|Has The Church Replaced Israel?|
Thursday, 06 January 2011 00:00
I recently spoke at a conference where I was assigned the topic, "Israel in the End Times." I think I startled a lot of people when I began my presentation by asking the question, "Is there really any role for Israel in God's plan for the end times?" I'm sure most of my audience thought it was a silly question because most of them were students of Bible prophecy and they were aware of the fact that the Jewish people are the focal point of end time Bible prophecy.
But I proceeded to assure them that the question was not a silly one. I explained that for almost 2,000 years the Church at large, both Catholic and Protestant, has maintained that due to the fact the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God poured out His wrath on them in 70 AD , destroying their nation and their temple, and that He has washed His hands of them, leaving them with no purpose whatsoever as a nation. In short, because of their rebellion against God in their rejection of Jesus, God has replaced Israel with the Church, transferring the blessings promised to Israel to the Church.
This is called "Replacement Theology," and those who believe in it constitute the majority of professing Christians today. Accordingly, they consider modern day Israel to be an accident of history, with no spiritual significance whatsoever.
And therefore, they would deny that God has any special plans for the Jewish people in the end times. Again, to them, the regathering of the Jews and the re-establishment of Israel are simply accidents of history, with no spiritual significance.
The Origin of Replacement Theology
The roots of Replacement Theology and its fruit of anti-Semitism go back to the very beginning of Christianity.
This is ironic when you consider the fact that the Church began as a Jewish institution. It was founded in Judea by Jews who were followers of a Jewish Messiah, and all its founding documents were written by Jews.1
The symbol on the right is the oldest Christian symbol that has ever been found. It clearly emphasizes the Jewish origins of Christianity. The symbol is carved into artifacts found in Jerusalem that date back to the First Century.2 As you can see, it shows the fish, the symbol of the Church, emerging from Jewish roots, represented by the Menorah and the Star of David. The fish became a symbol for Christians because the word for fish in Greek is icthus, and Christians used the letters of this word, ICTHUS, as an acronym for Iesous, Christos, Theos, Huios, and Soter, meaning Jesus Christ, God's Son and Savior.
But the distinctive Jewish flavor of early Christianity was not to last long. As the Church began to spread beyond Judea, its message was embraced by more and more Gentiles who had no interest in maintaining contact with the Church's Jewish roots. Even worse, the new Gentile leaders began to turn against the Jews by characterizing them as "Christ killers."
Consider the following examples:3
Ignatius of Antioch (ca 50-117 AD) — Taught that those who partake of the Passover are partakers with those who killed Jesus.4
Justin Martyr (100-106 AD) — Claimed God's covenant with Israel was no longer valid and that the Gentiles had replaced the Jews.5
Irenaeus (ca 130-202 AD) — Declared the Jews were disinherited from the grace of God.6
Tertullian (ca 155-230 AD) — Blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus and argued they had been rejected by God.7
Origen (185-254 AD) — He was responsible for much anti- Semitism, all of which was based on his assertion that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus.8
The Council of Elvira (305 AD in Spain) — Prohibited Christians from sharing a meal with a Jew, marrying a Jew, blessing a Jew or observing the Sabbath.9
The Council of Nicea (325 AD in Turkey) — Changed the celebration of the Resurrection from the Jewish Feast of First Fruits to Easter in an attempt to disassociate it from Jewish feasts. The Council stated: "For it is unbecoming beyond measure that on this holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews. Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people..."10
Eusebius (ca 275-339 AD) — Taught that the promises of Scripture were meant for the Gentiles and the curses were meant for the Jews. Asserted that the Church was the "true Israel."11
John Chrysostom (349-407 AD) — Preached a series of sermons against the Jews in which he stated, "The synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater, it is also a den of robbers and lodging place for wild beasts... Jews are inveterate murderers possessed by the Devil. Their debauchery and drunkenness gives the manners of a pig." He denied that Jews could ever receive forgiveness. He claimed it was a Christian duty to hate Jews. He claimed that Jews worshiped Satan. And this man was canonized a saint!12
Jerome (ca 347-420 AD) — Described the Jews as "... serpents wearing the image of Judas. Their psalms and prayers are the braying of donkeys... They are incapable of understanding Scripture..."13
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) — Asserted that the Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the Church over the synagogue."14
The Middle Ages
By the Middle Ages, two erroneous concepts had become established Church doctrine:
These concepts were reinforced throughout the Middle Ages through the Crusades, the Inquisition, passion plays, the black plague epidemic, and blood libels.
