I’d like to get into the topic of Replacement Theology by going to the root of it. And that is Satan’s hatred of the Jewish people. Satan hates the Jews with a passion for several reasons:
- God chose them to be His witness to the world.
- Through them God gave the world the Bible.
- Through them God gave the world the Messiah.
- God has promised that He will save a great remnant of them.
- God has promised that thru that remnant He will bless all the nations of the world during the Millennial reign of Jesus.
Satan is determined to destroy every Jew on planet earth so that God cannot keep His promises to them.
Part of Satan’s strategy has been to infect the Church with what was historically called Supersessionism. This is the idea that God has replaced the Jews with the Church. It’s only in the 20th Century that this concept came to be known as Replacement Theology.
There are two basic kinds of Supersessionism. The first type is called “Economic Supersessionism.” I prefer to call it “Historical Supersessionism.” This is the more moderate form of the theology. It argues that it was God’s plan from the beginning for Israel’s role as the people of God to expire with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the Church. Or, to put it another way, it was God’s plan for the people of God to morph from an ethnic group into a universal group.1
An example of this viewpoint among the early Church Fathers can be found in the writings of Melito of Sardis (died c. 180). He wrote:2
The people [Israel] was precious before the church arose, and the law was marvelous before the gospel was elucidated. But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence, the model was made void, conceding its power to the reality…The people [Israel] was made void when the church arose.
A modern representative of this school of thought is Karl Barth (1886-1968). He stated:3
The first Israel, constituted on the basis of physical descent from Abraham, has fulfilled its mission now that the Savior of the world has sprung from it and its Messiah has appeared. Its members can only accept this fact with gratitude, and in confirmation of their own deepest election and calling, attach themselves to the people of this Savior, their own King, whose members the Gentiles are now called to be as well. Its [Israel’s] mission as a natural community has now run its course and cannot be continued or repeated.
The far more common type of Supersessionism, and the type that has characterized the Church almost from its beginning, is called Punitive Supersessionism. It emphasizes Israel’s disobedience to God and their subsequent justifiable punishment by God and their displacement as the people of God.
To put it another way, “The Chosen People of Israel have been replaced by the Church because the Jewish nation acted wickedly and has forfeited the right to be the people of God.”4
It is this viewpoint that early on caused the Church to be infected with a virulent form of anti-Semitism. You see, for almost 2,000 years the Church at large, both Catholic and Protestant, has maintained that due to the fact that the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God poured out His wrath on them in 70 AD, destroying their nation and their Temple, and in the process, He washed His hands of them, leaving them with no purpose whatsoever as a nation.
In short, because of their continuing disobedience and their rejection of Jesus, God has replaced Israel with the Church, transferring the blessings promised to Israel to the Church.
Today this is called Replacement Theology, and those who still believe in it — the majority of professing Christians — consider modern day Israel to be an accident of history, with no spiritual significance whatsoever. Accordingly, they would deny that God has any special plans for the Jewish people in the end times. Again, to them, the regathering of the Jews and the re-establishment of Israel are simply accidents of history, with no spiritual significance.
Let me give you a graphic example of what I am talking about. Consider the following statement that was made by one of Christendom’s best known spokesmen:5
I think it is problematic to relate prophecy to current events unfolding in the nation-state of Israel. There may be some relationship, of course. Only God knows. But the secular state of Israel created in 1948 is not, in my understanding, identical with the Jewish people as God’s chosen and called-out covenant people.
I strongly support Israel because it is a haven for persecuted Jews — not because I think it fulfills biblical prophecy. I also support a Palestinian state both from historical and prudential considerations. Given the state of affairs in the Middle East, a Palestinian state is the only practicable solution for peace.
And who wrote these words? Chuck Colson!
In the third part of this study on how Replacement Theology has resulted in the historical abuse of the Jews by the Church, we’ll look at the evolution of this evil doctrine in the Early Church.
1) Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), p. 14. This book contains and outstanding academic analysis of Supersessionism.
2) Melito of Sardis, On Pascha, translation by S. G. Hall (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), p. 21.
3) Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume III (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, second edition, 2010) p. 584.
4) Vlach, p. 13.
5) World Watch Daily, Koenig International News, “Influential Christian Leaders Speak Against Israel’s Biblical Significance and Her Land,” April 7, 2004, www.watch.org/showart.php3?idx=62726&rtn=/index.html&sh.