Recently, I have been running across the term “replacement theology.” Apparently, this is a pejorative term for what has historically been known as supersessionism. It concerns the idea that the nation of Israel has been superceded or replaced by the church. New Covenant Theology has by some been branded as “replacement theology.” The reality is that NCT is not replacement theology. In order for something to be replaced, it must be the genuine article. In fact, the nation of Israel never constituted the true people of God. This is not to say that the nation of Israel did not comprise the real people of God. They were the real people of God just as much as the manna that fed them was real bread. But they never were, as a nation, the “true” people of God any more than the manna was the true bread. The Lord’s Anointed One did not replace the manna that came down from heaven; He was simply the true bread to which the manna typically pointed. In the same way, the nation of Israel was never the true people of God. Though their worship was real worship, it was not true worship. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews asserted that the law had only a shadow of the coming good things. He wrote, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect” (Hebrews 10:1). The offices it sanctioned, the sacrifices it demanded, the order it dictated, the worship it prescribed and the nation it constituted were all faint and fleeting shadows of the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ. John wrote, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). John employed the terms, “truth and true” often in the Fourth Gospel. By these terms, he did not intend to contrast truth with error or falsehood. There is no suggestion whatsoever that error or falsehood came by Moses in contrast to the truth that has come by Jesus Christ. What John is telling us is that what the law established, however important it may have been in the life of National Israel, was not God’s primary intention or the ultimate goal He had in mind in establishing the nation.
Jesus is the “true light (John 1:9); Jesus establishes “worship in truth” (John 4:23); he is the “true bread” (John 6:32); he is the “true” and living way (John 14:6);he is the “true vine” (John 15:1). Compare this last reference with Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33:41.
All God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ. Jehovah has given him as a covenant for the people (Isaiah 42:6). There has never been nor will there ever be any true spiritual blessing apart from union with Christ. The Apostle Paul was very clear when he wrote, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6). I believe the Scripture is clear that there will yet be an ingathering of ethnic Jews through faith in Christ, but this is not the same as reestablishing them as a nation and as an entity separate from the church. None but the people of faith under the Old Covenant were truly the people of God. In that sense, the church has not superseded the true people of God in the Old Testament. We are their fellow heirs in Christ. The Church has superseded the Nation of Israel that God never intended to be anything other than its typical foreshadowing. If this is "Replacement Theology" so be it. The reality is that fulfillments replace the types that foreshadowed them.
A number of years ago I wrote an article entitled, “All God’s Promises Fulfilled in Christ.” Since that article speaks to many of the issues relative to “replacement theology,” I have decided to reproduce it here.
ALL GOD'S PROMISES FULFILLED IN CHRIST
The context in which we find the words of our text is one in which Paul was being pressed into defending himself and his ministry. It seems Paul’s detractors in Corinth had accused him of being unfaithful to the promises he had made. He had planned to visit them but for a reason that he will explain in chapter two, he had not come. Instead of immediately defending himself, he makes it clear that whatever the situation may be concerning his failure to visit them, the gospel message he had preached to them was absolutely trustworthy (2 Cor 1:15-19). It is in this context that our text appears.
For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us (2 Cor 1:20).
The truth set forth in our text is the keystone in our new covenant hermeneutic. The principle is this: All God’s promises are centered in Christ. Ultimately, they were all made with respect to Christ. Ultimately they are all fulfilled in Him. Practically, only those in Him will actually enjoy these promises in their ultimate, spiritual sense.
The word Paul used in reference to God’s promises denotes an all-inclusiveness. The phrase, (ὅσοs-as much as, how much, as many as, all, everyone) hosai gar epangeliai theou—is an all-inclusive phrase. We may translate it, “however many the promises of God may be.” In other words, all God’s promises relate ultimately to Christ, our covenant head and representative. They are all “Yea in Him,” that is, they all find their fulfillment in Him. The late Philip Hughes wrote, “Christ is the yes, the grand consummating affirmative to all Gods’ promises.” This means there is not a single promise in the entire Bible that is not ultimately related to Christ, our covenant head, and the kingdom He had established. The only children of the covenant are those who are united to Christ by faith. New covenant theology is neither Judeocentric nor Ecclesiacentric, but Christocentric. There have never been nor will there ever be any spiritual and eternal promise granted either to member of the nation of Israel, as such, or to mere members of the visible church. God’s blessings are granted to those in Christ and to them only.
