TheologyWeb poster Jezz authored this in response to a Jewish participant who was defending against the bold claims of Christianity that the Church is the Israel of God (the good-intentioned but grievousy wrong theology of dispensationalism notwithstanding). The Jewish participant stated that he was “keeping his own turf. ”
I can understand you feeling that way - you would not be being true to what you believe if you did not feel that way. But I must respectfully disagree. I do not think that the turf is yours to keep - rather, you are trying to usurp ancestory that is not rightfully yours to usurp. I feel this way because I am being true to what I believe.
Deuteronomy 9:10 (NRSV)] - And the LORD gave me the two stone tablets written with the finger of God; on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken to you at the mountain out of the fire on the day of the assembly.
The last word there, which I have emboldened, is translated in the LXX “ekklhsia” (ekklesia) - which is the same word used in the NT for “Church” (because “ekklesia” actually means “assembly”). Thus, we see that the Church is not a NT phenomena cooked up by Christians. It is a very Jewish idea - and the assembly of God in the OT was the true Israel.
In the beginning of the first century, the Church (while more-or-less unified) was not monolithic. There were two main factions in the Church - the Sadducees, who denied resurrection, and the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection (there were also the Zealots and the Essenes, but they weren’t as important for the current story).
Then at around 30 AD we had the first great schism in the Church of God. The schism was primarly from within the party of the Pharisees. Some of the Pharisees came to believe that a certain man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the promised Messiah. Others refused to accept this claim. For forty years, this schism afflicted God’s Church. During this time those who denied that Jesus was the Messiah persecuted those who believed that He was.
Then came the Day of the LORD. Just as it had done in OT times, it came in the form of a foreign army. The army in this case was the Roman army - led by Vespasian and Titus. They destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple - a judgment on the leaders of Israel (ie, the Sanhedrin).
Out of the rubble of Jerusalem two groups of Jews survived - both from the Pharisaical tradition. One of these groups was led by Jochanan ben Zakai, who studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel. With its temple destroyed, this group had to reinterpret the Torah in a way that meant they could worship without the temple. And thus, Rabbinic Judaism was born.
And of course, the other group was led by a bunch of Jews with the title of “apostle” - notably, one Saul of Tarsus, who (like Jochanan ben Zakai) studied under Gamaliel. Unlike the rabbinic sect, this sect did not have the problem of how to handle worship without a temple - they had a temple - the body of Christ, ie the Church of God itself. And this group became known as Messianic Judaism - or, as it is more usually known from its Greek name - Christians. The Christians began to actively proselytise to the Gentiles and accept them into the Church of God.
So you see, the question of “who is the real Church” [ed. note: I think Jezz meant "real Israel"] is not as straightforward as it might at first seem. Both Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism have their roots in Judaism of the first century (specifically, Pharisaical Judaism). Both have principle founders who studied under the same great rabbi. Thus at first glance, there is no reason to suppose one has a greater claim to “the true Israel” than the other.
But dig a little deeper. On whom did God’s judgment fall in 70 AD? Was it the Messianic Jews? Or was it those Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah? It was, of course, the latter. God’s judgment fell on the Temple and the Sanhedrin who were responsible for it. And in judging those who crucified Jesus, God thereby vindicated Jesus and His followers. Thus, His followers were the true assembly of God - the true Israel. Those who rejected Him cut themselves off from Israel. But any time they want back in, they are more than welcome.
Originally posted April 6, 2005