Premillennialists in particular (but they are not alone) strongly insist on the return of Christ to earth to reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem. For this intermediate kingdom I see no evidence at all. I believe it to be profoundly wrong. First, I cannot find a single text in the NT supporting it; secondly, it is profoundly suspect on theological grounds, (see further my Preunderstandings of the Millennium?). On the contrary, I believe that Jesus (I use his human name deliberately) reigns in heaven and will do so forever (Heb. 1:3,13, etc.). He will, however, return (appear, reveal himself) mutatis mutandis (making the necessary adjustments) like Moses to Egypt, to gather his elect and take them to their heavenly home (Mt. 24:31; John 14:1-3; Rev. 3:21, etc.). As a Christian I believe that the old covenant is replaced by the new (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8), that the present body of flesh is replaced by a spiritual body, that earth is replaced by heaven and the presence of God. In other words, I believe in Christian replacement not OT restoration. Even in the OT going back (restoration) is generally wrong (see my No Going Back). It must be remembered that when Israel went backwards it was for punishment (Hos. 8:13; 9:3,6, etc.), so when they were restored, they were moving as they should have been from heathenism forwards back to Judaism and the Promised Land. The implication of this is that if Jesus comes back to earth, it is for punishment! And this in turn implies that his work at his first coming remained unfinished, despite Jesus’ own claim to have completed the work his Father had given him to do (John 17:4; 19:30; Heb. 2:9; 9:28).
All this raises the question in modern times about the Jews’ return to Israel since 1948. While the re-gathering of the chosen people to the Promised Land after exile is a prominent and indisputable feature of the OT (see e.g. Jer. 32:37, etc.), it does not figure in the NT despite the diaspora that occurred after the Romans had wreaked havoc. However, to confine myself to but one fairly recent work, Torrance and Taylor contend vigorously against a replacement theology in their “Israel God’s Servant”. Rejecting the idea that the church has replaced Israel on the ground that it in effect denies a miracle that has occurred before our very eyes, they maintain that those who regard the Church as the new Israel are plainly mistaken. So what is the truth of the matter?
First, as I have already intimated in my first paragraph, the Bible certainly seems to teach replacement. Jesus tells hostile Jews in Matthew 21:43 that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Again, using OT language originally applied to the Israelites in Exodus 19:5f., Peter tells Christians that they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read that the new covenant is fundamentally different from the old and replaces it. In Hebrews it is portrayed as being a better covenant (8:6). If this does not suggest replacement, I do not know what does.
It would appear, however, that some writers who advocate replacement argue that the Jews have ceased to be the people of God and have no more part to play in the grand drama of salvation. It is this that apparently offends Torrance and others who are mightily impressed by what has happened to Israel in recent times, and rightly so. However, I and doubtless others like me who accept replacement deny this kind of rejection of the Jews. Jesus taught that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), and Paul would appear to teach in unmistakable language that the Jews are still God’s elect people whose calling is permanent and irrevocable (Rom. 11:28f.) even if they are presently the enemies of God with respect to the gospel. What seems to be borne out both by the Bible and by history is that Israel has ceased to be the organ of the kingdom of God. That role has been taken over by the church whose specific task is to proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called believers out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:9; Acts 26:18, cf. Col. 1:12f.). But this does not mean that a superseded Israel has been obliterated, wiped off the map, permanently dismissed as irrelevant. Their obliteration was the objective of the medieval church (I speak as a Lincolnshire man painfully aware of what happened in Lincoln and such places in the thirteenth century), the Nazis and nowadays the Muslims. The policy of obliteration is dangerous not only politically but also religiously. For the Jews remain the elect people of God and the warning that those who persecute them will be cursed (Gen. 12:3) still holds good as the demise of the ‘thousand-year Reich’ would seem to demonstrate. The fact remains that despite their partial and temporary rejection, the Jews continue to impress themselves on the rest of us and even in their disobedience witness inexorably to the continued activity of God in this turbulent world of ours (Rom. 9-11).
