Christians are confused about the place of Israel in the New Testament. Some believers are not sure if God has a plan for Israel as He did in the Jewish Scriptures. Others think the only plan God has for Jewish people is their salvation and nothing further. Still some Christians do not think Israel is a legitimate entity, having been replaced by the Church aka replacement theology.
Fact it, Christians are confused because their pastors are confused and pastors are confused about Israel because their seminary professors are confused.
God’s Promises to Israel Are Not Cast Aside in the Face of Israel’s Unfaithfulness
The assumption of many anti-Christian Zionist advocates is that Christians who believe God has promised the Jewish people the land of Israel as their homeland also maintain the government of Israel can do no wrong. As one anti-Zionist advocate told me, Israel seems to think since God gave them the Ten Commandments they can now make up any law they want . . . . Most of this comes from fear which they need not have since American is their number one protector and God is also on their side, according to Christian Zionism (paraphrased).
It is the belief of anti-Christian Zionists since I believe God promised the Jewish people the land of Israel that no matter what they do, God will always back Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. The nation is still accountable to God.
When the Bible student reads through the Jewish Scriptures, he discovers the Lord God of Israel never ignored the sins of Israel. Even in the face of the Lord’s commitment to give the title deed of Israel to the Jewish people, He also removed the people of Israel from the land on many occasions due to their transgressions. In spite of the Assyrian Captivity in 721 B.C., the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. and the conquest of Jerusalem and Israel in 70 A.D. by the Romans, there is no place in the First nor the Second Covenants of the Bible where the God of Israel revokes His promise to the Hebrews to give them the land and to expand the nation as stated in the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. ”
God’s Promises to Israel Include Present Salvation and a Future Messianic Kingdom
Those who believe God has jettisoned His promises to Israel and has transferred them over to the Church are called “replacement theologians.” At the recent Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 Conference Wheaton College New Testament professor Gary Burge in his message, “Theology of the Land in the New Testament,” attempted to distance himself from those who believe God has replaced Israel with the Church. Instead of a “replacement theology,” Burge came up with his own version of a theology:
What is wrong with Replacement Theology is that it leads to the conclusion that ‘God’s people in the world today are Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews.’ Ordinary Jews, he says, are left with nothing but a broken legacy, and the guilt for the death of Jesus!
Burge calls his “new” way of thinking,“Messianic Fulfillment”:
The Church continues the great legacy of Abraham because it is a community of Jews and Gentiles who together reflect the faith of Abraham now seen in Christ. But Judaism holds an incomparable place in history. Because of its legacy, it is not rejected. But it will return to the olive tree rooted in Abraham when it embraces Christ by faith.
Burge argues the Jews will return only with the Second Coming. He suggests nothing more of God’s plan for Israel as described by the Jewish prophets other than the salvation of Jewish people through Christ. He does not speak of a millennial kingdom on earth centered in the land of Israel, where Yeshua rules over the twelve tribes as well as the nations of the world.
Actually, Burge’s “replacement theology” does not allow him to support a belief in a millennial kingdom. If Burge admits God will gather the Jewish people to the land of Israel to dwell in the messianic kingdom where Jesus sits on the throne as Messiah King, he admits his theology where the only blessings for Israel are spiritual is wrong. Burge, if he is honest, is an amillennialist. He does not believe in a thousand year messianic kingdom on earth to come or he believes we are experiencing the kingdom of God in its fullness right now. Good luck with all that.
Can’t Burge see he is still teaching God’s people are only seen in the Church? Is he that blind to his own words? He is a traditional replacement theologian whether he likes the terminology or not.
In one breath he teaches “Israel is not rejected” but will “return to the Olive Tree [which is left undefined] when it embraces Christ by faith.” In the next breath, he denies Israel the Old Testament promises made to the nation. Where did they go? Are they fulfilled in the Church? If not, Burge must have a storage unit someplace where he has hidden hundreds of unfulfilled Old Testament promises God made to Israel in storage.
Gary still does not answer the most obvious question once asked by the disciples of Jesus in Acts 1:67, ““Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Did Jesus say that the kingdom is fulfilled in the church? No, He pronounced the plan for this age, which is to preach the gospel (Acts 1:8). Jesus still leaves the time for the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth in Israel unaddressed. Jesus did not deny the actuality of a messianic kingdom on earth but only the timing. Then He switched the focus to what the disciples need to be doing during the present age. Why should Jesus have to repeat the entire prophetic message of the Jewish prophets? It is well known to anyone familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures that God has a very specific plan for Israel – a plan that replacement theologians either ignore or spiritualize.
