Lesson Number 13
ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED
After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed: of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed. (Revelation 7:1-8, NKJV)
We are entering into a section of Revelation around which much controversy rages. The Christian community is by no means united in its view of this passage. I feel there are several reasons for this unfortunate condition. First, we are living in an era of institutionalized religion, when the truth itself is not the point. It must ever be remembered that truth has a value of its own. "Truth," is ultimate reality, and God affirmed Himself to be "abundant . . . in truth" (Ex 34:6). Truth is not speculative, conjectural, or hypothetical. What men think about the truth has no bearing on the truth itself it has no effect upon reality.
For this reason, men can "walk in the truth" (Psalm 26:3), be "valiant" for it (Jer 9:3), and experience freedom through it (John 8:32). The truth of God can be "obeyed" (Gal 5:7). "loved" (2 Thess 2:10), and "known" (1 Tim 4:3).
The book of Revelation does NOT unveil a new vein or stratum of truth. Rather, it is but an elaboration of the truth already affirmed in Scripture. This is a vital point to see and embrace. The child of God must not allow a perspective of Scripture to remove his thinking from the Lord Jesus Christ and His great salvation. To permit such a distraction is to initiate a state of spiritual retrogression. It is not possible to "keep the faith" or maintain an acceptable status with the Living God apart from vital union with the Son of God. What is more, that union is maintained through faith and by means of the truth. If I entertain novel views of Scripture that are actually at variance with the revealed purpose of God in Christ, I do so with peril, for "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess 2:13). With great zeal, therefore, we must avoid any approach to the book of Revelation that tends to obscure the will of God as revealed in the Person of Christ and the Gospel.
There is a grand aim to this book, and I want to ever keep it before your mind. The superiority of the heavenly Kingdom, as currently administered by Jesus, is affirmed, together with the inferiority of the kingdoms of the earth. This superiority is seen in the ultimate triumph of the church over all of her adversaries. Her triumph will not be realized by removal, but by survival! The purpose for the world relates directly to the saints. Even though they are presently strangers and pilgrims in the world (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11), it was really made for them, not sinners. Jesus revealed this in His parable of the tares of the field. The good seed sown in the world is identified as "the children of the kingdom," while the tares, of intruders, are the "children of the wicked one" (Matt 13:38). There simply is NO reason for the world apart from the saints of God! This is seen in The Revelation. The world and its inhabitants are diametrically opposed to the people of God. However, there opposition is temporal and incidental. In the end, all such opposition shall fall to the ground, and "the saints will take the Kingdom" (Dan 7:18,22,27).
AFTER THESE THINGS I SAW . . .
"After these things I saw . . . " We are still in the sixth seal. The seventh seal is not broken, or opened, until the eight chapter (8:1). The sixth seal indicates the consummation of all things the end of the world and the judgment of the ungodly. The Divine commentary on this seal extends to the conclusion of the seventh chapter.
Now comes a thoughtful interlude the revelation of something that occurs before the end of the world. Here is a Divine elaboration of "the end" (Matt 10:22; Matt 24:6,141 Cor 1:8; 15:24; Heb 3:6,14; 6:11; 1 Pet 4:7; Rev 2:26). The sixth chapter closed with the probing question, "who shall be able to stand?" The Lord now addresses this matter, revealing His consideration for His people, even in the end of the world. Trouble and sorrow, even in the ultimate, are attended by the most minute and aggressive thoughtfulness of those whom the Lord "foreknew" (Rom 8:29; 11:2).
The Removal of the Wicked
Of primary consideration is the removal of the wicked the first thing brought to our attention regarding "the end" (Rev 6:15-17). This is why the first association of the Son of God with "the end" relates to "the wrath of the Lamb," and "the great day of His wrath." At this point, we come into sharp conflict with a significant percentage of end time theology. I will affirm, and show from God's Word, that the wicked will be removed FIRST from the earth.
In the parable of the tares of the field, Jesus declared this reality. "Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn . . .The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:30,41,42). The children of the Kingdom and the children of the wicked one will GROW TOGETHER until the wheat is harvested into glory. When the harvest comes, the wicked will be removed "first.," being severed from among the just. This is also taught in the parable of the Net. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:47-50).
Again, Jesus taught this in the discourse recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. "But as the days of Noe (Noah) were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (vs 37-39). Who is it that were "taken away" in the flood? Certainly not Noah and and his family. It was the wicked--just as it shall be in the end of the world.
John the Baptist prophesied of this very activity when he introduced Jesus. "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt 3:12). The threshing floor is the world, and it is "purged" by the removal of the wicked, not the withdrawal of the righteous. That should be evident enough for all to see. Permit me to state it again: The world will NOT be purged by the removal of the righteous, but by the removal of the wicked--contrary eschatology not withstanding.
The recounting of "the end of all things" (1 Pet 4:7) is not declared in an academic or chronological manner. It will be seen from the perspective of God's "eternal purpose." What God has affirmed in the rest of Scripture will be brought to our minds. He is not establishing a new agenda here, but amplifying on the one already declared. The collapse of the natural order is seen, together with the frightening awareness of the enemies of God. But this will NOT take place prematurely, or before everything spoken by the mouth of God's holy prophets has been fulfilled (Acts 3:20-21). It is as though John said, I beheld the decimation of the world order; the collapse of the temporal. I beheld with comfort the truth that the world and its inhabitants would pass away. Now my attention was turned to the elect. I was given to see the relationship of the promises of God to the end of the world.
The end of the world will not abort the promises of God--particularly regarding His people. While "the end" is determined, it will not come prematurely. Nor, indeed, will it require an adjustment to the revealed objectives of God. The first three verses of this chapter are saying, Do not proceed with the destruction of the world until I have fulfilled My promise to the ancient people!
" . . . I saw four angels . . . " We have no extensive explanation of these angels. They are simply ministers of God, "that do his pleasure" (Psa 103:21). Remember, the Kingdom of God is a one of participation. The will of the Lord is carried out by faithful ministers. At the highest level, this is accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ, the "Minister" of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 8:1-2). At the intermediate level, it involves the holy angels, of whom it is said, "Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire" (Heb 1:7). In a more apparent way, it includes the employment of the saved, John himself being an example (Rev 1:1). The Lord is now taking us behind the scenes, revealing that the end of the world will take place in strict harmony with His "eternal purpose," and in the interest of the foreknown "remnant" of His people. We must not allow our minds to be distracted from the absolute preeminence of the salvation of God. At no point does it become a secondary consideration.
They Control the Earth
" . . . standing at the four corners of the earth, holding [back, NASB] the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree . . . " These are, in a sense, restraining angels. They are holding back the means through which the world will finally, as it were, collapse. They stand "at the four corners of the earth," having the ability to sustain or destroy it at the word of the King. Nothing is out of control in all of the world! From every corner, and in every place, Divine control is being administered Without that control, the world should have collapsed long ago through the instrumentality of controlling angels, who are not pictured as sympathetic toward sinful and rebellious men.
