Last night, Dr Calvin Smith, Principal of Kings Evangelical Divinity School, and I debated the question “Has the Church Replaced Israel?” live on Revelation TV. It was a good natured discussion and on many issues we were in agreement. The programme is available for purchase on DVD from Revelation TV. Calvin and I introduced our positions at the beginning of the programme. Here is my opening statement.
Revelation TV Debate
The question I want us to consider tonight is this: Was the coming ofthe fulfilment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham? Is the Church central to God’s purposes today or a parenthesis to God’s continuing purposes for the Jewish people? Briefly let me ask three additional questions that may help us find an answer.
1. Who are God’s Chosen People?
The assumption that the Jewish people are God’s “chosen people” is so deeply ingrained, to question it sounds heretical or anti-Semitic. Yet both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures insist membership of God’s people is open to all races on the basis of grace through faith inChrist. In Isaiah 56, we see the Lord anticipate and repudiate the rise of an exclusive Israeli nationalism.
“Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” … And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants … who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain… for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”” (Isaiah 56:3, 6-7)
In the New Testament the term “chosen” is used exclusively of the followers of Jesus, irrespective of race.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:11-12)
2. What is the Significance of the Promised Land?
Contrary to popular assumption, the Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence is always conditional. For example, God said to his people, “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23).
The scriptures insist, residence was open to all God’s people on the basis of faith not race. Indeed, the writer to Hebrews explains that the land was never their ultimate desire or inheritance any way.
“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:9-10; 39-40)
The land was only ever intended as a temporary residence until the coming of Jesus Christ. Our shared eternal inheritance is heavenly not earthly.
3. Does God have a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church?
Many believe that God has a continuing covenant with Israel, separate from the Church. This is usually base this on passages like Romans, although the context is often ignored. In Romans 2:28-29, for example, the Apostle Paul defines ‘Jew’.
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
That is why in Romans 9, the term ‘Israel’ is limited to those who acknowledge the Lord Jesus.
“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8)
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul explicitly identifies the church as the true ‘circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3). This is entirely consistent with the Old Testament, where, as we have already seen, citizenship of Israel was open to all ‘those who acknowledge me’ (Psalm 87:4). And here is the clue to understanding Romans. Of course God has not rejected the Jewish people. His covenant purpose for them, as with every other race, has always been ‘that they may be saved’ (Romans 10:1), to create one people for himself, made of both and (Romans 11:26). God’s covenant purposes are fulfilled only in and through Jesus Christ. This is most fully explained in Ephesians 2.
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who areby birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one … His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2: 11-16)
To summarise, in the New Testament we are told explicitly that the promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour. God’s blessings come by grace through faith, not by works or race (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:16, 28-29).
It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the role of the Church, the nature of our missionary mandate, not least, to the beloved Jewish people.
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