The Old Testament Prophecies to Israel Fulfilled by the Church

I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan(Rev 2:9).

Premillennialism is that system of eschatology which has national Israel at its centre.  After the so-called Rapture of the Church and the seven years Tribulation during which Jews take a leading part, Jesus returns, destroys the antichrist, and sets up his kingdom on earth.  He will reign for a thousand years (the period known as the Millennium) with his capital at Jerusalem, and with Israel being the dominant nation on earth during that time.  According to Premillennialists, during the Millennium the temple will be rebuilt and the full animal sacrificial system re-instituted.  Further, they say that because Israel rejected Jesus their Messiah, God cut them from the olive tree (Rom 11) and grafted the Gentiles (i.e. the Church) into it in their place, and they now await the restoration of national Israel.  Thus, the Church is simply a stop-gap situation until the time comes for God to re-start the “prophetic clock” and graft Israel back into the olive tree.  Israel will take up where they left off and continue as the people of God under the Old Testament dispensation.  Dispensationalism was popularised by the Scofield Reference Bible in the 20th century and more recently by the books and movies by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in the “Left Behind” series.

Premillennialism is an elaborate and complicated system of Jesus’ return, where he returns not once, as the bible teaches, but twice.  To justify their claim for two returns, Dispensationalists prevaricate by saying his return is in two stages because at the first stage, when he comes at the Rapture, his feet don’t actually touch the ground – a neat side-step on their part. 

Premillennialism is blasphemous because it has Christ ruling for a thousand years in Jerusalem while Israel sacrifices animals to take away their sins in a rebuilt temple, and with the whole Old Testament system – law, Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, circumcision, Sabbaths, speaking Hebrew, feasts, and so on – re-instituted.  However, some Dispensationalists also have a problem with this, so they say that the animal sacrifices are not to atone for sin but will be similar in nature to a sacrament to remember the death of Christ.  But why would God want his people to perpetually practice something that has never given him pleasure (Heb 10:6)?  How can it be that Jesus, who is the antitype of that whole system, and who fulfilled it completely when he died on the cross (John 19:30; Matt 27:51) will, at a future time, preside over that which is inferior and insufficient – and that for a thousand years?  

The Two Covenants Say it all

Built-in obsolescence

The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians and it is all about the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old.  It says For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.   For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…..In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:7-8, 13). 

The ministry of death

The apostle Paul calls the Old Covenant “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of condemnation”; whereas, in contrast, he calls the New Covenant “the ministration of the Spirit” and “the ministration of righteousness” (2 Cor 3:7-9).  Surely, this passage alone is sufficient to put away any idea of a restored Israel under the Old Covenant? 

Paul writes that God equipped the twelve apostles to be ministers of the New Covenant, replacing the twelve tribes of Israel from whom came the law: “…Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor 3:6).  He tells us that there is death in the law!  It brings death to all who would live by it.  And it is temporary.  God is never going to send his Son to rule over a Jewish kingdom/empire centred on Jerusalem for a thousand years, with a system of law that brings death to its adherents.  The Old Covenant is obsolete!  It served its temporary purpose but was made redundant when Christ fulfilled the law by dying on the cross as the Lamb of God slain for sinners; after which the temple curtain was torn in two signifying that the Old Covenant was now fulfilled and abrogated.

Jewish minds hardened

As if that wasn’t enough, Paul goes on to show the futility of the Old Covenant and the hope given by the New Covenant.  Continuing on from the above passage, he writes: ….And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart(2 Cor 3:13-15).

Does this look like the kind of kingdom that Christ would rule?  Having fulfilled all the demands of the Old Covenant law and having died for sinners to free them from that ministry of death, it seems illogical, at the very least, that he would allow his Jewish subjects in the millennial kingdom to continue with the veil over their hardened minds, while he sits enthroned in Jerusalem, denying them the ministry of life for which he died in order to give it to them and so set them free.