The phrase "the four corners of the earth" speaks of the earth from an objective point of view. The "whole earth" is for the schooling and orientation of the saints of God. The "four corners" of the Divine design relates exclusively to this objective. Everything is being orchestrated with the fulfillment of Divine intent in mind. Oh, how a suffering church needs to hear this!
"The four winds" are mentioned frequently in Scripture once again, the language of Moses and the prophets is being used. In every case where this phrase is used, something of great significance is heralded. Jeremiah spoke of the judgment of Elam as the bringing of "the four winds of the four quarters of of heaven" (Jer 49:36). Ezekiel prophesied the awakening of the whole house of Israel As the result of the wind, or Holy Spirit, coming "from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ezek 37:9). Daniel saw the rise of despotic powers resulting from "the four winds of heaven . . . stirring up the Great Sea" (Dan 7:2). He also saw "four notable ones" coming "up toward the four winds of heaven" (Dan 8:8). The overthrow of a principle kingdom is depicted by Daniel as "broken up and divided toward the four winds of heaven" (Dan 11:4). Zechariah also used this terminology when referring to the regathering of the children of Israel: "Up, up! Flee from the land of the north," says the LORD; "for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven," says the LORD" (Zech 2:6). Our blessed Lord also spoke of the angels gathering the elect "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27). This is Holy Spirit language!
In our text, "the four winds" speaks of destructive force associated with the end of the world. These "winds" are to the world what the "great wind" which "came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house," killing all of Job's children, was to him (Job 1:19). These are like the "destroying wind" which God sent against Babylon of old (Jer 51:1). But these winds will not be loosed to the disadvantage of any child of God! The world will not be brought to its appointed conclusion short of the fulfillment of God's predestinated purpose. You can believe that, dear child of God! Notice the precision of the expression: "that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree." Whether globally (the earth), provincially (the sea), or individually (any tree), the purpose of the Almighty will NOT be frustrated!
Here is a vivid picture of the longsuffering of God! He is allowing the wicked to flourish, as it were, like a green bay tree (Psa 37:35; 73:3-11). But, alas, their seeming triumph is but for a moment, "For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb" (Psa 37:2). As it is written, "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22). Let no one dare to fault God for withholding the destruction of the world, even though the wicked are boasting themselves in it, and harassing His people! This world is being maintained in the interest of God's eternal purpose. Involved in that objective is the perfecting of the saints in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. God will not allow the world to pass away until that purpose if fulfilled!
NOTHER ANGEL WITH THE SEAL
"Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God . . . " The purpose of God is always uppermost, always preeminent, always dominant! The angels do not operate on their own, but in strict accord with the Divine agenda. The angels with power over the earth await a word from their King! Now, from "the East," in which th sun rises (Num 2:3), another angel appears. He comes from the quarter where light springs forth! The "angel ascending from the east" is indicative of a Divine initiative. This angel has been given authority over the four holding back the four winds of the earth. He speaks for the Living God and His Lamb. This is God's world, and His purpose is being fulfilled in it.
This angel has something of exceeding value "the seal of the living God." The "seal" is not for men, but for angels! It was to identify the people of God, distinguishing them from the wicked. It is not a seal visible to men, nor is it intended to allow men to diagnose the inhabitants of the earth. The spirit speaks of this seal elsewhere. " . . . the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His . . . " (2 Tim 2:19). That seal was first set upon the Lord Jesus, in a unique and solitary way. As it is written, "God the Father has set His seal on Him" (John 6:27). This is a mark of Divine ownership, by which the people of God are designated for sparing. Through the approaching angel, God was saying, Wait until my people are identified with Me! Until My purpose, "according to election" (Rom 9:11), has been fulfilled!
There are several examples in Scripture of people God "knew," as it were, who were not yet translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son. There was the Ethiopian eunuch, to whom, Philip was sent (Acts 8:27-38). There were also the people of Macedonia, to whom the Lord directed Paul and company to minister (Acts 16:9-10). Cornelius and his household are another example of individuals known of God, who had to be sealed (Acts 10). A classic example is found in the word of Jesus to Paul when he was in Corinth. Although it appeared on the surface as though few people were receptive in that area, Jesus revealed to Paul, "for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:10).
I realize it is not fashionable to address this subject, but there is great benefit in seeing something of its truth and power. However a person understands the foreknowledge of God, it is clear that He knows those who are inclined to Him before they are so inclined. He is of power to keep destruction from them until the opening of their eyes. This is not an excuse for neglecting the call of the Lord. Rather, it is designed to teach us the preciseness with which this world is being governed. This is seen in a most remarkable explanation of the conversion of certain Gentiles in Antioch of Pisidia. After being forthrightly rejected by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles. These people rejoiced to hear the Word of the Gospel. It is written, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). While some wrestle with this expression, the standard versions of Scripture are consistent in their translation. "And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (NKJV). "And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (NASB). "And all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (NIV). "And as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers" (NRSV). "And those marked out by God for eternal life had faith" (Basic Bible English). In their case, destructive forces were held back until they were sealed! That is a Divine perspective, and can be embraced without reservation!
"And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, 'Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.'" Here again, the exactness of Divine control is seen. These four angels were "granted to harm the earth and the sea." As powerful as angels are, they cannot operate independently of the will of God. His Jurisdiction forms the perimeter around the all expression in His universe, be it among angels, demons, or men! Found at the station to which they were appointed, these mighty angels receive a word from the Potentate Who is over all. The angel bearing the message cries our "with a loud voice," a procedure with which we have grown familiar in this book (5:2,12; 6:10; 7:2,10; 8:13; 10:3; 12:10; 14:7,8,15; 19:17). Heavenly voices shatter the silence of earthly monotony, and drown the muffled and inferior sounds of this world.
And what is the message to these angels possessing power to "harm the earth and the sea?" Mind you, they have been given power, or authority and ability, to inflict this "harm" but not until the proper time. Abilities granted from God cannot function outside of His will. No gift or dispensation of power, regardless of its degree or measure, can be effective in a realm, within a period of time, or in an effort, that is not within the "good and acceptable, and perfect will of God." If angels cannot use their power for matters unrelated to the purpose of God, you may be sure men cannot!
Although given power to "harm," the angels are told to wait in abeyance! It is not yet time. There is something that must first take place! The word is specific. "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees." Do not proceed with your work of destruction! Remember, we are still in the sixth seal, which declared the end of all things. The world is coming down but not until . . . ! The Lord Jesus, Whose return will herald the grand consummation, will not exit the heavenly sanctuary "until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). God will not be frustrated in His purpose!
"WAIT!" cries the angel! Do not destroy the world until the servants of God are "sealed" until they come into the fold! You will remember that Sodom could not be destroyed unto Lot was saved from it (Gen 19:16-22). This vision is remarkably like that Ezekiel, who was given to see the marking of a remnant, who were exempted from destruction. The account is a telling one. "And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it. To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek 9:3-6).
