The Christian Faith, Lesson 6

Did the Church Replace Israel?

Introduction

The first thing to understand is that this is a 2,000-year-old debate. In fact, the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament was written around 50 or 60 a.d. to address the issue. It begins by explaining that Jesus is much more than any mere human or angel, but God Himself. Then it points to Israel's history as a warning, after which it scolds Jewish Christians for going back under the laws of Moses. There is much more of course, but it shows that this debate has a very long history, and we should be under no delusion that it will be settled anytime soon. So my goal is simply to present the data, give my perspective, and leave the rest to you.

We'll be focusing our study on these points:

  1. Covenants
  2. Law and Promise
  3. The Grafting Analogy in Romans 11
  4. Conclusion

Covenants

Since the identities of Israel and the church hinge on covenants, the first thing we need to do is to list and study those covenants. Here's a chart I made as a kind of tl;dr summary.

And now let's look at some scripture: Acts 3:25, Rom. 9:4, Rom. 11:27, 2 Cor. 3:6, Gal. 3:17, Eph. 2:12, Heb. 7:22, Heb. 8:6-13.

Were the two covenants with Israel and the church, or with the people of Israel only? Is the Promise the same as the covenant with Moses? With David? Here is an excellent study on the issue. And here is my synopsis of the study:

Jer. 31:31-34 specifies these points concerning the new covenant:

  1. It is to be with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
  2. It is contrasted with the Mosaic covenant, which also was with Israel only and not with any other people.
  3. The covenant will be fulfilled after those days, i.e., after the days of judgment and affliction described in the preceding context.
  4. The Law is to be written in their hearts, in their inward parts, in contrast to the Mosaic law which was written in tables of stone.
  5. Jehovah will be their God and Israel will be His people; this relationship will be mutually and publicly recognized by both parties.
  6. There will be no need to proclaim the truth concerning Jehovah as all will know Him, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
  7. Their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more.

Clearly, the promises/covenants to Israel are not being fulfilled in the present age in any literal sense, so the post- and a-millennial views cannot be applied to the question at hand. Isaiah 61:8-9 is even more specific about the new covenant:

  1. It is everlasting.
  2. Israel's physical progeny will be known by the rest of the world as blessed by God.

Further, Jer. 32:37 states that the new covenant is conditioned upon Israel's return from exile, and vs. 41 states that they will be restablished in their ancient land. Nothing at present fulfills this prophecy/promise, since Israel at present does not acknowledge God and the church has no ancient land of its own. It is more consistent with the whole premillennial position to hold that the new covenant realized today by the church is different than the new covenant with the house of Israel, than to hold that it fulfills it in part.

In Romans 11:25-27, the new covenant with the house of Israel is quoted in part and referred to the future national restoration of Israel:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.

There are two new covenants: one for Israel to be fulfilled in the millennium, and another for the church in this age (pre-mil view #2).

Law and Promise

We must understand the distinction between the promise to Abraham (see Gen. 15:5-6) and the law given through Moses 430 years later as explained in Gal. 3-4, John 1:17, Rom. 3:21, and Rom. 6:14.

The Grafting Analogy in Romans 11

The 11th chapter of the letter to the Romans is often interpreted as that one group of people replaced another group of people because of what Jesus did. So let's walk through the chapter and see if that holds up. We can divide the chapter into three sections: Preface, Point, and Praise.

PREFACE vs. 1-15

Who are God's people? They're named as Israel right there in vs. 1, and vs. 2 says explicitly that God did not reject them. As stated clearly in vs. 11, God has used his people's sins to provide a way for Gentiles to be saved, and the purpose is to drive Israel to jealousy. We see in vss. 13-14 that as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul's mission was to provoke his people to jealousy, which would be pointless if they had indeed fallen beyond recovery, which vs. 11 said is not the case.

So who is provoking whom to jealousy, if the church replaced Israel? Can we replace Israel and Gentiles with Christians in that section? Let's try it:

1-2 Then am I saying that God rejected his people? Absolutely not! I too am an Israeli, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew; ridiculous!…

11 Then am I saying that they've fallen and can't get up? Absolutely not! But their blunders meant salvation to the non-Judeans, for the purpose of provoking Israel to jealousy…

13-14 Now here is what I am saying to the non-Judeans, since in fact I am the Ambassador to them, and I hereby proudly dispense my commission: I try to provoke my people to jealousy and so save some of them.

1-2 Then am I saying that God rejected Christians? Absolutely not! I too am a Christian, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject Christians, whom he foreknew; ridiculous!…

11 Then am I saying that Christians have fallen and can't get up? Absolutely not! But Christians' blunders meant salvation to the Christians for the purpose of provoking Christians to jealousy…

13-14 Now here is what I am saying to Christians since in fact I am the Ambassador to them, and I hereby proudly dispense my commission: I try to provoke Christians to jealousy and so save some of them.

