The Kingdom Is Not Given To the Church
Dr. Randy White | Pastor
First Baptist Church, Katy, TX
**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission.
Matthew 21:43 says much, and much that has been said about it is wrong.
“Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43, KJV).
For generations preachers and theologians have used this verse as a proof-text to show that the Kingdom of God has been taken from Israel and given to the church. This has been taught so often that it goes almost unquestioned by pastor and people alike.
The prophesied removal of the Kingdom from the nation of Israel is unquestioned. Commentaries are all over the map (mostly the wrong map) about the nature of the Kingdom which would be removed. This article focuses on the nation to whom the Kingdom will be given.
The Greek word translated nation is ethnos, a familiar word to most English speakers because it is the root of our word ethnicity. King James translates as gentiles (93 times), nation (64 times, including Matthew 21:43), heathen (5 times) and people (2 times). In the NASB, it is used 161 times and translated as gentiles (93 times), nation(s) (67 times), pagans (1 time), and people (2 times, including Matthew 21:43 and Acts 8:9, where it is clearly Samaritan people). As you can quickly see, the word has a wide range of interpretation but only one real meaning, which pertains to a “race, nation, or people group” (Strong’s). The interpretation is based on context, but cannot go beyond the meaning of the word. Whether the ethnos are a nation, a group of people, or Romans or Greeks, ethnos implies, by necessity, that they are ethnically based.
The Futility of Commentaries
I have an almost disdain for commentaries, chiefly because they are filled with the common drivel so easily available in pop-theology. One commentary after another gives the same syrupy flow of nothingness, failing to honor the text and often contradicting themselves through the course of the commentary. Further, good Bible study can be accomplished with thorough study of the words and cross-referencing Scripture, making the commentary all but useless. As I thumbed through commentaries on hand, here is what I found from Matthew 21:43 (all emphasis mine)–
The “nation” referred to is, of course, none of the particular “nationalities” of the world, not even the Gentile people as a whole. Believing Jews, “Israelites indeed,” are not excluded. It is the great ideal nation of the good, the godly, the Christlike, the Christian, the believing. (Morison, James. Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew. London; Glasgow: Hamilton, Adams & Co.; Thomas D. Morison, 1870. Print.)
But the use of ethnos (“a people”—a collective singular) suggests more than simply the appointment of new leaders; it envisages a new community of disciples who perform the works God commands. Jesus is not so much foreshadowing the shift of God’s activity from Jewish to Gentile realms as anticipating the replacement of Israel by the church, which will unite both Jew and Gentile. (Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.
So, in the place of the old covenant people there would arise—was it not already beginning to happen?—“a nation producing its fruit,” a church international, gathered from both Jews and Gentiles. (Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.)
The Jewish leaders were attempting to keep what was not theirs (power and control of the people, self-elevation, ill-gained wealth) instead of leading Israel according to the will of its master. Therefore, the kingdom would be taken away from them. Soon the church would take over operations (as announced in 16:18–19; 18:18–20), giving glory and service to God and producing spiritual fruit for him. Two thousand years of church history have proven that even the church does not do this perfectly. But the new covenant, sealed by Jesus’ blood, allows God to work through the imperfect church to accomplish his perfect plan. (Weber, Stuart K. Matthew. Vol. 1. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. Print. Holman New Testament Commentary.)
Jesus is emphatic that Israel’s leaders have forfeited their privilege of experiencing God’s saving presence (=kingdom), and now God’s blessings are extended to a new people composed of all ethnic groups, comprising a new, holy nation under the sovereign rule of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). It would seem that such language has its fulfillment in the appearance of the church. (Chouinard, Larry. Matthew. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997. Print. The College Press NIV Commentary.)
An explicit interpretation of the outcome of the story is provided in verse 43: The promise of God’s reign that has heretofore been part of God’s covenant with Israel will now be offered to a more worthy people, that is, to a people that responds to Jesus and his message (the church). (Gardner, Richard B. Matthew. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991. Print. Believers Church Bible Commentary.)
Surely these six common and popular commentaries are enough to display two very disturbing issues:
- Commentators have no problem ignoring the clear meaning of words like ethnos when such words do not fit their preconceived notions.
- Commentators (even the conservative ones) are undeniably adherents of replacement theology, and even a disdainful perception of Israel and a vaunted valuation of the church (“a more worthy people.”
What Does the Biblical Text Say?
The Kingdom would be taken from Israel, again, undoubtedly. It would then, someday, be given to an ethnos that produces the fruit of the Kingdom. Here are the problems with considering the church to be this ethnos that receives the Kingdom promises:
- The ethnos to whom the Kingdom will be given is singular, not plural. The text does not say that the Kingdom will be given to ethnicities but to an ethnos. The singular form of the word is used only seven times in the New Testament. Of those seven, five are unquestionably a reference to the Jewish nation (Acts 24:2, 10, 26:4, and twice in Romans 10:19).
- The church is not an ethnos, and making it an ethnos would, in other circumstances, be an action met with animosity by the same theologians who do so in this verse. Being “neither Greek nor Jew…Barbarian, Scythian” (Colossians 3:11), the church has no ethnicity, but is rather one body, which is the body of Christ. Frankly, if the Holy Spirit led Matthew to use the word ethnos to refer to the coming church, then the Holy Spirit is a poor linguist. I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
- The church, as the body of Christ, was completely an unrevealed mystery as Jesus spoke in Matthew 21. Paul is emphatic that the “dispensation of the grace of God” given unto the gentiles was “the mystery” which, “by revelation he made known unto me” and which, “in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men.” This mystery, specifically, was “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” This same mystery, “from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:2-9). Therefore, either the church is an unrevealed mystery in Matthew 21 or Paul is mistaken in Ephesians 3.
- The Scripture is unbelievably clear that, while God’s Kingdom focus with the nation of Israel would be removed from them, it would also be restored. Israel today has a “blindness in part” and such a blindness will happen, “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” When the times of the gentiles are completed, the “cast away” nation shall be “received” again (Romans 11:15-32).
Matthew 21:43 gives prophecy both of the casting away and the receiving of the Jewish nation, for it is the Jewish ethnos itself who will receive the Kingdom and the fulfillment of all its promises. The Kingdom was removed from Israel in the book of Acts, and is restored to Israel in the book of Revelation. It is the ethnos of Jews in Revelation who, through the instrumentation of the Tribulation, have come to Christ and are producing the fruit of the Kingdom. Having received Christ as both Savior and Messiah, the future Jewish nation will receive the Kingdom, as promised.
The Matthew prophecy is not a challenge linguistically or theologically; provided that a preconceived notion has not so clouded your thinking that you are unknowingly performing eisegesis (reading into Scripture) rather than exegesis (reading out of Scripture.)
As for me, I look forward to the blessed hope of the rapture, when the non-ethnos church will be snatched away, and God will once again deal exclusively with the ethnos of the Jews. I know that this day will, and by necessity must come, because, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29).