Men must be continually reminded that God is not seeking a reason to condemn humanity. He has a keen interest in His people those He has foreknown and He will not allow "the end" to come until they have been sealed. Of old times, astute students of the Word referred to this as prevenient grace. By this, they meant there is an application of God's grace that preserves those who will be saved, not allowing the Tempter to remove them from the earth prematurely. For some, this is too weighty to consider, and others aggressively deny that it is so. However, God's Word does speak to this subject, and we do well to give heed to it. Peter states the case this way: " . . . elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ . . . " (1 Pet 1:2). All of the major versions give this perspective. " . . . who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood" (NRSV). " . . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood" (NIV). " . . . chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (NASB).
In a very telling expression, Jude also presents this view. "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ" (Jude1 , NRSV, BBE). The NASB says, "kept for Jesus Christ," as well as the ASV and NSRV. The KJV represents it is a slightly different manner, still accentuating Divine activity prior to our induction into the Kingdom. " . . . preserved in Jesus Christ, and called." You will remember our Lord Jesus said of those coming to Him, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44).
The "sealing" to which our text refers is not the same as the sealed book the Lamb is now opening. The seals on the book, or scroll, CONCEALED its contents. The "seal" placed upon the 144,000 REVEALS their recognition by God. God has presently "sealed" those in Christ with His Holy Spirit, marking them as His own (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). Although not identical to this seal, the sealing, or marking, of the 144,000 identify them as belonging to the Lord. The world is not to be destroyed prior to their acceptance! This is a staggering consideration that reveals the remarkable detail involved in the preservation and coming destruction of the world.
While our text will set a specific consideration before us, it clearly reveals that Divine interest and activity is exercised in the behalf of the saved PRIOR to their reception in Christ Jesus. A similar perspective was also uncovered in the fifth chapter, where a heavenly messenger informed the souls of martyrs of some of their brethren "should be killed as they were" (Rev 6:11). Blessed word of God that stretches our minds and challenges cherished religious tradition!
"And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed: of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed."
An exceeding large number of individuals are "sealed" 144,000. Although it is possible this is a literal number, I am inclined to consider it in another way. The identity of these people is so clear, it is difficult to understand how it can be missed. These were not representative of a wide variety of peoples and cultures, i.e., "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (5:9). We are told these were "all the tribes of the children of Israel." At once, we find ourselves at variance with some very dominant theological views. Some will have us to believe this represents the entire church the body of Christ. Of course, were that what was meant, that is what would have been said. This total-view of the saved is declared elsewhere by the Spirit: "the whole family in heaven and earth" (Eph 3:15), "the redeemed of the Lord" (Isa 61:12), "the household of faith" (Gal 6:10), "them that are sanctified" (Heb 6:14), etc. The Lord is, however, more precise here. This vast number is "all the tribes of children of Israel."
This phrase (the tribes of the children of Israel) occurs ten times in Scripture (Num 28:28; 36:3; 36:9; Josh 4:5,8; 14:1; 19:51; 21:1; Rev 7:4). In every single passage, the Jewish people are in reference. No place is the church as a whole represented as "the tribes of the children of Israel" nowhere. The redeemed ARE referred to as "the Israel of God" Gal 6:16), but NEVER "the tribes of the children of Israel."
The phrase "children of Israel" is unusually common in Scripture, being used 644 times: 630 in the Old Testament writings, and 14 times in the New Testament Scriptures. What is more, the term "house of Israel" is used repeatedly throughout Scripture no less than 152 times. 146 of these are found in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, while 6 are found in the New Covenant writings. Not a single occurrence of either of these expressions refers to the body of the redeemed the church, or those who are in Christ Jesus. A mind bathed in Scripture simply cannot come to that conclusion apart from the imposition of doctrines of men!
Jesus used the phrase "house of Israel" when directing His disciples to confine their initial work to the Jewish people (Matt 10:6). He also used it when speaking with "a woman of Canaan" who was a Gentile, saying He was sent to the Jews (Matt 15:24). Peter used it on the day of Pentecost in addressing the Jews (Acts 2:36). Stephen also employed the term when confronting the Jews with their history of hard heartedness (Acts 7:42). The Spirit twice used it in the book of Hebrews when quoting from Jeremiah concerning the New Covenant to be made "with the house of Israel" (Heb 8:8,10). This term is always confined to the nation of Israel, and is NEVER employed to describe those who are in Christ Jesus. Nothing in the doctrine or nomenclature of Scripture will lead an individual to equate "the tribes of the house of Israel" or "the house of Israel" with the church, or body of Christ. Such an effort is an attempt to conform the Word of God to an imaginary theology, generated by man in justification of a distorted view of Divine purpose.
In the book of Revelation, as in all of Scripture, the language employed is appropriately " . . . taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Cor 2:13, NASB). This is a principle we must retain with great zeal. One of the primary functions of Moses and the prophets was the development of a spiritual nomenclature through which God could communicate with those in the Son. The distortion of that revealed vocabulary is a transgression of unspeakable magnitude. It obscures the Divine message, and rivets the soul to theological fantasy mere imaginations of corrupt hearts. I affirm without apology, that the expression "the tribes of the house of Israel" can only mean one thing in the context of Scripture this is the ancient people, the Jews. They have not been forgotten by God, nor have they been summarily and hopelessly rejected as some imagine.
One hundred and forty-four thousand
"And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand . . . " Remember, this is an apocalyptic book a book of symbols. The numbers used therein are generally symbolic of something, and are not intended to connote mathematical counts. This particular figure is a summary number. We are told it represents 12,000 from each of twelve "tribes of the children of Israel" (12 X 12 X 1,000). It is a term of thoroughness or completeness. The number twelve is so used in Scripture, forming Divine associations in our minds. Jacob had TWELVE sons, from which the TWELVE tribes came (Gen 35:12). At the giving of the Law, Moses built an altar and TWELVE pillars, according to the TWELVE tribes of Israel (Ex 24:4). The breast plate of the High Priest has TWELVE stones, with the names of the names of the children of Israel (Ex 28:21). Within the tabernacle, there were TWELVE loaves of freshly baked bread, representing the TWELVE tribes of the children of Israel (Lev 24:5-7). At the dedication of the altar, "in the day when it was anointed," offerings were presented in "TWELVE silver platters, TWELVE silver bowls, and TWELVE gold pans" (Num 7:84). The animal sacrifices at the tabernacle dedication included "TWELVE young bulls, the rams TWELVE, the male lambs in their first year TWELVE, with their grain offering, and the kids of the goats as a sin offering TWELVE" (Num 7:87). The prophet Elijah, in his contest with the prophets of Baal, built an altar of TWELVE stones "according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob" (1 Kgs 18:31).
Lest we miss the point, this book later reveals a most interested aspect of the "the bride, the Lamb's wife." Described as a majestic city, it had a great wall with twelve gates, upon which were inscribed twelve names. "And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev 21:16). These names, mind you, were written upon the gates of the city, or the point of entrance. The truth of the matter is, salvation involves identity with the ancient people Israel. Our Lord Himself declared, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Salvation, in fact, is for them "first" (Rom 1:16; 2:10). What we are about to see is the mercy of God extended to the people among whom we have been grafted. A massive display of the Divine activity will be declared which involves a large number out of "every tribe of the children of Israel."
