A Conversation between Dave Hunt and Tom McMahon
How are Christians to view Israel in the church?
Is there a distinction and if so, how important is it for us to understand what the Bible declares about both entities?
We know from the Bible that Jesus was called the King of Israel in John 1:49. Nathanael answered and saith unto Him, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel”, and that was a title that He didn’t repudiate.
He is also referred to as, Head of the church in Ephesians 5:23 “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body.”
There certainly is a distinction in the Bible, and any distinction the Bible makes has to be important. The Bible is talking about important things, revealing God’s purposes and plans for us.
For example, Israel was given a land. They are God’s chosen people. The Germans were never given a land; the Americans, whoever they are – they’re a big mixture – were never given America, although some professing Christians seem to think so, and they think that Christians have to “take it back.”
The church is composed of both Jews and Gentiles; it’s something new. The church did not exist in the Old Testament.
Christ said, “On this rock I will build My church,” Matthew 16. So obviously there was a beginning. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being “the chief cornerstone,” Ephesians 2.
There is no doubt that there is a difference. God still has plans for Israel.
In Ephesians 2, it tells us that Christ, when He died on the cross, broke down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles. There was a distinction, and there still is today, except in the church there is no distinction anymore. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free,” and so forth. But we are one in Christ, so He made of two one new man; Jew and Gentile became one new man.
When the Jews became believers in Christ and part of the church, that didn’t end Israel. It didn’t end the other Jews, nor did they cease to be Jews themselves, but they are one in Christ now with Gentiles.
When the Gentiles become Christians that does not end the Gentile nations. You can’t say that because the church was founded, the nation of Israel ceased to exist.
In 1 Corinthians 10:32, Paul says, “Giving none offense, neither to the Jew nor to the Gentile nor to the church of God.” Today, after the church was formed, there still exists the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of God, and those in the church of God are neither Jew nor Gentile.
There is a popular idea out there that’s running rampant through the church today: some would say, “Look, the purpose of Israel had to do with the birth of the Messiah. These were the people God chose in order to bring forth the Messiah, the Christ.”
And they would say, “That took place, but then these Jews rejected Christ; therefore, that’s it for them. Now all that the Bible speaks about with regard to Israel is really the church.”
You would really have to twist Scripture to come to that, because there is a continuity in the Old Testament. God gave His people a land; He brought them into the land. When He brought them into the land, He warned them that if they disobeyed Him, He would cast them out. He would scatter them to every nation on the face of this earth. They would be hated and persecuted like no other people (anti-Semitism), He would preserve them. In the last days He would bring them back into their land, and He would make Jerusalem “a cup of trembling, a burdensome stone to the nations of this world.”
They would eventually be attacked by Antichrist at Armageddon, and Jesus Christ himself would return to this earth bodily, physically, bringing the saints from heaven with Him – that’s the church – to rescue Israel in the midst of Armageddon, and to establish His kingdom on this earth, ruling on the throne of His father, David. (Zechariah 12:10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.)
The church was never given a land; they were never scattered from this land; they were never brought back into a land. So unless you are going to spiritualize that away, and there is no basis for spiritualizing it – it was not spiritual in the Old Testament – you can’t suddenly cut it off and spiritualize it in the New Testament.
No, these are a people, a continuing existence. In fact, the existence of the Jews today and of their presence in Israel – the rebirth of the nation Israel – this constitutes one of the greatest proofs that God exists, that the Bible is His Word. And if you try to spiritualize this and turn it into the church, you have pulled the rug out from under some of the greatest prophecies. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies concerning the return of these people to their land, and that, in fact, they will be born again one day.
Paul in Romans 10 – begins this way: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. I bear the record that they have a zeal after God, but not according to knowledge.”
Now [substitute Israel for] the church in there. Paul would then be saying, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the church is that they might be saved.” Wait a minute! You’ve got to be saved to get into the church. So the church still exists today and Israel still exists today, but they are two separate entities…
What we’re talking about here is called Replacement Theology. That is, the church replaces Israel and, Catholicism played a big part in this.
Also, Lutherans [have] the view of eschatology called amillennialism; most of those who take that perspective and maybe even push it to post-millennialism, the idea here is that many of these groups certainly believe that the church has replaced Israel.
Of course, this was the teaching of Calvin. He got it from Augustine. Augustine’s City of God one of his well-known works, and the idea that now we are to take over. You have this idea among many charismatics – we call them “kingdom now,” “kingdom dominion…” They think that the church must take over.
[There was] a huge conference in Phoenix several years ago – called “Take It By Force.” And they said that Joshua was told to go in and possess the land. And they said, “God is raising up a Joshua generation.” Some people call it Joel’s Army. In fact, that land is specified – it has boundaries, and it is all laid out there, in the Book of Genesis, the boundaries of this land.
So the problem is that the church wants to use promises that God gave to Israel, and they want to apply them to themselves, to the land in which they live… For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. It’s the land of Israel.
We have no promise that God will heal America.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Are there many that be saved?”
He said, “No. Strive to enter at the strait gate. Strait is the gate, narrow is the way that leads to life; few there be that find it.” So one of our problems is that we try to make Christianity popular; we confuse Christianity with Americanism. I’ve fought in a war for America, I’m a loyal citizen of the United States of America, but my citizenship is in heaven, really, my true citizenship, and I have no illusions that we Christians can take over America. We’ve been trying to do that for a long time.
