Dr. Michael Brown and I debated the topic of Replacement Theology about five years ago. He agreed with my argument that the church/ekklēsia is not a new concept in the New Testament. The use of the Greek word ekklēsia, unfortunately translated “church” instead of “assembly” or “congregation,” was not a new word in the New Testament. It was common in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Again, Dr. Brown agrees with me on these points. Jews made up the first church/ekklēsia (Acts 5:11). Jerusalem (8:1-3) was the location of the first church/ekklēsia. Israela was the church/ekklēsia in the New Testament!

Dr. Brown argues, however, that there is a newness about the NT ekklēsia. I agree. The newness is that Gentile believers were grafted into the existing Israel olive tree (church/ekklēsia) and received the same blessings because “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek” in Christ (Rom. 10:12). There aren’t two trees. There aren’t two redemptive men because Jesus abolished “in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new manthus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:15). It was this truth that the Judaizers despised. Notice that there are no exceptions on the breaking down of the dividing wall. There are no special dispensations for Israel over Gentile believers.

Our disagreement continues because I believe the New Testament teaches that all the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled. The land promises were fulfilled ages ago (Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Kings 4:21). Israel was displaced for 70 years and was brought back to the land as promised, but this was before the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.

While Dr. Brown does not believe in a pre-trib rapture, his views of Israel’s prophetic future are similar to those who do, that is, Israel will suffer another bloody holocaust before God finally saves “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) and permanently returns their land to them. He does not address this future holocaust issue in his apologetic for the future Israel. He didn’t address it in our past debate or in his response article even though it is fundamental to his position. Here are two additional examples that I quoted in a previous article of what awaits Israel in Dr. Brown’s version of fulfilling the physical promises made to Israel again

• This [Zech. 13:9] seems to suggest that only one-third of the Jewish people will survive the great tribulation. If this is the case, no wonder these years are called the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), and why Jesus said the great tribulation will be the most horrific time in human history (Matthew 24:21). — David Guzik

• [Based on Zech. 13:9] [e]vidently two-thirds of the Jews, the unbelieving, will perish during the Tribulation, and one-third will live through it and enter the Millennium. — Thomas L. Constable  

• Again we are given details of the final days [in Zech. 13:9]. Two thirds of the Jews will be killed, but the third that is left will cry out to their Messiah and be saved. — Ron Daniel

What Dr. Brown and other futurists fail to recognize is that the Great Tribulation occurred in the lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 when God warned that generation and showed how they could escape it (Matt. 24:14-20). See my book Wars and Rumors of Wars.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A mountain of scholarship shows that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail when He said it would: before the generation of those to whom He was speaking passed away. Skeptics read the Olivet Discourse in the right way, but come to the wrong conclusion. Christian futurists read it the wrong way and come to a different wrong conclusion.

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Here’s are some questions: Does the Bible require that every physical promise made to Israel must be fulfilled in a physical way? What does the New Testament mean by “the redemption of Jerusalem” and “Israel”? Was this redemption postponed because of unbelief? Consider these passages:

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25).

He goes on to prophesy:

For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all the peoples:
A light for revelation for the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.

Notice, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” Jesus was that salvation Jesus. There was no discussion of the land. The land was a type of the world (“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation," Mark 16:15) in the same way that animal sacrifices, the temple, the tabernacle, and the priesthood were types of Jesus. All these physical elements pointed to Jesus. There was no call from Jesus for the physical regathering of Jews to the land of Israel from around the world.

Soon after, we find this from Anna “the prophetess”:

At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God and continued to speak of Him [Jesus] to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

Jesus was the embodiment of the redemption. Kim Burgess writes: “The redemption or the consolation of Israel was to have nothing to do with Old Covenant Israel as a national or political/civil form or entity just as the New Jerusalem would have nothing at all to do with the material/physical, visible, and geographically limited city of Old Covenant Jerusalem.”

Here’s what Michael Brown said about this argument:

[Gary DeMar] even claimed in our 2015 debate that, when the Lord said through His prophets that He would scatter Israel in judgment and regather Israel in mercy (for example, Jer. 31:10), the scattering was physical but the regathering spiritual. What a mockery of the plain sense of the Scriptures.

Under the Old Covenant, God did gather physical Israel in mercy. He brought the Jews back to their land as He promised He would (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). The physical temple was rebuilt, the earthly physical priesthood was reestablished (“a priest named Zechariah, of the course of Abia”: Luke 1:5), and Israel was reinstated as a covenant nation. But these actions were before Jesus came. These promised fulfillments were required for Jesus to be born “under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). Moreover, the regathering of Israel to Jesus was taking place in that Apostolic generation (Acts 2:5, 39). God, through the Holy Spirit, took the gospel to Jews “dispersed abroad,” as James and Peter put it (James 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). There was no Israelite migration in the Apostolic era back to Israel. There was no call for the Jews to return. They would have been free to do so, but no New Testament book called on them to do so based on some unfulfilled prophecy. The gospel was taken to where Jews were living. Paul was not a missionary to relocate the Jews to Israel. He was not, in modern-day parlance, a Zionist.

