I was raised to believe that there is a marked distinction between Israel and the church. Not merely that they are slightly different in some aspects, but rather they are two separate entities. I was instructed to hold the distinction so markedly that it was to essentially believe that God has two separate “peoples”: Israel, and then a side group called the church. Like many things I was taught to believe, I questioned in light of Scripture and I no longer hold that position. I do find it interesting that I was taught to believe that God had temporarily set Israel aside and is working through the church for a while and will pick Israel up again later; now that I no longer hold to that dispensational ideology those very people who essentially believe in a “temporary” supersessionism (the church replaces Israel) accuse me of believing supersessionism, which I do not. My primary aim is to lay out why I do not believe any form of supersessionism, and hopefully assist in clearing up a misconception that is propagated in dispensational circles, many times as a ploy to keep people from studying the Scriptures on this matter. Many a child has been confined to their bed by the fear of the imagined monster in the closet (or under the bed, or behind the coat on the door, etc). It is my aim here to show that there actually is no “monster” and thus dispel the fear that may keep children of God confined to their dispensationalism. If one chooses to be a dispensationalist then it should be because they are convinced by Scripture, not a default stance they hold out of fear of being a heretic by believing/examining another perspectives. Also, this is not meant to be exhaustive, merely an exercise to show that a Covenantal view of Scriptures does not necessitate taking a “replacement” view of Israel… quite the opposite, actually.
1. The Greek word “ἐκκλησία” (ekklesia) is not properly translated as “church”. The Tyndale Bible did not use the word “church” rather it properly translated the word as “congregation”. The King James Version, however, translated it as “church” and the words has become accepted; but not without causing complications in understanding. I won’t go into the etymology of the word “church” except to say it is a word that refers to the building, not the gathering of the people. This changing of the meaning of “ekklesia” has caused people to be confused and imagine a marked distinction between Israel (referred to in the O.T. as the assembly/congregation) and the assembly/congregation of God in the N.T. To substantiate the fact that ekklesia was understood as congregation/assembly, one can look at the LXX and see how assembly (hebrew קָהַל ”qahal” ) was translated in Greek as “ekklesia”. So when you hear Jesus make the famous declaration to Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:18, hear Him say, “Upon this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
2. God promised Abraham that through his seed, all nations of the earth would be blessed. It is this promise that Israel ultimately clung to. They took pride and comfort in being sons of Abraham, and in Jehovah – the God of Abraham. John addressed this faulty confidence when he told the arrogant Pharisees, “And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!” (Matthew 3:9) Paul addresses this as well in saying, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. 8 That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8) Later in the chapter is further expounds, “But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of Israel’s sons is like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His sentence completely and decisively on the earth. 29 And just as Isaiah predicted: If the Lord of Hosts had not left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:27-29) These passages establish the fact that merely being a physical child of Abraham (even in the lineage of Isaac and Jacob as the Pharisees were) does not make one a child of God. Paul emphatically states that faith in The Messiah makes one a child of Abraham: “27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:27-29)
3. Jesus as the True Israel. Here is the center of it all. Jesus stated in John 15, “I am the true vine. And my Father is the vine keeper.” This was a reference back to Isaiah 5 where Israel was the vine of Jehovah and Jehovah was the vine keeper. In Isaiah 5, God found fault with the house of Israel (the vine), in John 15 Jesus claims that He is the True Israel. Israel is not done away with though. God has not forsaken His people, rather He has spared them through the remnant, and the root and vine of that remnant is in Jesus – the Jew, the Messiah, the Consolation of Israel (Luke 2).
4. Natural branches cut off if not joined by faith to the Messiah. In Romans 11 (I’m not going to cite the entire chapter, but you can read it here) Paul argues that God has not forsaken Israel, even holding himself up as a believing Jew as part of the faithful remnant. He argues that The cultivated Olive tree (Jesus the Messiah) is the root of that remnant. This is where the promises of God to Abraham are found in their fulfillment (Galatians 3:16) Those natural branches, physical sons of Abraham/the nation of Israel, were cut off from the Olive Tree due to unbelief, while the wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted into the The Olive Tree. Paul states that there will be a time when Israel comes back home and by faith, will be grafted back into their natural place. Notice, those cut off from the Olive Tree are cut off from the promises, but when they are joined back in “all Israel”, this includes the grafted in Gentiles who were “brought in”, will be saved.
5. Adoption. Ephesians was written to Gentile believers. The interesting thing is that Paul uses some strong family language here. He tells the Ephesians that they have been adopted into God’s family. Adoption is to take a child of another and bring it into your family as your own. This is another phrasing of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 of the wild olive branches being grafted into The Olive Tree. In chapter 2 of Ephesians Paul says, “11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.” (2:11-13) He shows that Gentiles we outside, excluded from being citizens of Israel, but now we are no longer far off, rather brought near and joined to Israel. Verse 14 states that Jesus, “made both groups one”. Israel didn’t cease to be Israel because it gained adopted siblings, rather those adopted became part of Israel. Those who were excluded from the promises and citizenship were granted, by grace, that privilege. This isn’t a replacement of Israel, rather an expansion of it.
While there are other passages I could submit, as well as historical, proof of the unification of the people of God in the Old and New Testaments, I’ll summarize what I’ve said as I think I have accomplished my goal of showing the view is not one of replacement. So, in summary: The congregation in the Old Testament is the same idea as “ekklesia” in the New. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. As the promised seed of Abraham, the promises to Israel are found in Jesus. Those wild branches grafted into Jesus are thus true children of Abraham, AKA. adopted into God’s family; just as as much children of God as the believing natural branches, and more the children of God than the unbelieving natural branches. God has not forsake Israel, or even temporarily set them aside; rather Jesus is True Israel and God has a remnant that believe in The Messiah. There will be a time when physical born children of Abraham come back home to The Messiah, but God has not forsaken His people, not for a moment. Not to mention The Messiah is a Jew, moreover THE JEW, as He is THE PROMISED SEED OF ABRAHAM (that cannot be stressed enough) so that alone would preclude God from forsaking Israel. A covenantal view of Scripture doesn’t replace Israel, rather it keeps it in the gospel, front and center of God’s redemption of the world, right where it belongs.