A Response to:
Israel and the Church: the Differences
(Zola Levitt Ministry)
Original (black and red print) by Thomas S. McCall, Th.D.;
Response (in blue type) by James Wilson
Dr. Thomas McCall, the Senior Theologian of our ministry, has written many articles for the Levitt Letter. He holds a Th.M. in Old Testament studies and a Th.D. in Semitic languages and Old Testament. He has served as Zola’s co-author, mentor, pastor, and friend for nearly 30 years.
One of the great theological battlegrounds of orthodox Christianity throughout the centuries has been the nature and character of the Church, especially in relation to its biblical predecessor, Israel. The two major views are that:
1. The Church is a continuation of Israel
2. The Church is completely different from Israel
3. The Minority View, which I (James) hold, is that the Church’s core is and always was Israel.
The predominant view has been that the Church is the “new” Israel, a continuation of the concept of Israel which began in the Old Testament. In this view, the Church is the refinement and higher development of the concept of Israel. All of the promises made to Israel in the Scriptures find their fulfillment in the Church. Thus, the prophecies relating to the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land are “spiritualized” into promises of blessing to the Church. The prophecies of condemnation and judgment, though, are retained literally by the Jewish nation of Israel.
This view is sometimes called Replacement Theology, because the Church is seen to replace Israel in God’s economy. One of the problems with the view, among others, is the continuing existence of the Jewish people, especially with regard to the revival of the new modern state of Israel. If Israel has been condemned to extinction, and there is no divinely ordained future for the Jewish nation, how does one account for the supernatural survival of the Jewish people since the establishment of the Church, for almost 2,000 years against all odds? Furthermore, how does one account for Israel’s resurgence among the family of nations as an independent nation, victorious in several wars and flourishing economically?
Second View: Israel and the Church are Different
The other view, we believe, is clearly taught in the New Testament, but it has been suppressed throughout most of Church history. This view is that the Church is completely different and distinct from Israel, and the two should not be confused. In fact, the (NT) Church is an entirely new creation that came into being on the Day of Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and will continue until it is taken to Heaven at the Rapture return of the Lord (Eph. 1:9-11). None of the curses or blessings pronounced upon Israel refer directly to the Church. The Church enters into the Abrahamic and New Covenants, for instance, only by divine application, not by original interpretation (Matt 26:28).
This view has several major errors. First, the Church can never be extracted from Israel; Acts points this out:
Acts 7:38 This is he who was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers, who received the lively oracles to give unto us.
The very core of the Church is Israel; remove that core, and there is no Church.
The Church never came into being at Pentecost; nothing came into being at Pentecost. That event was an example of a future event: a minature of it, as the text itself explains with reference to the prophet Joel.
The Rapture isn’t of ‘the Church,’ and no text states that it is. The Rapture will take all Saints living at that time. The very core of the Church will continue.
No part of the Church enters into the Abrahamic and New Covenants by any divine application; that is spiritualization, and it is Replacement Theology. The Covenants are literal, and directed toward those as the Scriptures describe.
This leaves all the covenants, promises, and warnings to Israel intact. Israel, the natural Jewish nation, is still Israel. To be sure, Israel has been side-lined during these past 1,900 years of the Diaspora. The Church has taken center stage in the Lord’s affairs as the Gospel has spread throughout the world. Nevertheless, God has carefully preserved the Jewish people, even in unbelief, through every kind of distress and persecution. Some- times, the professing Church itself (I speak to our shame) has been a cause of these persecutions to the Jews.
Israel has never been side-lined. ‘The Church’ that has taken center stage has been nearly all made of unbelievers, and has no part in the permanent plan of God, while the Biblical Church, with Israel at its core, and all who truly are born of God are added to this group—not as a replacement for Israel, but as participants in the congregation (church) of Saints. Israel remains distinct, and must necessarily always remain distinct as the Covenant itself declares: Israel is an ‘Am Segulah,’ a segregated people. Even Daniel’s prophecy keeps Israel distinct:
Daniel 7:27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
There are three entities: the people, the saints, and the most High. The people speaks of Israel; the Saints refer to all Saints, and especially non-Jewish Saints in this text, and the most High’s identity is obvious.
