Is the Church of Jesus Christ the New Israel? (Part 5)

When my children were little tikes they loved watching “Sesame Street” and particularly liked the “which of these does not belong” segment.  In that segment, several objects were seen on the TV screen with one of them being different than the rest.  For example, there might be three triangles and one square.  My children (being unusually brilliant) usually figured out pretty quickly that the square did not belong with the triangles.

In the theological world, some things are just not the same and “do not belong” together.  The church of Jesus Christ and the nation of Israel are not the same, and in spite of attempts by Replacement Theologians (RT) to equate them, they are not the same entity.  RT does not have any NT passage which teaches that the church has replaced national Israel.  They only can come up with passages that “imply” or “suggest” the position they are attempting to establish. The absence of any NT discussion of the church replacing Israel is significant because God spent 2000 years (from the days of Abraham and Moses) declaring that Israel was His “chosen people”; His covenant nation.  The OT scriptures constantly reinforce the truth that God and national Israel were in a binding covenant relationship; a covenant that the Faithful God would fulfill. In light of the hundreds of references to the unique place of national Israel in the plan and purposes of God, we would rightly expect God to give us a chapter or two in the NT (or maybe a whole letter) explaining to us that Israel has been set aside and replaced by the church.  No such NT passage exists which ought to alert everyone to the very real probability that no such replacement has taken place.  Some things “do not belong” together.

In our previous four studies, the focus was on certain scriptures that are used to promote RT, and it was seen that none of them do so.  In this study, we want to give some other biblical evidences as to why these two are not the same things; that is, why the church is not a continuation of OT Israel.

(1) A DIFFERENT STARTING POINT.   The nation of Israel began with the calling of Abraham (around 2100 BC) while the church began on the “Day of Pentecost” (around 33 AD).  The church did not and could not exist before the Ascension of Jesus Christ back into heaven after His resurrection. Ephesians 1:20-23 says,

“…which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and GAVE HIM AS HEAD OVER ALL THINGS TO THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The Body of Christ did not begin to form until after the Ascension and could not, therefore, have been in existence in some other form in 2100 BC.  Furthermore, it could not have been formed prior to Pentecost because that is the day, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit’s ministry of “baptism” began.  And the only way that a believing person gets into the Body of Christ is through Spirit baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 1:5). No Spirit baptism, no Body/no church.  This underscores another important reality and that is there are no unbelievers in the church, the Body of Christ, but there were many unbelievers in OT Israel. They are not the same.

To try to present the church as a newer form of OT Israel does not align well with the distinctive starting points of the two entities; they really are not the same.  It is like trying to say the square has corners like the triangle and, therefore, it really is one though just a bit different.

(2) THE UNIQUE CHARACTER OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST.  One of the Apostle Paul’s great contributions to the doctrine of the church is found in his letter to the Ephesians.  Among other things, he instructs believers that the church is (1) a mystery and (2) that it is one new man.  These points focus on the unique character of the church as compared to national Israel.

(1) A Mystery.  In Ephesians 3:1-6, Paul reveals a truth not previously found in the OT; that is, that believing gentiles would be equal with believing Jews in the Body.  The truth is not that gentiles would be saved, since that was clearly spoken about in various OT scriptures.  But equality of the two is different.  This informs us that the makeup of the Body and the makeup of Israel is different; thus, they are not the same.

(2) One New Man.  It is in Ephesians 2:14-15 that the Apostle teaches that believing Jews and believing gentiles were made “into one” group, and that the two are now “one new man.”  This one new man is an entirely new entity. It is not a gentile nation nor is it the nation of Israel. The church is not a continuation of Israel.   This Body is something distinct from Israel.

It must be noted here that RT love to use this passage in Ephesians to prove that gentiles who are now “brought near” and are “fellow citizens” are seen as being incorporated into Israel.  And they go on to declare that because gentiles are now part of Israel, there is no distinct future for national Israel.

Aside from the fact that this contradicts the distinct place of the Abrahamic covenant in God’s program (see Part 2, August 2015), it also assumes that being a participant in something automatically means equality within that entity.  Believing gentiles are “partakers” (Romans 11) in the Abrahamic covenant but not the fulfillers of it.  It was made between God and Israel.  Furthermore, if Paul had wanted to say that gentiles were part of Israel, he could have done so. He does not.  It is just as important to observe what Paul does not say as well as what he does say.  The “one new man” is a soteriological organism which is entered by faith alone in Christ alone.  Soteriological oneness does not equate with oneness in God’s past or future dealings.  It does not mean that gentiles are now Israelites. Believing gentiles share with believing Israelites in many of God’s promises but this hardly means that they become Israelites.  The truth of gentile salvation was seen from the very beginning when God told Abraham that in him “all the nations would be blessed” (Gen 12:3; 18:18).  Most likely, Paul would have said gentiles were “into” Israel and not “with” Israel, if he were teaching that God’s promises to national Israel has been aside and given to the church.  He is simply demonstrating the present equality of Jews and gentiles in the entity called the “church”.  He is not setting aside God’s covenant commitments, nor is he denying a future for the nation of Israel.

(3) INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL DIFFERENCES.  Without spending much time on this point, we can say that there are external differences between Israel and the church.  For example, Israel had an army; required the payment of taxes (tithes); and had national boundaries. These are not true of the church.  Internally there are also marked differences.  In Israel, there were only some who were priests (the tribe of Levi), while all believers are priests in the church.  Another example is that the nation of Israel operated under a very different covenant than the church.  In the church, all are believers but that is not the case in Israel.

The church and Israel are different and Replacement theology simply has no definitive NT passage which states that the church is the “new Israel” or that the church has replaced Israel.  Therefore, they are forced to see “implications” or “suggestions” as they attempt to establish their position.  Non-replacement theology has the bulk of the OT as well as the powerful discussion of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9-11.  God has not set Israel aside and He has not made the church the “new” Israel.