THE BEGINNING MAY BE NIGH

Volume 28, New Series, Number 3

During the five days which followed the start of hostilities in the Sinai desert on May 5th I watched the news with intense interest. Not only was it of exceptional importance militarily&mdash:and I am a soldier by profession—but it brought to notice several matters bearing significantly on the study of Prophecy.

Never have I doubted that the fulfilment of the remaining prophecies concerning Israel could not even begin to take place while the Apostle Paul's Evangel, the Evangel of the uncircumcision, remained valid on earth; for this Evangel is inseparably linked with Israel's casting-away and therefore with the continuance of Israel's state of "lo-ammi," "not My people." The existence of this barrier is sometimes challenged on the ground that it is not explicitly stated in Scripture. Not in those very words, admittedly; but not only is it implied again and again, but it is the only rational meaning of such passages as Rom. 11:12-28, particularly v. 25; Gal. 5:6; 6:15. No covenant people exists at present, i.e. no nation under covenant; consequently it is a contradiction in terms to say anything that implies that God will, or even can, deal with any group that can be called "a covenant people" while present conditions last.

The Israel that has been fighting for survival with such tremendous skill and gallantry is God's people, those whom the Apostle calls "my brethren, my kin according to flesh, any who are Israelites, whose is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the divine service and the promises, whose are the Fathers, and out of whom the Christ according to flesh, Who is over all, God blessed into the eons. Amen!" (Rom. 9:3-5). But, under present conditions, these are not His COVENANT people, for none can be such while the sign of covenant no longer means anything; neither can they be, for few if any of them believe God in any way at all as Abraham did, to be accounted as righteous in the same manner as he was.

When ten Arab nations ganged up against Israel in the Land and expressed their deliberate intention to drive them out into the sea and obliterate them, no Christian heart could feel other than troubled. Nevertheless, it seemed plain enough to me that the stage was not ready to be set for the start of the series of events so clearly set out by Commander Steedman in Vol. 26, pp. 98 and 149, particularly on p. 162. That idea was suggested in the Editorial of Vol. 28, Pg. 2, and the swift campaign appears to confirm this view. At the time of writing this, it is too early yet to speculate about the political aftermath. All that can be said with any reasonable confidence at all is that the military success of Israel has given the world another breathing space. Furthermore, the present tone of the leaders of the Arab countries suggests that instead of their military defeat making them more reasonable it has only enhanced the bitterness and violence oftheir hatred of Israel. However, this does not greatly matter; for we may be sure that even if they pretended to accept reconciliation their hatred would remain and issue in the next terrible conflict.

Whether we care to recognize it or not, the world hates God and the people of God every bit as much as ever it did. Against those of them who are God's earthly people, this hatred flares up from time to time as opportunity presents itself. Any Christian who tries to ignore this fact is merely deceiving himself. In consequence, he blinds himself also to the world's hatred of the ecclesia (church) which is Christ's body, not realizing that as the world hated Him it must also hate its members. The reason why it does not usually take the actively vicious form that the world's hatred of Israel does is that, from the world's point of view, as a world-force the ecclesia is negligible. When this was not so, as during the Reformation and in the first two centuries after Pentecost, the ecclesia was hated every bit as much as the Jew is now.

Nor should we forget that what the Lord Jesus called "My ecclesia" (Matt. 16:18) comprises the whole company of those who believe God from Pentecost on. At first, while the word of the Evangel was being set out, it was largely Jewish. When we are snatched away, what will then become His ecclesia will be largely Jewish once again (Matt. 18:15-20), though probably there will be many proselytes from the Gentiles. To a very large extent meanwhile it is called out from among the Gentiles, for the callousing of Israel in part is to last "until when the complement of the Gentiles may be entering," or as Rotherham puts it, "the full measure of the Gentiles." God's ecclesia is a purely earthly concept. In heaven or among the celestials there is nothing from which to be called out. At present among the celestials, "the spirituals of the wickedness" remain for us to wrestle with; but ultimately they are to be overcome. Anyhow, they are not capable of furnishing a company from which anyone could be called out. An ecclesia can be formed only on earth, for there is no trace of any calling-out elsewhere. Satan hates the ecclesia, has hated it, and will continue to hate it, whether it is called out from Gentiles or Jews, and whatever God's plan may be for it.

