You are hereReplacement Theology
by Don Preston
In the latest issue of Pre-Trib Perspectives, Thomas Ice castigates the non-millennial world for its view of what he calls Replacement Theology, i.e. the view that the church is the fulfilment of Old Covenant Israel’s promises. In the latest issue of Pre-Trib Perspectives, Thomas Ice castigates the non-millennial world for its view of what he calls Replacement Theology, i.e. the view that the church is the fulfilment of Old Covenant Israel’s promises. This brief article will not discuss this issue in detail, in fact, we will not examine the passage that Ice concentrates on, Galatians 6:16, leaving that to the discussion found in my upcoming book, Jesus’ Coming: In the Glory of the Father. However, for this brief article, we want to take note of just a few observations that are particularly relevant to this study.
First, Ice makes an astounding admission. He cites Gentry, who says that the church has superceded Old Israel for all time, and responds by saying: “I could almost agree with his definition if he removed the phrase ‘all time.’ We dispensationalists believe that the church has superseded Israel during the current church age, but God has a future time in which He will restore national Israel ‘as the institution for the administration of divine blessings to the world.’” In other words, dispensationalists admit that Replacement Theology is, at least temporarily, the will of God!
Now, it is either the will of God, or not the will of God that the church replace Old Covenant Israel. If it is the will of God that the church replace Israel, then it is, at least hypothetically, possible that it is God’s will that the church replace Israel permanently! Of course, the bottom line is that the dispensationalists do not believe that it was the eternal will of God for the church to replace Israel at all. for Ice says, “Israel could have obtained her much sought after messianic kingdom by recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. We all know the sad reality–the Jews rejected Jesus. As a result, the kingdom is no longer near, but postponed.” According to this view, it is clear that God did not intend to establish the church, to replace Israel! The church had to be established only when Israel refused to accept the kingdom! Thus, according to the millennial paradigm, it was not God’s original purpose to replace Israel with the church.
The fact is, however, that the church was God’s eternal purpose. Paul says this in Ephesians 1:9-10. It was God’s eternal purpose to gather together all things, in one body, in Christ. In other words, it was God’s eternal purpose to reunite heaven and earth in the church, the body of Christ, i.e. the church (Ephesians 1:20-21)! The spreading of the gospel to bring all men to Christ, in the church, was ordained before time (Ephesians 3:8f), to manifest Jehovah’s glory “in the heavenly places.”
According to millennialists however, God’s real purpose is, in reality, to replace what He had eternally purposed to establish, and re-divide humanity! Dwight Pentecost says,“Gentiles will be the servants of Israel during that age.” When the reign of Jehovah-Jesus is established, “the distinction of Israel from the Gentiles will again be resumed” (Pentecost, 519) He adds, “Objection is sometimes raised that God has forever broken down the barrier that separates Jew and Gentile and makes them one. This view arises from the failure to realize that this is God’s purpose for the present age, but has no reference to God’s program in the millennial age.” (Pentecost, 528) Thomas Ice says, “At the parousia the times of the Gentiles cease and the focus of history once again turns to the Jews.” Finally, Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, in their book Charting the End Times, state, “In the tribulation, there is no longer a body of believers knit into one living organism. There is rather a return to national distinctions and fulfillment of national promises in preparation for the millennium.”
So there you have it, Replacement Theology exemplified! The millennialists believe that the Old Covenant World of Israel, in which the Gentiles were outside the covenant promises (Ephesians 2:11f), the world in which the Jews looked on the Gentiles as dogs, is the ultimate, “determinative purpose of God.” What a glorious future the Gentiles have to look forward to, being slaves of the Jews! There are so many difficulties with this paradigm one hardly knows where to begin. However, we want to make a few observations.
First, Old Covenant Israel was only the shadow of coming better things (Colossians 2:16f; Hebrews 9:24f; 10:1-4, etc). The body of Christ is the reality. Ask yourself the question, which would you rather hug, the shadow of your wife, or the body? Which is better?
Second, the body of Christ is better than Israel’s Old Covenant praxis, and this, in reality, (excuse the pun), is the crux of the matter. Hebrews discusses the body of Christ, and compares it with Old Covenant Israel. The author says that Christ is a better leader than Moses (3:1f). He is a better priest than the Levitical system (5-7). He serves in a heavenly tabernacle, which is the True Tabernacle (8:1f). His Covenant is better than the Old Covenant, and is the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel (8:6f). He is a better sacrifice than any of the Old Covenant animal sacrifices could ever be (9-10).
Now, if Christ and the church is better than Israel in every conceivable manner, why would Jehovah replace the church with Israel, and her (even if modified) Old Covenant praxis? Remember, now, the millennialists admit that God has (temporarily) replaced Israel with the church. Will they also admit that the church is better than Israel? If not, why not? But if the church is in fact better than Israel, why replace the church with Israel in the future?
Third, and as a direct corollary to the second point, Paul taught that to join Christ with the observance of the Torah and Temple was not God’s intent. Remember, it was the Judaizers that taught that Gentiles must keep the Law and be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15). Paul and the inspired leadership of the early church unequivocally rejected this as opposed to the Gospel. Yet, the millennialists teach that in the millennium, Gentiles must worship at the Temple, must offer animal sacrifices, and must be circumcised, or they will be doomed.