This does not mean the material, physical, and temporal promises God made to natural Israel are passed over without literal fulfilment. No! Such “spiritual fulfilment” does not rule out the literal fulfilment of such promises. We can be sure God was faithful to fulfill every physical and material blessing He promised to the fathers (see below). Instead, it means the ultimate end God had in view was not the blessing of Abraham’s natural seed, but the blessing of His spiritual seed, namely, Christ and all united to Him by faith. We believe this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (Rom 9:6). Paul does not mean all believers are now Israel ( though we can clearly find this truth in other New Testament passages). Instead, he means not everyone who belongs to ethnic Israel is a true Israelite. We should not assume that, since God has cast ethnic Israel off because of unbelief, His promises to Israel have fallen to the ground without fulfilment. “NO!” Paul argues, it was not to this nation that the promises were ultimately made. It was to the “true spiritual Israel” within the nation that he made the promises, and those promises find their fulfilment in Christ. The factor that determines the identity of the true heirs of the covenant is not whether they are Israelites according to the flesh, or members of the visible church. Instead, it is determined based solely on whether they are in Christ, having been united to Him by faith.
The idea that all the promises of the covenant find fulfilment in Christ is also patent in the Old Testament Scriptures. Isaiah prophesies in the first “Servant Songs” [Isaiah 42:1-7], “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, And I will hold your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, . . .” (v. 6).
It appears this prophecy identifies the coming Messiah, Jehovah’s Servant, as the ultimate heir of God’s covenant with Abraham. This accords with Paul’s assertion that the “seed” to which God referred in His covenant promises to Abraham is not his natural seed, but Christ, Himself. The Apostle wrote, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). Sinners are blessed not because of a physical or natural relationship with Abraham or by some rite or religious observance that associates them outwardly to a given religious community. We are blessed only in union with Christ. Consider the following comments on Isaiah 42:6. John Gill wrote,
“Christ is a covenantee, a party concerned in the covenant of grace; the representative of his people in it; the Surety, Mediator, Messenger, and Ratifier of it; the great blessing in it; the sum and substance of it; all the blessings and promises of it are in him, and as such he is given.”
Similarly, Matthew Henry has commented,
“He was given for a covenant of the people, for a mediator, or guarantee, of the covenant of grace, which is all summed up in him. God, in giving us Christ, has with him freely given us all the blessings of the new covenant .”
The question we need to ask is how God’s material, physical, and temporal promises find their fulfilment in Christ? Was it ever His intention to fulfill these promises in a physical and temporal way or did He merely have a view to spiritual blessing in Christ? We believe the answer is that all God’s promises to the nation that were not conditioned on its member’s obedience to the terms of old covenant have been fulfilled already. For example, Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14, informs us that all the promise made to the fathers of the nation of Israel were completely fulfilled during the period of Joshua’s leadership. The language could not be plainer.
21:43So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He has sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it 44 The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
23:14Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed..
If God had done nothing beyond the material fulfilment of these temporal promises, we would have to judge Him faithful to His promise. But His intention to bless reached beyond these material blessings. Every blessing God promised the natural seed of Abraham stood as a type of the believer’s inheritance in Christ. For example, Hebrews four teaches us that the Canaan rest God promised to the children of Israel served as a type of the believer’s spiritual and eternal rest in Christ.
None of the distinctive blessings to Israel as a nation, e.g., redemption, election, adoption, calling, inheritance, rest, were the same as the blessings of the same name that new covenant believers enjoy. Every promise of temporal blessing to the natural seed of Abraham included, in fact was in its purest essence, a promise of an ultimate spiritual and eternal blessing in Christ. Once a promise had been realized as fully as it needed to be to confirm God’s faithfulness to His covenant, though there may have been future, more glorious reiterations and realizations of that promise, the focus then turned to the coming Messiah and fulfilment in Him. This truth is illustrated by the following three examples:
A. Abraham understood that in its ultimate sense, God’s promise of an inheritance in the land of Canaan went beyond a mere promise of real estate. Though God gave the land to him and his offspring (Gen 13:15), Abraham continued to seek “a better, heavenly” inheritance (Hebrews 11:13-16).
B. The reasoning of the writer to the Hebrews in chapter four of his treatise clearly illustrates the idea that God promises were ultimately intended for the true, spiritual heirs. Does not the Scripture tell us that God through Joshua gave Israel “rest all around” and “not a man of all their enemies stood against them” (Joshua 21:44)? Yet, the writer of Hebrews, reckoning on a future promise of rest (Psalm 95:7-11), asserts that there was another rest remaining that went beyond what the physical seed had experienced under Joshua’s leadership. “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He [Jehovah] would not afterward have spoken of another day.” (Heb 4:8).
Was that to be rest in a bigger and better land? No! He refers to the spiritual and eternal rest of believers in Christ; rest of which the Canaan inheritance was a mere type or foreshadowing.
