Studies in Eschatology [5]

tabernacle1The Israel/Church Distinctive

I began a study looking at eschatology by considering the basic hermeneutics, or those principles of Bible study that are foundational for the various eschatological systems.   With this article, I want to touch briefly on a significant principle of hermenuetics, The Israel – Church Relationship.

The Israel – Church relationship is without a doubt the most significant disagreement between all the adherents of each eschatological system. Moreover, nearly all the other hermeneutical principles are shaped by how one understands the differences and similarities between the national, ethnic group Israel, or the Jews, with the NT Church, which is defined as being comprised of both Jews and gentiles united in one body in Christ.

With all the literature I have read on the subject, those who hold to a Reformed Covenant view of Scripture practically make any dissenting position from their understanding of Israel and the Church a test for orthodoxy. There were a few non-Covenant oriented authors who took a similar, opposite stance against those who would depart from their particular view of Israel and the Church, but I found it was the Reformed Covenant authors who were the most stern in their pronouncements of error.

Keith Mathison, for example, in his book critiquing dispensationalism, paints his dispensational subjects as holding to a view of the Bible that is both unique, in that it is relatively new to Church history, and heretical, in that they promote two entirely different Gospels and views of salvation, [see also Crenshaw and Gunn, pgs. 117ff.]. Sam Waldron shares a similar criticism against John MacArthur when he states rather disingenuously that John’s dispensational convictions, while not heretical, do raise issues with the Gospel and the Christian faith [Waldron, 127]. Other authors provide like-minded critiques in which they dance around calling those believers with non-covenant views of Israel and the Christian Church heretics. They may merely conclude that their theological convictions regarding Israel and the Church are problematic and troubling, and are to be avoided. But there are a few Reformed Covenant writers who do place their convictions outside the pale of Christian orthodox, or brand them as being pseudo-Christian.

With all of that in mind, how one understands Israel’s relationship to the Church is such a vital hermeneutical pillar in a person’s eschatological structure, that it is important we frame a full picture of the main disagreeing points.

The Reformed Covenant position on Israel and the Church is derived from a set of theological presuppositions emerging out of Covenant Theology. God is said to have only one particular, redeemed people who are the same in both testaments. This redeemed people are called “the Church” or the “appointed assembly” or “called out assembly” [Berkhof, 555 ff.] They were present within the nation of Israel during the history of the OT; for instance those 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

Robert Reymond describes the Church as “comprised of all redeemed in every age who are saved by grace through personal faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ, ‘the seed of the woman’ (Gen. 3:15) and suffering Messiah (Isa. 53:55-10)” [Reymond, 805]. Citing Mathison again, he writes that the Church is all believers of all ages (meaning both in the OT & NT) have one God, and one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Additionally, the believers of all ages are one body, one bride, one household, one flock [Mathison, 26].

The Church, then, is understood to transcend both testaments. In the OT, this “redeemed assembly” was within the nation of Israel and can correctly be identified as “Israel,” but in the NT, this “redeemed assembly” takes on a new identity in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel moves redemptive salvation beyond the borders of an exclusive Jewish nation state called “Israel” to include the entire world: people “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).

The relationship between OT Israel and the NT church is considered a typological one; Israel is meant to foreshadow the Church to come [Mathison, 38]. The NT Church fulfills all the OT promises and purposes made to OT Israel [Mathison, 26]. All those original promises of restoration and being made a ruling kingdom over the earth God gave to OT Israel are literally being fulfilled NOW in the NT Church [Long, 361]. So it is accurate to call the Church the new Israel and certain New Testament passages like Ephesians 2:11-20 and 1 Peter 1:10-12 strongly suggest the NT Church has fulfilled, or even replaced, what the OT Church in Israel was meant to be.