"Of ALL the Tribes of the Children of Israel"
The phrase "all the tribes of the children of Israel" has led some to wonder if every Israelite from all time is included in the vision. Emphatically, this is not the case. Again, the use of this phrase in Scripture will confirm that it refers to the majority of Israelites during a particular segment of time. Moses chose 1,000 warriors of "all of the tribes of Israel" to go against the Midianites (Num 31:4). Similar occurrences are found in the following passages: Deut 29:21; Josh 22:14; 24:1; Judges 20:2,10; 21:5; 1 Sam 2:8; 10:20; 5:1; 15:10; 19:9; 20:14; 24:2; 1 Kgs 8:16; 11:32; 14:21; 2 Chron 6:5; 11:16; 12:13; 33:7;). The prophets also employed the phrase to describe the Israelites from a particular time, or those who were alive (Ezek 48:19; Zech 9:1).
Additionally, "all the tribes of Israel" does not mean every single person. Scripture uses it to denote representatives from every tribe (2 Sam 5:1). Our text also views it from this perspective, referring to a number that were sealed "OUT OF every tribe of the people of Israel" (NRSV), or "FROM every tribe of the sons of Israel" (NASB). The Revelation, then, concerns a determined number of Israelites from every recognized cluster of the ancient people the "sons of Israel" (Jacob).
The reason for the representative number is explained in Romans 2:28-29. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." There is a "remnant" among the Israelites, known only to God. Our text reveals that a large number of them will surface before the end of the world. Another text which speaks of a people within a people is Romans 9:6-8. "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, In Isaac your seed shall be called. That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed."
12,000 From Each of the Twelve Tribes
There are 12,000 a perfect and thorough number sealed from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The listing of the tribes is very precise, and falls into harmony with God's dealings with this people. The tribes are not listed as they are elsewhere, or in the same order. In the original listing of the sons of Jacob, the order is as follows. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin (Gen 49:1-28). When Israel's camp was set up around the tabernacle, another order of priority was established. As may be seen in the accompanying table, this differs significantly from listing in Revelation. The listing in Numbers involved the consideration of the various ministries of the tribes relating to the tabernacle.
Without becoming unduly distracted at this point, it will be helpful to show why there is a difference in the listings. God always works in accordance with His pre-determined will, and in concert with the various judgments made known in previous periods. Judah, according to Jacob's prophecy, assumed the preeminent place among his brethren, thus displacing Reuben, who was "unstable as water" (Gen 49:3-48-10). Simeon and Levi moved back four positions, in keeping with the judgment pronounced upon them because of their fierce anger (Gen 49:5-7). Dan is completely omitted, because it gave itself wholly to idolatry (Judges 18:30- 31). Gad moved up to third place because of his overcoming nature (Gen 49:19). Asher and Naphtali also moved up because their character (Gen 49:20-21). Manasseh, the firstbornof Joseph, took the place of Dan, in keeping with the prophecy that Joseph's bough would run "over the wall," signifying unusual expansion (Gen 49:22).
Some Preliminary Conclusions
We see some principles here which are worth noting. First, the faithfulness and spiritual industry of God's people are not forgotten by God! This, of course, is affirmed in Hebrews 6:10. "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister." Second, men always reap what they have sown, and are not to be deceived about that reality. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Gal 6:7-8). Third, positions that are vacated by the unfaithful will be filled by others. This is seen in the replacement of Judas (Psa 109:8; Acts 1:20), as well as Mordecai'solemn warning to Esther (Esth 4:14).
An Equal Number
You will observe that an equal number is taken from each tribe 12,000. This does not indicate equality, but completeness. It is a term signifying "the whole house of Israel," as used elsewhere in Scripture (Lev 10:6; Jer 13:11; Ezek 37:11; 39:25; 45:6). This is nothing less than the John's insight into the sure fulfillment of Romans 11:26-27. "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." While this is not acceptable to many, we will find it to be clearly declared throughout Scripture, in keeping with the revealed objective of God, and in strict harmony with Apostolic doctrine.
UNDERSTOOD WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF SCRIPTURE
The proper understanding of any section of God's Word is found within the context of all Scripture. Unlike other literary compilations, the Scriptures are a single unit. All of the books are bound together by the common factor of inspiration (2 Tim 2:16-17). Holy men of God spoke as they were "moved" (or carried along) by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:21). On a practical basis, this means that all of Scripture has a single focus the purpose of God. Although comprised of writings from different times and through different people, the Word remains the expression of an unchanging God. It is woven together with the thread of redemption, and bordered with eternal purpose. The Divine objective, conceived from the foundation of the world, and unchanging, has been poured into the text of Scripture. Any doctrine, therefore, that cannot stand the test of all Scripture is spurious, and is to be rejected.
Divine judgment was sent against Israel because of its rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was an awesome judgment, described in most vivid terms. "For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation . . . For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations . . . " (Luke 19:43-44; 21:23-24). Some have incorrectly concluded Jesus to mean Israel would be altogether cut off. But this is not at all the case. The Lord placed a limitation upon this judgment. He said it would be "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Lk 21:24). Paul also referred to this time when he spoke of the present state of Jewish blindness. "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25). We do well to give heed to these Divinely revealed limitations. If they do not fit into our view of Scripture, then we should discard our views and embrace the Word of the King. It will stand, and "cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
Our text is projecting us to the time when Israel will again come into prominence when "the times of the Gentiles" shall have been fulfilled. Unlike many with whom we must contend, the Lord has not forgotten His promises concerning the ancient people, nor has He summarily written them off. Carnal explanations of Israel's role in the Divine economy cannot nullify the promises of God! Well into the middle of the First Century, the Spirit continued to classify humanity into three categories: "the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (1 Cor 10:32). We do well to avoid adopting views of Scripture and the working of the Lord that reject this inspired utterance. While there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ (Gal 3:28), it is ONLY in Him that the distinction is dissolved. Furthermore, it is not removed by the Jews becoming one with us, but by us becoming one with them. As it is written, "That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ . . . Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph 2:12-13,19). And again, "you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (Rom 11:17).
God's Promise to Abraham
The relationship of Abraham to the preservation and blessing of Israel is frequently declared in Scripture. This was the foundation upon which Moses based his intercession for Israel, when Jehovah God threatened to cut them off. Hear the mighty intercessor plead his case. "Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever" (Ex 32:12-13, NKJV). If you wonder concerning the effectiveness of this entreaty, hear the Word of the Lord: "So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people" (Ex 32:14, NKJV).
During the time of the kings, the Lord had great compassion upon the people of Israel, who were frequently harassed by wicked kings like Hazael king of Syria. His consideration, however, was more for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, than for the people of Israel themselves. As it is written, "But the LORD was gracious to them, had compassion on them, and regarded them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not yet destroy them or cast them from His presence" (2 Kgs 13:23). God's covenant with Abraham is a frequent point of reference in Scripture (Gen 13:16-17; 17:2-5; Lev 26:42; Psa 105:8-9; Micah 7:20). While it is true the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise is realized in Christ alone, this by no means supports the notion that Israel has been cut off without remedy. The teaching of Scripture is straightforward pon this subject. "Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:28-29).
