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Reading Israel Out of the Bible

In Bible/Theology, Blogs by Cameron Joyner3 Comments


Away with Israel! Anyone watching today’s news has likely heard these words. It’s the chief demand of the antisemitic protests around the world. Sadly, this sentiment has existed in certain Christian theological circles long before Israel’s current war with Hamas.

Perhaps you’ve wondered, How does Replacement Theology (Supersessionism) allow for self-professed Christians to join the many protests against modern Israel’s existence? How do pro-Palestinian protesters find support from some claiming to be Christians, especially since the Bible is clear about God’s plan to restore Israel to the land?

One primary strategy involves creatively reading Israel out of the Bible. We need to know how this is done to avoid being deceived.

God’s Promise of Israel’s Restoration

Ezekiel 36—37 holds an astonishing prophecy about Israel’s restoration. A plain-sense reading of Ezekiel 36:1–15 produces the following: The Lord vowed that Israel’s enemies will bear their shame, and its desolate land will soon “shoot forth … branches and yield … fruit to My people Israel” (v. 8). Speaking directly to the land and not the people, God is clear that He will multiply the Israelites on this land again with finality. The land will no longer devour men, bereave Israel of its children, bear the reproach of Gentiles, or cause stumbling (vv. 13–15).

He promised to bring Israel back, cleanse it, give it a new, obedient heart, multiply the people, and make its land like Eden.

Transitioning from speaking to the land, Ezekiel 36:16–38 records God’s message to the people. A plain-sense reading of these verses renders the following: Israel’s dispersion will be reversed, not because Israel deserves it, but because God is protecting His Name. He swore to give this land to Abraham and his descendants forever (Genesis 17:8; Ezekiel 47:14); therefore, Israel’s dispersion brings charges of dishonesty against God. He promised to bring Israel back, cleanse it, give it a new, obedient heart, multiply the people, and make its land like Eden. The Gentiles will know that God is the one who restored Israel (v. 36).

In chapter 37, Ezekiel received a vision of dry bones, symbolizing Israel’s restoration. The text plainly states that the bones represent Israel (v. 11). Ezekiel prophesied of a regathered Israel with no Spirit (Hebrew, ruach) [vv. 7–8]. Then, he foretold of the Spirit entering the regathered nation (vv. 9–10). Israel will be one kingdom again (vv. 21–22), unlike the days after King Solomon’s reign. This Kingdom will have a Davidic King, an everlasting covenant of peace, a sanctuary, and, again, the Gentiles will know this is God’s doing. The Replacement Theology debate will be put to rest. 

Twisting Prophecy About Israel

How does one twist a text as clear as Ezekiel 36—37? Consider the strategy of American theologian O. Palmer Robertson, who dares to suggest that what Ezekiel saw was only a shadow, which never fully captured the reality of what God had in mind. Robertson wrote in The Israel of God:

This perspective provides insight into the return to the land as described by Ezekiel and the other prophets. … These writers could only employ images with which they and their hearers were familiar. So they spoke of a return to the geographical land of Israel. Indeed there was a return [post-Babylon] to this land though hardly on the scale prophesied by Ezekiel. But in the context of the realities of the new covenant, this land must be understood in terms of the newly recreated cosmos … in Romans. The whole universe (which is “the land” from a new covenant perspective) groans in travail, waiting for the redemption that will come with the resurrection of the bodies of the redeemed (Romans 8:22–23). The return to paradise in the framework of the new covenant does not involve merely a return to the shadowy forms of the old covenant. It means the rejuvenation of the entire earth. By this renewal of the entire creation, the old covenant’s promise of land finds its new covenant realization.

Crafty. Can anyone seriously claim to know better than Ezekiel, a prophet who heard directly from God? Robertson asserts that Ezekiel couldn’t mean what he said. Ezekiel mentions the house of Israel, and Robertson reinterprets it to mean all who are saved. Ezekiel mentions the land of Israel, and Robertson reinterprets it to all of creation, manipulating Romans 8. This epitome of intellectual arrogance begs theologian Erwin Lutzer’s question in Forsaking Israel: How it Happened and Why it Matters, “If God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?”

Turning the New Testament Against the Old

Note Robertson’s strategy. He used the New Testament to reinterpret the Old. Are we to believe God can’t simultaneously restore all of creation and Israel to its geographic Promised Land?

What Robertson did is part of the same playbook that other Replacement theologians use to read Israel out of biblical prophecy, sometimes in support of the Palestinians today. In What Should We Think About Israel, Paul Wilkinson astutely observed, “Whenever the thorny issue of Bible prophecy is addressed, words such as redefine, reinterpret, and reconstitute are frequently used … arguing that Christ came to redefine and reinterpret the meaning of Israel, people of God, chosen, and Promised Land.”

Even where the New Testament affirms the Old, Israel has been reconstituted by supersessionists.

Meanwhile, even where the New Testament affirms the Old, Israel has been reconstituted by supersessionists. Moses established that Israel would be drawn to repentance with the Tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30–31). Jesus foretells that “after the tribulation … all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels … and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29–31).

Despite this prophecy’s connection to Zechariah 12, Daniel 7, and Deuteronomy 30, Supersessionism considers this a gathering of the church. In this view, the judgment of the nations that follows Israel’s repentance in Matthew 25:31–46 cannot be connected to Joel 3:1–3. They find the Jewish Messiah’s judgment of Gentiles for how Israel has been treated too inconvenient, so they reinterpret the Matthew 25 judgment to be general. 

If we consistently apply a plain-sense, literal, grammatical-historical interpretation to the Bible, we find assurance that God will restore Israel while saving the world. One day, the world will know it is God who keeps Israel (Psalm 121:4).

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About the Author
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Cameron Joyner

Cameron is the Assistant Program Ministries Director for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. He resides with his family in Atlanta, GA. If you would like to learn more or partner with Cameron’s ministry, you can contact him at or call our headquarters at 800-257-7843 and speak with someone in North American Ministries. You can also support his ministry online here.

Comments 3

  1. I have heard all kinds of replacement theology narratives these days. One lately is that after the first chapter of Matthew, there are no more genealogies in the bible. Yet, I read that there is one in Revelation 7 —

    “…And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
    Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
    And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel…” There are even pastors who preach that these tribes are representatives of all Christians. They preach that the seal in this passage is the Holy Spirit.

    Another narrative is that the church is now Israel. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”

  2. A third, new narrative put forth is that Jesus is Israel. That when a person has Jesus, all the promises in the Old Testament are applied to the Christian. This is the passage the replacement theologians use,

    19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.

    20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

    21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; (2 Corinthians 1)

    There is a new spin, also, that has left me bewildered. Tis true that we Gentile believers have been grafted into the olive tree. We are considered the wild branches and the Jews are natural branches. That much, I agree. And it is promoted that Jesus Christ is the olive tree. But to put forth that we are one as Israel because both are in the olive tree negates specific passages of scripture in the bible that pertain to Jewish people. We are one as the church — the ekklesia – the called out ones.

    “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
    For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all
    one in Christ Jesus.
    And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

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