The True Israel
Torrance and others rail rigorously against the idea that the church is the new Israel. Since the word ‘new’ may be regarded as being tendentious, they arguably have a point, but it seems to depend largely on a quibble. After all, the Bible refers to the new covenant. What it certainly says is that believers in Christ including Jews like Paul himself now constitute the true Israel, the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15). Just as Peter says we are, like the old Israel, a chosen race and so forth (2:9), Paul says in unmistakable terms that we are the true circumcision (Phil 3:3), and that circumcision is not the result of a physical operation performed by hand signifying law but a spiritual one performed by the Spirit of God signifying regeneration (Eph. 2:11; Col. 2:11). It is the consequence of faith in Christ. (See further my The Order of Salvation, Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology, etc.). The NT also refers to our high priest and the true tent or tabernacle in heaven that the Lord has set up (Heb. 8:1-5). In view of this, quarrelling over the difference between words like ‘new’ and ‘true’ is of questionable value. From a Christian point of view, the circumcised (Jews/Israel) and the uncircumcised (Gentiles, 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6) need to unite in faith to form one man as the true Israel, where the wall of separation that stood them between for centuries has been abolished (Eph. 2).
If all this is so, why cannot the Jews themselves see this? In their time even the OT prophets themselves accused their own people of being blind (Isa. 42:19, etc.). Sometimes this is said to be their own fault: they have blinded themselves (Isa. 29:9); sometimes the reason given is that God has blinded them as in Isaiah 6:10 (cf. John 12:40; Acts 28:27). But explanations like these still leave us with questions in our minds. Is there more to be said? The NT certainly gives the impression that the Jews were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah, one more in the mould of David, a warrior king who would drive the Romans into the sea (John 6:15), and Jesus certainly did not fit this picture. He was as far from a sword-wielding Muslim as could be. This is further borne out by Jesus’ rejection at his crucifixion when the fickle crowd that had welcomed him earlier on Palm Sunday appeared to be disillusioned and disowned him. (Was it essentially the same crowd? Or was it one that was infiltrated by a group of people mustered by the Jewish leaders who were intent on preserving their own privileges under Rome?) Elsewhere Paul suggests that the Jews have misunderstood the plan of salvation because they have failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah (2 Cor. 3:14-16). According to John, Jesus failed to appeal to Gentile and Jew Gentile alike and was received only by those who were prepared to recognize him as their own (John 1:10-13). Doubtless both were blind. But this prompts the question as to why. The simple answer is sin and deception by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). But there seems to be more to it. Perhaps it was misapprehension like that displayed by Nicodemus when Jesus taught him about the new birth. Perhaps it is the power of tradition to blind even the most well-meaning of devotees. Another factor of prime significance is the nature of Paul’s theology which Peter realizes is sometimes difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:15f.) and can easily be twisted. With this in mind I suggest that the church in its minority failed to understand with the result that it contributed substantially to the obfuscation of the Jews, all the more so because it persecuted them. But while modern churchmen acknowledge the latter, they seem to be unwilling to admit the former. Torrance, for example, fails to mention it perhaps because he is blissfully unaware of it.
