When it comes to interpreting Scripture, there are a number of common paradigms in use within the evangelical world. Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, Olive Tree Theology, Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Replacement Theology, and Supersessionism are among them.
Some of us fall in between the cracks. For example, I am somewhere between Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, and Olive Tree Theology (developed by Messianic Jew David Stern in Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel).
I am suggesting we need a new, broader term to help make the major division between these viewpoints clear. So I am proposing that those of us who believe that God will fulfill the promises he made to ethnic Israel embrace the clear-cut label, “Fidelity-to-Jacob Theology.” This grouping should include many traditional and progressive dispensationalists, those who embrace olive tree theology, and some others.
This dividing line is an important one and significantly influences how we interpret Scripture. The points of this broad hermeneutic are:
1. The promises God made to Israel (Jacob) will stand.
Since replacement theologians and others sometimes refer to the church as “spiritual Israel” or “the new Israel,” I have chosen the term “Jacob” to emphasize the national and ethnic nature of these promises. God will faithfully keep the promises to the people with whom he made the promises—with the terms understood as they would have been understood at the time. There is no slight of hand, no change of definition, no alterations or added conditions, no “drop-in” coded replacement of words. Instead, God’s promises are completely transparent and God’s integrity certain. Because He is sovereign, even human unbelief cannot inhibit His determinations.
2. The church is viewed within the context of God’s dealings with Israel.
God has been dealing with Israel since the time of Jacob and preparing the way for Israel since the time of Abraham. God has always had His remnant of believers, even within the nation of Israel. There have always been non-Jewish believers in Yahweh. In the church—which was yet future as of Matthew 16:18—Jewish and non-Jewish believers have equal status and privileges before God. Jews are still Jews (Acts 10:28, Acts 21:29, Gal. 2:13), however, and Gentiles are still Gentiles, even though believing Gentiles receive the spiritual benefits of being part of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12). Messianic Jewish believers—who are not “Judaizers”—are “The Israel of God” indeed (Gal. 6:16). Indeed, those who do not see the Jews as a special people with a special destiny cannot really appreciate the contrast in Galatians between the two types of professing Jewish believers.
3. In Old Testament times, it was a remnant of Jews whose hearts were circumcised and thus right with God (Deut. 30:6).
God has always had a people right with Him (the elect) and also people who populated His nation, many of whom were not elect. This same pattern holds true today. In Pre-Pentecost times, some (at times many) Gentiles turned from their sins and trusted the God of Israel. Some became full Jewish converts, many others partial converts and thus not equally privileged. With the initiation of Jesus’ church, the New Covenant was initiated. Under the New Covenant, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are to be collected together as one new man. Whereas unbelieving Israel still has national purposes in the plan of God, they should not be confused with the elect. This has always been true; it is not a New Testament phenomenon. What is distinct, however, is the equal status before God of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. This status is equality before God, not “sameness” in other regards. Just as there is neither male nor female in our relationship to God (Gal. 3:28), there is a distinction within the church and family (1 Tim. 2:9-15).
4. God will restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) in His time.
Right now, Jewish believers and Gentile believers are integrated into one body, the current form of the Kingdom. At the end of the Tribulation period, all Israel will come to believe (Zech. 12:10-13:9) and all will enter the New Covenant.
5. During that 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom, Ezekiel’s temple will be rebuilt, Christ will reign from Jerusalem, and the Jewish people will be exalted
(cf. Zech. 12-14, Ezek. 40ff).
Whether we divide spiritual history into dispensations or label eras as covenants, whether we agree as to when the rapture occurs in relationship to the tribulation, or whether we embrace the idea that a mystery means something not mentioned at all in the Old Testament or mentioned but not clearly—these are not nearly as important to our approach to interpreting Scripture. What is important from an interpretational and theological perspective is that we recognize that God is no swindler, no double-talker. He will keep His fidelity to Jacob.
Jeremiah 31:37 states it clearly: “Thus says the Lord: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.’”