• Photo: Shutterstock

Believing Without Israel: How Israel disappeared from our Christian faith

Rev. Cornelis Kant - 17 October 2022

In this new series of articles, Rev. Cornelis Kant, explains how it happened that the role of Israel was seen as insignificant in the development of our Christian faith and in the history of Christian theology.

How and why did ‘replacement theology’ come into existence?
What role does Israel play in our faith and in our church life? During the centuries that lie behind us, Israel has hardly played any significant role in our Christian experience of faith. At most, Israel was the land where Jesus was born and where He lived. But for most Christians, the land of Israel was not of any significance, nor were the Jewish people. Even today, Israel is hardly relevant for many churches and in the religious experience of many Christians.

Yet Israel appears hundreds of times in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old and New Testaments, we read a lot about the everlasting covenant between God and His people Israel.

Israel’s significance in the Bible
The prophet Zechariah says: “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. The Lord will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zechariah 2: 10-12).

And in Luke 1 the angel Gabriel says to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1: 31-33).

These passages speak impressively about a great future for Israel.

‘Even today, Israel is hardly relevant for many churches and in the religious experience of many Christians.’

So how and why did Israel disappear from Christian faith and theology? Why was Israel increasingly seen as replaced by the Christian church? Gradually, Christian theologians came to the view that all the promises for Israel had transferred to the Christian church. Israel as a people and as a country disappeared from the church’s focus. Israel’s role was played out, except that the judgements were often still applied to Israel.

In this series of articles, we will try to clarify how certain passages in the Bible were gradually interpreted in a completely different way than their writers intended. And we will explore the position Israel and the Jewish people deserve when we read the many Bible passages about Israel again as they were originally intended.

Israel in the Early Church
With the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus sends His apostles into the world. The Gospel is to be proclaimed worldwide. In Jerusalem, the first congregation consists mainly of Jews who believe in Him. Outside Israel, it was increasingly Christians from the Gentiles who formed the first congregations. Consider the congregations in cities such as Ephesus, Laodicea, Thessalonica, Corinth, Athens and Rome. These Gentiles exchanged their lives with the Roman gods for a living relationship with Jesus Christ, inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most of those new Christians had little interest in Judaism. At the same time, there were also believers with a Jewish background in the early churches who believed that these new Gentile Christians should be circumcised and live according to the Jewish law. For Jewish believers in Christ it was a shock to discover that God would create a people for Himself outside the Jewish people and outside Jewish life. Hence, in Paul’s letters, there were often discussions about circumcision. Gradually, a distance grew inside the congregations between the believers from the Gentiles and the Jewish believers in Christ. The Jews were not well regarded in the Roman Empire anyway, because they were seen as a rebellious and stubborn people. This had everything to do with the fact that Jews did not want to adapt to the Roman religion but wanted to continue their own worship to God in the temple according to the guidelines of the Old Testament. And so a chasm developed between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus.

About the Author