Bearing in mind the Judaisers of the NT era and their insistence on circumcision (see Acts 15:1,5), the importance of what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 3 and Galatians can hardly be over-estimated. We have only to consider that the church itself has failed to appreciate and apply his message at this point. After all, Luther and Calvin like most modern evangelicals claimed to support justification by faith to the hilt, but their practice of infant baptism apart from faith, to go no further, tells a different tale. They fail to appreciate what is at issue. Yet, is there any wonder that when circumcision is substituted with infant baptism, temples are built after the fashion of the OT and, despite lip service being paid to the priesthood of all believers, priests especially in the Roman church, which prides itself on its historical longevity, form a special caste? Indeed, the Roman church still deals out ‘salvation’ as the Levitical priesthood dealt out circumcision, and the repeated sacrifice of the mass in effect repeats OT animal sacrifices with commensurate futility – something even the templeless Jews no longer indulge in. Furthermore, the traditional political aspirations and overtones of various ecclesiastical organizations like Romanism, Anglicanism and even Presbyterianism are or ought to be apparent to all. They clearly have the OT theocracy as their background (cf. Calvin’s Geneva). Needless to say, in Islam politics and religion are inseparable, and, considering the lamentable conduct of the medieval church at the time of the Crusades and the serious decline in modern moral standards, they also have been given minimal inducement to question their own highly dubious stance. Little wonder then that, humanly speaking, the Jews are blind and, surrounded by foes, have developed a dog-in-the-manger attitude and a ghetto mentality. For them the wall of separation has not been broken down. So, why should they change and adopt “Christianity” (or better “churchianity”) when they appear to have nothing to gain? Doubtless they feel that their place at the head of the table in Jerusalem rather than in Rome, Canterbury or Geneva has been usurped by unscrupulous interlopers. In the circumstances why not wait for their own Messiah and the fulfilment of what they see to be the OT promises? The tragedy is, of course, that their Messiah has already been, but the church forgot to tell them or at least gave the impression that it was hell-bent on covering up the fact.
If all this is true and the church as the organ of the kingdom really has replaced Israel in some sense, then it would seem to follow that the church is under a divine obligation to do something about the matter. But what can it do? It can subject its traditions and especially its received theology to minute examination with a view to reformation according to the teaching of Scripture. This is difficult because various branches of the church are in denial like the man with a drink problem he refuses to recognize. Haven’t they already got the truth? Reformation is for others! However assuming that it is a universal need I suggest the following:
First, the church must recognize that its main mentor Augustine of Hippo was seriously astray in his understanding of the Bible, especially the books of Genesis and Romans. The idea that God originally created a perfect world that was marred by the sin of an originally perfect Adam and Eve must be seen for what it is, that is, nonsense. A “Fall” from original righteousness leading to a universal curse and original sin either transmitted (Catholics) or imputed (Protestants) is no where taught in the Bible. The creation/fall/restoration schema reflects a fundamentally false worldview and should be dropped pronto.
Second, it must find a truly biblical covenant theology. The idea that God originally made a covenant with creation and with Adam as its lord must be discarded as completely without foundation in Scripture. How could God come to an agreement no matter how minimal with an inarticulate creation and an Adam who like a baby did not even know the commandment? An entirely unilateral covenant is surely a contradiction in terms. (See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?)
Third, it must recognize that just as the covenant with Noah will operate transgenerationally to the end of time (Gen. 8:22), so will the law of Moses (Mt. 5:18). If the first is not true, we would all be dead (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:25-28) and most of history would never have occurred (cf. Jer. 31:36; 33:21). So far as the law of Moses is concerned, it also will be genealogically continuous among the Jews since from the start it was meant to be scrupulously taught to children (Dt. 4:9; 31:12f., etc.). If this is not true, the Jews would not be sinners who had broken the law and in as much need of salvation as the rest of us. Both covenants are said to be everlasting in this-worldly terms (Gen. 8:22; Mt. 5:18). The same can be said of the promises made to Abraham and David. For Christians these point to eternity and have been fulfilled in Christ whose own covenant is, in contrast those with Noah and Moses, eternal (Heb.13:20).
Fourth, if my third point is true, so are the ideas of both racial and individual development involving recapitulation. Before Augustine arrived on the scene, Irenaeus appeared to recognize this. And modern scientists do the same today. While many Christians, especially fundamentalists, belligerently rail against the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, we must acknowledge that it is central to the faith. If it is not true, then Jesus could never serve as the propitiation of the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) and sum up all humanity in himself (Eph. 1:10).
