Over the past 2,000 years, among all the various theological errors that have crept into the Christian church, there is no question that replacement theology is one of the most widespread and, I would argue, perverse and vile. Replacement theology essentially holds that because (most) Jews rejected Jesus (Yahshua) as their Messiah, they were thus judged by God in 70 A.D., when their nation and Temple were destroyed. Since that time, replacement theologians argue, God has now replaced Israel with the church, transferring all of his previous promises and purposes from the Jewish people and nation to the entity known as the Christian church.
The fruit of this belief system has been glaringly evident throughout church history. As demonstrated in the book, “Our Hands are Stained With Blood,” by Dr. Michael Brown, replacement theology was among the primary theological and ideological foundations of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of roughly 150,000 Jews from Spain in 1492, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the crusades and, ultimately, the Holocaust.
But replacement theology is not only problematic because of the negative fruit it produces, but also because of the interpretive violence it inflicts onto hundreds of very clear biblical passages. Replacement theology looks to the blessings found throughout the Old Testament promised to Israel and “spiritually” applies them to the church. An open letter issued by Knox Theological Seminary in 2002, entitled, “The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel,” states, “The church of Jesus Christ, [is] the true Israel.” However, when replacement theologians read of any judgment against Israel in the Old Testament, they continue to apply these passages literally to Israel. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Replacement theology denies any future where Jesus will rule the earth from Zion. As the statement words it, “Furthermore, a day should not be anticipated in which Christ’s kingdom will manifest Jewish distinctives, whether by its location in ‘the land,’ by its constituency, or by its ceremonial institutions and practices.”
When conservative Premillennialists look at the hermeneutical violence inflicted on hundreds of passages committed by these replacement theologians, we shudder to imagine how anyone could so radically reinterpret the Bible, often to mean the exact opposite of what it actually says. When they read “Israel” they spiritualize and universalize the term to mean “church.” When they read “Zion” or “Jerusalem,” they allegorize and universalize it to mean the “invisible Kingdom of God.” Virtually everything is reinterpreted into some vague, spiritualized, allegorized or universalized reality.
But what most Premillennialists do not realize is that they are also often guilty of committing the same kind of interpretive violence to hundreds of passages throughout the Scriptures. While Premillennialists interpret passages that speak of Israel as referring to Israel, when they come to other passages that speak of the nations Jesus will judge and war against (Revelation 19:11) when He returns, they often spiritualize these passages to refer to peoples entirely different and disconnected from both the original peoples or their ancient homelands mentioned within the texts. While hundreds of verses could be considered, lets consider just one brief example. In the following passage from the Book of Numbers, Balaam informs Balak, the Moabite king, what the Hebrew Messiah would do to the enemies of Israel in the last days:
“Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days. … ‘I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult. And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, While Israel does valiantly. Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, And destroy the remains of the city.’ Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.’” [Numbers 24:14,17-20]
The prophecy declares what Israel and her king will do in the “latter days”. This phrase (akarayith yawm) in the Hebrew literally means “the last days.” From very early on, Jewish interpreters understood this passage to be a prophecy partially describing King David, but ultimately describing the Messiah. It is certain that this passage did not find its ultimate fulfillment with King David, as far after the time of his death, the prophet Jeremiah repeated Balaam’s prophecy and still placed its fulfillment in the future (Jeremiah 48-49).
But what does the passage say the Messiah will carry out when He returns? Picking up and expanding on the theme that began in Genesis 3:15, where the Messiah is prophesied to someday crush the head of the serpent and his “seed,” the Messiah is now specifically crushing the heads of Moab, Edom, the sons of Sheth and the Amalekites. The ancient Jewish interpretation of “the sons of Sheth” as found in the Jerusalem Targum means “all the sons of the East.” The references to Moab, Edom and the Amalekites all point us to the same general region, to the desert peoples that lived east of Israel who were filled with a deep anti-Semitism and a raging anti-Zionism.
But while most conservative Premillennialists will interpret Israel literally here, when it comes to the enemies described in the passage, they suddenly shift to an allegorical form of “replacement theology.” Instead of pointing us to any specific people or region, instead these names are allegorized and universalized to represent any general, vague or universal enemies of Israel. This hyper-allegorical interpretive approach renders this portion of the passage virtually meaningless. According to this method of interpretation, one could remove the names Moab, Edom and Amalekites, and simply insert “bad guys” and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. But how is this interpretive approach any different than what the replacement theologians have done with Israel? How can otherwise excellent interpreters justify such an inconsistent approach? The answer is that it cannot be justified.
Of course, this is only one example. In my new book, “Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist,” I examine dozens of similar examples throughout the prophets that reveal exactly which nations the Bible emphasizes with regard to the judgments of Jesus when He returns. I also discuss the proper method of interpretation to understand these ancient names according to the most well-respected conservative interpreters. While it is right for conservative Premillennialist interpreters to reject the hyper-allegorical approach of interpreting prophecy where Israel is concerned, it is also high time that we complete the reformation and recognize what the Scriptures say about the return of Christ, particularly as the day of His return draws ever so much closer.