The Error Of Replacement Theology : part 1
Part One: Times and Seasons
By Andrew D. Robinson
As we move ever closer to the return of the Lord Jesus, Scripture teaches us to anticipate an escalation of opposition against Israel from the international community. Zechariah speaks particularly of the rise of the nations against Jerusalem (the heart of the Middle East conflict), a development that is well advanced and which will climax after the Rapture.
Tragically, many Evangelicals, to their shame, have joined ranks with the enemies of Israel, in what must be one of the ugliest and most pernicious partnerships ever witnessed in the history of the Church. It defies belief to see so-called Bible believers arm-in-arm with unbelieving Catholics, Quakers, Muslims, (Islamists), Humanitarians, Secularists, Politicians, and a host of other lobby groups, in drumming up support for their virulent anti-Israel cause.
Rallying under the banner of prideful a-millennialism, these multi-faith crusaders are blissfully unaware that they are on a collision course with the God of Israel. Some have joined the ranks through prejudice or emotion; others, with a political axe to grind, seem bent on making a name for themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter to the leaders of this theologically driven jihad, what motives drive the crusader ranks, as long as the marchers are united in their opposition to the State of Israel and everything it produces; but make no mistake - God will not hold guiltless those who profess His name, yet war against His ancient covenant people and their land.
In the wake of The Reformation, with the Bible available for the first time in the common language, Replacement Theology ruled the English pulpit, and it was a brave man who dared speak against the status quo. This corrupt system of biblical interpretation, which was carried lock, stock and barrel from Rome into the footnotes of The Geneva Bible and the chapter headings of the early editions of The King James Version has shaped the thinking of European Protestantism towards Jewish nationhood for nearly five hundred years. As far as the majority of the Reformers were concerned, Israel had forfeited her place with the rejection of Christ Jesus, and the Church had become the New Israel in God’s affections. Seventeenth century Church historian, Thomas Fuller (1608- 1661) represents the overwhelming allegorical world-view of his day, refusing to countenance belief in Israel’s restoration. In his monumental Pisgah-sight of Palestine (1650), he bases his interpretative methods on Jesus’ words, “a spirit has not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), to argue that we must always look beyond the plain, literal sense of the text to the “mystical meaning therein.”
The theological rationale underpinning this theology of replacement was expounded by Francis Atterbury (1663-1732) in a sermon preached in St James’ Chapel on Good Friday, 1715. Entitled The Horrid Imprecation of the Jews and the Justice and Wisdom of God in fulfilling it upon them, Atterbury, the most powerful High Church preacher of his day, explained why the Jews would never experience national restoration:
All the attempts that have been made towards rebuilding their Holy Place, or even towards recovering their country, out of the Hands of the Infidels, have been defeated, and blasted by God, in so remarkable a manner, as if he were jealous of every Event, which might seem to open a Way home to this wretched People and give them the least Glympse of a Deliverance from their Bondage...their Preservation in which Separate State (unmixed and unincorporated with any of the Nations of the Earth, amidst where they dwell), is more wonderful, than their Total Dispersion; and could not have happened for so long a Time, so uniformly everywhere, without the Immediate Interposition of God’s Providence... in order to render them, by that means, Standing and Illustrious Monuments of his Vengeance, to all Nations and Ages (original spelling and capitals).
We may smart with indignation at such intemperate, dismissive words, but we must remember that this line of theological thought had dominated the Church since the Second Century, had shaped the allegorical contours of Roman Catholic dogma concerning the Jews, and was adopted virtually unchanged by the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformed Church. Add to this the fact that Palestine, as it was known, was a forlorn, barren and largely forsaken land to which nobody paid much attention, and we can perhaps understand to a degree why the a-millennial Reformers scorned belief in Israel’s physical restoration. Today’s a-millennial leaders, however, are an entirely different kettle of fish; they are completely without excuse, because they deny a literal interpretation of the Scriptures in the face of their prophetic fulfilment. I would like to think that men like Fuller and Atterbury, if they could visit the modern State of Israel today and witness firsthand God’s miraculous restoration, would acknowledge without hesitation that prophecy has indeed been fulfilled to the letter!
Ezekiel foresaw these days of restoration, “when the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now inhabited and fortified’” (Ezekiel 36: 34, 35). God has a clear two-fold purpose in restoring Israel’s nationhood: Firstly, that the Jews “will know that I am the LORD” (v. 38); Secondly that “the nations... shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do it” (v. 36). What further evidence could the a-millennial Church ask for, that Israel exists according to God’s express will and purpose!
A-millennialists have had centuries in which to perfect their anti- restorationist doctrine; this has been accomplished through the allegorical interpretation of literal texts, and a persistent refusal to acknowledge the Old Testament prophecies which relate specifically to Israel’s latter-day restoration. On the false basis that ‘the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as Messiah, so God rejected Israel’, any mention of the kingdom in terms of national restoration, has to be explained away. One case in point is the last recorded dialogue between Jesus and the Apostles, concerning the Kingdom of God, which Luke records:
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times and seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:6, 7).
