The Elect Remnant of Israel
The Anti-Messianic Heresy
Some Christians, particularly in the Calvinist camp, believe that there is no Israel except for the "Israel of God" which is called the Church, and there are no Jews except the true Jews who are called Christians. In their view, the survival of the historic Jewish people and the establishment of the State of Israel is at best a political accident, and at worst a demonic end-time deception that will lead us into the "Jewish Roots Heresy".
This article shows that it is, in fact, the opponents of so-called "Jewish Roots" who are creating a heresy. The systematic Christianisation of Jewish terms in the New Testament is a corruption of the Word of God, and has the familiar ring of that old trick of the serpent who tempted the woman with the words "Hath God said?".
Arminianism and Calvinism
Within the Church, there are two well-known schools of thought that take opposite views on the question of predestination and free will.
Most churches have been involved in this debate to some extent, and where there are two opposing parties equally convinced that they are right, it usually ends in stalemate because an equal number of Bible verses can be quoted on each side.
I used to go to a Baptist church where the Minister offered a compromise solution. He said that being saved is like walking through a door. Before you go through, you see a sign written over the doorpost saying "Whosoever will may come". After you have gone through, you turn round and look at the other side of the door and you see another sign saying "Chosen to be saved by the grace of God". So there is no real theological battle to be fought over predestination. It's a question of where you are when you look at it.
Hyper-Calvinism and Replacement Theology
Both the Arminians and Calvinists agree that people who do not believe in Yeshua are unsaved. However, within the Calvinist camp there are some who I will call "Hyper-Calvinists", for want of a better word. They place such an emphasis on their own status as the "elect" that they regard unbelievers as not just unsaved, but also irrelevant to the plans and purposes of God.
They apply this thinking to the unsaved Jews, claiming that since they rejected Yeshua, God has no purposes for them any more as a people and as a nation, and they have forfeited the right to call themselves Jews. Their only hope is that they, as individuals, should believe in Yeshua, then they can call themselves Jews again and join the "Israel of God" which is the Church.
The substitution of the Church for Israel is called "Replacement Theology". The followers of this doctrine believe that all of God's plans and purposes for Israel have been transferred to the Church.
Has God Forsaken His People?
This saith the Lord; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them. (Jer. 33:25-26)
God's covenant with his people is as sure as day and night. The above is just one of many verses that affirms God's unbreakable covenant with his people. Although they might be scattered and taken captive for a time, God will always bring them back.
Obviously this creates a problem for the followers of Replacement Theology, because they can't accept that God has not forsaken his people. They get round it in two ways:
The first proposition, that every Jew has the opportunity to believe in Yeshua, is perfectly true, and we should pray for all of them to do so. It is also true that a believing Jew becomes part of the faithful remnant of Israel. However, they need to be careful where they go for fellowship. Why should a believing Jew want to join a church that calls itself the "Israel of God", but is totally non-observant and even boasts of its freedom from the Torah. The believing Gentiles are supposed to be grafted into Israel, not the other way round.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. (Romans 11:17-18).
The second proposition, that God has always worked with a remnant, is also true, but I would take issue with the idea that the Church, in its present state of separation from its Jewish origins, and unwilling to be grafted in, can call itself the remnant.
The idea of a remnant is Biblical and is affirmed by the Apostle Paul:
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Rom. 9:6-15).
This is just a summary of a few of the occasions where God has chosen a remnant from among his people. The same principle has applied throughout history from the time of Creation. God created Adam and Eve, but they fell. The whole world became wicked, but Noah was faithful, so God saved him and his family in the Ark. Noah had three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Shem was righteous and Ham was evil. Japheth was also righteous, but only because he dwelt in the tents of Shem. (Gen. 9:18-27). God called Abraham from among the descendants of Shem and made his covenant with him. The covenant was not with all the descendants of Abraham, but was restricted to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, as we have already seen. Jacob was the Patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel. When the Israelites had come out of Egypt and settled in the land of Israel, they enjoyed a period of national unity under King David and his son Solomon. Then there was a separation in the days of Jeroboam and Rehoboam so that ten tribes moved to the north of the Land of Israel and set up an altar for idolatrous worship. Only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained in Jerusalem and the surrounding region of Judea, so they became known as the Judeans, or the Jews. The ten northern tribes were subjugated by the Assyrians, assimilated, and some of them taken captive. The Judeans, because of their unfaithfulness, were invaded and besieged, and many of them were taken captive into Babylon, but they returned after 70 years. At the time of Yeshua, the ten separated tribes were known as the Samaritans, but eventually they became totally assimilated and lost their identity. (These people experienced a spiritual revival during the days of Yeshua and the early Church, just as the Jews are having a revival today. It seems that when God does something new, He remembers those left behind last time round, a concept I have discussed in my article on The Samaritans).
