Since the second century A.D., there have been numerous movements within greater "Christendom" that sought to supplant and replace national and ethnic Israel as God's chosen people. The early church fathers, some of whom were complicit in promoting this, also believed Jerusalem's destruction and the Jewish diaspora was a clear sign that the Jews were no longer God's elect. Moreover, this absence, of both the temple and the people, created a vacuum for the title of "God's chosen people," which, many Gentiles have since come to claim.
Miraculously, Israel was restored as a people and a nation in 1948. It took two world wars and a holocaust, but God strategically maneuvered world events to bring both the land and the people back together again after nearly two thousand years. What is even more incredible, is that there are still Gentiles and religious movements who believe, despite that reality, they are still God's elect and the Jews currently back in their land are somehow imposters.
As stated at the outset, this idea of "Replacement Theology" or Supersessionism, is not new. It went mainstream in the 4th century when Emperor Constantine normalized Christianity across the Roman Empire. What grew out of that was the Roman Catholic Church, which through its' Augustinian Eschatology (Amillennialism) came to believe they were the Kingdom, and their Pope was ruling vicariously in Jesus' place. Even after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, this idea of supersessionism carried over and most mainline protestants have embraced the notion that the Jews' role as God's chosen people, is ancient history.
Still, other groups have attempted to physically co-opt or hijack the Jewish identities as if they were the tribes themselves. Groups such as the Mormons, Black Hebrew Israelites, British Israelism, Armstrongism, and various groups within the Hebrew Roots Movement have done as much. There is a growing insistence amongst these groups that they are now the true Israel, and the ethnic Jews living in Israel today, are again, imposters.
Furthermore, there are a growing number of anti-Semitic groups within the cultural and political landscapes who make up both ends of the political spectrum. On the left (i.e. Democrats, Progressives, Antifa, Chrislam, BLM, etc.) have become increasingly hostile towards Jews and Israel. On the far-right, groups such as Q-Anon, Rick Wiles (TruNews), Christ at the Checkpoint, etc. routinely either denigrate Zionism as a whole or attempt to attach every conspiracy theory in the book to them. Nevertheless, all these groups seem to go hand in glove with the outright denial of a future, literal, reign of Christ on David's throne in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32-33).
Now, many of the aforementioned will admit that God still has a plan for “Israel” (national/ethnic Jews). However, what they mean is that since Christ has come and has fulfilled everything, He now is Israel (common amongst varying Post-Millennial, Amillennial, and Preterist positions). According to them, because Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament, and we are now in Christ, we are Israel. Thus, the viewpoint of these is that God only ever had one people, for all time, and that through national Israel’s failings, we have not only been grafted in, but somehow, we have become the whole tree itself instead of just a lonely branch.
Granted, as Christians, we are indeed the ‘seed of Abraham’ in the spiritual sense (Gal 3:16). But that does not make the Church the ‘seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Taken to its extreme, all that seems to do is discount God’s specific calling of a real people, who are physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom 9:6-13). Quoting the conversation between God and Moses, the Apostle Paul records that God declares “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy.” In Romans 9, Paul further goes on to use Pharaoh as an example of God raising Him up, only so that He could use him to demonstrate His power.
For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. Rom 9:17-18
So it is with the creation of Israel, that God deliberately set Abram aside as a Gentile (Josh 24:2), and then through His calling, changes Abram to Abraham and from Sarai, to Sarah, where Moses then records Abram as being the first Hebrew in Scriptures. (Gen 14:13). And through Abraham’s son Isaac (the son of promise), they would become a physical nation whose calling was to be as a kingdom of priests before the Lord…
Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant,
then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
Paul further clarifies, that because of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, God would cause a partial hardening to happen (Rom 11:25), but because of God’s unconditional promises to the patriarchs, they (Israel as a physical people) are beloved. So that puts them at odds directly with the Church in Paul’s day, and even unto our day, that this hardening has continued, and will continue until God once again turns His focus back upon the people that He originally called for Himself.
Concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so, these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Rom 11:28-32 (my emphasis)
When confronting those who make the case that we have replaced Israel, we can show a relatively easy clear distinction on just how the two are distinct. Since the Church is not an enemy to the cross, but redeemed by it, we cannot be the same thing as Israel, this, the argument their shifts. Proponents of replacement theology then begin to throw out vague terms like we are now true Israel or spiritual Israel by misinterpreting various passages in the New Testament.
According to Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, the term “Israel” is used 73 times in the New Testament, of which, the vast majority refers to national, ethnic Israel. Two verses I have had used on me repeatedly, Gal. 3:16 and Romans 9:6, SEEMS to lead one to the view that the Church has taken Israel’s place, however, only if taken completely out of the context with the rest of the chapter or even the book, as with Galatians. I would like to pull three quotes that capitalize on this point with extreme clarity. (See here)
– The usage of the terms Israel and the church in the early chapters of the book of Acts is in complete harmony, for Israel exists there alongside the newly formed church, and the two entities are kept separate in terminology [Ibid., p. 189].
– On the contrary, the apostle is concerned with correcting the gospel preached to the Galatians by the Judaizers, particularly their false contention that it was necessary to be circumcised to be saved and to observe as Christians certain requirements of the law of Moses in order to remain in divine favor…
– The apostle makes no attempt whatsoever to deny that there is a legitimate distinction of race between Gentile and Jewish believers in the church…There is a remnant of Jewish believers in the church according to the election of grace… This approach fails to see that Paul does not say there is neither Jew nor Greek within the church. He speaks of those who are “in Christ.”…But Paul also says there is neither male nor female, nor slave nor free man in Christ. Would he then deny sexual differences within the church? Or the social differences in Paul’s day? Is it not plain that Paul is not speaking of national or ethnic differences in Christ, but of spiritual status? In that sense there is no difference in Christ [Ibid., p. 190].
