New Exodus Dialogues, Part 3 – The Israel of God

New Covenant Israel is made up of those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, regardless of their genetic background. The true “Israel of God” is therefore made up of both Jews and Gentiles united in “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). This was also taught by Jesus Himself in John 10:14-16:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Jesus is clear that “sheep” outside of Israel will be brought into God’s flock, and Jesus Himself is the shepherd of this one new flock. Paul discusses this controversial issue at great length in the book of Galatians, doing his best to clarify that physical circumcision is no longer important in the New Covenant where the boundaries of God’s restored covenant people are no longer dictated by the Law of Moses, but by faith in Jesus. Paul ends his letter by referring to all those who believe in Jesus as “the Israel of God.”

This definition of the “Israel of God” is disputed by dispensationalists who teach that “Israel” always means the genetic descendants of Abraham, and therefore the “Israel of God” must mean genetic descendants of Abraham who also believe in Jesus. Yet as far back as John the Baptist, who warned the Pharisees that God could raise up stones as children of Abraham (Matt. 3:9 ), this narrow view of “Israel” was rejected for the coming Kingdom Age.

Here is how Bible scholar Alistair Donaldson deals with this particular issue in his short and concise book, The Last Days of Dispensationalism, pages 17-19:

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…in the Ryrie Study Bible notes for Galatians 6:16, [Charles] Ryrie explains the meaning of the phrase “the Israel of God” in this way:

the Israel of God. I.e., the Christian Jews, those who are both the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham.

Ryrie has in this explanation given the word Israel a meaning that betrays the demands of his literal principle of interpretation. He has in fact redefined the meaning of the word Israel by restricting its referents to only those who are both bloodline descendants of Abraham and are Christians. Non-Christian Israelites and Israelites not physically of Abrahamic descent are excluded. This is not the normal or plain everyday use of the word Israel. Not only has he violated his own interpretive principle and his claim to the consistent application of it, he also appears not to have considered how the immediate literary context clarifies for readers how Paul is using the term “the Israel of God” in this instance —a meaning quite different to what Ryrie suggests. When the context provides meaning in this way we are not at liberty to supply a different meaning. Context reveals that believing Jews have already been included in the words “all who follow this rule.” To follow Ryrie’s interpretation would have us read the verse [Gal. 6:16] as follows:

“Peace and mercy be upon Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles —that is, all who walk by this rule— and upon the Christian Jews.”

This makes no sense and in fact makes the phrase under discussion completely redundant. The sad irony here is that the passage containing this phrase is concerned to show that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (i.e. being Israelite are non-Israelite) is of any relevance. For Ryrie to impose such a distinction is counter to the purpose of the text in that it sets up a distinction whereas the text seeks to remove such a distinction.

It seems that Ryrie’s interpretation is concerned to maintain his commitment to the dispensational distinction between Israel and the church and yet to do so he has had to sacrifice his commitment to the basis of his belief system, that is, a consistently applied literal hermeneutic.  It appears out of the question for Ryrie to consider the possibility that “Israel” in this context could be a reference to all believers—a legitimate understanding whereby the phrase functions as a clarifying descriptor of the “all who walk by this rule”.  If Ryrie was to be faithful to the literal, normal, and everyday usage principle, he in fact should understand the word Israel as a reference to Israel the nation, but this would have the meaning of pronouncing blessing on Christian Israelites, Christian Gentiles, and upon “the Israelites”—yet “the Israelites” would include the Christian Israelites already mentioned.  Again the phrase “the Israel of God” becomes unnecessary.  Further, it would see Paul pronouncing blessing on the very people he has, in the context of the entire letter to the Galatians, excluded from blessing—that is, those who regarded circumcision as an identity marker of the people of God.  In effect Paul would be extending a blessing to as many as walk by this rule (of circumcision not counting for anything) and as many as don’t follow this rule (circumcision counts for something)—and would therefore be both nonsense and contrary to his entire line of reasoning.  The “normal usage” meaning is just not possible in this use of the word Israel.  Its intended meaning or referent must be found by other considerations.