Fifth, (Dispensational) Premillennialists in particular are strongly opposed to the idea of spiritualization. Even Presbyterians like Torrance take a similar tack. However, it would appear to be basic to Christianity correctly understood. There are two main points: first, the initially uncovenanted material creation was by nature temporal (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 102:25-27, etc.) and destined for ultimate destruction from the start (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12) like all things visible (2 Cor. 4:18); second, after its demise only the spiritual, supremely God himself, remains (Heb. 12:27, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-50; 2 Pet. 1:14). And it is this, the heavenly world of the Spirit, which is our destination, that replaces it (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-5). Thus the ‘obvious’ message of Hebrews, along with the rest of the NT, is that there is no ultimate future in either the flesh (not the body) or the material world. Modern science apparently teaches the same, but it defers creation’s fiery demise to millions of years hence. I am not so sure.
What does all this mean? It means that the idea of the redemption of the material creation so popular today is radically astray. It smacks of OT restorationism and repetition. Admittedly, it appears to be taught especially be Isaiah. But it must be remembered that as an OT prophet he lacked the revelation that Jesus brought. He was like the rest of the prophets trying desperately to understand what was hidden from him (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Like John the Baptist he could safely speak of earthly things (John 3:31, cf. vv.12f.), but was otherwise dependent on the limited revelation granted to his dispensation (cf. Dt. 29:4,29). Yet despite this Christians who are supposed to belong to the new covenant teach restorationism with fervour. They write as if they have never read Hebrews 11:1-16, for example. What is more, they fail to see that parallel with creation even in Isaiah is Jerusalem (Isa. 65:17-19). And the new and heavenly Jerusalem will certainly not be the old rebellious city repristinated. Indeed, like the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (Mt. 6:10,33, etc.), it already exists. As the regeneration, it is the mother of all who are born from above (Gal. 4:26, cf. Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12, etc.).
What has all this to do with the Jews and modern Israel? A great deal. My argument at this point is simple. If the church which is now the intended organ of the kingdom is blind to its own revelation, how much more the Jews to the implications of theirs. If the church is Judaized and still largely held captive to the old covenant, little wonder that the Jews are as they are. My point is perhaps most easily illustrated by reference to the sacraments. While the Reformers of the sixteenth century dealt powerfully with the Lord’s Supper and rejected the repeated sacrifice of the mass, they nonetheless failed abjectly to deal with baptism. Yet the theology of baptism contains the essence of Christianity. (See further my The Theology Behind Baptism, Baptism Revisited, Circumcision and Baptism) Properly speaking, baptism of the Spirit, which is no more than a promise in the OT, is experienced only by those who believe specifically in Christ. (‘Baptism’ into Noah, 1 Pet. 3:20f., and ‘baptism’ into Moses, 1 Cor. 10:2, like John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance, cannot be equated with Christian baptism!) He himself as a spiritual son of Abraham who had uniquely kept the law was baptized just as Abraham was circumcised and justified as a believer (cf. Gal. 3:14,29). So Jesus and all true sons of Abraham were called to transcend their heathenism and their captivity to the law and become the free spiritual sons and daughters of God (Gal. 4:1-7, cf. Rom. 8:12-25). Even in the OT concern was not primarily with restoration to the physical land of Israel, perhaps a straw in the wind as it may be now, but with spiritual maturity in a new covenant (Ezek. 11:17-20; 18:31; 36:26; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:39). In other words, today the children of Abraham must attain to the proper culmination of their recapitulation of the history of the race and enter by grace the kingdom of God/heaven (Eph. 1:5). Or again, having begun their pilgrimage in the earth as flesh, they must achieve perfection in the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) their pioneer (Eph. 4:9f.; Heb 2:9f.), and so be fitted for the presence of their Creator who is a consuming fire in heaven (Heb. 12:26-29). Such is the essence of biblical teleology and salvation.