We say we’re going to take over America, and we’re going to make Christianity so popular that everyone will want to be a Christian… Well, that’s contrary to the Word of God. So, if you make Christianity popular, it’s no longer Christianity.
Jesus Christ was not popular; the early church was not popular. They persecuted and killed them. They crucified Jesus, and Jesus said very clearly in John 15, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world,” there is a distinction between the world “because you are not of the world but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. The servant isn’t greater than his Lord. If they persecuted and hated Me, what do you think they will do to you if you are true to Me?”
The problem is that as soon as we try to make “Christianity,” popular, and we equate it with Americanism, and now this is going to be the American thing, we have departed from Jesus Christ. It is no longer the Christianity of Jesus Christ, but it’s a new Christianity that we have repackaged and revised to make it popular.
When the young man comes running up to Jesus and he says, ‘Good Master, I will follow you wherever you go,’ Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Peter, sign him up quick. James, get him in the choir. John, make a deacon out of him. We’ve got to make this thing popular. Get everybody in here that we can, we don’t want to lose them.’”
No, he says, “Are you sure you want to follow Me? Foxes have holes, birds in the air have nests, and I don’t have anywhere to lay My head. We’re heading for a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary. They are going to nail Me to a cross. Now, if you want to be My follower, pick up your cross right now. That’s where we’re going.”
You don’t get millions of people to follow you when you say that. Something has to happen; they have to really be born of the Spirit of God; they have to be convicted of their sins and repent before God and cry out to Him for mercy, recognizing that they are worthy of eternal judgment – that God’s judgment is upon them. And they cry out to Him, and they believe that Christ died for their sins upon the cross, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, they’re saved. Then they are in the church, and the church is separate from the world.
One of the problems today is you can’t tell Christians from the world around them. They have the same ambitions, they watch the same TV programs and laugh at the same off-color jokes, and live very much the same life style.
Some of the polls that we have of Christian universities – Christian colleges – tell us that Christian young people have the same percentage committing fornication and so forth that you have in non-Christian circles, and some of the polls tells us that those who call themselves “born again” (30+ percent) don’t even believe in the resurrection; maybe 40 percent don’t believe in absolute truth.
So are these people Christians, or have they just picked up some idea that they have thought was popular – has been popularized?
[I’m] not defining Christianity. If you call yourself a Christian, then we better go by what Jesus Christ said.
We can talk about the church saying, “Oh no, Israel no longer exists.” Not everybody, but there are those – again, we’re talking about Replacement Theology – who would push that idea.
On the other hand, we have those who are in the church who, similar to the Galatians – Judaizers. They are trying to make themselves Jewish, more Jewish, although they’re within the church. What’s the problem with that?
Paul had quite a bit to say in the book of Galatians. I am not opposed to Messianic Jews. I guess that’s the way they… believe that Jesus is the Messiah… “We’re still Jews physically.”
In fact, Paul still considered himself to be a Jew. [In] Romans 9, he talks about, “those who are my brethren after the flesh.” And, in fact, he says, “They are Christ’s brethren after the flesh.” Jesus was a Jew, so you can’t change that. But they think that, now, if we can just be more Jewish, then we are more Christian.
And how do you become Jewish? I can’t change my birth; I’m part English, Irish, part German, and Norwegian – I’m a mixture. Now, I can’t become a Jew physically so…well, if you wear a yarmulke, and you have some tassels, you know, and you adopt Jewish ways… it’s foolish for me to try to do that, because I’m not a Jew. Then why do it? Well, they think if they can act sort of Jewish, that then they are becoming more Christian.
In fact, Paul said, “Wait a minute! You are putting yourself back under the law. These customs were for the Jews.” For example, even keeping the Passover – now, I know that it’s popular in some Christian circles; they have a Seder and so forth.
Well, why don’t you try to preach the gospel from other Jewish traditions? For me to keep a Seder, to keep the Passover, it has no meaning. My ancestors were not slaves in Egypt. My ancestors were not delivered under Moses from Egypt. For a Jew, it has great significance. It has spiritual significance and historic significance and, of course, it points forward to Christ who delivers us and – Egypt is like the world – delivers us from the world.
But the problem then becomes [that] they start to look to Jewish customs and Jewish ways, which brings you back under the old covenant. I’ve been set free from this. Paul was set free from this. Paul said to the Galatians, “if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the law. We have a higher law – that is, the law of Christ.” Christ now is living in me. The rabbis complained that Jesus broke the law: “Oh, He didn’t keep the Sabbath; He healed on the Sabbath, and so forth.” He came to fulfill the law in that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices.
Now we have new life in Christ; that’s why we don’t keep the seventh day. We don’t keep the Sabbath, because we are not under the old covenant. Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. The eighth day, a new day, we are part of a new creation in Christ Jesus. So there is a tendency to try to bring people back under the law, and that’s not good.
Our penchant, our tendencies, are toward rituals, something that we do that’s efficacious to make us more spiritual and so on.
There’s a distinction between the church and Israel. Israel still exists; God still has a program for them. He still has promises; the Messiah will return to them; they will face Armageddon. That’s not the church, and we need to recognize the difference.