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Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Davidic King, who today rules over the heavenly Jerusalem. You can’t be “in Him” and yet be “out” of Israel. Is this view properly called “replacement theology”? Not a chance! It’s not about Gentiles or “the Church” replacing Israel, rather it is all about Gentiles coming in and adding to Israel, expanding its borders so that God’s salvation may encompass all the nations of the world!

 

 


9 thoughts on “New Exodus Dialogues, Part 3 – The Israel of God

  1. Yes, all who have been circumcised spiritually are the Israel of God, both Jew and Gentile. He has broken down the middle wall of partitition between the two, Eph 2, and made the two peoples one new people. Unfortunately, in our day, the dispensationalists have built the middle wall of partition back up. They take verses like Rom 11:25 completely out of context. If you read the entirety of Romans 11 in context, both believing Jews, the elect remnant like Paul, and believing Gentiles have been grafted into the Olive tree. Unbelieving Jews have been broken off. They need to be grafted back in the same as Gentiles. There are only believers both Jew and Gentile in the Olive tree, not unbelievers!

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  2. Paul made a distinction between Israel and Jew and Gentile believers in Rom. 9:24 and then quotes Hosea 2 not describing the Church, but Israel’s future restoration. In verse 26 Paul says Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel and then quotes another Israel restoration passage Isa 10. Even if you interpret it out of the context of Hosea 1-3 and you believe it’s talking about the Church, it still speaks of Israel’s eventual restoration. When you Go to Hosea, there is no way that the Lord is not speaking to Israel, the genetic Israel, who are about to go into captivity. Hosea 3 says and I am paraphrasing, that a new woman will be with the Lord for many days and Israel will be without the Lord for many days, but afterwards, after the new woman’s many days with God and Israel’s many days without God, “the children of Israel will seek their Lord their God and David their king” and qualifies it further “in the last days” Paul says in Rom 11:25 “Until” the fullness of the Gentiles comes in and fullness a complete number or time.

    As far as Rom 9 and 11 being taken out of context, their is a clear distinction made between the Church and Israel. But as far as now, they are the enemies of the gospel, (who is Paul talking about? not the Church), but concerning election they are beloved for the sake of the father’s. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”Rom.11:28-29. The idea that Israel will not someday be restored, physical but must be believing Jews, to the covenants God made with Israel, not the Church, goes against what the covenants say. They are I will, I will, I will,(Ancient Near East Suzerainty Vassal-king treaties, where the king is responsible to fulfill the covenant) the only ones that can completely receive all of the blessing both physical and spiritual(Abrahamic, Davidic and New covenants) is believing ,physical Israel. We participate but cannot fulfill them completely, we get the spiritual blessings, Israel gets both physical and spiritual blessings when they turn back to the Lord. Almost every prophetic books in the OT speak of Israel’s restoration, so if it’s the Church and not Israel, then God was playing games and promising things to them that would never take place.

    Last of all, As Jesus was preparing to ascend the disciples asked Him, ” Lord at this time will you restore the kingdom to Israel”? Jesus didn’t set them straight, He didn’t say, “You guys just don’t get , your Israel.” He didn’t say it would happen at Pentecost, Jesus said,”It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His authority.” The only other time that phrase is used is in 1Thess. 5, referring to the Day of the Lord, a Jewish centered time period..