GOD'S PROMISES TO ISRAEL
Remembering that God has pledged Himself to fulfill everything spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:20-21), the promises made to Israel are of particular interest. Remember, in the Revelation we ar witnessing the outworking of Divine purpose, declared before by the prophets. Nothing totally new will be found in the message given to John, and it will be in perfect harmony with previous revelations of the Divine objective.
It is important to say at this point that the acceptance of Israel will be on the same basis as that of the Gentiles. There will be no special Gospel for them. This is apparent because believing Gentiles have been become partakers of the covenant promised to the Jews. While the nations were "last" in respect to revelation, they are, as a whole, "first" in partakers of the promised benefits. The Divine rationality behind this is most edifying to consider. The Spirit does not leave us t conjecture on this point, but speaks with unusual clarity.
During the time of Moses, God declared His ultimate intentions to Israel. Because they provoked Him to jealousy an anger with their idolatrous vanities, He would provoke them to jealousy by favoring an un- convenanted people. Here ar His words. "They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation" (Deut 32:21). Taking up this line of reasoning, Paul affirms this to be the real reason behind his Apostleship to the Gentiles. " say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them" (Rom 11:11-14) With this in mind, a brief review of some prophetic utterances relating to Israel's recovery are in order.
I will not deal exhaustively with the prophecies that follow. My purpose is to show the commitments of God to Israel t unveil the lofty language with which He spoke to them. We will find Apostolic writings to be in accord with thes promises.
The Faithful City
"I will turn My hand against you, And thoroughly purge away your dross, And take away all your alloy. I will restor your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city o righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, And her penitents with righteousness" (Isa 1:25-27). Ultimately, the blessing of thorough cleansing is realized in the Kingdom of God's dear Son. That does not, however, depersonalize this promise, thereby excluding the Israelites. The Spirit witnesses that "the covenants" and "the promises" belonged to Israel (Rom 9:4-5). Here, the Divine commitment is to remove contamination from wayward Israel, resulting in it be noted for righteousness and faithfulness. That this remarkable promise was partially fulfille during the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra cannot be denied. Those days did not, however, exhaust this prophecy. The language is simply too lofty to have been fulfilled in the restoration of Jerusalem and the perfunctory fulfillment of routin worship.
Not Turn Away
"In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of th north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers. But I said: 'How can I put you among the children And give you a pleasant land, A beautiful heritage of the hosts of nations?' And I said: 'You shall call Me, My Father, an not turn away from Me.' Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, So have you dealt treacherously wit Me, O house of Israel, says the LORD. A voice was heard on the desolate heights, Weeping and supplications of the children of Israel. For they have perverted their way; They have forgotten the LORD their God. Return, you backslidin children, And I will heal your backslidings. Indeed we do come to You, For You are the LORD our God" (Jer 3:18-22). The obstinance of Israel is everywhere declared in Scripture. Throughout its history, repeated departures from the livin God were uncovered the ultimate being realized in its rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, God declares a time wil come when the ancient people, united together, will "not turn away" from Him. Once again, the faithfulness here depicted is realized by every person in Christ Jesus. However, that does not fulfill this text.
They Shall Serve the Lord
"Alas! For that day is great, So that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob's trouble, But he shall be saved out of it 'For it shall come to pass in that day,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'That I will break his yoke from your neck, And will burs your bonds; Foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the LORD their God, And David their king, Whom I will raise up for them. 'Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,' says the LORD, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel For behold, I will save you from afar, And your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, And no one shall make him afraid" (Jer 30:7-10). Observe that God declares He Himself will "raise up" David their King, and will do it "for them." This is unquestionably a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is repeatedly so called (Isa 9:7; 16:5; 55:3; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Ezek 34:23-25; Hosea 3:5). When the Jews rejected Jesus, they did so to thei own peril. The Lord, however, did not repudiate this promise, but held out hope to the rejecting people, however faint it may seem. "See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'" (Matt 23:39). He did not say they would NEVER say this, but that they would behold Him no more until they did!
God Will Not Go Back on His Promise
"Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light b night Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever" (Jer 31:35-36). Here is a most remarkable text. It immediately follows the announcement of the New Covenant which, the Spirit declares, is presently being administered by Christ Jesus (Heb 8:1-13). God, Who cannot lie, makes a commitment here. He does so with the panorama of Divine purpose before Him. The sun, moon, stars, and sea can be removed more easily than for Israel to cease from being a nation before Him. That is God's own affirmation!
The Covenant Established With Them
"Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never ope your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done, says the Lor GOD" (Ezek 16:60-63). The language of this text is too majestic to be brushed aside by stilted theology! An everlasting covenant will be established with the people. Waywardness will be remembered, causing shame to grip the heart. Neve again will the mouth boast great and unlawful things. An atonement will be provided for everything that was done. These words were not spoken to the Gentiles, but to the Jews. Our experience of them is by virtue of our grafting in among them. We must not overlook that the commitment was made to Israel, and God has pledged to fulfill His Word.
"I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in you own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, says the Lord GOD" (Ezek 20:41-44). Until this day, the Israelties have not been hallowed before the Gentiles. They remain "a byword among the nations," as declared in Deuteronomy 28:37. Yet, the prophet holds out a glorious promise one which faith can grasp. The language of this text is too magnificent to refer to a tempora restoration. Thes are realities that are experienced in Jesus Christ alone. We have tasted of them, but our tasting has not exhausted thistext. God, Who cannot lie, has made a commitment to Israel, and we do well to ponder it.
Better Than the Beginning
"I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bear young; I will make you inhabited as in forme times, and do better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the LORD" (Ezek 36:11). From the days of Sinai until now, God has not done better for Israel than He did at their beginning. Their association with the Living God has been in a state of deterioration, reaching its depths when they refused the Lord's Christ. But God will "d better" for them than at their "beginnings." That is His commitment, and He cannot lie.
The Spirit Put Within Them
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you eart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you . . . " (Ezek 36:27-29). It is not possible for such a promise to be fulfilled apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. This is nothing less than the declaration of the new nature and it is promised to Israel. A new heart! A new spirit! God's own Spirit within them! Caused to walk in His statutes! Keeping God's judgments, and doing them! Delivered from uncleanness! Has any of this occurred to Israel? Indeed, only a remnant of them have tasted these blessings, together with representatives from the nations. But this word has not fallen to the ground, nor has it been spoken in vain.
The Nations Around Will Know
"So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.' Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it. Thus says the Lord GOD: I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock" (Ezek 36:35-37). The work of God among the Israelites will become apparent to surrounding nations. What was desolated will be restored. God has declared it, and God will do it that is His own declaration. What is more, the ancient people wil even ask God to do this for them, as He has promised.
