On Israel: the Church or the Jews?

From the Vanguard America Chaplaincy.

With the advent of popular dispensationalist theology, the American Protestant community has found itself on one side of the Christian response to the Jewish question. Most will say that the Church is distinct from Israel, which ought to be only applied to the Jews. Jews, in their understanding, are still under many, if not all, of the Abrahamic Covenant’s promises, which unlike the Mosaic Law were never abrogated or replaced. They would further contend that to deny this, as the Catholic and Lutheran denominations do, invites anti semitism. Is the Evangelical Church correct in this line of thinking? If one is reading Scripture in a plain literal manner, then the answer is no.ArchChaplainLogo.png

The Body of Christ replaced the Jewish people as the true Israel once the Messiah’s own people rejected Him, reflecting that it is the people, not political matter, which is most important to God in His plan of salvation for all who believe. Regarding the concerns which lead people to deny this on soteriological and eschatological bases, we shall seek to assuage them with a clearer understanding of the Church age and its logical conclusions.

Scripture differentiates between Israel and the Jews, ultimately declaring the latter’s replacement by the Church. Jesus, in his most contentious dialogue with the Pharisees, denies that they are truly descendants of Abraham, stating that their true lineage comes from Satan; otherwise, they would not oppose Him, but “do the deeds of Abraham” (Jn.8:39-47 NASB). After the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Pharisaic sect was all that was left of Judaism; with no temple, the Sadducees were eliminated, and the Zealots and Essenes were killed off or scattered by the Romans; the only Jewish group left were the ones Christ condemned, later called the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev.2:9, 3:9). Paul  later affirms this in his epistle to the Romans, separating Israel as a race from Israel proper: “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (Rom.9:6-7). He further explains this by separating the fruit of Abraham’s loins from the “children of promise” (9:8), indicating that the assurance God gave to the patriarch regarding a son, in the singular tense, was referring to Christ, not a nationality (Gen.21:12). As if it needed any repeating, Paul states plainly that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal.3:29). The writer of Hebrews reflects this when he tells the Church that they have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22), not that physical city which existed at the time the epistle was written. Peter would refer to the church as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1Pet.2:9); his statement is full of Old Testament references which all originally referred to the nation of Israel, but now apply solely to the Church that is Israel (Ex.19:5-6; Deut.7:6, 14:2; Is.66:21). If this were not the case, the Bible would make some distinction between the two and demonstrate the continuity of promise given to the former, but this is not only absent – if it were present, it would contradict the clear teachings of the apostles.

The ethnic implications which come to mind are likely the most difficult for the one who wishes to connect Israel with the Jews alone, as they present a soteriological difficulty. When Paul states that only a remnant of Jews find themselves in the Church (Rom.9:27), it means that only a few will be saved. Surely this is not surprising; after all, Jesus tells His disciples that “the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt.7:14), and “many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14). Out of all peoples, so few are saved, that the remnant of Jews which find themselves putting faith in Christ’s atoning work upon the Cross, and His resurrection, is in line with the rest of humanity. The sticking point against it is that the Jews had their apparent means of salvation, the Law, taken away, whereas the nations of the world never had it to begin with. By taken away, we refer to their hardening (Rom.11:25), God’s intervention in the Jewish collective unconscious, having “a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not” (11:8), with only a few left among the elect. Furthermore, we know that the Law of Moses was abrogated – no longer applicable for obtaining eternal life. They may point to the same chapter of Romans which states “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29), and contend that the matter cannot be one of supersession, but division; perhaps the covenant of promise to Abraham is still in physical effect for Jews, but not spiritually efficacious for them. This is not the case, for Paul would have made the distinction if such were the case. While he allows for educational advantage that a first century Jew would have had, being entrusted with the rite of circumcision and the Old Testament (Rom.3:1-2), he also teaches that there are many of them who refused to believe (3:3-4). This is not to say that a Jew cannot be saved though. We understand that a man is saved by the Grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:8-9), and this applies to all of humanity (Gal.3:28), with access to salvation being granted to all. A Jew may find Christ, but he will be in the minority due to the hardening that God wrought upon his people, and will not remain a Jew once he is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, made into a whole new man.

