Matthew 21:23-32 by Robert Dean
How does Christianity differ from other world religions? Listen to this lesson to learn that all religions say mankind must do something to gain God’s approval, while Christianity teaches that God, in grace, does everything and man only has to trust in Jesus Christ. Hear how the religious leaders of Israel came into conflict with Jesus and tried to set a trap for Him. Learn that He turned the trap back on them. Also includes seven points on Replacement theology and how it can lead to anti-Semitism.

Judgment on Israel
Matthew 21:23­–32
Matthew Lesson #125
June 26, 2016

Opening Prayer

“Our Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word. Your Word guides and directs us, informs us, it enlightens us as to reality because reality is not what we think it is. It’s what You have decreed it to be, what You created to be. And Your Word enables us to conform to reality.

Father, often reality is not what we would like it to be, but as we learn to think in terms of Your Word, we learn to walk with You and we learn to value what You value and to hope that which is in conformity to Your will. That impacts our prayers, it impacts every area of our life.

Father, as we continue our study today, as we get into an area dealing with issues related to Your plan, your purposes for Israel and understanding things related to what will come after Jesus’ ascension, that is the church, we pray that You can help us to understand these vital truths.

We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”

Slide 2

Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 21. We’re going to be looking at verses 23 down to 32 this morning. It is at this stage that Jesus begins to talk more pointedly about the future judgment that will come upon Israel. As we look at the context here, and as we talk about what happens historically, this is depending on how you organize some things, the second probably the third day of the last week our Lord is on this earth before His crucifixion. We see this increasing tension develop between Jesus and the religious leaders, and it increases in tension and degree of hostility until we get to Matthew 23 where the Lord will pronounce several woes against the religious leaders and conclude with a firm statement about judgment against Israel. That sort of sets a broad context for us. A lot happens during this week, and we’ll try to cover most of it, even some things that aren’t in Matthew in order to put it all together for you.

The last time we saw Jesus perform an action that some people have trouble understanding because it’s a difficult passage to go through, and I worked through some last week, but it is when Jesus judges this fig tree because it doesn’t have any fruit on it.

Slide 3

This is in verse 19 where Matthew writes, “And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow up on you ever again,’ and immediately the fig tree dried up,” withered away the translation reads, which simply means to dry up from the roots up.

As we look at this event, it is not that the Lord just sort of spontaneously gets hungry, and then goes to this tree and there aren’t any figs on it. The Lord never does anything without a purpose and without significance, and everything that He does has some pedagogical value for us, and it did for his disciples.

The fig tree is a symbol often in the Old Testament for Israel, as I pointed out. The fig tree depicted Israel. The abundance of leaves depicts the fact that at a certain time of the year in the spring, with the leaves fully developed, it was reasonable to expect that you would find fruit on the tree. The lack of fruit indicates that there is an appearance of fruitfulness, but there’s no fruit. The significance of this is that the tree pictures Israel as having the appearance of spirituality, but there’s no fruit of genuine or real spirituality.

There was no fruit in Israel, and as a result of the fact that they had given themselves over to the external appearance of spirituality which we call religion, there was no real relationship with God. And because they failed in their purpose, God was going to judge them. That’s the purpose that is depicted there.

What we learn from studying the Scripture is that biblical truth talks about our relationship with God that is based upon grace and not upon religion. It’s based upon God’s provision for us. It is not based upon things that we do. Ritual had a purpose, but the ritual was not there in order to bring people to God, but to teach certain spiritual principles about man’s relationship with God.

Religion, as we usually define it here, is that it is all these systems of thought, whether they’re religion or whether they come under the guise of philosophies, where man does the work and then God accepts it or God blesses it, and God sort of pats people on the head for having the good intentions or doing the right thing.

But biblically speaking, grace means that God does all the work. Man is totally incapable of doing anything. As Isaiah says in Isaiah 66:4, “all of our works of righteousness”, that’s all the best that we have, “is as filthy rags”. It has no value, as far as God is concerned, it doesn’t measure up to His righteousness or His standard. So God must be the One to provide us with righteousness. God must be the One to do the work in order to bring us to Himself. So grace means biblically that God does all the work and man simply accepts it by faith alone.