In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade to rid the Holy Land of its Muslim rulers. Although the prime goal of the crusade was to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims, Jews were a second target. The accumulated hatreds and fears resulting from charges of deicide (the murder of God) exploded with this call to arms. The abbot of Cluny asked why Christians should travel to "the ends of the world to fight the Saracens, when we permit among us other infidels a thousand times more guilty toward Christ than the Mohammedans?" Religious passion, greed, and the vulnerability of Jews led to the rise of violent mobs who murdered thousands of Jews to the cry of "Conversion or death!" This behavior continued for eight additional crusades until the 9th in 1272.15
Passion plays abounded during the Middle Ages, and they were used to cultivate hatred toward the Jewish people. Jews were depicted as demons who knew full well that Christ was the son of God. In each play, as Christ carried the cross, he was tortured by bloodthirsty, cursing devils with hooked noses, horns and tails. The Jews were made to seem as evil as Christ was divine.16
Throughout the Middle Ages, professing Christians spread myths which helped to heighten popular hatred and fear of the Jewish people. As a result, it became commonplace among Christian groups to think of Jews as agents of Satan. One of the most popular anti-Jewish myths that gained widespread acceptance was the notion that Jews murdered Christians each year around the time of Passover in order to get blood needed to perform satanic rites. This became known as the charge of ritual murder or "blood libel." Another common myth that circulated during these years was that Jews would steal the wafers used in communion and stab them with knives, thus killing Christ once again!17
The Black Plague in the middle of the fourteenth century killed approximately one-third of the population of Europe. At the time, it was not known how the illness spread, but stories and rumors circulated that Jews had poisoned the wells. Although the accusation was totally unfounded, many Christians believed the myth. One reason it was easy to believe is because the Jews were not impacted by the plague as much as were the Gentiles. But this was due to the sanitary laws of the Bible which the Jews carefully followed. This accusation led to severe consequences for Jews. More than sixty Jewish communities were burned to the ground with all their occupants killed, and in some places, Jews were tortured and burned to death in bonfires.18
In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV granted the monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, the right to establish a special inquisition in Spain to deal with baptized Jews who were suspected of remaining faithful to Judaism. Thousands were burned at the stake by order of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1492, King Ferdinand decided that all Spanish Jews should be banned from Spain. It was feared that Jews were a danger to Christianity. Approximately 150,000 Jews were forced to leave Spain.19
The Impact of the Reformation
Unfortunately, the Reformation produced no changes in attitude. In fact, the hatred of the Jews was reinforced and intensified by the writings of Martin Luther, the very man who launched the Reformation.
Initially, Luther was sympathetic toward the Jews because he believed their rejection of the Gospel was due to their recognition of the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.
But when they continued to reject the Gospel, Luther turned on them with a vengeance. In 1543 he wrote a pamphlet entitled "Concerning The Jews and Their Lies." The document was an anti-Semitic diatribe. In it, he referred to the Jews as:20
Having dehumanized and demonized them, Luther then proceeded to make some startling proposals for dealing with them:
Needless to say, the Nazis gleefully quoted Luther as they rose to power and launched the Holocaust. In his book Mein Kampf, published in 1925, Adolf Hitler referred to Martin Luther as "a great warrior, a true statesmen, and a great reformer." Keep in mind that Hitler was a professed Christian.
