Dispensationalism stresses the fulfillment of prophecies for ethnic Israel that must be fulfilled on a nationalistic level, especially during a 1,000 year reign called the Millennial dispensation. They reject the understanding that the church of Jesus Christ has fulfilled the prophecies and demean the view as “Replacement Theology.” It is argued by Dispensationalists that a literal interpretation of Scripture necessitates that any reference to Israel or the House of David must be fulfilled by an ethnic or physical Israel.
They see God’s work with the Gentile church as only plan B, since Israel rejected its preeminent role before the nations. Their hope is that the world will be finally brought under the rule of Christ during a millennial kingdom when ethnic Israel is converted, all at once, at some point in the future.
What is set out here, against Dispensationalism, is what I would refer to as Fulfillment Theology. There is a complete separation between ethnic Israel and the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but not as a Dispensationalist would see it. It is imperative to understand that the church of the Lord Jesus has completely fulfilled ethnic Israel.
Hence, Paul refers to the fulfillment of Israel by means of a new creation (i.e. Regeneration). It is not by a means of a physical circumcision, which is the basis of ethnic Israel. The fulfillment of the practice of circumcision with the spiritual act of Regeneration, Paul calls the Israel of God.
Galatians 6:15,16 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
The ‘Israel of God’ are all those who ‘walk by this rule’, which is that the true child of God is according to a new creation and that circumcision is nothing.
The church is the fulfillment, not the replacement, of ethnic or Physical Israel. It is not the replacement of Israel because ethnic Israel still exists.
What Then is the Advantage to Being a Jew?
Paul asks this question.
Romans 3:1,2 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
The one gift that was irrevocable was in being entrusted with the oracles of God, namely the word of God. Though they seek to suppress the truth of it they cannot escape from its condemnation of them and to point them to that suffering servant who alone can make atonement for them.
The Miraculous Birth of Ethnic Israel
It was a miracle that Abraham and Sarah had Isaac in their old age. In this sense, every physical descendant of Isaac is a living testimony of that miracle. They are a people, as an ethnicity, that exist to this day as a result of a miraculous birth.
The question is – what does this signify?
It can only signify one of two things.
- Everyone born of physical descent from Isaac is a child of God
- It is symbolic of the fulfillment of who the true child of God will be
The Word of God shows us that it is only the latter of these two options that is true. That is, that the seed of Isaac, the children of God, are those who are according to the Spirit. It cannot mean that all the physical descendants of Isaac, who count themselves Jewish, can make such a claim, simply because there are also all the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, who are also of this miraculous birth.
Through Isaac Your Descendants Will Be Named
This is declared in Genesis 21:12. Isaac’s miraculous birth was intended from the very beginning to signify that the children of God would be born by means of a spiritual birth and that they were not according to the flesh. The fulfillment of the naming of Isaac’s descendants are all those in Christ, not those according to the flesh of Isaac.
The question is: who is Israel, as far as God is concerned? Who are the true descendants of Isaac? To whom do the promises belong?
Paul gives us the answer in Romans.
Romans 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Paul says that the true children of God are ‘the children of the promise’. Isaac’s miraculous physical birth was promised to Abraham and, yet, Paul applies it the Gentile church as the fulfillment of Isaac’s birth.
Galatians 4:28,29 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
Paul teaches us quite plainly that ethnic Israel cannot claim to be a child of God according to the flesh, though they are of Isaac’s miraculous physical birth. Rather, Paul would have us to understand that those who can count themselves the seed of Isaac are those who have that spiritual birth that was portrayed in his physical birth. This is known alone by those who are born again in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
There is only one seed. The seed of Isaac only has its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. If someone is in Christ then they are in Him to whom the promises were given. He is counted a child of the promise and a seed of Isaac. There are no promises left for ethnic Israel, they all belong to Jesus.
The word of God had not failed because what is physical or ethnic Judaism does not equal what God considers to be true Israel.
Paul’s opponents, even his fellow kinsmen, objected to his gospel on the basis of illegitimacy because the Jews did not subject themselves to it. Paul answers this objection by showing from the Scriptures that the children born according to the flesh are not the children of God.
Paul then shows that this has always been the case, in the examples of Ishmael and Esau in contrast to Isaac and Jacob. It was not those born according to the flesh from Abraham that were counted the seed (i.e., descendants) but it was those born of the Spirit, according to promise [Romans 9:6-13].