So what has happened in those five days has not affected anything in which we are concerned, and certainly not in any way God's plans for Israel. The most that can be said in this respect is that it has made the issues plainer, and gone some way to throwing light on the future attack on Israel. It has, however, humanly speaking made it more likely that the close of our pilgrimage is not far off.

That is what was in mind in composing the title of this paper. Far too long have Christians in general and students of Prophecy in particular talked about the close of our lengthy pilgrimage as the beginning of "the end time" or even as part of it. This is a most serious error. It is not that! It is the beginning of life real, of life abundant beyond anything we can conceive, for us, of glory unutterable; but as far as "the end time" is concerned it is of little, if any, import at all Commander Steedman, in his papers noted above, has made this point so clear that one can only marvel that the error still persist among anyone who has had the opportunity to study them. In this connection I must refer the reader to my paper in Vol. 26, p. 194. This sums up, as lucidly as I am able, the evidence that "the end time" is still far ahead. As to this, I can say no more, for it is beyond my ability to summarize a summary. What our snatching-away will accomplish is the removal of the barrier to Israel becoming "ammi" once more; but we cannot emphasize too strongly that this does not mean ushering in "the end time."

However, this much can be said again: "Reason alone is sufficient to indicate that a period of considerable length must intervene to enable the stage to be set for the final seven of the seventy. Yet, obvious though that is, most expositors have in this respect turned a blind eye to reason and common-sense. They have quietly ignored a matter which is perfectly obvious, once attention is directed towards it. Always it is easy not to notice what one does not want to notice." That is, I fear, the crux of the matter. Very few of us are much interested in other people's blessings and hopes. In fact, it can even be said with truth that most believers, so-called, are not greatly interested in what they ought to know are their own blessings and hopes. For instance, those who claim that the British people are "the lost ten tribes of Israel" base their position on legend and a selection of Scripture texts; never have they sufficient faith in their own claims to give a searching examination to the case against them. They show some interest in the history of Israel and Judah; but only in so far as it can be made to underpin their own system. And the saddest part of it all is the fact that those who most care about our glorious destiny among the celestials are generally those who care least about the other callings from among God's people.

Doubtless great offence has been given in some quarters by Commander Steedman's paper "The Restoration of Israel to the Land" (Vol. 26, p. 98), particularly pp. 104,105; that is, if it has been read by any potential objectors, for many of the ideas he has put forward are absolutely revolutionary, and in the eyes of some would merit burning at the stake, if that were practicable nowadays. I refer particularly to the resumption in the Temple of the sacrifices of the Law and the implication that in the latter days those addressed in the Hebrews Epistle will then be "worshipping Jehovah under the Levitical ceremonial law, not having seen that Jesus is their Messiah" (p. 105). Yet Israel will again be the Covenant People, they will have returned unto the Lord their God; and God will have brought His people back "to the point whence they departed from the right course in His purposes for them. There they start afresh" (p. 104). This does not envisage belief in the Lord Jesus as the Christ. Some, an election out of Israel, will as in Acts believe on Him. To them will apply the Evangel of the circumcision and all that this will mean. They will form assemblies, called-out companies, "churches" such as those in the first chapters of Revelation. They will be persecuted and some will decline in their loyalty, as foretold. Among them, however, will be, true Christians, as were those in the first chapters of Acts who believed, and in a similar way to those in the present-day churches; and they must not be confused with the Israelites who will then be under tlie Levitical ceremonial law. These will have believed God in accordance with those circumstances and been reckoned as righteous only in that context, as others in Israel were before the Lord Jesus was born.