The group that has taken center stage for the past 1900 years of the Diaspora is described in a parable of a grain of mustard seed that grows into a tree—a monstrosity in which the birds (demons) can make their nests in its branches. That tree will be demolished.
What has been spread throughout the world isn’t the Gospel—that is, isn’t the Biblical Gospel; it is American Pagan Christianity in which sin is acceptable and the mere acknowledgement of faith, or doing particular denominational actions, brings one into the supposed Body of Christ.
The ‘professing Church’ consists of non-Saints who think they are Saints.
Not only has God preserved the Jewish nation, but He has also kept His promise to save a remnant of Israel in every generation. The remnant of (true) Israel in this age are the Jewish believers in Christ who have joined the Gentile believers, and form the Church, the Body of Christ (Rom. 11:5). In this respect, then, a part of Israel (the believing remnant) intersects with the Church during the Church Age. But this does not make Israel the Church, or vice versa.
It is a thoroughly Replacement Theological concept to state that “The remnant of (true) Israel in this age are the Jewish believers in Christ who have joined the Gentile believers, and form the Church, the Body of Christ.” If the writer had known proper theology, he might have stated something more like this: “The remnant of (true) Israel in this age are the Jewish Believers in Messiah who have been permanently joined to all Believers by the New Birth, and are a permanent part of the Church, the Body of Christ, whose very center is Israel (including Israel not in faith).”
There is no such thing as ‘the Church Age.’ It is the Age of the Gentiles in which pagan Gentiles have predominance over Jerusalem; this contrasts to the Day of Yehovah when Yehovah will permanently take Jerusalem to Himself.
In the future, both God’s warnings and promises to Israel will come to pass. After the Lord is finished with the Church Age, and has taken the Church to Heaven in the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-18), God will restore Israel to center stage on the world’s divine theater. First comes the devastating “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer. 30:7) also known as the Great Tribulation. This is a dreadful period of seven years, which begins relatively lightly during the first half, but intensifies into full focus during the latter half. During this time the world is judged for rejecting Christ, but, more specifically, Israel is judged, purged and prepared through the fiery trials of the Great Tribulation for the Second Coming of the Messiah. This is the bad news.
God never takes the Church to Heaven in the Rapture. He takes the Saints. The Church still remains, since all the plans of God have everything to do with the Church (with Israel at its core).
The concept that the Tribulation “begins relatively lightly during the first half, but intensifies into full focus during the latter half” is based on a reading error. It begins terribly heavy on Israel, and then it gets even heavier on the races trying to destroy Israel and be rid of Yehovah and His Messiah. When Yehovah begins the Tribulation, He will terribly slaughter among the Israelis.
The world is never judged “for rejecting Christ.” The world is judged for its attempts against Israel, Yehovah and His Messiah. Some of the greatest heroes and heroines of that time won’t even know who Yehovah and His Messiah are.
The good news is that, when Christ does return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation, Israel will be ready, willing, and eager to receive Him, and proclaim, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:39). As the stumbling of Israel brought blessing to the world at Christ’s First Coming, the reception of Israel to Christ at His Second Advent will be like “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15). The remnant of Israel which survives the Tribulation (some one-third of the Jewish people who enter the Tribulation), will be saved, and the Lord will establish His kingdom on the same earth and the same capital city, Jerusalem, that rejected Him centuries before. Israel will be the head of the nations, and no longer the tail, and all nations will send representatives to Jerusalem to honor and worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Isa. 2:2-3; Micah 4:1). The Church will return with Christ, and will rule with Him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-5). He Himself told His disciples that they would rule over the 12 tribes of Israel in the restoration (Matt. 19:28). Thus, Israel has not been forgotten in God’s plan. While the Jewish nation still has a dark period facing it, there is a glorious finale to Israel’s long history.
The Professor McCall has events in the wrong order. He has Christ returning, and then Israel proclaiming, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:39). What will occur will be the opposite (as the text itself declares). Yeshua will not even be seen until the inhabitants of Jerusalem will say, “Blessed is He Who comes with the Name Yehovah!”
His proportions are also incorrect. Far fewer than 1/3 of Israel will survive the Tribulation.
The Church won’t return with Christ; Saints will come with Him, and the Church will continue on Earth. There is no concept of The Church off planet Earth. There never has been. There are members of the Church, but the Church itself is always a congregation on Earth.