The Aliens Will Not Pass Through
"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter Hi voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strengt of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. The Jerusalem shall be holy, And no aliens shall ever pass through her again" (Joel 3:14-21). Just as the consummation of al things is appointed, so is the establishment of the children of Israel. It is true, this promise finds its ultimate fulfillment i the heavenly Jerusalem, where those alienated from God will forever be excluded. The phrase "children of Israel," however, leads us to avoid confining the words to the world to come.
They Will Seek Their Lord and King
"Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days" (Hosea 3:5). Prophecies such as this are like precious jewels set in the signet of God's Word. "David their King" is a clear reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ezekiel referred to Messiah in thi manner (Ezek 34:23,25; 37:24), as well as Jeremiah (Jer 30:9). This text was not fulfilled at Pentecost, nor in the turning of the Gentiles to God. It remains for "the children of Israel" (a term that is never applied to the church) to seek the Lord their God AND their spiritual David, not yet recognized by them. It is difficult to overlook this clear prophecy of a happy future for the Israelites.
There is coming a time when the veil, presently over the hearts of the Jews, will be lifted, and Christ is seen in truth. Thi type of activity is described in Second Corinthians 3:15-17. "Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech; unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on thei heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." While the Spirit is not speaking specifically o th restoration of Israel here, that promised reality is within context. You sense the expectation of the Apostle when he says "Nevertheless, when ones turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted." With care, He did not present their condition as hopeless.
The eleventh chapter of Romans is a remarkable delineation of the Divine view of Israel. What is there declared will justify the view taken of the prophecies just mentioned. The question put before us, "Has God cast away His people?" (11:1). In this case, "His people" does not refer to the church, but to the children of Israel. The tenth chapter of Roman concluded with, "But Isaiah is very bold and says: I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest t those who did not ask for Me. But to Israel he says: All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient an contrary people" (10:20-21). The people who did not "seek" the Lord, nor "ask" for Him, were the Gentiles the people that were to "provoke" Israel to jealousy. The Lord will now declare the Israelites have NOT been summarily cut off, o rendered without hope. Remember, I am showing the spiritual logic of the sealing of the "tribes of the children of Israel," and how that procedure does not refer to the church., as ordinarily conceived.
Paul Was an Israelite
In answer to the question, Paul fairly shouts, "God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the trib of Benjamin" (11:1b0. Not only was he a child of Abraham by faith, he also was in the flesh "of the tribe of Benjamin. His point is that this would not be possible if God had discarded Israel in favor of the Gentiles. Not only was Paul accepted in the Beloved, he attained an unusual status, laboring "more abundantly" than the other Apostles, and writing nearly 30% of all New Covenant writings.
God Reserves Remnants
He brings us back to the foreknowledge of God, the driving force behind His choice. "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew." We know this is the case because of the Lord's previous dealings with His people. On one occasion it appeared as though the entire nation had forsaken the Lord. Elijah, who had more than average discernment, concluded he "alone" was left, and they were seeking his life. "Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and lone am left, and they seek my life?" (11:2-3). But God had an answer for him! Elijah was not correct in his assessment, for he had judged according to appearance. The Lord had "reserved" for Himself 7,000 men who refused to bow their knees to Baal (11:4).
The Spirit concludes, "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace." (11:5). It is not a matter of some merely surviving, but of a graceful choice! Those who suppose Israel has been written off, an onl the Gentiles are left, do well to set with Elijah and hear the Word of the Lord. There can be no such thing as a "remnant" if Israel is cut off! The grace of God is that great to preserve for Himself a spiritual nucleus that shall at las swell into a great multitude.
The Present Condition of Israel Accounted For
" . . . the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see An ears that they should not hear, To this very day. And David says: "Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always (11:7b-10). Because of their rejection of the Lord Jesus, God has poured a spirit of deep spiritual sleep upon Israel. As it is written, "For the LORD has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, th prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers" (Isa 29:10). It is not a spirit of death, as He poured ou upon Satan and his angels, who are consigned to chains of darkness until the day of judgment (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). This i a spirit of stupor from which recovery is possible!
The meaning of the passage is that God's ancient people are subject to spiritual stupefaction without ceasing to be Hi people. Although difficult for some to receive, the Spirit will now take up the argument that the present hardening o Israel, a very definite reality, is not intended to be permanent. The same God Who has poured out a spirit of deep slee upon them can awaken them as a valley of dry bones, dry and blanched (Ezek 37:1-14). We should not be surprised at this form of reasoning. We Gentiles were once "not a people," but are now "the people of God" (Deut 32:21; 1 Pet 2:10). Our former condition is described as being "dead in trespasses and sins," being "by nature the children of wrath. We had "no hope, and [were] without God in the world" (Eph 2:1, 3,12). Of all people, we should have no difficulty believing God is able to recover this people. Yet, this is not left to conjecture. God will speak plainly to us on the matter,
Are They Unrecoverable?
"I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! [God forbid, KJV]" (11:11a). The Jews have, indeed "stumbled over the stumbling stone." As it is written, "They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, See I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall . . . " (Rom 9:32,33). The Spiri forbids us to conclude they have been utterly throw down, thus becoming unrecoverable. Those who imagine this is th case are in sharp conflict with the "mind of the Spirit!" By saying Israel has NOT stumbled "so as to fall beyond recovery" (NIV), He is declaring they shall, indeed, be recovered. God is not finished with them, nor has He consigne them to reprobation.
Their Fall, Our Gain
"But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles" (11:11b). Only God can bring good things out of bad, blessing from cursing, and benefit from disadvantage. There are two notable things to be seen in this brief but pungent expression. First, it is "through their fall" that salvation has "come to the Gentiles." Second, ther is a Divine agenda that drives this whole circumstance: "to provoke them to jealousy." This is lofty reasoning, and will not fit into the constricted bag of human wisdom.
Even in their humiliation, Israel has brought blessing to the world! What a marvelous work of the Almighty! I am sur Abraham never conceived of this being involved in the blessing of the world through His Seed. There yet remains a significant portion of the Christian community that finds it difficult to believe. Like it or not, Israel's hardening works for the world's salvation. Out of seeming ruin, deliverance came to the world. The reasoning here is that this would not be possible if Israel had been totally abandoned, or cut off from hope.
The Divine Logic
"Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! . . . For i their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (11:12,15). Now the Spirit launches into Sacred reasoning, teaching us how to think about such circumstances. He affirms that the present "riches of the world" is not sufficient for God's glory and Christ's reward. The present extent of salvation is great, but is still not glorious enough for the magnitude of Christ's atoning death and triumphant resurrection! We must not allow ourselves to become impeded by stunted thinking!
Isaiah spoke of the extent of God's salvation in a telling remark about His view of the Son. "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Gen 49:6, NASB). What a remarkabl affirmation! Salvation is infinitely larger than the average person is prone to think! Look what has come out of the temporary ruin of Israel! "Riches for the Gentiles!" If their fall has brought a blessing of this magnitude, what will "thei acceptance" bring? What a foolish argument this would be if "their acceptance" were not possible if they had bee summarily cut off! For the present time, the Gentiles are feasting at the table of salvation, the "lavish banquet for al peoples" (Isa 25:6). But some day, in God's appointed time, the appetite of the Jews will be whetted to sit at the tabl also When this happens, a wave of glory will push throughout the world, bringing greater blessing that what was experienced when they were cut off and salvation was extended to the Gentiles. That time is described as the time of "their fulness," or "full inclusion" (NRSV).