The New Covenant is Better in Every Respect

So the Old Covenant is finished – it was insufficient to take away sins – And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11) – and is now obsolete and replaced by the New Covenant which is far better: But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6).  Please read chapters 7-10 and you will see that you cannot hold the idea of a millennial temple in which are a fully restored animal sacrificial system, and fully restored Levitical priesthood, as we find in Ezekiel chs 40-48.  This prophecy of Ezekiel can only be referring to the Church that Jesus would build (Matt 16:18) and which began its fulfilment at Pentecost (Acts ch 2).  The OT sacrifices and priesthood were mere shadows, awaiting their fulfilment in the one perfect sacrifice of Christ (9:26; 10:12-14), who was also a better priest (7:24-25) and mediator of a better covenant (8:6).  The temple that Ezekiel describes in chapters 40-47 is, as Matthew Henry describes it, a mystical temple; it is not literal.  “This relates to the altar in this mystical temple, and that is mystical too; for Christ is our altar” (on Ezek 43:13-17).  And at the beginning of the vision in these chapters, Matthew Henry comments on Ezek 40:1-4: “From the top of this mountain he saw as the frame of a city, the plan and model of it; but this temple was as large as a city.  The New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22) had no temple therein; this which we have here is all temple, which comes much to one.  It is a city for men to dwell in; it is a temple for God to dwell in; for in the church on earth God dwells with men, in that in heaven men dwell with God”.  In this passage he also refers to the temple which Ezekiel was looking as “the gospel-temple” and “God’s house” i.e. the church.

Please note: I quote from Matthew Henry, not as an infallible authority but as a learned voice and a representative of the Puritan and Reformed churches of his time.  To interpret these chapters literally and still future gets one into all sorts of trouble, all of which deny the gospel.

Jesus established the New Covenant

The New Covenant was established when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26) and then activated at the cross.  When Jesus hung there, he cried “It is finished” and the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Mk 15:38), thus signifying the end of the Old Covenant, with the law and the animal sacrifices.  John tells us Jesus knew that all things were now accomplished (Jn 19:28).  The Old Covenant has been superseded by a superior covenant which has been established by the death of the spotless Lamb of God: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins FOR EVER, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12).  Jesus had to die so that he could establish the New Covenant (Heb 9:16-17).

Bear in mind then, that the writer of Hebrews is here speaking to Jewish Christians.  If the Old Covenant was in abeyance and would be reinstated at a later time, he would have told them so – but he didn’t say anything of the kind.  He is at pains to show the absolute superiority and permanence of the New Covenant, established on better promises, a better sacrifice, and a better priesthood; and to show the weakness and transient nature of the Old.  He also shows that what Jesus accomplished for us is eternal.

Jesus established a new priesthood

Paul explains that the Levitical priesthood has also been abolished; it was, along with the whole Old Covenant sacrificial system, a temporary priesthood, until the perfect priesthood of Melchisedec with Christ as the prefect priest, should appear.  He showed how Melchisedec met Abraham after “the slaughter of the kings” (Heb 7:1), and blessed him.  Abraham paid him a tithe of the spoils (7:4), and by so doing, demonstrated that Levi, of whom was the Jewish priesthood, also paid a tithe to Melchisedec because “he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him” (7:10).  Paul then says that the priesthood has now changed (7:12), and that Christ is “a priest FOR EVER after the order of Melchisedec” (7:17, 21); and that his priesthood is UNCHANGEABLE (7:24).

So if all this is true – and it is – why would God subject his Son to a thousand years of blasphemy as his so-called people continue as if Jesus had never happened?  Why did Jesus say “It is finished” when he hung on the cross – why didn’t he say “This will do for now”?  Why does the scripture say: But this man, after he had offered ONE SACRIFICE for sins FOR EVER, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool’ (Heb 10:12-13)?  Is this not the language of completion and permanence?  These verses allow absolutely no room for the Levitical priesthood whatsoever!

And why would God subject his people to a thousand years of sacrifices which can never take away sins when the very fulfilment of them was right there in front of them in the person of Jesus?  Why would his people need animal sacrifices as a memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice when he is there in their presence – isn’t the very sight of him sufficient reminder?  Why did he give the Church the sacrament of bread, which represented his flesh, and wine, which represented his blood, as memorials to what he accomplished on the cross and as being symbols of the New Covenant – and yet Israel will still be sacrificing the blood of bulls and of goats as memorials when God says he hates them (Heb 10:6).  Why would Paul write, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24) if the Jews were going to reject him for two thousand years so far with an undefined period of time still ahead; and then to live under the law for a further thousand years while Jesus rules over them from Jerusalem?  

They rejected him the first time by murdering him; so God rejected them.  But yet, in mercy, God gives them a second chance, not by restoring them to everything they were and had under the Old Covenant, but as the new people of God along with the Gentiles in the New Israel, the Church.

Therefore, if the Old Covenant has been abrogated permanently to be replaced with the New and better Covenant, there must be another way of interpreting the prophecies of the Old Testament, because they certainly can’t be fulfilled literally.

The Law a Yoke of Bondage

Acts chapter 15 is a pivotal point in the New Testament.  The gospel had been taken to the Gentile city of Antioch and a thriving church was established there; Jewish law had not been part of the message preached; only the gospel of justification by faith was.  However, it wasn’t long before some of the converted Jews (15:5) tried to impose circumcision on the new believers, which entailed keeping the whole law of Moses.  The apostles and elders gathered together to discuss the issue and its implications for the Church; this gathering has come to be known as the Jerusalem Council. 

