Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christ, Israel, and the Church

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Dispensationalism has two key commandments that call its followers to true obedience:

“First, thou shalt always, forever, and without fail hold, maintain, defend, promote, and even suffer martyrdom for a distinct and dominant future for geo-political Israel — thou and thy house after thee.”

Indeed, the distinction between Israel and the Church embodied in this commandment is a sine qua non of the whole system. For dispensationalists, everything rises or falls on the question of Israel. Which being interpreted means that the whole system ultimately falls. (That is why their frequent calls for the Rapture always fail: it is not due to their lame excuse that they hit some dense clouds and dropped back down to earth.)

In this regard dispensationalism differs from the teaching of Jesus — and of the whole New Testament. But not to worry, for this is only the first and great commandment. But there is a second commandment that is like unto it:

“Second, thou shalt surely interpret the Old Testament without reference to Jesus or his tiny band of Apostles — for what do they know, since they ante-date Scofield? Yea, and thou shalt be satisfied no matter what Jesus saith.”

On these two commandments hang the whole system and the mass-market paperback industry — and its publishing houses.

In this blog I will select some insightful quotations from an important older article that absolutely demolishes the dispensational view of Israel by demonstrating that this was not Christ’s view: R. T. France, “Old Testament Prophecy and the Future of Israel” published in the Tyndale Bulletin (vol. 26: 1975). I highly recommend your reading, studying, memorizing, copying, distributing, and promoting this article to erstwhile dispensationalists. It is a marvelous exposition of Christ’s teaching about Israel, and the Church’s replacement of Israel as drawn from Christ’s teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. I keep a copy of this article beside my bed for devotional study, world without end. Amen.

By the way, you can find and download this article in pdf format at:

Now, let’s get to work.


France opens by noting the large use to which Israel is put in modern evangelical circles. He laments: “Anyone who dares to question the relevance of Old Testament prophecy to the Jewish people of today and the political state of Israel is quickly, and often quite unfairly, charged with anti-Semitism (a strangely inappropriate word when applied to a political conflict in which both sides are overwhelmingly Semitic!).” You have probably been tarred-and-feathered on this very charge. He then warns that “our theology should not be based on sentiment or on political expediency, but, as far as possible, on objective exegesis.”

As he turns to the exegesis of this question he notes that “the attitude of Christianity’s founder is surely crucial to the debate.” Of course, that is a no-no in dispensational thinking because of their Second Great Commandment cited above. The nerve of letting Jesus direct our understanding of the Old Testament and Israel! This will not stand!

France’s article provides six key observations regarding Jesus’ teaching on Israel. I will clip some of his observations from his article while using his own headings to organize them. These ought to arouse your appetite and bed her back down.

1. The Note of Fulfillment
“Mark introduces Jesus’ ministry with the declaration, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.’ (Mark 1:15) Luke, makes the same theme even more prominent by opening his account of the ministry with the dramatic episode of Jesus’ manifesto in the synagogue at Nazareth, focused on the declaration, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. (Luke 4:21) At the other end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sums up his ministry by expounding ‘in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27, 44-47).”

. . .

“While other Jews looked forward to the fulfilment of Old Testament hopes, the New Testament
writers looked back and saw them already fulfilled in Christ.”

. . .

“Two conclusions relevant to this paper therefore suggest themselves. (a) Jesus saw in his own coming the age of fulfilment of the messianic hopes of the Old Testament; the emphasis is on present, not future, fulfilment. (b) His conception of Messiahship had as little as possible to do
with the political future of the Jewish nation.”

. . .

“There are, of course, some cases where Jesus looks to the future for a fulfilment of certain Old Testament prophecies. But it is a remarkable fact that these are apparently entirely prophecies of judgment.... But I have found no instance where Jesus expects a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy other than through his own ministry, and certainly no suggestion of a future restoration of the Jewish nation independent of himself. He himself is the fulfilment to which Old Testament prophecy points, the ultimate horizon of the prophetic vision.”

. . .

2. The Note of Warning

“The rather unexpected popular identification of Jesus with Jeremiah in Matthew 16: 14 is to be accounted for by the reputation of Jeremiah as a prophet of doom. In contrast with the fierce optimism of the apocalyptic hopes of Qumran, Jesus, with his constant warnings and threats of both personal and national disaster, must have seemed to his contemporaries a second Jeremiah, a one man opposition to the nationalist hopes of his fellow-citizens.”

. . .

“There is a note of urgency about his mission to Israel, seen most strikingly in the instructions to the Twelve to travel light, not to waste time in greetings, and to keep moving on without staying to plead with the unresponsive (Mark 6:8-12 and parr.; Matthew 10:23).9 This is the last chance to repent; if it is refused now it will be too late (Luke 19:42-44).”

. . .

“In all it is no wonder that Jesus could be compared with Jeremiah, as a prophet of doom. Of course he did not gloat over the coming disaster: it was his own people whose downfall he predicted, and he did it in grief not in triumph. But the verdict, however unpalatable, is clear: the rebellion of God’s people has culminated in their rejection of his last call to repentance, and they are on the edge of disaster.”

