Summary: This article was written and published May, 2015. Many Christians are interested in knowing what God will be doing in the future. They are curious about bible prophecy – the things which will take place after this (Rev. 1:19). A good starting point is to realize that the topic of bible prophecy is about Israel, the earth, and God’s government of the earth. Because the true church is a heavenly body with a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), she is known as part of the mystery of God hidden from the prophets and prophecy (Eph. 3:1-11). The body of Christ and all its members are not properly the subject of bible prophecy. But an end-time Jewish remnant, chosen and sealed by God during the coming great tribulation upon the earth (Rev. 7:1-8), fits nicely with the known character of prophecy. As we might say, it checks a lot of the boxes. This article will characterize this end-time remnant, and by this, enable you to see the obvious differences between it and the believer/church.
Few Christians realize the importance of the testimony in God’s word concerning the positive existence of a Jewish remnant in the latter days. There will be a remnant of Israel on which the Holy Spirit will be poured out, and in which the Spirit will be working, and this before the Lord Jesus returns to this earth and appears to them as their Messiah King, delivering them from all their enemies. It is this remnant that will see all the prophecies fulfilled on their behalf. They will receive all the promises that God made to their forefathers – particularly Abraham and David. They will be planted in the land and they will grow, multiply, and prosper (Jer. 32:41, Is. 60:21). They will form the nation of Israel, as we see the Spirit of God speaking through the apostle Paul, “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.” (Rom. 11:26)
All the prophets speak of a Jewish remnant in the tribulation period at the end of the age. They speak of this group being poor and weak, crying out for deliverance from Jehovah, awaiting the appearance of the Messiah. The Psalms as well are a poignant expression of the hopes, feelings, and fears of this remnant, with the touching and beautiful condescension of the Spirit of Christ in prophecy identify with them, even sharing in their troubles – “In all their affliction He was afflicted.” But there is further testimony in Scripture. The Lord Jesus was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, and necessarily presented Himself to Israel according to all their Jewish prophecies and promises, thereby identifying Himself with this believing remnant, even becoming their unequivocal leader, for as many in Israel as Jehovah had awakened to recognize His Servant coming in grace. Therefore, we find many New Testament passages that can only be comprehended by having this Jewish remnant in mind, believing as they were then or will be in the end, in the midst of an unbelieving nation.
Before entering into the Scriptural evidence concerning this end time remnant, I wish to state the consequences that result from denying the teaching. It may not be obvious to every believer, but the existence of the church on earth at the same time as a sealed remnant of Israel, both associated and animated by the Spirit of God, is simply an impossibility. You would have the Holy Spirit involved in two separate and distinct workings at the same time, both for entirely different purposes. Israel’s calling is earthly, while the church’s is heavenly. The two corporate entities have remarkably different hopes created by very different promises from God. The Spirit of God will not testify of two different callings and two different sets of hopes at the same time. The church has to be completed before God will turn again and acknowledge the Jews. Christendom has to be set aside on the earth and the true church caught up (raptured) before God will seal and save the Jewish remnant.
It is my hope that every true believer will see the wisdom of God in this understanding. I have often taught that God will not deal with two separate and distinct callings at the same time. The earthly calling of Israel will be realized and fulfilled, according to God’s will and purposes, by this remnant, delivered at the end through great tribulation. This exactly speaks of Israel’s known character in all their history (Gen. 45:7, Deut. 7:6-8, Jer. 30:7 – please also read post #13, the character of the nation of Israel as shown in Scripture) – they are saved through judgments. Thus we see so much the character of the future Jewish remnant expressed in the Psalms by a crying out for judgment and vengeance on their oppressing enemies, and eventually receiving deliverance from them (Ps. 94). But the true church does not speak this way, nor have this earthly character. In the midst of this present evil age the Christian turns the other cheek, gives the cloak with the tunic, and goes the extra mile. This is the character of grace. It is “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” The church’s destiny is entirely different from Israel’s. Now we have been left on this earth to sojourn as a pilgrim in the wilderness, yet we are not of this world as Jesus is not (John 17:14-17). We patiently wait to be caught up to meet the Lord in the clouds, His coming personally for us to take us to our Father in heaven. This speaks of the Christian’s relationship – it is the same as that of Christ’s – His Father and our Father, His God and our God (John 20:17). This speaks of what is called our blessed hope (Titus 2:13) – this is not Jewish hopes. It is Christian hope and Christian privilege.