So we see that from the time of Creation, there has been a gradual narrowing down of the population of the covenanted people, so that God continues to fulfil his covenant through a faithful remnant. The latest remnant consists of those, from among the people, who are followers of Yeshua the Messiah who was born into the tribe of Judah.
However, this latest remnant has taken a different direction from all the other remnants. Instead of retaining their identity as a Jewish remnant and inviting the Gentiles to be "grafted in", they lost their identity and became "grafted out". They were swamped by the Gentiles, creating a so-called "remnant" that never came from Israel in the first place.
While the Gentiles share the same promises as the Jews, through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, they cannot call themselves the "remnant", because a remnant by definition must have been part of an original larger population. To take a simple example, suppose you open a tin of beans and pour some of them out. The beans that remain in the tin are called the "remnant". Then if you open a tin of spaghetti and mix it with the beans, you have a nice mixture but you cannot say that the spaghetti is the remnant of the beans. It is something else that is mixed with the beans.
When Jewish beans and Gentile spaghetti are mixed together, the distinction between them becomes unimportant, but you still remember where they came from. When you opened the tins, you knew which tins to open because they had labels on them. You wouldn't like it if you took a tin out of the cupboard and it had no label. You wouldn't know what you were opening. For all you know, it could be a can of worms.
Although the Apostle Paul was always at pains to emphasise the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers, and he said there was no difference as far as salvation is concerned, he did not discard the distinction altogether. On some occasions he talked about the Jews who got there first and the Gentiles who came later. In particular, when he talked about a believing remnant he meant Jewish believers.
The Greek word for "remnant" is "leimma" which means "what is left". When prefixed with "kata" it becomes "kataleimma" which means "what is left fully".
Paul referred to the believing remnant on two occasions, both in the book of Romans.
Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: for he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. (Rom 9:27-28, quoting Isaiah 10:22-23).
In the preceding verses, Paul talks about how the Gentiles would be brought in alongside the Jews, but he doesn't call them the "remnant". Instead he calls them those who were "not my people".
Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 9:25 As he saith also in Osee [Hosea], I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. (Rom. 9:24-26, quoting Hosea 1:10 and 2:23).
The second reference to a believing remnant is as follows:
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (Rom. 11:1-5).
The context of this passage is all about Israel, not about the Gentiles. Although the Gentiles have received the same grace as the Jews, as Paul makes clear throughout his epistles, he does not refer to the Gentiles as a "remnant".
There are other occasions where Paul makes a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, although he always considers them to be equal in the sight of God.
In whom we also have been chosen to an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of the One working all things according to the counsel of His own will, for us to be to the praise of His glory, the ones first trusting in Christ; in whom also you, hearing the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also believing, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance, to the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:11-14, Green's Literal Translation).
I have emphasised the text to show how Paul uses "we" and "you" to refer to Jews and Gentiles. He says we, the Jews, have an inheritance based on the hope of the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. He says you, the Gentiles, heard the word of truth.
Therefore, remember that you, the nations, were then in the flesh, those having been called Uncircumcision by those having been called Circumcision in the flesh made by hand, that at that time you were without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers of the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who then were afar off came to be near by the blood of Christ... So, then, you are no longer strangers and tenants, but you are fellow-citizens of the saints and of the household of God. (Eph. 2:11-19, Green's Literal Translation)
Notice that Paul is consistent with his use of the word "you" when referring to Gentiles. He says they were "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel" and were "afar off" but have been made "fellow-citizens of the saints". In that case, who are the "saints". Sometimes Paul uses the word "saint" to mean all believers, but in this case he is referring to Jewish saints, and he refers to the Gentiles as "fellow-citizens".
