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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
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Israel and the Church

By Jack Van Deventer
Volume 7, Issue 4 1996

     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![8]

     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).

 [Permission Graciously Given by The Foundation for Biblical Studies]


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