The year was 2002, and our family was living in Merrimack, New Hampshire. We began attending a conservative Baptist Church just down the street; a traditional New England town-hall styled building with a white steeple and bell tower. I was a new believer in Jesus, but I was confused about Christianity. Did my Jewish heritage have any relevance? After all, I knew that Jesus was a Jewish man. And wasn’t His actual name Yeshua (meaning salvation), or Yehoshua (meaning God is my salvation)? Yet for some unknown reason, none of the churches we had attended resembled the Jewish culture and religion I had grown up with. Was Christianity a completely new religion, or was it an offshoot from Judaism? Or, maybe the church in some way has now replaced Israel? If so, then how did the church become so disconnected from its spiritual foundation? And what really was the church anyways? I understood Israel to be the nation and people of God. But the church was comprised of many nationalities, most of whom were not Jewish. How could we as Hebrews, the natural descendants of Abraham fit into this seemingly large mass of gentile Christians?
Many years earlier living in Israel I decided to walk away from my Jewish heritage by moving back to the United States. Being Jewish was something that I was ashamed of. We were a disheveled group of stereotyped people that the world seemed to hate us for no explainable reason. I believed that by concealing my heritage and becoming a cultural American Christian that I might finally be accepted. Strangely the opposite happened. I found myself continually questioned in a rather negative light about my ethnic background, and even encountered anti-Semitism in high school, college, and later in the workplace. Claiming myself to be of German-Italian nationality usually diffused most tense conversations. But now as a true Christian believer in Yeshua, I found myself longing to embrace my lost heritage.
I spent the next several years intensely studying the bible. Equipped with a new-found understanding of Old and New Testament scripture, it was evident that God held a mysterious love for the Jewish people. I suddenly found myself feeling blessed because of my heritage and not cursed. But all these questions about the church and Israel remained unanswered. So, the Lord took me on a journey of reading historical books that brought into perspective the transition of the early church. From my study it seemed as though pride and religiosity had taken the Church away from its Jewish foundation. Christianity was all about having a life-long personal relationship with the God of Israel. Having this relationship was enabled through the sacrifice of Yeshua, the King and Savior of Israel; a relationship that was rooted in God’s love for all people, and very significantly the Jewish people.
But the church from my perspective had evolved into a man-made institution of religious denominations segregated over contradicting theologies that for the most part diminished if not outright rejected the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.[I] I was now living in a ‘no-man’s land,’ caught between two worlds; one Jewish that continued to reject its Jewish Messiah, and the other gentile that continued to reject the Jewishness of its Messiah. How would the two be reconciled into one? And, would this reconciliation somehow cause us to lose or give up our Jewish heritage?
God already held the answers, and the scriptures clearly told the story. God’s plan was simple and yet marvelously hidden. This mystery would unfold over generations, starting with Abraham, one person from whom the entire foundation of humanity would unfold.[ii] Through Isaac and Jacob the great nation of Israel would emerge; a people whom the Lord had chosen out of every tongue and tribe to be His special treasure and heritage, and a gift to all nations as from them would come ‘one’ seed, the Messiah, Yeshua.[iii] Israel was to become a light to the gentiles and a blessing to every nation, bringing God’s message of salvation to every person and filling the whole earth with fruit.[iv] The nations would be grafted into Israel, the natural branches of Abraham, to become ‘one’ people of God comprised of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.[v]
God’s simple plan unfolds with yet another dimension. Israel fails in her calling and by-in-large rejects her Messiah. For this reason, the Lord fulfills His prophesy and turns to the gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy.[vi] The gentiles who were now grafted into Israel would join their Messianic-Jewish brethren as ‘one new man’ in Christ to complete the great commission.[vii] In provoking Israel to jealousy, the gentiles were to arouse the unsaved Jewish people to accept their Messiah and fulfill their calling to become a light to the nations. Joining their gentile brothers as ‘one’ people of God, the message of salvation would go forth from Jerusalem to the farthest ends of the earth.[viii] Then Yeshua would return with His congregation of saints, the church to Jerusalem to establish His earthly kingdom over the remnant of now saved Israel and the remnant of all the nations.[ix]
But something went terribly wrong. A root of division and a spirit of anti-Semitism had taken hold within the church, starting as early as the first century. Tertullian, a foundational pillar of the Catholic Church and called the “father of Latin Christianity,” writes in An Answer to The Jews about the Law of Moses. In doing so he says this: “Out of the womb of Rebecca ‘two peoples and two nations were about to proceed,’—of course those of the Jews, that is, of Israel; and of the Gentiles, that is ours. Each, then, was called a people and a nation; lest, from the nuncupative appellation, any should dare to claim for himself the privilege of grace. For God ordained ‘two peoples and two nations” as about to proceed out of the womb of one woman…’”
This is not only anti-biblical, but is also heretical because Tertullian is saying that God has two chosen people groups—Israel who is the lineage of Jacob, and the gentiles who are the lineage of Esau. This is the foundation for modern day Palestinian liberation theology, a teaching that was advanced by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s.[x] And yet the Lord said that He hated Esau and would lay waste his heritage.[xi] The scripture is clear. It would be through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that God would establish His covenant.[xii] So, how can Esau be the father of the church?
