So-called replacement theology—the church replacing the nation of Israel in the plan of God—has become a popular topic in many heated debates. The term has such a negative connotation that not many people will admit supporting it. Still, it has had a profound effect in the thinking of Christians, and since the first Christian centuries a lot of theology has been constructed on this idea.
We Christians tend to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, while Jewish believers in Jesus do it the other way around: they read the New Testament from the foundation of the Old Testament. The erosion of this foundation caused the church to deny the special calling of the Jews early on. It also resulted in the separation of the New Covenant from the “Old” and obscured the bigger picture of God’s covenantal plan for Israel and the world.
The Hebrew Scriptures represent not only one “old covenant” but many different covenants, of which some are made with all mankind—for example Noah’s covenant. Do you still believe that it is valid when you see a colorful rainbow blazing in the sky? I’m sure you trust that God is not going to pour down all the waters on you, but even a heavy rain will cease before long. But have you ever stopped to think about the sun and the moon and what God says about them rising in the sky? Could they stop shining?
This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord Almighty is his name:
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord,
“will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.”
This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 31:35–37)
God has bound his faithfulness to Israel into every sunrise and moonrise—and still we would like to question it! Years ago, when I was struggling with the idea of God choosing the Jewish people, I felt God asking me: “If you think I have changed my mind and rejected the Jews, how can you be so sure that it couldn’t happen to you, too?”
At the core of denying God’s election is, on the one hand, arrogance, as Paul mentions in Romans 11:17–20. But most of us don’t want to boast or be arrogant; we want to be loved and accepted. We search for deep meaning in life, and want to belong to someone and something that is much larger than our limited perspective. We desire the feeling of being precious and wanted. Many of us carry deep wounds in our hearts in this area, sometimes even without realizing it. Against this painful background, the message of someone else being eternally chosen over you doesn’t really sound like good news! In a very sad way, we can see this in the
Middle East, where in some traditional denominations you can find what may be the strictest replacement theology in all of Christendom. In Israel this ancient theological reasoning causes much tension between Messianic Jews and Arab Christians.
However, God never meant his election to be a matter of envy, rivalry, or rejection. Neither did he assume that his chosen ones, the Jews, would be perfect, but still he decided to bless all humanity through Abraham’s offspring, especially through Jesus. When God blesses someone, the blessing flows over to others and multiplies. Only envy and jealousy can cause this river to dry up. Through the apostle Paul’s mouth our Heavenly Father explains to us, his non-Jewish children, that the election of the nation of Israel was not a matter of favoritism. It happened for our sake, for the sake of the salvation of the world (Rom. 11). You and I are that valuable to our Father! We are not outcasts, we are “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19–20).
We are all, Jews and Gentiles, totally dependent on God’s incomprehensible and eternal faithfulness. Let us rest in that without trying to diminish or negate it in anyone else’s case. Let us align our will and thoughts with God’s, and we will see his blessings flow!