This is, in fact, the point which was such a difficulty for Dr. Bullinger (see Vol. 26, pp. 95 and 121). He realized that James' Epistle has a wholly Jewish standpoint and he could not reconcile it with the full light of Paul's Epistles. So he failed to perceive that he had himself provided the answer to his difficulties in the words indicated in italics above. What he was really complaining about (though he did not understand it in this context) was the fact that God has other called-out companies than ourselves and that He has not chosen to enlighten us—or satisfy our curiosity—regarding details of their standing. James wrote to "the twelve tribes, those in the dispersion" and not to us. We have the privilege of being permitted to see and study his Epistle. It was because his Epistle was so general and was intended to cover the circumstances of people scattered over a larger segment of time than were Paul's Epistles, that it could not answer the question posed by Dr. Bullinger, and was never intended to. James could not write to them as people under covenant because for most of the time covered by his Epistle they have not been. Neither could he write to them as people not under covenant, for it now appears that some, if not all, of them in days to come will be under covenant. So he had to be neutral in this respect—and that is where he offends so many. Such people, although they certainly have not mastered what God has revealed for and about themselves, resent in their hearts that so much of other matters has not been disclosed to them. They are, probably without realizing it; taking up the unreasonable attitude so strongly reproved in Rom. 9:20.

Yet we have only to go to Romans, chapters 9-11 to find at least part of the answer to the problem, not indeed set out as a specific thesis, but by implication.

First, certain things belong by right to Israelites, Paul's kin according to flesh. This is wholly independent of whether they are believers (Rom. 9:3-5). These are, to start with, the fact that they are Israelites; then the sonship, and the glory, and the covenants, and the placing under law (the legislation), and the divine service and the promises. Next, Paul says, "whose are the fathers"; and, last of all, "out of whom is the Christ according to flesh."

These things by themselves provide sufficient reason, when they cry to Him, for God to give them blessing and regard them as "ammi," His people, altogether independently of other considerations, but always with the proviso that they repent them of their past sins and return unto the Lord their God (see Vol. 26, p. 100). For we must remember that all these are on what one might perhaps call "Old Testament ground," so that their attitude is unaffected by later matters.

No doubt many will raise protesting eyebrows at this; but to such there is a valid retort: "Where is such 'Old Testament ground' specifically stated to be obsolete for everybody?" If it be replied: "Where is it stated not to be obsolete?", the answer is plain and clear: "Here in Rom. 9:3-5 and 11:29." The circumstance that our eyes and our minds glide so smoothly over such passages, without grasping their full import, does not mean that God also regards them lightly. The former is in the opening paragraph of the three chapters, the latter at their close except for the doxology of Rom. 11:33-36. These are, like the brackets we use, a quiet indication that the whole passage they enclose is a unit and that the essential standing ofIsraelites lies in the background of it even though it is not the main theme.

To the contention that the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ made "Old Testament ground" obsolete for everyone, the reply once again must be a demand for evidence. They certainly did so for those who believe on Him as the Christ—that is common ground among us—but the issue is simply whether they necessarily did so for others. The Twelve presented the Lord Jesus as the Christ; but can we assume that those who did not (or in future days will not) understand their message or come within its range, can be affected by it in the same way as those who did? To take the issue nearer home: does the Secret of Eph. 3:6-12 make the slightest difference to those who do not believe the Evangel at all? Those who are Christ's by faith now certainly come within the terms of that Secret, however ignorant of it they may be; but for those who are not, it signifies nothing at all. The principle enunciated in Rom. 11:29 is immutable. Nothing that has happened since "Old Testament times" affects the position of those who still belong to those times, which includes those of Israel who in the face of overwhelming disaster to the Jews in the Land, will repent them and call aloud and in deep contrition to Ieue, Jehovah, for mercy and help, and, in so far as they will have done so, been reckoned as righteous within that context.

It is vitally important that this notion should be made absolutely clear. Abraham believed God, not the Lord Jesus Christ as we have to. It was on account of his believing that his faith was accounted equivalent to righteousness. Just what he believed does not come into this, except in so far as he believed what was revealed to him by God. He was not expected to believe more than that. There are further things for us to believe than there were for him. What matters is believing God; and as to that we are on precisely the same ground as Abraham was.