Now in spirituality, that is the person’s relationship with God after they are justified. In the Church Age we emphasize that this is a supernatural life. It’s based upon the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit, that we can’t fulfill the mandates of the New Testament on our own. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and somehow produce the kind of spirituality that the Scripture emphasizes. We are to walk by means of the Spirit, as Paul says in Galatians 5:16.

That means that first of all, we have to be in a right relationship with God, or we can’t walk with Him. Once we are in that right relationship, which we talk about in terms of fellowship, that when we sin, we confess sin and we’re back in that right relationship, it’s not static. It doesn’t mean that, “Oh, good. I’m in fellowship.” It is an active thing. It is enjoying fellowship. It is walking in fellowship; it’s abiding in Christ. All these other verbs that we use, “walking in the light,” they’re very active concepts.

It involves walking in obedience. Obedience in and of itself or the emphasis on obedience is not legalism. Some people get that idea, but then why do we have all these imperatives, all these commands all through the New Testament, all through the epistles of the New Testament to do all kinds of things and to avoid doing other things? If the presence of commands and prohibitions is legalism, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t do those things in and of our own effort.

This is a problem that you have in the Old Testament. The Old Testament recognized a number of these particular problems as well, and they had to learn to walk with God, not on the basis of ritual, but on the basis of reality. And this was something that was lost in the Second Temple period.

In the Second Temple period, you had this external relationship develop. We had this externalism develop after the Jews came back from captivity in Babylon. They understood that the reason God disciplined them and sent them into captivity was because of idolatry. So in order to prevent slipping into idolatry again, they set up all of these additional commandments called “The Traditions of Men” or “The Traditions of the Fathers.” They set up a number of these traditions, and then they became as authoritative as Scripture. And that is a form of legalism in and of itself.

We had this happen in evangelicalism. It happens in almost any group that I’ve ever been associated with. I’ve seen people who have been so, they have certain ways they want to interpret commands related to not causing others to stumble or not defrauding others sexually or things like that that they will say, “Okay, the way to apply this is that women always need to wear ankle-length dresses, no matter what.”

I saw this applied or heard about this being applied at a church in Mississippi, where even when the teenagers went on a ski trip, and they wore bib overalls to ski in, the girls had to wear an ankle-length dress over the bib overalls.

When I was working with Camp Peniel as a college kid, there were a bunch of kids that came down from the school up in the north, and they weren’t too different from some other fundamentalist schools. The students were not allowed to watch but two or three select TV shows, and they weren’t allowed to go to movies, and they weren’t allowed to do a lot of things. Then they came down to Texas, and they were working at a camp with a lot of grace-oriented counselors who went to movies when they had a night off, and they watched television when they had an opportunity, there weren’t any televisions at camp, but they did different things that in the north was interpreted as at least opening the opportunity to sin, and so it was wrong, but that’s a form of legalism.

This is what was happening with the religious leaders. They had taken their traditions, and they elevated them to the same standard of Scripture. Then the Scripture actually sort of took the backseat in terms of their thinking, and they emphasized these externals and these traditions rather than their personal relationship with God.

This had happened as far back as in the Old Testament as you could go, back to the generation that left Egypt. In fact, we have a couple of passages; one from a much earlier period, 1 Samuel, right in the context of our teaching on Tuesday nights, where Saul had disobeyed God and claimed a religious cover for his disobedience, that he left all these animals alive that he was supposed to kill, so that he could sacrifice to God. So he’s come up with this religious justification.

Slide 4

And Samuel said to him, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” In other words, it’s more important to walk with the Lord and obey Him than it is to follow the rituals.

Hosea in a much later generation, at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, God says, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

This whole concept got lost in the religion of the religious leaders at the time of Jesus. So Jesus is coming into a head-on confrontation with them over religion. He had come to present the Kingdom, the Kingdom had been rejected. That generation had rejected the grace offering of the Kingdom because they held fast to the fact that they wanted to do something to please God, and that needed to be the issue. So Jesus is now announcing judgment on that particular generation.

And we saw that because the Kingdom was not going to arrive, that there would not be a manifestation of Kingdom blessing and Kingdom power in that generation.

I was connecting some left-out dots that are there between the judgment on the fig tree, where Jesus is demonstrating His power and authority as the Son of Man over nature, and telling the disciples later on that they can do this, but this is going to come later. “Whatever things you ask in prayer believing, you will receive”—future tense. This kind of the prayer will characterize their ministry in the Kingdom.