Think carefully about substituting meanings consistently throughout the chapter, because we'll keep trying this as we go along. The problem is that even if the church only replaced Israel at the cross, then it makes mincemeat out of everything stated in this chapter in the present tense about this jealousy for which Paul was an ambassador.

POINT vs. 16-32

This section presents an over-arching principle, that if a part of something is holy then so is the rest of it. Then it uses an analogy of a root and branches to illustrate that principle. Pay attention to what the natural branches were broken off from: The root. Now is the root Israel, or good standing with God? Remember the earlier remarks about jealousy? What is it that people were jealous about: being part of Israel, or being in good standing with God? This is the key of the whole controversy over Replacement Theology. So let's try substituting in this section, since some say that the root and natural branches represent Israel, and the wild branches represent Christians rather than Gentiles.

17-21 Now if some of the branches were broken off so that you, a wild olive shoot, could be grafted in to join with the root and share in its nourishment, do not gloat over the branches! If you do, remember that the root sustains you, not that you sustain the root. But you will object, Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted; but they were broken off due to unbelief, and you were grafted in for belief. So instead of gloating, be afraid! For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22-24 Now look at the kindness— and harshness— of God: harshness to those who fell but kindness to you. Persist in kindness or you too will be cut out. Now on the other hand, they will be grafted back in if they don't persist in unbelief, and God is certainly able to do that. For if you were cut out of a wild olive tree and, against nature, were grafted into the cultivated olive tree, don't you think that it is even better to re-graft the natural branches back in again?

25 I don't want you to be ignorant of this secret, sisters and brothers, so that you won't be congratulating yourselves: Partial callousness has come upon Israel until the full number of the non-Judeans has come in.

17-21 Now if some of the Israelites were broken off [from Israel] so that you, a Christian, could be grafted in to join with Israel and share in its nourishment, do not gloat over Israel. If you do, remember that Israel supports Christians, not that Christians support Israel. But you will object, Israelites were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted; but they were broken off due to unbelief, and you were grafted in for belief. So instead of gloating, be afraid! For if God did not spare Israelites, he will not spare Christians either.

22-24 Now look at the kindness— and harshness— of God: harshness to Israel, but kindness to Christians. Persist in kindness or Christians too will be cut out. Now on the other hand, Israelites will be grafted back in if they don't persist in unbelief, and God is certainly able to do that. For if you were cut out of Christians and, against nature, were grafted into Israel, don't you think that it is even better to re-graft Israel back in again?

25 I don't want you to be ignorant of this secret, sisters and brothers, so that you won't be congratulating yourselves: Partial callousness has come upon Israel until the full number of Christians has come in [to Israel].

If wild branch is a euphemism for Christian, then why has God been harsh with Israel but kind to Christians, who became Israel, with whom God has been harsh?

Now let's try this again, with different substitutions, because there are three entities in the passage, not only two.

17-21 Now if some of the branches were broken off so that you, a wild olive shoot, could be grafted in to join with the root and share in its nourishment, do not gloat over the branches! If you do, remember that the root sustains you, not that you sustain the root. But you will object, Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted; but they were broken off due to unbelief, and you were grafted in for belief. So instead of gloating, be afraid! For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22-24 Now look at the kindness— and harshness— of God: harshness to those who fell but kindness to you. Persist in kindness or you too will be cut out. Now on the other hand, they will be grafted back in if they don't persist in unbelief, and God is certainly able to do that. For if you were cut out of a wild olive tree and, against nature, were grafted into the cultivated olive tree, don't you think that it is even better to re-graft the natural branches back in again?

25 I don't want you to be ignorant of this secret, sisters and brothers, so that you won't be congratulating yourselves: Partial callousness has come upon Israel until the full number of the non-Judeans has come in.

17-21 Now if some of the Israelites were broken off [from Christ] so that you, a Gentile, could be grafted in to join with Christ and share in his nourishment, do not gloat over Israel. If you do, remember that Christ supports Gentiles, not that Gentiles support Christ. But you will object, Israelites were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted; but they were broken off due to unbelief, and you were grafted in for belief. So instead of gloating, be afraid! For if God did not spare Israelites, he will not spare Gentiles either.

22-24 Now look at the kindness— and harshness— of God: harshness to Israel, but kindness to Gentiles. Persist in kindness or Gentiles too will be cut out. Now on the other hand, Israelites will be grafted back in if they don’t persist in unbelief, and God is certainly able to do that. For if you were cut out of Gentiles and, against nature, were grafted into Christ, don't you think that it is even better to re-graft Israel back in [to Christ] again?

25 I don't want you to be ignorant of this secret, sisters and brothers, so that you won't be congratulating yourselves: Partial callousness has come upon Israel until the full number of Gentiles has come in [to Christ].

