(from “Defending Dispensationalism”) by Mark Graeser, John Schoenheit and John Lynn
- A “covenant” is a solemn promise binding two parties in an agreement. In certain biblical covenants like the “New” Covenant, God binds Himself unconditionally by His love and grace to perform specific promises to specific people (Israel). These promises cannot be disannulled, and neither can they be “fulfilled” only in part; they must at some point be fulfilled completely or God’s righteousness would be compromised, and He found to be a liar. If the Church cannot “fulfill” the New Covenant, then it must be in a different relationship with God, (we are “in Christ/ in the Lord” and Israel cannot claim this relationship).
2. The covenant was made with Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, and with them as a specific nation. Since the Church is neither Jews nor Gentiles (a “nation”), how can the Church fulfill this covenant?
- Since the Abrahamic covenant promises Israel a permanent existence as a nation (with a physical country), then the Church is not fulfilling Israel’s promises, nor is it “the New Israel” (or literally “the Israel of God”). The New Covenant properly belongs to the restoration of Israel as a glorious nation that is filled with a knowledge of God as “the waters fill the seas.”
- Because the Abrahamic covenant promises her permanent possession of the Promised Land, Israel must still come into possession of the land, which she has never fully possessed in her history, according to the precise specifications of that covenant. Old Testament prophecies confirm that Israel will have full possession of the land of Israel in the future, and Ezekiel 48 even describes which tribe will get which part of the land. In contrast, the Christian Church will never possess the land of Israel, and it has no “tribes,” so it cannot fulfill the prophecies of Ezekiel.
- The “New” Covenant is made with the same people as the “Old” Covenant, namely Israel.
- There is a distinction among personal promises to Abraham, national promises to Abraham’s seed and universal promises to “all the families of the earth.” The national promises can be fulfilled only by the nation itself. The language of the New Covenant is quite specifically directed to national Israel (Jer. 31:31-33).
- The Gospel of Christ is not a covenant, but the revelation of the salvation of God to all men.
- All the blessings that come to the Church today are based upon the blood of Christ, which was necessarily shed to make possible the New Covenant, according to Jeremiah 31. But just because the Church partakes of the blessings of the shedding of Christ’s blood (shed for the propitiation of the sins of the whole world –1 John 2:2) it does not mean that the Church therefore fulfills the New Covenant. The shed blood of Christ was a necessary condition for the formation of the Church, but was not sufficient for the fulfillment of the covenant. There is still the matter of land, material blessings, rest, Christ’s reign, a new heart for Israel, and so on, that were promised as a part of the New Covenant and have not yet been fulfilled. That’s why Hebrews 7: 22 says, “Jesus has become the guarantee (“surety”) of a better covenant”.
- Although we do not have the covenant made with us, we can have some of its blessings ministered to us, as well as be ministers of some of its blessings. This is the same principle as Peter’s Acts 2 citation of Joel 2:28-32 in reference to the giving of holy spirit on the day of Pentecost, a prophecy that actually refers to the still future “day of the Lord .” Peter had not been introduced to the truths of the “dispensation of the Secret” (Ephesians 3: 8) Although Peter did not then know the “secret,” his reference to Joel was relevant because each Christian now partakes of the holy spirit aspect of the future New Covenant with Israel. To me this is prevarication with the plain reading of the text. Peter absolutely DID NOT KNOW what he was talking about. Paul, in Romans 8:23 clears it up by saying we have the “firstfruits of the spirit”. It is easy to understand how people can have the blessings of a covenant ministered to them without being part of the covenant if one thinks of the Gentiles in the Old Testament. They were not part of the Old Covenant, but they could have covenant blessings ministered to them. Many non-Jews lived in Israel, apparently for that reason.
- As the Church receives blessings of the Abrahamic covenant by faith without fulfilling that covenant, so the Church may receive blessings from the New Covenant without fulfilling it.
- Israel must go through the Tribulation and be delivered by the Messiah before the New Covenant can be fulfilled (Rom. 11:26 and 27).
- Since the Tribulation, the second coming of Christ and the Millennial Reign of Christ are yet future, the fulfillment of this promise must also be future, and cannot be fulfilled now by the Church.
- The Messiah, who ratified this New Covenant with Israel, must return to the earth to complete the salvation, restoration and blessing of Israel that is promised them as a result of the New Covenant God promised them.
Now we will examine the Greek word Ecclesia in greater detail:
THE SEVEN ASSEMBLIES AS A WHOLE (i. 11).
(Taken from Bullinger, E.W. (2011-08-21). The Apocalypse or “The Day of The Lord”: Commentary on Revelation , Trumpet Press. Kindle Edition).
We must here, at the outset, remove the greatest source of all the misunderstandings which have arisen with regard to these seven “churches.” The fact of their being called “churches” has naturally led commentators and students of this book to infer that it is the Church of God, or at any rate the historic Christian Church, which is meant. As a first step toward removing this great evil, let us note at once that the word (…) (ecclesia), rendered “church,” is by no means limited to the restricted sense which is thus forced upon it.
Ecclesia means simply an Assembly: any assembly of people who are called out (for that is the etymological meaning of the word) from other people. Hence, it is used of the whole nation of Israel as distinct from other nations. The Greek word Ecclesia occurs seventy-five times in the Septuagint Translation of the Old Testament, and is used as the rendering of five different Hebrew words. As it is used to represent one of these, seventy times, we need not concern ourselves with the other four words. This Hebrew word is (…) (Cahal), from which we have our English word call. It means to call together, to assemble, or gather together, and is used of any assembly gathered together for any purpose. This Hebrew word Cahal occurs 123 times, and is rendered: “congregation ,” 86 times; “assembly,” 17; “company,” 17; and “multitude,” 3 times: but is never rendered “church.”
Its first occurrence is in Gen. xxviii. 3 – “that thou mayest be a multitude (margin, assembly) of people,” i.e ., a called-out people. That is what Israel was, a people called out and assembled from all other peoples. In Gen. xlix. 6 we read – “O my soul, come not thou into their secret ( Council or Senate); Unto their assembly (cahal), mine honour, be not thou united.” Here the word cahal is used, not of all Israel as called out from the nations, but of the assembly of those called out of form the Tribal Assembly (or Council) of the tribes of Simeon and Levi. Then, it is used of the worshippers, or those called out from Israel, and assembled before the Tabernacle and Temple, and in this sense is usually rendered “congregation.” This is the meaning of the word in Ps. xxii. 22: “In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee;” and verse 25: “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation.”
We ought to use the word Ecclesia in the sense in which it is here used; and not, surely, in the newer and special sense which it acquired, and in which it is used, in the Epistles. In the Pauline Epistles we read nothing about an “angel” as having to do with the churches of God which Paul planted. When the word Ecclesia, in the Apocalypse is rendered “Church,” and the word “Synagogue” in Rev. ii. 9 and iii. 9, is interpreted of the church, it is playing fast and loose with the “words which the Holy Ghost speaketh,” and which He (God) has employed, not only for His revelation, but for our instructions. We hold that the Apocalypse contains a record (by vision and prophecy) of the events which shall happen “hereafter” in the Day of the Lord; that the whole book is concerned with the Jew, the Gentile, and the Earth, but not with the Church of God, or with Christendom; or with the latter only so far as the present corruption of Christianity ……after the Church, the Body of Christ, shall have been removed.