Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Replacement Theology

The altar intended for use in a rebuilt Jewish temple.
Photo credit: The Temple Institute.
“Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ (Galatians 3:6-9).

In March 2015 a website called Breaking Israel News reported that construction of a stone altar which would berequired for renewed sacrificial service in a rebuilt Jewish temple had been completed. The altar was built by The Temple Institute, a non-profit organization in Jerusalem founded in 1987, “…dedicated to every aspect of the Biblical commandment to build the Holy Temple of G-d on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (The Temple Institute n.d.).” Currently, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islamic holy sites, occupy the Temple Mount, where Jews and some Evangelical Christians envision a rebuilt Jewish temple. The Temple Institute, however, has accounted for this by designing the new altar so that it can be taken apart and reassembled, “when circumstances become favorable.”

“One thing that makes this altar unique is that it was designed to be disassembled and quickly reassembled in its correct position on the Temple Mount. According to the Temple Institute, ‘The people of Israel are required to build an altar exclusively on the site of the original altar on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount. When circumstances become favorable, this new altar can be quickly re-assembled on the proper location, enabling the Divine service to be resumed without delay (Balofsky 2015).’”

The Divine Service mentioned in the Temple Institute’s statement is not the communion service with which Confessional Lutherans are familiar. Rather, the phrase refers to the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament.

“The base of the altar contains two portals for collecting the blood poured during animal sacrifices, in accordance with the Torah. It is also crowned with four raised corners, called horns by the Torah (Balofsky 2015).”

Religious Jews are not the only ones working toward the goal of a rebuilt temple on the Temple Mount. Evangelical Dispensational Christians such as Tim LaHaye believe that a rebuilt temple and the physical nation of Israel are integral to the plot of End-Times prophecy. Dispensationalists such as LaHaye believe that “God’s plan for history demands a consistent distinction between national Israel and the church which includes an ongoing plan for national, ethnic Israel that culminates in Christ’s millennial kingdom (Tim LaHaye Ministries n.d.).”

These Christians believe that New Testament prophecies associated with the Jewish Temple, such as Matthew 24–25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12, were not completely fulfilled in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was razed by the Romans. This view is a core part of Dispensationalism, which teaches that the Jews remain God's chosen people. Dispensationalist theologians, such as LaHaye, teach that the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Antichrist makes peace between the modern nation of Israel and its neighbors after a world war. The Antichrist is often identified as the political leader of a world-wide national alliance, often identified by leaders in the dispensational movement as the European Union or the United Nations. The Antichrist will proclaim himself to be God at the rebuilt temple and demand worship. At some point before, during, or possibly after these events, Christians will be raptured off the earth by Christ. There will be a great tribulation culminating in the battle of Armageddon, the final return of Christ, and the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom on earth (though not necessarily in that order). At some point during these events the physical nation of Israel will be saved – converted to Christ – en masse.

The future salvation of the national Israel will result in much greater blessings to the Gentiles. It is called "life from the dead" (v. 15). This phrase is interpreted in three different ways. First, it can be seen as a literal resurrection, that is, a general resurrection from the dead leading to blessed eternal life. In other words, the conversion of Israel will signal the resurrection of the last day. The restoration of the Jews at once will bring on the end. The dead will be raised and the Messiah's kingdom will be set up glorious and incorruptible. Professor Ernst K√§semann says, "The conversion of Israel is . . . also the last act of salvation history" (Matthew 2011).

This article isn’t meant to be a survey of Dispensational teachings, though it is helpful to be familiar with the landscape of Dispensationalism when navigating through the wilderness of American Evangelicalism. The focus of this article is to examine what popular Evangelical teachers, such as Tim LaHaye, teach about Israel in relation to what the Bible says about Israel. American Evangelicals who are of a Dispensationalist flavor often accuse other confessional Christians of engaging in “replacement” theology. Replacement theology is popularly defined as the teaching that the Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God's chosen people, and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant (Supersessionism 2015). Opponents of this Replacement Theology charge that this view leads to persecution of Jews by Christians, as they are no longer seen as favored by God. Attempts to cast so-called Replacement Theology in an unflattering light notwithstanding, it is taught in Holy Scripture and stands in direct opposition to what is taught by much of the Christian church in America today.

In Chapters 9-11 in the Book of Romans, St. Paul writes about his anguish concerning his countrymen – his people according to the flesh. St. Paul makes a distinction between the Israel of the flesh, and the Israel of God. Rather than teaching that there are two separate peoples with whom God deals differently and apart from one another, however, St. Paul laments that one group (physical Israel) is lost while the other (spiritual Israel, or the Israel of God) is redeemed through Christ.

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son” (Romans 9:1-9).

