Paul talking about segregation in God’s kingdom? The word fullness is taken by many to mean exactly that. It is not the word fullness that is at issue, but rather the word fullness used as a unit to denote time. A close look at Romans chapter eleven however, reveals no such concept as time being used in making the points which Paul intends. There is not a single word in this text which refers to some future event. In fact, everything Paul says is in reference to the present. Paul is merely answering an obvious question about what happened to the Jewish nation. Why did only a handful of Jews believe the gospel, did God forsake His people or something (verse 1)? The answer to this is found in the word fullness, used twice in this chapter (verses 12,25).

Paul applies this word fullness (Gr. Pleroma) to both the Gentiles and the Jews. He already explained at the outset of his discourse that all Israel was not Israel (Rom. 9:6). There was never more than a remnant of believing Jews before Pentecost. Now, if there was but a remnant before, how would anyone ever expect more than a remnant who would believe now (verse 5)? So the word fullness cannot possibly imply every Jew will be saved, any more than the word fullness in reference to the Gentiles means every one of them will be saved. And even more to the point, the word all in “all Israel” is no different. To believe Paul means all Jews are to be saved one day is the same as believing that “all men” in I Tim. 4:10 means every man will be saved. And just like the verse in Paul’s letter to Timothy, the “all” in Romans is qualified by “those who believe.” The word fullness must be taken to mean everyone among them who believes. This is the fullness or completeness of the kingdom.

Paul is very interested in making distinctions when he talks about Israel and the church. At the same time, he does not hesitate to use the term “Israel” in at least one place to mean the Christian church itself when talking about election to salvation (Gal. 6:16). And why would he do that? It’s because of the same truth we have already established, that the church preceded Penetecost, though it cannot be called the Christian church until Christ came. Nevertheless, the church is the church. There are both a visible and a spiritual assembly (Gr. Ecclesia) that is and has always been present in the world. Someone may object to this on the grounds that Paul is talking only about believing Jews in Galatians, fair enough. Paul says this about himself as a believing Jew “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3), which he also qualifies by saying “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” (Rom. 2:28,29). These words do not exclude any Christian whatsoever, no matter whether they are Jewish or not, but they do exclude unbelievers.

1-Difference between a name and a description

So if “they are not all Israel who are of Israel,” then who is the “all Israel” Paul is talking about in chapter eleven? It is “the Israel of God” in Paul’s day “who worship God in the Spirit,” and ” rejoice in Christ Jesus.” It means all Christians, Jew and Gentile, who have believed in Jesus Christ through the gospel. True, there is an immediate literal application to Jewish believers in Paul’s argument. He is answering the question of what has happened to ethnic Israel. The nation is done, in terms of any temporal blessing but the believing Jews are the elect, they are “all Israel.” The fullness of Israel is comprehended in the elect, Jewish Christians who have and will believe in the gospel. This answer from Paul was sufficient to settle the question put to him then by his countrymen. And it certainly builds upon everything else he had said in Romans up to this point. Paul taught that Jews were sinners the same as Gentiles. Paul also taught that Jews could not be justified by the works of the law. Here, in chapter eleven of Romans Paul now teaches that only elect Jews are saved, and they are saved only in believing the gospel.

But there is another application that is made by Paul in the words “all Israel.” Eschatological Israel in the broadest sense of the term is the church. We propose here to the reader that the confusion that seems to surround the use of these words “all Israel” in Romans eleven, have to do with an inability to make the right kind of distinction in them. Both word’s Israel and church can be, and are used in Scripture in two different ways. One way these are used is as a name. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel by God (Gen. 32:28, 35:10). This is something that was done frequently in Scripture history to denote a change the person had in their standing with God. Consequently, Jacob’s children were called “the children of Israel” (Gen. 46:8), because of their father Jacob. Jacob’s special relationship to God set his children in a place of privilege on earth. But this in no way meant that they all enjoyed the same relationship he had with God, as is seen also in Genesis (Gen. 49:1-28).