The Future of the Church
When the church sees that all humanity that does not disqualify itself by its sin is engaged on a pilgrimage from ground to glory in the wake of their Redeemer (Eph. 4:9f.; Heb. 2:9-13), perhaps both Jews and Muslims will do the same. This, however, will mean that the Roman Church in particular will have to drop its claim to infallibility, recognize along with the other churches its doctrinal errors and its OT mind-set, and set forth the gospel in all its glorious majesty. If it does this, then the church as a whole, when it is appropriately united with the Jews as the Israel of God, should theoretically have a mighty impact on the rest of the world that is in its care of evangelism and blessing. One thing is clear, however, and that is that a church that does not include substantial numbers of Jews labours under a serious handicap (cf. Rom. 11:12,15). It is not fully the Israel of God, the one man instead of two (Gal. 3:28; 6:15; Eph. 2:15; 4:13).
If the church subjects itself to reformation and the Jews in their jealousy see that Jesus is really their Messiah, then together in the power of the Spirit they might well convince scientists, many of whom in reaction to the falsity of church doctrine have embraced naturalism, that they have misconstrued the situation. If it is seen that evolution and recapitulation are central to the faith and to life itself as we know it, a huge stumbling block to supernaturalism and the transcendence of God will be removed. For it is the church, not the Bible, with its doctrine of devolution that implicitly denies the evolution or development of the race epitomized in Jesus. The fact is that the Bible, as Irenaeus perhaps only vaguely realized, taught both evolution and recapitulation long before Darwin came on the scene.
What if a majority of the Jews do eventually turn to Christ? Does that mean that the law and Israel as a habitable land and nation are no longer viable and relevant? Not so (cf. Jer. 33:24). While Christians, having once lived under law, die to the law (Gal. 2:19), precisely because evolution and recapitulation are part of the essence of life on earth, infants and children who begin at the beginning have necessarily to go through the maturation process, which necessarily involves recapitulating redemptive history, before coming to Christ. Initially, like Adam and Eve they are totally uncovenanted, without a guarantee of life. Next, like the race in general they develop under Noah but remain ‘far off’. Then if they are Jews then as God’s son (Ex. 4:22), or sons of the commandment, they eventually come near. But it is only as Christians that they can gain access by the Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:18; 3:12; Heb. 4:16). In other words, they are no more born Christian than the race was. And since this is so, they cannot by-pass Noah and Moses who remain permanently relevant. The covenants of nature (Gen. 8:22) and law (Mt. 5:18) will necessarily endure till the end of the earth. (While I have drawn attention specifically to children and implicitly to their diminished responsibility, it must be remember that many, perhaps most, physical ‘adults’ in our various societies remain intellectually and spiritually immature often through no fault of their own. For all that, many respond to the rule or kingdom of God at work in our midst, cf. Rev. 1:6; 5:10, and as a consequence live happy, lawful and productive lives in a whole gamut of capacities.)
There is more to be said, however. If the Jews come to see that Christ is the end of the law, that is, both its goal and terminus, what about their half-brothers, the Muslims? Like Israel, they also are something of a mystery. Perhaps we can learn something here from Paul.
First, Islam itself recognizes that there are three peoples of the book. They see themselves as related to Abraham along with Jews and Christians. They claim, however, that theirs is the true faith, superior to Christianity because it came later. This must be questioned. Throughout the OT it is made plain that the Jews were uniquely the chosen vehicle of divine revelation (Dt. 4; Ps. 147:19f., etc.). Jesus endorsed this when he said that salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22). After all, he himself was a Jew and our unique Saviour (John 14:6, etc.) who has clear links with the whole of history of the race. So where does the Qur’an come into the picture?