In 1924 at a Christian gathering in Berlin, Hitler spoke to thousands and received a standing ovation when he made the following proclamation: "I believe that today I am acting in accordance with the will of Almighty God as I announce the most important work that Christians could undertake — and that is to be against the Jews and get rid of them once and for all."21
Hitler then proceeded to talk about the influence of Luther on his life:22
Martin Luther has been the greatest encouragement of my life. Luther was a great man. He was a giant. With one blow he heralded the coming of the new dawn and the new age. He saw clearly that the Jews need to be destroyed, and we're only beginning to see that we need to carry this work on.
At the Nuremberg trials after World War II, the Nazi leader, Julius Streicher, defended himself by saying, "I have never said anything that Martin Luther did not say."23
The terrible truth that Christians do not like to face, and which many are unaware of, is that the Holocaust was the product of 1,900 years of virulent Christian anti-Semitism.
The New Anti-Semitism
The horror of the Holocaust tended to mute the most radical forms of anti-Semitism among Christian leaders. But in reality, anti-Semitism continues today in a new sophisticated form called anti-Zionism. Whereas anti-Semitism sought to drive out the Jews from the lands where they lived, anti-Zionism refuses to accept their right to live in their own land.
A good example of the new anti-Semitism can be found in a document issued by Dr. James Kennedy's Knox Theological Seminary in 2002. It took the form of an open letter to Evangelicals concerning the land of Israel.24 It has since been endorsed by hundreds of theologians and pastors, including such luminaries as R. C. Sproul.
The document begins by denouncing those who teach that the Bible's promises concerning the land of Israel are being fulfilled today "in a special region or 'Holy Land,' perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone."25 It then proceeds to proclaim that the promises made to Abraham "do not apply to any particular ethnic group, but to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel" (emphasis added).26
The document then specifically denies the Jew's claim on any land in the Middle East: "The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the 'Holy Land' cannot be supported by Scripture." Then, incredibly, the document asserts that "the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua."27
Adding salt to the wounds, the document concludes with the following observation:28
The present secular state of Israel... is not an authentic or prophetic realization of the Messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, a day should not be anticipated in which Christ's kingdom will manifest Jewish distinctives, whether by its location in 'the land,' by its constituency, or by its ceremonial institutions and practices.
And so you have it — an overview of the sad and sordid history of Christian anti-Semitism that is rooted in Replacement Theology and which continues to this day under the guise of anti-Zionism.
The Jewish Attitude
I hope now you can understand why it is so difficult to share the Gospel with Jews. Because Jews have been persecuted and killed throughout history in the name of Jesus, the Jewish people look upon Christianity as their mortal enemy.
Any Jew who converts to Christianity is considered a traitor, for he is viewed as one who has joined the enemy. That's the reason that Orthodox Jews react so strongly to a child who becomes a Christian. They will sometimes declare the child to be dead and will even conduct a funeral service.
This is the reason that the Messianic Jewish Movement today is such a miracle. Beginning only in 1971, it has successfully shared the Gospel with over a million Jews worldwide and has established over 500 Messianic congregations. In the next issue of this magazine, the Lord willing, we will take an in-depth look at this remarkable movement.
The Response of Scripture
What does the Word of God have to say about all this? To begin with, it strongly repudiates anti-Semitism. Psalm 129:5-8 says that "all who hate Zion" will be "put to shame..." It further states that no believer should ever give a blessing to such a person.
With regard to the allegation that the Jews are "Christ killers," the Word clearly identifies who murdered Jesus and makes it plain that they were not exclusively the Jews. In Acts 4:27 we are told that Jesus was killed through a conspiracy that involved "both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel." In reality, all of us have the blood of Jesus on our hands, for all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23), and Jesus died for all sinners (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Regarding the idea that God has already fulfilled the land promises to the Jews during the time of Joshua, it is interesting to note that long after Joshua, David wrote in the psalms that the land promise is everlasting in nature and is yet to be fulfilled (Psalm 105:8-11). The fact of the matter is that the Jews have never occupied all the land that was promised to them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:18-21).
Concerning the claim that the Jews have been rejected by God, there are a couple of biblical principles that need to be kept in mind. First, the Bible affirms that the Jews were called as God's Chosen People to be witnesses of what it means to have a relationship with Him (Isaiah 43:10-12). And the Bible makes it clear that this calling is "irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).