At once a further objection may arise: "Do you actually mean that an absolute minimum of believing is sufficient to procure 'justification'?" The answer is: "Abraham believes God." His attitude to God was one of unquestioning faith, so God was able to reckon his faith as equivalent to righteousness. But we are not empowered to add hypothetical questions to this and ask what Abraham's attitude would have been to the Lord Jesus Himself. The point is not what he believed, but that God spoke to him and that he believed God's word to him. That was enough to put him right, to set him in right relationship with God. Similarly, when dispersed Israel cries aloud to God, believing at last that He can and will rescue them from their enemies, this measure of faith will put them right with Him, as regards that part of His purposes, and they will once again be ammi, His People. But, much later, at the end time, while they are in their greatest apostasy, the rescue necessary will be something vastly more—no less than the arrival of the Rescuer Himself and His turning irreverence from Jacob and eliminating their sins (Rom. 11:26, 27). Then, and then only, will Covenant New be made with them and a permanently right relationship with Him in whkh they will be acquainted with Him from their little to their great (Heb. 8:11). For us the position is different again, simply because our circumstances are entirely different. The matters in which we have to believe God are set out by the Apostle Paul. It is not that we have to believe a different God, or have another kind of belief; but God has revealed to us something much more, a revelation far greater. Yet just how much more does not affect the issue: believing God.

Unbelievers regard the Scriptures as worthless; and for them they are just that. The reason is stated by Paul in 1. Cor. 2:14: they lack the means of getting to understand them. So will it be in part for Israel in the Land. As they were in Old Testament times—soulish men—so they still are and will continue to be until the fulfilment of Heb. 8:8-12. They will sincerely repent them of past and present sins, and return with supplication to Yahweh as they should have done long ago. The nineteen centuries or so since the Lord Jesus came to earth will be for them but a dark interlude, to be set aside for another attempt to be made to serve Ieue in and by their own strength. This will eventuate during the seventieth Seven in their deepest, darkest apostasy. But they will not have apostatized from Christianity, but from Judaism. For even with further evangelization, only a relatively few will accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Strictly, no one can apostatize from a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but only from a faith he has never truly had, a faith he believes he has or even pretends he has. For real genuine faith, being a consequence of grace and a calling by God, is not open to a change of mind. That is why the Lord's sheep cannot be snatched out of His hand (John 10:27-30). The reason is plain: such faith brings spiritual life in place of the counterfeit life which is characteristic of what is merely soulish. Israel has apostatized from Judaism from time to time, and there is no reason why even deeper apostasy should not occur, given appropriate conditions. In this respect (and strictly within it) the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ make no difference. The issues involved do not arise for Israel until by God's will Israelites as a whole are brought face to face with them. That is the time when the consequent issue of their salvation will arise; and it is that time which is in the background of Paul's mind here, even though he recognized that it was still afar off; for out of the thirteen references to save and salvation in Romans, eight occur in these three chapters.

As to how long there will continue to be twelve tribes in the dispersion, I do not care to guess. It may be that the Ingathering will be complete, in which case James' Epistle will cease to apply directly, though the principles he enunciates will remain as valid as ever. Or perhaps some of Israel may remain dispersed for a long while. But the opening words display James writing as a Christian. Possibly, then, Christians will not be better tolerated in those days by the rulers of Israel in the Land than they were during the events narrated in the earlier chapters of Acts, so that Christian Jews will continue to be correctly described as "the twelve tribes, those in the dispersion." Further consideration of this problem is in progress.

After this lengthy discussion, we turn to the second point, which is in Rom. 9:6, literally: "for not all the ones out of Israel these (are) Israel." This explains why Paul wrote "Israelites" in v. 4 as the general term covering all; for here in v. 6 he makes the distinction between those out of Israel who are "Israel" and those who are not. And in vv. 7,8 he reinforces the point by distinguishing between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise. Then he goes on to justify God's absolute right to choose as He wishes. So here we have in two parts the distinction between what belongs to all Israelites and what belongs to the children of the promise.

