Did the Church Replace Israel?
Feb 10, 2012
I used the word "replace" many times in my last weblog, because many things in the Old Covenant system were replaced by something "better," as the book of Hebrews says.
However, this does not mean that I subscribe to the religious view known as "Replacement Theology." There are too many wrong assumptions with that view, not the least of which is their view that the Jews are Israel.
The view is first premised on the idea that the Jews are Israel, when in fact, "Jew" is simply a shortened form of the name Judah (Yehudi in Hebrew). Judah and Israel were distinct and separate nations after the death of Solomon. By the time Jesus arrived on earth, the Israelites had already been deported to Assyria for over 700 years (2 Kings 17:18). Israel was not there to be replaced.
So did the Jews replace Judah? Again, the answer is NO.
The Jewish nation itself (like all nations) contained both good and bad citizens. This is clearly seen in Jeremiah 24, where the prophet speaks of the people as being either good figs or evil figs. This was equally true in Jesus' day, where we see good and evil people in that "fig tree" nation. From our Christian perspective, Jesus was the leader of the good figs, while the temple priests were the leaders of the evil figs.
The good figs who followed Jesus eventually were known as Christians, and to their ranks were added many non-Jewish believers. Did those believers replace either Israel or Judah? No. At that point, Judah was divided into two camps: the good figs and the evil figs. The evil figs broke the law of sacrifice in Lev. 17:1-7 by refusing to consider Jesus' death on the cross to be a Sacrifice for sin. Hence, the law prescribed its sentence upon them: "He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people" (Lev. 17:4).
Hence, only the good figs were left IN THE SIGHT OF GOD to carry on the name of the tribe of Judah. The others were no longer 'Jews." Of course, they disagreed with God's righteous judgment, and so they continued to call themselves Jews to this day. So we are now left with a basic disagreement as to who is a Jew.
Paul answers that question in Romans 2:28, 29, where he says that a "Jew" is one who has come under the provision of the New Covenant with its sign: heart circumcision. Conversely, he says that "he is NOT a Jew" who has a mere outward circumcision. In other words, those who continue in the Old Covenant are NOT JEWS as far as God is concerned.
Paul is not obscure in his statement. He defines the word both ways in terms of what IS and what IS NOT.
So God's nation of Judah was greatly reduced in the first century. It started small and then grew from there. Some who had previously rejected Christ later believed in Him and accepted Him as the true Heir to the throne of David. These changed their citizenship to the genuine nation of Judah.
The confusing part of this is that the believers soon became known as "The Church," instead of calling themselves Judah. This is understandable, because the unbelievers maintained control of the temple and the political apparatus. The Roman government could not be expected to know the ruling of God in this matter, so they too continued to refer to the unbelieving nation as Judea, the Greek form of Judah.
The term "The Church" was not incorrect in itself. This was the term used of the whole nation that Moses brought out of Egypt (Acts 7:38). The main difference is that this was the second church, the one having the anointing of Pentecost. It should be viewed as a continuation of the church. It was the portion of Judah that qualified to receive that greater anointing, while the rest of the people returned to Egypt, figuratively speaking.
So to understand the situation properly, we must see that the Church did not replace either Judah or Israel, but rather were the ones who continued on toward the Promised Land, while the majority returned to Egypt (or, as the law says, were "cut off").
The problem today is that many Christians want to consider today's Jews to be chosen, even though God no longer considers them to be Jews. That view believes that their status as "chosen people" rests not on their faith in Christ, but upon their physical genealogy from Abraham. This is the crux of the matter. Is one chosen on account of genealogy or must they be in Christ to be chosen?
Paul makes the case very clearly in Galatians 4 that those who depend upon genealogy are merely children of the flesh--hence, Ishmaelites, allegorically speaking. In a broader study of Paul's writings (particularly from Romans 6 and 7), we find that physical genealogy is ultimately traced back to the first Adam, the "old man" (Rom. 6:6). Adam was sentenced to death, Paul says, and anyone who looks to him to provide their right standing before God will be disappointed. One must claim "the last Adam" (Christ) as his father (1 Cor. 15:45) in order to receive LIFE.
Jesus had no physical children, because it was important to know that all who believe in Him are His children. If He had had physical children, then men would naturally have made those children chosen and would seek to intermarry with them in order to become part of the "chosen people." Then the qualifications would have been perceived as race, rather than grace.
The "Israel" chapters in Romans 9-11 also do not support Replacement Theology. I am referring specifically to Romans 11:1-7, where Paul tells us about the "remnant of grace." There were 7,000 of these "remnant" people in the days of Elijah (Rom. 11:4). Paul then makes the application:
(5) In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. (6) But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (7) What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.
In other words, there were only 7,000 "chosen people" in the days of Elijah. These were chosen by God, Paul says, and they were only a remnant of Israel. The nation of Israel was called, but as a whole they did not obtain that chosen position. They were blinded, or hardened, while the 7,000 actually were the chosen people in the sight of God.
It was insufficient for those Israelites to claim genealogy from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Apart from a genuine faith in God (Christ), they were not chosen. It was this way in the Old Testament, it was equally true in the first century, and it is still true today.
Those who are blind, or "hardened" (NASB), have not obtained chosen status in the sight of God, regardless of how men may honor them. Paul goes further by telling us in 2 Cor. 3:14 that the Old Covenant itself is a veil over their faces, preventing them from beholding the glory of God. In other words, it blinds them.
Paul says that while Moses put a veil over his face to hide the glory of God, he (Paul) used "great boldness in our speech" to reveal the glory of God to the people. In other words, Paul refused to put a veil over the glorious gospel of Christ, because the New Covenant had removed that veil. It was an open gospel, and if men still did not believe, they would have to run away or poke themselves in the eye to remain blind.
Paul knew from personal experience in his early life just how blind the people were by remaining under the Old Covenant. His own blindness had caused him to persecute the Church (Gal. 1:13, 14). But God had then "chosen" him (Acts 9:15), bringing him out of blindness and into the faith of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Stephen Jones