That is not to say Reformed Covenant believers do not recognize a distinction between Israel and the Church. There certainly is a recognized distinction between OT Israel and the NT Church, however there isn’t a strong dichotomy between the two as the non-covenantal believers suggest [Crenshaw and Gunn, 118]. In fact, it is the strong dichotomy of the non-covenant believers that is the most concerning for the Reformed covenant folks. Holding a sharp dichotomy between the OT people of God, Israel, and the NT people of God, the Church, leads to some significant theological problems the most notable being a division between the people of God. That strong dichotomy presents two divided groups called “the people of God” and suggests two possible ways to salvation, one for the OT Jews and another for the NT Church. That division is considered artificial, especially when Jesus himself speaks of being a shepherd over one flock (John 10) and there is now one new man made of both Jews and gentiles (Ephesians 2).

It is true some dispensational writers in the past make such a strong distinction between the Israel of the OT and the Church of the NT, they would argue for a different Gospel spoken to the Jews by Peter and James and another proclaimed by Paul to the gentiles. A more recent example is the hyper-Zionist teachings of John Hagee who argues Jesus never offered Himself as a Messiah to Israel [Hagee, 132-145], or that Jesus was not crucified by the Jews [Hagee, 131], in spite of Peter’s words to the contrary (Acts 2:22, 23, 36). But those are extreme examples and do not reflect the whole of the theological thought on Israel and the Church which dissents from Reformed covenantalism.

The modern Reformed Covenant position on Israel and the Church tends to overlook two important historical factors influencing their view.

First is the idea of the Church being the new or spiritual Israel, or what would be the same as the OT “believing remnant.” Historically, this perspective on Israel and the Church has always been that of the Roman Catholic Church. I always found this close connection between the Reformed and the Roman Catholicism to be intriguing. That is especially true seeing how modern day Reformed apologists like Sam Waldron and Robert Reymond who are both highly critical of dispensational, non-covenant believers, have their historical roots with the Protestant Reformation. Yet, Roman Catholic teaching on the subject speaks of the OT Church, Israel, and the NT Church being the true Israel, the true people of God [Bovis, 20, 31, 32]. Elsewhere, the Church is referred to as the new Israel, which advances in this era, the Church of Christ [Flannery, 360].

Second is the antisemitism which has infested the historic Christian Church. The direct result of a view of replacement theology which says the OT Israel has been done away with and all their promises of restoration are fulfilled in the NT Church has been a nasty prejudice against the Jewish people. The Medieval Catholic Church is probably the worst instigator, but antisemitism continued after the Protestant Reformation by various Protestant groups who carried over the Catholic perspective on Israel and the Church, and it continues even until this day, particularly in Europe.

Now, contrasted with the Reformed Covenant perspective on Israel and the Church is the Reformed non-covenant perspective, also known as dispensationalism. Just like the Reformed view, the dispensational view is built upon specific theological presuppositions. For instance the idea the NT does not have total and complete revelational priority over the OT as the covenant perspective argues so that certain prophecies and promises made to the nation of Israel are cancelled and fulfilled entirely by the Church. Also, how one interprets OT eschatological prophecy will play into the conclusions regarding Israel’s relationship with the Church.

Those presuppositions provide a different approach to the biblical teaching on Israel and the Church when we consider the biblical evidence.

First, I believe it is clear in Scripture that Israel and the Church are distinct. The Church is understood to be only a NT entity that is not to be equated with one, specific redeemed people who transcend both testaments. There are similarities in the relationship between the NT Church and Israel, but a concise reading of Scripture tells us the two are never equated as being one and the same. That is especially true in the NT. Of the seventy-three references to Israel in the NT, the vast majority refer to national, ethnic Israel while a few others refer to Jewish believers [Vlach, 25]. Never does the NT writers equate the two as being one and the same. That point is noteworthy because the term Israel is kept distinct from the Church AFTER its establishment in the book of Acts [Vlach, 25]. That would imply the Church has not absorbed all of the OT promises made to Israel pertaining to their fulfillment in a future kingdom.

