Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was every inch a Jew; and, as he told the Philippians, a Jew of highest distinction. Though he chose to forfeit all personal rights to national privilege so as to "be gaining Christ" in accord with an evangel entrusted to him, we need only read Romans 11 to sense the depth of sentiment he still retained for his native race. There Paul reminds us in verse 28 that Israel is still "beloved because of the fathers;" and out of them, as he had said before, "is the Christ according to the flesh."
The loving-kindness and tender mercy Jehovah had long lavished on Abraham's seed in a former era now seemed to be veering away from them in favor of Gentiles; and for Israel's sake Paul pondered this turn of events with deep concern.
That was the dawn of what he called "this current era" Which now may be drawing to a close at a fast approaching presence of the Lord when the dead in Christ are to rise first and they with surviving saints shall meet Him in the air.
Seeing as Paul did that proportionately only a small remnant of Israel were responding to the call of that new era, it is quite understandable that this became sorely disappointing; especially if viewed from the human aspect only. Yet when he paused to consider that the faithful in Elijah's day were perhaps of like proportion, Paul gloried in the wisdom and foreknowledge of God, realizing this "choice of grace" was according to His purpose, so that a temporary defection of Israel might eventuate as riches for the Gentiles.
On the other hand, he could not lightly disregard that all the rest of Israel, except the "remnant," were becoming "calloused," though meanwhile Gentiles rather than Jews were gladly responding to Paul's evangel for the present administration of grace.
Since the Israelites were Abraham's natural heirs, it would appear they should have been eager to claim the promise, but the majority spurned it in unbelief. Deeply grieved over this, Paul had said before in the same letter, "My sorrow is great, and unintermittent pain is in my heart •••• for my brethren, my relatives according to the flesh."
Yet while Israel on their part had become enemies of an evangel of grace this need not mean that God on His part had become an enemy of His beloved ancient people. They continued to be then, as they are today, an irrevocable object of His choice, for God is committed to a renewal of His covenant with Israel in another era now approaching; and while they again will apostatise as their fathers did, a new remnant will emerge from among them as "a holy seed" (Isa. 6:1) to enjoy the blessing of a calling different from ours.
God is never unmindful of His promise to Abraham, confirmed also to Isaac and Jacob. The Twelve Tribes are still beloved because of the fathers. This was often re-affirmed by the prophets; notably by Isaiah. Long after he had delivered a painful judgment on Judah, the prophet foresaw a brighter day. "For Zion's sake will I not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth" (62:1). Jeremiah too affirmed that God's love for Israel is no less enduring than sun, moon and stars; inexhaustible as heaven above. Jer. 31:35-37.
Paul shared this unlimited confidence of the prophets in God's faithfulness to Israel and for that he had a deeply emotional reason. Were they not his own beloved kinsmen: Seeing how their long cherished hope was receding into a dread dark night of unbelief, Paul's heart ached for Israel's sake.
Now lest we should take selfish pleasure in a turn of events which had operated against Israel in our favor, he reminds us that we of ourselves may not boast, for this present grace is not due to any merit of ours; it is all of God alone. What had happened to Israel for a temporary time is part of His wisdom and mercy so that we meanwhile could be called from afar to receive a favor for which Israel had a prior claim. As Gentiles we were aliens to the citizenship of Israel, but in Christ we have now been brought near while Paul's beloved kinsmen were sent away.
This is somehow remindful of that very delicate moment when Abraham rose early one morning to send Hagar off into the wilderness and with her the young lad Ishmael, Abraham's own flesh and blood, for he was not to share in Isaac's inheritance even though he was the older. The seed of Ishmael, because of his birth from Hagar the maid, were destined to typify Israel only in unbelief. Yet Abraham must have grieved for Ishmael, and likely he also prayed for him. When the bottle of water was spent which he had sent along with Hagar, so it appeared that Ishmael must die of thirst in the wilderness, God's mercy was not found short. A messenger's voice out of heaven directed Hagar to a well of nearby water. Gen. 21:14-19. In like manner, we are reminded what God said to Moses about Israel in exile, "Yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly ••• but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors." Lev. 26:44-45. Israel has remained beloved because of the fathers.
Seeing then that we like Isaac heve received a better part in grace alone, not deserved by any works of ours, shouldn't we imbibe something of Paul's affections for his beloved kinsmen, and might we not at least try to feel something of God's unabating love for Israel? This is not to suggest that we now should minister to them, nor even that we could, for at present their callousness is destined to remain, but perhaps we may leave a bit of testimony for future perception; something like a legacy of evidence that we from afar have faintly foreseen and rejoiced at some yonder approach of Zion's glory and have not despised the reason for, or the purpose of, their present state while the Word of God is being fulfilled.
