When we study the Old Testament, we find that God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, (Neh 9:7) and gave him the great promise: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen 22:17 ESV). Do you see a reference to two distinct seeds, one heavenly, “as the stars of the heaven,” and one earthly, “as the sand that is on the seashore”? We see this distinction in seeds also in Genesis 13:16 and 15:5. May we suggest that the earthly seed is Israel and the heavenly seed is the Church?
It is clear that God honored His covenant with Abraham when He said to Israel, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7:7-8 ESV).
To Israel, following many centuries of regression and restoration followed by more regressions and restorations, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, the promised Messiah, the One of Whom the prophet spoke. “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (Matt 2:6 ESV). The Ruler and Shepherd had come but the nation of Israel rejected Him. What happened then to God’s promises to Israel? The prophetic clock stopped! We see this stop clearly when we compare Isaiah 61:1-6 and its quotation by the Lord in Luke 4:18-21. Notice where He closed the Book and rolled up the scroll. He did not read of the day of vengeance of our God nor of the millennial blessings that would follow. Why? He was closing the Book on Israel, not permanently, but for a time. Would the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled? Yes, when He reopens the Book.
Consider now the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:13 – 17:9. Why did He strictly charge His “disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ’? (16:20). It was on account of His having been rejected as the Christ, the Messiah, and so He introduces the Church and the cross. There could be no Church apart from the cross (Eph 2:13-22, 5:2, 24-27). It is interesting that the Lord then, following His prophecy concerning the Church and the cross, gave His disciples a preview of a coming King and kingdom, which Peter later connects unequivocally with the future coming and literal reign on earth of the Lord from Heaven.
Has Israel been replaced by the Church? No! Is Israel’s being set aside a permanent decree in the counsels of God? No! Paul said, “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom 11:25 ESV). Their blindness and hardening is partial and temporary – “until the fullness of the Gentiles be brought in.” The fullness of the Gentiles evidently refers to the blessings of those from the nations in this Church Age who have responded to the message that is being proclaimed in the entire world (Mark 16:15-16; Matt 28:18-20).
Consider also the fig trees in the ministry of the Lord. In Matthew 21:19 we read of a fig tree that, because it bore no fruit, was cursed. Note Young’s Literal Translation: “And having seen a certain fig-tree on the way, He came to it, and found nothing in it except leaves only, and He saith to it, `No more from thee may fruit be to the age;’ and forthwith the fig-tree withered” (Matt 21:19 YLT). Notice again the fig tree in the great prophetic discourse of the Lord Jesus: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near (Matt 24:32 ESV). The fig tree is one of the trees that picture Israel. Do you see it here in its withering and wakening?
There are Bible teachers who teach what is called “replacement theology.” They spiritualize the promises to Israel and say that all the promises to Israel in the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Church and that there is no future for the failing nation. This is a great error. It is not consistent with the character of a covenant-keeping God. It is not consistent with the Word of God. In the very context where the Lord Jesus introduced the Church and the cross, He also introduced the crown (Matt 17:1-9). He will come again and “the Lord will be king over all the earth” (Zech 14:9 ESV).
When we consider Israel, we see that the Church dispensation is really a parenthetical age. God will again fulfill His promises to the nation. After the Church is taken from the earth in the Rapture, (1Thes 4:13-18), the time of Jacob’s Trouble will begin (Jer 30:10). The Great Tribulation will, at its end, see the great armies of the world gathered together against Israel (Rev 16:14). The King of kings and Lord of lords will suddenly appear out of heaven and will deliver the nation of Israel from all her foes. Where is the Church during the tribulation period? In heaven! Paul described the believers in Thessalonica as “waiting for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, our deliverer from the wrath that is coming” (1Thes 1:9-10). Later in that epistle, Paul encouraged the believers in their anticipation of the imminent return of the Lord from heaven and challenged them in their being different than the world when he said, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him” (1Thes 5:8-10 ESV). Again, the salvation referred to is the deliverance, at the rapture, from the Great Tribulation wrath that is about to come upon Israel and the nations.
Do you see the difference?