Did Jesus Give Away the Land of Israel to Christians? (Matthew 5:5) Pt 1

Photo courtesy of Photo by Raimond Klavins from Unsplash

Most evangelical supporters of the modern state of Israel MUST become familiar with the biennial conference Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC). This symposium is organized by Palestinian Christian pastors and leaders in conjunction with Bethlehem Bible College, a non-denominational Evangelical school located in the West Bank and a source of anti-Zionist propaganda. The major mission of this controversial forum is stated in the “About” Section of the CATC website, “We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

On the surface the Christ at the Checkpoint mission statement appears acceptable. The commitment to apply Christian principles to navigating and addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is appealing to Christians who want to reflect the principles taught by Jesus. To clarify their viewpoint regarding the Middle East conflict, the CATC “About” field continues, “We feel compelled to address the injustices that have taken place in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, particularly the Palestinian lands under occupation.”

However, after listening to the CATC talks posted online, one notices the lecturers are quick to condemn the Jewish state, but are strangely quiet about the atrocities committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza. Dexter Van Zile, a writer for C.A.M.E.R.A. (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis), reflects in an article about the CATC gatherings, “all the problems and suffering associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict are placed at the feet of Israel, America and the West while the misdeeds of Palestinian leaders are ignored.”

The Role of CATC in Denying God’s Promises of the Land to Israel

Checkpont West Bank
Ahmad Al-Bazz

In this article the alleged injustices occurring in the Palestinian territories will not be addressed. Rather, our goal is to deal with the underlying agenda of CATC in questioning and opposing any theology that advocates a divine plan for Israel’s future.

CATC’s adversarial position concerning theologies that are supportive of Israel is stated as follows ” . . . we reject theologies that lead to discrimination or privileges based on ethnicity. Worldviews that promote divine national entitlement or exceptionalism do not promote the values of the Kingdom of God because they place nationalism above Jesus.” Any attendee at CATC is soon made aware the majority of speakers do not believe the God of the Bible has a plan for the nation of Israel that includes both the title and possession of the Promised Land.

In contrast, one who maintains God DOES have a future plan for Israel believes the divine program for the Jewish nation has NEVER been based on ethnicity. The Lord’s planned blessings for Israel is founded solely on His elective choice as seen in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping rthe oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteroomy 7:6-8 (ESV)

The true intent of the CATC conferences can be missed in the slew of many messages that obfuscates their agenda. From the One for Israel website this intention is spelled out:

The conference claims to be “theology in the service of peace and justice” but its true purpose is to fundamentally change the way that Evangelicals in the West read the Bible in order to fundamentally change their political stand regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict-and through them, to affect their political leaders. Instead of reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context in order to understand what the inspired prophets and apostles communicated as the Word of God, organizers of CatC want us to read the Scriptures only “in the shadow of the occupation”, that is, filtered through the Palestinian Arab’s POV and political aspirations.

Of course, the leaders involved in CATC will demonstrate a desire for Israel and the Jewish people to experience salvation through Yeshua. Still, the denial of God’s promises of the land to the nation of Israel lies at the heart of the CATC agenda.

The Role of CATC in Altering the Fingerprint of the Nation of Israel

It is tempting to only see CATC as an evangelical effort to right injustices and to take a stand for the oppressed Palestinians. Yet we must keep at the forefront the deeper aim of CATC as stated by a One for Israel position paper: “to sway Evangelical believers worldwide away from belief in the eternal promises of God to Israel by slandering the Jewish people and delegitimizing the Jewish state . . . “

Free photo 2737531 © Andy Brown –

The Jewish News Syndicate chimes in with a similar understanding of the theological underpinnings of this evangelical anti-Israel effort, “CATC includes a heavy emphasis on replacement theology, which teaches that the Christian church has replaced Israel or the Jewish people regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God. Adherents of the theology believe that the Jews are no longer God’s ‘chosen people’.” Those who hold to any form of replacement theology are asking its adherents to believe the fingerprint of Israel in the Jewish scriptures has been altered. Like a thief who uses acid or a surgical technique to change his fingerprints, these RT theologians have attempted to file off the fingerprint of Israel from Old Testament promises so that the nation’s identity is replaced with that of the Church.

