Meditorial Kingdom Debate - Replacement View 1

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Part Three - Theological Debate of the Meditorial Kingdom
Replacement View – Part One

As we have seen, the Scriptures speak of one Kingdom of God which is expressed in two separate aspects. The Universal aspect refers to God’s sovereign rule over all that He has created whereas the Meditorial aspect has to do with God’s rule over the earth through His creation, Adam. Though the Bible speaks of the existence of the Universal Kingdom, the majority of biblical references address the Meditorial aspect of the Kingdom. From this point on in our series we will address the Meditorial aspect of the kingdom. 

In dealing with God’s rule over His Meditorial Kingdom we must note that are two basic schools of thought as how to understand the Kingdom passages. These views can be traced back to the early church and they play a pivotal role in shaping many of the doctrinal distinctives found among the denominations of Christendom. It is for this reason we need to take the time to examine and understand these views if we are going to come to a proper and biblical understanding of the Meditorial Kingdom of God.

POINTS OF AGREEMENT

We begin this study by pointing out the areas that both views are in agreement on. It should be noted that these points relate to events and passages that precede the founding of the Church. These points are as follows.

1) The Meditorial Kingdom was originally given to Israel to be fulfilled in a literal sense: At the coming of Israel’s Messiah (Christ), God promised He would establish Israel’s Kingdom. This Kingdom would be ruled by a King from the lineage of David who would bring peace, prosperity, sovereignty, and total occupation of the land for a 1000 year period.

2) The prophecies given to Israel regarding the Kingdom, as they were originally given, were to be understood in a literal or ordinary sense. Therefore the prophets who gave these prophecies expected their prophecies would be fulfilled in the same manner as the prophecies of the First Coming of Christ. Thus when speaks of carnivorous animals becoming vegetarians and dwelling peacefully with their present prey, this is what we can expect would be true in the millennium (Isa. 11:7-8; 65:25). No hidden meaning should be read into this.

3) The Kingdom was offered at the time of the First Coming of Jesus: the people were prepared for the Messiah’s coming by someone with the spirit of Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6; Lk. 1:15-17; Matt. 17:11-13) who would preach the gospel of the Kingdom. The gospel of the Kingdom is the same as the gospel of the church age (grace) with one important exception. The gospel of grace invites people to trust Christ for salvation in order to receive everlasting life and to go to heaven when they die. The gospel of the Kingdom invites people to trust in Christ for salvation in order that they might have the privilege of entering into the physical Meditorial Kingdom of Christ. The proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom was offered to the generation of Christ because His hearers were less than one generation away from the beginning of that Kingdom. At the time of the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish people were about 7 years from the fulfillment of Christ’s glorious Kingdom, 

Likewise, Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel and preached the gospel of the Kingdom on numerous occasions. In all, the gospels mention the Kingdom 127 times and speak of Jesus as King 51 times. For example:

Mt 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

Mk 1:14-15, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Even after the resurrection and ascension of Christ and the beginning of the Church age, the offer of the Kingdom was still offered to Israel in the preaching of the Apostles (Act. 3:17-21).

4) The Kingdom was never ushered in at the time of Christ’s First Coming: Even though Israel was so very close to realizing their kingdom, yet Israel as a whole rejected Jesus as their Messiah (Christ) and Savior. As Jesus shared with Nicodemus in John 3, a prerequisite of entering into the Kingdom was to be “born again” (Jn. 3:3). Until Israel as a nation turned their hearts to Jesus Christ for salvation, they could never taste of the Kingdom they longed for. For this reason God turned His immediate attention away from Israel and focused it on the Bride of Christ, the Church (Acts 28:23-29)

5) Christ will return, resurrect the dead, and judge all people.  We can conclude that up to time of the beginning of the Church, both views are in agreement. It is what took place after the ascension of our Lord that the views begin to digress. The division centers around what God decided to do with rebellious Israel after she rejected her Messiah. The one view argues that God rejected Israel forever and replaced her with a new Israel, know as the Church. Having made this decision, the literal fulfillment of the Kingdom has been cancelled. The other view argues that God did not reject Israel, but is only subjecting her to His hand of chastisement. In doing so He has not forsaken His plans for a literal Kingdom, just postponed them. In the meantime He has chosen to focus His ministry mainly through the Gentiles who make up the majority of the Church. The Kingdom for Israel is still in God’s plans and will be ushered in when Israel is finally ready to receive it. 

To gain a better of understanding of this debate let us study closer how these two schools of thought were formed and what were the results from the path they chose. Let us begin with the view God has rejected Israel as His chosen people and has nullified all His promises to her of a future kingdom.