This brings us now to the second use of the word Israel in Scripture, the one Paul used in Romans 9:6 to make a distinction between it and the first. Israel is also a description of certain people, again children of Jacob, but not in the same way as those earthly children spoken of in Genesis. And the way it is used like this is more by inference than by direct assertion. Romans 9:6 is the perfect example. Here, Paul does not say Israel is the church, only that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel,” making reference to the church. When Paul says “it is not that the word of God has taken no effect” it is to assert that there is such a thing as a true and a false Israel. The true Israel is made up of those who are Christians, in short, the church. And those who do not believe are false, they bear the name of Israel, but they are not Israel, even if related to Jacob.

So here, in Rom. 9:6 Paul is applying the name of Israel to the Christian church. In doing this, he is changing it from the name of a people, to the description of a people. And even more interesting is the fact that Paul does not mention Jacob, from whose changed name ethnic Israel derives its name, but he mentions Abraham and Isaac in verse seven, the father and grandfather of Jacob. In fact, this is the usual pattern of Paul’s argument in favor of a true and false Israel, it is developed beginning with Abraham. Paul said in Galatians chapter three “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Now, this is following a quotation concerning Abraham’s faith from Genesis 15:6. But that we know Paul meant to apply it to Christian believers in the church he also said “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8).

Paul drew his argument for gospel faith from three different texts in Genesis, in which he quotes only a portion of each (Gen. 22:18, 26:4, 28:14). Two things are observable in this sort of Old Testament usage. One, Paul says the Scripture indicates the promise to Abraham in which he believed was gospel faith, though there was no mention made of this in his quotation of Christ, the cross, or the church. Two, Paul called the promise to Abraham the gospel even though children, lands and nations are the subjects of it. Looking ahead to verse 7, Paul elaborates further on what is meant by gospel faith in the Old Testament, when he says it is comprehended in the promise of children to Isaac. Although Paul quotes Genesis 26:4 in this verse, the same promise is made to Jacob in Genesis 28:14. Paul did this in his argument in order to connect the true Israel of God to the church, making it a description rather than a name. But suppose for a moment that the true Israel concept is merely in reference to Jewish believers. Is there any place in the New Testament where two different Christian churches are presented? The answer of course is no, there is only one church.

But this brings us to the matter of the church itself. Literalists divide the church from Israel not only according to name, but also by definition. And once again, this is a mistake that Scripture does not make. The Christian church is a name, so called according to the followers of Jesus Christ in the first century (Acts 11:26). Even though this particular time in church history is when the name Christian came into general use, its origin according to the name can be traced officially back to Pentecost (Acts 2:41-47). But the church as a concept, an ideal, preceded Pentecost. We know this from the Lord’s own usage of that designation to His disciples in two places in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 16:18, 18:17). This is most interesting, for Jesus refers to the church before the cross as “My church” which “I will build” in chapter sixteen, while also referring to “the church” as though it were a present reality to His disciples, later in chapter eighteen. This is because the church is both a name and a description.

The word church is taken from the Greek word Ecclesia, which means assembly or congregation. This word, applied to Israel under Moses, or to Christians under Christ means the same thing, a sacred gathering of God’s people. Stephen preached about the church under Moses saying “This is he who was in the congregation (Ecclesia) in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us” (Acts 7:38). The church as a concept was pictured in Israel under Moses, who was a type of Christ. Paul says as much to the Corinthian church when he says they “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” (I Cor. 10:2,4).

Now, trying to apply a strict usage of these two words, Israel and church, in order to obliterate all the legitimate distinction that fall under them, is an utterly false unbiblical thing to do. A name is one thing, an ideal is another. No one would think for a second that everyone who visits or joins a Christian church on Sunday is necessarily a Christian, though they might call themselves so. No, the term Christian demands a definition, an explanation of what it means in order to accept someone as being one. People are born into families associated with organized denominations all the time. They are baptized into the church in the same way Israel was in Moses (I Cor. 10:1-4). Does that make them Christians? The apostle John answers this question for us when he said this about his Jewish brethren, who claimed the promises of God, but did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13). In other words, a name and an ideal are two different things.

