In Genesis 15:18-21 a very specific land promise was given to Abraham and to his seed, which is Israel. Those brothers who embrace the dispensational point of view would say that Israel has never truly been given those exact dimensions as described in Genesis 15 and therefore the promise of the land for Israel is awaiting a future fulfillment. According to the dispensational understanding this fulfillment will take place during the 7-year tribulation period at the end.
I would wholeheartedly agree that the exact land promise to Abraham and Israel has not been literally fulfilled. But, I will make the case that this promise to Israel was never meant to be fulfilled literally. Let us begin by surveying what the Lord says about his promise to give Israel the promise land in the book of Joshua.
As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses. So Joshua took the entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon.(Joshua 11:15-17 NIV)
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. (Joshua 11:23 NIV)
These statements seem to be quite clear. It says that Joshua took the entire land. The problem is that in Joshua 13 there is a list of the portions of land that are still to be taken.
When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (Joshua 13:1 NIV)
Once again towards the end of Joshua we find it stated that the promise of the land to Israel was fulfilled at the time of Joshua.
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:43-45 NIV)
Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Joshua 23:14 NIV)
In light of the above scripture is would seem to be clear that God views the promise of the land to Israel as being fulfilled. His intent in giving the promise was not to have it literally fulfilled. Almost was good enough. If God is says they took possession of the entire land then that fulfills the promise and ends the argument.
This side of Pentecost, in the New Covenant era, the promised of entering the land is understood as referring to being with the Lord forever in a land that does not end.
For in Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11 NIV)
In the book of Hebrews professed believers who are Jewish are in danger after prolonged persecution of not persevering in their faith. If believers do not persevere then they will not enter the promised rest that was given to Israel in picture form. The true rest is not Palestine but heaven and the new heavens and earth where believers will join God in his rest. The literal promise of the land given to unbelieving Israel was only a temporary picture of a land that is given to the true spiritual Israel.
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29 NIV)
Believers in Jesus Christ, the true Israel of God, are the real children of Abraham. Israel was a temporary unbelieving physical picture. The land promise of Palestine given to Abraham and then to Israel was a temporary picture of a land that all believers will enter after they die. This land will last forever and we will be with our Lord in perfect unending fellowship.
So, does the church replace Israel? Yes it does. For this can be seen in the biblical use of the land promise to Abraham and Israel. Yes Israel did receive the land promise, but that was only a temporary picture of a land promise that was given to the real people of God, the church. The true land promise that is given to the church is all about a land that will not end.