Is The Church Israel?
Is the Church Spiritual Israel?
An odd question to some but a legitimate one just the same. There are many in Christian circles who believe that the Church is the replacement of Israel. That God replaced Israel as His chosen people and instrument of His ministry to the world after they rejected their Messiah at His first Coming. The Church becomes “New or Spiritual” Israel and has entered into the same covenant relationship with God that Israel had. Thus all that God promised and foretold concerning Israel and His Second Coming are now applied in a spiritual sense to the Church Age. This therefore impacts their view of prophetic events, baptism, the worship of the church, and even, in some cases, their understanding of the path of salvation.
This position, the rejection of Israel and its replacement the Church is the view held by the Roman Catholic Church and most of the denominations that were a product of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation’s goal was to bring the Church back to its biblical form. The Roman Catholic Church had strayed a long way from many of the important teachings of the Scriptures. Because Rome was not willing to accept these reforms, they struck out on their own forming such denominations as the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist and etc. Though these Protestant denominations made many important changes in what they taught, they still carried over some of the theological positions that had been formed in the development of the Roman Catholic Church. The view that the Church was the new Israel was one such position.
The Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of the rejection of Israel nor was it the view of the First Century Church. Then the question may be asked, how did the church come to this position? In the 2nd Century, a theological idea began to spread from the Seminary in Alexandria Egypt to many of the Churches in the Western half of the Roman Empire. This new idea or theological position held that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah prompted God to reject Israel as His chosen people and replace her with a “New” or “Spiritual Israel” known to us as the Church, the Bride of Christ. This theological position grew rapidly until it was almost universally accepted in the Church by the end of the 4th Century. (As a side note this position was not quickly embraced by the churches of the Eastern Half of the Roman Empire due to the influence of the Seminary at Antioch. From the 4th Century to the time of the Reformation and beyond, it was rejected by small groups of Saints who were committed to remaining true to the First Century Church model.)
God’s special relationship with Israel was entered into through a contract or covenant similar in every way to that of marriage. It is for this reason God speaks of Israel as His wife and views their idol worship as adultery. As adultery in marriage means one mate cheats on another, so Israel cheated on God by worshipping other gods and idols
Ezek 6:8-10, “Yet I will leave a remnant, so that you may have some who escape the sword among the nations, when you are scattered through the countries. Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations.”
Ezek 16:31-33, “You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband.
Hos 2:2, “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from between her breasts;”
Jer 3:20, “Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, So have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel," says the Lord.”
To break His Covenant with Israel would require a “certificate of divorce” and those who embrace this alternate theological view saw God divorcing Israel because of her spiritual adultery. They appeal to such passages as Isa. 50:1 and Jer. 3:8 as proof that God has done just that. Likewise, they believe God has entered into a New Covenant with the Church or new wife. They appeal to the church’s description as the Bride of Christ and it’s the fact its covenantal relationship is illustrated by the relationship between a husband and wife in Eph. 5:22-33. To put it simply, God married Israel who went out and cheated on Him over and over. God finally divorced Israel and has entered into a new marital relationship with the Church, His bride.
A study of the Scriptures shows that the idea that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s program fails for many reasons of which the following are examples.
1) The covenant made with Israel is an unconditional covenant. In Genesis 15:9-21, God establishes His covenant with Abraham and his descendents as an unconditional covenant. An unconditional covenant is one in which no conditions have to be met for the covenant to be fulfilled. For example, if I promise my wife I will stop at the grocery store and get a gallon of milk, the fulfillment of that promise does not depend on my wife but rather on my faithfulness in keeping my promise.
The fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel has to do solely with God’s faithfulness, not Israel’s. This is seen in the way God makes this covenant. In Abraham’s day, to make an important covenant, the parties would cut one or more animals in two and would pass between the halves signifying that their covenant was bidding on all parties involved. In other words all parties who crossed between the halves were expected to keep the covenant. In Gen. 15:17, we see only God walking between the animal halves indicating that only He is responsible to fulfill the covenant. God had put Abraham in a deep sleep to prevent him from walking between the animals. This was God’s way of saying that the fulfillment of His covenant with Israel would solely depend upon Him and Him only.