The situation of the early church was very much different from the church we have today. For at least the first five years, and maybe for the first ten years (depending on the date of Peter's visit to Cornelius), the church was entirely Jewish and they never thought of preaching to Gentiles. Then the Judaising Controversy raged until the church was 20 years old. For details see Chronology of the Early Church. Many of the Gentiles must have felt as if they were gate-crashing a Jewish party, so Paul was trying to re-assure them by saying that although they were once aliens, now they are fellowcitizens.
In all of this, there is not the slightest suggestion that the Gentiles could make a take-over bid and call themselves the new remnant of Israel. There is no suggestion that the Gentiles could go it alone, discarding the root that had given them life in the first place. They were invited to join with the believing Jews as fellowcitizens, not as their successors or theological mentors.
The early church is not the first time when strangers have joined themselves to Israel. The same thing happened during the Exodus from Egypt.
And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. (Exodus 12:37-38).
The "mixed multitude" must have been Egyptians and people from the surrounding tribes who realised that Moses was right and Pharaoh was wrong. However, they could not go with the Israelites according to their own rules. They all had to be circumcised before they could eat the Passover and go out of Egypt. (Ex. 12:43-50). There was to be no independent church-building among the mixed multitude.
Adopted as Sons
Although Paul only uses the word "remnant" in the context of Jewish believers, the term can still be applied to Gentiles in the sense that they are adopted into the family and therefore considered sons. The Jews are also adopted, not as individuals but as the heirs of the general adoption that occurred when God made his covenant with Abraham.
... for I myself was wishing to be a curse from Christ on behalf of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, whose are the adoption and the glory, and the covenants, and the Law-giving, and the service, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom is the Christ according to the flesh, He being God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:3-5, Green's Literal Translation).
The unbelieving Jews have set aside their inheritance for the time being through unbelief but eventually they will return. When a Jew believes in Yeshua, he doesn't feel as if he has been adopted into a new family. Instead he is more like the prodigal son returning home.
Regarding the Gentiles, their entry into the kingdom of God is a straightforward adoption.
... but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry "Abba! Father!"... And not only so, but we ourselves having the firstfruit of the Spirit, also we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly expecting adoption, the redemption of the body...(Rom 8:15-23, Green's Literal Translation)
There are two different kinds of adoption here:
Paul believed that the Jews participated in the adoption of Gentiles, by receiving them into the family:
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, having come out of a woman, having come under law, that He might redeem the ones under law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba! Father! (Gal. 4:4-6, Green's Literal Translation)
There is one verse where it isn't clear who is being adopted:
... predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to himself... (Eph. 1:5, Green's Literal Translation).
... Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself...(Eph. 1:5, KJAV).
I couldn't find the word "children" in the Greek, so I assume Green's Literal Translation is right. In this case Paul is probably looking forward to the second stage adoption, which means the resurrection of the body. This seems to be confirmed by his reference to the "redemption of the purchased possession" in verse 14.
Now that we have reviewed the question of adoption, we can look at another passage which defines both Jew and Gentile as the "Abraham's seed".
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29).
Paul is talking about how we are saved by Yeshua the Messiah, and as far as salvation is concerned there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. However, he cannot mean there is absolutely no difference, otherwise the same principle would apply to male and female. If we could not distinguish between men and women in the church, there would be some serious social problems.
He says that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are the seed of Abraham because of our faith in Yeshua. For the Gentiles to become the seed of Abraham, they have to be adopted. In Biblical Jewish adoption, the person who has been adopted is considered to have been born into the household, and in genealogy tables there is no attempt to distinguish between natural birth and adoption. For details see Virgin Birth, Jewish Adoption and Genealogy of Yeshua.
There is, therefore, a sense in which Gentile believers are a "remnant", but only because they have been adopted into a believing Jewish family. A Gentile church, in isolation, is at best a separated remnant that needs to return to the original remnant, but Paul does not call them a remnant in any of his epistles. He just refers to the Jewish believers as the remnant.