Paul’s grief for the lost condition of his kinsmen according to the flesh, so long as they remain in unbelief, is because they ‘are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.’ [Romans 9:4,5]
In other words, if anyone should be saved it should be physical Israel. This is Paul’s heart because it is God’s heart for Israel. It has always been the heart of God that the Israel according to the flesh might be saved. [Matthew 23:37-39]
John the Baptist understood that ethnic Israel was nothing according to the flesh. He said to his kinsmen, “…and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” [Matthew 3:9]
But even though they were so very privileged as a nation, as individuals, God could just as well raised up sons of Abraham from stones!
This is confirmed by the following two points:
- Jesus said that the kingdom of God was being taken away from Israel and that their house was being left desolate and that it would no longer bear fruit
- Paul taught that ethnic Israel is a dead end
Jesus said that the kingdom of God was being taken away from Israel and that their house was being left desolate and that it would no longer bear fruit
John 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”
If you are a Dispensationalist, should you not listen to the Lord Jesus Christ? Speaking to the woman of Samaria Jesus said that Jerusalem was to no longer be the place of worship. The Dispensationalist ignores what Jesus has said regarding the Israel according to the flesh and believes that people like this Samaritan woman will have to worship God in Jerusalem during the millennium.
Quoting from Isaiah 5, Jesus states the matter plainly. His enemies knew of whom He was speaking when He said that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them.
Matthew 21:33-46 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
Today, there is a national state of Israel, that as a nation holds to a form of Judaism without Jesus as the state recognized Messiah. They have rejected Jesus, the true heir of the land, and have seized His inheritance! Dispensationalists think that this fulfills prophecy. Jesus says that they have stolen the land from Him.
Matthew 23:38 “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
What does it mean to be desolate? It means to be without fruit and of no use to God.
Matthew 21:18,19 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
Why would Jesus curse this fig tree? It was not an impulsive act due to mere irritation, it was a prophetic judgment upon the house of Israel. It was symbolic of what was soon to happen to physical Israel.
Micah 7:1,2 Woe is me! For I am Like the fruit pickers, like the grape gatherers. There is not a cluster of grapes to eat, Or a first-ripe fig which I crave. The godly person has perished from the land, And there is no upright person among men. All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; Each of them hunts the other with a net.
From the beginning God lamented the want of fruit (i.e. godly people) and throughout Israel’s history the problem is repeated over and over. The cursing of the fig tree (physical Israel) is because it cannot produce godly men, hence the reason why the kingdom of God is being taken away from them and given to a nation that will bear God such fruit.
Paul Taught that Ethnic Israel is a Dead End
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul clearly teaches that ethnic or physical Israel does not lead to salvation. Rather, it is disowned by God. Their only hope is in disowning their ethnicity and in joining Abraham with that faith that he had while uncircumcised [Isaiah 51:2; Romans 4:9-12]
Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.” So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Notice the following:
- There is no hope for ethnic Israel, so long as they remain according to the flesh
- Ethnic Israel is equated to the son of the bondwoman who is disinherited
- The Jerusalem below is destined to slavery
- The Jerusalem above alone is saved and is the Jerusalem that fulfills the promise
- All believers, like Isaac, are the children of promise, which are those who are saved
- Ethnic Israel, those according to the flesh, are cast out!
Dispensationalists teach that at some point the whole nation of Jews will believe in Jesus and be saved. What is wrong with Dispensationalism is that they teach that the hope of ethnic Israel will be realized. That as a nation of ethnic Israel they will obtain the inheritance in God’s Kingdom. They are teaching that Jews, by faith in Jesus, when they all believe together, will obtain the Davidic kingdom over all the earth. This is what Paul is teaching against in Galatians 4. They will not obtain a kingdom that is Jewish!
Jesus said to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” [John 3:1-3] The expression ‘born again’ has particular significance to those born of the seed of Abraham. Their natural physical birth as Jews is meaningless. As Paul asserts in Galatians 4:21-31, those saved, both Jew and Gentile, are the children of promise and they alone obtain the inheritance, the true Jerusalem!