He stated, “all nations will send representatives to Jerusalem to honor and worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” He didn’t mention the Zechariah 14:16 text that describes this in detail, including their mandatory participation in Succot (‘Tabernacles,’ ‘Booths’).
The Saints (not the Church) will rule with Messiah for a thousand years.
How Did the Church Decide the Demise of Israel?
The New Testament Church was very much involved with the vicissitudes (changes) of Israel. Jesus is an Israeli, as were all the apostles, and the concerns of Israel, spiritually and politically, were very much a part of their lives. The greatest struggles the early Church had were over the relationship between Israel and the Church, law and grace, and the fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ (Galatians). Many of the Jewish believers were not comfortable with the Gentile believers at first; and as time went on and Gentiles began to predominate numerically, the attitudes were reversed. Galatians shows how the Jewish party tried to impose the Mosaic Law on Gentile Christians, and Romans shows how the Gentile party began to “boast against the branches” (Rom. 11:18), resenting the place of Israel in history and theology.
Professor McCall stated, “The greatest struggles the early Church had were over the relationship between Israel and the Church, law and grace, and the fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ (Galatians).” This is totally false. I will word it correctly: “The greatest struggles the early pagans who thought they were the true Church had were over the relationship between Israel and the Church, law and grace, and the fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ (Galatians). Even Peter was confused on this point for a while, but was soon corrected.”
He continued, “Many of the Jewish believers were not comfortable with the Gentile believers at first.” This was due to their being unclean, and to their not submitting to becoming physically clean as if they were becoming part of the People of Israel. They knew very well that a person could be a non-Jewish Saint, but they didn’t know how to deal with these folks because of the current teachings on becoming unclean by contact with the races.
Professor McCall wrote, “As time went on and Gentiles began to predominate numerically, the attitudes were reversed.” He was right: as Gentiles (not Saints) began to predominate; they claimed faith, but were not in faith.
Professor McCall incorrectly used the phrase, “Gentile Christians.” There is no such thing in the Bible. Once a person who used to be a Gentile is born of God, that person is a son or daughter of Avraham by faith—not an Israeli, but a son or daughter of Avraham. Now, should the person also join to Israel, the person then becomes an Israeli, but that is totally not necessary for the person to become a son or daughter of Avraham.
That Gentile party of which the professor spoke who “began to ‘boast against the branches’ (Rom. 11:18), resenting the place of Israel in history and theology, never consisted of folks who were born of God.
It took some time, perhaps a couple of centuries, but eventually the vast Gentile majority in the Church began to view Israel as a vestigial organ that had outlived its usefulness. In fact, the predominant Christian view was that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD signaled the official and divinely-ordained end of the Jewish nation, never more to be re-instituted as a national entity. The fact that Jerusalem lay in ruins and the Jewish people were scattered over the world was seen as conclusive evidence that God was forever finished with national Israel. If there were any purpose for the existence of the Jewish people, it was to remind the world of the severe judgment of God upon a disobedient people.
The professor wrote of “the predominant Christian view” in this paragraph. Why didn’t he realize that this was the predominant anti-Semitic view of the uncircumcised?
If this harsh view of Israel were true, though, what of the promises of God to Israel in the Old Testament? For those who claimed to believe in the entire Bible as the Word of God, this was a great problem. How could a faithful God not keep His promises to His ancient people? To deal with this took extraordinary theological dexterity and alchemy. The theologians had to propose that Israel in the Scriptures did not really mean Israel, especially when it came to the promises of eternal blessing. Instead, Israel meant something else, something that came to be known in the New Testament as the Church. The Church became the new Israel, and through this remarkable transformation, wherever blessing is promised to Israel in the Old Testament, it was interpreted to mean the Church. This is Replacement Theology, in which the Church has become Israel.
The professor is right; only, he doesn’t know that he, himself, clings to Replacement Theology. This is a great problem at the present time. Many who have a real and determined interest in the Bible and in the God of the Bible, and who feel themselves thoroughly grounded in Truth and in Faith, having everlasting Salvation, hold to Replacement Theology, and therefore are in unbelief. The reason for this is because they fail to take the Scriptures literally, as does this professor. Not taking it literally is direct unbelief.
