Reading Dr. Michael Vlach’s Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation is helping me to understand how the view of replacement theology (also known as “supersessionism,” see the introduction post to learn more) was birthed. Albeit it is a complex subject, but not one that is too complex to understand.
JEWISH CHRISTIANS & THE CHURCH OF THE GENTILES
Vlach shares (from a variety of sources) in chapter three that for the first ten years after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, most early converts to Christianity were Jews. In fact, they were labeled “Jewish Christians.”
By the early part of the second century this changed with the Diaspora (the dispersion of the Jews beyond their land of Israel) and the death of the apostles—which led to a new generation of Gentile leaders.
As a result, Christians became known as the “church of the Gentiles” (ecclesia ex gentibus). It was this change that contributed to their questioning of the Jewish nation’s status before God.
THE CHURCH’S PERSPECTIVE
Moreover, there were two destructions of Jerusalem, and both furthered the early church’s view of replacement theology. Vlach describes the two historical events:
In 63 BC, Pompey conquered Jerusalem and brought the city under Roman control. In AD 66, Jewish zealots, who chafed under the authority of Rome, took military action to remove the yoke of Rome from Israel. In AD 70, however, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple.
This second uprising [AD 135] against Rome was led by Bar Kokhba, whom many Jews believed to be the Messiah. Under his leadership hundreds of Jewish villages fought for freedom from the Romans. The revolt, however, was a disaster as more than half a million Jews died.
Some in the Christian church saw both of these destructions as a judgment from God against Israel for their sinful rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Justin (c. 100-165) argued so, as did the writings of Origen (c. 185-254). Later, Tertullian (c. 160-225) allegorically interpreted Gen 25:21-23, specifically using “the older will serve the younger,” as a text to support supersessionism.
Thus, these two destructions, especially the one in AD 135, caused many in the church to believe that God had permanently rejected Israel and that the church was the new Israel.