Friday, 11 November 2011
Has the Church Replaced Israel?
debate between Calvin Smith and Stephen Sizer broadcast on Revelation TV 9th
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 of Jesus the 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 in Jesus Christ.
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who
acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This
one was born in Zion.’” Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one
were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will
write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm
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
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.”
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 9-11, 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 9-11. 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 Jews and Gentiles (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 are Gentiles
by 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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