There are other terms used in the New Testament that combine Israel and the church together as a single ideal. Take for instance, the term Zion, it is used in the Old Testament as another name for Jerusalem, or, more specifically as it is called in many places, “the City of David” (II Sam. 5:7; I Kings 8:1; I Chron. 11:5; II Chron. 5:2). The significance of this term is that it has to do with the eschatological kingdom of God, with David as the typical head. Remember, the covenant promise to him was of a dynastic kingdom, one which would culminate in the appearance of a final heir, who is the Messiah. Zion is the ideal of the Messianic kingdom, as is seen everywhere in the book of Psalms (Ps. 2:6, 48:2). Zion is the place of God’s dwelling (Ps. 9:11, 50:2, 65:1). Zion represents not only a place, but a people of God whom He saves (Ps. 9:14, 74:2). And it especially represents the idea of a future restored kingdom of redeemed people (Ps. 14:7, 53:6, 69:35, 102:13). From these texts it appears to be Jewish in character.

But when we turn back to the New Testament, there is something quite different that emerges, in terms of the eschatological Zion. The church of Jesus Christ is now called Zion by the apostles and writers of the New Testament (Rom. 9:33; Heb. 12:22; I Pet. 2:6). The reason for this should be obvious by now, the ideal of Zion transcends a single group of people, it is the body of Christ, made up of Old and New Testament saints. One particular New Testament text where the term Zion is used in this way is in the book of Revelation, chapter 14:1. This has been interpreted by literalists to mean ethnic Israel. But once again, several verses down in the same chapter we see that John applies his meaning “to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” where “the everlasting gospel” has been preached and received (Rev. 14:6). No mention at all is made of Jews or earthly Israel in this passage of Scripture. In fact, the emphasis made in it is of those “who were redeemed from the earth,” and those who “were redeemed from among men” (Rev. 14:3,4).

Coming back to Paul in the book of Romans, to the place where he started his discourse on our subject, we see him make a distinction between these two conceptions of Israel. Paul said “those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” (Rom. 9:8). Here, Paul says there are two kinds of children, children of flesh and children of God. He makes a distinction between these two types of children to show the difference between one that is true Israel, and one that are false. The same thing is applicable to the church too, for the very same reason. There are nominal Christians and there are true Christians. One is Christian by name and custom only, the other is Christian by new birth from above. Since Paul starts his discourse on “all Israel will be saved” here, the same distinctions must apply to the latter part of it in chapter eleven, which is usually not done by those who say Paul is talking about a future state of Israel.

So when Paul says “The Deliverer will come out of Zion” in reference to “all Israel will be saved” in the same verse, he is talking about Christ and the church, not ethnic Jews in a land called Israel. What we are saying here is nothing new, it is what the church has always believed before Dispensationalism changed the way Christians think about God’s promises. We also do not have a bit of trouble in making distinctions between ethnic Israel and institutional Christianity. But the failure to see the distinction’s Scripture itself makes concerning these names and definitions, is destructive of its overall teaching concerning Jesus Christ and the gospel. We say this, because in holding the notion there are as yet unfulfilled promises to Jews only, it is tantamount to stealing from Christ what He purchased for His people on the cross, in order to give it to reprobates. We do not speak about land as a promise here and now in this world. We speak of the spiritual nature of the covenant promises to Christians.

Notes:

[1] One other view not mentioned here is that of full Preterism. Preterism is an extreme unorthodox view of Postmillenialism that came into the church prior to Fundamentalism. It is actually an extreme reaction to the Dispensational theory of prophecy and its fulfillment. The three views mentioned here in reference to the Reformation, can be traced back to the early church, though in a lesser developed form. The important thing is this, there has always been a consistent covenant theme that has prevailed throughout most of the Christian era, regardless of how Revelation chapter twenty has been interpreted by its adherents.

[2] John Owen (1616-1683) published a book in 1661 entitled Theological Affirmations of All Sorts, Or, Of the Nature, Rise, Progress, and Study, of True Theology. It appears to be in large part a polemic against many Jewish and non Jewish historical claims, by explaining the biblical development of redemptive history from Adam to Christ. It also serves in a lesser way to give support for Federal, or, Covenant Theology. Owen’s work was written in Latin for the benefit of the academic community, it remained that way until it was translated into English and reprinted in 1994.