As we move on from that episode, but that sets the stage, the judgment on the fig tree foreshadows these three parables that we’re going to get to starting in verse 28, that talk about the judgment that’s going to come on Israel.

Slide 5

So in verse 23, Jesus comes back to the Temple. In the day before He was progressing, walking from Bethany back to the Temple. That’s when He judged the fig tree, and then we’re told in verse 23, Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’ ”

They’re basically asking two questions: What’s the source of Your authority? By what authority are You doing it, and who gave You this authority? Two things are basically asking the same question.

Slide 6

Now I’ve shown you this visual before, but I want to help you understand the context, the geographical context. This is the Temple. This is a great artist rendition of what the Temple looked like at the time of Jesus. This is just magnificent. It was enormous. The Temple Mount covered nine acres.

There were tens of thousands of people who were going to the Temple every day during this week because it is the week that is immediately preceding Passover. So you have every day more and more pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. If we can trust the numbers of Josephus, there were around 265,000 lambs that were sacrificed on Passover. That could indicate maybe 2.5 million people. Even if that is a gross exaggeration, maybe double, triple, or quadruple, you still have an enormous number of people coming to a city that doesn’t have that large of a population. So you have huge numbers coming up on the Temple Mount.

Slide 7

In one area of the Temple, you have these colonnades, and this is where the moneychangers were that Jesus had thrown out. This is where people would gather, and they would listen to rabbis teach, and so Jesus was teaching. If you look at the text, He’s challenged by the chief priests and the elders as He was teaching, so there’s a large crowd there.

Earlier the text indicated that multitudes were following Him from Jericho to Jerusalem, so we can assume that there is a very large crowd that is meeting there in this outer area called the Courtyard of the Gentiles. As He’s teaching, this large crowd assembled, and we’re told later in verse 26 that the religious leaders feared what might happen if they answer Jesus’ question, because they feared what the crowd would do. There are a lot of people there, maybe several thousand were listening to Jesus. It could’ve been quite full.

So a lot is going on here. And they interrupt Him. They just come in, and it says, As He was teaching. So He is teaching, and they just interrupted Him. They’re challenging His authority because of the things that He has done. He had entered into Jerusalem on the unbroken colt of the donkey, and He had set things up, so it was clear that He was fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 of the Messianic King entering into the Temple. He cleansed the Temple. He healed the lame and the blind. And He did this by His own authority.

Now they’re going to challenge Him as to that particular authority. If we look at the background in Judaism at the time, the idea of authority was something that was transferred through what we would call “ordination.” It was something similar to that.

There would be a ceremony much like our ordination ceremony, where someone who is aspiring to be a pastor has been evaluated, has been questioned, and then he is brought forward, and in a ceremony, the hands of spiritually mature leaders in the congregation and other pastors will lay their hands on them. That is a sign that his spiritual gift is recognized, and he has reached a certain level of maturity and his understanding of the Word where he can be a pastor. He’s recognized as an authority.

Something similar to that took place. The Hebrew word was semikhah, and it was this ordination ceremony for judge or an elder or a Rabbi. So when an individual was ordained and received this laying on of hands, then it granted him the right to make certain decisions, to teach certain things, and to decide points of theological contention in the oral law, which was called The Halacha.

The Halacha was an oral law. In Judaism they believe this went back to the time of Moses, that on Sinai, God gave Moses a written law as well as this oral law, and this oral law was passed down, and they would interpret the Scripture by this oral law. So the oral law, which was not written down, was basically the tradition of the fathers. So if you are going to be a Rabbi, and you’re ordained, you had authority. And if that authority was questioned, then you would be referred back to those who had ordained you, those who’d laid hands on you.

So that’s what they’re asking Jesus, “Who ordained you? Who gave you the authority to do this and by what authority, what rabbinical school have you received this authority?”

It’s very clear from the way they’re challenging Him that they are there to indict Jesus. They’re there to set a trap for Him. They’re there to set up a situation where He will incriminate Himself and make some claim to divine authority.

He knows that they know who He is and what His claims are, and they know what He has claimed. All of this has been very clear for well over a year and a half, now that He’s claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of David, and that He has made these claims to be God. They just want Him now to state this in front of all the multitudes so that they can indict Him. Jesus isn’t going to fall into their trap. He recognizes exactly what’s going on, and He knows what the timetable is, and it’s too soon.

