December 18, 2017

Why Dispensationalism? (3)

Pastor Michael W. Harding (M.Div., Th.M.)

In part 1 we looked at how dispensationalism best dealt with Biblical truth.

In part 2 we considered how dispensationalism protects against deviations from the true gospel. We turn now to the subject of national Israel.

9. Dispensationalism maintains a future for national Israel.

Has the NT Church replaced Israel?

Well over a century ago Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, had become skeptical about Christianity on account of the influence of French atheist Voltaire. Frederick commented to his chaplain, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of easy proof. If your Bible came from God, you should be able to demonstrate that fact simply in a word.” His chaplain answered, “Your Majesty, it is possible for me to answer your request literally. I can give you the proof you ask for in one word”. Frederick asked, “What is this unique word that carries such proof?” “Israel,” said the chaplain. Frederick was silent.

Has the church superseded Israel, replaced her, and now is the fulfillment of the specific promises once made to national Israel and presently possessed by a different people to the exclusion of national Israel? Bruce K. Waltke declares with a broad brush the “hard fact that national Israel and its law have been permanently replaced by the church and the New Covenant” (“Kingdom Promises as Spiritual,” in Continuity and Discontinuity, p. 274). Waltke is wrong for several reasons.

A. Supersessionism is a violation of sound hermeneutics.

New revelation does not change the authorial-intended meaning of previous revelation. The NT writers often use the OT illustratively, analogically, applicationally, implicationally, and recognize stated typology. New revelation, however, is not contrary revelation (Acts 1:6-7). Words bring but one signification to any single propositional context. This law of the univocal use of language must first be assumed in order to be disproved. Gordon Fee’s axiom applies here, “A text can never mean what it never meant”. Later revelation often clarifies and expands

on earlier revelation, but it does not change the original meaning of the OT. This would banish the author from his own words. Otherwise, uncertainty would plague the meaning and understanding of the entire Bible.

In Genesis 15:2-5 God promises that Abram’s biological seed would be eternally plentiful. New revelation cannot obfuscate the original promise made by God. When God invited Abram to measure the length and breadth of the land promised to him and his biological offspring (Gen 13:17), new revelation cannot nullify that inviolable promise made by Yahweh.

B. Supersessionism is a violation of a NT type.

God’s unconditional promises and covenants with Israel must be fulfilled with that group and not given to an entirely different group. Jeremiah 31:35-37 states that Israel will have a continuing existence. The NT confirms this continuing existence for the nation of Israel (Matt 19:28; 23:39; Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6; Rom 9:4, 11:26; Rev 7:4-8). The Church is not the anti-type for Israel because the type (Israel) still exists and will receive the specific promises given to her. Israel’s rejection by God is only temporary (Matt 23:39; Luke 21:24; Rom 11:11, 26).

The title “Israel” is used 73 times in the NT with reference to ethnic Jews or national, ethnic Israel even after the establishment of the NT Church (Rom 9:6; 11:6; Gal 6:16; Acts 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28). Throughout the book of Acts the distinction is maintained between both existing groups (“Israel” 20 times; ekklesia 19 times). For a thorough treatment of this subject see Michael J. Vlach, “Has the Church Replaced Israel in God’s Plan?” The Conservative Theological Journal 4:11 (2002): 6–32.

C. Supersessionism is a violation of the clear teaching by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Romans 11.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22 demonstrates that Gentiles who were “far” from God have now been brought to God because of Christ. Believing Gentiles are now part of a new entity with believing Jews in the church age called the “new man”. The new man is not Israel nor does it replace Israel. It is a new creation, a new corporate entity, a new structure, a new body. In this new body, the Church, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female regarding the soteriological status of its members.

Though all people are born depraved, Gentiles did not have the OT revelation or other spiritual privileges as did national Israel. Yes, they were far from God and like Jews had to be brought to God in Christ in order to enjoy the same standing together (v. 11).

Gentiles were outside the lineage of the Messiah, outside the citizenship of Israel, with no relationship to its covenants such as the Abrahamic, Davidic, and the New Covenant. In contrast, Israel had been promised a land, seed, and blessings (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; Jer 16:15; Zech 8:4-8). A continuing seed was promised to Israel that would ensure the nation’s existence and the offspring of David as Messiah to head the nation (Ps 89:3-4, 34-36; Isa 9:6-7; Zech 14:3-9). The New Covenant was promised in which a redeemed Israel would know God and have the law written on their hearts (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19-20). The Gentiles, contrarily, were without hope and without God (12).

