It seems totally harmless to most Christians. Many pastors who promote it also adhere to the Gospel of grace; they preach Jesus as the only way to Heaven.
The danger that I’m referring to is the belief that God rejected Israel after Jesus’ crucifixion and replaced the nation with the church (referred to as Replacement Theology), which is immensely popular in churches today.
However, not only does this teaching present a false view of our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:11-14), it also undermines the integrity of Scripture and thereby endangers the purity of the Gospel.
Churches with a long history of denying a future restored kingdom for Israel are most often those that today promote Wokeism and proclaim the tenets of cancel culture rather than the saving message of the cross.
In the sections below, I explore three factors that historically led to the false belief that the church is now God’s kingdom on earth. These underpinnings of Replacement Theology remain in place today and help us understand why it’s anything but a harmless teaching.
I encountered anti-Semitism in a prophecy class that I taught several years ago. The man who vigorously opposed my teaching held to a popular variation of Replacement Theology called Preterism, which teaches that Jesus returned to earth in AD 70 and fulfilled most, if not all, of future prophecy in the Bible. It was not until the end of the class that I discovered his hatred of the Jewish people lay at the root of his heretical beliefs.
Anti-Semitism was a key factor in Augustine’s amillennialism, and it also explains why the Reformers did not extend their literal interpretation of God’s Word to passages that teach the future restoration of a kingdom for Israel. Both Calvin and Luther continued the anti-Semitism that had dominated the church during the Dark Ages.
Such racism has historically been one of the three foundations of amillennialism, and the resurgence of this teaching explains, at least in part, the increase of animosity toward the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, even within many churches.
The Biblical Response: God Is Not Finished with Israel
The Promised Land belongs to Israel and to no one else.
Psalm 105:8-11 tells us that God’s covenant with the Patriarchs regarding the Land is an “everlasting covenant.” Although Israel’s enjoyment of the land has always depended upon her obedience to the Lord, He unconditionally promised that the Land would always belong to them. We have not yet reached the end of “everlasting”; God’s covenant of the Land, which He made with the Patriarchs, remains in effect.
Apart from retrofitting the Old Testament prophets behind the pagan veil of allegory, one cannot read the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and other prophets without recognizing the Lord’s clear intention to restore a glorious kingdom to Israel in the future. If the words of Scripture mean what they say, and they do, God will keep all His promises to the descendants of Jacob.
If the words of Scripture mean what they say, and they do, God will keep all His promises to the descendants of Jacob, including that of giving them all the Land He promised to them.
God’s Word is clear: God is not finished with Israel. He will restore a glorious kingdom to the nation just as He promised He would do. Those who deny this must resort to other means to explain away the clear biblical prophecies that support it.
Allegorization of Scripture
The allegorizing of biblical texts is the second of three factors that theologians use to support Replacement Theology. This is the applying of symbolical meanings to prophecies referring to Israel so that they align spiritually with the church and thus make it God’s kingdom.
This practice began with Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who lived during the time of Christ. He admired Greek philosophy, and much to the dismay of Rabbis, he used allegory as a means to make the Old Testament more appealing to the Greeks.
In the second century AD, Clement and Origen adopted Philo’s allegorical approach. Clement (AD 150-215) also “embraced Greek philosophy and maintained that Scripture must be understood allegorically so as not to contradict it.” [i] Origen (AD 185-254) used allegory to make biblical prophecy comply with Plato’s dualism, which stated that only the spiritual, immaterial realm was good. Origen was also a universalist; he believed that God would save everyone. He also believed in reincarnation.
At the beginning of the fifth century AD, a much more capable theologian named Augustine affirmed Origen’s allegorical approach to biblical prophecy and steered the church away from its premillennial footing in favor of amillennialism, the denial of Jesus’ Millennial rule. Thus began the popularity of Replacement Theology in the church.
During the dark ages, theologians extended Augustine’s allegorization of prophetic texts to many passages in the New Testament, which led to the contamination of the doctrine of justification by faith and the purity of the Gospel.
Allegory never remains confined to biblical passages dealing with prophecy; it always spreads. It always leads to further false teaching.
The Biblical Response: Words Matter
Words matter in Scripture.
Notice the words of the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Just as the prophets of old did not speak from their own understanding, in the same way we must not apply our own private “interpretations” to what they wrote; we must let the words speak for themselves.
The Greek word for “spoke” in verse 21 is laleo. According to Trench in his book Synonyms of the New Testament, the “prominent notion” of this verb is “the fact of uttering articulated speech… it is the words uttered, and that these correspond to reasonable thoughts….” [ii]
Biblical prophets, in both the Old and New Testament, expressed truths in words as God moved them through the Holy Spirit (see also 2 Tim. 3:16; Proverbs 2:6). God intended for the words to speak for themselves and not be overlayed with the false interpretations that come through human wisdom.
Yes, the biblical authors used symbolism and figures of speech, but they did so in a way that was clear from a normal understanding of the text. We must not veer from what the authors of biblical prophecy intended to communicate to us at the time they wrote. We are not free to interpret Scripture in a way that does not align with the words on the page, such as many pastors do today, especially with the book of Revelation.
