Warning: Misunderstanding of God’s Dealings with
Israel Could be Hazardous to the Church’s Health
Within the Church, there are two predominant schools of thought concerning God’s relationship with Israel. First, we have those who advocate what is commonly referred to as “Replacement Theology.” This line of thinking asserts that as a result of repeated disobedience throughout Israel’s history and culminating in the general rejection and crucifixion of Christ, that the Church has now inherited the calling and blessings once bestowed upon Israel. The Church, therefore, has replaced natural Israel as the “New Spiritual Israel of God.”
The other line of thinking is that God’s covenant with Israel has never been broken by God, and though Israel for the most part has been unfaithful, God remains faithful to His covenant with Israel as His “chosen people.” Furthermore, God has never revoked the promise of establishing the land of Israel as the “Jewish Homeland.” In 1948, after many centuries, God once again restored His promise to the Jewish people in establishing them as a sovereign nation in the land, generally considered to be “The Final Return.”
As a result, we are to be fully supportive of both The State of Israel and increased immigration of the Jewish people back to The Land. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine how even a small number of theologians could hold to the view of Replacement Theology. One must hold a rather acute preconceived notion in order to have derived an interpretation such as this. It is just as doubtful that among numerous references, among them Romans 9, 10, and 11, can such a view be supported when approached with any reasonable degree of objectivity.
A legitimate question might be, “If Israel can supposedly be replaced because of its disobedience, can the Church in turn be replaced because of hers?” On the other hand, many who subscribe to the other persuasion may be surprised at the supposition that the latter view is also fraught with serious pitfalls, having even greater negative implications for the Church as well as Israel.
To those within the Church having a genuine love and burden for Israel’s salvation and national preservation, have we been premature in our coronation of Israel and excessive in our kudos pertaining to her accomplishments? Does our lowering of the standards for Israel make it easier to apply those same standards to the Church, encouraging the application of a cheaper standard leading to self-congratulations and complacency? Are the characteristics of present-day Israel consistent with those described in the Scriptures of a repentant people having been restored to The Land by God Himself, comprising a truly redeemed nation? And will the so-called “lovers of Israel” now boldly proclaimed by some, be ultimately exposed as having been nothing more than fleshly sentimentality when tested at the expense of one’s personal reputation or physical persecution?
It is better that questions such as these be applied to “judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts” now rather than later, before that day comes when we shall no longer have sufficient opportunity nor privilege of having our hearts examined, and if necessary, being brought to true repentance. In daring to ask these questions, we also dare to receive answers which may run contrary to our preconceived notions. But, in our quest to understand God’s dealings with Israel, we may also come to better understand God’s dealings with the Church. For in Israel we may come to see a truer reflection of the Church than we ever would have imagined, who made both groups into one. Therefore, we must pay particular attention, for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.
In the first chapter of Genesis we see God’s original intention for man; to bear the image of God and to have dominion over the earth. When man sinned, his representation of the image of God became tainted, and as a result, he was driven out from the Garden of Eden, his primary habitation. Herein lies the first revelation of a spiritual law God established at the very beginning of creation, and it is eternal. God’s representative and intended counterpart acquired his rightful ownership to the land as long as he faithfully bore the image of God. When he did not, he was disqualified from his inheritance and driven out. Generations later, God, through the patriarchs, would raise up a corporate man, Israel, who would be called to bear the image of God as a nation and given a specific land as his home.
It is critical to our overall understanding to note that due to their rebellion God allowed an entire generation of Hebrews to die in the wilderness prior to their entering “The Promised Land.” It was their offspring, a relatively untainted generation whom God would bring into that land. We must bear in mind that God never intended a corrupt, unredeemed people to take possession of, much less even to enter the land, prior to their redemption. It is simply inconsistent with the laws and ways of God. Salvation always precedes inheritance and not before. Neither, do we enter into Heaven prior to our salvation, but rather as a result and reward of our salvation.
In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God in graphic detail elaborates on the severe consequences of disobedience to the children of Israel. If they would be faithful to God and His commandments they would enjoy blessings and security in the land. But, if they were unfaithful, among a host of various forms of punishment, they would be expelled from the land. Throughout Israel’s history, this spiritual law would hold true. Moreover, when God brought those who had been taken into Babylonian captivity back to the land of Israel as described in the Book of Ezra, it was not just everybody and anybody who could return.
We read, Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5). The sum total of those who would return was merely a remnant of all those living in captivity at that time and was limited to those spiritually called, prepared, and qualified by God prior to their return.
In Deuteronomy 30, God promises eventual restoration to the land, but please pay close attention to the order of things. The preconditions are as follows: So it shall become when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord will restore you from captivity, and I will have compassion on you, and I will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
In Ezekiel 20, God again bears witness along these same lines when He speaks of future restoration; and I shall purge from among you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I shall bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord. In Ezekiel 37, He says, Then you will know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you in your own land. It is worth going back and reading these passages and other related Scriptures in their entirety, for it is consistently clear that God first prepares His people by bringing them into judgment: a purging and refining leading to godly sorrow which leads to true repentance and restoration, qualifying us for full inheritance.
God’s ways are certainly not our ways. In God’s economy, death must precede life, the Cross must precede resurrection, and it was out of love that Jesus allowed His beloved Lazarus to die in order that he might experience resurrection life. What was initially perceived through human eyes as a needless death due to lack of compassion, proved to be an act of Divine love, as seen through eternal eyes. Interference with this process, even with the best of intentions, will often circumvent the ways and will of God. For we dare not give the Lord cause to speak these terrible words to us, “Get behind Me, Satan!” In our zeal to sustain life, we may unwittingly prevent real life and God’s purposes from being fulfilled to the one we truly love. Such are God’s dealings with Israel and the Church.
As Israel and many of her well-intentioned supporters claim rightful inheritance to the land prior to and apart from godly repentance, so too many in the Church look towards a premature taking up of the Bride unto Christ. He longs for His Bride who has made herself ready, that He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27). II Peter 3:11-12 exhorts us to holy conduct and godliness by which we can actually hasten the coming of the Lord.
It should be clear from Scripture that for Israel it will require a proud and self-sufficient people brought to her knees and without hope as depicted in Ezekiel 37:11b, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.” She will be brought to a place of true godly repentance, leading to salvation. It may also mean that out of a true love for Israel, we will have to resist the natural response of, “Surely, this shall never happen to you!”, and allow God’s dealings to be carried through, having its perfect result...”
To the Church, as with Israel, God says to us, Let us therefore be diligent to enter His rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience (Heb. 4:11). Israel and the Church are prophetically destined to enter their inheritance together. Their paths destined to converge, the process destined to be the same.