    I am not discounting Peter’s writings , there are a lot of interesting ideas and I am not a blind 100% Dispensationalist, but when you start to say that the Church is Israel, I think that is something you cannot defend. The Galatians passage depends on the use of kai and most of not all Greek experts say its “and” and not “even”. And if you read the OT restoration passages, understand what type of Covenants(Abrahamic, Davidic and New covenants) are and who is responsible for fulfilling them and Rom 9,11 in context, It is hard to prove that we are true Israel. But we can’t take the physical Israel thing too far, they must believe in and today they don’t. Paul says, “Concerning the gospel they are the enemies for your sake” and we have to remember that. But it also says about physical Israel, “concerning election they are beloved, for the sake of the fathers”.The promises made to them are not done away with. The 3 covenants, excluding Mosaic covenant are irrevocable, Read Jere 31-33 are we now the children of Jacob? The restoration will take place in the Day of the Lord. One of the main purposes of the Day of the Lord, time of Jacobs Trouble and the 70th week of Daniel or at least the second half is to bring Israel back to their God and 1/3 will come back.(Zech.13:8-9).
    In Matt.23:37-39 as Jesus looks out over Jerusalem and says, You will not see me again until you say blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is He talking to? If the land isn’t important why is Jesus returning there? Why is the final battle there? Israel is the center of the end time events, everything revolves around Israel, the land and people, it is all throughout Scripture. They are not saved for being Jews, but the promises have not been yanked away.

    I love Peter’s enthusiasm and his theory is very interesting, even though I don’t agree. Peter also makes it clear that he is not a Replacement Theology guy, so I appreciate his spirit on this and always enjoy reading his stuff and I will continue to read and take what I believe is consistent and use it and be blessed by it, as I should, so thanks Peter.

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  3. One last thing, both Jesus(Matt 13:4-mystery) and Paul in Eph 3 says this period is something new, so Jew and Gentile in one body, is new and has nothing to do with erasing the covenants God made with physical Israel. In this period what you are, Jew or Gentile doesn’t matter, but we did not permanently replace physical Israel, but are God’s people now, that doesn’t change the promises God made to
    physical Israel. Richie G.

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  4. Thank you Richie for your thoughtful response. Yes, I am advocating a view of the relationship between Israel and the Church that goes directly against what so many of us have learned and taught. Thank you for maintaining the dialogue even though you disagree. I used to understand things in exactly the way that you say. The entire chapter two of my book “Red Moon Rising” promotes this view. This is nothing new to me. However, a couple of years ago I began to be exposed to another perspective. At first I was shocked and offended at what I was hearing, but I feel the Lord led me to submit to a dose of humility, the end result of which was my pulling my “Red Moon” book from publication right at the height of “red moon” hysteria, when my book was setting new sales records.

    For me, the question was, how did the early church perceive themselves? Did they view themselves as an entirely new entity, taking the spotlight while “Israel” was on hiatus between the crucifixion and the final seven years? Is the church truly a “mystery,” with nothing said about it in the Old Testament, as dispensationalists misunderstand Paul to be saying? To argue this view is to ignore how the writers of the New Testament understood their Bible! They were CONSTANTLY quoting from the Old Testament, to show that what was happening in their midst was a fulfillment of prophecy!

    But what were the prophecies that were being fulfilled by the early Church? They were the prophecies of the OT that speak of the restoration of Israel! To sum it up, what the New Testament refers to as the establishment of the Kingdom of God (already, but not yet), is the very same thing that the Old Testament described as the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. They are the same thing, and they both work through a process of inaugurated eschatology of “already, but not yet.”

    So many readers of this blog will react to this statement with a roll of the eyes, content to fall back on a modern-day understanding of the church that was first invented in the 1800s, simply because that is what they have been taught. But now is not the time to be smug and self-assured, lest we be carried away with false teaching. We need to be humble and recognize that we are not immune to deception. I have gone through a period of humility and it caused me to change my views, recognizing that I was wrong. Now I simply do my best to explain the new way in which I see things.

    Here are a few points to consider about the OT prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel:

    1. The Messiah of Israel was predicted to gather and lead Israel, and also to gather the Gentiles into this end-times movement. The Messiah was never predicted to operate in any way outside of Israel. His role was always played out in relation to Israel, rejected by the majority, but accepted by a faithful remnant. For instance, read the servant songs of Isaiah as well as Isaiah 49 where the Messiah would gather Israel AND the Gentile nations as part of a SINGLE process of universal restoration.