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul allegorically posits two covenants, one with Hagar and Ishmael and one with Sarah and Isaac. The apostle does this against the obvious teaching of Genesis that Ishmael, though the fleshly son of Abraham was excluded from the covenant even though he was circumcised. Since he was the natural son of Hagar and not of Sarah the free woman, he was cast out as a slave. In John 8:35 Jesus also tells us that the slave does not remain in the house forever. What does all this mean? Paul is intent on indicating to the Jews that so long as they cling to the law (Sinai), they are rejected slaves like Ishmael. But the question we have to ask ourselves here is whether Ishmael and his spiritual offspring are permanently rejected, fatalistically predestinated to damnation. In John 3:16 we read that God loves the world. So, if the Jews at last turn to Christ, is there not a real hope that the Muslims will be confronted by their own failure to understand? I have argued elsewhere (see my Covenant Theology) that the heathen are slaves deceived by the lusts of the flesh and thus the spiritual offspring of Eve who was likewise deceived (cf. Rom. 1:24ff.). They differ from the Jews, the spiritual offspring of Adam who received the commandment directly from God and was not deceived. But Adam rebelled. Is not Paul implying in Galatians 4 that Ishmael, the fleshly slave, resembled Eve who was deceived by the devil? In other words, if the Bible given to us through the Jews is the true word of God, Muslims must seriously consider the possibility that theirs is a perversion of the true. Certainly, from the biblical point of view they are deceived sinners desperately in need of the grace of God. In other words, unbelieving Jews and Muslims before God are both alike still at Sinai and in need of his grace (Rom. 3:9,12,23, etc.). However, whereas Muslims have no hope and no guarantee of salvation (cf. Eph. 2:12), the Jews have a Messiah still in prospect who they will finally acknowledge when he comes from the heavenly Zion (Rom. 11:26f.). If Muslims see the mistakes the Jews have made, they will surely find it easier to recognize their own errors and commit themselves to the true Saviour of mankind. Furthermore, they will have no need to become Jews in order to become Christian and participate in the Israel of God. They can receive Christ through faith without any other intermediary as Gentiles and Jewish women have perennially done.
In the event, however, a more likely scenario is the reverse of what has just been suggested. Already there is evidence that many Muslims are recognizing the shortcomings of their faith and coming to Christ in increasing numbers. The fact is that Islam is bedevilled by the dubious moorings of its revelation in the Qur’an, its lack of a comprehensive view of mankind, its deficient sense of assurance, its materialistic vision of the next world and its tendencies to violence and persecution as a means of spreading its message. The latter in itself suggests its falsity, for truth has its own appeal to man made in the image of God (2 Cor. 5:20). While Israel’s election was clearly for the benefit of the world (Ex. 19:5, cf. Gen. 12:1-3), can the same be said of Islam? From the perspective of Christians who celebrate NT grace, Islam, far from being the final revelation of God, is in fact a step backwards into the same sort of legalism that characterizes Judaism, as Paul implies in his allegory, not to mention the rest of Galatians. Judged by its fruits, it is clearly a failure. Lacking Jesus as Mediator, it is incapable of bridging the gap between man and God. In light of this, perhaps they will see the writing on the wall and, sharing in the full number of the Gentiles, become instrumental in the conversion of the Jews (Rom. 11:25). Since the NT for obvious reasons gives us no clear information regarding Islam, we must resort to inferences from the theology at our disposal. It is reasonable to speculate in view of our ignorance that Muslims as people of the book and precious in God’s sight could serve as a bridge between themselves and the heathen of a different ilk. Certainly their conversion on a large scale to Christ would have a powerful worldwide impact if it ever occurred. And I for one pray that it will.
D.W.Torrance & G.Taylor, Israel God’s Servant, Milton Keynes/Colorado Springs, 2007.
By their fruit you will know them. Evangelism by sword.
Ishmael symbolizes the persecution of the spirit by the flesh (Gal. 4:29).
Eve listened to the voice of the devil and was deceived. The devil was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).
Islam brings slavery not freedom. No assurance. It is a false or distorted gospel and needs to be repented of.
Just as Eve received a distorted commandment and transgressed, so did Ishmael and his offspring.
Just as Eve represented the flesh and slavery to it, so did Hagar and Ishmael.
Just as Eve represented the earth, the original womb of mankind, so Hagar gave birth to a multitude of nations.
The flesh persecutes the spirit.
Muslims enslaved by tradition and law and to that extent they mimic the Jews. They are half-brothers. They are without hope except in their own efforts. The Jews have Isaac and ultimately the promise of life and the Messiah, Jesus the son of David, King of kings.