The believer’s portion during this age is to suffer with Christ (Rom. 8:17-18). This world that we are in is the same evil world that rejected our Lord. Jesus tells us, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” There should be no surprise here. Further He says, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Now here is the reason: “Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” It is because Jesus chose you Himself, and plucked you out of the world, and now, even though you remain in it, you have no part or association with it (John 15:18-21). Now if you don’t want to suffer and be persecuted, then become like the world. If you don’t stand out like Jesus did, you won’t draw the attention of the world. If you aren’t different from the world, then they will not hate you. But the true believer is different from the world; we do not fit in; we are like Jesus and should walk as He walked (I John 2:6). And this is very different from gaining, by association, the approval of the world (I John 2:15-17).
The Jewish remnant during the coming tribulation is very much part of the world. They will, in the purposes of God, form the nation of Israel in the millennial earth. All nations, regardless of Jew or Gentile, have a connection and relationship with the first creation – with the world. During the millennium Israel will be the greatest nation on the earth, being exalted with earthly glory and honor among the nations, all others serving them (Is. 60:12). The millennial earth is divided among the Gentile nations based on the importance of Israel to Jehovah:
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (NKJV)
“When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance.”
Now we will look for the Scriptural evidence of the existence of an end time Jewish remnant in which the Spirit of Christ is at work in connection with the hopes proper to Israel. That there will be this remnant at the close, delivered and blessed by the Lord at His coming, blessed on earth, is, beyond all controversy, the doctrine of Scripture. This remnant does not have either the church’s heavenly citizenship, or the church’s hopes and blessings. For some who are taught by the Spirit in the Scriptures, these things need not even be said. But still the importance of proving the future existence of a Jewish remnant, and that without the church on earth, and in a sense, usurping its place, is necessary for the simple reason the consequences are great. The critical importance for doctrine is the timing of the remnant – if there will be a sealed Jewish remnant, animated by the Spirit of Christ poured out on them, during the time of Jacob’s trouble (the tribulation), then by biblical principle the true church must be taken out of the way. This indicates the certainty of a pre-millennial rapture of the church.
“And it shall come to pass in that day That the remnant of Israel, And such as have escaped of the house of Jacob, Will never again depend on him who defeated them, But will depend on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, To the Mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts Will make a determined end In the midst of all the land.”
“Unless the Lord of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.”
Even though the nation of Israel will be plentiful, as the physical descendants of Abraham, yet God saves and preserves only a remnant. The elect of Israel is the real Israel, and is the end time remnant. The majority of the nation are self-righteous and wicked, and remain unconverted. In comparison to the majority, the remnant will turn back to faith and hope in Jehovah for deliverance from the evil.
Zechariah 13:8-9 (NKJV)
And it shall come to pass in all the land,” Says the Lord, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one–third shall be left in it: I will bring the one–third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Only the third are saved, and this after going through the refining fires. God only says to a third, “you are My people, and I am your God.” And the above passage likely only refers to Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom seems to be separated in the wilderness, and the rebellious forbidden to enter the land.