Building of the last point, a second area of difference between the Reformed Covenant view and the dispensational view of Israel and the Church has to do with defining the people of God. I believe it is completely accurate to say God has a redeemed people He has called to Himself and they are manifested in both testaments. Hence, contrary to covenantal criticism of dispensationalism, salvific unity does exist between Jews and gentiles; that is, they are one, redeemed people called by God by grace through faith in Christ.

However, a distinction between national Israel and the Church still exists. It is a distinction that is similar to the roles of men and women. Men and women share equally in salvation, yet they both have different roles as they serve in the local Church and in marriage [Vlach, 28]. The same could be said about masters and slaves (Ephesians 6:5ff.), as well as parents and their children (Ephesians 6:1-4).

And then a third area which differentiates the views of Reformed Covenant believers and non-covenant, dispensational believers is a belief in the future salvation and restoration of Israel in a physical kingdom upon the earth. Michael Vlach rightly points out the importance of noting there are many who hold to the Reformed perspective on Israel who would firmly teach a future salvation for Israel [Vlach, 29]. In other words, “all Israel will be saved” as Paul affirms in Romans 11:26. Thus, the future salvation of Israel is not strictly a dispensational view.

But, in addition to a future salvation for Israel, dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches a future restoration of Israel in the land with Christ reigning in Jerusalem. As a geo-political kingdom, Israel will have a special role of service to the rest of the nations. The idea of a future restoration, then, is more than just the idea of salvation in Christ and is the main distinguishing difference between the two positions.

So, with this outline of hermeneutics in mind, we have the foundation available to move along and consider the various eschatological systems. I will first give a brief overview of the main systems of amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism, and then return to defend premillennialism as the system I believe is taught from the biblical text.

*******
Sources

Curtis Crenshaw and Grover E. Gunn III, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow. (Footstool Publications: Memphis TN, 1985)

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Eerdman’s Publishing: Grand Rapids MI, 1991)

Andre De Bovis, “What is the Church?,” Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Vol. 48. (Hawthorn Books: New York NY, 1961)

Austin Flannery, o.p. ed., Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. (Scholarly Resources: Wilmington MD, 1975)

John Hagee, In Defense of Israel. (Frontline: Lake Mary FL, 2007)

Gary Long, Context! Evangelical Views of the Millennium Examined. (Great Unpublished: Charleston SC, 2001, 2nd ed. 2002)

Keith A. Mathinson, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg NJ, 1995).

Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Thomas Nelson: Nashville TN, 1998)

Robert L. Saucy, A Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1993)

Samuel E. Waldron, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response. (Reformed Baptist Academic Press: Owensboro KY, 2008).

Michael J. Vlach, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths. (Theological Studies Press, Los Angeles CA, 2008).

The Teachings of the Second Vatican Council, (Newman Press: Westiminster MD, 1966)

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16 thoughts on “Studies in Eschatology [5]

  1. An important work on this subject that I am sure you are familiar with is Barry Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, in the New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology, series ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007).

  2. “First, I believe it is clear in Scripture that Israel and the Church are distinct. The Church is understood to be only a NT entity that is not to be equated with one, specific redeemed people who transcend both testaments”

    Agree. Paul says the Messiah is for all not exclusive property of Jews. He said it is not necessary to keep the law, be circumcised or be a Jew.So the Jesus movement within Judaism evaporates quickly in 1st Century for such blasphemy(in eyes of 5,000 years covenant). I don’t think reformed covenant is good term for it is the New Covenant that Christians embrace. Most Christian theologians would call me a heretic but I make a disconnect and dismiss the OT entirely. The God of the OT and that of the NT have very little in common. Jews believe in political supremacy restoration but Jesus says His kingdom not of this world. The Jewish covenant is with God a quid pro quo but the Christian covenant is to strive to live “Christ like”. Salvation is not about a second coming or establishment world Jewish dominion(God/Christ have dominion). It is communion with God through Christ. I don’t know of any Christian religion that includes Jews as part of the Church. Catholics don’t believe Protestants are in/of their alleged true church and within Protestantism some denomination contend they are the Church excluding other Protestants. The Church is Christ and the universal community of believers.