This foundational understanding of the fulfillment of Israel is supported by the following points:
- Understanding what Old Testament prophecies are not yet fulfilled
- The promise to save Israel is fulfilled by the church
- The promise of a New Covenant for Israel is fulfilled by the church
- The purpose of God for physical Israel is always present, never future
- The land
1. Understanding What Old Testament Prophecies Are Not Yet Fulfilled
The Old Testament has numerous prophecies. There are those that are fulfilled within the period of the Old Testament (e.g. such as Israel being sent into exile and her return). There are those that are fulfilled regarding the Lord Jesus Christ that speak about His coming/Incarnation, His suffering, and His work, and the establishment of His kingdom.
These are the Old Testament Prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled:
- Those regarding the final judgment
- Those regarding the final destruction God’s enemies
- Those regarding heaven
Those Prophecies Regarding Heaven
For the sake of brevity, I will only address the latter point. Those prophecies regarding heaven.
The prophecies made in the Old Testament that speak of a wonderful time in the future are all fulfilled in heaven. Dispensationalists assert that are fulfilled in a literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus in Jerusalem over many who will never ultimately be saved.
These passages mention the following:
- Nations will come to the Mountain of God to learn of His ways
- A time of peace – ‘the wolf will dwell with the lamb’
- There will never be war again – ‘they will hammer their swords into plowshares’
- Perfect and complete Dominance of God over all – ‘the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea’
It is recklessly assumed that these prophecies are fulfilled during a literal 1,000 year reign. Rather, the New Testament identifies the fulfillment of these things for us. Furthermore, the literal interpretation of the millennial reign must be taken in its entirety and this will show that it is incorrect.
We are told in the New Testament of the mountain in which these things are fulfilled.
Hebrews 12:18 says ‘For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched….’ Just a few verses later it says, ‘But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem….’
Those who are addressed in Hebrews are told that they have come to a mountain. It is spiritual, not literal. The mountain that fulfills the Old Testament prophecies is the spiritual Mount Zion. The ultimate fulfillment of these things is always heaven. Therefore, we find the following description of a mountain in heaven. This will be realized in eternity literally, but again, notice what the New Testament tells us. It is literally realized in heaven, not during a millennial reign.
Revelation 21:10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….
The prophecy in Isaiah refers to nations coming to the mountain and this is interpreted by Dispensationalists as again occurring during the millennial reign. The Scriptures tell us clearly in the New Testament that it happens in heaven.
Revelation 21:24-26 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it….
Now notice the error in the Dispensational literal interpretation of the millennial kingdom. The prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of a future time in which war will cease must also be taken literally. If it is fulfilled with the millennial reign, what about the mention of war after that period of time? If the Scriptures must be read so literally regarding these things then don’t forget to notice that the swords and spears that were hammered into plowshares and pruning hooks will have to be made into weapons again! [Revelation 20:7-10] Clearly, Isaiah 2:3-4 cannot be fulfilled by the millennial reign.
Dispensationalists say that Ezekiel 40-48 refer to the millennial kingdom and yet again and again we find what is described being specifically fulfilled in heaven.
In Ezekiel 47 water comes flowing from the temple and it increases so proportionately that it must be a fulfillment of the promise that ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea‘ and as it reaches the sea it makes the water become fresh [Ezekiel 47:8].
The fulfillment of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord is in heaven!
Ezekiel 47:12 “By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
Revelation 22:1,2 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Dispensationalists also say that Zechariah 12-14 are also fulfilled in the Millennial kingdom, but we find the Scriptures explain for us that this is regarding Jesus’ kingdom and its fruition is in heaven.
There is the repeating of the phrase ‘In that day’ in which things occur that specifically relate to Jesus work. In that day a fountain is opened…for sin and for impurity [Zechariah 13:1].
In Zechariah 14:4 it speaks of Jesus return in the Second Coming, ‘In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…’ and the outcome are things that we read as being fulfilled in heaven.
Zechariah 14:6-9 In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.
2. The Promise to Save Israel is Fulfilled by the Church
Dispensationalists claim that ethnic or physical Israel are in possession of a promise that says that they are to be saved as a nation at some time in the future. They will assert that in every dispensation people are saved by the same means, according to God’s mercy and grace, but what they are saying regarding Israel is that there is a promise of a nationalistic salvation for every Jew at a special point in time.
This undermines God’s impartiality, for the fulfillment of such a nation being converted all at once could only be obtained if God forces them to be saved. Furthermore, this also fails to answer the need of every generation of Jews.
