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The Promised Land, part 4: Has the Church Replaced Israel?

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Stephen Sizer

The Promised Land is back! In the previous parts of the series, we have looked at the origin of Christian Zionism, we saw that it was totally absent in the early church and we have discussed how important it is to realize that just because one isn’t a Christian Zionist, one isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite (and shouldn’t either). Now, we will turn to exegesis to see what the Bible has to say about Israel and the Promised Land. Let’s start by discussing God’s Chosen People.

Israel is the name of a man, Jacob, and it was used to describe his descendants. These were expected to believe in the Lord, and thus be God’s people, but they were actually not the only ones that belonged to Israel. This is something Stephen Sizer has pointed out (and the following account is based on his works): the requirement to belong to God’s people was and is primarily faith, not race. In the Psalms, we read:

“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.’ The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion.” (Ps 87:4-6)

Here, we see that Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Ethiopians all can be recognized as “born in Zion”, receiving full membership and citizenship of God’s people, if they acknowledge the Lord. Already Moses said in Deut 23:7-8: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.” In Esther 8:17 we read “And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” The requirement to belong to God’s people was faith, not race or nationality.

This is also very clear in the New Testament. Paul writes:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Rom 9:6-8)

Likewise, one would sadly be excluded from God’s people if one did not believe in God or the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. In Matthew 8 Jesus heals a centurion’s servant, and being amazed by the faith of the Gentile, He says “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:10-12) Thus, the only thing that can save us is belief in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, and since His coming that is the requirement for belonging to God’s people.

Jesus says the same thing through a parable in Matthew 21:

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matt 21:33-44)

“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you”. The Vineyard is an old symbol for Israel, based on the beautiful poertry in Isaiah 51:1-7. Now Jesus says that if Israel does not welcome the Messiah, the Son of the Vineyard’s landowner, they will not have access to the Vineyard anymore. It doesn’t matter that they are the sons of Abraham, as He says in John 8:

“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father. ”

“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you wouldc do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.” (John 8:34-41)

John the Baptist had the same message: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9).

The reason I am quoting these serious texts about judgement is to show that the Bible is very clear with that one could lose membership in God’s people and Kingdom if one does not have faith. But if one has faith, one is grafted in into the people, Israel. This is why the New Testament uses Israelite terminiology about the church. In fact, the term “God’s chosen people” only refers to the church in the New Testament. 1 Peter 2 is an important text:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

The Jews that rejected God’s cornerstone, Christ, sadly cannot belong the His people anymore, because Jesus said “whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) How can one belong to God’s people if one rejects God? Believers in Christ, however, are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). They are “the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). And there are not two peoples of God, but one, as Paul clearly states in Eph 2:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph 2:11-16)

The Gentiles that once were excluded from citizenship in Israel and were foreigners to the covenants of promise now belong to such people and have been united with the faithful Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We are now one people. Has the church replaced Israel? Well, the church is Israel. And not through works, but through grace and faith. Jesus’ coming was not a paranthesis to the history of the people of God.

One final texts that explains this is Galatians 4. Here, Paul writes:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Gal 4:22-31)

Paul says that the Old covenant, or testament, is represented by Hagar, the slave woman. The readers of the letter, Paul’s Christian “brothers and sisters”, Jews and Gentile believers in Jesus, are sons and daughters of the free woman, Sarah. Their hometown is the heavenly Jerusalem above, not a city on earth, and they are free from the bondage of the Law and enjoy full citixenship in God’s people.

In the next part of this series, we will look at what the Scriptures really say about the promised land. See you then!

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14 Comments

  1. […] In the next part of this series, we will finally dig into what the Bible says concerning God’s chosen people. […]

  2. Tony says:

    So you are saying that the Jews now living in Israel aren’t Israel?

    • The Jewish community is still a people of faith that we should bless, love and support, and Israel is a country in the middle east. However, to belong in God’s chosen people one cannot reject the Messiah. If one rejects Jesus as one’s Saviour, how can one belong to His Kingdom and His people? To say that the Jewish people is God’s people but not Jesus’ implies that Jesus isn’t God. God has one people – those who believe in Him and His Son. The Old Testament Jews looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, but when He came many sadly rejected Him as John1:11 describes.

      So, God’s people, Israel, includes those who believe in Him as the triune God, including Jesus. God doesn’t have one Jesus people and another non-Jesus people. Having said that, Jesus primarily went to the Jews and the Gospel was first preached to them because Jesus is Jewish. But for this very reason those who reject Him are not part of His people. Our mission is to faithfully represent His Kingdom in words, deeds and through the power of signs and wonders so that they repent, believe and get saved.

      Blessings!

      • Tony says:

        So you believe that the formation of Israel back in 1948 was just a fluke and not a promise of God fulfilled to the Jewish people in Isaiah. Isaiah 66:8 NKJV

        Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children.

        • Hi again Tony!

          I will cover the land in the next part of this series. Without going into any details, I want to challenge you to think about why a Jewish return to Canaan before the second coming of Christ never is mentioned in the New Testament; not even when Jesus, Paul and John predict the last days. Also I recommend you to read and pray about Hebrews 11, where the author states that the land of Canaan was temporal and that the true promised land is Heaven, with the Heavenly Jerusalem as capital.

