Scripture Must Have Final Say in All Things :: By Jonathan Brentner

Years ago, Johnny Carson often played the role of “Carnac the Magnificent” on the Tonight Show. Ed McMahon would read three unrelated words or phrases to which Carson would reply with a question that put all three together in an unexpected and humorous way. I loved that part of the show.

Thinking far outside the box, how might Carnac have responded to “Roman Catholicism, justification, and Replacement Theology?” I do not have a clever or witty response that ties these three items together. However, I believe that, taken together, they lead us to a deeper understanding of what the Bible says about God’s future restoration of a kingdom for Israel.

Even though I was unaware of such a connection when I wrote my master’s thesis, Roman Catholic Justification in the Light of Scripture, it was the beginning of how the Lord connected the dots for me between Paul’s teaching on justification by faith and God’s promises to restore a kingdom to Israel.

God’s Decree of “Not Guilty” Over Us Can Never Be Reversed. Never!

The word “justification” signifies God’s legal declaration of “not guilty” to all those who call upon the Lord in saving faith. In Paul’s day, the term referred to a verdict of innocence in a courtroom setting. For us, the pronouncement signifies the exchanging of our sins for Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Once God declares the sinner righteous in His sight, that person will receive a glorious eternity (see Romans 8:29-30). Nothing whatsoever can stop the completion of our redemption once He declares us forever “not guilty.” It’s a done deal! God has declared you to be forever “not guilty” of all your sins, even those you have yet to commit.

The Bible also confirms that our justification happens at the moment of our regeneration: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1; see also Titus 3:4-7). What would be the point of Paul assuring us that it’s impossible for anyone or anything to overrule His pronouncement of our righteousness if it had not already happened? (Romans 8:31-39).

Through the research for my thesis, I discovered that the timing of justification became a fundamental difference between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic theologians maintained that God’s justification of the sinner didn’t happen until the time of his or her death. This enabled the church to mandate sacraments through which it alone can administer grace and thereby increase the likelihood of one receiving a favorable verdict at life’s end. The Reformers believed what Scripture said and refused to compromise on this matter.

The notion that we can lose our salvation or walk away from it aligns with the Roman Catholic understanding of justification rather than what Paul wrote about in Romans 4-8. If we are not eternally secure at the moment of our regeneration, then our final justification depends on our behavior or not walking away from our faith, which is Roman Catholicism 101.

How is it possible for “double jeopardy” to exist in God’s court when He knows everything about us, including our future, at the time He declared us forever “not guilty”?

If Our Justification Is Permanent, Then God’s Promises to Israel Must Also Be Eternal

As I was working on my thesis, one of my professors at Talbot Theological Seminary assigned the reading of The Triumph of the Crucified by Erich Sauer. This book soon became instrumental in solidifying my beliefs in Premillennialism, the belief that Jesus will reign over the nations of the earth for a thousand years as the Apostle John tells us He will do (Revelation 20:1-10). The book helped me understand the biblical connection between the unchangeable nature of God’s justification of the sinner and His irrevocable covenant promises to the nation of Israel.

Have you ever wondered why Paul transitioned from asserting the eternal nature of our justification (Romans chapter 8) to spending three chapters explaining why God has not rejected the nation of Israel? The explanation that Erich Sauer gives for the apostle’s reasoning still resonates in my mind:

The question of the Millennial kingdom is, therefore, not only a question of final history but touches at the same time the very heart of the gospel (freedom from law, universality of the gospel, gift by grace). To deny it makes either God a liar in relation to His prophets or Paul a false witness in relation to us. Rom. 9-11 is no mere justifying of God but a justification of Paul’s doctrine of justification.[1]

Please know that I am not saying that all Jewish people will automatically inherit eternal life. In Romans chapters 9-11, Paul declares the unfailing nature of God’s promises to Israel as a nation with the added assurance that many Jews will someday turn to Jesus in saving faith.

I believe the crucial link between justification and God’s restoration of a kingdom to Israel is this: Just as it’s utterly impossible for the Lord to change His mind regarding His declaration of our righteous standing in His sight, so He can never renege on His covenants with the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that God knew all about Israel’s rejection of His Son when He promised a glorious kingdom to the nation. Just as the Lord cannot reverse His declaration of righteousness over us on the basis of what He already knew at that moment, so it’s also impossible for God to renege on His promises to the descendants of Jacob on the basis of what He knew at the time He made the promises to them.

Both our hope of glory and Israel’s anticipation of a still future kingdom rest upon the unalterable nature of God’s Word. To deny either one makes Him far less than trustworthy.

Scripture Must Have the Final Say In All Things

Some might object to my reasoning by stating that the Reformers themselves correctly understood Paul’s teaching regarding justification by faith, and yet they taught Replacement Theology, the belief that the Lord has rejected Israel and replaced the nation with the church, which represents His current kingdom on the earth.

In response, I would say what I have written so far does not depend on the beliefs of Luther and Calvin but rather upon what the Bible says.

Furthermore, church history reveals that the Reformer’s passion for letting God’s Word speak for itself led to a widespread revival of belief that the Lord would restore Israel to the Land.