Paul Magnifies His Office
"For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I ma provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them" (11:13-14). The contemplation constrained Paul to enter energetically into his ordained ministry. He was not a prodigious laborer out of a sense of obligation alone, bu because he saw something of the grand purpose of God. He labored effectively among the Gentiles, or nations, "t provoke to jealousy" those who were of his flesh that is, natural Israel. Before the grand influx, he wanted to "save som of them," participating to the fullest degree possible with the purpose of God.
The exceeding rarity of such a perspective is unquestionable proof of the extreme shallowness of contemporar Christianity. I am persuaded that one of the reasons for its relative ineffectiveness is its minuscule view of the Kingdom. Paul, on the other hand, magnified his ministry by laboring with God's revealed objective in mind. He wanted to give th Jews something to be jealous about!
One passing thought. Do you suppose the ancient people are moved to jealousy by the religious froth that is offered up today? These people who, in their conservative posture, think absolutely nothing of what the world thinks, and are devoted to extensive periods of religious activity. Will such a people be moved to jealousy by brief services, a religious culture that blends with the world, and the prevalence of Scriptural illiteracy? They will have to see something more tha institutionalism and finely structured creedal statements to be moved to jealousy.
Notice the remarkable strength of this reasoning. "For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will thei acceptance be but life from the dead?" (NASB). With zeal and consistency, shun any view of Scripture that does not allo you to take these words into your heart and mouth. If it were not possible for Israel to be "accepted," this would be ost foolish argument, indeed. The coming reality of their acceptance is what gives force to this reasoning. The acceptance o Israel will spark a great awakening, a resurrection, as it were, "from the dead." We will see this very point made in th Revelation text. It is one which, when contemplated, brings great joy to my heart. I must acknowledge that I have grow weary of spiritual simulations and deadness.
They Are Still In A Supportive Role
"For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.(11:16). The Spirit lays the axe to the tree of human pride, particularly as it is evidenced in among those professing godliness. The use of the words "firstfruit" and "root" refer to the fathers, or Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The terms "lump" an "branches refer to the resultant nation, Israel, through all time. The word "holy" means sanctified, or set apart for God. Onc again, this is lofty reasoning, and will not conform to worldly patterns of thought. Keep in mind, this text is not speaking about spiritual Israel, but those related to Paul in the "flesh."
A kingdom principle is enunciated here that is found throughout Scripture: The dedication of the part includes th consecration of the whole. This principle was established under the Law. The fifteenth chapter of Numbers provides the detailed reasoning on the matter. When coming into the promised land, the people were to offer to God sacrifices o cakes and animals. In so doing, they would sanctify the remainder of what they ate (Num 15:1-21).
The Romans text is declaring the blessing of Israel for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a fact often affirmed by th Spirit (Ex 2:24; 3:15; 33:1; Lev 26:42; Num 32:11; Deut 1:8; 6:10; 2 Kgs 13:23; Jer 33:26). For God to renounce Israel, H would have to disown Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom He made covenant. To ensure that no such conclusion i ever reached, God has irrevocably linked His name with those three patriarchs. He is "the God of Abraham, the God o Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6,15,16; 4:5; Matt 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:32). Properly seen, that fact alone confirm Israel has not been cut off!
"And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and wit them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you" (11:17-18). Note that ALL of the branches were NOT cut off which would be the case if God has totally rejected Israel. What is more, God did NOT grow a new tree, or develop a new spiritual lineage. "Some," not all, of the Jews were removed from the tree because of their unbelief. I order that there be no loss, individuals who had no part whatsoever in the Jewish lineage from a "wild olive tree" wer grafted into the sanctifying "firstfruit" and "root" of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham thus becomes our "father" i the faith (Rom 4:1,12,16; James 2:21). The blessing which we now receive is nothing less than "the blessing of Abraham (Gal 3:14), come upon us because of Israel's partial blindness.
Let no one boast "against the branches," or the Israelites, supposing God no longer has a heart for them. They hav NO been totally cut off, because their "root" is supporting us. The tree has not died "from the roots," as that fig tree Jesus cursed (Mark 11:20). Nor, indeed, has the refreshing "fatness" of the tree failed. The Gentiles are scheduled to provok the Jews to jealousy, but the they will not provide "fatness," or "richness" to them. They have supplied it to us!
Did We Take Their Place?
"You will say then, Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spar you either" (11:19-21). The presence of this sort of reasoning is altogether too prominent. If not taught outrightly, some have been bold enough to embrace it in their hearts. God has a purpose, but it was not to REPLACE the ancient people The Gentiles have not stepped into the place of the Jews, but have become partakers of THEIR benefits. The New Covenant, which we presently enjoy in Christ Jesus, was never promised to the Gentiles. It is identified exclusively wit "the house of Israel" (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-13; 10:16-17).
Mark it well, those who were "broken off" suffered the consequence because of their unbelief. Those who imagin branches cannot be broken off do well to consider this. The branches that were removed belonged to Abraham, and were actually in the natural olive tree. Unbelief, however, disqualifies from Divine acceptance, and thus they were broken off. The solemn warning is to see to it that we are not broken off for the same reason. Rest assured, when unbelief grips the heart, and our trust is not in the Lord, breaking off is about to occur.
We Must Learn From Them
"Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if yo continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will b grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again" (11:22-23). Here are two sides of the Divine nature. They appear to be contrary to one another, but they are not. There is perfect harmony in these qualities: the "goodness and severity of God." God was "severe" to those who fell, showing them no mercy. He was "good" to us, making us acceptable even though it was not logical, from our point of view, to do so.
Do not suppose for one moment that it is not reasonable to believe Israel can be grafted in again, or that you can be cut off. For Israel to NOT continue in unbelief is just as possible as you to NOT continue in faith. What is more, "God is able to graft them in again!" Again, this is not a mere philosophical statement, but is undergirded by Divine intent. If suc a thing was no longer possible, it would be foolish to so direct our thinking.
It is Reasonable for Them to be Grafted In Again
"For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivate olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" (11:24). From every vantage point, the acceptance of the Jews conforms to sound reason. If it seems impossible for such a thing to occur, consider that the acceptance of the Gentiles. We were "cut out" of a state of total unacceptableness, an "contrar to nature" placed into a tree God has been maintaining for centuries. How reasonable is such a procedure? The Spirit does not present theoretical possibilities to us in this text, but prophesies of the reinstatement of the Jews into the tree of Divine acceptance. We Gentiles have really been accepted! Our salvation is real! "Much more" shall the ancient peopl again enjoy Divine acceptance. The force of the language cannot be effectively denied. The Spirit does not say it is possible for them to be grafted into the tree again! With the strength of Divine affirmation He says they "SHALL" o "WILL" be grafted into their own olive tree. He is declaring what will occur, NOT what CAN happen! The text i intended to teach us that this prophesy is more reasonable than the acceptance of the Gentiles.
