Where is Israel?

Does the Church Replace Israel? (Part 1)

Posted on March 17, 2011 by Geoff Volker

As one who holds to New Covenant Theology (NCT) I am frequently asked this question, “Do you believe in replacement theology?  When I hear other teachers who embrace NCT try to answer this question I hear them giving rather involved answers in order to avoid receiving the label of one who holds to replacement theology.  My answer is quite clear, I do believe in replacement theology.  In fact, I would go as far as saying that I do not think that anyone who holds to NCT could answer the question any other way.

Our standard NCT definition of Israel is that it is a “temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God.” This definition comes from a variety of Scriptures. In Hebrews 8:7-13 we are told that the Old Covenant with Israel only produced unbelievers. Therefore, through the death of Jesus on the cross a new people will be purchased who will have their sins forgiven and will have a changed life or new heart. This work of Jesus is called the New Covenant. The Israelites, who were produced by the Old Covenant had neither their sins forgiven or had new hearts. Please keep in mind that were a remnant of believers in the Israel, but they became believers on the basis of the New Covenant to come.

On of the best places in Scripture that describes how the Old Covenant only produces unbelievers is Galatians 4:21-31. Here we find the allegory of Hagar and Sarah. Hagar is said to represent the Old or Mosaic Covenant and that covenant only produces unbelievers and is to be identified with Mount Sinai and the earthly city of Jerusalem. The verse actually says that the Israelites are in slavery. That would mean that they are slaves to sin and therefore unbelievers (Romans 6:17-18).

In Romans 9:30-10:3 the apostle Paul states quite clearly that Israel has not attained righteousness because they pursued it by works. True righteousness is described as the unconditional acceptance that believers receive when they trust in Jesus alone to save them by his death on the cross for their sins. When we believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven and therefore we have a clean record and are righteous and accepted by a holy God. Israel sought salvation by works and not by faith and were therefore viewed as unbelievers. Please note that Paul is describing Israel as a whole. The existence of a remnant of believers is not relevant to Paul’s argument. Israel is ALWAYS viewed as unbelieving.

The new covenant produces a new people of God who are the real people of God. Israel was only a picture of the people of God. That is why when Peter describes believers in the new covenant era he uses the language of the old covenant people of God.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV).

The real people of God are those for whom Jesus died on the cross. The church in the new covenant era is made up of those who profess to believe the gospel message. They are trusting Jesus to pay for their sins and they are in love with the God of heaven and earth. Membership in the nation of Israel in the old covenant era was gained simply by being born into one of the Israelite families. Israel and the church are picture and fulfillment. The church does replace Israel since Israel was placed on this earth to be a temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God.

Does the Church Replace Israel? (Part 2)

Posted on March 28, 2011 by Geoff Volker

In Galatians 4:21-31 we find the apostle Paul using an allegory to teach the Galatian believers about the true nature of Israel. Paul begins by saying that the mothers of Abraham’s children, Sarah and Hagar (Keturah and her children are not mentioned in this context), represent two covenants. He is referring to the Old and the New covenants. Hagar represents the Old or Mosaic Covenant, while Sarah represents the New Covenant. Hagar is described as the slave woman, while Sarah is described as the free woman. The covenant that Hagar represents is from Mount Sinai, which represents the present city of Jerusalem, and is said to bear children who are to be slaves. This is another way of saying that the Old Covenant was a works covenant and could only produce unbelievers.

Paul goes on to describe what the New Covenant, the work of Jesus on the cross,  produces, which are believers. The New Covenant is described as the Jerusalem that is above  and she (Sarah) is our mother. This covenant produces true believers who have their sins forgiven and a new heart (Hebrews 10:14).