Second, in direct contradiction of Replacement Theology, the Bible teaches that the Jews have never been rejected by God because of their unbelief. In Romans 3 Paul asserts point blank that their rejection of Jesus has not nullified God's faithfulness to the promises He has made to them (Romans 3:1-4). Paul makes the point again in Romans 11:1 when he asks, "I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?" He answers his own question with an emphatic statement: "May it never be!... God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew" (Romans 11:2). It is true that the Jewish people are currently under discipline because of their rejection of their Messiah. Over and over in their Scriptures the prophets said they would be disciplined if they were unfaithful, but always the promise was made that they would be preserved. An example of this type of prophetic statement can be found in Jeremiah 30:11 —
"'For I am with you,' declares the Lord, 'to save you; for I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you, only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly, and will by no means leave you unpunished.'"
God has preserved them in His grace because He loves them. In Zechariah 2:8 God proclaims that the Jewish people are "the apple of His eye," and He warns against anyone trying to harm them.
Another reason they have been preserved is because God is determined to bring a great remnant to salvation (Isaiah 10:20-22). This promise is made repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and is confirmed by Paul in the New Testament in Romans 9-11. The salvation of this remnant is described in detail in Zechariah 12:10 where it says that at the end of the Tribulation the remaining Jews will come to the end of themselves and will turn their hearts to God in repentance and accept Yeshua as their Messiah.
That believing remnant will go into the Millennium in the flesh and will comprise the nation of Israel to whom God will fulfill all the promises He has made to the Jews (Isaiah 60-62). During the Millennium the nation of Israel will be the prime nation in the world through whom God will bless all the other nations (Zechariah 8:22-23).
In summary, the Word of God makes it clear that Israel definitely has a role and a future in the end times.
The first question most people usually ask in response to these biblical points about Israel in the end times is this: "Why would God continue to pursue such a stubborn and rebellious people?"
The answer is that they are witnesses of God, and through them God is demonstrating His unfathomable grace. Only a God of grace would put up with them! But that is true of you and me as well. God is not doing one thing for the Jewish people that He is not willing to do for all of us. He pursues us in love despite our sinfulness, and regardless of how stiff-necked we may be, He never washes His hands of us.
This brings us to a second question: What is God's plan for the Jews in the end times? How will He bring about the salvation of a great remnant?
Let me outline the answer for you briefly:
As you can see, the Jewish people have a very central role in end time Bible prophecy.
The Perseverance of Anti-Semitism
A perversion of Christianity has been the source of most anti-Semitism in the Western world. Throughout northern Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, anti-Semitism has been promoted by Islam. The Qu'ran calls Jews "the children of monkeys and pigs."29
But there are anti-Semites in this world who are neither Christian or Muslim and who have never even met a Jew. For example, several years ago five of the top ten best selling books in Japan were virulently anti-Semitic, blaming all the problems of Japan on an "international Jewish conspiracy."
Why is anti-Semitism so widespread, so persistent, so virulent, and so irrational? It's because it is fundamentally a supernatural phenomenon.
Satan hates the Jews with a passion. He hates them because God provided both the Bible and the Messiah through them. He hates them because God called them to be His Chosen People. He hates them because God has promised to save a great remnant of them. He hates them because God loves them.
The result is that he works overtime to plant seeds of hatred in people's hearts toward the Jews. He is determined to destroy every Jew on planet earth so that God cannot keep His promise to save a great remnant. He tried to annihilate them in the Holocaust. He failed. He will try to destroy them once again during the last half of the Tribulation. He will fail again.
God is in control, not Satan. God has the wisdom and power to orchestrate all the evil of Satan and Mankind to the triumph of His perfect will in history.
The Jews will be preserved. A great remnant will be saved. All the promises to the Jews will be fulfilled.
And when will this occur? At the end of the Tribulation when Jesus returns to triumph over Satan. On that glorious day, the Jewish remnant will cry out "Baruch Haba Bashem Adonai!" meaning "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matthew 23:39).