say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you,
and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."
Does Matthew 21:43 Support Replacement Theology?
The common interpretation of this verse is that the kingdom was taken away from Israel because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ, and was given to the Church. Those holding to replacement theology believe that the Church has permanently replaced Israel in God's program. They teach that God is forever finished with Israel as a nation, even though individual Jews can still be saved. According to their doctrine, God has a new Israel today, "the Israel of God," and this new Israel is the Church, made up of believing Gentiles and believing Jews. They believe that Matthew 21:43 strongly supports God replacing Israel with the Church.
Although this is not the correct interpretation of Matthew 21:43, let us assume, for argument's sake, that the Church has replaced Israel in this present age. Dispensationalists would agree that there is a sense in which the Church has replaced Israel today. For example, Israel was once God's witness on this earth (Isaiah 43:10), but today the Church is God's witness on earth (Acts 1:8). Israel today is largely in unbelief (2 Cor. 3:14-16; Rom. 11:20-25), and today God is working through His local assemblies of believers throughout the world. God has not forgotten His covenant promises to Israel, and yet God's program today centers in His Church which He is building (Matt. 16:18) and which will soon be completed (Rom. 11:26; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
However, nowhere does the Bible teach that the Church has permanently replaced Israel in God's program. The fact that Israel will play a major role in God's future kingdom program is taught throughout the Bible. Here is but one example of many: "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Notice that the disciples firmly held the belief that the Lord would restore the kingdom to Israel. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the Lord Jesus to correct them and establish replacement theology once and for all. He could have said, "You are wrong to look for an earthly kingdom where Israel is prominent. You need to realize that the kingdom is here and now. It is a spiritual kingdom that is within you and within the hearts of all those who believe in Me. It's not a future expectancy but it's a present reality. I now rule in your hearts." Or, He could have corrected their concept that Israel was to have a restored kingdom: "You should not expect the kingdom to be restored to Israel. Israel, in unbelief, has rejected Me and crucified Me. Because of this, they have disqualified themselves from ever having the kingdom; their rejection has made them unfit. Instead, believers today have replaced Israel. They have now received what Israel was once promised. The kingdom has been taken from Israel and given to those who are worthy, namely the Church." No, the Lord made no such corrections. The disciples were correct in their understanding of the kingdom. The kingdom would be restored to Israel. They simply needed some help understanding the timing of that event. It would happen in the future at God's appointed time.
Those who say that the kingdom has been given to the Church embrace a "kingdom now" theology. The errors of this theology have been clearly exposed in Andy Wood's book, The Coming Kingdom [Grace Gospel Press].
To identify this second nation as the Church is problematic because the Church is technically not a nation (see Romans 10:19 NKJV, NIV, NASB). Rather, the Church is composed of saved individuals from all nations, or as the hymnwriter says, "Elect from every nation" (Acts 15:14).
Note: Is the Church called a nation? In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter says, "You are...a holy nation." Peter was using language that had been used of Israel in the Old Testament (Exodus 19:6). Also many believe that 1 Peter was written to Jewish believers who had been dispersed from their homeland. We must admit that this "holy nation" is a spiritual entity, a heavenly people who belong totally to the Lord. This is unique, and unlike any other nation on earth. The only other place where it could be argued that the church is referred to as a nation is Romans 10:19, but even in that verse it is said to be "not a nation" (NKJV, Darby's translation, Kelly's translation, NIV, NASB).
As David Cloud points out in his commentary on the Gospels,
Jesus did not say the kingdom of God would be taken from "Israel" but from "you," referring to the people He was addressing. He was addressing "the chief priests and elders of the people" (Mt. 21:23). Verse 45 makes this plain. "And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them."
And yet these rulers represented the Jewish nation, and because of the decisions and actions of these Christ-rejecting rulers, the Messianic kingdom was taken away from the nation as a whole.
The kingdom was taken from Israel, and every Jew understood this kingdom to be the literal, earthly reign of the Messiah in accordance with all the Old Testament prophesies. If this kingdom was then given to the Church, then this would also need to be the literal, earthly reign of the Messiah. The kingdom taken from Israel must be the same kingdom as the one given to the Church. And yet, those believing in replacement theology teach that the kingdom given to the Church is some kind of spiritual kingdom, quite unlike the kingdom the prophets foretold.
Matthew 21:43 is
speaking of two different nations and of two different time periods, and yet
both of these nations are composed of Israelites. The one nation rejected
their King (John 19:15) and the kingdom was taken from them; the other nation
will receive their King just prior to His Second coming and the kingdom will be
given to them. One nation was unbelieving (Rom. 11:20-25), and the other nation
in the future will be believing. One nation refused to repent (Matt. 3:1-8); a
future Jewish nation will repent (Zech. 12:10-12). One Jewish nation rejected
Christ and crucified Him; a future Jewish nation will repent and embrace Christ,
and to them will the kingdom be given.
How can one nation have two totally different characteristics? Here’s an illustration: The German nation today is radically different from the German nation of Hitler’s terrible years. Yet both may be described as the German nation, even though those two German nations are totally different in so many ways. The same could be said of the nation Japan during World War II and the nation Japan of today.
Likewise this can be illustrated by the history of the nation Israel. The nation Israel that passed through the Red Sea and entered the wilderness was not allowed to enter the promised land because of unbelief. However, the nation Israel under Joshua was allowed to enter the promised land. The privilege of entering the promised land was taken away from that Red Sea generation but it was given to the next generation. Both of these generations represented the nation Israel.
So in a similar way, God took away the kingdom from the Jewish nation because of their unbelief and rejection of their King. However, at the right time God will give the kingdom to a future nation Israel who will believe and repent and mourn over what they did to Christ. That nation will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39). Notice the following:
An unbelieving nation to be judged (Matt. 23:38)--"Behold your house is left unto you desolate."
A believing nation to be rewarded (Matt. 23:39)--"For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Both of these nations were comprised of Israelites!
This correct interpretation recognizes that the kingdom was taken away from unbelieving Israel, but this same promised kingdom will be restored to Israel at a future time. This harmonizes with what all the prophets have taught concerning Israel's kingdom and the Messiah sitting on David's throne in Jerusalem (Luke 1:31-33; Isa. 2:1-5; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-8; Jeremiah chapter 31, etc.). Israel still has a wonderful future awaiting them in the plan of God:
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion [Zion] the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:26-29).
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