    2. The OT also predicted the RECONSTITUTION of Israel, saying that the two divided kingdoms would be brought together and that all twelve tribes would be united again under God. We see Jesus beginning the fulfillment of this by designating the twelve Apostles as the rulers of the twelve tribes. They were the new leaders of the tribes as the restoration process was begun. In Acts we find that Judea and Samaria are united under Jesus by the preaching of the Apostles, fulfilling the OT expectation for the unification of the two Israelite kingdoms, after which the message goes out to the scattered twelve tribes of the diaspora and also to the Gentiles. All of this was predicted in the OT to take place by the “Word of the Lord.” In Acts we find that the “Word of the Lord” is the agent that expands the Kingdom of God as the Gospel is preached.

    3. The OT predicted that the New Covenant would be made with Israel in Jer. 31:31. This happened when Jesus made covenant with the Twelve who acted as representatives for all of the remnant of faithful Israel at the Last Supper. To think that the New Covenant was established with a separate entity known as “The Church” has no biblical basis whatsoever, and is a view completely absent from ALL ORTHODOX THEOLOGICAL DOCTRINE throughout church history. Both the reformers with their “replacement theology” got this wrong, and the dispensationalists with their “temporary replacement theology.”

    I REJECT ALL FORMS OF REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY!

    4. The OT spoke of the gift of the Spirit as the crucial component of Israel’s restoration. In Acts we find Peter speaking of the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost as the fulfillment of OT prophecy. If God’s Spirit was entering God’s people, we can be assured that the restoration of Israel was underway. Regarding Acts 1:6, when the disciples ask Jesus if Israel was to be restored, Jesus did not say, “No!”, rather He responded by saying “Wait.” They were to wait for the Spirit which would be the crucial component of Israel’s restoration, just as Joel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah had all predicted. To think that the Spirit was poured out independent of Israel’s restoration program is to ignore what the OT says about the end-times pouring out of the Spirit and its primary role.

    5. The OT also spoke repeatedly of Gentiles entering into the end-times restoration of Israel. That is why James quotes from Amos 9 when he makes a ruling on Gentile inclusion into the early church community. Furthermore, take note of the fact that there were many Jesus-followers who wanted to circumcise Gentiles upon entry into the early church. Why was this even CONSIDERED if the early church viewed themselves as an entity SEPARATE from Israel? The reality is that there was no confusion regarding the church’s identity. They knew that they were faithful Israel in the process of restoration! The confusion was simply on the basis by which Gentiles could now be considered as part of restored Israel. Some said it had to be circumcision, whereas Paul wrote that the new marker for inclusion into God’s family was simply faith in Jesus, with no Mosaic boundaries left standing to divide Jew from Gentile. Also, there is a good body of OT evidence that shows that Gentiles were to be accepted into New Covenant Israel as full and equal members of the Twelve Tribes, with all inheritance rights included (such as the “land” promises). Restored Israel was not to be viewed as “The Twelve Tribes plus the nations of the Gentiles” but simply as “The Twelve Tribes of Israel (with the nations adopted into the Twelve Tribes)”. This idea is proven by the fact that the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem are named after the twelve tribes. There is no “Gentile” gate! Every Gentile enters into eternal salvation by being granted a new identity within one of the Twelve Tribes.

    6. The OT also speaks of the enthronement of the Davidic King as a part of Israel’s restoration. Again, the NT is very clear that this has already taken place with Jesus. He is the restored Davidic King ruling from heavenly Jerusalem. Amos 9 speaks of the restoration of David’s fallen tent, and James in Acts 15 declares that this has happened already and that Gentiles are being brought into that restored tent! You can’t separate the Davidic king from the restoration of Israel. It’s all part of the same process.