NON-RESTORATION VIEW

The outline of the Position

The main premise of this position is based on a belief that the covenant that God made with Israel concerning her land, blessings, and future Kingdom was a conditional covenant. By a conditional covenant, we are talking about a contract that is binding as long as both parties live up to the conditions of the contract. If one party violates those conditions, the other party is no longer bound to live up to his promises. In the case of Israel, all the promises God made to Israel were only good as long as Israel remained true to God and eventually received His Messiah as their Savior and King. Since Israel lived continually in apostasy and eventually rejected God’s Messiah, they violated the conditions of their contract with God. God was no longer bound to give Israel any further blessings, a land, or a Kingdom.

Since the Kingdom and the covenant promises given to Israel had been revoked by Israel’s failure to keep their covenant with God, God needed a new “chosen people” through which He could carry out His ministry to the world. This new chosen people, a “spiritual Israel” would take the form of the Church. Since the Church replaced Israel, all of the unfulfilled prophecies originally given to Israel would now be fulfilled in the Church. However, there would be one major difference in the way these prophecies would be fulfilled. In stead of being fulfilled literally, the prophecies would be fulfilled in a in a spiritual or allegorical sense in the Church Age. For example, the “cow and the bear peacefully grazing together” (Isa. 11:7-8) now becomes a reference to the unity brought about between a believer and unbeliever through salvation. They who once were at odds are now brothers in Christ.

The Historical Development of the Position

The development of this position has its origins in a theologian named Origen (284-354 AD). He developed very quickly a following among many in the Western half of the Roman Empire and developed what is known today as the Replacement Position. There were three contributing factors that lead Origen and others to the development of this position.

Anti-Semitism: There had been growing within the church an anti-Semitic attitude toward the Jewish people. This ill will toward the Jewish people can be attributed to two key ingredients.

1) The persecution of the Church. In the early years of the Church, the Jewish rulers gained the approval and often the support of secular leaders to go forth and persecute the Church. They were instrumental in bringing upon the early Christians abuse, imprisonment, torture, and even death. This unwarranted attack upon the church left some bitter toward the Jewish people and bitter feelings have a way of spreading over time.

The Church also blamed the Jews for much of the persecution it suffered under the Roman Empire. In the late 60’s AD, the Jewish nation began a rebellion against Roman Rule in the land of Israel. This rebellion culminated with the Roman army invading Israel, destroying Jerusalem and the temple and dispersing the nation among the Gentile nations. From this point on the Jews suffered greatly under the persecuting hand of Rome. The problem for the Church was the fact that Rome saw the Church as a sect or branch of Judaism. That being the case Rome in persecuting the Church thought it was persecuting Judaism. Needless to say this did not win much favor with the Christians as well.

2) The Crucifixion of Christ. Some within the Church began to hold the Jewish people totally responsible for the killing of Christ. After all, He was their Messiah and King and they were the ones who cried, “crucify Him!” What they did not take into account is that without the Roman’s participation in this process, Christ could not have been crucified. The Roman’s were the ones who determined who would and would not be crucified and they were just as equally guilty of this injustice as the Jews were. Likewise, God had used the hard hearts of the Jewish religious leaders to enable Christ to atone for man’s sins on the cross. One other thing to note, the Jews had not killed Christ, He gave up His life. No man took His life. This issue would continue to haunt the church for centuries to come. In the middle ages, the Jews were often persecuted by the Church for being the “killers of Christ.” 

Israel's Covenant with God: God had established a covenant with Israel through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. This covenant promised Israel God would give to Israel the land of Canaan, earthly blessings and protection, and a Messiah King who would usher in a Millennial Kingdom of unparalleled peace, prosperity, health, and happiness. However, by the end of the 2nd Century, some in the Church began to re-examine Israel’s covenant with God, questioning whether it was unconditional or not. There two things that contributed to their inquiry.

1) The condition of Israel: Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, had been driven out of their land, had their temple and Jerusalem utterly destroyed, were presently enduring great persecution and had the offer of their Kingdom withdrawn by God. If God had a plan to restore Israel why would He allowed all of this to happen?

2) The formation and Precedence of the Church. Why God seemed to have turned His back upon Israel yet He seemed to have showered the Church with blessings and presence. Though it had been held by OT scholars and the early Church that the covenant God made with Israel was unconditional some began to question this idea asserting that the covenant was actually a conditional one dependent upon Israel’s reception or rejection of her Messiah King. Since they rejected Jesus and God must have rejected them. With this idea in mind it was the next logical step to believe that the Church had replaced Israel permanently.

Allegorical Interpretation of Scripture: The roots of this form of interpretation can be traced as far back to the Second and Third Centuries BC. Anyone who has studied the religion of the Greek people knows that they worshipped a group of gods who apart from immorality and great powers, were no different than their earthly subjects. The truth was that the gods often acted worse than the ordinary man. Married gods would have relationships with human women who bore them demigods such Hercules. The gods were jealous of each other and often fought one another for position and power. To put it in other words, the Greeks had come to a point that they were embarrassed of their gods and their activities. What could they do?

The Greeks hit upon a solution. The stories of their gods would be seen not as actual events but rather as moral stories designed to teach men spiritual truths. By taking this approach they were able to hold on to the worship of their gods but they divorced from their gods their bad behavior. This spiritualizing of their religious texts was called allegory. By allegory they sought a hidden or more profound meaning or understanding of their Scriptures. 

One of the leading centers of Greek worship and learning was Alexandria Egypt. Alexandria also had a leading Jewish center as well. Some of the Jews, like the Greeks, had difficult or embarrassing parts of the Old Testament that wanted to explain away. Dr. Tan explains this well when he writes,

“In addition to the desire to explain away “oddities” (Lot’s incest, the drunkenness of Noah, difficulties in interpretation) in the Old Testament, the Jews of Alexandria were also moved by the charm of Greek literature and philosophy. To them, Greek philosophy was inspiring, noble, and irresistible. And yet, they could not leave their own Mosaic Law, for it was sacred, binding, and eternal. There should be a way whereby the two might be united. Allegorism went to their rescue. Allegorism enabled the Alexandria Jews to make Moses speak the beautiful philosophy of Plato and other Greek sages.” (Tan. pp. 46-48)

During the early years of the Church, a seminary was established in the city of Alexandria. Its purpose was to prepare men to be pastors in the growing church. It grew and flourished, becoming a very influential force in the church of the first four centuries, particularly the church in the Western half of the Roman Empire. 

After time they began to believe that Israel had fallen out grace with God to the point that God had revoked their position as the chosen people of God. They came to believe more and more that the Church had been selected by God to replace Israel and all of the promises of the covenant God made with Israel, now belonged to the new chosen people, the Church. However, there was a problem that arose in doing this. How does one apply the Second Coming prophecies concerning the Tribulation and Coming Kingdom to the Church? The answer to this dilemma was to allegorize all Second Coming prophecy. Instead of accepting the natural ordinary meaning they now looked for a hidden and deeper meaning below the surface that would fit their understanding of the Scriptures. Allegory provided for these Christians a way to explain the difficulties that a literal interpretation presented. Though this went contrary to all rules of interpretation practiced prior to this point, yet they embraced it because it accommodated their view of the Bible. Dr. Tan lends this note on this decision,

“Origen also taught that the Old and New Testaments contain not only absurd and unreasonable portions, but also fables which did not actually take place. Once Origen asked impatiently, “Of what use… is it to me who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race to be told that Abraham stood under the oak of Mamre?” and forthwith dismissed the account of Genesis 18 as non-actual. He also called parts of the life of Rebecca a concoction of mysteries.” (Tan pp 49-50)

Dr. Pentecost indicates that this form of interpreting of the Scriptures had its origins, not in God but in the sinful heart of man.

“the allegorical method was not born out of the study of the Scriptures, but rather out of a desire to unite Greek philosophy and The Word of God. It did not come out of a desire to present the truths of the Word but to pervert them.” J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 23-24)

Therefore with time, the church in the Western Half of the Roman Empire came to embrace these new views and this new form of interpreting Scriptures. Eventually, all Scripture was fair game for an allegorical interpretation that could strip from its meaning the very inspiration of the Word of God. A couple examples can be sighted as to how this came to be used.

"The journey of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran speaks of the imaginary trip of a stoic philosopher who leaves sensual understanding and arrives at sense."

Speaking of Job, "The patriarch's 3 friends denote heretics; his 7 sons are the 12 Apostles, his 7000 sheep are God's faithful people; and his 3000 humped back camels are the depraved Gentiles."

Under the work of Augustine in the Fourth Century, this practice was refined and applied only to prophecy and nothing else in Scripture. This became the adopted view of the Roman Church and would be carried over into the denominations that formed during the Protestant Reformation.

At this point, we will bring a close to our study for this week. We will discuss more about this position in our next week’s installment. As a side note, the practice of allegorizing the Scriptures is alive and well in many liberal and even some evangelical circles to this day. Miracles of the Bible and accounts such as a 7 day Creation and a global flood are viewed not as literal events but as moral stories that God gave to teach us spiritual truths. However, there is a danger to this. Jesus stated He believed these events in the Old Testament were literal events. To call them only moral stories is in essence to call into question our Lord’s honesty or his knowledge of the Scriptures. To do this makes our Lord unqualified to be the Savior of the world.