The dominate view of Israel’s role in the “Church age” is that they essentially have no role. They rejected Jesus; Jesus has thus rejected them.
Around six months before my trip to Israel, my wife and I felt like God was leading us to leave the church we were attending. As we spent several weeks attending various congregations, we decided to try out a church where I had family that had been attending for several years. We loved our experience. The congregation worshipped with heart. The pastor taught meat, rather than the fluff that so often comes out of our pulpits. The people were very friendly. It was a great experience.
After the service concluded, we were talking about the church with my family members, when one of them mentioned that the pastor had been teaching some doctrine that was radically different from what they had ever heard before. They called it “covenant theology” and said that it was difficult for them to swallow at first, but upon studying it in detail they agreed that it was correct.
I had never heard that term before, so I asked what was so different about it. They told me that the Old Testament had been completely “fulfilled” in Jesus work on the cross, and that it was essentially unnecessary. They even stated that things like the “Ten Commandments” were no longer applicable. They said that all we needed to understand about Scripture was found in the New Testament.
This obviously didn’t settle well with me. It didn’t pass the “smell test” so to speak. And so in actuality, my Israel trip started right then. I just didn’t know it.
Now let me be clear, the way “covenant theology” was described to me that day was greatly oversimplified and slightly misleading. But what I found was that the end result of this doctrinal belief is basically the same: we live under the “New Covenant”; the “Old Covenant” is over, along with everything that comes with it.
So anyway, I started studying everything I could get my hands on by Biblical scholars who supported this position. I digested their arguments and dug into the Scriptures they used to justify the position.
And what I found was that not only does this belief result in a rejection of anything related to the “Law”, it also rejects Israel. It claims that Israel has been replaced by the New Testament Church. In some extreme cases, it’s argued that the blessings of Israel have been transferred to the Church, while Israel bears all of the curses.
Covenant Theologians love to quote Paul. In their mind, he’s the poster child for this position. But they seem to overlook three very important chapters from his most famous letter: Romans 9-11. It’s like they aren’t even in the Bible. While these three chapters are bursting with counter-arguments to Covenant Theology (also called Replacement Theology or Supercessionism), here are a couple sections that are pretty clear on this issue:
I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people who he foreknew. Romans 11:1-2 ESV
But if some of the branches (Israel) were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot (Gentiles), were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Romans 11:17-21 ESV
These verses blow the replacement of Israel by the Church out of the water. The Church is grafted into Israel, not the replacement for it. Paul states clearly in verse 18 that “…it is not you (the Church) who support the root (Israel), but the root that supports you.”
As far as the work of Jesus nullifying the necessity of the Law, I’ll let Jesus’ own words speak for themselves:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 ESV
The phrase “abolish the Law or the Prophets” was a common Hebrew idiom of Jesus’ day. To “abolish” the Law was to interpret it in a way that leaves it unnecessary or unable to be fulfilled. Jesus is clearly stating that this is not His intention (For further discussion on this see the first article in this series: “The Big, Bad Law”.) And to be sure there wasn’t any ambiguity, Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away before the Law is deemed completed. Last time I checked, that hasn’t happened.
So eventually, we had to stop attending that church. There is not a single place in the Old or New Testament that – when studied in context along with the whole of the Scripture – indicates that this position is valid.