    7. The restoration of Israel is viewed in terms that speak of an end-times EVENT in the OT, but revealed as a PROCESS in the NT. The program for restoration is given in Acts 1:8: First in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then to the far parts of the earth. This is the outline of the book of Acts. Even the salvation of the eunuch is a fulfillment of restoration prophecy, deliberately chosen by Luke, the writer of Acts, to demonstrate the fulfillment of God’s restoration program. Isaiah 56 predicts that the restoration of Israel will include the gathering of the outcasts, and we know that outcasts such as eunuchs were considered unclean and unfit for temple duties. Yet Isaiah 56 says that eunuchs will be brought into God’s restoration program for Israel and given a place in God’s house. Luke knew this and wanted to demonstrate that the early church was fulfilling the OT expectations of Israel’s restoration. Also note that neither Luke, nor any of the other NT writers, are beholden to the “literal intepretation” of OT prophecies that dispensationalists subscribe to. NT writers often interpret OT predictions through a spiritual fulfillment, just as Jesus did on many occasions.

    Regarding the book of Isaiah, we know that it is all about the end times restoration of Israel. Yet Isaiah was also known as the “fifth Gospel” in the early church. How then can we separate the restoration of Israel from the Gospel that the Church is commanded to preach? This makes no sense.

    Am I completely confused here? Is this challenging to our preconceived notions about end times and the church? I am sure it is! Yet I have been immersed in both perspectives. I was trained in dispensationalism for many years, adopting it without question because to my carnal mind it made things easy to understand, with its “perfect” charts and graphs and “literal” interpretation of the Old Testament. But now I have seen the other side, and I have allowed myself to understand what the other side has been saying. There are BIG PROBLEMS with the view that “the Church” is entirely separate from God’s program for the Restoration of Israel. This may make things confusing for the moment, and I haven’t got everything figured out. But I was willing to be humbled and to begin to see things from a new perspective. For me this is tremendously liberating and exciting, even if that means I have to let go of my previous views and embrace the mystery of it all as we watch God’s end-times plan unfold.

    Thanks for your comments and God bless!

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  5. Peter, I agree 100% with this presentation as well. Haven’t yet read your lengthy response to Richie, but I will be interested to see how you deal with Romans 11 (partial hardening, until, all Israel shall be saved, etc.)

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  6. I have been reading your stuff for ages now Peter and have always enjoyed and explored what you have to offer. I am reading all this new thinking you now have and I am genuinely struggling to see how Israel and the church are the same thing. Maybe I am missing something but I have read what you have written several times now. I had all the same thoughts as Richie G..100%..The issue of the church being Israel has been raised so many times…Some years ago I was involved in a study group that looked at this exact subject and it became apparent very quickly that if you try to make Israel and the church mean the same thing it gets very complicated and nonsensical at times. Deciding when Israel means Israel and when it doesn’t but means the church becomes very subjective. A lot of what you are saying makes perfect sense and I have no issue with it..but some I am finding problematic. Very interesting and challenging..no eureka moment yet but I am happy to continue to hear this out…especially as I am in a home study group that is meeting to look at these type of things.

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  7. It might help to put yourself in the Apostles’ shoes. They followed Jesus for three and a half years. They identified Him as the Messiah of Israel and He confirmed it verbally, as well as supernaturally through His resurrection. Then afterwards He personally taught them about Himself using the Old Testament Scriptures as the final confirmation (Luke 24:27, Acts 1:3). Jesus was a Jew. The Apostles were Jews. Jesus never talked about doing anything separate from Israel, but he did talk about His message reaching those outside of the boundaries of Old Covenant Israel. For the first few years the Holy Spirit was ONLY poured out upon Jews. This was the beginning of the restoration and REBIRTH of the true spiritual Israel… the holy end-time nation that Old Covenant Israel was merely a shadow of. The Scriptures were clear that “the Word of the Lord” concerning the restoration of Israel would be heard from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3), before going out to the ends of the earth. Isaiah looked forward to the time when the formerly divided kingdoms of Ephraim (aka the northern kingdom of Israel) and Judah (the southern kingdom) would be reunited (Isaiah 11:13). Isaiah 49:6 says that the Messiah would raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel AND ALSO be a “light to the nations.”

