What is Fulfillment Theology?
The Fulfillment Theology is the belief that the Church has replaced ethnic Israel in terms of God’s calling and His promises. Also called Replacement Theology, it is the belief that the Church is the “new Israel”.
So, whenever one reads the Bible and the term “Israel” is mentioned, one simply replaces Israel with the “Church”, whether they realize it or not.
Fulfillment Theology asserts that the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) has been either fulfilled or abolished, thereby severing God’s eternal relationship with the Jewish people. Israel is no longer the witness of God to the nations, Israel is no longer chosen, Israel is no longer necessary.
Do I Believe in God’s Eternal Word?
This is extremely problematic because the Abrahamic Covenant has an eternal status according to Genesis 17:7-8:
“I will establish my covenant between me and you [Abraham] and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
In Jeremiah 29:1-14 we see the LORD encouraging His people that they will not be in exile forever. He reminds them that He will fulfill His promise to them to restore their fortunes. And He will gather them from all the nations and all the places where He has driven them.
“Wait, that verse is not referring to me?”
Like many of us who grew up in the faith, I was taught to memorize Bible verses from an early age. Jeremiah 29:11 was one of my absolute favorites: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
What an incredible promise, right? I memorized it, prayed it, and wrote it at the end of cards to friends and family. But when I innocently applied that verse to my life as a kid, I did not realize I was replacing Israel… with myself.
Context is king in terms of understanding the Word of God. In context, Jeremiah was writing a letter from Jerusalem to the Jewish people who were in exile in Babylon. Verse 11 is the key wherein God tells the exiles that His plans for them are good, and He has a good future in store for them.
One of the most damaging aspects of Replacement or Fulfillment Theology is how Scripture is viewed — especially the prophetic books.
As early as the 2nd century, decisions were made by early Church fathers to begin teaching much of the Old Testament as an allegory. From their point of view, the events of 2nd Century confirmed that God had “obviously” rejected Israel.
They believed – and preached – that God was punishing Israel for “killing Jesus”. That was proven by the Roman destruction the Temple in 70 AD and the final crushing defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD.
But if God was finished with Israel, they needed a way to explain the 2000+ references to Israel in the Bible. The solution? Teach ‘Israel’ as a parable where the people or places don’t have much importance. They merely communicate specific aspects of God.
This began one of the most demonic doctrines in Church history. It allowed, encouraged, and justified Christians to turn a blind eye toward the murderous persecution of the Jewish people over the last 1800 years.
This was not a representation of Yeshua’s heart towards his kinsmen.
The Literal Intent of the Prophets
Today, to continue to believe that God is finished with Israel means to simply ignore modern history.
After all, there are tangible facts from the last 70 years that confirm God’s promises to the Jewish people. The modern wars of Israel are packed with stunning miracles that parallel Old Testament battle accounts.
Fulfillment theology is often still argued — until one visits Israel and finds that the prophets’ actually meant what they said! God will again restore Israel to their land, the land will be cultivated, and the waste cities will be rebuilt. It’s happening right now!
The most repeated promise throughout the Old Testament is that God will return His people to the land that was promised them. Isaiah 27:6 says:
“In the days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and sprout, and they will fill the whole world with fruit.”
And it’s happening — Israel exports 1.5 billion fruit and vegetables annually. Isaiah 35:1 says the desert will bloom. This is happening too, as they export millions of flowers annually from the Negev desert. It sounds poetic, but it’s actually tangible!
I thought there was “neither Jew nor Greek”?
So, how did we get here? The defense of Replacement Theology often stems from a misinformed reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Their reasoning is that in Messiah, Jews and Greeks are now indistinguishable. Better yet, there are now no Jews or Gentiles whatsoever. These labels and their connotations are no longer relevant.
But is this what Paul is claiming? Once again, let’s look at the context. Paul is speaking of the universality of access to salvation through belief in Yeshua for all persons. We have access regardless of gender, ethnicity, or status.
“For in Messiah Yeshua you are all sons of God, through faith… There is neither Jew nor Greek… slave nor free… no male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Galatians 3:26-28).
In context we see that Israel’s unique calling is not in question. (See also Romans 10:9-12, Colossians 3:10-11)
Jesus and His Position
Yeshua (Jesus) actually also taught us a literal interpretation of prophetic scriptures. In Matthew 24:1-2, Yeshua’s disciples came to Him and pointed out the beauty of the Temple. His response was stunning:
“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt 24:2)
Less than 100 years later, this word was literally fulfilled. The roman emperor gave the order to “demolish the entire city and the Temple” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 7.1.1). Jesus’ word of what was to come was literal, not figurative or allegorical.
God did not give us the Scriptures to be confusing or argued over. He gave it to lead us in the right way and not to be taken by surprise. When we take Israel out of the Bible, there are large portions of Scripture that do not have proper context.
When we read God’s Word as it is written, with the nation of Israel and Abraham’s descendants taking a primary role, there is a complete storyline. And the purposes of God in the earth unfold.
Does the Church have promises?
All of this talk about promises that are just for Israel, and verses that are contextually directed to ethnic Israel, can be daunting if it is new information. After all, where does the Church fit into God’s design? Does the Church have promises as well? Doesn’t God love the ‘whole world’?
Yes, yes and yes! The Bible holds many promises for the Church! Jeremiah 29:11 promises a hope and a future for the Jewish people. Likewise, Ephesians 1:18-19 promises hope, a glorious inheritance, and power to all believers:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for those who believe.”
Enough Room for Israel and for the Church
Fulfillment Theology excludes the idea that both Israel and the Church have a unique purpose in God’s plans.
But the glory of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God is displayed to the world when we (Israel and the Church) preserve the beauty of our various callings! In the midst of it, we need a unity that only the Holy Spirit can create.
If the last 70 years have shown us anything, it’s that the Bible IS true and God does keep His promises. The prophetic scriptures regarding Israel may be mysterious, but they are not too hard to understand. Because they are literal.
Today, Israel is showing us what God has plainly described to expect in these days to bring glory to Himself, and for the world to see. For those that are watching, it’s happening exactly as the prophets said.
And Israel and the Church are not meant to replace the other. They are meant to work together. (Romans 11).
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