These are some of the statements that I regularly hear as I travel around to various Christian and Messianic venues. "The church has not replaced Israel!" "God is not through with his people!" "The Jews are still God’s chosen!"
Whether I am at a Christian church or conference, or a Messianic congregation or event, I am always happy to meet people who stand against the theological paradigm known as “replacement theology.”
Replacement theology is a Christian theological idea that says that the church has replaced ethnic Israel as God’s chosen people. The church has widely embraced this concept for most of Christian history. In recent generations, many Christians have come to see that replacement theology is wrong and that God’s promises to Israel are eternal. One Bible verse that many Christians cite to argue against replacement theology is Romans 11:29, which says, “For the gifts and the calling of God [for Israel] are irrevocable.” It is wonderful to see so many Christians embrace God’s past, present, and future plans for Am Yisrael (the people of Israel).
A key component to a more in-depth understanding of replacement theology is to observe that this viewpoint has multiple layers. There is the layer that says that the church has replaced Israel. As noted, many Christians have taken a stand against that perspective. However, there is a deeper, more firmly entrenched layer of replacement theology that affirms the following:
- Christianity has replaced or superseded Judaism.
- The new covenant has replaced the old covenant.
- Grace has triumphed over the Law/Torah.
My observation has been that many Christians who champion the cause of fighting replacement theology still have “replacement-type” ideas deeply entrenched in their theology and paradigm.
Without question, Jesus the Messiah came to establish something new. He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The Master brought a message of teshuvah (repentance) and forgiveness that was designed to usher in a new kingdom age, which would bring restoration not only to Israel but also to the whole world.
However, the good news message of Yeshua and the apostles did not involve the creation of a new religion that would separate itself from Judaism. His introduction of the new covenant was designed to build on previous covenants as opposed to nullifying them. The apostolic message of forgiveness of sins does not imply that the Torah is fulfilled or canceled in the sense that some other set of standards has now superseded it.
I want to be clear: Judaism needs Jesus. The question here is whether Jesus, Paul, and the apostles envisioned a restoration of Judaism or the creation of a new religion that is distinct and divorced from the religion that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles followed.
Placing Jesus and the apostolic faith outside of Judaism leads to the same result that the idea of the church replacing Israel leads. Both of these layers of replacement theology, if universally embraced, would lead to the end of the Jewish people. God has used Judaism, the covenant given through Moses, and the commandments of the Torah to define and preserve the Jewish people. No matter how much one believes that the church has not replaced Israel, if that same person believes that Judaism, the Mosaic covenant, and the Torah have been replaced or superseded, then the result is the same. These ideas are all part of one multi-layered “replacement theology” concept.
God is doing a great work among the people of Yeshua. Many paradigms are shifting toward a more Jewish understanding of Jesus. We are confronting replacement theology. However, for us to fully “replace” replacement theology, it is important to dig down deeply to examine whether replacement-type ideas are still obstructing our view of the Master and his plan for Israel and the nations.