    In Acts we see the restoration program announced by Jesus in Acts 1:8, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” First in Jerusalem and Judea, and then into Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. The conversion of Samaria (Acts 8) to faith in Christ was the fulfillment of the unification of Israel because Samaria was representative of the lost idolatrous northern kingdom (Ephraim). The conversion of the eunoch was the fulfillment of Isaiah 56:4-8. A eunoch was an outcast in Old Covenant Israel, considered unclean. When Philip converted the eunoch we are shown that Isaiah’s prediction of God’s acceptance of the outcasts in the restored Israel was coming to pass.

    Recognize also that the agent that brings all of this together is “The Word of the Lord,” as it is heard first in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then finally to the Gentiles. In Acts “The WORD of the Lord” is the primary subject of the narrative! This is exactly as Isaiah and the prophets had predicted.

    An issue then came up when Cornelius heard the “Word of the Lord” and was filled with the Spirit. The Apostles knew that this had been predicted, but they didn’t know how to handle it. What should they do with Gentiles that were adopted into their movement by God through the Spirit? Did they ever think that the Gentiles were to be separate from what they were doing? Did they ever conceive of a thing called “The Church” that would be for Gentiles and be separate from their entirely Jewish sect? Of course not. They realized that Gentiles were entering into the “restoration program” that God had predicted for the reborn Israel. They only stumbled upon the question of the “boundaries” of this reborn Israel. Some Jews believed that the Mosaic boundaries still applied, and so they argued that Gentiles entering into the reborn Israel had to become circumcised. Paul believed that the Mosaic boundaries were abolished and fulfilled in Christ. Peter wavered at first, but then I believe that Paul eventually won over Peter as well as John, in recognizing that the reborn Israel was free from the Old Covenant and was now based entirely on the New Covenant.

    Some theologians argue that Paul was the first to recognize that “the Church” was a new program that was separate from God’s dealings with Israel. This is nonsense. This was never one of the mysteries that Paul explains. The Old Testament was clear that Gentiles would be a part of the restored and reborn Israel. Jesus was crystal clear about this as well. So the question remains… at what point did the early church begin to view themselves as a movement separate from God’s restoration of Israel? It certainly didn’t occur when many Jews within the movement were still trying to circumcise Gentiles! The reality is that this misguided idea of “The Church” being separate from the true spiritual Israel did not arise until around 1820 in the new and terribly misguided teachings of John Nelson Darby, the father of dispensationalism. For me the truth of the matter was identified once I began to put myself into the life of the early church, and once I began to read and apply the Old Testament in the same way that the early Christians were doing. The early church was the fulfillment of the beginning stages of the restoration of Israel, of this I have no doubt.

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  8. I am in total agreement with what you say until your last paragraph. I have read that you state you are not into replacement theology so I am reading what you are saying with that in mind. if you are saying simply that we are grafted into the promises of Israel spiritually and christians do not have to follow the Old Covenant because Yeshua fulfilled it and we now have the New eg..being circumcised etc. then I get it. However if you are saying something different then I suspect that is were I am failing to understand how the church and Israel are the same thing. From my understanding the gentile church separated from the early Jewish apostle style church when heavy persecution of the jews began to kick in. It would appear also that the western churches deviated from eastern orthodoxy also. I am genuinely trying to explore what you are saying so if my responses are causing you frustration please be patient and forgive me. Shalom Deborah

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  9. You present some very interesting points and I am trying to grasp them. I am not firmly in the dispensation nor the replacement camps but am trying to wrap my head around what scripture clearly discusses in the new covenant as you have tried to so clearly describe, and yet what is going on around the world (restoration of national Israel out of obscurity, current Psalm 83 type conflicts, alignment of Gog/Magog type nations). I don’t think we are moving towards God’s kingdom on earth through the spiritual Israel (church). It seems we are marching firmly into more apostasy, ecumenism, lukewarmness, confusion, etc. I don’t understand how you are going to try to correlate your views of this new exodus with the end times? Like, are you amillenial now?

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