What is the "Israel of God"?
Setting aside the idea of the "remnant" for the time being, there is another argument put forward by the Replacement Theology supporters, that the real Jew is the one who has the circumcision of the heart. While there is some Biblical support for this, it only occurs in confrontational circumstances where it is necessary to distinguish between true believers and self-righteous hypocrites. It cannot be used to generally re-define the word "Israelite" as if it applies to all Christians to the exclusion of non-believing Jews.
Consider, for example, how Yeshua bestowed titles of honour and dishonour on people, depending on what they deserved:
And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? (Luke 13:14-16).
The title "daughter of Abraham" means the woman who was healed was a Jew, but not just an ordinary Jew. She was one who had faith. The condemnation "Thou hypocrite" followed by "each one of you" means that the president of the synagogue and his supporters, although they were Jews, were unworthy of the title.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. (John 1:47).
Yeshua gives Nathanael a title of honour, comparing him with others who were full of "guile" or "falsehood". There is no need to speculate on who the false people were. There was no shortage of them continually surrounding Yeshua throughout his ministry. Nathanael was called an "Israelite indeed", meaning a "true Israelite", not just because he was a Jew, but because he had faith while other Jews did not.
Now we will see how John the Baptist bestowed a Jewish title of honour on people who were not even Jewish.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Matt. 3:7-9)
The "stones" are obviously the Gentiles who were in a state of ignorance, without God and without hope. John is claiming that God would raise up "children unto Abraham" from among the Gentiles. But here again we do not see a title of honour appearing in isolation. We see it contrasted with another group of people who are called "vipers".
The Apostle Paul bestowed Jewish titles of honour on people without any attempt to determine their ethnic origin. Most probably, his commendations were applied to a whole congregation, or part of a congregation, that was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. But it was always in a situation where people of genuine faith were being compared with others who were making mischief.
For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Rom 2:25-29)
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:11-16).
Paul is contrasting the "Jew which is one inwardly" with the "breaker of the law", and then he contrasts the "Israel of God" with those who want to make a "fair show in the flesh" (doing it only for outward appearance). He is handing out titles of honour, not just to flatter people and make them feel good, but because he sees a genuine need to defend them against other malicious people who are trying to put them down.
Consider a similar situation that might happen today. Some Gentile Christians like to observe Jewish customs, for example Shabbat and the festivals, but they don't go the whole way and try to observe all the 613 mitzvot, and they don't call themselves Jews. Suppose a family of partially observant Gentiles went to Israel and lived in a neighbourhood of secular Jews who didn't observe any of the Torah, but they were are all circumcised. If some of the secular Jews tried to boast of their superiority, the Gentiles might be provoked to say "We are better Jews than you are because we observe some of the Torah but you don't do anything!". In that situation, the Gentile Christians are calling themselves Jews, but normally they wouldn't.
Does the Church today have the right to call itself the "Israel of God"? I suppose if it was under attack from hypocritical self-rightous Judaisers, or even from Jewish anti-missionaries, it might be appropriate to respond by calling ourselves the "Israel of God". But that situation does not exist, at least not to the extent that it would pose a threat. Instead we are finding that Jewish people, who have for centuries been been taught to reject Yeshua, are realising that he is in fact the Messiah. Many churches are welcoming them, and some churches are encouraging them to continue their Jewish lifestyle and worship within the church. Some Messianic Jews have started up their own congregations where they welcome Gentiles. The Jews and Gentiles have much to learn from each other, after centuries of separation, and there is much to rejoice about. But some churches within the Replacement Theology camp don't see it that way. They are grumbling and complaining because they think the Jews are going to steal the show, so they call themselves the "Israel of God" as a way of pulling rank. Quite inappropriate, and completely contrary to the circumstances in which Paul used that term.
Making the Gentiles Jealous
In Romans 11:11-14, Paul talks about how the salvation of the Gentiles will provoke the Jews to jealousy, so that some of them will be saved. He is actually quoting Moses, from Deuteronomy 32:21. The Jews consider the Bible to be their book and they become jealous when they meet Gentiles who understand it better. They feel as if their Bible has been stolen from them. So they ask questions about Yeshua, because they want to have their Bible back, and end up being saved.