          Isaiah 66 surely refers to this heavenly Jerusalem, since the previous chapter describes it as a place where people are viewed as children if they die at the age of 100 (Is 65:20) and where wolves eat grass together with lambs (65:25). One has to have an extremely optimistic and unrealistic view of modern Israel founded in 1948 if one thinks that this is how it looks like there.

          Blessings!

          • Tony says:

            That is replacement theology which in effect is heresy. God told Moses that he was the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. God is a God of covenant. For him to forget His people, the Jewish nation, is in essence saying that the Lord is not a covenant God and thus calling Him a liar. In Acts 15

            Acts 15:13-17 NKJV

            And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord , Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’

  3. marco191276 says:

    Hi Micael,
    in order to give both perspectives a fair hearing it is maybe helpful to listen to the debate between Michael Brown and Stephen Sizer:
    http://askdrbrown.org/portfolio/how-christian-is-christian-zionism-brown-and-sizer-debate/

    Kind Regards from Germany
    Marco

  4. […] The Promised Land, part 4: Has the Church Replaced Israel? (holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com) […]

  5. […] The Promised Land, part 4: Has the Church Replaced Israel? (holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com) […]

  6. Tony: Heresy according to what? As I have shown above, the Bible is very clear with that God has ONE people, that believers in the Messiah are grafted into Israel in accordance with Romans 9:6-8. This is what the majority of the church has taught and believed at all times: the teaching of Christian Zionism, however, is very young and did not exist at all in the early church. https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/the-promised-land-part-2-the-men-in-black-theory/

    Acts 15:13-17 is a confirmation of how the church has fulfilled God’s covenant to Israel through Christ. James says that Amos’ prophecy about the risen tabernacle of David and the including of Gentiles in God’s people is being fulfilled right there and then since Peter has described how Gentiles have entered the church. In other words, it is because the church accepts Gentiles, that Amos’ words about the rebuilding of David’s tabernacle come true.

    Blessings!

  7. Tony says:

    For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, lest you should be wise within yourselves; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the nations has comes in. And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is My covenant with them, when I have taken away their sins.” Indeed as regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes. But as regards the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the free gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
    (Rom 11:25-29)

    God’s gifts and callings are irrevocable.

  8. […] The Promised Land, part 4: Has the Church Replaced Israel? (holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com) […]

  9. Johannes says:

    Dear Micael,

    You are drawing too quick conclusions, which makes it impossible for you to maintain something that the NT does maintain: That Israel of the flesh is still an entity as a people before God.

    You write:
    “Likewise, one would sadly be excluded from God’s people if one did not believe in God or the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.”

    No. This is not true. “If A, so B” does not equal “If not A, not B”. This is A-level logic. Insert “faith in Christ” for “A”, and “citizenship in Israel” for “B”. The NT teaches strongly that faith in Christ gives membership in God’s people, which you quote many passages about. But it does not teach that, as you say, “one would sadly be excluded from God’s people if one did not believe in God or the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son”. Instead, it teaches that the ones not believing in Christ will be excluded from salvation. I.e. the ones not believing perish precisely AS a part of Gods people. This is Jewish rabbinic teaching—but with different criteria—and exactly what Paul wants to teach with his olive three image:

    “[I]f the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

    Nota bene that braches are still “natural branches” and can, and will, be crafted into the three (which is “life-giving fellowship with God”) again, by faith. But they do not cease to be true braches. As you quote yourself: “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you”, not “the identity as a people will be taken away from you”. It is the life-giving power of the presence of God (aka the kingdom of God) that is taken away from this PEOPLE and given to anther PEOPLE, not their identity as God’s people through the Sinai covenant.

    As for Galatians ch. 4, the son of the slave woman is still “born according to the flesh”, still belongs to a convent with God (the Sinai one, still active when Paul writes Galatians a good 20 years into Church History), still lives in a certain way according to that covenant: in slavery (which is a statement on the bad-quality of life, not a image for non-existence), but will ”never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son”. I see nothing here of what you teach, that Israel of the flesh is no more counted as Israel.

    On the opposite, how does your ‘theology’ answer the fact Israel of the flesh still has active a number of divine things (if they are, as you say, “excluded” from the very people possessing these thing)? Paul is here taking about “those of my own race, the people of Israel”:

    “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Rom 9.4-6)

    He also says:

    “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!” (Rom 3.1-4a)

    The Jews still exist, and has a great value in the circumcision (the covenant). What if some were unfaithful, does this “nullify the faithfulness of God?” Paul says that it does not. But in question of sin, there is no difference between Jew and Greek (Rom 3.9), and I guess that is really what you want to have said, not that Israel of the flesh stop being a people before God if they do not believe.

    A question to you: How do you read Roman 11? Will the Jews be grafted in again? Will their “acceptance” cause ”life from the dead”?

    Many blessings!
    Johannes

  10. […] of Canaan plays a very important role anymore – it is hardly ever mentioned. As I showed in the previous part of this blog series, the early church saw themselves as the New Israel and thought that those who rejected the Messiah […]

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Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

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