They taught the finality of God’s Word in all things related to faith and practice through these two principles:

  1. Sola Scripture: The Bible alone must be our sole source for faith and practice.
  2. Scripture interprets Scripture: Because God’s Word does not contradict itself, we must use the clearer passages of Scripture to interpret those that are less so.

During the Dark Ages, Catholic theology pertaining to God’s justification and Replacement Theology rested wholly on human wisdom rather than upon the words of Scripture. Although the Reformers did not apply their own principles of biblical interpretation to future things, those who followed them did.[2]

In his book Dispensationalism Before Darby, Dr. William C. Watson provides a list of twenty-one theologians who, from 1584 to 1675, either asserted a belief in Israel’s restoration of the nation’s future return to the Land or stressed the need to love the Jewish people because they remained God’s chosen race.[3] In his academic trek through church history, the author provides an abundance of quotes from those who espoused a pre-Tribulation appearing of Jesus and His thousand-year reign during both the early centuries of the church as well as during the centuries following the Reformation.

In a recent post, “The Rabbi Who Sparked Israel’s Quest for the Land,” I wrote about how enthusiasm for Israel’s return to the Land swept through England during the early 1600s, less than a hundred years after the Reformation. The Rabbi’s story came from Dr. Watson’s research.

The arguments I used in my thesis to refute the Roman Catholic understanding of justification rested solely upon the inerrant and inspired words of Scripture. If we are to correctly understand what the Bible teaches about future things, we must adopt this same attitude toward its prophetic texts.

Is it not the height of inconsistency to rely upon the words of Scripture regarding our salvation and then retrofit the same inspired words regarding the restoration of Israel with human wisdom? Do they not both come to us through the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit via words that read on the pages of God’s Word?

Replacement Theology Exalts the Church Rather Than Jesus

If there’s one pattern that remains consistent in the Roman Catholic teachings regarding justification and Replacement Theology, it’s the exaltation of the church far above the person of Jesus.

The placement of justification at the end of one’s life makes the church, rather than Jesus, the primary focus of one’s hope of eternal life. The mandating of sacraments as the means of the Catholic Church dispensing grace is just one example of how this errant view of the Gospel exalts the church at the expense of the honor that belongs exclusively to Jesus.

This also happens when pastors proclaim that the church is now God’s kingdom on earth and deny a glorious restoration for Israel in the future.

Those who espouse Replacement Theology tell us that Jesus is now reigning over the nations on earth in fulfillment of the Bible’s numerous assurances that He would someday rule over the nations from Mount Zion (Psalms 2 and 46, for example). Not only does such teaching directly contradict the words of Scripture, but it also greatly demeans the person of our Lord Jesus, as I explain in a recent blog post: “The Claim That Jesus Now Reigns Over the Nations Dishonors Our Savior.”

Today’s most popular variation of Replacement Theology is Dominion Theology, the belief that the church, not Jesus, will inaugurate the Millennium with the Lord returning at its end. In other words, all the kingdom grandeur will go to the church, with Jesus appearing as but an afterthought to the earthly rule established by the church. It’s tragic how many Christians ascribe to such a shameless usurping of Jesus’ glory.

Preterism, the belief that the Second Coming happened in AD 70, sprang directly from competing viewpoints regarding Replacement Theology during the Dark Ages. In response to the Reformers’ identification of the pope as the antichrist, a Jesuit priest named Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613) proposed preterism as an alternative to the protestant belief that the book of Revelation was all about the apostasy of the Catholic church. Not only did Alcazar place Jesus’ return to earth in the past, but he also attributed the words of Revelation 20-22 to the “glories of papal Rome.”[4]

Though today’s preterists do not ascribe honor to papal Rome, they hijack Jesus’ glory by removing Him as the focus of the believer’s hope. I say this based on studying their beliefs and carefully listening to those who claim to be adherents of preterism.

Biblically sound teachings, whether in respect to the Gospel or future things, are those that glorify Jesus and place our hope of eternal life exclusively upon Him.

Our adversary does all he can to usurp the Lord’s grandeur and cause us to focus our hope of eternal life solely upon ourselves. He has done this through Roman Catholic beliefs that place our justification at the time of our death, and Replacement Theology that makes Jesus’ rule over the nations far, far less glorious than what the words of Scripture tell us about it.

The imminent expectation of believers during New Testament times was upon Jesus’ appearing (Philippians 3:20-21). The same is true today.

Note: In Hereafter, It’s Far Better Than You Can Imagine, Terry James and I describe the future glory that awaits us as believers beginning with Jesus’ appearing to take us home. From beginning to end, we emphasize the jubilant joy that awaits us in Heaven. The last chapter contains twenty-seven frequently asked questions and answers pertaining to Heaven and our experience there.

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[1] Erich Sauer, The Triumph of the Redeemed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951). p. 150.

[2] In my article, The Unbiblical Basis of Amillennialism, I provide key reasons why the Reformers failed to apply their own principles regarding finality of the words of Scripture to the matter of Bible prophecy.)

[3] William C. Watson, Dispensationalism Before Darby (Navasota, TX, Lampion House Publishing, 2023), p. 45.

[4] David R. Reagan, The Fallacy of Preterism, a paper published by the According to Prophecy Ministries.