[3] Johann P. Gabler (1753-1826), a German Protestant Theologian, is credited by many with the distinction of being the father of modern Biblical Theology. Of course, this depends on what section of the church it is coming from. Gabler was an Enlightenment Liberal, who denied such things as miracles. Enlightenment criticism of scholasticism was based on its systematic approach to doctrine. Evangelical doctrine in other words, insisted on the authority of God in support of its interpretation of Scripture, based on the notion it was inspired by Him. The importance of Gabler in this is due to a lecture he gave in 1787 entitled An Oration on the Proper Distinction Between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology, and the Specific Objectives of Each. The title says it all. It was given in order to separate the history of redemption from the theology of redemption.

[4] For an excellent treatment on this, we refer the reader to J Gresham Machen’s (1881-1937) book, Christianity and Liberalism. Machen was a Presbyterian Theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary. Machen was also a conservative who resisted the Liberalizing influences in that school that led to his ouster from it and an eventual split in the denomination. The book’s thesis is simply this that theological Liberalism is not historic Christianity at all, but some other religion. Therefore, it should not pretend to be another Christian sect, competing for a spot in the marketplace of ideas among mainstream Evangelicals. Liberalism is an utterly heretical religious view, devoid of anything Christian, except for perhaps, the name it insists on using for itself. No one should be surprised at this however, for Jesus told His disciples that false religious leaders would come “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9b).

[5] Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921) was an American itinerant preacher who edited and published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Scofield is credited with popularizing the Dispensational system of Theology in America, through the notes he injected into the pages of his Bible.

[6] The particular view of Covenant Theology Liberals maintained, was Postmillenialism. This view is decidedly optimistic in its outlook concerning the church and the future. But just as the Liberals departed from orthodoxy in their thinking of the Christian faith, they also likewise did the same in their view of Eschatology. Reformed Postmillenialism sees a future gospel glory on earth, before the Lord returns. Liberalism believes in the redemption of man through social evolution. So the difference between the two ideas is stark indeed. One is spiritual in its outlook, praying for the kingdom of God to come in fullness, His will to be done on earth according to the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:10). The other is worldly, promoting humanism as its chief principle in place of the gospel. Fundamentalists equated the Liberal view of Eschatology with Covenant Theology and rejected it wholesale. They did the same thing concerning Amillenialism. Roman Catholics have an Amillenial view of God’s Covenant. By associating them with Covenant Theology as well, they rejected two thousand years of orthodox thinking.

[7] We refer the reader to a brief, but an excellent article entitled Is the postmodern Biblical theology movement really Biblical? This article is authored by Dr. Paul M. Elliott of Teaching the Word Ministries (www.teachingtheword.org). A second article, one even more brief, but equally instructive is entitled What is Biblical theology, and why is it important?

[8] Much of the analysis for this assertion was aided by an article written by O.T. Allis (1880-1973) entitled Modern Dispensationalism and the Doctrine of the Unity of the

Scripture, printed in The Evangelical Quarterly, January 1936. Oswald was an American Presbyterian Theologian who wrote a number of books and articles on various themes. He wrote this particular article, having lived in the period of time when these things were troubling the Christian church. This must have led no doubt, to his having a keen insight into the similarities of Higher Criticism with the Dispensational hermeneutic.

[9] We cannot help but point out that much of the Dispensational logic rests on Arminian notions of free will. The English word foreknow comes from the Greek word proginosko, which means not only to know what will happen, but to know it by design. God foreknows what He foreordains. This is the sense in which Paul uses the word in Romans 11:2 and 8:29. The idea that God’s eternal plan is based on what He knows people will do, is patently false. Nevertheless, this sort of thinking is what drive’s Dispensationalists to give a tremendous amount of material support to modern Israel. They do this, believing that they are actually participating in the fulfillment of this plan, one that needs human cooperation if it is to be finally realized.

[10] Much of the material in this section was aided by an essay written by R.T. France (1938-2012), an Anglican Theologian, entitled Old Testament Prophecy And The Future Of Israel: A Study of the Teaching of Jesus (Tyndale Bulletin 26 (1975) 53- 78, A paper presented at the Tyndale Fellowship Study Group on ‘The Christian’s Use of the Old Testament’, July 1974).

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