Many who lack the ability to think clearly and some others, separate verses 6 and 7, and from the former produce a distinction between "a true Israel" and" a false Israel" or "the old Israel" and "the new Israel." They overlook that if Paul had wanted to register such a distinction he could easily have done so without their help. What distinction he had in mind was quite different: it was between what is unalienably Israel's and what belongs to those of Israel who, believing God as an election out of Israel according to flesh, become Israel in the truest, fullest sense. It was over such election that Paul had to justify God's absolute right to elect! Paul does not deny that Israel pursued (and are pursuing) righteousness's law; he is affirming that Israel has no foretaste of righteousness's law. And why? Because the pursuit is not out of faith but is out of lawworks (Rom. 9:31-33). So it is not that they do not desire righteousness, but that they do not perceive the way to it.

This theme is developed in what follows (Romans 10) and for the present we may leave it to examine what our findings so far actually mean; bearing in mind (and this is essential if we are to avoid misunderstanding) that all that pertains to those who believe God as Gentiles in the way Abraham did, is wholly outside the context of what we have just been studying. Also, although what Paul says here is true now and will remain true for some time to come, it is at present of relatively minor significance. After the beginning of glory for us has occurred, then will Israel's affairs take their major place on the world's stage and then Israelites will be seen as "ammi," "My people," once more. Then, too, will begin to appear an election, a called-out company, an ecclesia, what the Lord Jesus called "My ecclesia"; in fact, "the church" in the form it will assume when the Evangel of the uncircumcision ceases to operate and the Evangel of the circumcision comes into force. Believers will then be children of God, the children of the promise and Abraham's seed (Rom. 9:7, 8; Gal. 3:29). This election will believe and declare that Jesus is Lord and that God rouses Him out of dead ones (10:9). Their condition will be something like that of believers during the first part of the period covered by Acts, before the change began which eventuated in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Their appearance on the stage was very brief then, and it is only to be expected that, after what was (from their point of view) the Pauline interlude came to an end, others are to carry on where they left off.

Yet Israel as a whole (that is, apart from this called-out company) will be pursuing righteousness's law. They will be in that respect as Israel was before the Lord Jesus Christ came. They will have" cried aloud to the Lord their God and confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers, even as Daniel did in Dan. 9:3-19 (c.f. Jer. 3:12-14)" (Vol. 26, p. 100); they will have come under the Second Covenant of Sinai (for details, ibid p. 104) and then under a covenant of Peace; and in the Land God will accept them and will require their offerings with all their holy things (Ezek. 20:40). And then, as Commander Steedman says (p. 104) the Temple will be in being and the sacrifices carried out daily. "This will be under the Levitical priesthood." From this it is clear that after the return Israel will still be worshipping Jehovah right through to the end, and that they will not be what we term Christian.

So the years will roll by. Gradually the end time and the fearful events of the Great Tribulation will be approaching and presently will come to pass. And then the time for all Israel to be saved will have drawn nigh.

This salvation was what Paul's "heart's delight and petition to God" in Rom. 10:1 was about, though it was then in the far future and still is. But it will come, though not so soon as most of us have hitherto been persuaded to believe. Leaving other matters aside for the present, we can go on to Paul's triumphant conclusion, which begins: "And thus all Israel shall be saved." "Thus"? Yes; in this way, by this means. The entering of the complement of the Gentiles is to eventuate in all Israel (pas israEl) being saved. Here Paul is quite explicit: he says precisely what he means, and he avoids any idea of how long a time is to elapse between the entering and all Israel being saved.