. . .

3. The Rejection of the Jewish Nation?

Jesus “foresees nothing less than the total destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem as a whole, and even of country towns like Bethsaida and Capernaum. And there is in his warnings an inescapable note of finality. The blood of all the prophets from the beginning will be required of this generation: it is the final reckoning. The Lucan version of the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem contains the solemn words, ‘These are the days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written’ (Luke 21:22). The note of climax we have seen in Jesus’ declaration that in him all the hopes of the Old Testament were finding fulfilment is paralleled by this idea of the coming disaster as the culmination of all Israel’s rebellion. Matters have come to a head, for good and evil.”
. . .

“The note of finality is even stronger in the metaphors used in Mark 13:24-25 in connection with the fall of Jerusalem.14 The words of these two verses are drawn from two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4, which are predictions respectively of the fall of Babylon and of Edom. Here, as in many prophetic oracles, astronomical metaphors are used to depict catastrophic changes in the life of nations, and in both it is apparently the final destruction of the nations concerned that is in view. Jesus’ application of this prophetic imagery to the coming destruction of Jerusalem suggests a similar prediction of its final eclipse.”

4. Jesus as the True Israel

“Christian claims to be the true Israel often contain the assertion that it was in Jesus, the one true servant of God in contrast with the disobedience of the rest of the nation, that Israel’s ideal was realized and its destiny achieved, that the people of God became focused in this one true Son of God, so that Jesus is Israel, and it is to this fact that the Christian church, the body of those who are ‘in Christ’, owes its status as the people of God.”

“The Synoptic Gospels give some evidence of a tendency by Jesus to apply to himself, without further explanation, Old Testament texts which originally referred to Israel.”

. . .

5. The Church as the True Israel

“A common Old Testament metaphor for Israel is the flock of God. Jesus frequently takes this up, picturing himself as the shepherd, and his followers as the flock. In Luke 12:32 he addresses them as the ‘little flock’ to whom the Father will give the kingdom. He takes up Zechariah’s picture of the smitten shepherd, and applies it to himself and to his disciples as ‘the scattered sheep (Mark 14:27, quoting Zechariah 13:7). Thus an Old Testament figure for Israel is applied specifically and exclusively to the disciples.”

. . .

The “‘radicalism’ in Jesus’ view of the impact of his ministry is focused in one of his most deliberately significant acts, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Variation in the wording of the different records does not affect the central point, that he presented the wine as his ‘blood of the covenant’. Whether or not the actual phrase ‘new covenant’ is taken to be original (with 1 Cor 11:25 and the longer text of Luke 22:20), Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (31:31-34) was undoubtedly in his mind. The phrase ‘blood of the covenant’ (in Mark and Matthew) alludes to Moses’ words in Exodus 24:8, the covenant ceremony from which Israel’s status as the people of God stemmed. It is this covenant that Jeremiah said would have to be replaced, and this Jesus is doing, sealing it with the sacrifice of his own death. It is his people, redeemed by his death, who ‘do this in remembrance of him’, who are the beneficiaries of this new covenant. It is they who are now the true people of God.”

. . .

“Two elements in the teaching of Jesus must therefore be held in balance, Israel, as represented by the Jewish nation of his day, can no longer be called the people of God, and a new covenant community is taking its place. Yet there is not a complete break, for this new community is the godly remnant of Israel, in whom all Israel’s hopes and ideals are coming to fulfilment. ‘The new community is still Israel; there is continuity through the discontinuity. It is not a matter of replacement but of resurrection.’”

. . .

“It seems, therefore, that, far from looking for some future regathering of the Jewish people to Palestine, Jesus actually took Old Testament passages which originally had that connotation, and applied them instead to the gathering of the Christian community from all nations, even, in one case, to the exclusion of some Jews! This is a graphic illustration of the conclusion towards which this section has been leading, that Jesus ‘saw in the circle of those who received his message the sons of the Kingdom, the true Israel, the people of God . . . who, having received the messianic salvation, were to take the place of the rebellious nation as the true Israel.”

. . .

6. Israel and the Jews

“Their rejection of Jesus’ appeal is the climax of their continued acts of rebellion, and their last chance to repent has been lost. They now face not only a temporary punishment such as they often received in the Old Testament period, but the final loss of their privileged status.”
. . .

His final words in this article well-capture his point: “A Christian use of the prophecies of the Old Testament can hardly ignore the hermeneutical lead given by Jesus and his disciples.” Amen!


This article only presents a selection of important conclusions stated by R. T. France. You really need to read his article to get his actual exegesis. Hopefully this has whetted your appetite. You perhaps can see why I always buy commentaries by R. T. France!

But now, are you hungry for more evidence about the error of dispensationalism’s view of Israel? Stay tuned. I will soon begin work on a new NiceneCouncil.com “Made Easy Series” book: “Israel Made Easy.”