A Seat at the Table of Abraham FFOZ
This teaching is adapted from the Jesus, My Rabbi lesson enjoyed by thousands of students in Torah Clubs around the world. A study in the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish, historical, and cultural context.
Did Yeshua teach replacement theology when He said strangers will be seated at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while the Jewish people are cast out?
The Roman Centurion of Capernaum declined the honor of bringing the holy man into his home or under his roof. Instead, he confessed, “Master, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). When the Master heard the centurion’s simple expression of faith, He turned to the crowd following Him and said, “Amen, I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
Replacement theology sometimes explains this as foreshadowing the coming replacement of Israel by Gentile Christianity. On the contrary, the Master’s words do not imply a disparagement of Jewish faith at all; rather, He holds up the man’s statement of faith as a model for His Jewish disciples to emulate. It was simply extraordinary for a Gentile to place such faith in the God of Israel. Matthew’s version of the story continues with an important saying about the great banquet of the Messianic Age.
I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:11-12)
According to Jewish belief, the LORD will host a great banquet in Jerusalem in that day. The Messiah will gather the scattered exiles of Israel from the four corners of the earth, “and they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). The resurrected righteous will be present at the table as well, and the Messiah will be the master of ceremonies. Contrary to Jewish expectation, however, the Master says that many Gentiles will also come and sit at the banquet, reclining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whereas many of the people of Israel will find themselves in the darkness outside the banquet hall, seated in Gehenna. He calls the people of Israel the “sons of the kingdom.” In this context, the term “sons of the kingdom” implies those who should by natural rights receive a share in the Messianic Age. This seems to support replacement theology: the Jewish people will be cast out, and others will take their place. In the Jewish context of the story, however, no replacement theology is implied. The Master’s words make room for people of faith at the table of Israel, but they do not exclude the Jewish people. Yeshua did not mean that Israel will be categorically rejected, nor did He imply replacement by a new religion or nation. Instead, the banquet prophecy is close to Paul’s olive-tree analogy in Romans 11. In that passage, the owner of the olive tree breaks off natural branches in order to graft in wild branches, so too, with the messianic banquet. The Messiah will send unworthy elements of Israel from the table, but people of faith will find seating. Rabbi Yeshua’s words about Gentiles at the table must have shocked some. The messianic banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob takes a prominent place in Jewish eschatology, but in that eschatology, Israel sits at the table with the patriarchs while the Gentiles suffer outside, hungry and in torment. In the Master’s version of the teaching, the criterion for sitting at the table is faith, not being Jewish. Regarding those sent from the table, Paul reminds us, “If they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).