Would that expositors had been content to leave it at that! Alas! People tend to believe only what they want to believe. This is well when it is a matter of being charitable to people who are maligned or under suspicion; but it is very bad when the issue is simply the truth. Long ago Philip Mauro declared that "the passage is usually interpreted precisely as if it read, 'And then all Israel shall be saved.'" If so, he was certainly right in protesting, as observed in our previous paragraph; but then he goes on to produce a brand-new error of his own, namely, that this sentence does not refer at all to the previous section of the secret of which it is part, but to the previous verses, Rom. 11:12-24. He tells us that Paul "there describes before-hand precisely what God has been doing from that day to this "and" brings the matter to a conclusion by saying: 'And so' that is, in the manner he had been describing-'all Israel shall be saved.'" Could wilful blindness go further? For vv. 12-24 do not describe how "all Israel shall be saved," That description is in what follows on that passage, namely vv. 25-28. That is what is a secret, and it most plainly begins in the middle of v. 25. The second part of v. 25 is the disclosure of something which has already happened and which will last till an "entering" has occurred. Then v. 26 shows something that will take place (at a time unstated) after and in consequence of that "entering" in v. 25 of "the complement of the Gentiles." Then the rest of v. 26, and v. 27, show what will accordingly bring about this something, i.e., the saving of all Israel. So—and this is obvious to anyone who is not wilfully blind—the saving of all Israel will result from the arrival of the Rescuer.

Mauro failed to notice that Paul was addressing himself to the Gentiles (v. 13). So, somehow, he had to show that "all Israel" are not Israel at all, but "the whole body of God's redeemed people." He even went on to allege that "the words, a remnant shall be saved,' explain the words' all Israel shall be saved.' (Rom. 9:27; 11:26)." So they do; but not in the sense he means, for that is sheer contradiction. The former applies to present conditions, the latter to the time after the fulfilment of the prophecy of the entering of the fullness of the Gentiles. Actually, this is no more than common-sense, once we get rid of the absurd confusions such men invent to support their theories. Mauro's errors are still so widespread among us, and through his forensic skill endowed with such plausibility, that I have prepared a series of papers dealing with them, which I hope to be able to publish shortly.

In spite of all the foregoing, some will, no doubt, object to the idea that in those future days Israel will be regarded by God as "ammi." His people, even though they know (or care) nothing about the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet there is for the objector no escape from Rom. 9:3-5 and from the fact those blessings there listed belong to Paul's kin according to flesh even when they are not children of the promise through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet we must realize that when they regain their Land no longer trodden by Gentiles, and rebuild their Temple, all thanks to God's mercy in accepting their repentance; by that very fact they will be shown to be God's people, just as they were in Old Testament times when they repented and turned back to Him. So for us the question urgently arises: How can this be?

The answer is found in that somewhat neglected chapter, Romans 10. There, Paul testifies that his brethren (compare 9:3) "are having zeal of God, but not according to full knowledge" (10:2). He goes on to point out: "For they, ignorant of the righteousness of God, and their own righteousness seeking to establish, to the righteousness of God they were not subject." Then, after setting out the way of salvation, he comes in vv. 14, 15 to the heart of the matter in four questions:
How then should they be invoking One in Whom they believe not?
Yet how should they be believing One of Whom they hear not?
Yet how should they be hearing apart from (a) proclamation?
Yet how should they be proclaiming if so be they are not being commissioned according as it has been written: "How beautiful the feet of those evangelizing good!"

Place this beside the declaration of God's absolute sovereignty (Rom. 9:9-33) and we are down to bedrock. God calls and enlightens people when He chooses, and at no other time.

The day will come when the great prophecy of Heb. 8:8-12 will be fulfilled to the letter; but that day is not yet, and will not be until several centuries have rolled by. Meanwhile the bulk of Israel will begin again where they left off when the Lord Jesus began His ministry. Largely thanks to the misrepresentations of the bulk of Christendom they will be so strongly conditioned against faith in Him that, except for a few called-out ones to the Evangel of the circumcision, from Jews and Gentiles, such as the seven ecclesias of Asia, it will be to a large extent non-existent. So God's plans will work themselves out; for Israel the Land, the Temple, the sacrifices, and eventually the final apostasy; for the various ecclesias of Jews and proselytes, faithful witness side by side with unfaithfulness and declension as now; while once again the Gentiles will be left to their own devices. R.B.W.