At this point in the passage Paul quotes an Old Testament verse (Isaiah 54:1) that prophetically describes a time in the future when Israel will be regathered back into the land of Palestine. This is interpreted by Paul as referring to the  New Covenant era (from Pentecost until the 2nd Coming) when God will produce a real people of God (the church). This will be unlike the people produced by the Old Covenant (Israel) for they were unbelievers. They were only a temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God. The church is a spiritual Israel. In Isaiah 54:1 Israel is described as a desolate woman who cannot bear any children. This is an accurate appraisal of Israel under the Old Covenant who were rejected by God. This rejection is seen in the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 BC and the destruction of the southern kingdom in AD 586. With the coming of the New Covenant era God is once again going to make Israel fertile. This fertility is seen in those coming to faith in Jesus Christ this side of Pentecost. This is a spiritual Israel and it is the church. The prophecies regarding the regathering of Israel back into the land are truly fulfilled by the coming of the New Covenant era and the church of Jesus Christ.

At this point in the passage Paul states that those produced by the Old Covenant, which is literal Israel, are persecuting those produced by the New Covenant. He then goes on to say that we (true believers) are not the children of the slave woman (Hagar=Old Covenant). We are the children of the free woman (Sarah=New Covenant). This allegory brings out into the open the truth that literal Israel was never intended to be the real people of God. They were only a temporary picture until the real people came along.

Does the Church Replace Israel? (Part 3)

Posted on May 5, 2011 by Geoff Volker

In the gospels the theme that Israel is not the real people of God is continued. In Matthew 8:5-13 Jesus heals the servant of the Roman centurion. The centurion only requests of Jesus to say the word and his servant would be healed. In response to such faith Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus was stating that in the kingdom of heaven the Israelites, who are the picture of the people of God, will be thrown out of the kingdom. The Jews of Israel, who are repeatedly called the people of God in the Old Testament, are not the real people of God. That is why they will be thrown out of the kingdom. Their claim is that they are in the kingdom. They are not losing their salvation. They are giving evidence that they never had it. In saying this it must be understood that there has always existed a remnant of true believers in Israel. But throughout the Bible Israel is repeatedly described as an unbelieving people. The fact that a remnant of believers has always existed seems not to be relevant to the evaluation of the biblical writers. We will examine many of these passages in a future blog.

Another passage in the gospels addresses the faith of Israel is Matthew 21:33-46, which is the parable of the Tenants. Here Jesus gives a story about the owner of a vineyard. The owner plants a vineyard and then puts it into the hands of his servants. At harvest time he sends his servants to collect his portion of the harvest. The servants abuse and kill those he sent. Finally he sends his son and they kill him. Jesus then gives the point of the parable.

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

The parable was giving the history of Israel and the stubborn rebelliousness of the nation of Israel. Jesus then says that the kingdom will be given to another people who “will produce its fruit.” This new people of God is the church of Jesus Christ, the real people of God. Hebrews 8:7-13 teach that the work of Jesus on the cross to purchase a people is being realized during the New Covenant era. The prophecy of Jeremiah 31 is being fulfilled right now. This passage will be discussed in great detail in an upcoming blog in this series.

Another parable that follows the parable of the tenants is the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). Here Jesus describes a scene in Jewish life where a wedding banquet is prepared by the king for his son. He then sends out his servants to invite all of his guests. But when his guests were invited they paid no attention and refused to come. They not only refused to come but they also abused some of the king’s servants. The king, then great enraged, sent out his army and destroyed his former guests and destroyed their city. The king then instructed his servants to go out into the streets and invite just anybody and so that the wedding banquet would be filled.  Text of this parable is about the hostility of the chief priests and Pharisees to Jesus Christ. One further point that is mentioned in the parable is about a man attending the wedding banquet is not dressed appropriately. He is thrown out of the banquet where it says in the parable that he is to be cast into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then you come to the punch line of the parable the final verse which is verse 14 that says quote many are invited, but few are chosen.” Just as in the parable of the tenants so also in the parable of the wedding banquet we see the history of Israel being portrayed before our eyes. Israel is described as always being in rebellion, always unbelieving. As we see in Romans 11:5 in the new covenant era only a remnant of ethnic Jews will be saved. The church, the spiritual Israel, will be made up of mostly Gentiles with a small number of Jews. The key phrase in the parable is found in the very last first, verse 14, where Jesus says, “for many are invited but few are chosen.”  The gospel in one form or another came first to Israel but they rejected it. Now the invitation goes out to all, but the far majority of those who will respond will be Gentiles, And this is according to the plan of God.

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