  3. Thanks for posting this series, I am finding it very helpful.
    A related question, what do covenant theologians do with passages in the OT that predict the first coming and the second coming, especially when the prophesy of the first coming was clearly fulfilled literally (in a Macarthur sense), but if the prophesy of the second coming was interpreted literally would all but require a dispensational understanding.
    Do they switch hermeneutic mid-passage? Or do they try to apply it all to the first coming. My teaching-pastor has been going through Daniel, and nearly every Sunday I am left wondering how covenant theologians can interpret the passage consistent with their system without doing manifest violence to the text.

    Thank you, and if the answer is forthcoming in your series, you can refer me to that.

  4. Acts 10:34
    “So Peter opened his mouth and said:“ Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
    Sure sounds like God is no respecter of persons, here.

    Romans 2:11.”For God shows no partiality”
    But Dispensationalism does. The context here is NOT Jesus’s efficiency of salvation to all, but it is
    clearly defined contrasting the Jews and Gentiles.

    Ephesians 2:14
    “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”
    The context clearly indicates that the dividing wall is the separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. (Well at least that is what John MacArthur says in his Bible notes).

    Galatians 6:15,16
    “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the ISRAEL OF GOD.”
    What hermeneutic can make this this verse in its context make it say its opposite?

    Ephesians 3:6
    “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
    The SAME body, the Bible says. Heir here in Greek has an interesting meaning it means exactly what the English means there is no way to separate this meaning between Jews and Gentiles. But Dispensationalism must separate the two groups or the entire system falls.

  5. – Dan Freeman. I’ve not encountered a consistent pattern. Most of them I have read or interacted with tend to compress the fulfillment of those telescoping prophecies to Christ’s first coming and ignore the implications of how they pertain to his second coming.

    – Donavan, I don’t think any of those passages contradict my position. They all pertain to how Jews and gentiles are saved in Christ and are made the church. The Israel/Church distinctive pertains to how God still has an eschatological kingdom plan for Jews as the nation of Israel that is different from how one is saved. Both Jews and gentiles are saved in the same way, by God’s grace, through faith in Christ.

  6. First off: I didn’t think ANYONE had Crenshaw and Gunn III anymore!!!! Too cool!!!

    “But, in addition to a future salvation for Israel, dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches a future restoration of Israel in the land with Christ reigning in Jerusalem. As a geo-political kingdom, Israel will have a special role of service to the rest of the nations. The idea of a future restoration, then, is more than just the idea of salvation in Christ and is the main distinguishing difference between the two positions.”

    So, The Trinity planned (had plans) of (for) two eschatological destinies: Jews and Gentiles. Both saved through the work of Jesus but with different outcomes.

    Saved Gentiles, after Christ’s real Second Coming (not the flyby) go where? Heaven?

    While Saved Jews have “a special role of service to the rest of the nations” on (the new heavens and earth?). What nations? Comprised of what people?

    If you hear a ‘snarky’ tone, don’t, it’s not meant that way.

    I’m reading Three Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement and I think Trueman’s position of ‘Intention’ and ‘Efficacy’ affects this two destiny viewpoint.

    Thanks for the footnote/resource list: I need to read Vlach…

    Oh! Overall, this was good (although I disagree with you) and it’s not fair to pull one paragraph out and wave it around as proof of your ‘wrongness’. It’s more of a challenge to think through each piece of your system and ask yourself if it makes sense.

    Peace to you,

    M. Howard Kehr

  7. Howard writes,

    — So, The Trinity planned (had plans) of (for) two eschatological destinies: Jews and Gentiles. Both saved through the work of Jesus but with different outcomes.