Luke tells us that there was “much debate” (Acts 15:7) and then Peter got up and addressed the council; he reminded them that God had sent him to the Gentiles (15:7-8).  He then put his finger on the heart of the issue – the burden of having to fulfil the law of Moses instead of receiving the gospel of Jesus by faith.  “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?  But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10-11).

Referring to this yoke of bondage that Peter mentioned, the apostle Paul told the council that God has made us alive in Christ, having forgiven our sins and Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Col 2:13-14).  And he tells us, “…before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Gal 3:23).  Thus, the Law of Moses was shown to be obsolete and a burden too heavy to be borne, and should not be imposed on the Gentile churches.  So I ask again, “Why would God inflict another thousand years of law-keeping and animal sacrifices on the Jews?”

Church replaces Israel as the People of God

My Premillennial friend insists that Israel is God’s witness on earth.  He writes “But if you accept the concept of the millennium, then the Jew is central to the world and the Gentile nations catch hold of the skirt of the Jew and say let’s come with you FOR GOD IS WITH YOU. Finally, Israel takes her planned place in the world as God’s witness” (emphasis his).

The Church – Culmination of God’s Plan of Salvation

But that’s not what the New Testament says.  Paul tells us that God’s witness is now the Church, not Israel.  In Ephesians he writes, To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known BY THE CHURCH the manifold wisdom of God (3:10); and in 3:21 he writes “…Unto him be glory IN THE CHURCH by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen”.  Please note that in this verse it is forever – not only for the New Testament age or “dispensation” (there are no dispensations!) but for all time, both now and forever.  The Church and the New Testament are not just a stop-gap until God can get things sorted out after the Jews mucked up his plan; we’re not just a commercial break until the real programme comes back and the Old Covenant is reinstituted.  No, the very opposite is true; the Old Covenant was the stop-gap; it was in place from Moses until the Messiah came; the Church is the culmination of God’s plan (Eph 1:9-10). 

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace….Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph 2:13-15, 19-22).

Thus, Christ through his death has abolished the wall that separated Jew and Gentile and has made them one in Christ, and this “one body” is the Church.  We’re now all one in Christ; all one holy temple in the Lord; all one olive tree; one holy nation; one body; one bride; because the two have been made one in Christ; and this is forever….and this body is the Church.

A New Testament “Israel”

The apostle Peter adds to this by showing that the Church has all the characteristics that Israel, as the Old Testament people of God, had.  He calls Christians “a spiritual house”, “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet 2:5); “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar [particular, special] people” (2:9).  And the apostle Paul says of the Church, “…we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit” (Phil 3:3).

The Jewish nation was destroyed by an act of God’s judgment, and they have been replaced by the new people of God, the Church.  All the names that described Israel, God’s chosen people, now describe the Church.

Destruction of Jewish nation

In Matt 21:33-46 Jesus tells “The Parable of the Tenants” and the Jews recognised that he referred to them.  He said the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.…..when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them (21:43, 45).  Then, in another parable, in Matt 22, he tells of the coming judgment and destruction of the Jews, saying “when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city(22:7).  Thus, Paul can write that the Jews have been cut off from the olive tree, and the Gentiles grafted into it in their place (Rom 11); see also 1 Thess 2:14-16.

In 70 AD Jerusalem was besieged by Roman legions under the command of Titus.  The city was taken and utterly destroyed; and the inhabitants who escaped slaughter were sold into slavery.  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described the horror and brutality of this event, and it fulfilled Jesus’ warning prophecy (Luke 21:20-24).  The Jews will never be reinstated as the people of God as they were under the Old Covenant.  When God does graft them back into the olive tree it will be with the Gentiles as part of the Church. 

And Paul says of the Jews, that “…they please not God, and are contrary to all men….for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess 2:15-16).

Therefore, the Old Testament prophecies cannot refer to a regathering of Israel and a thousand-year reign under Christ as their king.  Jesus will not be reigning as king from Jerusalem in a coming millennium.  There will be no animal sacrifices from a rebuilt temple with a restored Levitical priesthood; even the idea of this is blasphemous and destroys everything Christ came to achieve.  It is in fact a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9), as the apostle Paul stated and described in his letter to the Galatian churches.  The Old Testament prophecies cannot refer to a restored Israel under Old Covenant conditions.  The apostles themselves show that these prophecies are spiritual even though given in literal terms.


Henry, M. 1997, “The Matthew Henry Study Bible: King James Version”, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc., pub Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.