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18 November 2018

Replacement or Fulfillment Theology

Synopsis:  The types and “shadows” of the old covenant find their substance in the Son, according to the book of Hebrews.

Mountain Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash
Jerry Zhang on Unsplash
Christians who claim that the Old Testament promises find their fulfillment in Jesus are accused of “Replacement Theology” by proponents of certain doctrines like Dispensationalism.

This "blasphemous" act is defined as claiming that the church has “replaced” national Israel in God’s redemptive plan. But does Scripture have anything to say on the issue?

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel who came to fulfill all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-20), a key theme threaded throughout Matthew. In him, the Hebrew Scriptures find their fulfillment (Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 4:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 13:48, 21:4, 26:54, 26:56, 27:9).

In John’s gospel, Jesus is the true Tabernacle in which the unveiled glory of God resides. In him, “grace instead of (anti) grace” has arrived. The Law came through Moses, but “grace and truth came to be in Jesus.” Jesus is the true Temple, not a physical building in Jerusalem (John 1:14-18, 2:19-21).

The time has come when the true worshippers of God no longer worship him in sacred places but instead “in the Spirit and truth” (John4:23-24). Debates about where to locate the Temple or how and when to build it are pointless.

The ancient feasts of Israel, likewise, find their fulfillment and significance in Jesus (John 7:37-39). He is the true “living bread from heaven” that imparts life; not the manna that was given by Moses in the Wilderness (John 6:50-51).

The book of Acts records how on the day when Pentecost was “fully filled up,” God’s Spirit was poured out on all the saints gathered “with one accord” in Jerusalem (sympléroō – Acts 2:1). Peter proclaimed that this was in fulfillment of the promised Spirit predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophets (Acts 2:16-21, Joel 2:28-30).
It was the “promise of the Spirit” given to Jesus upon his exaltation to God’s right hand, which he began to pour out that very day; what was promised became reality through Jesus. 

In Galatians, the Apostle Paul explains that Jesus came to “redeem us from the curse of the Law; having become a curse in our behalf.” This was so “the blessing of Abraham should come to the Gentiles” (Galatians 3:13). The promise was to Abraham and to his “seed,” which is Jesus. The covenant with Abraham always envisioned the inclusion of the Gentiles, which has now been achieved by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The Law was given to Israel to serve as a custodian until the time of fulfillment when the “seed” should arrive. Now that Jesus has arrived, the time of the “custodian” is at an end; he is the “end of the Law for righteousness to all who believe” (Galatians 3:19-25, Romans 10:4).

The Law was an interim stage between initial promise and its fulfillment. Jesus came in “the fullness of time” to redeem the ones under the Law (Galatians 4:4-7), consequently, those who are “in Christ” no longer can be “Jew or Greek; bond or free; male and female.” The old ethnic distinctions have no place in the New Creation inaugurated by Jesus Christ, the “middle wall of partition” has been forever dismantled. So why are some Christians determined to rebuild it?

All who have “put on Christ” are now one in him; “Abraham’s seed and according to promise; heirs.” The definition of the one covenant people of God has forever been altered and in a most profound way (Galatians 3:26-29, Colossians 3:11).

To now return to the observation of “days, months, seasons and years,” let alone to require circumcision, is nothing less than submission to the stoicheion, “the weak and beggarly elemental spirits” that previously tyrannized us (Galatians 4:8-10, 6:12, Romans 14:1-17, Colossians 2:13-17, 2:21-23).

That is regression, replacing the Spirit and liberty with the death-dealing letter of the Law and its accompanying curse (2 Corinthians 3:6-7, Galatians 3:10, 5:1-3).

The letter to the Hebrews declares that God “in many parts and many ways long ago spoke to the fathers in the prophets; upon these last of days he spoke to us in a Son.” Before his arrival, God spoke partially; here a little, there a little. Now He speaks with finality in His Son; His previous word was true but promissory; preparatory but incomplete.

The Son is superior to angels, Moses, and Aaron. His word is superior to the Law given at Sinai by angels. The Son’s priesthood surpasses and supersedes the Levitical priesthood. His sacrifice achieves what no animal sacrifice could in the old Tabernacle. In him, the vastly superior New Covenant has arrived, making the old one obsolete (Hebrews 1:5-14, 2:1-5, 3:1-6, 5:1-10, 8:4-10:18).