For many centuries now since the time of Paul we of the Gentiles have been profusely blessed with a rare degree of divine revelation which to the soulish mind is clothed in mystery; much perhaps that we too by indifference have failed to decode or have misapplied. Yet we have been enriched as it were at Israel's expense. Their stubbornness has been the occasion for our blessing but it has been God's purpose all along that they too shall yet enjoy a future mercy. We might well infer that the means of bringing this about will begin to appear not long after our own expectation is realized; yet we should not assume that Israelis ultimate blessing and future glory will materialise suddenly or soon after "this current era" expires.
Until now we have been much preoccupied with God's purpose for this present era—and rightly so—but we should not mistake the end of this era for the end of this eon. There is necessarily a further era within this present eon to accommodate a methodical and progressive restoration of Israel under covenant. We hope to observe here shortly that this requires first such a covenant as God ratified with Moses at Sinai, including necessarily a restored Levitical priesthood with their many services; something we should not confuse with a prophetic "new covenant" of a more remote time when a royal priesthood in Christ after the order of Melchisedec will replace the Levitical priesthood which will have been serving until Israel's sanctuary is desecrated by the man of sin.
When that pre-millennial era commences, and the duration of time it requires, is of less immediate importance to us now than what we may learn from Hebrew prophecy about everything to be accomplished within that future era. While prophecy contains some very important time elements, these proceed basically from a future event at a time not yet revealed, and they belong to another subject for separate consideration. Here we hope to deal only with a general trend of future history which prophecy reveals quite clearly for the next immediate era. We are told of a time when a covenant people will be serving Jehovah again as their fathers did under Moses and Joshua; events which begin with a major exodus from every country world-wide; after that a wilderness experience like Sinai, then a new and permanent occupation of the promised land, the building of a temple, a future apostasy, and then in the latter part of that era the faith-development of a "remnant" or "firstfruit;" all this before the day of Jehovah and our Lord's return to Mount Olivet.
Obviously there could be no such "apostasy" as the Scriptures indicate, nor a future desecration of Israel's sanctuary, and not even a temporary interruption of their "daily sacrifice" as prophecy also declares, unless there were first a progressive development of an established law economy. Since we have long recognised that there must be a future apostasy in Israel before the day of the Lord, this essentially requires a prior restoration from which it can occur, and there is no such restored condition now. Prophecy calls for a future reconstruction as an orderly sequence of events which cannot begin until a present calloused and exiled people are brought back under covenant.
The present occupation of the land only by some minor part of Israel's living descendants can be no fulfilment of prophecy irrespective of much popular yet mistaken teaching to that effect. We are told that Israel must remain calloused until a complement of the Gentiles is obtained. Rom. 11:25. Therefore no further fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy can occur until a time yet to be revealed after the completion of the present calling and after the current era expires. Whatever may happen to the present attempted reconstruction of Palestine, none of that will remain when a people previously restored to covenant will enter and occupy the land in accord with prophecy. We are told they will find the land desolate and waste (Ezek.36:33-35). Even the city Jerusalem will be lying in ruins, for prophecy declares that lithe city shall be builded upon her own heap." See Jer. 30:18-21, a passage which definitely was never fulfilled by any previous event like the partial and temporary reconstruction after the Babylonian servitude. Only a people first restored to covenant can have any part in a permanent reconstruction. Anyone who takes care to review such passages as Lev. 26:39-42, Deut. 4:27-30 and Deut. 30:1-10 will find that a future and permanent restoration is Scripturally impossible without a previous national repentance with renewed dedication to the laws, statutes and covenants that Jehovah made with ancient Israel through the mediator Moses, as Malachi also confirms (3:3).
Future fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy will materialise first as a world-wide crisis for all of Israel's descendants, whether they be living in Palestine or widely scattered throughout all lands as most of them will be at that time. Jeremiah calls it "the time of Jacob's trouble" (30:1-10) which should not be mistaken for Israel's last great affliction at the end of this eon. "The time of Jacob's trouble" will occur early in the forthcoming era, long before the end of this eon. Jehovah will employ the wrath of Gentile nations as a means whereby He will "give repentance to Israel." Acts 5:31. Increasing waves of anti-Semitism will develop then quickly in every land where descendants of Israel may dwell. Jer. 16:14-18. On a much larger scale, it will be like the cruel oppression of Pharaoh at the time of Moses when "the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried, and their cry came up unto God." Ex. 2:23. At the time of "Jacob's trouble" their distress will be so acute that "all faces will be turned into paleness." This will motivate a desperate cry for deliverance previous to Israel's future and greater exodus when Jehovah provides a means of deliverance as He did under Moses in Egypt. The governments of the Gentiles will have to release all Israel en masse with all their property, even as Moses said to Pharaoh, "Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind." Ex. 10:26. That world-wide exodus is something the reader may verify beyond any possible valid doubt by turning to Ezek. 20:33-34 where it is described remarkably like the former exodus from Egypt at Ex. 6:6. This is even more conclusively established by Jer. 23:7-8 and Isa. 11:11-12.