In Palestinian replacement theology, some of their theologians see the land of Israel as a type of heaven and not a geographical destination; many opt for a replacement theology in which the Church is the spiritual “New Israel”. A growing number of New Testament theologians hold the promises given to Israel are now fulfilled in Jesus. He is the goal of the Old Testament prophecies and He is the “new Israel”.

The variations of Replacement Theology are manifold and cannot be covered in this piece in their entirety. Yet the essential conviction of RT that replaces the nation Israel with the NT Church and the land with spiritualized interpretations will be discussed throughout this article. In addition, every attempt will be made to address the passages cited by Replacement Theology that are used to diminish the commitment of the God of Israel to His nation.

The perspective on Israel by CATC organizers is well stated by Palestinian Salim Munayer, head of Musalaha a non-profit organization which works towards reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. In response to a concern about God’s promises of the land to Israel, Munayer responded,

“CATC interprets them via a new “theology of the land”. This theology teaches that “the blessing of the Promised Land has been stretched over the whole earth.” God has gifted every people with a homeland, on condition that they behave morally. The Jews behaved immorally and lost their land to the Palestinians. If the Jewish people will become moral, God will let them share the land with the Palestinians (italics mine).

The Role of Christians in Grasping Israel’s Role in God’s Plans

Most non-RT scholars will argue against the general theological statements which support the stance God has replaced Israel with the Church. Yet when texts used by RT proponents to support their theology are carefully examined, we discover the tedious work of exegesis of these verses has oftentimes been neglected. Two results are noticed:

RT is built on a foundation of poorly interpreted biblical texts.

blowing up balloon

Throughout the Tenach God is inflating Israel like a giant balloon with blessings and promises concerning the future of the nation. To defend the position that sees the continuation of God’s promises to Israel, the proponents take into account the many texts that support this position.

For example, according to Psalm 2:6 and Zechariah 14:6-7 the Messiah will rule from Jerusalem during the Messianic kingdom. The nations of the earth will come to Zion to worship the Messiah King of Israel (Isaiah 61:10). Because of God’s commitment to Israel, the nation is preserved by Him throughout the ages. In the Hebrew scriptures and post-biblical history, the “balloon” nation almost floats above all attempts to wipe them out by the enemies of God’s chosen people.

In contrast, Replacement theologians use their anti-Israel doctrine to deflate the special position Israel has in the Word of God. These advocates fail to interact honestly with the many Old Testament passages that reinforce God’s continued relationship with Israel.

For instance, most conservative biblical scholars view Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Valley of the Dry Bones, as a prophecy of the regathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the ensuing spiritual regeneration of the Jewish people. RT interpreters view Ezekiel 37 as referring to the gathering of redeemed people-Jews and Gentiles-into the church. The latter interpretation ignores the details of these fourteen verses in favor of a general interpretation that is indifferent to the specifics of the prophecy. Ezekiel 37:12 declares to a scattered Israel throughout the earth, “And I will bring you into the land of Israel.” Where is this geographical location God promises to bring the replacement “new Israel” (the Church) to?

By the time we get to the NT, these RT teachers have redefined Israel or ignored the promises God gave to the Jewish nation. This is because these scholars have built their theology on poorly interpreted passages from the Hebrew Bible regarding Israel.

RT often overlooks the entire scope of OT prophecies about Israel.

RT maintains if an OT prophecy regarding Israel’s future is not mentioned again in the NT, the passage is to be ignored. Oddly, these neglected specifics of OT prophecies about Israel form the greatest argument against Replacement Theology.

It is true Ezekiel 37 is not mentioned in the New Testament. However, where does it teach in the New Covenant scriptures that Ezekiel 37 is no longer applicable because the text is not mentioned in the NT?