If God’s inspiration of Scripture does not apply to the words, then it becomes susceptible to human wisdom and private interpretations that, in the end, lead to a multitude of errors.
Sola scriptura and the allegorization of God’s Word stand opposed to each other. They cannot coexist.
The practice of allegorizing Scripture began with the purpose of making Greek philosophy compatible with the Old Testament so that it would appeal to the Greeks who valued human wisdom. Origen used it to negate the physical blessings of the millennium so as to comply with the teachings of Plato, who taught that all matter was evil.
Although Augustine claimed to disagree with Plato on most issues, he nevertheless incorporated the philosopher’s unbiblical scheme of reality into his theology. He stated that the Millennium “would not be objectionable” if somehow “the nature of the millennial kingdom was a ‘spiritual one’ rather than a physical one.” [iii] He objected to the thoughts of “carnal banquets,” which he visualized as a part of such a kingdom.[iv]
Augustine’s basis for rejecting Jesus’ thousand-year reign came from Plato, not the Bible.
John Calvin and Martin Luther also viewed the teachings of Plato with a certain fondness.
J. Hutchinson, in his article Calvin’s Plato, cited several of John Calvin’s references to Plato. He summarized his findings with these words, “In conclusion, Calvin makes regular use of Plato’s philosophy both in philosophical and in theological contexts. Far from being mere window-dressing, he often finds in Plato an argumentative ally against his contemporary opponents. Plato was, in other words, a living source of truth for Calvin.” [v]I believe Calvin’s affinity for Plato played a role in his use of allegory to reinterpret biblical promises regarding the future restoration of a kingdom for Israel.
Martin Luther, a former monk who belonged to the Augustinian Order, also did not distance himself from Augustine’s Platonism in regard to future things. Though not as evident as with John Calvin, Luther nevertheless had a high regard for Plato.[vi]
Platonism remains an active force in Christianity. Does this not explain why most pastors only briefly mention the resurrection of believers, if at all, and never refer to the “incorruptible” and glorious bodies we will receive at Jesus’ appearing (1 Corinthians 15:51-55; Philippians 3:20-21)? I believe it’s a factor.
The Biblical Response: God Created the Material World
The Bible absolutely refutes the teachings of Plato. Throughout Genesis 1, God made it abundantly clear that His creation of the material world was “good” in contrast to what the pagan philosopher taught.
Paul wrote these words in 1 Timothy 6:17, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” The Lord intends for us to enjoy the good gifts He gives to us, which certainly includes material benefits and earthly pleasures. The Lord blesses us both spiritually and physically in this life, which is but a foretaste of the kindness He will show to us throughout eternity (Eph. 2:7).
Consider the words of Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; / in your presence there is fullness of joy; / at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Even as I type the words of this verse, I feel the platonic influence on the church suggesting that the meaning of “pleasures” is not really what it says.
If the Lord says we will celebrate with a feast at the marriage supper of the lamb, why would anyone consider that carnal or sinful? That’s beyond ridiculous. Yet that’s precisely the way of thinking that became a key foundation for rejecting a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10, as well as a multitude of verses in the Old Testament that speak to the future restoration of a glorious kingdom for Israel.
The continuing influence of platonic thought can also be seen in the false interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. In order to maintain the church as God’s kingdom on earth, some pastors claim this passage refers to what happens to us at the time of our regeneration rather than at the Rapture. Such a viewpoint contradicts both the context and the Gospel.
The Danger to the Gospel
Churches that deny a future glorious restoration for the nation of Israel set in motion an erosion of the integrity of Scripture that, over time, leads to grievous false teaching.
It may not happen right away, but the allegorical approach to prophetic passages in God’s Word always bleeds into other texts and, over time, always leads to errors that threaten the purity of the Gospel. Count on it.
Places of worship that adhere to Wokeism today, more often than not, have a long history of denying a future glorious kingdom for Israel.
That’s why I say that all such teaching in its various forms represents a clear and present danger to the purity of the Gospel. Not immediately, but it happens without fail, given enough time.
Defending the promised future restoration of a glorious kingdom to Israel is, in essence, a defense of the saving message of Jesus.
I have a couple of books available for purchase.
My newest book is Cancel This! What Today’s Church Can Learn from the Bad Guys of the Bible. In it, I explore what we can learn from less than stellar biblical characters that help us live in today’s cancel culture.
I provide a detailed defense of the Pretribulation viewpoint in: The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times.
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[i] Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), p. 477.
[ii] Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), p. 287).
[iii] Allen, D. Matthew, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology, A paper published on the Bible.org website, Chapter Five
[v] E. J. Hutchinson, in his article Calvin’s Plato, on The Calvinist International website: https://calvinistinternational.com/2017/08/07/calvins-plato/
[vi] See Eric Parker, The Platonism of Martin Luther, on The Calvinist International website: https://calvinistinternational.com/2013/05/20/the-platonism-of-martin-luther/