The Law was incomplete and not without shortcomings. The fact that a new priesthood was necessary demonstrates the need for a change of law (Hebrews 7:11-12 – “for the priesthood being changed; there is made of necessity a change also of the law”), a setting aside of the former commandment because of “its weakness and unprofitability; for the Law was unable to make anyone complete” (Hebrews 7:18).

Jesus is the “guarantee of a better covenant legislated on better promises.” If the first covenant had been “faultless” there would have been no need for a second (Hebrews 8:1-7).

The Old Covenant constituted “glimpses and shadows of the heavenly realities,” copies or patterns of the heavenly and real things. The Old Regime was made obsolete by the vastly superior covenant established in the Son (Hebrews 8:5, 9:9-10, 9:23-24).

Let no one; therefore; be disqualifying you in eating and in drinking; or in respect of feast or new moon or Sabbath; which are a shadow of the things to come; whereas the substance is of the Christ” (Colossians 2:9-17). To turn from the substance to the shadow is regression, not progress.

All of us were once “dead because of our trespasses and sins…but God being rich in mercy…gave us life together in Christ by grace,” whether Jew or Gentile. Gentiles were previously “separated from Christ; alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise; having no hope and godless in the world; yet now in Christ Jesus we who at one time were afar off have been made nigh by the blood of the Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-13).

Jesus is the promised Seed of Abraham and the Messiah of Israel who has “dismantled the middle wall of partition and in his flesh brought to nothing the law of commandments in decrees; that the two he might create in himself into one man of new mold” (Ephesians 2:14-15).

In him, both believing Jews and Gentiles receive their “introduction in one Spirit to the Father” and therefore are no longer “strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:17-19). They become “one new man.”

The Church is built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets; there being for chief cornerstone Jesus Christ himself; in whom an entire building is being fitly joined together growing into a holy Temple in the Lord…a habitation of God” (Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 6:16).

Members are to keep “the oneness of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace;” for in Christ there is only “one body and one spirit…one Lord; one faith; one baptism; and one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

The one God of Israel is the God of both Jew and Gentile; “who will declare righteous the circumcision on the basis of faith and the uncircumcision through the faith” (Romans 3:29-30).

The Church consists of believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, who are now “resident aliens” and “sojourners” in this world, a people without a national homeland that nonetheless, possess the incorruptible inheritance of salvation to be “revealed in the last ripe time” (1 Peter 1:-6).

This glorious salvation the prophets of the Old Covenant “sought out and searched out,” to whom it was revealed that not to themselves but to us they were announcing these very things (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Christians are the “living stones being built up into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood; to offer spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing unto God through Jesus Christ.”

This honor is to “those who believe” regardless of ethnicity or gender. We are now in Christ “a chosen race; a royal priesthood; a holy nation; a people for a peculiar treasure,” a people that “at one time were a no-people but now are the people of God.” Peter strings together several passages originally applied to Israel, but now to the church of Jesus Christ (e.g., 1 Peter 2:4-10, Exodus 19:5-6).

Jesus established his church to be “a kingdom of priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:6, Exodus 19:6). Christ, the slain Lamb, is worthy because by his blood he “redeemed unto God men out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation; and made them a kingdom and priests unto our God”; a company that is in the process of becoming a “great innumerable multitude from every nation” that will stand before the throne of God and the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).

This theme is found throughout the New Testament and is one of fulfillment in Christ. It is in Christ, not Torah or Israel, that “all the promises of God are; 'Yea!'; and in him; 'Amen!'” God defeated Sin, Satan, and Death not on the altar of the Jerusalem temple, but on Calvary outside of the Temple and the City. The “mystery of God” hidden in past ages has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ, especially in “Christ crucified” (Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:3-5, 1 Corinthians 2:1-9, 2 Corinthians 1:20).

If all this constitutes “Replacement Theology,” so be it. But if the substance of God’s Promises is now available in Jesus Christ, why return to the types and shadows of the old and incomplete revelation?

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