But now the believing Gentiles’ present condition is in Christ. God reconciled the believing Jews and Gentiles to each other and to God not through human ingenuity, but through Christ (13; cf. Isa 57:19). Christ brought peace to both believing Jews and Gentiles and made them one in Christ (14). Christ accomplished this through His cross-work which broke down the middle wall that separated the two parties. The Mosaic Law marked a separation and hostility between Jews and Gentiles. However, the NT believer is not under the Mosaic Law per se (Rom 7:1-6; 10:4; Gal 2:19; 3:24-25). Regenerated Jews and Gentiles in Christ would not have the Mosaic Law as the modus operandi on account of Christ’s death on the cross (15-16). The Law having been fulfilled in Christ was not destroyed, but rendered inoperative for the believer. Christ has fulfilled the Law and is the end of the Law (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:24). Believers are now under the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21).

God created one “new man” in order to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God. This new man is entirely different from the two former persons (15a). Gentiles do not become proselytes to Israel, nor do Jews become Gentiles. Both become one new humanity—a third corporate entity where Jews and Gentiles now accept one another. They are a new race that is “raceless”—the Church of God (16-22; 1 Cor 10:32).

Romans 11

Roman 11 teaches that though Israel has been persistently stubborn to God’s salvation plan of righteousness, God has not rejected Israel! (11:1-2). A permanent rejection is impossible with God (Jer 33). Israel’s hardening against God is only partial (11:1-6), and God will not violate His election of Israel (11:2). “Foreknew” refers to God’s electing knowledge and love for Israel. Israel’s current transgression will one day be reversed when their conversion to Christ takes place (11:11; cf. Zech 14). When national Israel’s restoration takes place, even greater blessings for the Gentiles will occur (11:12). Israel’s rebirth as a nation will bring blessings to both national Israel and the nations.

In vv. 17-24 the olive tree refers to the spiritual blessing found in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:1-3). The natural branches are Israel. Branches from the wild olive tree are the Gentiles who have now become believers. The branches broken off (v. 17) refer to the unbelieving members of Israel who are outside the blessing found in the Abrahamic Covenant. The branches “grafted in” are believing Gentiles who receive the spiritual blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant along with believing Jews. Believing Gentiles, however, do not take over Israel’s role. The natural branches are still natural and the branches grafted in are still “wild”. National Israel is still Israel and Gentiles are still Gentiles. The wild branches do not become natural. Both the believing remnant of national Israel and Gentiles have salvation in Christ, nevertheless they remain distinct (cf. Eph 3:6).

In vv. 25-36 Israel will experience a national salvation. The “mystery” (truth held in God’s mind but not revealed in previous revelation, i.e., the OT) is that when the fullness of the Gentiles has occurred “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). The OT did not explicitly say that salvation blessings to Gentiles would precede those of national Israel. “All Israel” refers to the nation as a whole (Isa 59:2-21; Jer 31:33-34). God’s inviolable promises to Israel will be fulfilled, because “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).

In conclusion, Isaiah 40:1 commands us to “Comfort, Oh comfort ye my people, saith the Lord your God”. The comfort of Israel is her Kingdom rest, her golden age. It will be a time when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:9), a time when Messiah will sit on His throne and rule the world through the nation Israel. As members of the church, we who are the Bride will then be the honored wife and queen of the millennial reign. This will be a time when all wrongs will be rectified, and Israel will be in her Kingdom rest, right with her God, and her covenant with Yahweh fulfilled. Who is able to bring about such a golden age for national Israel and a certain future for the church? Only the one true and living God Who says because of Who I am things are going to be exactly as I have planned them to be (Isa 40).

Mike Harding is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Troy, Troy, Michigan. This article is used by permission.

Recommended reading:

Alva J. McClain. The Greatness of the Kingdom: An Inductive Study of the Kingdom of God. Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1974.

Michael J. Vlach. The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009.

______________. Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths. Los Angeles: Theological Studies Press, 2008.

Content of this message is in part a distillation of material taught by my professors at DBTS: Dr. Rolland McCune, Dr. Sam Dawson, Dr. Mark Snoeberger and guest lecturer Dr. Michael Vlach.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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