The NT does not mention God’s covenant promise to Noah in Genesis 9:11 to never destroy the earth with a worldwide flood again. Because this commitment to Noah is NOT repeated in the NT, does that mean God can once again destroy the earth with a universal flood?

The “Israel” of RT is an Israel devoid of the important connection to the Hebrew roots of the nation. Israel has become gentilized and christianized according to these scholars. It is an Israel unrecognizable to the Old Testament student and to the majority of Jewish people.

However, the most confusion initiated by Replacement Theology is seen in the way they interpret many passages in the NT about Israel. One important passage often misinterpreted by RT is Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (ESV). This is not a text most Christians would associate with a denial of God’s promises of the land to Israel.

In contrast to popular belief, Matthew 5:5 has become one of the major New Testament passages used by Replacement theologians to prove the New Testament does not teach the land of Israel is promised to the Jewish people.

Some biblical scholars who have bought into Palestinian replacement theology contend in this verse Jesus is removing the land of Israel from the Jewish nation and giving the land-figuratively-to His followers-the Church. In essence, Yeshua is universalizing the Abrahamic promises to Israel to spread out over the entire gentile world and is excluding Israel save for the Jewish believing remnant in Yeshua.

Since Matthew 5:5 is not only in the famed Sermon on the Mount and one of the first times Jesus supposedly refers to the land of Israel in His teaching, one can see why understanding this passage is so essential.

Replacement Theology’s Understanding of Matthew 5:5

Gluten Free Cookies
Photo Aurélia Dubois on Unsplash

My wife has been advised by her physician to go on a gluten free diet for health reasons. Others who see themselves as health advocates also broadcast the benefits of substituting gluten free baked goods for products composed of wheat. I have been the recipient (aka victim) of gluten free cookies, cakes, breads, cereals and pizza. Can a plate of “gluten free” chocolate chip cookies replace an offering of fleshly baked snacks made with the “real stuff”? My taste buds argue the real stuff cannot be duplicated.

While both samplings of chocolate chip cookies fall under the definition of a cookie, they are not exactly identical. Yet there is much about the gluten free product that makes the consumer think these goodies are still healthier cookie treats. These wheatless delicacies are definitely more beneficial despite their sometimes bland jolt to our palates.

In the same way, those who teach the Church has replaced Israel fail to see the dissimilarity between the two entities. Consequently, any resemblance between the Church and Israel gives these scholars cause to believe both spiritual groups are one and the same and the Church is now the “new Jewish-free body of believers”.

One word of clarification is needed. In no way do I believe the Church is a lesser entity than Israel. Yes, I compared the Body of Messiah to a gluten free, tasteless cookies. Yet my goal is simply to distinguish the dissimilarity of the Church to the Jewish nation even in the face of the various connections between the two people of God.

In Matthew 5:5 it is universally agreed Jesus is quoting Psalm 37:11 in the third beatitude. Author Nelson Hsieh points out many replacement theologians have employed Matthew 5:5 to claim the land mentioned in Psalm 37:11 has become the earth in Matthew 5:5 (Matthew 5:5 and the Old Testament Land Promises: An Inheritance of the Earth or the Land of Israel?, Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1 [Spring 2017] pg. 42). This is the crux of the issue in Matthew 5:5.

Did Jesus expand the promises given to Israel to now apply to the whole world thus making Israel obsolete?

In his article Nelson S. Hsieh elucidates further on the importance of examining Matthew 5:5, “The promised land of the Abrahamic covenant is such a major theme in the OT and Second Temple Jewish literature, but seems to fade in the New Testament. Any theologian attempting to discuss the topic must ask: Does the New Testament (NT) nullify, modify/expand, or reaffirm the Old Testament (OT) land promises?” (Nelson S. Hsieh, Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1 [Spring 2017] pg. 42).