Such an exodus will be followed by a trial and judgment
from all nations in some prophetic "wilderness," the same word as used for the wilderness of Sinai. (Compare Ezek. 20:35-36 and Hos. 2:14 with Exodus 7:16; also with numerous other passages in the Pentateuch referring to the wilderness of Sinai.) Here we quote briefly and only in part from Ezekiel chapter 20, from verse 34 onward:
"I will bring you out from the people and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered ••• and I will bring you into the wilderness of the people and there will I plead with you face to face ••• and I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels ••• and they (the rebels) shall not enter into the land of Israel."
Except for the "rebels," we note that all others will be brought "into the bond of the covenant." Prophecy continues, "In Mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall •••• all of them in the land serve Me; there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings (referring once again to Levitical services) ••• I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen."
Here we find clearly described a future re-occurrence of Israel's former experience under Moses and Joshua when one adult generation (except Joshua and Caleb) had to die in the wilderness because they were "rebels," but a new generation under Joshua did enter the land when they at that time had been brought into the bond of the covenant.
Those words "bond of the covenant" deserve our careful attention. Tables or tablets of stone containing the first covenant at Sinai were broken when Moses found Israel worshiping a golden calf on his return from Mount Sinai. The broken tablets were later replaced by two others likewise of stone. Since Israel had broken the first covenant, the second tablets contained many new conditions or requirements burdensome to the people. Peter referred to them as a yoke "which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." Acts 15:10.
All this becomes significant with a view to the future when Jehovah's covenant relations are restored with Israel, it will be in reverse to the order of their former occurrence under Moses and Joshua. While the people are yet in a future "wilderness" they will be placed under "bond of the covenant," not according to the first Sinai covenant but according to the tablets of the second covenant which God gave to Moses after they had worshiped an idol and were therefore subjected to the restraint of a bond or "yoke" as Peter called it. Thus it is not until some time after they enter the land that the former "bond of the covenant" is replaced by a "covenant of peace" (Ezek. 34:25; 37:26) comparable to the first covenant at Sinai before their sin of idolatry, but even that is only preparatory to the ultimate "new covenant" for the subsequent millennial era of the coming eon. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-13.
This does not mean that Israel, as a future covenant people, when they enter the land, are then a CHRISTIANISED people. They will be under covenant to Jehovah their God as in former days but He is not yet revealed to them as the Lord Jesus Christ. That will come much later and not to all of them at once but first only to those who in time will constitute a firstfruit of 144,000 composed of overcomers or "conquerors" from the seven ecclesias in Asia Minor. From seven messages in Revelation, chapters two and three, addressed to the seven ecclesias, we learn that by then they have become evangelised in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; and because of this new found faith of theirs it appears they are severed and exiled from the nation at large when the others begin to apostasise.
Here Isaiah's prophecy assumes an ominous tone indicating a time when the faithful will be ejected from the city of Jerusalem and from the temple by their unfaithful brethren. "The sound of a tumult—out of the city, A sound out of the temple." Isa. 66:6 (Rotherham). This is long, perhaps many generations, after the temple is rebuilt and well established before that apostasy appears; yet out of this crisis, as Isaiah's prophecy indicates, Zion gives birth to a "man child" before she herself travails as she will do later in her last great affliction. In Rev. 12:5,6 where the "man child" reappears he is said to "shepherd all the nations with a sceptre of iron." That is one of the promises to the seven ecclesias "in Asia" (Rev. 2:26-27) Which thus completes the identity of the "man child" with the overcomers or "conquerors" in the seven ecclesias.
According to seven messages addressed to the seven ecclesias in Revelation chapters two and three, it is evident that by then they have become true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, having learned from such Scriptures as the letter to the Hebrews that He is to be acclaimed not only as Israel's Messiah or King but also as Priest after the order of Melchisedec and as Mediator of a new covenant. Heb. 7:20-21; 8:6-13. It is doubtless because of their new found faith that they are rejected by the nation at large and banished from the city and temple when their brethren become unfaithful to covenant after a long preceding history of reconstruction and law observance with its Levitical priesthood.