Burge’s flawed New Testament theology ends at the Second Coming and leaves little room for the message of the Hebrew prophets. His is a message of a stealth replacement theology which replaces God’s prophetic message of messianic blessing with fufillment in the church.
God’s Promises to Israel Must Remain Consistent with the Biblical Teaching of the Seed of Abraham
The only way Burge and others can maintain their replacement theology is for them to tinker with passages in the New Testament that designate Christians as the “seed of Abraham.” As a side note, many replacement theologians will make statements that “Christians are the true children of Abraham.” However, the word “true” is never found describing “children of Abraham” when it comes to Christians.
The New Testament writers mention the followers of Christ are children of Abraham because they possess the same faith as Abraham. Nowhere is it stated that Jewish people are no longer the seed of Abraham and now Christians are the “true” descendants of the patriarch.
One of the passages Burge used in his lecture at Christ at the Checkpoint is a famous text employed by replacement theologians out to prove Christians are the true seed of Abraham. The text is Galatians 3:6-9 which reads as follows:
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
This passage has been discussed in greater detail in a previous blog. However, I want to add one more important piece of the puzzle regarding the New Testament teaching on the seed of Abraham.
Burge hangs on Galatians 3:6-9 to prove Gentile Christians are the true seed of Abraham or the the new Israel who have replaced physical Israel. Yet we have to ask whether Burge’s teaching, if true, is borne out in the rest of the New Testament?
When Paul addreses his fellow Jewish people in the Book of Acts 13:16 as ‘Israel’, who is he speaking to? Why does he still refer to Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus as Messiah as ‘Israel’? If Christians are the “true seed of Abraham” and the “new Israel,” then why is he referring to the “former Israel” as Israel? Does a divorced man still refer to his ex-wife as his wife?
The application of the name “Israel” to Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus can be found in the following passages: Acts 2:22, 29; 3:12, 17; 13:16; Romans 10:1. Why did Paul pray for the salvation of Israel in Romans 10:1? If the Church is Israel, then the apostle would be praying for the salvation of the Church. Do you see how confusing replacement theology becomes once you start to look at the passages this theological system is is built upon and the lack of any resonance of this doctrine in the New Testament.
The replacement theologian must ask, “Is Paul recognizing the validity of Jewish people without faith in Jesus as still members of the nation of Israel?”
Sounds like Burge, along with all replacement theologians, is confused about the identity of Israel. I find it confusing when I turn to Revelation 7 and God is calling the 144,000 tribulation evangelists to go forth and preach the good news during the end times. He calls this gathering of end time Jewish preachers from the twelve tribes of Israel. If the church is Israel, where are the twelve tribes? Where is the tribe of Naphtali in the church?
God’s Promises to Physical Israel are not Placed Aside Due to the Existence of a Believing Jewish Remnant
It is true Jewish followers of Jesus are the spiritual seed of Abraham through faith in the Messiah. But they are also physical descendants of Abraham. In 2 Corthinians 11:22 Paul confesses his Jewish identity:
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.
Since the New Testament teaches being a member of the physical line of Abraham is not a substitute for having a redeeming relationship with Jesus, replacement theologians like Burge conclude being a physical member of the nation of Israel is not important. In contrast, in Romans 11:2-5 Paul made it clear God has not turned His back on physical Israel. He has always kept a spiritual remnant within the nation of Israel. If Israel is not important to God, why would He care about keeping a spiritual remnant within Israel? According to replacement theologians, “there is no physical Israel,” but only a spiritual Israel. Yet God takes His commitment to the nation serious:
God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”[a]? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
Once again in Romans 11:28b-29a Paul makes it crystal clear that God has not turned His back on His promises to Israel:
but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
“The gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Yet according to replacement theologians, the covenants God made with Israel are revocable. God has switch tracks and is now on the Church track, and Israel’s train has gone off the track and into a ditch. According to replacement theologians God is only interested in saving Jews, but He is not interested in the nation of Israel. To a God who calls his gifts and call irrevocable and still considers the Jewish people as “elect”, replacement theology flies in the face of the character of God.
Face it, subscribers to the replacement theology, must substantiate their belief by showing somewhere in the New Testament Paul address Gentile Christians as Jews or a “new Israel.” He only addresses Gentiles as “the seed of Abraham” because they have the same faith as Abraham, and not because they replace the physical descendants of Abraham. It is Christian educators like the Wheaton College professor with his anti-Israel bias who come up with a theology that cannot stand up to an exegetical examination of the passages used to support their theology.