So rather than overtly answering their question in a very sophisticated way, He is going to turn it back on them using their own methodology. That’s what is interesting here is that He listens to what they say, but then uses their own technique.

See, in rabbinical theology and in the rabbinical discourse, what you often have is this question and answer, this point and counterpoint, so that one Rabbi will ask one question, and then it’s countered by another question, and the questions are used to clarify and point the argument in specific directions.

Slide 8

So that’s what Jesus is going to do. He’s going to use their own techniques against them, and He says, “I will ask you one thing, and if you answer it, then I’ll answer your question.

He sets them up here, and He talks about and brings up the issue about John the Baptist. In verse 25 we see the question about the baptism of John. Okay, let’s talk about John.

Jesus has recognized who John is. He knows who John is, that John was His forerunner and the one who came proclaiming the Kingdom. But they rejected John; they rejected John’s message, and they rejected John’s ministry, and so Jesus is going to set them up here.

He says, Where was John’s ministry from? Was it from heaven?” And by that instead of saying from God, He’s using a circumlocution in order to not mention the name of God. This shows respect for God in Jewish thought, and so they’ll often refer to God by some secondary name.

Often today He’s referred to as Hashem, i.e., the name. Instead of pronouncing the name Yahweh, they will pronounce Adoni, Lord, which is not His personal name. So Jesus here uses a circumlocution, “from heaven.”

This is typical in Matthew. Remember, Matthew is the only Gospel that uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” On a couple of occasions, he uses the phrase “kingdom of God,” but in the synoptic Gospels, the other writers use the phrase “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of God,” wherever Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven.” It is simply that Matthew is using Heaven as a way of mentioning God without using the name of God. Remember, he’s writing to a Jewish audience, so he’s not making an issue or doing something that would possibly offend.

He says, Did John get his authority from heaven or from men?

Now that puts them in a quandary and they recognize it. They’re bright. They’re very sharp, and they reasoned among themselves. You see them forming into a huddle and begin to debate this, “Well, how are we going to answer this?” Because as the text summarizes it, “If we say John got his authority from Heaven, then He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ And we’re not going to be able to get away with that because the people will know that we didn’t think John’s authority came from Heaven, so we can’t get away with that.”

Another thing I want you to point out is that they understood what the issue is. The issue for Jesus was belief. The issue wasn’t ritual. They said, “If we say from heaven, He will say to us, ‘Why then didn’t you believe him?’ ” The issue was believing the message of John.

John’s message was repent and the Kingdom of Heaven will come. They were to believe that, that he was a messenger, and he was the forerunner of the Messiah. That was the content of the message at that point in time in Israel, where John the Baptist was ministering.

Now let’s remind ourselves a little bit about John the Baptist. In the last chapter of the Old Testament, in Malachi 4, there’s a prophecy that Elijah will come before the Messiah as the forerunner of the Messiah.

Slide 9

In reference to that, Jesus had said in Matthew 11:14 that if you are willing to receive it, that is if you’re willing to accept the message of John that I am the Messiah, then he is Elijah who is to come. This is one of those hypotheticals.  

It doesn’t mean that he is the reincarnation of Elijah. Malachi 4 wasn’t saying that Elijah was going to be reincarnated before the coming of the Messiah, it was saying that someone would come who had a ministry like Elijah’s. They would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. So Jesus tells them that that if they had accepted the message, then John the Baptist would’ve fulfilled that role as Elijah.

Slide 10

He says the same thing to His disciples in Matthew 17:10–12, as the disciples ask Him saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” The scribes were the interpreters of Scripture. They were the ones who copied Scripture, and so they knew what Malachi taught.

This is why even at the Passover Seder, there is a place set at the table, and there’s a special cup there, and that is Elijah’s cup. The last thing that happens in a Passover meal before they finish and sing the Halal psalm, is that usually one of the children goes and opens the door and looks to see if Elijah is coming. And then, “No, Elijah is not coming this year. Well, next year in Jerusalem,” and then they go on. See, there’s a Messianic message right there, year after year after year, in the Seder.

So Jesus answered the disciples’ question and said, “Indeed Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. Notice it’s a future focus of the verbal tense there.