Lenski writes the following, regarding verse 6:

He [Paul] is clearing up what may cause a difficulty for earnest Christians when they look at the position assigned to Israel in God’s Word and yet see that Israel is lost. They may think that the Word of God has dropped away, that the outcome with regard to Israel proves it to be unreliable, non-dependable. Such would be mistaken regarding Israel and regarding the Word: regarding Israel because it does not include all the physical descendants of Abraham; regarding the Word because this is promise and itself excludes unbelief and unbelievers. Not the Word has fallen by the way, ‘it liveth and abideth forever’ (I Peter 1:23); but these Israelites, despite the Word and the promises which they had, have fallen by the way (Lenski 1945).

St. Paul cites all the things God has raised up for the salvation of men through the nation of Israel – the sonship, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises – culminating in the very Messiah himself. But then he goes on to say that, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” In other words, not every Jew can claim to be an Israelite simply because he is a Jew. St. Paul emphasizes here, as he does in Galatians, that faith in Christ is what saves a person, not their physical lineage. Despite all of the things St. Paul mentions here, because they rejected Christ, they did not belong to God. Jesus makes this point to the Pharisees in a rather more pointed way:

[speaking to the Jews...the Pharisees], "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God" (John 8:39-47).

The Pharisees are not Abraham’s offspring because they do not have faith in Christ. They have the physical blood line, but they reject the promise. This is what St. Paul is grieving in the opening verses of Romans chapter nine. St. Paul, who loves his fellow Israelites-by-blood, laments the fact that they are lost – cut off from Israel – because they reject God’s promised Messiah and do not repent of their sin.

Israel is the name God gave to Jacob in Genesis 32. This name later expanded from Jacob to all the 12 tribes of people who descended from him. Rev. Alexander Lange, preaching on Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, explains that God shows his love for his people Israel by calling them his “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). Jesus, the Son of God, however, is Israel reduced to one. Israel was to be a light to the nations by living in a special relationship to God. He would be their savior and they would be faithful and obedient. Israel, however, was not faithful and obedient to God and needed a substitute:

John [the Baptist] was calling Israel to repentance. Then God sent Jesus to John with a very special mission — Jesus would become Israel’s substitute. He would become Israel Reduced to One. He would be the Israel that Israel never could be. Jesus would succeed where Israel had failed. Just look at our text and see how Jesus reenacted Israel’s life (Matthew 3:13-17). Like Israel, Jesus passed through water. Having been baptized, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, just like Israel. God announced that this man is his beloved, firstborn Son, just as he once did with Israel. After his baptism, Jesus wandered in the wilderness...just like Israel. He was tested...just like Israel. Unlike Israel, Jesus withstood all temptations. He did not whine when he grew hungry or worship false gods. He did not grieve God’s Spirit. Unlike Israel, Jesus was a faithful, obedient Son. Jesus carried out God’s mission perfectly. He was the Light of the Word. He drew people to himself and told people about God’s wonderful works and steadfast love. Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of Israel (Lange 2014).

St. Paul expressly teaches that there are not two peoples, Jew and Gentile, with whom God deals separately from one another. On the contrary, Israel is the Body of Christ – all those, Jew or Gentile, who have been brought to penitent faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all one through faith in Christ. To be in Christ is to be a part of Israel.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:24-29).

St. Paul explains that, those who have been connected to Christ through baptism have been connected to his death, and will also be connected to his resurrection.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:3-6).

Finally, Pieper has this to say regarding the physical nation of Israel:

It is the express declaration of the Apostle that the present state of Israel is not one of hardening of the heart, but there is a hardening only of a part of Israel, and Paul’s words (Rom. 11:32): ‘God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all,’ apply to the Jews till the end of the world. Walther says well: ‘True though it be that the Jews have crucified and rejected their own Messiah, still, according to the mystery unfolded by the Apostle, Jews shall be converted as long as Gentiles are converted. Not only will the door of grace remain open till the end, but there shall always be a number of both who actually enter the Kingdom of God’ (Pieper 1953).

Works Cited

Balofsky, Ahuva. "New Details Emerge on Rebuilt Altar of Jewish Temple." Breaking Israel News. March 23, 2015. (accessed July 24, 2015).

Lange, Rev. Alexander J. "Israel Reduced to One." St. John's Lutheran Church - East Moline, IL. January 12, 2014. (accessed July 27, 2015).

Lenski, Dr. Richard C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1945.

Matthew, Rev. P. G. "The Salvation of the Jews." Grace Valley Christian Center. May 29, 2011. (accessed July 27, 2015).

Pieper, D.D., Francis. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. III. IV vols. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.

"Supersessionism." Wikipedia. June 23, 2015. (accessed July 24, 2015).

The Temple Institute. "About The Temple Institute." The Temple Institute. (accessed July 24, 2015).

Tim LaHaye Ministries. "Pre-Trib Doctrinal Statement." Tim LaHaye Ministries. (accessed July 24, 2015).