Who Is the True Israel? – Part 1

Thursday, November 16, 2023

After Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, there has been a significant increase in antisemitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been a 388 percent increase since this time last year of harassment, vandalism, and assault against Jewish people.[i] Speaking about this increase of antisemitism, Michael Brown wrote,

When Muslims in Sydney Australia are chanting, “Gas the Jews” you know that violence is near. When Jewish students at a university here in America have to hide in a library in fear for their lives, you know that violence is near. When Jewish children in Germany are afraid to go to school and parents warn their children not to wear the Star of David in public you know that violence is near. When I post an image of the Israeli flag on Facebook and draw comments like, “Children killer. Hospital bombers” you know that violence is near. When a BBC headline reads, “British Jews are ‘full of fear, like I’ve never seen before’,” you know that violence is near. When Rep. Rashida Tlaib can post a 2024 election warning to President Biden, featuring crowds chanting “From the river to the sea” – meaning, no more State of Israel – you know that violence is near.[ii]

Sadly, at a time when Israel needs true friends like never before, some Christians have imbibed the spirit of the age and are expressing antisemitic rhetoric on YouTube and social media. These misinformed believers are claiming born-again Gentiles are the true Jews, the church is the true Israel, and the Jewish people have no divine right to the land because they rejected Christ. Those who make such statements are both ignorant of the church’s persecution of the Jews throughout history and are grossly misinterpreting Scripture.

Why I Wrote This Article

One of my burdens, and the reason I wrote this article, is this recent rise of Christian antisemitism promoted on the internet. As the familiar saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we fail to learn how and why the church persecuted the Jewish people throughout history, genuine Christ followers will most certainly repeat the sins of Christians from prior generations.

When I watch videos, read articles, and peruse social media posts by true Christians that are expressing antisemitic or semi-antisemitic rhetoric, it grieves my heart. Most who promote such media are unfamiliar with Christian antisemitism throughout church history. If this describes you, I highly recommend Michael Brown’s book Our Hands are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People.

Though giving a detailed explanation of Christian antisemitism throughout church history is beyond the scope of this article, I will quickly summarize it in case you are unfamiliar.

Going all the way back to the formative years of Christianity, there was clear anti-Jewish sentiment in the church. Prominent leaders like John Chrysostom and Tertullian expressed antisemitic attitudes, asserting Christians superiority over the Jewish people and claiming the church has replaced Israel in God’s prophetic agenda. Chrysostom even called the Jews “the slayers of Christ.” According to Chrysostom, the Jewish people as a whole were guilty of deicide. All Jews’ hands were stained with the blood of Jesus Christ. Centuries later, the Nazis reprinted Chrysostom’s sermons to justify the Holocaust.

This type of antisemitic sentiment was perpetuated and institutionalized through various church councils, which grew increasingly antagonistic toward the Jews over many centuries.

During the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, the Jews were persecuted and murdered by those who claimed to be followers of Christ. Years later, even Martin Luther, the famed Reformer who spearheaded the Protestant Reformation, turned against the Jews later in his life. Sadly, Luther’s antisemitic writings were used by Hitler to persuade the Germans of the necessity of his Final Solution for the Jews.

After careful examination, study, and contemplation, I’m convinced Replacement Theology is the root of such Christian antisemitism. That’s why for the remainder of this article I want to:

  1. Briefly describe Replacement Theology;
  2. Carefully examine the New Testament verses that have been frequently misinterpreted, which have given rise to Replacement Theology.

What Is Replacement Theology?

It’s the belief the church has replaced Israel in God’s prophetic agenda. The thinking goes something like this:

Since Israel has rejected her promised Messiah and committed the unpardonable crime of killing God, the Jews have been cast aside forever. The Jewish people are under an eternal curse and their glorious promises have been given exclusively to the church. Thus, the church has replaced Israel.

Let me say this directly: Replacement Theology is a doctrine inspired by demons. It is a belief system born of man’s ignorance and Satan’s extreme hatred for the Jews. Replacement Theology is an instrument of the enemy designed to abort God’s prophetic agenda. If we are going to guard our hearts from antisemitism and properly understand the end times, this diabolical doctrine must be completely rooted out of our hearts and minds.

