Dispensationalism and the Myth of Replacement Theology #4
In our last installment I took note of several constituent elements of Old Covenant kingdom promises made to Israel in which God promised that He would one day “replace” the Old Covenant form of those elements with the New Covenant form. The New Covenant, and the form of those elements, would be radically altered, bearing no resemblance to the Old Covenant form. What this means is that when the Dispensationalists decry what they call Replacement Theology on the part of non-Millennialists, but then they appeal to the Old Covenant promises of the kingdom, they are in fact ignoring the fact that those very scriptures foretold the replacement of the Old with the New!
It is important to realize that even Dispensationalists admit this, at least to some degree. Thomas Ice is quick to point out to the detractors of Dispensastionalism that the Millennial paradigm is not the restoration of the Mosaic Covenant. He is in fact, adamant on this: “The sacrifices of the millennial temple will not be a return to the Mosaic Law, since the Law has forever been fulfilled and discontinued through Christ” (Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Prophecy Watch, (Eugene, Ore., Harvest House, 1998) 258). Pentecost concurs, “The millennial age will not see the re-establishment of Judaism” (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1980)522).
So, it is easily seen that on three levels- Dispensationalists believe in Replacement Theology!
They believe in the replacement of the Mosaic Covenant.
They believe the church has currently temporarily replaced Israel.
They believe that Israel will one day replace the church!
Who is it that actually believes in Replacement Theology– in triplicate?
Replacement Theology – God’s Promises to Israel
To return to the point, building on the previous article, I want to take note that in the Tanakh, there are several prophecies that in Israel’s last days, God would indeed “Replace” the Old Covenant form of Israel, and create a New People! This is critically important but is being virtually ignored. YHVH had always promised to create a New People. Israel’s “day in the sun” as the exclusive people of God would come to an end. As we shall see, He would create a New People, with a New Name, in the New Creation! This was God’s plan – all along! It was not Israel’s failure – it was Israel’s destiny!
And here is what is so critically important: the OT prophecies of the creation of a New People were promises made to Israel! In other words, God told Israel all along that the time was coming when He would “replace” her, as an exclusionary, limited, single ethnic people, with a “universal” people comprised of people from all nations! Replacement Theology, properly understood, is Biblical, right and good!
Now, if / since, God promised Israel that He was going to bring an end to her exclusive “claim to God” and “replace” that condition / state with an all inclusive “whosoever will” people, based not on race but on grace, then it is a denial of Biblical truth to say that God’s eternal plan was that Israel remain His distinctive, exclusive chosen people. With this in mind, let’s take a look at just a few texts that anticipated a radical change in Israel’s status as God’s chosen (ethnic) people.
“And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (Genesis 28:13-15).
In this often overlooked text, Jacob fought with the angel of YHVH and “prevailed.” It is important to see that God reiterated the Abrahamic promises and pledged to fulfill them. Notice the incredible two fold promise– one positive promise, one negative. The Lord said He would fulfill His promises to Abraham and his seed! That was the reassuring aspect of the promise. Yet, pay particular attention to what He says: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken.” Here, God stated that He would not forsake “Israel” until He had fulfilled the Abrahamic promises! (I suggest that the promise that God would bless all nations through Abraham implied that while YHVH would bless Israel distinctively for a while, that the ultimate promise was that the blessings would be “expanded.” Thus, when He fulfilled that promise to bless all nations in Abraham’s Seed (singular!) Israel’s exclusive “place in the sun” was always intended to end, and she would then, as all nations, have to find her “place in the Son.” This is suggested in another great text from Genesis.
Genesis 49:10-11 – “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”
This prophecy would be fulfilled in Israel’s “last days” (Genesis 49:1-2). Many rabbis understood that this was both a wonderful blessing and a foreboding prophecy. They realized that while it spoke of the coming of Messiah, a wonderful blessing, they also understood that it meant the end of Israel’s place in the sun, at least in some way, some fashion. Adam Clarke (In Loc) offers this: “Judah shall continue a distinct tribe till the Messiah shall come; and it did so; and after his coming it was confounded with the others, so that all distinction has been ever since lost.”
