It is the contention of many that Israel had fallen and that God’s wrath had come upon them long before Paul’s pronouncement at Acts 28:28 that brought in the start of the dispensation of grace. Some who teach this insist that Israel fell at the cross, and that on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 God began calling a new people called “the church” to replace Israel. Others, however, teach a different place for the fall of Israel, like the stoning of Stephen, or the rejection of Paul and his message in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13. Those who teach this would find evidence for their claims in books like I Thessalonians and Romans, when Paul states that “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” and “through their fall, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Yet are these passages really teaching the fall of Israel, and that God’s wrath has now come upon them? Are they really stating that Israel is no longer His people, and that He has moved on to deal with Gentiles? Let us examine this teaching in the light of God’s Word.

First, let us examine I Thessalonians 2:14-16. This passage reads,

14. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15. who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16. forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

Paul starts out this section by speaking of the “ekklesia of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.” Who were these ekklesia? Of what people were they, Israelites or Gentiles? Had these ekklesia “fallen”?

Notice that he says next, “For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans.” Paul notes a distinct parallel between the ekklesia of the Thessalonians to whom he was writing and the ekklesia of the Judeans. The parallel is that both were persecuted by their own countrymen. The Thessalonians were just as guilty of this as were the Judeans. Yet only of the Jews could the following be said. “Who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us.” This reminds us of Christ’s statement in Matthew 23:37. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” The Lord laments Jerusalem’s stubborn and unbelieving attitude. Paul points out this same attitude here. Yet notice the following statements, all of which have to do with people who were Israelites and living at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:41. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Acts 2:47b. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:4. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
Acts 5:14. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
Acts 6:1. Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
Acts 6:7. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Acts 15:5. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Acts 21:20. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

All but the last verse are spoken exclusively, as far as we can tell, of those Israelite believers who were at Jerusalem. The last was spoken by the apostles at Jerusalem, but may have included disciples throughout Judea. Nevertheless, the number at this point had grown to tens of thousands, for that is the meaning of “myriads.” In Acts 6 we see that a great number of priests were obedient to the faith, and in Acts 15, we even see that there were some of the sect of the Pharisees, those we usually think of as the greatest enemies of the Lord among the Israelites, who actually believed in Him.

Now, if we consider the great and amazing popularity of the gospel among those who we would call “Jews” at Jerusalem, how could we possibly blame these very same ones for persecuting Paul and his company, for not pleasing God and being contrary to all men, or for forbidding Paul and his company to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved? Were these the actions of these many, many believing Israelites in Judea who had so gladly heard and accepted the truth regarding Jesus Christ?

Those who teach that Israel had fallen at this point would point us to the last part of verse 16, “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” They would suggest this means wrath has come upon all Israel. Yet how can this be, considering the number of Israelite believers, as we have it listed above? Has wrath come upon THEM to the uttermost? Have they fallen? Are they the ones who have filled up their sins?

The mistake made by those who teach this is in failing to recognize who and what God was setting aside, and what He was replacing them with, in the Acts period. An examination of Matthew 21:23-46 reveals the truth of this.

23. Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

The whole discussion begins with the chief priests and elders confronting Him as He was teaching. By this time they were His avowed enemies, and were doing everything they could to stop His teaching. Now, they demand to know by what authority He is doing the things He is doing.

24. But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25. The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26. But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27. So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.”
And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

The Lord outsmarts these men, and thus sidesteps their question and refuses to acquiesce to their demand. Since they cannot tell Him where John the Baptizer received his authority from, He will not tell them where His authority originates. The discussion continues, as the Lord speaks a parable to these men.

28. “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29. He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They said to Him, “The first.”

The Lord shows that it is the one who does the will of his father, not the one who SAYS he will do it, who actually obeys his father.

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

The Lord carries the discussion back to John the Baptizer, and shows how that event paralleled His parable of the two sons. The chief priests and elders claimed to obey God, yet when John came they rejected him. Those who were tax collectors and harlots were supposedly very bad people who did not obey God, but when John came they heard and obeyed him. These chief priests and elders, then, were those who heard God, and who obeyed not.

33. “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38. But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39. So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41. They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

Now the Lord tells the story of these wicked vinedressers. They were given charge over their lord’s property, and yet they refused to share the fruits of it with him, and even mistreated his messengers and murdered his son. Thus, these men will lose their place over the vineyard and be destroyed miserably, and other vinedressers will be set in place. This parable, as Christ will show, applies directly to these wicked chief priests and elders.

42. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

The Lord makes this most solemn pronouncement against these men. The kingdom of God will be taken from them, and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. This was a most solemn doom pronounced upon these wicked men. Yet what did Christ mean by this?

Now many are quick to rush in here with their ready-made interpretations of these passages. They have their replacement theology ready to hand, and believe that Christ meant here that the kingdom of God was taken from the nation of Israel and given to the “church” of today. Yet is this really what Christ meant?

What is the meaning of this word “nation”? The Greek word here is ethnei, which is a form of the Greek word ethnos that is often translated by “Gentile.” That would make Christ’s statement here to be that “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a Gentile bearing the fruits of it.” In other words, it would be saying that God was going to take the kingdom from them, and give it to one particular person! Of course, this is not what He meant at all.

Ethnei is correctly translated when it is rendered as “nation” here. Yet what does the word “nation” mean? This word is singular, and thus the kingdom was to be taken from one nation and given to another. If that other nation replaced Israel, which nation was it? The Roman nation? The Greek nation? The Syrian nation? Which nation was it that replaced Israel?

Now those who hold with replacement theology insist that it was the church that replaced Israel, and that the believer of today is part of that new nation to whom God was going to give the kingdom. Yet does this make any sense? What is a “nation”? Is it not a collection of people united under one common government and one sovereignty and rule? How is the believer of today anything like this? Some might say that the believer of today is ruled by God. Yet how is this so, when it is manifest on every side that “every man does what is right in his own eyes,” even among believers? If they are ruled over by God, then what happens to them when they disobey the divine rule? If the answer is nothing, then how is this a government?

Others might suggest that the church is the nation under which believers are united. Yet though this might have made some grain of sense when the church was all united under the Catholics, surely it makes no sense now, when church is split from church and denomination is split from denomination, and again every one of these organizations does what is right in their own eyes. What a motley crew this nation would appear to be if it were made up of all these disparate and squabbling churches mixed together into some kind of confused and conglomerate whole. Surely this mess cannot be defined by any stretch of the imagination as a “nation.”

If the word “nation” means nothing, then anything can be called a nation, and any claim can be made about a nation that we wish to make. But if the word “nation” means something, and if there is real truth behind the word, then we need to discover both what a nation really is, and what the new nation that Christ was talking about that would replace the nation these chief priests and elders were representing really is.

First we need to establish what the nation from which the kingdom of God was being taken was. This will help us greatly in figuring out what the nation is to whom the kingdom of God was now being given. We can clearly see what the nation that was losing the kingdom was from the following verses.

45. Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Though most Bible scholars with PhDs and seminary educations have trouble figuring out what nation it was that Christ was taking the kingdom from, the men to whom He was speaking had no such difficulty. The chief priests and Pharisees immediately understood that He was speaking of them. These people currently had rule over Israel, the people of God. As such, they were in charge of the kingdom, or the government, of God. Yet they had been greatly unfaithful to God, and had kept the fruits of that nation for themselves, and had refused to yield to God His due. They had mistreated the prophets sent to them, and soon would kill the Son of God Himself in their zeal to maintain their unrighteous control over God’s vineyard. Thus, God was going to respond by taking the kingdom of God from them. In other words, He was going to remove the rule over His people from them, and give it to a different group of individuals. These, God knew, would be faithful, and would render Him the fruits of His vineyard, as they should.

So the ones who were losing the kingdom were the chief priests and the Pharisees. Yet it was not the Israelites themselves who were losing the kingdom. They were not the unrighteous nation. They were the vineyard! For God to pour out His wrath on them to the uttermost would have been like the vineyard owner coming and burning down his own vineyard because of his anger at these disloyal vinedressers. This would have made no sense at all!

Yet if the Pharisees and chief priests were the old nation, what was this new nation to whom God was now going to give His vineyard? We can easily find out in Matthew 16:13-19.

13. When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14. So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16. Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17. Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Here, Christ declares to whom He was going to give the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” He was going to give them to Peter and to the other disciples. These men, then, would become His new leaders, His new nation that would replace the unfaithful chief priests and Pharisees. These were the faithful vinedressers whom He was going to put in the place of the unfaithful men He was removing.

