Volume 7, Issue 4: Eschaton
Israel and the Church
Jack Van Deventer
Modern premillennialism teaches that God has not one, but two separate peoples
of God, Israel and the Church. This teaching, known as dispensationalism, was
developed in the 1830's by J.N. Darby. Darby, seeking to legitimize his
newly created rapture theory and its two "second comings," divided up
the Bible into passages for Israel and the Church.
According to traditional dispensationalism, Jesus came to deliver the kingdom to the
Jews, but the Jews rejected Him and caused Him to die on the cross. Thus,
Christ's death on the cross was not part of God's plan. As a
result, the coming of the kingdom was postponed until the second coming of
Christ and is not present today except in "mystery form."
Christ"s rejection caused a "parenthesis" in time in which the "prophetic
clock" stopped ticking. Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, God
created the Church as a Plan B that dispensationalists claim was wholly
unanticipated, even by the Old Testament prophets.
The implications of dispensationalism as historically put forth may
surprise those who have been taught this form of premillennialism. According
to dispensationalism, the millennium is fundamentally Jewish in nature such
that the Jews will be "exalted above the Gentiles."
The Gentiles will "be on the lowest level" in Christ's rule.
In addition, despite Christ's ultimate sacrifice as "the lamb of God who
takes away the sin of the world," dispensationalism teaches that the
sacrificial system will be reinstituted!
Regarding dispensationalism's distinctive doctrine that Israel and the
Church are two separate peoples of God, it should first be noted that such
teaching is a radical departure from historic Christianity. According to
Gerstner, "[H]istorically speaking, this dispensational denial of the
unity of Israel and the church represents a surprising novelty. From the
earliest period of Christian theology onward, the essential continuity of
Israel and the church has been maintained. This historic doctrine of the
church is based on both the clear implication of Old Testament texts and the
clear teaching of the New Testament." For example, early Church
fathers such as Papias, Clement, Barnabas, Hermas, and Justin Martyr believed
that the Church inherited God's promises to Israel.
Christ's death was not an unfortunate accident brought on by the
unanticipated rejection by the Jews. On the contrary, speaking of the cross,
Jesus said "But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27).
The Church is not a parenthesis lying between God's two dealings with
national Israel, but rather the Church is the body of Christ and is therefore
the "fullness of God" (Eph. 1:22,23). Rather than
being entirely future, the kingdom is a present and growing reality (Matt.
12:28; Col. 1:13). Contrary to dispensational claims, the Church was very much
a part of God's plan from the beginning. Romans 9:22-26 (which cites
Hosea 1:10) states that the children of Israel, both Jews and Gentiles, will be
as the sand of the sea, too numerous to measure or number. That the Gentiles
would be included among God's people was God's plan even before the
cross (see Amos 9:11 and Acts 15:16-17).
As Provan points out, the Bible uses the same terms to describe both Israel
and the Church, proving that those of the household of faith are one and the
same. Both are called the beloved of God, the children of God, the field of
God, the flock of God, the house of God, the people of God, the vineyard of
God, the wife of God, the children of Abraham, the chosen people, and the
circumcised. This presents a dilemma for the dispensationalists.
Does God have two chosen peoples? two flocks? two wives? The Bible is clear
on this point, "There is neither Jew nor Greek... for you are all one in
Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
The fact that Jewish names such as "children of Abraham" and "the
circumcised" are used to describe the Church further accentuates the
reality of the church as spiritual Israel. Indeed, Christians are called
"the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). Whereas Israel was to be "a kingdom of
priests and a holy nation," now to the church God says, "But you are
a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special
people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out
of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now
the people of God" (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
The Jews rejected Christ, shouting, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify
Him!" and "We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15). Anticipating
this rejection, Jesus warned them in parable that "the kingdom of God will
be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it"
(Matt. 21:43). In condemnation He warned that upon them would "come all
the righteous blood shed on the earth" (Matt. 23:35) and that this
judgment would happen "upon this generation" (Matt. 23:36). This prophecy
was fulfilled in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was laid waste by armies under Roman
command and the temple was destroyed such that not one stone was left upon
another (Matt. 24:2).
The rejection of the Jews will not be permanent, however. As the gospel
spreads and the nations are discipled, the Jews will respond in faith when the
"fullness of the Gentiles" takes place (Romans 11:25). Genetic Israel will
be converted to Christ and this conversion will be a great blessing to the
world (Romans 11:11-12, 15, 23-27).