This doctrine—shaped by centuries of Christian antisemitism, allegorical methods of interpreting the prophetic Scriptures, and an almost two-thousand-year period in which the nation of Israel did not exist—has heavily influenced the twenty-first century church. Until we see the errors of this belief system, we won’t be able to see God’s plans for Israel, the church, and the end of the age clearly.

Having said that, let’s look now at several commonly misinterpreted New Testament passages that have inspired Replacement Theology.

Romans 2:28-29

Paul said, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29).

If you read this verse out of context, it’s easy to see why multitudes of Gentile Christian believe they are true Jews. It sounds like Paul was telling every born-again Christian, Jew and Gentile alike, that they are the real Jews since they have experienced circumcision of the heart by the Spirit.

However, you must realize Paul’s audience in the book of Romans was a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers. In some passages, Paul was clearly speaking exclusively to Jews. In other passages, Paul was undoubtedly speaking directly to Gentiles.

For example, in Romans 2:17, Paul said, “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God.” Here Paul was undoubtedly speaking to Jews not Gentiles. If you closely examine the context of Romans 2:28-29, Paul was plainly addressing his Jewish brethren from 2:17-3:8. I encourage you to reread this passage from this perspective. It will likely change the way you view Romans 2:28-29.

Fast forward several chapters to Romans 11, where Paul stated, “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry” (Rom. 11:12-13, emphasis mine). In these verses, we know with certainty that Paul was speaking to Gentiles. He said so plainly.

Here’s my point: When interpretating the book of Romans, it’s clear Paul was speaking to Jews and Gentiles and you must examine the context to determine whether he was speaking to Jews, Gentiles, or both.

Going back to Romans 2:28-29, Paul was not telling Gentiles, “You are the true Jews because you have experienced circumcision by the Spirit when you were born again.” Not at all. Rather, Paul, who was Jewish, was telling his Jewish audience that a true Jew is not just one outwardly but inwardly. He was telling his Jewish brethren, “Even though you are a physical descendant of Abraham, a true Jew is not just circumcised outwardly in the flesh. A true Jew is also circumcised in their heart by the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.”

Essentially, Paul was telling his Jewish audience that God intended to save all Jews through faith in Jesus the Messiah from the beginning. Paul was exhorting his Jewish readers to be the Jews God originally intended. Not just externally through a circumcision of the flesh, but inwardly by a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of Christ.

Romans 2:28-29 was a family conversation from one Jew to another group of Jews. Consider for a moment a typical family conversation. For example, if my daughter was procrastinating taking out the trash, I might say to her, “C’mon. Get off the couch. Put your phone down right now and take out the trash this very minute.” That’s not rude coming from me, since I am her father, and my daughter knows with certainty that I love her. But if an outsider came into my house and said the same thing, this would be very offensive, both to her and me. Likewise, when Gentiles brashly proclaim, “We are the true Jews because we have been circumcised in our hearts by the Spirit and the ethnic Jews are not true Jews because they don’t believe in Jesus Christ,” this is extremely offensive to Jewish people, and it is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture.

Paul exhorting Jews to become true Jews is like a football coach yelling at a player on his team who is complaining about a minor injury or the intensity of practice. The coach cries out, “C’mon man. Stop whining and be a man.” Of course, the coach is not questioning whether the player is a biological male. Rather, the coach is stressing the importance of resilience, toughness, grit, and perseverance, which are common character traits of masculinity. Similarly, Paul was telling ethnic Jews to be the Jews God always desired them to be by placing their faith in Jesus the Messiah and experiencing a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit.

Jesus made a similar statement to Paul’s when he told Nathenial, “Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47, NASB20). Jesus was not saying all the other Jews in the land of Judah were not Israelites. Rather, Jesus was essentially saying what Paul conveyed in 2:28-29. Natheniel, because there was no deceit in his heart, was a model Israelite in the fullest sense. He was what God intended all Israelites to be. Not merely outwardly, but inwardly.

To be continued . . .

[i] https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/adl-records-dramatic-increase-us-antisemitic-incidents-following-oct-7, referenced on 11/7/2023.

[ii] https://askdrbrown.org/article/wake-up-world-before-jewish-blood-is-shed-in-your-country, referenced on 11/7/2023.

Bryan Kessler