The New Birth is Spiritual, not physical (John 3:1-15). Dr. Brown is a modern-day Nicodemus when he insists that the promises made to Israel must be fulfilled again in a physical way. The water Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman was not physical, it was Spiritual (4:7-20). Then there’s this:

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and yet you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.” Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am He, the One speaking to you.” (John 4:20-26)

Like Dr. Brown, the Jews of Jesus’ day saw everything in physical terms. Jesus told them that He was “the living bread,” and “anyone who eats of this bread … shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (6:51). The Jews could not shake the physical meaning (v. 52). “Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves’” (v. 54). To put a fine point on it, Jesus ends with this: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (v. 63). These themes are covered in Kim Burgess’s book The Hope of Israel and the Nations.

The Hope of Israel and the Nations

The Hope of Israel and the Nations

The reader and student of the Bible must first understand the content of the New Testament writings in terms of how those in the first century would have understood it. The New Testament is written against the background of the Old Testament. The shadows of the Old were fulfilled in the reality of the New. All the rituals and ceremonies were fulfilled in Jesus. The same is true of the temple, land, blood sacrifices, the nature of redemption, the resurrection of the dead, the breaking down of the dividing wall dividing Jews and Gentiles, and so much more. The New Testament's emphasis is on the finished work of Jesus and its application, not only to that Apostolic generation but to the world today.

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Jesus was the personal and physical fulfillment of the temple (John 2). Jesus was the personal and physical fulfillment of the blood sacrifices (“the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”), He was the physical embodiment of the red heifer (Heb. 9:13-14).

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Jesus was the fulfillment of their “place and nation” (John 11:47-53). The chief priests and Pharisees understood the implications of who Jesus claimed to be. They were the antichrists of that generation (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7), the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). They wanted an earthly political Messiah with physical Israel to be the center of the world with physical Jerusalem as its capital.

Like dispensationalists, Dr. Brown is awaiting Israel’s purge through the Great Tribulation when only a third of Israel remains after the antichrist has his way with the Jews. According to Dr. Brown, it’s that surviving remnant that will finally receive all the physical promises that were made to Israel. According to Paul, those who made up the “remnant” were alive in Paul’s day, and Paul was one of them (Rom. 11:1). Like Elijah (vv. 2-4), “there has also come to be at the present time [Paul’s time] a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (v. 5). God “had not rejected His people” then, and He has not rejected them now. The believing Jews in Paul’s day were saved the same way the Gentiles were saved, and that has never changed. Jews and Gentiles past, present, and future must be “born again,” or “born from above.” That’s where the true Zion and true Jerusalem are.

If the physical principle is followed consistently, it would overturn the New Testament teaching which states, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29).

The author of Hebrews made it clear, “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). Is he referring to physical Jerusalem sometime in the future? Not according to what he wrote in the previous chapter:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church [ekklēsia] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (12:22-24).

The shadows of the Old Covenant were fading in that Apostolic generation: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). The Greek word is ἐγγὺς/engus, “near to disappear.” Near then not near now. The light of the New Covenant shown all around so that there are no longer any shadows of the Old Covenant:

• For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things about to come [μελλόντων/*mellontōn*]* and* not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near (Heb 10:1).[1]

• Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to [μέλλων] erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things BY THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN TO YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, to the extent that He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises (8:5-6).

• Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a shadow of what is about to [μελλόντων/mellontōn] come; but the substance belongs to Christ (Col. 2:16-17).

Remember what Dr. Brown wrote: “the scattering was physical but the regathering spiritual. What a mockery of the plain sense of the Scriptures.” Does this apply to physical Jerusalem when Hebrews refers to “heavenly Jerusalem”? The land was a shadow. “The substance belongs to Christ.”

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:9-13).

What about this? “You … accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34; cf. Acts 8:1-3; 11:19-24). Jacob was “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Physical Jerusalem does not have any redemptive foundations. It was a place holder for “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22)—the true substance of redemption.

Let’s not forget Galatians 4:21-26.

This is speaking allegorically, for these women are two covenants: one coming from Mount Sinai giving birth to children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. But the Jerusalem above is freeshe is our mother.

Could the Bible be any clearer? It’s no wonder that nothing is said in the New Testament about Jews returning to the physical city of Jerusalem or the land of Israel, or to a rebuilt temple or to a red heifer to fulfill Bible prophecy again. It wasn’t an issue. It was “near to disappear” (Heb. 8:13), and no prophetic Houdini can or should bring it back.

For further study, see the following books:

The Hope of Israel and the Nations

Matthew 24 Fulfilled

Matthew 23-25

The Destruction of Jerusalem

The Great Tribulation

Is Jesus Coming Soon?

Last Days Madness

Ten Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered

The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance

The Destruction of Jerusalem, the Mysterious Language of St. Paul’s Description of the Man of Sin, and the Day of the Lord

Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers

Jesus v. Jerusalem

Prophecy Wars

Revelation and the First Century

The Great Tribulation

The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition on the Book of Revelation

Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion

[1] “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming…The author of Hebrews employs the term shadow in the sense of an indicator of ‘the good things that are coming.’ The wording is similar to that of 9:11, ‘the good things that are already here.’ (Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), 272. “‘For the law, having (only) a shadow of the good things about to come’… ‘A shadow (and no more) of the good things about to come’ makes these coming things the great realities, which are so near as to cast their shadow by means of what the law about the Jewish sacrifices contains.…‘The good things about to come’ are the same as those mentioned in 9:11.…’” Richard R.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament) (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 322.