Replacement Theology was already around before the end of the First Century, but did not become the official position of professing Christian leadership until Augustine popularized the concept, primarily in THE CITY OF GOD, in the latter part of the Fourth Century. Augustine actually states that he was previously a Chiliast, meaning that he was a believer in the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth after His return. This is the same as our current description of Premillennialism. However, he had come to the conclusion that this view was “carnal,” and had adopted the view that the reign of Christ would be something more “spiritual,” and would actually occur during the Church Age. Such a view necessitated the extinction of Israel, and the cancellation of all promises God made to the Jewish nation. These promises of blessing would now be fulfilled within the framework of the Church.
I agree with the professor in this paragraph; Augustine was a non-spiritual swine.
This view, which had been latent in Christendom, now flourished throughout the Byzantine world. From this point on, the theological legs were cut out from under Israel, and the predominant Christian theology was that there was no future for Israel. Replacement Theology has been the rule that has survived the Middle Ages, the Crusades and the Reformation in Church History. Only during the last Century or so has the Premillennial concept of the future of Israel come to the forefront in evangelical Christianity. Even so, it is a minority view.
The professor is incorrect in his assessment: “Only during the last Century or so has the Premillennial concept of the future of Israel come to the forefront in evangelical Christianity.” He is apparently unaware of groups, like the Puritans, who were confused about these things, but who didn’t dismiss the restoration of Israel and the reign of Messiah on Earth.
Does Israel’s Future Demean the Church’s Glory?
Some suggest that if Israel has not ceased to exist in its covenant relationship to God, and if Israel still has a future in the divine plan, this somehow diminishes the position of the Church. Is such a concern valid? It is almost as though the Church has been jealous of Israel, and afraid that if it recognized Israel’s future promises, it would somehow demean Christ and the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jealousy over Israel is the norm.
It is when the Church recognizes Israel that the true distinctiveness and glory of the Body of Christ becomes evident. This called-out body, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles during the Church Age, is the highest entity the Lord has created, superior to the universe, all the Angels, the nations, and Israel. Our Head, our Husband, our Friend is the Son of God Himself. We shall reign with Him when He rules the earth, and our 12 Founding Apostles will rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. The Angels themselves will study us forever as the greatest exhibit of God’s grace, and we will actually judge the Angels. This is our destiny, and this writer, for one, would not trade his position in the Body of Christ with any creature in the universe! Why, then, be disturbed over what God has promised the Jewish people? Why be jealous over the future destiny of Israel? How short sighted of us! Indeed, the Church’s finest and most distinctive hour will be when Israel is restored nationally and spiritually to the Lord at the Second Coming of Christ. We will return from Heaven with Him as His glorious Bride to rule Israel and the world. What more could we ask?
I thoroughly disagree with the statement, “This called-out body, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles during the Church Age, is the highest entity the Lord has created, superior to the universe, all the Angels, the nations, and Israel.” That is about as blatantly Replacement Theologically oriented a statement as one can make.
The professor then delves deeper into Replacement Theology: “Our Head, our Husband, our Friend is the Son of God Himself.” Jerusalem is the Bride and wife of the Lamb, as Revelation 21:9 and following show:
Revelation 21:9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues. And he talked with me, saying, “Come hither! I will shew thee the Bride, the Lamb’s wife!” 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain! And he shewed me that great city: the holy Jerusalem, descending out of the heavens from God, 11 having the glory of God!
The professor then continues, “Indeed, the Church’s finest and most distinctive hour will be when Israel is restored nationally and spiritually to the Lord at the Second Coming of Christ.” Israel will be restored nationally and spiritually, and physically, before this Coming of Christ! That is a prerequisite to His coming!
Professor McCall then exclaims, “We will return from Heaven with Him as His glorious Bride to rule Israel and the world. What more could we ask?” I will tell you what more you could ask: You could ask this professor to believe the Bible, and not theological replacement. So, the Bride will rule Israel? Fat chance, unless Yehovah is a liar.
So, if we are not to suffer from spiritual myopia, we must recognize what the Lord is doing with Israel, not shrinking from it as though our own interests will be overshadowed. Rather, we rejoice in these developments, with full assurance that our own redemption draws ever closer.