In verse 12 He says, But I say to you that Elijah has come already,—that’s talking about John the Baptist—and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer their hands.”

What Jesus is saying is John the Baptist would have been that fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy, but because they rejected him, and he was killed, there will be someone else that will come in the future, and this is going to be fulfilled in the ministry of the two witnesses during the Tribulation period.

Slide 8

In verse 25, the chief priests and the elders are reasoning, “Well, if we say from heaven, He’ll say, ‘Why did you not did you not believe him?’ ”

Slide 11

Then in verse 26 they say, But if we say ‘from men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” Notice that they feared the multitude. That’s how they describe this crowd that is surrounding Jesus and listening to His teaching.

Slide 12

And so they answer Jesus in verse 27, and said, “We don’t know.” That’s a safe thing. “We just don’t know. We’re going to bail out on this one and we’ll see if we can come back and catch You some other time.”

And so Jesus said, “Well, then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Now one of the things that’s significant about this particular episode and this situation is the role of these chief priests and elders. The chief priests and elders are mentioned several times in Matthew. They’re mentioned here, but they’re not mentioned again as the group that is opposing Jesus until we get to Matthew 26 and 27. Several times Matthew mentions them. They are the two groups that are primarily responsible for arresting Jesus and all of the events leading up to His crucifixion.

During this intervening period from Matthew 21 through 26, Jesus will also have confrontations with the Pharisees and the Herodians in the last half of Matthew 22, Matthew 22:15–22, you’ll have a confrontation with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23–33, and then you’ll have a confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 22:34–46.

Matthew 22 brings all these different groups together, shows these confrontations, and it is all building to this ultimate rejection and judgment statement of Jesus that will come in Matthew 23.

What’s important here is that in understanding the chief priests and the elders is that they’re responsible for the purity of the Temple worship and the purity of what’s going on on the Temple Mount, and they are the ones that ultimately will come and be sort of the chief instigators of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Jesus is avoiding answering their question because if He answered it straight up, then they would try to arrest Him right there, and it’s too early. So He’s setting this up.

Now this section from Matthew 21:23–27 sets the stage for what comes following it. There are going to be three parables: The Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21:28–32, where we see basically the indictment against the religious leaders; then the second parable is the parable related to the vine dressers, the workers for the vineyard owner, and in that we will see the sentence that is pronounced against the religious leaders; and then the third parable is the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1–14, and this is going to show the final disposition of the religious leaders. It’s important to understand that these three parables are connected together. Jesus is telling what’s going to happen to Israel now as a result of what these religious leaders have done.

The bottom line on looking at these three parables is that they show that this generation that Jesus is talking to is under judgment. It is not talking about Israel as a nation that is going to be permanently replaced by Gentiles. This is a passage, though, that is often used by those who hold to what is called Replacement Theology as a foundation for their particular views that God brought a final judgment against Israel, and that there is no future for ethnic Israel or national Israel in the plan and the purpose of God.

Slide 13

Before we get into those parables, I want to just run through a quick summary introduction of Replacement Theology. To do that, we have to define what Replacement Theology is. When you talk about Replacement Theology and you use the term “replacement,” what that basically means is something is going to replace or substitute for something else. But you have to be careful in terms of thinking about what’s replacing what.

When I was in Israel recently at Yad Vashem, unfortunately, we never had time—we’d get these great lectures, and they would go right up to the buzzer, and then we rarely had time for Q&A. One of the first lectures that we had, I believe it was the first lecture of the Rabbi that we had, defined Replacement Theology as basically Christianity was replacing Judaism. That’s not Replacement Theology. I never got a chance to talk to him or ask him about that. We have to be careful here and define it.

Obviously, Christianity is replacing Judaism, but that’s not Replacement Theology. That is not what has historically been meant by Replacement Theology. So I want to give you three definitions to show that I’m not just making this up. They come from three different scholars, two of whom are somewhat dispensational, one of whom is not. The reason I say that is because a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s just you dispensationalists that are talking about Replacement Theology.” Replacement Theology is criticism of which is not just limited to dispensationalists.

Slide 14

Walt Kaiser, who is past president of Gordon-Conwell Seminary up in the Boston area, has written quite a bit on the Old Testament, he is a respected scholar, dispensational, says, “Replacement Theology declared that the Church, Abraham’s spiritual seed, had replaced national Israel and that it had transcended and fulfilled the terms of the covenant given to Israel, which covenant Israel had lost because of disobedience.”