True Israel, then, are those Jews who have come to faith in their Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, and through faith have been redeemed by His blood, and not through the blood required of by the Mosaic covenant (the Law) i.e….. that of bulls, goats, and sheep. Hebrews 10:11-14 states…For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But God also promised Abraham that he would be a ‘father of many nations,’ not only as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashores but as many as the stars in the heavens above.
Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. Genesis 22:16-18 (my emphasis)
Perhaps God was telling Abraham prophetically that there would be both physical descendants (sand of the seashore) and spiritual ones (stars in the heavens). I don’t think Abraham would have understood that at that time, but what he was expecting, was a physical heir, one of his own flesh and blood, who would carry on his family line in perpetuity. And that is exactly what happened.
But as with the sand and the stars, one would come by the flesh, the other through like-faith. Two distinct nations unified in Christ in this dispensation, but who, still maintain their distinct physical identities. The Gentiles are the wild branch grafted in, and the other, the natural branch, becoming true Israel when united with Christ their Messiah.
Are we then True Israel if we are grafted in? Paul gives us the answer.
…You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. Rom 9:16-23
First of all, the olive tree is and isn’t Israel, because Israel isn’t a tree, it’s a nation. It represents Israel nationally, but it’s not even the tree itself, but just the branches. It is a metaphor meant to convey the place of privilege that Israel had prior to the Church’s conception at Pentecost. This example of the olive tree also cannot be speaking about salvation.
As born-again believers, can we be ‘cut off’ as Israel has?
No, because Paul writes in both Ephesians 1:11-14 and in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, that we are purchased by God, and sealed by His Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. So if we could be cut off, Paul would be contradicting himself. What is at stake here is not of salvation, but of privilege.
What we are grafted into, is that same privilege in God’s economy, as Israel once had. Remember back to Exodus 19, where God assembled the nation of Israel together for the first time at Mt. Sinai and stated “then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people”. Their calling was as a nation. The covenant they agreed to as a nation was conditional (Ex. 24:1-4) (if/then), but the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15:12-20) was not because God made that covenant amongst Himself (smoking furnace and a burning lamp) on Abraham's behalf (as he was in deep sleep). Abraham’s calling and the covenants that ensued through Isaac and Jacob were unconditional.
Thus, if the Church replaces Israel, who they say represents the tree, then the whole tree would have to be cut down if it were to be cut off.
So you and I as believers are grafted into this place of privilege in God’s sovereign plan, we are now God’s focus in this dispensation called the “Age of the Church.” We have been gifted with the giving of the Holy Spirit. We have a complete set of Scriptures. We also have forty+ centuries of hindsight that we can look back upon to see how God’s word has faithfully come to pass exactly as it said it would.
But regardless of our advantages, we as a people are no better than were the Jews of yesteryear. We still sin, because we are sinners. We still live in our sin-corrupted bodies, in a sin-stained world. The only difference between them and us is that we have the once and for all sacrifice applied to our lives, that we might become the righteousness of God through Christ. (2 Cor 5:21)
As for those who hold to this perverse adherence to replacement theology, they would have us believe we have achieved some level of superiority over the Jews. Whether that is admitted out loud, or only in their heads, is ludicrous all the same. It is all by God's grace and mercy, that we even have the opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord. It was only through the Jewish race that a Messiah could come. It was only through the patriarchs like Abraham that demonstrated to us what real faith looks like so that we could have a standard to measure our own lives against.
Did the Old Testament saints know what this future Messiah would come and do? Did the Old Testament prophets know what the Messiah would come and do? Surely they knew He would bring the Kingdom Come, but did they know how it would come? Did they know this Messiah would not only reconcile man to God but that He would also conquer death and hell? Scriptures tell us that not only did they long to understand His coming, but the angels as well. They got bits and pieces, but not the whole. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Nevertheless, just as the Old Testament saints looked forward to His coming, we now have the luxury of looking back. God, through His sovereignty, chose Israel back then to be His people in the dispensations of promise and law. He did this to lay the foundations so a Messiah could come to provide salvation for all once His people rejected Him.
Before the foundation of the world, He chose the Church to be His vessel in this dispensation to spread the Good News of this salvation so that all may come. However, at the end of our dispensation, God will once again, return His attention back to national Israel. He will (because He is faithful to the uttermost) fulfill those unfulfilled, unconditional promises He made by covenant with them through their patriarchs. And if God could break His unconditional covenants with them, then we should be woefully fearful. Because if He could break His promises to them, what is stopping Him from breaking His promises to us?
It was the natural and logical thinking of fallen men to think that because of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and their Temple, and because the Jews remained hostile to the Gospel due to this partial hardening, they must be cursed for all eternity. As the Church grow and became more Gentile, the tendency became to lay the blame for Christ’s crucifixion solely at the feet of the Jews who chanted "let His blood be upon us and our children" (Matt. 27:25). But are they singularly to blame? Let us look at the facts:
2. The Roman leadership washed their hands of Christ's corrupt trial. At the behest of the Jewish leaders, they then mocked, beat, scourged, and nailed Him naked to the cross. (Matt 27:27-31)
3. The Jews chanted “crucify Him” (Matt 27:24-26)
It was because of my sins that the Father determined before the foundation of the world, that He would need to bridge the gap between His perfect righteousness and my vile wickedness. It was His plan to bring through the Jewish people, the last Adam, Jesus the Christ, to be betrayed by Judas, rejected by His own people, tortured and crucified by the Romans, all on my behalf. Thus, I have no one to blame but myself.
Therefore, if those perverse people still insist that as a Christian, I am now Israel, then there is only one person I qualify to be.
I am Barabbas.
Originally written in August 2016. Updated 2022