C. Jehovah promised, through His prophet Haggai that the glory of the temple then under construction would exceed the glory of the former [Solomonic] temple (Haggai 2:9). The question we must ask is, “When did this temple ever exceed, as far as physical and material splendor is concerned, the glory of the temple Solomon built?” The answer is that it never did. Additionally, since the Romans destroyed that temple in A.D. 70, it is impossible that it ever will. What then are we to make of God’s promise? What was He really saying?
We need to remember that the state of the temple always reflected the state of God’s kingdom in Israel. The splendor of Solomon’s temple reflected the splendor of the kingdom during his reign. It was under his leadership that the kingdom reached its zenith. Jesus’ announcement that He had left Israel’s house desolate (Matt. 23:38-39), is followed immediately by the words, “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple. . . .” In the next verse He prophesies the absolute destruction of that structure in which His disciples had taken such pride (Matt 24:1-2). Since this is true, a prophecy concerning the splendor and glory of the temple was really a prophecy of the splendor and glory of the kingdom it reflected.
The prophecy was this: “I will in this temple raise the kingdom to a state of splendor and glory that excels even the splendor of the kingdom reflected in Solomon’s temple.” This promise was fulfilled when our risen, exalted Lord, poured out His Spirit on His disciples who had gathered in this temple on the day of Pentecost. In doing so, He not only visited this temple with a splendor exceeding anything that had gone before. He also began to build a new temple, the church, in which His kingdom will reach its ultimate design.
As splendid as Solomon and his kingdom were, Jesus is greater. The Scripture tells us in 2 Chronicles 9:1-6,
And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions at Jerusalem, . . . And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel; his cupbearers also, and their apparel; and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the LORD; there was no more spirit in her. And she said to the king, It was a true report which I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom: Howbeit I believed not their words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the one half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me: for thou exceedest the fame that I heard (2 Chron 9:1-6).
And Jesus said,
The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42).
The day of Christ’s coming and the establishment of His spiritual kingdom was the day that had long been expected and prophesied throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Since He was he embodiment God’s covenant blessings, the enjoyment of those blessings depends on one’s reaction to Him.
When Jesus stood up to read Isaiah’s prophecy [61:1-2] in the Synagogue of Nazareth, He proclaimed that He had come as the fulfilment of that prophecy. He is what Luke wrote.
4:17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor:
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted.
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed:
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.’
20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:17-21).
The phrase, “the acceptable year of the LORD,” in Isaiah’s prophecy, referred to the Jubilee year described in Leviticus 25:8-17. At the end of a sabbatical cycle equaling forty-nine years, the trumpet of Jubilee was to be sounded on the Day of Atonement. The Jubilee trumpet signaled a year of release in which all who had been bound were to be set at liberty. It announced a year of return in which each one was to return to his inheritance. It introduced a time of reunion during which estranged ones were to be reconnected with their families. Finally, it initiated a year of rest during which both the people and the land were to enjoy the LORD’s sabbath. The basic principle behind the Jubilee year is the faith principle. For example, it would require great faith in Jehovah’s sustaining provision to interrupt the sowing and reaping cycle for two years in a row. The forty-ninth year was also a year of rest. This would mean the harvest cycle would be interrupted for two years running. It is against sinful nature to forgive debts and release prisoners. Yet, this is what the law required.
It was to the Jubilee celebration that Jesus referred when He proclaimed the acceptable year of the LORD. The time of His coming was the time of Jubilee fulfilment. It was the antitypical Day of Atonement that ushered in the true Jubilee. To describe this time of great blessing, we could not do better than to quote the words of Charles Wesley in the following hymn,
Blow ye the trumpet, Blow!
The gladly solemn sound
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bounds:
Ye slaves of sin and hell,
Your liberty receive;
And safe in Jesus dwell,
And blessed in Jesus live:
Ye who have sold for nought
Your heritage above,
Receive it back un-bought,
The gift of Jesus’ love.
The gospel trumpet hear,
The news of heav’nly grace;
And, saved from earth, appear
Before your Saviour’s face:
The year of jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransomed sinners home;
Return, ye ransomed sinners home.
This is the time of the LORD’s acceptance.
This expression is very similar to the idea expressed in 2 Corinthians 6:2 where the apostle wrote,
6:2 For he says, At an acceptable time I harkened unto you, and in a day of salvation did I succour you: behold now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
In saying this, the apostle did not refer to a twenty-four hour day during which it was appropriate for sinners to come to faith in Christ. This verse has been twisted mercilessly by well-meaning pastors and evangelists who wish to emphasize the urgency of responding to a gospel invitation TODAY. Instead, he referred to the entire period between the first and second comings of the Messiah, during which God has declared Himself willing to receive repenting sinners. It is the time of the LORD’s acceptance, a season of grace, and a time appointed by God as the day of salvation.