In our haste to enter the cut and thrust of the Book of Acts, we can all too easily pass over the unique position in the Scriptural record that this critically important dialogue holds. The Lord Jesus had appeared to His followers over a period of forty days, during which time He spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and it is on the basis of this teaching that the question of Israel’s restoration naturally arises. I have an interesting book entitled Last Words of Five Hundred Remarkable Persons, many of them well known Christian leaders. It is instructive to see just how focussed they were in passing on an important word of instruction, exhortation, guidance, encouragement, prayer or blessing, that those at their bedside would never forget. Is it likely, I ask, that Jesus, facing imminent departure would have left His disciples in any doubt whatsoever as to the meaning of His words?
Sadly, in their efforts to propagate a system of replacement, generations of a-millennial preachers and commentators, scholars and theologians, have denied the plain meaning of words in order to support their erroneous belief that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s prophetic purposes. Through pulpit and pen, they have persistently mocked the apostles for their ‘nationalistic, pin-headed’ presumption, using demeaning terminology to undermine the legitimacy of their final question. That is bad enough, but to further their cause, a-millennial scholars have put words in the Lord’s mouth, reinterpreting His clear response, and censuring the apostles in condemnatory terms for their ‘imbecility’ in believing that Israel would ever be restored to its predicted glory. The result of such dishonest and prejudiced commentary is that generations of a-millennial propagandists have created a giant wall of partition in the minds of their readers, forever separating Israel from its prophetic future. Take for example Thomas Bankes’ comment on the passage, which is typical of many:
It seems not unnatural for men who had always retained gross and sensual notions of Messiah’s kingdom, upon seeing their Lord so triumphant over death itself, to ask him whether he would now restore Jerusalem to its freedom and ancient splendour. And yet, after all their Lord had told them concerning the spirituality of his kingdom, we may wonder at their dullness of apprehension, or hardness of heart (The Christian’s New and Compleat Family Bible or Universal Library of Divine Knowledge, 1786).
Writing in defence of the apostles, Edward H. Bickersteth (1825-1906), son of the influential restorationist of the same name, sets the record straight in his Bible commentary:
“When they were come together, they asked of Him.” Many obscurities were now cleared up by the Lord’s resurrection, but many still overhung the future, and must have especially perplexed them, when humbly trying to connect his utterances regarding the kingdom of God (verse. 3) with the prophecies so familiar and so dear to them, of Israel’s pre-eminence as a nation over the other nations of the earth. Hence the momentous question, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? The emphasis is on the words at this time. They had no manner of doubt, nor ought we have, that the kingdom will one day be restored to Israel.... But they knew not, nor were they designed to know, how long an interval the times of the Gentiles should interpose, during which Jerusalem should be trodden down.... even apostolic faith might have quailed at the prospect of eighteen hundred years of waiting and of conflict. Our Lord’s reply (v. 7), does not countenance the rash charge of carnal expectations, which has been too often levelled against the apostles for their question. He restrains, indeed, their eager gaze into futurity: It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power. But his answer implies that when the fulness of time was come, national supremacy should be again restored to Israel (The Holy Bible with Practical and Devotional Commentary, 1864).
Bickersteth’s is a minority voice, and in future articles we will examine reasons why Replacement Theology has been, and continues to be, so dominant in the teaching of the Church, and so intolerant of pre-millennialism. In tracing the historical development of this allegorical system, we will also consider its impact on Christian attitudes towards the Jews, and examine in particular the highly influential and formative role played by the Reformers and the Puritans in establishing a-millennialism as the adopted model for interpreting the Bible. This monumental system, which is enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, has a great deal to answer for. It motivated the early crusaders in their massacre of the Jews, fuelled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, fanned the flames of the Holocaust, and today foments international outrage against the modern State of Israel. Replacement Theology has blood on its hands, as Walter Riggans succinctly explains:
...when the Church has forgotten... the irrevocable call of God on Israel, then the most awful treatment of Jewish people has followed. What began as a theological supercessionism, that is, when the Church began to maintain that it worshipped and adored the one who was Israel’s God, developed into theological and moral contempt for the Jewish people. This in turn led all too often to the actual de-personalization of the Jewish person, sometimes to the demonisation of the Jewish people, and to horrendous persecution, humiliation, and murder.
Those who have followed the development of the newly defined Christian Palestinian Movement will be aware of the existence, within the Evangelical Church, of a highly sophisticated, well-oiled anti- Israel crusade. Firmly rooted in the Theology of Replacement and driven by over eighteen hundred years of a-millennial teaching, it is staggering to see the scale of opposition which exists in the mainstream Evangelical Church towards the modern Jewish State. It is as if centuries of pent- up a-millennial rhetoric has been unleashed in one fell swoop, as Evangelicals join with other anti- Israel activists in bullying Israel into submission. Such is the rotten fruit of Replacement Theology. As a church, we have been involved for many years in raising awareness in both Christian and Jewish communities to these alarming developments, and I would like, in closing to quote from my introductory letter to our recently produced report on the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference that my associate, Paul Wilkinson attended in Bethlehem in March.