However, there are also situations in which the Gentiles are being provoked to jealousy. They are described in the parables of Yeshua, about the workers in the vineyard and the prodigal son.
Workers in the Vineyard
In Matthew 20:1-16 there is the parable of the vineyard, where people are hired to work for varying lengths of time. Some start in the morning and work all day. Others start at noon, others at 3pm, and finally a group that starts only an hour before sunset. At the end of the day, each was paid a fixed amount of money because that's what they agreed to when they started. The ones who started early expected to be paid more than those who started late, and grumbled when they saw that everyone was paid the same, but the owner of the vineyard rebuked them, saying he had given them what they agreed, and he had a right to be generous to the others if he wanted to.
The usual interpretation of this parable is that it refers to people who become believers in Yeshua at varying stages in their lives. One person is saved at the age of ten and serves God faithfully for all his life. Another is saved at the age of ninety and serves God faithfully for just his last few remaining years. They both get the same reward in Heaven because they both did what God wanted them to do. But there is a curious phrase in this parable that appears twice and doesn't quite fit the interpretation. It says:
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. (Matt. 19:30).
So the last shall be first, and the first last... (Matt. 20:16).
The meaning of this is given within the parable:
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. (Matt. 20:8).
They were paid in the order of last to first because the owner of the vineyard wanted to see the reaction of those who had worked all day. If the ones who started work first were paid first, they would have gone on their way and would never have known how much the others were paid. So the ones who came last were paid first while the ones who had worked all day were still waiting in the queue to get paid and they saw what was going on. Their reaction was unjustified but predictable jealousy.
The reason why this doesn't fit the commonly accepted interpretation is because we die and go to heaven in seemingly random order when it's time for us to go and nobody is kept waiting to see what happens to anyone else. A more earthly interpretation fits the circumstances better as follows.
Since the end of the first century, the Church has been predominantly Gentile. The Gentiles have laboured in the heat of the day for the last 1900 years and are looking forward to the return of Messiah so that they can receive their reward. But while they are waiting, along comes the "Jewish Roots" movement and steals the show. The Jewish believers, because of their history and culture, are able to explain parts of the Bible that the Gentiles never understood. The Gentiles have studied the Bible for centuries and thought they knew it, but the Jews, who have only been around for a short time, seem to know as much as the Gentiles. So the Gentiles have become jealous, saying "Who do you think you are? Where have you been for the last 1900 years, and what makes you think you can teach us?". They are just like the workers in the vineyard, who can't accept that those who came last still get paid the same.
The Prodigal Son
The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is commonly thought to describe a sinner who goes astray and then repents of his sin and turns back to God. It is a very popular story, used by evangelists to encourage people to repent.
When the prodigal son returns, his father kills the fatted calf and there is a big celebration. The older brother, who never left home, became jealous saying "You have never even given me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends". The father explained that he wasn't practising favouritism, he just wanted to celebrate because his lost son had come back.
When this story is told, the emphasis is usually on the prodigal son who returns expecting to be made into a hired servant, and the joy of the father who welcomes him back and accepts him into the household. The elder brother is presented as a mere accessory to the story who asks a question and gives the father a reason to explain why he is celebrating.
However, if we look more closely at this story, and particluarly the older brother, we see that it bears a distinct resemblance to the history of the Jews and Gentiles and their current relationship. The Jews have gone astray for the last 1900 years, unwilling to believe in Yeshua the Messiah. During that time they have been scattered and made to feed pigs. That's right, they have fed pigs, just like in the story, together with many other jobs that a Jew would not normally do. That's because whenever they went to a new place, before they had the resources to set up their own businesses, they had to work for Gentile employers who had no regard for the customs of the Jews. The suffering of the Jews, during their dispersion, has been very great and there have been many tragedies including the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust. Now they are returning to Israel, and at the same time there are larger numbers of Jews believing in Yeshua than ever before.