The doctrine of the re-establishment of physical circumcision is one element of the millennial paradigm that is seldom addressed. However, in Ezekiel 44:9f, which supposedly describes the literal millennial temple, anyone not circumcised in heart or flesh is forbidden to worship at the temple. Thus, circumcision, the sign of division between Jew and Gentile in the New Testament corpus, is re-established in the millennium. Whereas Paul preached the “hope of Israel,” he nonetheless uncompromisingly fought the Judaizers over whether Gentiles had to be circumcised. Yet, per the millennial view, the millennium is a world in which Jehovah becomes the Divine Judaizer! What He forbad to occur in Christ, He will demand in the millennium! Jerome’s concern, expressed long ago, describes the millennial paradigm. Jerome believed that the idea of a restored sacrificial system in Jerusalem would Judaize Christianity, instead of Christianity Christianizing the adherents of Judaism.
If then the mandates of the Old Covenant are restored, this means that the first century Judaizers were just way ahead of their time! In the millennium, their doctrine will be truth, Gentiles do have to be circumcised. Paul’s doctrine that, “If you become circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing,” “If any man is circumcised, he is a debtor to keep the whole law,” “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails,” (Galatians 5:1-6), will be abrogated, and falsified, while the Judaizer’s mantra, “The Gentiles must be circumcised!” will be proclaimed. Those laws that Paul called “the weak and beggarly elements of the world,” will be restored, and man--this time both Jew and Gentile--will be held in bondage to them once again. Is this the glory of the millennial doctrine?
Third, for Israel to replace the church, for the church age to end, violates the emphatic statements that the church age has no end! This is such a fundamental truth, yet one that is being virtually ignored, that it is all but impossible to over-emphasize it. How can you speak of the end of the church age, when the church age has no end? Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The “heaven and earth” he was speaking of was the Old Covenant Temple and Covenant world. Think well of what Jesus said here, his New Covenant will never end. It will never pass. It will never be replaced! His New Covenant is the Covenant of Jew and Gentile equality that Paul proclaimed. Yet the millennialists says it will be replaced in the millennium! However, if Christ’s New Covenant, and thus, the New Covenant Age, has no end, how can anyone even discuss the end of the Christian Age?
Paul said, “Unto Him be glory in the church, by Jesus Christ, world (age) without end, amen!” The Hebrew writer said that the church, the kingdom they were even then in the process of receiving, in contrast to the Old Covenant World that was then being replaced (shaken), could never be shaken, i.e. removed (Hebrews 12:25-28). Now, if the church age has no end, and if the church cannot be replaced, then the doctrine of the millennialists is falsified!
Make no mistake then, the Bible discusses Replacement Theology. However, it is clear that the only system, the only age to be replaced was the Law World given at Sinai. It was giving way–as the millennialists admit--to the body of Christ, and “cannot be shaken.” To restore Israel, and replace the church, the millennialists must affirm that God will put an end to that which is endless, replace the body with the shadow, replace Paul’s gospel of Jew and Gentile equality in Christ, and replace the better, perfect, effective things of Christ, with the things that could never bring man to God.
A final thought. It needs to be understood that the church is no afterthought in the mind of God, as suggested by the millennial paradigm. The term Replacement Theology is used by millennialists to suggest that God arbitrarily and capriciously set Israel and her kingdom agenda aside, due to her rejection of Jesus. However, for Paul, the church was and is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (Romans 15:8f), not the suspension of those promises. Thus, I would agree that the suggestion of a Replacement Theology in the vein suggesting a setting aside of Israel’s promises to establish something contrary and unrelated to those promises, is false. However, to affirm that the church is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel is the Gospel, and herein lies the tragic failure of the millennialists, and the Jews, to see the glory of Christ and the church. It was God’s eternal purpose to replace the shadow world of Israel with the body of Christ (Galatians 3:23f). To affirm the fulfillment of those promises is the Gospel.
The fact is, the kingdom of Christ, the church, cannot be replaced! The millennialists is correct on one point, Replacement Theology is wrong. However, it is their doctrine of Replacement Theology, i.e. that the church will one day be replaced by Israel, that is at odds with scripture.
i. Pre-Trib Perspectives, P. O. Box 14111, Arlington, Tx., Vol. VII, Number 3, August 2002
ii. The Great Tribulation, A Debate, between Kenneth Gentry and Thomas Ice, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1999)115
iii. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1980)508
iv. Prophecy Watch, (Eugene, Ore., Harvest House, 1998)264
v. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, (Eugene, Ore., Harvest House, 2001)117
vi. Jerome, cited by David Brown in, Christ’s Second Coming, Will It Be Premillennial? (London, T and T Clark, 1953)352
vii. It is assumed that the reader is aware that Paul was condemning circumcision for religious purposes. He was not condemning circumcision for medical and hygienic reasons. Virtually every man today is circumcised, but it is for medical reasons, and not as an observance of the Mosaic mandate.
viii. It will not do for the millennialist to insist that the Mosaic Law itself has been abrogated never to be restored, but that a new system of sacrifice and Feast Day will be instituted. The millennial paradigm undeniably teaches the restoration of every major tenet of Judaism,( the very things that Paul insisted were the “weak and beggarly elements,” Galatians 4:9), will be restored. Thus, it matters not whether one says that the Mosaic Law is gone, it is the tenets and praxis of that Law, being earthly, and made by hands, that Paul was opposed to. It was not the Law of Moses per se--although that was certainly included--in one respect, that Paul was opposed to. It was everything that the Law stood for! Animal sacrifices, by their very nature, whether under Abel, Abraham, or Moses, were ineffective!