Amillennialism and the Jews

Question
I was talking to some people who were saying that amillenialism is rooted in "Replacement Theology," and as a Jewish believer with a heart for the Jews, I'm being inconsistent in adhering to amillenialism. I know that in Reformed circles there exist a lot of replacement theologians, but I never considered that I was adhering to two incompatible beliefs. And, I thought I was detecting in what they were saying some replacement theology themselves. Can you speak to the question about Israel, Jews, and replacement theology, amillenialism/Reformed theology? Is what they said true?
Answer
"Replacement Theology" is a somewhat ambiguous term. Different people have used it in different ways. There may be some, though I don't know of any, who believe that God has completely cast off Israel and is now concerned solely with the Gentile church. The "replacement" in this case is one people group for another. This is the kind of "Replacement Theology" of which Reformed theologians are often accused by Dispensationalists, but none of us believe this.

A very different way that the term "Replacement Theology" can be used is in reference to the idea that the visible covenant community of the church has replaced the visible covenant community of Israel as the people of God. This is not the idea that God has cast off the Jews and begun to deal only with the Gentiles, but rather the idea that the remnant of the faithful now exists within the community of the church rather than the community of Israel. The "people of God" is the visible covenant community that contains this remnant. In this sense, it is legitimate to say that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God. But it is not legitimate to distinguish between the church and Israel on ethnic grounds. In this view, the church is the true Israel, and it is very, very Jewish.

Remember, the church is not a Gentile organization, contrary to what Dispensationalists so often conclude. The church is a Jewish organization. From one perspective, we might describe it as the most loyal sect within Judaism. It's Savior is Jewish. It was founded entirely by Jews. Its first converts were all Jewish. Its apostles were all Jewish. Most (and perhaps all) of the New Testament was written by Jews. As Paul put it in Romans 11, the church is a Jewish olive tree, and Gentiles have been grafted into it. This does not make it a Gentile olive tree. It makes it a Jewish olive tree wherein Gentiles depend on God's grace to include and sustain them as unnatural branches on the Jewish stalk.

To put it another way, the promises of the salvation of the Gentiles were not made to the Gentiles but to the Jews (Gal. 3:8). When Gentiles are saved, they are counted as being heirs to the Jewish promises. The reason for this is union with Christ. Christ is Jewish. He is the only one who ever kept the covenant perfectly, and he is the only one who inherits on his own merit the full blessings of God's covenant (Gal. 3:14-18). In a very important sense, he himself is the sole remnant. But by faith we are united to Christ, and in that union we are "clothed" with him (Gal. 3:27). Being clothed with him, we are counted as sons of God (Gal. 3:26), and therefore we are able to inherit the blessing of salvation offered to Abraham (Gal. 3:29) — who, while existing prior to the existence of people culturally designated as Jews, is called their (and our) father. This is very significant language. It means that in our union with Christ, we are counted as if we were Christ. That is, because I am mystically united to Christ, God looks at me and sees Jesus. More pointedly, he looks at me and sees a perfect Jew.

Being Jewish, you may be aware that in the Old Testament the best covenant blessings were reserved for free male Jews. But in the New Testament we all receive the same blessings. Why? Because we are in Christ. Being in Christ, we receive his status as free male Jew. We might really be slaves; we might really be women; we might really be Gentiles. But because we have faith, we are clothed with Christ and counted as free male Jews, or more specifically, we are counted as the free male Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. To use Paul's metaphor from Romans 11 in a way recalling Jesus' description of himself as "the true vine" (John 15:1ff.), we might say that Jesus is the olive tree, and that being grafted into him we become Jewish.

Paul frequently taught this concept, though not always with the same metaphor. In Ephesians 2:11ff. He explained that God was bringing the Gentiles into the covenant community by merging them with the believing Jews into one new man. Because we are united to Christ, Gentiles like me are no longer aliens and strangers. Now we are part of God's household. In this same passage, Paul also used the metaphor of a building, with Jesus as the cornerstone and Jews and Gentiles alike being combined as the building materials founded on him. Notice that Paul was so strong on the idea that Gentile believers somehow became Jewish that latter in this same letter he referred to unbelievers as "Gentiles" (Eph. 4:17). In his mind, believing Gentiles weren't Gentiles anymore. In Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile that used to separate the two groups had been eradicated (Rom. 3:22; 10:12; Col. 3:11). We may be Gentiles "in the flesh" (Eph. 2:11), but spiritually we are all Jews (Rom. 2:26-29) and children of Abraham (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:29).

Going back to Amillenialism, it is related to this idea in that it sees the Old Testament covenant blessings as being fulfilled in the church rather than in national Israel. But this is not because we believe Gentiles have replaced Jews. Rather, it is because we believe that Jesus is the only one through whom any blessings come, and because the church is that organization which is faithful to him. The promises were made to Jesus the Jew, so if we want to share in the fulfillments of the promises, we have to share in Jesus. Some forms of Dispensationalism teach another way to God's blessings, a way that doesn't include Jesus.

Dispensationalism also claims that their system is honoring of Jews. Frankly, I don't believe they make a very strong case. It seems to me that Reformed theology places far more emphasis on the importance of being Jewish. And although I am not Jewish myself by birth, I have many Reformed Christian friends who are Jewish by birth and who would testify to the same thing.

If you are interested, here is a link to an article on the Third Millennium site by Richard Pratt: To the Jew First: A Reformed Perspective. It provides a survey of the history of Reformed theology as it pertains to importance of Jewish evangelism.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.