Just over a year ago we produced Prophets Who Prophesy Lies In My Name: Christian Palestinianism and the Anti-Israel Crusade, a publication which charts the nature and scale of opposition within the Church towards the modern State of Israel. Anglican clerics like English evangelical Stephen Sizer and Palestinian liberationist Naim Ateek, who are in the vanguard of this crusade, insist that Israel has been replaced by the Church in the purposes of God and that the Land promises made to Abraham and his seed have been fulfilled in Christ. The Jewish nation is thus twice robbed through the medium of replacement theology: of its prophetic Scriptures and its promised Land.
In fulfilment of the Deuteronomic law of God, the Jewish people are back in their ancient homeland after centuries of exile (Deuteronomy 30:1- 9), but today’s neo-crusaders, like their medieval predecessors, are bent on ‘liberating’ the Holy Land from what they see as unlawful occupation. The crusader ranks swell daily, with members of mainstream churches, Islamic groups, political and secular parties, and a host of others, marching on Israel with a determination to bend the Zionist spirit to their will. Like their historical forebears, today’s anti-Israel crusaders are an eclectic mix who find common ground and unity of purpose in their collective condemnation of, and virulent opposition to, the modern State of Israel.
Those who support Israel on biblical grounds, be they Jewish Zionists or Christian Zionists, are subjected to intimidating rhetoric from the anti-Israel camp. In a letter to the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams (June 2011), Naim Ateek, whose Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre (‘Sabeel’) was represented at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, described Jewish and Christian Zionists as “a greater threat to us [Arab Christians] than the extremist Islamists.” Stephen Sizer joins the attack, denouncing Israel as an “apartheid State” which he claims is guilty of ethnic cleansing, and demonising Christians who support Israel as heretical “Armageddonites” whose interpretation of the Bible “provides a theological endorsement for racial segregation, apartheid and war.” These are outlandish sentiments.
A report (available from CWM) makes for sober reading, but we believe it is of paramount importance that the true agenda underlying the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel Christ at the Checkpoint Conference and associated forums is brought to the attention of both Christian and Jewish communities. One of our purposes therefore is to take the reader behind the scenes to reveal the high level of interconnectedness that exists between Conference speakers, their respective constituencies, and the wider anti-Israel, and in some cases, anti-Semitic world. It is imperative that we recognise that we are not simply dealing with an isolated, self- contained conference with stand- alone presentations, but with a highly sophisticated pro-Palestinian network, in which the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference sits. In my opinion, anti- Zionism is nothing less than politically correct, internationally sanctioned anti-Semitism. Those who defend their anti-Israel position with a “My best friend is Jewish” gambit, need to explain how that works when their circle of ‘friends’ also includes known anti-Semites.
Early in 1932, Sir Oswald Mosley, the English fascist leader, attended a business dinner at the home of British industrialist, Zionist and philanthropist, Israel Sieff (of Marks and Spencer fame). Mosley was looking for financial support for his newly formed political party from the industrialists attending the dinner. He shared his plans for the New Party, stressing that “a new movement must find somebody or something to hate. In this case it should be the Jews.” Sieff writes: “He did not seem to think he had said anything particularly unacceptable, but the effect on the company was instant. I said, ‘I must ask you to leave, Sir Oswald’. He strode out... and I never saw him again.... Until that time I did not know what he felt about the Jews.”
There are many Christian Palestinianists, Christ at the Checkpoint speakers included, who do know what some of their ‘friends’ feel about the Jews, and yet are still willing to engage with them in platform sharing, press conferencing, political rallying, petition signing, and policy making, if it serves their anti-Zionist purposes. As a Christian pastor, I challenge the basis of such friendships, and urge those who seek to court the enemies of the Jewish State in furtherance of their pro-Palestinian agenda, to think again.
I pray that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will use this document to inform and alert, warn and challenge, encourage and enlighten; that by His grace many eyes will be opened to the true scale of the anti-Israel crusade, which is paving the way for wholesale condemnation of the international Jewish community.
NEXT – Roots and Shoots
About The Author
Andrew Robinson was born in Penarth, South Wales in 1951 and was raised in Christian Science. He and Pat were born again in 1987, while he was working as a senior youth and community worker in Bury, Lancashire. Married for 37 years, they have 3 grown up daughters and a son, who are all following the Lord. They also have 3 young grandsons. Andrew and Pat have served the Lord in a pastoral ministry for 22 years, ministering in Scotland and the Manchester area. Andrew holds a theology degree from Manchester University and was trained as an AOG pastor. He has taught at Manchester Bible School and for the last 15 years has pastored Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church in Stockport, an independent Pentecostal fellowship which came into being in the wake of a Jeffreys brothers’ campaign in South Manchester in the late 1920s. Andrew resigned from Assemblies of God in 2001.