Romans 11:25-27 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.”
What needs to be understood is that the partial hardening upon all physical Israel is so that they will not believe according to the flesh. It is not a hardening preventing them to believe according to the Spirit [see point 4 below regarding their opportunity being present]. What is important for a Jew is that they see that their privilege, as Jews, merits nothing. Any Jew who did not have this partial hardening would immediately believe in Jesus as a matter of common sense, but that would only be a “believing” or a “faith” according to the flesh.
The period of time for the fulness of the Gentiles to have come in lasts as long as the partial hardening of physical Israel. Just as the Lord did not want Adam to eat of the tree of Life in the garden of Eden after the fall, so the Lord does not want any Jew to eat of Jesus and be saved, while in the flesh or as a Jew who sees himself as a child of God because he is child of Abraham. Hence, the gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews, because if ever any Jew becomes saved he must deny all that he is according to the flesh and believe according to the Spirit [1 Corinthians 1:23].
The fulfillment of ‘so all Israel will be saved’ is not a contradiction of Romans 9:6, which says, ‘But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.’
Notice the same expression is used: ‘all Israel’. It cannot mean all physical Israel! Paul’s whole point in Romans 9-11 is that the word of God has not failed because the salvation of all Israel is fulfilled by the children of promise [Romans 9:8], who are born of the Spirit by faith.
3. The Promise of a New Covenant for Israel is Fulfilled by the Church
Dispensationalists insist that the phrase ‘house of Judah’ is exclusive to ethnic Israel. What then of the promise of a new covenant?
Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
This promise has been exclusively fulfilled by the church. The very promise in Jeremiah is quoted in Hebrews 8. The days have come and most importantly, notice how Hebrews applies it. The new covenant has rendered the first one obsolete.
Hebrew 8:13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
What this means is that there cannot be, ever again, any returning to the former covenant! If there is any future returning to a temple service, to animal sacrifices, to a Levitical Priesthood, it would render void the fulfillment by our Lord Jesus Christ. For how could our Lord’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek be sustained if it no longer fulfills the Levitical order? Furthermore, if our Lord is undermined in His office of High Priest then our hope is lost.
The promise in Jeremiah was made to the house of Judah, but Hebrews exclusively applies it those under the covenant in Christ. As far as God is concerned, the house of Judah is another way of referring to all those in a saving relationship with the Lion of the tribe of Judah! [Revelation 5:5]
4. The Purpose of God for Physical Israel is Always Present, Never Future
Dispensationalists are waiting for God to make good a promise to save all Israel. I have heard one say that it will occur instantaneously just as the nations are surrounding Jerusalem and Jesus returns to execute judgment upon the Gentiles attacking them. In other words, what is necessary is a universal salvation of all Jews at a certain time all at once. Salvation doesn’t work like that. God does not make people believe.
What about all the Jews living and dying since the New Testament was completed, are they hopelessly lost? It is never God’s purpose that some future generation of Jews are saved, but that every generation is saved, presently!
Notice the repeated emphasis on the word ‘now’ is this passage.
Romans 11:28-32 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
As mentioned earlier, Paul has answered the problem of Israel in Romans 9-11, regarding whether or not God’s word has failed since as an ethnicity they are not believing in Jesus. In chapter eleven Paul ends on a positive note which proves that his distress for his kinsmen is presently answered for! God has placed all in disobedience, both Jew and Gentile, for the express purpose of being able to show mercy to all presently! It is not some future hope only to be realized as a nation, but it is now as a present reality for every individual.
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
5. The Land
- belongs to The Lord [Leviticus 25:23]
- Jesus’ enemies recognized that He was the heir and seized His inheritance [Matthew 21:33-46]
- Abraham never received the physical land as an inheritance, nor was it the object of his hope [Hebrews 11:8-10]
- Moses did not enter into the physical land but into the true inheritance [Deuteronomy 34:1-5]
- the disciples in Acts sold their property permanently, which was prohibited in the Law, because they knew the inheritance of the land was ended [Leviticus 25:23; Acts 2:45]
- The fulfillment of ‘the Land’ is heaven and therefore there can be no fulfillment for physical or spiritual Israel regarding a physical land
2 Peter 3:7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
If the land is a gift to Physical Israel then why destroy it?!