Friday, December 28, 2012

The Difference Between Israel and the Church

I have received much criticism over my understandings of Israel and the Church. I have been accused of "blurring" the lines between them. So, today, I'd like to tackle this topic head on, in the hopes of clarifying what I believe the Bible says.

There are a couple of ways in which the definitions of Israel and the Church can be "blurred." The first comes from doctrine known as "Replacement Theology." According to this theology, Israel has been so rebellious that God is basically done with Israel and the promises given to Israel are now given to the Church. Israel is viewed as having turned her back on God and having rejected God to the point of no return. This philosophy has led to various Christian organizations saying that unbelieving Israel is no longer God's chosen people and that the nation of Israel today should not be given any rights to the land.

But this theology ignores the many Bible passages that say that there will always be a remnant that remains faithful to God and that one day God will restore Israel.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (KJV)
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.

Romans 11:26 (KJV)
26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

The scariest thing about this theology is that if it is true, no one can have any confidence that God will not revoke His promises again. What if the Church, overall, becomes so bad that in its need of punishment God revokes His promises of salvation to the Church? Obviously, this theology is Biblically unsupportable and I do not subscribe to it. This kind of blurring between Israel and the Church is just plain wrong.

 The second way of "blurring" the lines between Israel and the Church is to recognize that Israel is and will forever be the people of God, and that the Church must become a part of Israel in order to participate. This is the type of "blurring" that I do believe in. Let me explain. The opposing camp to Replacement Theology is Dispensationalism. While this theology has some merit, it also fails in that it believes that Israel and the Church are forever separate entities, that each people group has its own separate part in God's plan.

Initially, Israel was God's chosen nation.Then, both the Replacement Theology camp, as well as the Dispensationalists, believe that when God was rejected by the religious leaders of Yeshua's day, the Church became His people. The Dispensationalists differ from the Replacement people in that they believe this situation (a Church age) would continue until the Rapture, the time when the Church would be rescued from the Tribulation. During the Tribulation Israel would again believe as stated in the Bible.

Many in this camp believe that the end of the Church age can be demonstrated in Revelation 3:22. Whether or not this is the case, there is a massive body of prophecy in the Old Testament where the Church is never mentioned. This seems extremely odd in light of the fact that the Church is supposedly so important. Also, the prophecy in the Old Testament, although not complete without Revelation, does cover history from the time of ancient Israel right through to the end of time. See Daniel 12 for example. So the absence of the Church is very telling.

In the Old Testament there is always only Israel.

Jeremiah 31:33 (KJV)
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Here we see that the New Covenant is not with an entity called the Church, but rather with the house of Israel.

Zechariah 14:16-17 (KJV)
16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
17 And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.

The Millennial Kingdom, the thousand year reign of Yeshua here on earth, is characterized by all the nations going up to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Isaiah 2:3 (KJV)
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Another picture of the Millennial Kingdom in Isaiah demonstrates that the Word of the Lord and the Law will go forth from Jerusalem and other nations will desire to go up to the house of the God of Jacob (Israel).

These examples run throughout the Old Testament. They are not hard to find. Then there is an interesting passage in Acts that speaks about the Israelites of Moses' day.

Acts 7:38 (KJV)
38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

In this passage the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was giving a history of Israel to the people who were going to stone him.  He called the people of Israel, "the church in the wilderness." Obviously, in the mind of this early Christian, the Church could not be separated from God's people, the people of Israel.

Ephesians 2:12-14 (KJV)
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

When we become believers we become a part of the body of Messiah. Jews and Gentiles are made one, not two separate entities. While we remain ethnically Jew or Gentile, as believers we are one, which is the true Israel (all believers in Yeshua). This does not mean that unbelieving Israel is no longer important, but rather has not yet entered into salvation.

Paul describes what had occurred in Romans.

Romans 11:17-19, 23-24 (KJV)
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in,
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

God is the root. The original olive branches are the Jews. The wild olive branches that are grafted in are the Gentiles, but not all the original branches are broken off, only those in unbelief. Eventually, the original branches will be grafted back in.

It is time for the Church to see Israel as its natural sibling and to be grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the promised people of God. There is a difference between Israel and the Church, but not as much as some believe. Some "blurring" is essential.

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