Now it is clear here that when Christ spoke of a “nation,” He was speaking of a group of leaders who were in charge of a nation. That was certainly true of the chief priests and Pharisees. These men had usurped to themselves all the power of a king in Israel, and they ruled over the people with an iron fist. None could question even one bit of their authority without facing their wrath, and being cut off utterly from his nation and people. Yet these men, who held such tight-fisted control, were unfaithful to God in the extreme, as is made clear by their reaction to the Lord Jesus when He came and spoke to them. Rather than acknowledging their Lord, they hated Him and eventually killed Him.

So now, because of the unfaithfulness of this nation, God was going to build a whole new nation, made up of a whole new set of leaders. The very highest of these leaders would be the men Christ had chosen as His disciples while He was on earth. They would form the core of a whole new set of leaders, which would make up a whole new nation of people from that which had been presided over by the chief priests and Pharisees. This nation would be made up largely of those who had been a part of the former nation, yet now they would pledge their allegiance to the new nation and submit their lives to the new rule that God was going to establish. Thus, the vineyard would be the same, but the vinedressers would be different. This was the new nation. This had nothing to do with forming a new group of individuals made up of men who believed in Christ from all nations. Rather, this was a reorganization of God’s vineyard, the nation of Israel, and the giving over of that nation to a new leadership body, that of the apostles of the Acts period.

Now I know that many who do not hold with replacement theology would still use this passage to claim that wrath had come upon Israel at this point. Nevertheless, they would be wrong in teaching this from I Thessalonians 2:16 because they do not acknowledge the existence of the two nations here. The Jews which Paul speaks against so harshly here are not the common people of Israel, or the nation that God chose for Himself. Rather, they are the leaders of that old nation, the chief priests and Pharisees, whom, though they had been largely marginalized by the conversion of many in Israel to the new nation controlled by the apostles of Jesus Christ, yet retained control over those who had rejected the gospel, and, more seriously, still had a closer relationship with the Roman overlords. These wicked men had used their power and position against the gospel, and thus they are the subject of God’s scathing criticism here. We can clearly see who is meant by the words, “who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us.” Who had done this? Not the common Israelite. Not the Israelite on the street, so to speak. Rather, it was the rebellious and rejected leaders who had done these things. These men had been rejected and replaced. Israel itself, however, had not fallen. God no longer considered Israel to be those stubborn and rebellious leaders. Rather, He looked at His true nation of Israel as the nation He had formed using the new leaders whom He had called out, led by the apostles whom He had chosen.

Thus, it is absolutely wrong to say that God’s wrath had come upon the nation of Israel during the Acts period, or at the time I Thessalonians was written. Wrath had come, and to the uttermost, upon the unfaithful and rebellious leaders whom God had rejected. However, these leaders had been replaced by God’s chosen leaders, and with those leaders He was well-pleased.

Nothing could be farther from the truth than to say that Israel had fallen from God during the Acts period. Paul’s statement makes this plain in Romans 11:11, which states, “11. I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not!” Israel had stumbled, but they had not fallen. Yet many, in attempting to promote their idea that Israel had already fallen at this point, feel justified in negating this statement because of what Paul says next in the same verse. “But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

Now this is most strange, for in the first part of verse 11, Paul seems to say most emphatically that Israel had not fallen. Yet in the second part of the verse, and in verse twelve, he seems to say that they HAVE fallen. How can we possibly justify these two things?

The problem here, if we will look into it, is in the English translation, for the words that the New King James translates “fall” here are two different words. In the first part of verse 11, where Paul says Israel has not stumbled that they should fall, the Greek word is pipto, which means to fall down, or to fall prostrate. In the second part of verse 11 and in verse 12, however, the Greek word is paraptoma, which means to fall beside or near something, or to lapse or deviate from truth or righteousness. So Paul was not saying that Israel had fallen prostrate, or fallen completely. Rather, they had merely lapsed or deviated from where they should have been. As Paul says in verse 23 of the same chapter, “23. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” Israel was not out of the picture yet. Even those who had been stubborn up until now could be grafted in again. How much more those who had been yielded and believing from the beginning!

So Israel is not proclaimed as having fallen under God’s wrath before the end of the book of Acts. Neither I Thessalonians 2 nor Romans 11 proclaims Israel as rejected during the Acts period. They were not rejected as a nation. Instead, it was the stubborn and rebellious religious leaders who had been rejected. The apostles, and those who had yielded themselves to them through belief in the gospel, had formed a new nation. Israel had stumbled, then, but had not fallen. Theirs was merely a deviation from the truth.