The "conquerors" (overcomers) in the seven ecclesias are said to have the name of God written upon them (Rev. 3:12). By that characteristic they are further identified with the 144,000. According to Rev. 7:3,4 and 14:1,2 the 144,000 shall be sealed in their foreheads and that sealing must precede any of the judgments to follow from the sounding of the seven trumpets after the seventh seal is opened. All this coincides with the prophecy from Isaiah which shows that the "male child" will be born before Zion travails. According to Rev. 14:4, the 144,000 are to be a "firstfruit." Consequently the future calling to constitute seven ecclesias which produce that firstfruit requires an extensive period of time before Israel suffers her last great affliction in the day of Jehovah. This also presupposes an earlier history of restoration for the nation at large before it begins to degenerate into apostasy.
It is quite evident also that the seven ecclesias in Asia Minor will have their alternate ups and downs in a long and arduous succession of trials for development and testing of their faith, much like all who have walked by faith in preceding eras. Unlike the nation at large to be born in a day at a much later time when Zion travails (Zech. 3:9; Isa. 66:8), the seven ecclesias are to have a previous history of varied experience. Those in Ephesus, for example, are first commended for their earlier virtues of works, toil and endurance, but later they are admonished to repent and "do thy first works." Except for Smyrna and Philadelphia, it seems all seven ecclesias require some manner of correction and they all receive much encouragement to endure. "He that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations." Rev. 2:26. This has the tenor of a hope which the saints of that day foresee in faith but for which they must also wait with much endurance and patience. After this digression relating to the seven ecclesias in Asia Minor, we return now briefly to consider the early and latter state of the nation at large.
Beginning with the time of Israel's exodus from all nations, their transition in the "wilderness" appears to require a generation, possibly more. As they enter the land then lying desolate and waste, but knowing that now it really will be theirs, we may assume they will have a spiritual vigor for the fastest possible reconstruction and a new zeal to serve Jehovah. Until the temple can be built we may assume also that then, as in the time of Ezra, they "Will hasten to build an altar to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord." Ezra 3:2-6.
The following period of reconstruction will bring peace not only to Israel but to other nations also in accord with the "covenant of peace." Then it will be apparent that much previous warfare and world unrest from our time onward has been due largely to Israel's presence among all nations while they yet remained in unbelief. This is much remindful of Jonah's day and the storm that raged at sea until Jonah was cast overboard by the men of Nineveh. Abruptly then lithe sea ceased from her raging" (and) "the men (of Nineveh) feared the Lord exceedingly and offered a sacrifice." Thus it will be when Israel once again shall "hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord," for then "all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord and they shall be afraid of thee." Deut. 28:1-10.
In consequence of this, the Gentiles will gladly assist with Israel's reconstruction, like the Persian kings did in the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, Joshua and Zerubbabel, for they will be amazed at Jehovah's notable deliverance of Israel. Ezek. 36:34-36. Until then "the horns of the Gentiles" will have scattered Judah and Israel but suddenly they turn "carpenters" to help them rebuild. Zech. 1:18-21. Thus we read "many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day" (Zech. 2:11) and they will be richly blessed of Jehovah for Israel's sake. Gentiles for a time will live at peace with Israel and with one another. Meanwhile many former world evils will be resolved. We may assume wise solutions will be found for much crime, disease and poverty now prevalent in overcrowded urban areas; also for present air and water pollution; for the wasteful depletion of earth's resources; and for many now existing abuses of natural and physical laws. Then it will be as God said to Moses, "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God ••• I will put none of these diseases upon thee." Ex. 15:26.
To us it may seem a great pity that such peaceful conditions cannot remain, for when Israel begins to apostasise their former influence on the other nations will disappear and the Gentiles will again become their enemies. Gog and Magog from the north will quickly rearm; so will the Arab nations, sons of Ishmael and Esau. All the evils of our present day will suddenly return; first by an ominous threat of warfare as nations and kingdoms are roused against each other; then famines, pestilence and unprecedented earthquakes; yet our Lord said even those are only "the beginning of pangs." The horror of all this must increase with the increase of Israel's defection, their choice of an evil king like Saul, his covenant with the man of sin, the desecration of the sanctuary, and finally Israelis last great affliction as Zion travails. Then Jehovah will sorely try the hearts and reins of His people Israel because of their apostasy. He will "pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplication." First in spirit and soon after with eyes of flesh "they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for His only son and shall be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn." Zech. 12:10. Finally they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on clouds of heaven with power and great glory. In that day His feet shall touch down upon the Mount of Olives as a nation all at once is born anew (lsa. 66:8) and the iniquity of the land is removed in one day. Zech. 3:9.
To readers of the former Differentiator, if not to new readers, there should be nothing especially new in the foregoing. This is merely an attempted review or summary of certain high lights from articles by the late Commander Steedman, based on his many years of Scriptural research dealing especially with Hebrew prophecy. Next to the Scriptures themselves, the best bibliography we could suggest for this paper appears in the following past issues: