The Challenge of Replacement Theology
by Rev. Malcolm Hedding, ICEJ Executive Director-Emeritus
Over the years, I have become more keenly aware of the spiritual conflict that rages over Israel. This conflict settles on the battleground of Replacement theology. While we reject this theological concept, it is worth noting that it is a ‘stronghold’ that has strengthened itself over many centuries within churches of all traditions. It is therefore not easily removed and yet we are called to do so with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
To some degree, Replacement theology is so deceptive because it does rest on half-truths. For instance, the Church is the “Israel of God” but not in a replacement sense (Galatians 6:14-16).
In essence, Replacement theology removes from Israel a national destiny back in the land of Canaan because of her rejection of Jesus and his Messianic credentials. All the biblical statements of Israel enjoying future blessings in the land of Canaan are said to be descriptions of the spiritual blessings that now accrue to the Church. The expectation of a physical kingdom has been spiritualized, taken from Israel, and given to the Gentiles (Matthew 21:43), even though Jesus never denied that the physical kingdom would be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7).
That this way of explaining Scripture completely violates the principles of biblical exposition is of little importance to them. We should interpret Scripture by the nature of the text. If it is literal, then we should interpret it literally, but if it is spiritual or figurative, then we should respond accordingly. For instance, Jesus said, “I am the Door!” Does this mean He actually is a door? Of course not! The context is clearly figurative and needs to be interpreted as such.
We are therefore not committed to any singular form of biblical exposition – literal or figurative – but rather to the context. This will determine our style of exposition and therefore we uphold the integrity of Scripture and its authority.
The essentials of Replacement Theology
Replacement theology rests chiefly on the idea that the whole or part of the Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished, for it is this Covenant that promises to Israel eternal ownership of the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:7-8).
Once this ‘promise’ has been removed, the present-day restoration of Israel means nothing and her only hope is in the Church. Now it must be made clear that we believe that only in Christ Jesus can there be salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike (Romans 1:16-17). However, we do not believe that the promise of God in the Abrahamic Covenant bequeathing the land of Canaan to Israel has been removed, and therefore Israel’s modern restoration to the land of Canaan is indeed the fulfillment of that promise and constitutes a milestone on her ‘way home’ to her Messiah (Ezekiel 36:24-28).
Two Points of View
The Replacement camp is divided into two opinions concerning the Abrahamic Covenant:
(1) The Abolitionists
This camp sees the Covenant with Abraham as being entirely abolished. However, they have serious difficulties because Paul writing to the Galatians states that Jesus died in order to bring to our lives the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant and if we belong to Jesus, we are Abraham’s children according to the promise (Galatians 3:13-14, 29).
If the Covenant has been abolished, then what Paul says is wrong! Moreover, the writer of the Book of Hebrews states that we can trust God to be faithful to the New Covenant because He has always been faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant (Hebrews 6:13-20). This constitutes a serious problem for the Abolitionists because, if the Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished, then God is a liar and indeed is not faithful, though the writer of Hebrews affirms that He is!
Many Abolitionists have perceived this problem and have consequently moved to the…
(2) The Reconstructionists
This theory states that the Abrahamic Covenant has indeed not been abolished but it has been reconstructed. That is, the part that promises land to Israel now means spiritual promises and not literal ones. The problem with this theory is:
(a) It is a total presupposition, and the Scriptures nowhere affirm it. That all nations would be blessed in Christ was actually the intention of the Abrahamic Covenant from the very beginning, but this does not remove from the Jewish people a national destiny in the Holy Land.
The Reconstructionist view lays emphasis on Paul’s teaching in the Book of Galatians concerning God’s promise in Abraham being made not to his “seed”, plural, that is the people of Israel, but to his “seed” singular, meaning Jesus (Galatians 3:15-18). Therefore, they conclude that since the “seed” (Christ) has come, the promise to the “seed” of Abraham as in plural – meaning the people – has been removed! They have forfeited the land!
The truth is Paul also uses the term “Abraham’s seed” in the plural several times in the New Testament (for example, Romans 9:6-7). In other words, both interpretations of the term “seed” are true! Abraham’s seed is singular and plural. The blessing God promised in Abraham is only in Christ Jesus because He died for the whole world, but the mediation or means by which this blessed “seed” comes into the world is through the “seed” plural – the people of Israel. The one truth does not contradict the other. Both truths are in fact interdependent (Romans 9:1-5), hence the extensive genealogy of Jesus given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
The Bible nowhere states that the promises of God in Abraham concerning Israel’s everlasting possession of the Land of Canaan are removed. In fact, everywhere it affirms the opposite! That is, the day is coming when Israel will be restored to the land and to her Messiah (Ezekiel 36:24-32). This passage from Ezekiel teaches the very opposite of Replacement theology, in that Israel’s rebellion and sin have not led to land forfeiture but to judgment and correction, yet in the end, God will, for His Name’s sake, restore Israel to her ancient land and to Himself! He does this in spite of her history of rebellion and sin. The truth is Replacement theology reflects the heart of man and not that of God!
(b) The Scriptures refute it. Jesus came to confirm the promises to the Fathers, not to reconstruct them (Romans 15:7-9). Confirm means CONFIRM! He takes away nothing but reinforces every promise that God made to the fathers, meaning the Patriarchs (Acts 3:22-26). Peter affirms that there must be a time of “the restoration of all things” before Messiah returns. This “restoration of all things” is spoken about by all the prophets – meaning a final regathering to the Land of Canaan and repentance leading to salvation in Messiah’s atonement (Amos 9:11-15; Jeremiah 36:26-28).
The Purpose of Israel’s Return
Israel has always been God’s vehicle of world redemption (Romans 9:1-5). In a way, she is God’s microphone, the means by which He speaks to a lost world. Moreover, she has birthed all God’s covenants into the world and has now come back to her ancient homeland, by the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant, to birth the final great covenant of history, the Davidic Covenant. Herein lies the ultimate purpose of her modern-day restoration. Jesus will return to Zion as the “Root and Offspring of David” (Revelation 22:1-6; Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 72:5-11).
No wonder the conflict over Zion is so great. Our ministry, partnered with you, is removing the stumbling blocks from Zion and thereby preparing her for the arrival of her great and most blessed King (Isaiah 62:10).
Replacement theology is thus an instrument of the powers of darkness to frustrate the purpose of God, by disconnecting the Church from this final great redemptive initiative in history. We reject it and stand fully on the promises of God concerning Israel and the Church.