That’s the idea. Israel had the covenants, but now because they rejected Jesus as Messiah, the church fulfills those covenants. So those covenant promises are transferred to the church, and they will never be given Israel. That’s what Dr. Kaiser is saying.

Slide 15

Ronald Diprose, in a book that was published about 10 years ago, called Israel and the Church, which is a detailed study on Replacement Theology, defines it, “The church completely and permanently—see that word ‘permanently?’ That’s the key word—completely and permanently replaced ethnic Israel in the working out of God’s plan and as a recipient of Old Testament promises to Israel.”

So what essentially happens is that when God promised Abraham a specific piece of real estate that would be bordered by the river of Egypt, which is the Wadi el-Arish, to the Euphrates, and then to the Mediterranean, that that was understood by Abraham to be literal, a literal piece of real estate with those literal boundaries, but because Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah, that now doesn’t mean a literal geophysical piece of real estate; it refers to Heaven.

See, that is sort of a bait-and-switch kind of promise. That fits, though, with the basic ideas in Covenant Theology that you can’t understand the Old Testament unless you interpret it through the New Testament. So nobody in the Old Testament really understood anything that God said. There are some real problems with that.

A non-dispensationalist named Kendall Soulen in a work on all on the church and on Replacement Theology says, “According to this teaching [supersessionism] …” I usually don’t use that term. That means that the church supersedes Israel. The New Testament supersedes, that’s a word that is used almost as much as Replacement Theology. That will expand your vocabulary little bit—According to this teaching, “… God chose the Jewish people after the fall of Adam in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior. After Christ came, however, the special role of the Jewish people came to an end and its place was taken by the church, the new Israel.”

That is the idea; that the church is the new Israel and completely replaced it. The part of the problem with this is that this becomes the seedbed, the soil out of which Christian anti-Semitism comes. It doesn’t necessarily produce anti-Semitism. Just because somebody holds to Replacement Theology doesn’t mean they’re anti-Semitic, but that is the soil historically out of which anti-Semitism has grown.

Replacement Theology was the dominant view of Christianity from the early 3rd century, the 200s, from the early 3rd century until the middle of the 19th century, and it’s grounded on allegorical interpretation.

Slide 17

In the early church, one of the early church fathers was Irenaeus. His dates were 130 to 200. In his work called Against Heresies, which generally is quite good, he says, “For inasmuch as the former—that is the Jews—have rejected the Son of God and cast Him out of the vineyard when they slew Him—that’s what’s coming up in the second parable—when they slew Him, God has justly rejected them and given to the Gentiles outside the vineyard the fruits of its cultivation.” That is very early in the history of Christianity.

Slide 18

Cyprian, who lived around 250 says, “I have endeavored to show that the Jews, according to what had before been foretold, had departed from God, and had lost God’s favour, which had been given them in past time, and had been promised them for the future; while the Christians had succeeded to their place.” So the Christians take the place of Israel.

Slide 19

In another place he wrote, “We Christians, when we pray, say Our Father because He has begun to be ours, and has ceased to be the Father of the Jews, who had forsaken Him.” See there’s a replacement going on here.

So this is what has taken place here.

Now a third point on Replacement Theology is that Augustine of Hippo, whose dates are around 400. He’s the Bishop of Hippo. He originally was premillennial and held to a literal interpretation, but he institutionalized both allegorical interpretation and Replacement Theology within the western church tradition. You don’t call it Roman Catholic yet. That doesn’t really become fully Roman Catholic for another 200 years, but he institutionalizes Amillennialism, allegorical interpretation, and Replacement Theology. He substituted the new Israel of the Christian church for ancient Israel.

This view dominated through the first generation of Protestant reformers. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, all of these initial reformers held to Replacement Theology.

Fourth, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century, as dispensational theology developed, that there was a theological counter to Replacement Theology. So you saw the development in the mid-17th century, in the 1600s, of a more positive view of Israel that came out of Puritan theology in England and in the United States, but those ideas didn’t crystallize into a theological system and dispensationalism until the 19th century.

Then the fifth point is that two events in the 20th century caused many replacement theologians to reject the term. In the last 10 years, even the Pope has come out and said, “We reject Replacement Theology.”