Heaven is rejoicing over the Jews who have believed, and for the most part the Church is rejoicing, but some sections of the Church, particularly within the Replacement Theology camp, are just like the older brother. They are full of jealousy about all the fuss that is being made over the brother who has returned. Instead of joining the celebration, they complain bitterly about "Jewish Roots", making it out to be some kind of heresy.
Regarding the two brothers, it could be said that Israel is the older brother because they have a much longer history. However, when they return to accept Yeshua, they come back as the younger brother because their spiritual development has been frozen for such a long time.
What Happens to the Bible if the Church Replaces Israel?
Returning to the subject of the "Israel of God", and the churches that would like to describe themselves in that way, let's see what happens when you substitute "Church" for "Israel" and "Christian" for "Jew" in the New Testament, from the book of Acts onwards. Some Christians believe that on the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was born, God was finished with Israel and would do all his future work through the Church, so every reference to Israel actually means the Church. If you ask them to explain a passage that mentions Israel, they explain it in terms of what they think God is doing in the Church. Consequently, some Bible passages are turned into nonsense, and others are corrupted to provide the seeds of heresy.
The most difficult type of substitution is to replace "Jew" with "Christian". This is because in the New Testament, most occurrences of the word "Jew" mean either an unbelieving Jew or else a believer of Jewish origins. Consequently, a straight substitution of Christian for Jew leads to many absurdities. In the following passages, I have highlighted the substituted words:
The substitution of "Church" for "Israel" is easier because Israel is a more neutral term referring to a collection of people that includes both believers and unbelievers. Nevertheless it leads to many absurdities. Here is an example where the Apostle Paul becomes physically related to the Church, and Yeshua is descended from the Church.
... my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are the Church ... whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came... (Rom. 9:3-5).
Here is another substitution that is actually promoted by some Hyper-Calvinists:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to the Future Saints, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all the Future Saints shall be saved... (Rom 11:25-26).
Instead of substituting "Church" for "Israel" I have susbstituted "Future Saints" to correspond to the Hyper-Calvinist view of predestination. They consider Israel to consist of all those who are predestined to be saved. The future saints are "blinded in part" until the time comes for them to be saved, and in the fulness of time, all those who are predestined to be saved will be saved. The problem with this interpretation is that Paul introduces it as a "mystery", as if it is something really profound. There is nothing mysterious about the suggestion that those who will be saved will be saved. A mystery has to be more than just a statement of the obvious.
Here is another one where I have made some substitutions:
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to The Church? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in the Jerusalem that we shall build in England's green and pleasant land, and in all Scotland, and in Wales, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. (Acts 1:6-8)
The substitution of the Church for Israel completely changes the meaning of the passage so that it gives support to the "Kingdom Now" heresy. We see Yeshua acknowledging that there will be a kingdom of the Church, not now, but at a future date known only to the Father. He sends out his disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit, but not with the kind of power that is going to establish the Church as the kingdom. This happens at a later date, when the Church will presumably be given even more power.
This is exactly what the "Kingdom Now" heresy teaches. They believe that the Church will rule the world in preparation for the return of Christ, and they will be given spiritual power to enable them to do so. The "spiritual power" that they talk about is actually an auto-suggestive technique that they practice at their meetings, causing people to fall on the floor. Churches that support this heresy are very heirarchical and their so-called "spiritual power" is combined with political power, wielded by their leaders to keep the members in submission.
"Kingdom Now" is a heresy is because it exalts man instead of God, and suggests that we have got to rule the world to make the return of Christ possible, as if he can't decide for himself when to come.
I have added the other bits about England, Scotland and Wales, not just as a joke, but because I want to illustrate what can happen when we try to substitute words in the Bible to suit our own ideas. Substituting the Church of Israel is just the thin end of the wedge. Once we establish the principle that we can substitute things, we can substitute anything we like, and people are actually doing it. The example above, about Jerusalem, has already been done. For many years the Mormons have considered Salt Lake City to be "Jerusalem".
We cannot tamper with the Word of God with impunity. If we do so, it means we are doubting what God has said to us and encouraging other people to do the same. Anyone who tampers with the Word of God is doing the work of the serpent, who tempted the woman in the Garden of Eden with the words "Hath God said..." (Gen. 3:1).