Another passage that may be related to this idea is Psalm 118:22-24,
118:22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD’s doing:
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Though the phrase, “the day the LORD has made” may refer merely to the festival day mentioned in the Psalm, it seems more likely it refers to the day during which the LORD made the stone which the builders rejected the chief cornerstone. In other words, the time period that began with the Messiah’s first coming is the day the LORD has made. The establishment of the new nation, the church, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone, is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
It is certainly worth our effort to consider the New Testament contexts in which this Old Testament passage is cited. Perhaps the two more significant passages in which these words are cited are Matthew 21:33-44 and 1 Peter 2:7-10. These passages have the following aspects in common:
1. Both talk about the stone that has been rejected by the builders.
2. Both talk about taking the judging those who have rejected Jesus, the Messiah.
3. Both talk about establishing Jesus, the Christ, as the chief cornerstone in God’s new building.
4. Both talk about giving the kingdom to a “new nation” that will bring forth the fruit expected from the nation of Israel.
The Matthew citation occurs in conjunction with Jesus’ parable of the wicked vinedressers.
21:33 Hear another parable: there was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And He leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 33 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise unto them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomsoever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” 45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them (Matthew 21:33-45).
This parable of our LORD bears great similarity to the fifth chapter of Isaiah where Judah is compared to a disappointing vineyard. The issue here, as there, is the failure of God’s chosen nation to bring forth fruit. The history of the nation was characterized by disobedience and rebellion. Time after time God sent His prophets to this rebellious nation seeking fruit, but they consistently rejected these messengers. When at last He sent His Son, they crucified Him and cast Him out of the vineyard. As a judgment for this egregious crime, the LORD took the kingdom from Israel and gave it to a kingdom that would produce the fruit He had every right to expect from His people.
Notice that the Son was the heir to the kingdom. The mistake Israel made was to assume they could have the inheritance apart from the heir. Remember they said, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” But, when Israel rejected the heir, it also rejected the inheritance. Now the heir of the kingdom is the one with reference to whom the promises were given and those who are united to Him by faith.
The second of these citations, 1 Peter 2:7-10, gives us more information about the identity of this new nation to which God has granted the kingdom. Peter wrote,
2:7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.”
They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness, into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
It is generally believed the apostle Peter penned these words to primarily Hebrew believers who had been scattered by persecution. It is important to remember that he addressed them not as Jews per se, but as Hebrews who had come to faith in Christ. In contrast to the nation of Israel who, through their leaders, had rejected the LORD’s Christ, these believers were those who had recognized the true value the stone whom God had set as the chief cornerstone in His new building. It is difficult to know for sure whether Peter was simply using familiar biblical phraseology to express his thoughts or if he viewed their new position as God’s own special people as a fulfilment of Hosea’s prophecy. Either way, it is clear he deemed these believers in Christ as a holy nation of God’s own special people.
What should be quite clear is that God’s promises that were conditioned on Israel’s obedience to the Old Covenant, have now been fulfilled in His establishment of this new nation. Compare Exodus 19: 5-6 with what Peter wrote about God’s new covenant nation.
God said to Israel,
‘. . . .19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
Israel forfeited these blessings because, through unbelief and disobedience, it failed to satisfy the conditions of the covenant. God’s new covenant people have inherited these blessings in Christ, who, as the consummate Israelite, has perfectly fulfilled all the old covenant’s conditions.
If Israel had obeyed, it would have inherited the following blessings:
1. “You shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.”
2. “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests.”
3. “You shall be to Me. . .a holy nation.”
Compare this to the blessings New Covenant believers enjoy in Christ:
1. “You are a chosen generation.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . Israel was God’s chosen nation.
2. “You are a royal priesthood,”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . cf. “a kingdom of priests.”
3. “a holy nation,”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . cf. “a holy nation.”
4. “His own special people,”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . cf. “a special treasure to Me above all people.”
Can there be any question the apostle Peter understood that the conditional promises made to Israel are fulfilled in Christ to those who believe the gospel?
Those who were once aliens for the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, and far off from the blessing of God, have now been brought near by the blood of Christ. It is “in Christ” that God has established this new household of faith, consisting of believers from among the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Paul wrote in Ephesians two,
2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. . . .19 Now, therefore, you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:13-19).
The key to understanding this passage and indeed the teaching of the entire New Testament body of truth is the little phrase, “in Christ.” Hebrews are not blessed because they can demonstrate a physical connection to Abraham. Infants and children receive no favor from God because they, supposedly have become members of the Christian community by having water sprinkled on them. All God promises are fulfilled in Christ and we can only enjoy God’s blessings by being united to Christ by faith. He is the Seed to whom the promises were made. He is given as a covenant. All God’s treasures are stored up in Him. The believer’s proper response to God’s grand accomplishments in Christ is “ our Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20. “This is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”