    There are not two eschatological destinies. There is one unified, singular destiny: God’s redeemed people saved in Christ reigning forever with Him. It is better to say there is a diversity in his plan to achieve that goal.

    — Saved Gentiles, after Christ’s real Second Coming (not the flyby) go where? Heaven?

    You mean during the millennium? I believe they are resurrected.

    — While Saved Jews have “a special role of service to the rest of the nations” on (the new heavens and earth?). What nations? Comprised of what people?

    You mean the millennium? They service the nations of the world, who will now function according to God’s design but without the deceiving presence of Satan.

    — I’m reading Three Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement and I think Trueman’s position of ‘Intention’ and ‘Efficacy’ affects this two destiny viewpoint.

    I am not sure how Carl frames his position because I’ve not read the book. But I am assuming he affirms a particular redemption, correct? But again, the charge assumes I am arguing for a “two destiny viewpoint.” I am not. In fact, I think the two destiny idea is a bit contrived by rabid, anti-Dispensationalists.

  8. Hey Fred,

    I’m just asking based upon my own curiosity here. In Zechariah 8:23, when the ten men grasp the garment of a Jew asking to go with them because God is with them, is this during the Millennial Kingdom…with people wanting to join the 144,000 in Jerusalam to worship Jesus? Just curious what your take is on this. Sorry if this is off track, but it often comes to mind when I think of the Millennial Kingdom. I am dispensational and believe that what I have described here is what is going on in Zech. 8:23, but wanted to hear your thoughts on it. Thanks!

  9. I’m inclined to agree with you on Zech 8:23. I am not sure about the 144,000 being the Jews the gentiles grasp, but am of the thought that the prophet has in mind during the time when Jerusalem is restored during the millennium as the “city on the hill” as it were.

  10. Ah, thanks for the brush up!

    Yes, Carl was arguing for ‘particular redemption’.

    As I understand you (correct me where I’m wrong):

    Flyby Rapture

    Tribulation period

    Second Coming
    Millennium: where Satan is bound, remaining non-Christians are ruled by a re-established Jewish nation from a New Jerusalem (not sure where Gentile Christians are…(help!))

    At the end of the Millennium Satan is loosed to deceive the nations, who rebel and are killed.

    Great White Throne Judgment where all are judged (I guess Pagan and Christian are judged again), each relegated to their destiny (there’s that word again…)

    New Heaven and Earth?

    Enjoying the interaction.

    M. Howard Kehr

  11. Just throwing in my two cents here…there are churches clearly mentioned in the letters in chapters 2-3 of Revelation. Then when we read about the Tribulation in 6-19, there is not a single mention of the Church. I’m thinking that is because the Church is raptured and there is a new dispensation.

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  14. Antisemitism is still a problem with people claiming to be Christian. I think it’s picking up steam because of David Duke. http://davidduke.com/ . Duke’s work will be probably used by the anti-Christ. He appears to be a very popular. He’s been interviewed on fox news and he’s on youtube. He comes off as being very humble, soft spoken and kind. But he’s evil. It’s this conspiracy superstitious stuff getting into the Church.

    Duke “I am a Christian, but I must also state that I am tolerant of other religious beliefs, and I am committed to the right of people to have and practice whatever religious belief they so choose. Freedom of thought, conscience, belief and speech is fundamental to traditional European communities. I oppose religious intolerance, just as I oppose political tyranny and the suffocating encroachment of world government…Recently, I have been shocked and appalled by the unqualified support by some Christian televangelists for the most anti-Christian religion on the face of the earth, Judaism. They also support the corrupt, Jewish supremacist, anti-Christian Israeli state. ”

    I don’t care if Jews have a lot of influence over Hollywood, the news and in banking. The Jews aren’t out to harm anyone. I have the Bible and I know that God clearly condemns antisemitism(Romans 11, 12).

    Have you addressed this issue of antisemitism Fred?

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