Boletim dos Obreiros

The "substitution" heresy

The "substitution" heresy

From apostolic times believers struggle with heresies introduced by the enemy to misrepresent facts and biblical doctrines, and to cause them to depart from their faith. A believer should always be careful, know well and use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, in his fight against evil.

Some heresies are easy to fight, because they do not require a very deep examination to realize their falsehood in the light of Scripture, and strike the eye of even the most unlearned. Others are more subtle, usually traditional, having arisen very early in history and therefore are not addressed with the necessary vigour. However, they are just as harmful as the others are, and sometimes bring disastrous and unexpected consequences. We will here deal with one of the most common heresies spread over the so-called "Christianity", being also one of the oldest and most traditional: the heresy called "theology of fulfilment" or "replacement theology".

It states, "The Church replaced Israel and all the many promises made in the Bible are fulfilled in the Christian church, not in Israel." Consequently, the prophecies in Scripture concerning the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land have to be spiritualized or allegorized into God's promises of blessings for the church. Besides clearly contradicting the clear teachings in Scripture, how can this heresy explain the continued existence of the Israelites over the centuries and especially their revival in the modern state of Israel? If Israel was rejected by God, and there is no future for the Jewish nation, how to explain the supernatural survival of its people over close to two millennia after the foundation of the church of Christ, despite so many attempts to destroy them, even by institutions calling themselves Christian? How to explain the resurgence of Israel as a nation in the twentieth century after its absence for some 1,900 years?

The origin of this heresy comes from Rome. Even in apostolic times Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit as were all the writers of the books of the Bible, vigorously fought this "root of bitterness" in his epistle to the churches there (i.e. Romans 11:25 to 32). However, it was not eliminated and we find it in the writings of early theologians. The Roman Catholic institution, formed centuries later, saw the new covenant in Christ as replacing the Abrahamic covenant. It has even claimed its ecclesiastical structures as the compliance with and replacement of the Mosaic ecclesiastical setup, and Jerusalem as an allegory for itself.

Recently, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council declared, "The Church (of Rome) is the new people of God" and modern Catholicism claims this to be authoritative for the New Testament doctrine. Modern Protestant denominational institutions take a variety of positions, depending on the degree of departure from traditional heresies of Catholics, be they Roman or Orthodox.

However, the New Testament repeatedly gives priority to Israel, as in the statement of the Lord Jesus that His central mission was to Israel, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24), and Paul's formula "to the Jew first, then to the Gentiles" (e.g. Romans 2:9-10). Even after the beginning of the church in Jerusalem, the inclusion of Gentiles as equal to the Jews in this flourishing "sect" of Judaism also caused problems, especially when it came to the compliance by Gentiles of the Mosaic Law. This was discussed at a primordial meeting of the Jerusalem church, and was the subject of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.

The view that Israel and the church of Christ are different is clearly taught in the New Testament. Biblically speaking, the church is completely different and distinct from Israel, and the two should never be confused or used interchangeably. We learn from the scriptures that the church is an entirely new creation that came at Pentecost and will continue until it is raptured to heaven by Christ (Ephesians 1:9-11;1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

The church of Christ is not a nation, but is the body of Christ and is composed of people from all nations, including from Israel. The church has no connection with the curses and blessings for the nation of Israel. The covenants, promises and warnings made by God with Israel are valid only for that nation. The nation of Israel was just temporarily removed from God's programme during these past 2000 years of dispersion.

After the Rapture (John 14:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), in the absence of the church from earth until the millennium, God will restore the nation of Israel as the primary focus of His plan. The first event of the restoration is the tribulation (Revelation chapters 6-19). The world will be under judgement for rejecting Christ, while Israel will be prepared, through the trials of the great tribulation, for the second coming of the Messiah. Then when Christ returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation, the remnant of the nation of Israel will have acknowledged the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and will have converted and be ready to receive Him. They will be saved from their enemies, and the Lord will establish His kingdom on earth with Jerusalem as its capital. With Christ reigning as King, Israel will be the leading nation, and representatives of all nations will come to Jerusalem to honour and worship the King - Jesus Christ. The church will return with Christ and believers will reign with Him for a thousand years, literally (Revelation 20:1-5).

Although the "replacement" heresy arose as early as the first century after Christ, the hostile attitude to the Jews that it encouraged developed through the centuries and culminated in the Nazi "holocaust" in the mid-twentieth century. Nevertheless, a virulent version of this heresy influenced subsequent generations of institutions that call themselves Christian, and went on to infect the world during the years following the Second World War, particularly in Europe.

This version not only promotes hatred of the Jewish people but also denies the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of their own land, following the interest of the Arab countries. The "spiritualization" of the many territorial promises found in the Bible made ​​by God to Abraham and his descendants as a nation results in denying their ancient inheritance rights given by God. Because of this heresy, we see many of those who claim to be Christians placing themselves alongside their traditional Arab enemies and condemning Israel for defending itself against enemies intent to destroy them using violence and terrorism. Let us remember Zechariah 2:8: "For thus says the LORD of hosts:He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye’ ”. The nations that will have survived the tribulation, before the introduction of the Kingdom of God on earth, will be judged according to the treatment they gave "to one of these my brethren, even the little ones" (Matthew 25:31 to 46).

Among the nations that now come together as the United Nations, Israel can only count on one to support it: the United States, where this particular heresy has been contained and 42 percent of Israel’s whole world population is sheltered. Its “hosting" has been highly beneficial to the USA, considering that, although they make up only 2 percent of the population, they have so far contributed with 37 percent of all Nobel laureates in that country, and they have significantly distinguished themselves in its policy, finance, economics, sciences and the arts.

The church of God has not replaced the nation of Israel in God's plan. While God may apparently be seen to be focusing His attention primarily on the church during this dispensation of grace, God has not forgotten Israel and one day will restore it to its role as the nation He has chosen for channelling His blessings to humanity (Romans 11). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament support a pre-millennial dispensational understanding of the plan of God for Israel. The strongest support for millennialism is the clear teaching of Revelation 20:1-7, where it is stated seven times that Christ's kingdom will last for a thousand years. After the tribulation, Christ will reign with His church over all the earth during that period, and the nation of Israel will be leading all the nations of the world.

Finally, we have the exhortations in Colossians 2:8: "...Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ". AlsoEphesians 6:14: "Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness". Let us therefore continue firm on the true clear teaching of Scripture and confident in its perfect fulfilment, and we will not be disappointed.