If the Deuteronomic Covenant were still in place, we should see the Covenant Curses taking place among Jews today, and the complete abolition of national Israel within a matter of minutes. Deuteronomy 28 lists the consequences for refusing to follow God, up to and including Exile. Most Jews are atheists, and their actions throughout history are not blameless. Communism, the Holodomor, the Red Terror of Spain, the modern pornography industry and the corruption of the mass media – all have origins directly from, or owing heavily to, Jews. Yet Israel as a nation still stands and the curses outlined in the Covenant have not been realized; it is not in effect, and any Apostle could have told you this, for Christ “came to fulfill the Law” (Mt.5:17). If anything, the Hebrews ought to be thankful that they are not the “chosen people” in the sense they proclaim.Posters (5).png

A central reason for denying supersessionism is the premillennialist view of Eschatology. If the anti-Christ is to take “his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2Thess.2:4), then the temple must be rebuilt, should it not? And if the major last battles are to take place in Armageddon (Rev.16:14-16), and the “beloved city” where the “camp of the saints” is (Rev.20:9), then it stands to reason that Israel must be a place in which these will happen. Will it though? In reference to the temple, it is unclear what exactly Paul means, for formerly he had spoken of the Church corporate and the individual believer’s body as a temple (1Cor.3:16, 2Cor6:16). Furthermore, we understand that Christ refers to His very Body as a Temple (Jn2:19-22), and that the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom.12:5, 1Cor.12:12). This opens interpretation to the understanding that the Church, as the Temple of God and Body of Christ, may be infiltrated or led astray by a lawless authority figure. Also, there is no reason why the landmass called “Israel” should not exist for the final battles to take place; does this change who the true Israel is? Not at all. But while discussing eschatology, is the current nation of Israel, the Jewish state, all that important? John prophesies that the “sons of Israel,” according to their tribes, will comprise the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed (Rev.7:1-8); this may very well be the number of males who comprise the Remnant of Jewish Christians. Those who contend that, at one point “all Israel will be saved,” in accordance with Romans 11:26, are not reading the previous statements regarding Israel, that “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:2, emphasis mine). For Paul, that there were any Jews counted among the elect at all was a marvelous display of His faithfulness, especially in the Apostle’s own heritage as “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (11:1).

Outside of these stipulations, where is the contention against replacement? It cannot be one of different plans of salvation for Jews and Christians, for Jesus is the only way to the Father (Jn.14:6). It cannot be one of Jewish heritage, as John the Baptist warns: “do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt.3:9). It cannot be one of literal hermeneutic, lest the whole mass of verses rendered in this paper be removed from the Bible; interpreting them literally means accepting supersession to some extent. What, then, motivates the dispensationalist to hold his views?

Earlier, we discussed eschatology. It is this writer’s opinion that the divide between dispensationalist and supersessionist thought is the same, with the same camps, as that of the premillennialist and amillennialist. The man who holds to a thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth will come to the understanding that there will still be nation-states which serve God by bringing their offerings to Jerusalem. If that is the case, then one has a place for various difficult passages, like Ezekiel’s Temple in the Millennium (Ezek.40-48). It would not need to be explained by allegory, and given the sacrifices described, which seem to be in line with Mosaic direction (40:41; 46:7), there would be some group separate from the Church which does not engage in it. Here, the amillennialist takes issue, for offering “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1Pet.2:5) is our modus operandi, pleasing God more than any ram or bull; Ezekiel’s temple, then, must be at least partially symbolic, having none of the sin offerings described in 40:39. The premillennialist sees the reign of Christ at Jerusalem as the climax of history, of which the Church age is but a parentheses, and fully expects the character of the Old Testament national system (possibly even the Law) to return; the amillennialist keeps the Passion as the center, staying content with the imminent return of Christ. The division appears to be as irreconcilable as the flesh and the spirit.

In conclusion, we must address the accusations of antisemitism, as they reveal the underlying motive of many who would drive a wedge between Israel and the Church. By denying that Jesus “made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph.2:14), they are expressing their disappointment that this joining did not include Jews, and thus prefer the separation that was once there. There is a palpable sense that excluding most Jews, in spite of their long history and former direct relationship with God, is offensive. This is not to say that every dispensationalist is so concerned with making Jews feel better, but a good portion of them are fascinated with Judaism as it is presented today, with John Hagee and “Christians United for Israel” being prime examples. That the loving sentiment is not returned by the Jews is ironic, given the amount of support they are receiving, is indicative of the kind of hardening Paul is trying to explain to the Church in Romans nine through eleven (1). The supersessionist may be accused of being anti-semitic, but he is at least aware of how much most Jews hate Christians. If speaking the truth regarding salvation is anti semitic, then so be it; salvation is still found in Christ alone, not in Judaism; and the Church is still founded upon the Gospel of Christ, not in “blessing those who bless the Jews.” May the Bride focus upon her Groom and her King, and continue to be sanctified in preparation for His second coming.

 

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