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ISRAEL AND NEW COVENANT FULFILLMENT

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  2 Comments

Does Israel have a special future in which she will rule the world? Or does the Bible’s view of Israel have her coming to full-flower in the Church of Jesus Christ? We have been studying this question and surveying the evidence that supports a transformation of the people of God from geo-political Israel to the universal Christian church

In this post let us note that the new covenant revelation applies Old Testament prophecies to the Church.

In Acts 15 James speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles as a fulfillment of a distinctively Jewish-sounding prophecy in Amos 9:11–12. James sees in the conversion of the Gentiles God’s rebuilding “the tabernacle of David”:

Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. “And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “After these things I will return, / And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, / And I will rebuild its ruins, / And I will restore it, / In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, / And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” / Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. (Acts 15:14–18)

Paul follows James’ practice of seeing Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the conversion of the Gentiles as the new covenant Church grows:

For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, / And I will sing to Thy name.” And again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, / And let all the peoples praise Him.” And again Isaiah says, “There shall come The root of Jesse, / And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, / In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” (Rom 15:8–12)

Here he cites Isaiah 11:10 as prophesying Christ’s kingdom rule over the Gentiles — which is coming to pass in his day and is not delayed until a future millennial period.

We also discover another Old Testament prophecy about the Church in Paul’s use of Hosea 1:9–10 and 2:23. In Romans 9:24–26 Paul interprets these very strong, Jewish-flavored Old Testament verses as referring to Gentile salvation in the Church’s new covenant phase:

even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ / And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.'” / And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ / There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

The dispensational error in this matter is magnified when they try to handle Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “new covenant.” Jeremiah presents the new covenant in strongly Israel-focused terminology: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer 31:31).

Let us see how this fundamentally important new covenant prophecy causes enormous, debilitating difficulties for dispensationalism and their literalistic hermeneutic. We will note also that the New Testament writers easily and often apply Old Testament prophecy to the new covenant Church.

In his seminal work The Basis of the Premillennial Faith Ryrie outlines three leading dispensational views of this basic text: (1) The Jews Only View. This is “the view that the new covenant directly concerns Israel and has no relationship to the Church.” (2) The One Covenant/Two Aspects View: The one “new covenant has two aspects, one which applies to Israel, and one which applies to the church.” (3) The Two New Covenants View. The third is Ryrie’s view, for this actually “distinguishes the new covenant with Israel from the new covenant with the Church. This view finds two new covenants in which the promises to Israel and the promises to the Church are more sharply distinguished even though both new covenants are based on the one sacrifice of Christ.”

In a more recent book, Dispensationalism, Ryrie cautiously maintains his earlier view when referring to 2 Corinthians 3:6–11: “It may indicate that Paul is focusing on a new covenant made with the church. . . . If so, there are two new covenants.” Then he immediately adds: “perhaps even more”! This was the view of Chafer and the earlier Walvoord.

More recently Walvoord argues that some “hold that the covenant is with Israel but that the church derives blessing from the covenant of Israel.” But he immediately notes that this solution does not “solve the problem of how the church can have a New Covenant that is different in its qualifications than the New Covenant with Israel.” Apparently he is rebutting one of his close friends and academic colleagues who served with him at Dallas Theological: J. Dwight Pentecost.

John R. Master illustrates how confused dispensationalism is over this issue, in that he “is a contemporary advocate of a position similar to Darby’s,” arguing that “the new covenant is strictly for Israel in the future messianic kingdom.” We should note, however, that today dispensationalists no longer hold to three views of the new covenant. Unfortunately, though, their system requirements have driven them to hold four views: “there are four major dispensational views of the new covenant.”

Despite the contortions dispensationalists go through to avoid the obvious, Christ clearly inaugurates this new covenant toward the end of his ministry as he establishes the New Testament phase of his Church. Pentecost is quite correct when he writes of Christ’s establishing the Lord’s Supper: “In its historical setting, the disciples who heard the Lord refer to the new covenant . . . would certainly have understood Him to be referring to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31.” What could be more obvious?

In fact, the sudden appearance of the “new covenant” in the New Testament record without qualification or explanation, demands that it refer to Jeremiah’s well-known new covenant (see: Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). Paul even promotes the new covenant as an important aspect of his ministry: God “also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). He is a minister of the new covenant — even though he is the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13; cp. Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17; Rom 1:5; 15:16; Gal 1:16; 2:7; Eph 3:1, 8; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 4:7). He does not say he is a minister of a “second new covenant” or “another new covenant” or “some few aspects of the new covenant.”

Hebrews 8 directly cites Jeremiah’s new covenant in a context in which he is speaking to New Testament Christians. Yet Ryrie argues that “the writer of the Epistle has referred to both new covenants”! Where does the writer of Hebrews even imply two new covenants? Ryrie’s assertion is a system requirement from within dispensationalism, it is not an exegetical conclusion from within Scripture.

Many other passages in the New Testament illustrate how the Church fulfills prophecies regarding Israel. As historic premillennialist Craig Blomberg admits: “the church of Jesus Christ [is] the ultimate fulfillment of many promises to Israel, symbolically depicted as Israel.” Unfortunately for premillennialism though, Blomberg must confess: “recognizing that in some spiritual sense the church does fulfill the role of Old Testament Israel, historic premillennialists live with tension and are criticized by both dispensationalists and amillennialists for their apparently selective approach.” The problem is even more serious within dispensationalism.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

2 responses to ISRAEL AND NEW COVENANT FULFILLMENT

  1. I was hoping that you could refute Ryrie’s assertion that the New Testament uses the words “Church” and “Israel” differently?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. March 19, 2012 at 6:30

      Eric:
      I will post an article on this topic before too long. Thanks for the suggestion.

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