In the same article by Hsieh, he quotes from another biblical expert to emphasize the relevance of this inquiry, “The question must be addressed whether Matthew 5:5 teaches along with other NT passages that the OT land promises are “either spiritualized as the ultimate heavenly rest (Hebrews 4:1ff.; 11:16 cf. 11:10), or globalized [e.g. expanded] to become a promise of inheriting the earth/world to come (e.g. Mt. 5:5; Rom. 4:13; Heb. 1:2; cf. Eph. 6:3).” (Paul R. Williamson, Abraham, Israel and the Church,” Evangelical Quarterly 72, no. 2 (2000): 116-117).  These assertions speculate whether Matthew 5:5 spiritualizes or broadens the Old Testament land promises to the gentile nations so that ethnic Israel no longer has a land to possess sometime in the future.

Now let’s look in greater detail at some of the viewpoints held by RT academics on how Matthew 5:5 is to be understood.

The viewpoint that the localized promise of the land of Israel is expanded to include the whole earth.

The majority view among RT theologians on Matthew 5:5 is that the passage expands the Old Testament land promises. This view is aptly summarized by Nelson Hsieh, “The unexpressed assumption in this view is that ethnic Israel no longer has a promise to inherit the land of Israel. The localized promise has been transcended into a more glorious promise of the entire earth” (page 45).

On the other hand, Matthew 5:5 may very well be the clearest text in the NT for upholding the belief in the future regeneration of the nation of Israel in spiritual terms as well as a geographical understanding.

According to Hsieh, “Jesus does not spiritualize the OT land promises; He rather expands them to include the whole earth” (Hsieh, Page 44). Thus, some theologians-both RT and non-RT-attempt to hold on to the idea Matthew 5:5 includes the particular affirmation of God’s promises of the land to Israel. However, this position also holds there is the universal worldwide inheritance of the earth for all in Matthew 5:5. We shall examine this perspective in greater detail in later contributions in this series of articles.

The viewpoint that the localized promise of the land to Israel is realized in the worldwide spread of the gospel

Dorothy Jean Weaver, in her article “Inheriting the Earth: Towards A Geotheology of Matthew’s Narrative”, The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies, sees all the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ. If all the promises of the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus, according to Weaver, then the land promises given to Israel must also be fulfilled in the person of Jesus (Weaver, 2/1:6-10 © 2015 Asbury Theological Seminary, pg. 28-29)

Though RT teachers do not like to admit they have spiritualized literal Old Testament promises made to Israel, they are continually guilty of a non-literal understanding of the geographical promises the Lord made to Israel. Weaver’s position of seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s promises is a perfect example of this non-literal approach. In addition, there are other replacement theologians who see the localized land promises realized in the promise of heaven.

Regardless of the various perspectives, we can conclude RT takes a figurative approach in understanding the promises of the land to Israel. This is also seen in the way some RT teachers interpret the “inheritance of the earth” described in Matthew 5:5.

RT biblical scholars believe the worldwide inheritance of the kingdom of God is no longer connected to a literal messianic kingdom on earth. To these theologians there will be no one thousand year messianic kingdom when Jesus rules the earth from Jerusalem. Rather, in the New Covenant era the Lord is no longer “limited by ethnic, religious, or geographical boundaries” (Weaver pg. 28). Here now is the earthly inheritance promised to the followers of Jesus according to Dorothy Weaver.

Fuller and final “inheritance” lies ahead for Jesus’ disciples “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory” (19:28): thrones from which they will “judge the twelve tribes of Israel,” families and fields exponentially multiplied, and eternal life itself. Then Jesus’ disciples will “inherit [κληρονομήσατε] the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world” (25:34). All that is future promise.”

Dorothy Jean Weaver, “Inheriting the Earth: Toward sA Geotheology of Matthew’s Narrative”, The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 2/1:6-10 © 2015 Asbury Theological Seminary, pg. 28-29).

In addition, Weaver explains, “Jesus’ disciples will likewise one day bear “witness” to kings, governors, and the Gentiles (10:18). And ultimately “this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the [whole] world, as a [witness] to all the nations” (24:14a).