The fact in this context is that the root is good standing with God through Christnot Israel, not the church, not the Gentiles. The natural branches represent Israel, while the wild branches represent Gentiles— not the church. Once again: the root is good standing with God, and the branches represent Israel and Gentiles. It is those two classes of people whose branches either stand or fall in relationship with God on the basis of faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Look again at vs. 24: This is clearly cautioning Gentile believers against feeling superior to Israelite believers. And this is why vs. 25 begins a section assuring them that God is not finished with the people of Israel, such that Gentile believers must not despise them or think they've been replaced. God will certainly turn back to Israel after the full number of Gentiles has been brought in— to relationship with God, not what used to be Israel.

Finally in this section, look at vss. 28-32. Are Christians enemies of Christians? Since God originally called Abraham and his descendants, including the nation of Israel, and since God's calling is irrevocable, then God's calling to that nation cannot be substituted. Let's try substitutions for this section as well:

28-32 Now in regards to the Gospel they are in fact your enemies, yet at the same time they are the chosen people, loved because of their ancestors; the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as even you were once hostile toward faith in God yet were shown mercy by means of the hostility of Israel, so also they are hostile to this mercy of yours so that now they can be shown mercy. God wraps it all up in hostility toward faith so he can be merciful to all.

28-32 Now in regards to the Gospel Israelites are in fact Israel's enemies, yet at the same time Israelites are the chosen people, loved because of their ancestors; the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as even you were once hostile toward faith in God yet were shown mercy by means of the hostility of Israel, so also they are hostile to this mercy of Israel's so that now Israelites can be shown mercy. God wraps it all up in hostility toward faith so he can be merciful to all.

That's what we have to do if Christians are really Israelites, and it makes nonsense out of the passage. Now try this:

28-32 Now in regards to the Gospel they are in fact your enemies, yet at the same time they are the chosen people, loved because of their ancestors; the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as even you were once hostile toward faith in God yet were shown mercy by means of the hostility of Israel, so also they are hostile to this mercy of yours so that now they can be shown mercy. God wraps it all up in hostility toward faith so he can be merciful to all.

28-32 Now in regards to the Gospel Israelites are in fact Gentiles and Christians' enemies, yet at the same time Israelites are the chosen people, loved because of their ancestors; the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as Gentiles were once hostile toward faith in God yet were shown mercy by means of the hostility of Israel, so also Israelites are hostile to this mercy of Gentiles so that now Israelites can be shown mercy. God wraps it all up in hostility toward faith so he can be merciful to all.

PRAISE vs. 33-36

God is God, and we're not, so we should praise him for his wise plan.

Rom. 11 Summary

Holiness comes from the root, not the branches; branches are not grafted into each other. This chapter is talking about how both Israel and Gentiles can be reunited with God in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus didn't turn Gentiles into Israelites, didn't replace Israelites with Gentiles or Christians, and isn't finished with Israel. Instead, what Jesus did was to make it possible for everyone to be saved. The divine plan was to use Israel to make Gentiles want God, and then to use Gentiles to make Israel want God. His unfinished business with Israel will be addressed once the Body of Christ has all its members. That's what Rom. 11 is teaching.

Conclusion

Jesus didn't come to put people under the laws of Moses; he came to fulfill the terms of that conditional covenant (Mat. 5:17) and offer the kingdom to Israel. But they rejected their Messiah, so God's attention turned to the rest of the world, to make Israel jealous, until the number of Gentiles is reached (Rom. 11:25). During this time, those who have accepted Jesus are neither Jews nor Gentiles but the Body of Christ (Rom. 7:4, 1 Cor. 10:32,12:27, 2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 3:6).

And since Jesus is not in the priestly order of Aaron and Levi as required by the laws of Moses, we have no part in them (Heb. 7:12). Not most, not some, none. The moral laws hinge on love for God and people, not the other way around (Mat. 22:37-40), so the absence of the laws written in stone cannot mean that we stop loving God and people. And since love does no harm (Rom. 13:10), then we won't be violating the law of love.

Can anyone find commands in the New Testament for us to observe the feasts or the kosher laws, or to pay tithes to priests, or to rest on a Sabbath day? No, instead we've seen that the only command is to love, and Rom. 14 says to let everyone follow personal convictions on things that aren't necessary for salvation. To say, as many do, that any law of Moses not specifically annulled must still be in effect, begs the question, and ignores the fact that no Gentile was ever under them to begin with.

From a careful study of the entirety of scripture on the matter, I can only conclude that Christians are completely disconnected from Israel and its laws and land, and that prophecies not expressly aimed at us are to be literally and tangibly fulfilled in the nation of Israel. We are something new, unique, and unforseen (1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 3:6,9)— and limited. To ignore the distinctions is to misunderstand and misapply the scriptures. At the very least, no one can accuse me of having reached my conclusions without due dilligence, and they can't be ruled out.

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