Tertullian has clearly written the first literary piece on supersessionism, i.e. replacement theology which has served as the foundational teaching for the Catholic Church for centuries, the primary global denomination that holds to the false view of supersessionism. Despite the reformation, many Protestant denominations have continued to hold to this same view, or have maintained an apathetic or illiterate view of scripture that dilutes or undervalues the calling of the Jewish people.
The Apostle Paul wrote this about the Jews, “my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all…” (Romans 9:3-5, NKJV).[xiii] “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2).
And, Paul wrote this about the gentiles, “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:15). “And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Romans 11:17).
In other words, Paul is saying that to the Jews belonged all the promises (which are fulfilled in Christ), and to the gentiles belonged nothing unless they are now covered by the blood of Yeshua and grafted into Israel to become ‘one new man’ with them in Christ.[xiv] God has dealt severely with the natural branches that rejected their Messiah, even cutting them away to give place for the gentiles to be grafted in.[xv] But Paul also warned the gentiles not to boast or become proud against the Jews, saying, “for if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:21).[xvi]
If you desire to know where God’s heart is? Look for His people, Israel.[xvii] In these last days, the church must grow strong in faith and prayer, grow deep in knowledge of scripture, grow powerful in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and grow in love for all people, especially the Jewish people. The church must fulfill her purpose and calling with respect to Israel; provoking the Jewish people to jealousy, praying for and standing with Israel, and enduring to the very end to complete the great commission. Israel and Jerusalem will be at the very epicenter of Yeshua’s earthly kingdom.[xviii] Those who bless Israel will be blessed and partake in her blessings.[xix] God deeply loves Israel, and any spiritually mature Christian will also love Israel.[xx] For these are but some of the many promises that God has made for the Jewish people:
“Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, And set up My standard for the peoples; They shall bring your sons in their arms, And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders; Kings shall be your foster fathers, And their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, And lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord, For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Isaiah 49:22-23).
“The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, And their kings shall minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, But in My favor I have had mercy on you. Therefore your gates shall be open continually; They shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, And their kings in procession. For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, And those nations shall be utterly ruined. The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, The cypress, the pine, and the box tree together, To beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I will make the place of My feet glorious. Also the sons of those who afflicted you Shall come bowing to you, And all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; And they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, So that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, A joy of many generations. You shall drink the milk of the Gentiles, And milk the breast of kings; You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 60:10-16).
The Lord has answered my questions about Israel and the church straight from His written word. Israel was to become the church by inheriting all of the promises from Abraham through Yeshua. The church is God’s assembly of all His creation; a great nation and a company of nations that would join together under the God of Israel. It is in spite of our natural differences that YHVA’s power of ‘oneness’ is demonstrated, for we are ‘one’ people of God through Yeshua and the Holy Spirit dwelling within. Our nationalities and cultures are not homogenized through Christ, but through Him and His kindred Spirit we can embrace our differences for we are all uniquely created in His image. We are ‘one’ in Christ and ‘one new man’ comprised of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.[xxi] God has not replaced Israel with the church. We collectively are the church.
[i] U.S. Membership Denominational Ranking: Largest 25 Denominations/Communions –2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches show that 14 out of the 25 denominations, representing 79.5% of membership hold a supersessionism or replacement theological viewpoint.
[ii] Ephesians 3:1-7.
[iii] Genesis 12:2, 22:18, Exodus 19:5, John 4:22, Galatians 3:16.
[iv] Isaiah 27:6, Acts 13:47.
[v] Genesis 35:11, Romans 11:17, Revelation 7:9.
[vi] Deuteronomy 32:21, Romans 11:11.
[vii] Ephesians 2:15.
[viii] Acts 1:8.
[ix] Zechariah 14:4-5.
[x] Katulka, Christopher. Palestinian Liberation Theology. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc. <http://www.foi.org/free-resources/article/palestinian-liberation-theology>
[xi] Malachi 1:3, Romans 9:13.
[xii] Genesis 17:19, Leviticus 26:42.
[xiii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[xiv] Ephesians 2:12-16.
[xv] Romans 11:17-24.
[xvii] Zechariah 2:8.
[xviii] Isaiah 60:12.
[xx] Romans 11:28, Romans 15:27.