2) The covenant made with Israel is an everlasting covenant. The meaning of “everlasting” is something without an end. God’s covenant with Israel is declared to be everlasting. Just as our new life in Christ is everlasting or without end so is the covenant that God made with Israel. A few verses will illustrate this point
Gen 17:7-8, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
Gen 48:3-4, “Then Jacob said to Joseph: "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession.”
Isa 61:8-9, “For I, the Lord , love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, And will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, And their offspring among the people.
All who see them shall acknowledge them, That they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed."
Jer 32:37-41, “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.”
3) The rules for interpretation require that Israel is still God’s people. Those who make the Church the New or Spiritual Israel have a major problem. The prophecies given to Israel up through the Resurrection of Christ are interpreted by everyone in their natural literal sense. For example, when Isaiah wrote, “the virgin shall conceive” (Isa. 7:14) we take it to mean that contrary to the laws of nature, a virgin will conceive and still be a virgin. We know this was fulfilled with the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
However, if God has rejected Israel and replaced her with the Church, the prophecies given to Israel concerning their role in the Second Coming of Christ make suddenly make no sense. For example, take the prophecy of the 144, 000 sealed Israelites from the 12 tribes of Israel. If Israel is no longer in the program of God than what do we do with this prophesy. Since they are identified as the tribes of Israel and each tribe is named, then one would expect that they are a group of 144,000 Jews who are called by God to carry out His will. But if Israel is out of the program of God, then who could they be?
Some of the Protestant theologians who hold to the rejection of Israel have openly admitted that if the Second Coming prophecies are taken in a natural literal sense, then Israel is still in the covenant with God. However, since they believe God has divorced Israel, they wrestle with fanciful interpretations of these prophecies to make them fit in the Church Age. If the prophecies leading up the First Coming of Christ were fulfilled in the natural literal sense, than we should expect the same of the prophecies of the Second Coming. If we take these prophecies as literal, than we must accept that Israel is still God’s chosen people.
4) The message of Hosea. This book from the Minor Prophets is a living illustration to Israel of God’s undying faithfulness to them. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute and she bears him several children. However she leaves him to commit adultery with other men. God tells Hosea to go and get his wife and bring her back and restore her as a picture to Israel that He will one day restore Israel, his adulterous wife.
5) The testimony of the Apostles. It was the view of the Apostles and the First Century Church that Israel was still God’s people. Let me share a few verses.
Rom 11:25-27, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."
Matt 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
Acts 13:23-25, “From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior — Jesus— after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”
6) The Church is not the wife of God. In the Old Testament, Israel is the “wife” of God in the form of the Trinity. This is a relationship that all three persons of the Trinity made as a unit toward Israel. The relationship is seen as a finalized one for Israel is not seen as a bride but as a wife. She in her covenantal relationship with God already has received many of the promises He gave her. The Church on the other hand is in a covenant with Jesus or One Person of the Triune God. This relationship has yet to be consummated or finalized. That will not take place until He takes His bride to Heaven (Rev. 19). Since the relationship is yet to be finalized, the Saints of the Church Age wait eagerly for the day when all the promises given them will be finally realized. There is no way that one can from a Biblical Point of View say that the relationship of Israel to God is the same as the relationship of the Church to Christ.
7) Finally, as was stated earlier, God abides by the same rules he expects from His Saints. God has separated Himself in a sense from Israel and has chosen to presently work through the Church (Acts. 28:17-31). Though God is not directly working through Israel as He did in the OT, this is no sign He has given up on the covenant He has made to her. As God calls married partners who are separated to remain unmarried or better yet be reconciled (1 Cor. 7:10-11), so He has remained true to His covenant with Israel and will someday be reconciled to her only this time Israel will give her full devotion to Him and Him only.
Israel is still very much a part of God’s program in the future. His Covenant with Her will finally be fully realized when her heart is finally broken and She receives Jesus Christ as Her Messiah and Savior.