When did you first hear these two words: “replacement theology”?
Those words escaped my hearing for more than 50 years, as did the words that form its official name: “Covenant Theology.” It’s not like I had grown up believing that God’s promises to Israel had been replaced and subsumed by the Church. I didn’t. But only when those words were first spoken to me by another pro-Israel believer, would my eyes begin to be opened to its impact.
Covenant Theology’s effects on the church are immense. Just open any English-language Bible and read its partitions into “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”
I quickly learned that, in the pro-Israel Christian lexicon, the words “replacement theology” are used to separate the Christian world into that which is pro-Israel and that which is not. In the Jewish world I have seen “replacement theology” understandably equated with anti-semitism. Within the pro-Israel community I would begin to hear questions Iike, “Does such-and-such pastor/leader believe in replacement theology?” Another person declares openly, “I do not believe in replacement theology.”
But over time, I began to wonder if the dividing of the Christian world into those who believe in replacement theology, and those who don’t, might be dangerously superficial. Yeshua warned us in Luke 18 about the dangers of creating distinctives in “relative righteousness”. Could we be falling into the trap of essentially praying, “Thank you God, that we are not like those other Christians who believe in replacement theology.”
At some point in my work to help Gidon launch his idea for Root Source, I suddenly realized that the right question was not: “Do I believe in replacement theology?” but rather “Do I have any replacement in my heart towards Jews.” I began to wonder if I would not be better off praying along the lines of Psalms 139:23: “Search me and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts,” and see if there is any replacement in me?
And so, over the next several years, in a series of almost daily phone calls and email interaction with Gidon, the Lord would regularly place His finger on certain motivations in my heart and call them out as replacement. It was like a tap on the shoulder rather than a stunning rebuke. What tasks were I offering to do, and why? What was I afraid might happen in a developing situation at Root Source, and why? Then, somewhere along the way, I happened onto an idea that replacement theology might be a bigger issue than I realized. Perhaps it was not unique to the relationship between Christians and Jews. Perhaps it was endemic to mankind.
I began to see replacement theology in play in many more situations. I saw it present while siblings rival for the affection of their parents, or when a younger sibling wishes he/she were the firstborn. I began to see it present as parents publicly or privately declare one of their children as favorite. We can see it in the workplace as employees look upon other employees or management and consider how different things would be if they were in charge.
I also began to see replacement as not necessarily about replacing someone in their entirety, but rather that replacement is a judgement made about another person. “Judge not that you be not judged,” warned Yeshua in Matthew 7. We can even see hints of replacement (judgment) curled up inside complaints directed towards all manner of people, especially all manner of leaders, and politicians. All that the sin of replacement requires is that we raise ourselves up in our own minds as compared to someone else. In other words, replacement theology begins with pride.
I had been taught as a little Christian boy that the root of all sin is pride. Now some fifty plus years later I began to wonder:
Is it possible that “replacement theology” played a role in the “original sin” in the Garden of Eden?
Golan Heights. (Photo: Sherwood Burton)
I hope you will ponder that one, and then God willing, I hope to write about it next time.
But at this moment, I would like to go back in time even before the Garden and consider with you the coming to earth of the Serpent himself, that which we in Christian teaching refer to as Satan, the Devil, or Lucifer, and propose that replacement theology played a role in that seminal event.
Before the Garden
A large body of Christian teaching interprets Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 as telling the story of Satan/Lucifer as being cast down to the Garden of Eden because of sin:
“12 How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to earth, you who have weakened the nations! 13 But you said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven, I will raise my throne above the stars of God: and I will sit on the mount of assembly, in the recesses of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. 15 Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.” Isaiah 14:12-15 (NASB).
Christian theologians call out the pride in this passage and note how the Serpent subsequently offered to Adam and Eve the very same temptation to which he himself succumbed: to be like God.
A passage in Ezekiel 28 adds additional perspective, now specifically mentioning Eden:
12 You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you:carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold;on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.” Ezekiel 28:12-16 (KJV)
While these passages are well studied, a question I have rarely heard discussed among Christians is what exactly precipitated the fall of Lucifer? These passages are silent on that. Did the desire to challenge God come upon Lucifer suddenly and out of the blue?
I believe that a specific realization precipitated his fall. I believe that he was jealous of mankind. I believe that Lucifer, the most beautiful of all the angels, either heard from God directly about His plan to make the world and mankind, or else he watched on Day Six as God formed man.
(NOTE: The idea that angels could be jealous of mankind is found in Jewish literature, says Gidon. See Shabbat 89a commentary by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, concerning Moses interaction with angels on Mount Sinai.)
Why should the creation of man precipitate Lucifer’s fall from heaven? I believe it was the decision by God to create man in His image. I suggest that this radical new heavenly idea shook Lucifer to his core. He realized that given time, mankind would grow up and multiply, and begin to challenge and even replace his own glorious position in the heavenly hierarchy. For as amazing as Lucifer was, he did not contain God’s essence. That was the destiny and honor of mankind alone.
Lucifer sinned because of his own distorted replacement theology, that would NOT accept God’s choice to order His creation according to His own great plans and purposes. Lucifer thought he was going to be replaced.
How then did Lucifer’s distorted theology play a role in the original sin of mankind?
Let’s take it up next time.