Take note of these comments also:
“The ten tribes were spoiled of their power when they were carried captive to Assyria. But the tribe of Judah retained both their ecclesiastical and civil polity even in Babylon. If they did not exercise it to the same extent as before, they had by no means wholly lost it. As they had possessed it in Egypt, and retained it the whole time of their Egyptian bondage [Note: Exodus 34:31-32.], so they still nominated their chiefs and elders, yea and appointed fasts and feasts, while they were oppressed with the Chaldean yoke [Note: Moses and Aaron were sent to the elders of the people, Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:29; and these were heads of houses, Exodus 6:14; and rulers of the congregation, Exodus 16:22. Compare Numbers 1:3; Numbers 1:16. See Sherlock’s third Dissertation, pp. 342, 346, 6th edition.]. Their bondage in Babylon was indeed, on the whole, exceeding heavy; but many of them were suffered to build houses and plant gardens, and to live rather as a colony than as slaves [Jeremiah 29:5; Jeremiah 29:7.]. On their return from Babylon, their own chiefs and elders were appointed to superintend the execution of Cyrus’ decree [Note: Ezra 1:5; Ezra 1:8.] ; and, after that period, they continued to enjoy their privileges till the time of our Lord’s advent. Soon after that, they were reduced to the state of a Roman province; but still exercised the same powers, only in a more limited manner [Compare John 18:3; John 18:31.]. But, forty years after the death of Christ, when his Gospel had been fully preached, and people of all nations had been gathered to him, their city and temple were utterly destroyed; and they themselves were dispersed into all lands. From that time their sceptre has utterly departed from them; nor can the smallest vestige of their former power be traced. They are therefore living proofs throughout the whole world that their Messiah is indeed come.” (Simeon’s Horae Homileticae, DISCOURSE: 60, found at: http://www.studylight.org/commentary/genesis/49-10.html#shh.
The indisputable fact of history is that Judah, as a distinct tribe ruling over Jerusalem and Judea, ceased to exist in AD 70 with the destruction of the genealogical records.
The scepter was Judah’s authority, her rule, her sovereignty. That authority resided in the fact that Judah was to be the tribe through whom Messiah would come (Isaiah 11). The irony of Genesis 49 is therefore incredible!
An interesting and important conundrum: If Messiah, of Judah, would come and establish the kingdom, (the scepter!) and rule and reign forever (Luke 1:32f) would this not be, at least in one form, the establishment of Judah and her sovereignty? Yes, on one level it would, but, very clearly, Genesis 49 is predicting the “replacement” in some form at least, of the sovereignty of Judah with the scepter of Messiah!
The solution is to be found in the indisputable facts of history, as cited by the commentators above and the realization that Jesus “Is Israel”– he is Judah- but, his kingdom / rule / scepter was not of the same manner and form as Old Covenant Judah! In other words, the nationalistic, geo-political rule of Judah over the house of Israel came to a catastrophic end in AD 70. But, the eternal, never ending rule of “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5) was fully established. It is a kingdom cut out without hands (Daniel 2:44). It is a kingdom not of this world. It is a kingdom that cannot be removed or shaken. And, just as Genesis 49 foretold, when the Old Covenant form of Judah passed away, that unending scepter of Jesus, of Judah, came into full bloom. See my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, for an excellent discussion of the truth on Replacement Theology.
We will continue this, but for now, it can be seen that the almost pejorative term of Replacement Theology that is cast about by Dispensationalists is totally misguided and ignores the Biblical narrative. There is in fact a Biblical doctrine of Replacement Theology, but, it is not a doctrine of failure, but, a doctrine of God’s Scheme of Redemption and His faithfulness.