A Millennial or A-Millennial Future: Which? (5)
4. The Contrast Between Israel and the Church
A further reason why we believe in a future, literal Millennium is that we believe the Bible makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Church: both are dear to the heart of God, but they are distinct, with different promises and roles in the purposes of God.
Let us consider what the NT teaches about the Church. A crucial passage is Ephesians 3:1-12, where it is described (vv 3, 4) as a “mystery.” Now what is a “mystery”? The following verse (v 5) tells us that it is something “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Other Scriptures (Rom 16:25; Col 1:26; Eph 3:9) teach the same thing. It is a truth which was not revealed in former times, but which God has now made known. In short, it is something not in the OT, but in the NT.
Now what is this “mystery” in the early part of Ephesians 3? It is the truth of “one body”: Jews and Gentiles united together in the “same body” (v 6). Paul calls it “one new man” (2:15). The Church is not the development of Israel, nor incorporated into Israel; rather, it is an entirely new and distinct entity, which was “hid in God” (v 9) and has “now” been made known (v 10). There could be no clearer statement of the fact that the Church is not in the OT.
When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He said, “I will build My Church” (Matt 16:18). The tense is future, indicating that the Church was not yet in existence when He spoke. In Ephesians 1:20-23, we read that God “gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church,” showing that the Church, of which He is the Head, came into existence consequent to His resurrection, ascension, and glorification. The baptism in the Holy Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost, shortly after He ascended back to heaven (Acts 2) and it is by this baptism that believers have all been baptized into one body (1Cor 12:13). Thus, the Church began at Pentecost.
In the NT, Israel and the Church are clearly distinguished. For example, Paul, in speaking of himself in Philippians 3, makes a careful distinction between “Israel” (v 5) and “the Church” (v 6).
Thus, in this age, a new entity has been brought about, different from Israel, whose promises are not the many earthly blessings promised to Israel in the OT, but the “spiritual blessings” (Eph 1:3) with which we have been blessed in Christ. Many are the blessings which are ours in Him, but the promises of the land and of national blessing are given to Israel, and they still stand. They have not been transferred to us. God will ensure that they are fulfilled, literally to Israel, in a coming day.
The amillennialist will make a number of objections:
Firstly, that the Church is not taught in the OT.
To which we respond that we agree with the objection! Indeed, this is precisely what we are saying: the Church is a “mystery,” which was not revealed in the OT, but has now been revealed, as the NT teaches.
Secondly, that the OT makes no provision for God setting aside Israel, introducing the Church, and taking up Israel again.
Not so! While the Church is not revealed in the OT, it does speak of Israel being rejected by God and then taken up again. An example is Hosea 1:10,11; another is the “seventy weeks” prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. This 69 weeks of years (483 years) passed between the commandment to restore Jerusalem (v 25) and the death of the Messiah (v 26) has been well-established; this leaves one more “week” (seven years) to be fulfilled in the future. The Church age comes in between the 69th and the 70th week. When the Lord read Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), He stopped after the prophecies of His first coming and did not read those concerning His second coming. The gap leaves room for the present age. This is described in Acts 15:14-17, where we read that, at the present time, God is taking out of the Gentiles “a people for His name” (v 14), and then Israel will be restored (v 16).
Thirdly, that promises which are made to Israel in the OT are applied to the Church in the NT, thus equating Israel and the Church. An example is the prophecy of the “new covenant” of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is referred to in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:15-17.
However, this is not a problem. What the writer to the Hebrews is telling us is that (because of the shedding of the blood of Christ) those who turn to Him today experience, in the present, the blessing of forgiveness of sins that Israel will come into the good of in the future. This does not negate the fact that Israel will enjoy it in the future; nor does it mean that Israel and the Church are one and the same. (We will look in more detail at the issue of the “new covenant” in a later article, Lord willing).
So, we will save ourselves a lot of confusion if we “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). We must remember that there is a distinction between Israel, which is presently in unbelief, but for which there is a glorious future, when she comes to know Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, and the Church, which is a mystery, unrevealed in the OT, gathered out from the nations, and by which is made known “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10).
Many and wonderful are the blessings, present and future, which are ours in the Lord Jesus Christ; but not even one of them nullifies the promises of great blessings to Israel and the nations, which will find their fulfillment in the Millennium.