They Are Coming Back!
"For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved . . " (11:25-26a). The entire perspective is called "this mystery." He does not mean that it cannot be understood. Rather, this is a strain of truth that could never be known were it not revealed. Judging from appearance, men have concluded the Jews have been written off, as it were. With unjustified dogmatism, some affirm they have been replaced, and are no longer a people. Now the Spirit comes like a flood-tide to wash away such foolishness. The corrupted views entertained by men have vaunted the opinions of men, and denigrated the Word of the Lord!
The blindness poured out upon Israel is not total, but "in part." It is, as the NASB puts it, "partial hardening" that "has happened to Israel." In this case, however, the Spirit does not associate "partial" with individuals or a total number. Instead the correlation is to a time: "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." Jesus said Jerusalem would b "trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Lk 21:24). The coming in referred t relates to salvation, or being made members of the household of faith. Presently, we live in a time when the church i dominated by the Gentiles. However, they have not done well. They have done with the Gospel what Israel did with the Law, attaching their traditions to it, then binding them upon other men. But their time is coming to an end perhaps mor quickly than some think. If you suppose there is no precision in the Kingdom of God, consider the NIV's translation o this verse. "Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in." Those who dar to affirm there is no such number will be made ashamed by the fulfillment of this word.
So, in this manner, "All Israel shall be saved." The notion that this refers to the whole church contradicts this passage however cherished it may be. The subject of this entire passage has been the nation of Israel. The point being made i tha they have not been utterly cut off. The expression "and so," comes from (hou- to-kai), which means in this manner, or in this way. This, then, is the way in which Israel shall be saved precisely the same way the Gentiles were. They will, by grace, have the veil lifted from their eyes, and be placed into the tree from which they were separated.
This will be done in strict accord with the Scriptures and the present ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. " . . . as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenan wit them, When I take away their sins." When Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the angel of the Lord appeared t Joseph saying, "you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). In confirmatio of this, Peter announced to the Jews of His day, "To YOU first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless YOU, in turning away every one of YOU from your iniquities" (Acts 3:26). While only the first-fruits of the spiritua harvest was experienced in the early days of the church, our text affirms a full harvest is yet to come.
The text to which Paul alludes is found in Isaiah 59:20-21, and it is potent! "And a Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, declares the LORD. And as for Me, this is My covenant with them," says the LORD: My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring, says the LORD, from now and forever." Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul provides a fuller perspective of the coming event. The Redeemer or Deliverer, will not simply come for those who have already turned from transgression. Rather, He Himself will tur them from their waywardness, giving them a new heart and spirit as He has promised (Ezek 36:26).
In order to remove from our minds the idea that He is speaking of the Gentiles, or the church in general, He states th Deliverer will "banish" (NRSV) or "remove" (NASB) ungodliness from JACOB a term by which the church is neve identified. This will be the fulfillment of God's promise through Isaiah. "I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye, And will remove all your alloy" (Isa 1:25). This also is the fulfillment of the covenan God made with them, and has never retracted: "For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." (Rom 11:27; Isa 27:9; 43:25; Jer 50:20; Ezek 36:25-27).
For the Father's Sake!
"Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of th fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have no obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy" (11:28:32). Those who cite the unworthiness of the "house of Israel" have thei concerns answered here. Their worthiness or unworthiness is no more related to their salvation than it is to that of th Gentiles. Because of their rejection of the Lord's Christ, they are presently "enemies." But, and do not miss this, it is "fo your sake!" By this, he means it is in order to our acceptance. The door of salvation was opened to us because of their fall, or temporary blindness. "For the sake of the fathers," and because of "the election of grace," they are stil "beloved." Forever put to rest any notion that the Israelites have lost all favor with God. They are still "beloved, according to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Knowing the aggressive manner in which men pursue flawed theology, the character of God is associated with the reinstatement of Israel, or their acceptance in Christ Jesus. "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable," o without repentance (KJV). God did not choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and promise to bless their offspring, taking away their sin, only to abandon His word. The integrity of God is at stake in this matter.
The parallel between the turning of Jacob and the acceptance of the Gentiles is remarkable. Once we were disobedient, but now we have obtained mercy through Israel's disobedience. In the same way, now Israel is disobedient, but becaus o the mercy shown to the Gentiles, they also will obtain mercy. Neither Jew nor Gentile, therefore, will be able to boast in the presence of the Lord.
Stand Back and Marvel!
"For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both o the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who ha known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (11:32-26). As thoug caught up in a cloud of glory, the whole matter under discussion overwhelms the Apostle. With an eagle eye of faith, h has caught a glimpse of the genius of salvation, and seen its magnitude. Through the circumstances just proclaimed, "God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (NRSV). The Jews were shut up in disobedience WITH Law, and the Gentiles WITHOUT it but "God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (NIV).
This is not something about which to argue. It is intended to impress our hearts with the "depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." The cutting off of the Jews, and their grafting in again, reveal God's wisdom and knowledge. The unacceptable state of the Gentiles, and their acceptance contrary to nature, manifests the same. From beginning to ending, salvation is of the Lord! No part of it will allow glory to go to men! If God had not revealed thes things to us, we would never have known them: i.e., "For who has known the mind of the LORD?" This purpose was not the result of intercession or consultation with created beings, whether angels or men: i.e., "Or who has become His counselor?" Neither, indeed, will these glorious realities occur because men have manipulated themselves into the place of blessing: i.e., "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?"
From beginning to end, from the acceptance of the Jews to the acceptance of the Gentiles, "of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen." How marvelous are His workings! They are worthy of our faith, our acceptance, and our contemplation.
Our Revelation text has dealt with the time of the fulfillment of God's commitment to Israel. The world will not conclud prematurely, nor will the curtain of time be dropped with the promises of God unfulfilled. It is true, some will corrupt this teaching, thinking they can successfully predict the end of the world, or even postpone commitment to Christ. But such is a very foolish approach to this text. In the first place, the fulfillment of Divine commitments does not require a lengthy period of time. A nation can be born in a day. Thus did the prophet speak, "Before she was in labor, she gave birth Before her pain came, She delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall th eart be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth t her children" (Isaiah 66:7-8). Such a thing occurred at Pentecost and that was the first-fruits, not the complete harvest.
It is good for the saints to seek an expansion of their thinking concerning the great work of God. We are not part of a small thing, but something exceedingly large. We should realize that something engaging the interest of angelic hosts cannot be small or thoroughly comprehensible by mortals. I personally thank and praise the Lord for honoring Hi commitment to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I honor Him for committing to fulfill the promises delivered by His holy prophets to the people of Israel. God be glorified for bringing the Gentiles into His salvation, grafting them into the Jewish tree, and enabling them to participate in its richness. May He also be praised for making us aware of His intent to restore the ancient people to Himself through the Deliverer Who has also saved us.