I had never heard of replacement theology the first time I was accused of believing in it. A lady that had attended our church for some time and who often forwarded me articles praising all things Jewish and Israel accused me of holding to this apparently abhorrent doctrine. I had to look it up on the Internet, where all such truths reside, before responding. One of the sites I visited defines replacement theology this way:
Replacement theology (also known as supersessionism) essentially teaches that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Adherents of replacement theology believe the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anyone who actually believes that “the church replaces Israel” and I’m sure I’ve never met anyone who believes that “God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel.”
What an odd way of putting things.
The Bible seems to teach quite clearly that Jesus IS Israel and in some sense fulfills all of the hopes and expectations for the nation. He does what they never could. He obeys God perfectly and keeps the law entirely and thereby unlocks all of the promises and blessings that God had said he would give. He then shares those blessings with all people – Jew or Gentile – who put their faith and trust in him.
That is the precise argument that Paul is making in Galatians 3. He says:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16 ESV)
Jesus Christ is the ultimate focus and referent for the promises of God to Israel! The promises do not land finally on a nation but on a person! The glory and climax of God’s redemptive purpose is not “Israel in the land” but “Christ on the cross”! That’s Christianity 101 the last time I checked. Jesus is the hero and focus of the Bible – not the Jewish people as a whole and all of the blessings won by Jesus are shared equally with all believing people regardless of their ethnicity, gender or class. Isn’t that what Paul goes on to say in the same chapter?
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26–29 ESV)
I have believed that from my earliest days as a Christian, as indeed has almost every other believer I’ve ever met.
As for the idea that “God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel”; its hard to think of anything more ridiculous than that. What nation on earth exists outside the notice and care of Almighty God? The Bible says that God has plans for Edom for crying out loud, how much more should we believe that he has plans for Israel?
I don’t know of any Christians who believe that God has no specific future plans for the nation of Israel, but I do know that good Christians disagree on what those plans are likely to be. The key text in that discussion is Romans 11:26 where Paul says: “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26 ESV).
What does he mean by that? He has already said that ‘not all are Israel who are of Israel’ (9:6) so what exactly does he mean and what exactly does God have planned? There are two main answers commonly given to that question.
(1) He means that the full elect of God, Jew and Gentile, will all be gathered into Christ according to God’s perfect will.
That was the position of John Calvin and has had a great deal of support throughout Christian history. According to this view, God has very specific plans to save a great many people from every tribe, tongue and nation, including the nation of Israel. ‘All Israel’ thus refers to all the elect and redeemed Jews and all the elect and redeemed Gentiles collectively. The Gentiles do not replace the Jews but are gathered into Christ alongside.
(2) He means that shortly before the return of Jesus the Jewish people en mass will turn to faith in Christ
This option was dominant among my spiritual ancestors and represents the view that I favour to this day. William Carey and Andrew Fuller for example, two of the founders of The Baptist Missionary Society, both looked forward to a general conversion of the Jewish people prior to the return of Christ. Fuller wrote on this topic at some length in his Expository Remarks Relative To The Conversion Of The Jews. Iain Murray has written convincingly that this was the dominant view of the Puritans, citing for example the venerable Richard Sibbes:
Let no man therefore despair; nor, as I said before, let us despair of the conversion of that are savages in other parts. How bad soever they be, they are of the world, and if the gospel be preached to them, Christ will be ‘believed on in the world’. Christ’s almighty power goeth with his own ordinances to make it effectual… And when the fulness of the gentiles is come in, then comes the conversion of the Jews.
Therefore, however they may differ over the specifics, the vast majority of Bible believing Christians over the ages have in fact believed that God has specific plans for the Jewish people. With them I believe that God plans to bless the people of Israel in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. I believe that at some point – hopefully very soon – he will pour out on Israel a spirit of grace and supplication and they will look upon the one whom they have pierced and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only son.
I wonder sometimes why this has not already happened. The Apostle Paul found it strange and mysterious even in his own day. He said:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36 ESV)
God’s ways are higher than our ways. He knows what he is doing and he has told us what we should be doing. Instead of fighting with each other over the minute details of our eschatology we should be praying for the conversion of every man, woman and child on planet earth; be they rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.
Even still, come Lord Jesus.
 Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, (Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1971), 92.