According to Weaver, this reaching out from Israel to the Gentiles is part of the disciples’ inheriting the earth (Matt. 5:5). “We inherit the earth”, says Weaver, “as we make disciples of all nations’ (pg. 29). The millennium according to many RT theologians refers to an earthly universalized kingdom where Israel receives no special acknowledgement from the Lord.

In no way do I even conjecture I have represented all phases of replacement theology. Even within their ranks there are different perspectives and nuances to their position. The best I can do is demonstrate these researchers do not see God’s promises to Israel regarding a national homeland as literal, permanent and spanning across both testaments as a sign of God’s faithfulness.

We must ask our question again: Does Matthew 5:5 nullify, expand or reaffirm the land promises of the Jewish Scriptures”?

The viewpoint that the localized promises to the land to Israel have been rearranged by Jesus

Gary Burge Professor
of NT, Calvin College

One of the frequent and influential speakers at CATC is Gary Burge. Burge has served as the professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is known as a speaker and writer evaluating Christian Zionism. Burge frequently brings Christian university students to the CATC events hoping to influence their views on the Middle East conflict. Presently Burge is professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In his book Jesus and the Land, Burge supplies his viewpoint on Matthew 5:5. While this article is in no way a refutation of Gary’s book, it is essential to focus on his understanding of Matthew 5:5.

Let us look at some of the perspectives Burge and others maintain as they seek to interpret Matthew 5:5. Since Psalm 37:11 is the text which Jesus quotes verbatim in Matthew 5:5, Burge makes understanding Psalm 37:11 (LXX Psalms 36:11) a major part of his position.

  • Psalm 37 teaches the unrighteous will not share in the inheritance of the land of Israel (pg. 34). Since the unrighteous who lived under the Old Testament law are denied enjoyment of the Promised Land according to Psalm 37, Burge assumes this principle applies to New Testament believers. Consequently, Burge is conflating promises targeted for Israel and applying them to NT believers, thus eliminating Israel as an entity God has made covenants with!
  • Psalm 37 teaches God will give the land to those who trust Him (37:3); those who delight in His ways (37:4); remain patient (37:7) and are righteous (37:29). According to Burge, “these who are meek will be delighted when they gain the land (37:11), because they are the ones who least expect it . . . ” (pg. 34). In contrast to the meek are those who grasp after what they want and are greedy in contrast to those who are generous (37:21) and wait for God to give them the land. Burge has a correct understanding of Psalm 37. Yet when he applies the passage to NT believers, he takes the opportunity to delegitimize Israel as the continued recipient of God’s promises.
  • The meek (Greek πραεῖς) refers to those who are humble. Both Psalm 37 (Psalm 36 LXX) and Matthew 5:5 use this Greek word (pg. 34). The term πραεῖς has been applied to the ministry of Jesus in Matthew 11:29; 21:5. Peter applies the term term πραεῖς to followers of Jesus (I Peter 3:4). Meekness is the qualifying trait, according to Burge, that qualifies one to inherit the land of Israel. To Burge, if the recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant are unworthy of inhabiting or enjoying the land, then they forfeit the title to the land. He fails to distinguish between enjoying the land as a faithful believer in the Lord, and being promised the land in a title deed. God has never said He would remove the title deed of the land from the nation. King David and Jesus are speaking of how individuals will or will not enjoy the land promises. Neither or them mentioned the land promises being transferred from the nation of Israel to the spiritual body of believers in the Church.
  • The land (τὴν γῆν) in Matthew 5:5 is correctly seen by Burge as a flexible word used 250 times in the NT. He observes the term can refer to the soil (Matthew 13:5); a region (Matthew 2:6); the earth itself (Matthew 5:18, 35) and the inhabited world (Luke 21:35). The term is also used of the land of Israel in Luke 4:25. Yet in Matthew 5:5, according to the Calvin College prof, Jesus’ hearers would have understood His reference of τὴν γῆν not pointing to the whole earth, but to the land of Israel. What Burge points out is true. However, Burge merely understands the word refers to the land of Israel in Matthew 5:5 for a split second. Then he quickly departs from his exegesis of the passage and allows his replacement theology dictate the meaning of the words (τὴν γῆν) rather than the text itself. Ultimately, Burge’s understanding of “the land” quickly changes to “the whole earth.” Quite an exegetical stunt!
  • The inhertance (κληρονομήσουσιν, they shall inherit) of the Promised Land, according to Burge, is for the meek. The word kleronomeo, to inherit, has been used to refer to the assignment of land under the Old Testament law. According to Burge’s understanding of Matthew 5:5, the land of inheritance given to the meek is the land of Israel (pg. 34). In a world where the strong prevail, “thanks to position or privilege to take what is theirs, Jesus appears to be a “re-arranger of the Land’ (pg. 35). In conclusion, the Calvin College NT professor holds that “meekness leads to inheritance–the strident walk away empty handed.” Does this mean that meek followers of Jesus inherit the land of Israel and arrogant followers of Yeshua miss out on this blessing? Does this verse apply to Jewish believers only or to all members of the Church? Burge’s position allows for a lot of confusion.