A few years ago I heard the head of a very pro-Israel organization come to the United States. He spoke at a Lutheran church here in town, and when he finished speaking, Bruce Cooper turned to me and said, “That’s the most Replacement Theology anti-Replacement Theology message I’ve ever heard.”

It’s not popular because Replacement Theology is understood by almost everyone to have given birth to the Holocaust. We don’t want to affirm that level of anti-Semitism. We don’t believe in Replacement Theology, but they use the same verses and the same interpretations as Replacement Theology, but they don’t want to be known as believing in Replacement Theology.

You had a lot of different groups. For example, in 1977 the Mennonite European Regional Conference stated, “Jesus came not to destroy the covenant of God with the Jews, but only to affirm it in a manner that would bring the blessing of God’s people to non-Jews.”— I’ve got a whole list of these. I’ll only read one other.

The Texas Conference of Churches in 1982 said, “We reject the position that the covenant between the Jews and God was dissolved with the coming of Christ. Our conviction is grounded in the teaching of Paul in Romans 9 to 11, that God’s gift and call are irrevocable.”

So you have this recognition that Replacement Theology is wrong, but still you have quite a few who are arguing and writing and teaching that Israel is no longer the people of God and never will be again. That’s point number six.

People like, I’ve got a book called The Israel of God, that I did a lot of work through when I was working on my doctorate in Dallas, by Hans Larondelle, where he says, “Israel will no more be the people of God and would be replaced by a people that would accept the Messiah and His message of the Kingdom of God.” But he doesn’t want to really affirm Replacement Theology, but they use the same language. And this is the problem.

So in this seventh point, just a summary, many modern theologians and denominations reject the extremes to which anti-Semitism went, but they still hold to the essence that the church replaced Israel and that there’s no future role for the Jewish people. That’s not what Jesus is saying here.

What Jesus is talking about here is that this generation, because they rejected the message of the Messiah, that this generation He’s speaking to is a nation that is going to come under judgment, and that they will be removed from the land, that will happen in AD 70. He is not saying that God’s promises to the Jewish people have ended or have been abrogated or that there is no future for national ethnic Israel.

Romans 9, 10, 11 makes it clear. Paul says (this is some 20 years after the crucifixion of Christ) that the promises and the covenants are Israel’s. They’re still in effect. So in this section Jesus is only condemning the negative volition, only condemning the hostility of those Jews in that generation.

We’ll come back next time and begin to look at these parables. I don’t have time to get into the first one, even though it’s not that long. We’ll wait and take the first two together next time.

The point that we learn from this is that the issue for each of us, whether it’s then, whether it’s in the Old Testament, or whether it is today, is belief. All through here you have this issue, believe, believe, the chief priests and scribes understood this. “If we say that John came from Heaven, he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe Him?’ ”

At the end of the first parable in Matthew 21:32, Jesus says to them, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” He doesn’t say you didn’t believe, you didn’t change, you didn’t do this, or you do that. He said the issue is you did not believe Him.

But tax collectors and harlots believed Him. It doesn’t say they quit being tax collectors and prostitutes. They probably did, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue is that they believed the message of John the Baptist.

… and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.” We’ll look at the details there, but the issue is believe. This is why John uses that verb over 86 times in the Gospel of John. Believe, believe, believe. He doesn’t qualify it. He doesn’t say genuinely believe, truly believe, sincerely believe, believe and produce fruit in keeping with believe. He doesn’t say that in John. He just says believe. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that you just believe that Jesus died on the Cross for your sins, and you will have eternal life.

Closing Prayer

“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study through these confrontations that take place between Jesus and the religious leaders. It enables us to crystallize our understanding of the key issues. Faith alone in Christ alone. Grace based on the fact that You do everything, and we simply accept it as a free gift, that it is not based on our doing something through ritual or through morality to earn or gain Your favor. We are to trust in You and once we are regenerate, once we are born again, once we are justified, then we are to continue a life of faith, walking by the Spirit, not walking according to our own sin nature, not trying to pull ourselves up our own spiritual bootstraps, but by walking by the Spirit, studying Your Word and implementing it in our thinking and everything that we do.

Father, we pray that we will respond to the challenge of Your Word to walk by faith and not by sight, walk by the Spirit, and that we will continue to press on to spiritual maturity.

We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”