In conclusion Burge asks, “Does this means that Jesus here offered a territorial promise to His followers?” (pg. 35). He responds, “this is not likely.” Then Burge argues along with other RT commentators that despite the concrete application of the land for Jewish people, the NT reinterprets the promises for those who are part of the New Testament kingdom of God (pg. 35). Moreover, the NT theologian alters his definition of “land’ and transforms it into “heaven’ (“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 10).

Burge aptly demonstrates his faulty approach to Matthew 5:5. He has a fairly accurate grasp of the text of Matthew 5:5, but then he departs from his understanding of the passage and transforms the literal meaning of “land” into a reference to the non-material state of heaven. Thus, the land of Israel does not belong to the nation of Israel, but to meek followers of Jesus. However, these meek ones will soon discover the blessing of the land of Israel has been switched out and expanded to be inclusive of eternal blessings. The reference to eternity is clearly absent from this specific beatitude even though heaven is mentioned in verse 3 and 10, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the remaining articles on Matthew 5:5 we will demonstrate Jesus never transformed the “land of Israel” into a spiritual kingdom of heaven, thus spritualizing the OT promises that once referred to the literal geographical land of Israel.


I was barely a year old in the Lord when I attended Bible College at Dallas Baptist University. I knew nothing about Replacement Theology. I assumed all followers of Yeshua believed God has a plan for Israel that includes an earthly kingdom centered in Jerusalem ruled by Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.

College Student
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

In some of my classes like hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and theology I sat under well-educated, godly men. However, what I was taught by these Bible academics was startling to my spiritually young mind. In these classes I was taught the Church is the “New Israel”. I was also told that Christians are the true Jews and all the promises made to Israel were now fulfilled in the Church. I was visibly shaken by what I had heard.

My trust in the words of Scripture was rattled. I did not know whether I could take the promises God made to Israel in the Tenach seriously. Did God do a bait and switch on Abraham and his descendants? Does the word “land” really means what it says in the mouth of God or does the Lord need RT scholars to reinterpret God’s words to Israel? Most of all, when sharing the gospel with Jewish people, should I tell them their hopes about the land of Israel are divorced from God’s plan for the nation?

Instead, I have devoted most of my academic endeavors to disprove the questionable teachings of Replacement Theology. These efforts hopefully will be evidenced as we continue to investigate the meaning of Matthew 5:5 for New Testament believers.

One Response to “Did Jesus Give Away the Land of Israel to Christians? (Matthew 5:5) Pt 1”

  1. Ivor McClinton says:

    Thank you for this. My, how we need teaching in the midst of so much deception.

    Shalom from County Down in Northern Ireland.


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