Ezekiel 20:33-38 (NKJV)
“As I live,” says the Lord God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God. “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
There will be two remnants – one each from the southern and northern kingdoms, both animated by the Spirit of Christ, each turning back in faith and hope in Jehovah for their deliverance from the evil. God will unite the two back together as one nation, by the right arm of His power, and through the new covenant He will make with them. Bear with me as we look at this entire chapter from Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NKJV)
“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’”
I’ll interrupt the chapter for some comments about the dry bones. This is not actual resurrection out of physical graves. Rather it speaks in figure of the general restoration of Israel in their land at the beginning of the millennium. You see them saying, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off.” They are not saying this from out of physical graves, but from their spiritual graves scattered among the Gentiles, and as not being acknowledged as Jehovah’s people. And we already know from prophecy that this restoration does not include all the physical descendants of Abraham, not the entire nation. He will bring them from among the nations and plant them in the land. They will know that He is the Lord Jehovah. And one last point here – all will know that this restoration is a sovereign work of God; “Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’”
Ezekiel 37:15-28 (NKJV)
Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. “And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’— say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. “Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”’”
The figure of David as king over a united Israel refers to Jesus Christ. He alone is the prince of Israel forever and ever. He is Jehovah (John 12:37-41), as well as Jehovah’s servant David, both the root and branch of David, who will rule over a united Israel. We see the two sticks will be made one – the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. “…and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel… they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.” They will have a new covenant by which they will walk in His judgments and observe all His statutes, to do them – the law will be practiced and fulfilled by Israel. Both the Jews and the Gentiles will know that it was Jehovah that does all this.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NKJV)
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
The new covenant brings the two houses back together again as one nation. This truth isn’t noticed that much by teachers for the simple reason we desperately attempt to apply the new covenant to Gentiles, when it is really a second covenant for Israel (since this is not our subject here, I’ll leave it aside). We don’t make much of this fact – that Israel has been a divided nation since the failures of Solomon. In God’s eyes they remain apart, and He does pay attention to the details. From the time they were split apart they have never been reunited. Are we to let this reality just slip away? Are we to say it doesn’t matter? There is no part of God’s word that will return to Him void; all will be accomplished, including judgments, setting aside, making desolate, cutting off, catching up, spewing out, grafting back in, etc. All gifts and callings are irrevocable. And so it is not a little thing that God divided the nation of Israel into two kingdoms because of idolatry coming in with Solomon’s many wives. His people were going after other gods again. It is one of the great bible examples of man’s failure when given responsibility. God does not forget it. We should learn the lesson of God testing human responsibility, and man always failing. Yet in the end God makes good all man’s failures by the second Adam. And He does so by sovereign power and grace.
What is the character of the remnant? This we find in the Psalms:
Psalm 1:1-6 (NKJV)
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Here we have the character of the Jewish remnant as well as that of the remainder of the nation. The remnant delights in the law of the Lord and are the righteous. They have Jewish faith, Jewish hopes, cling to the law, and rest on Jewish promises. The rest of the nation are the ungodly and self-righteous, those who will not stand in the judgment, but will perish. Also we have this testimony in Daniel:
Daniel 12:1 (NKJV)
“At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book.”
Those that are written in the book are not the entire nation, but the remnant of Daniel’s people. They are the ones under the influence of God’s Spirit, waiting on Jehovah and preparing for Him. God acknowledges this remnant as His elect ones written in the book. They will be called Israel by the Lord. and will receive Israel’s blessings. They are the ones delivered during this time of great trouble, such a time as never been known to man.
Since Israel became a nation God has always kept a remnant, that is, His elect ones in the midst of the unconverted nation. One of the defining characteristics of a Jewish remnant is that the Spirit of Christ always animates them to Jewish hopes stemming out of Jewish promises and prophecies. Also they are made to cling to the law as being under it. The apostle Paul spoke of a remnant in Israel in the time of Elijah. As every remnant it was kept of God.
Romans 11:2-5 (NKJV)
God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. 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 I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
All saving grace is election. It can not be anything different. If we would understand man’s true fallen condition, and have understanding of who God is in all his character and attributes, these things would be simple. But this also is not our topic and I move on. There was a remnant in the time of Elijah. There also was a Jewish remnant when Christ was born – Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, and others. The beginning of Luke’s gospel tells the beautiful testimony of this remnant preparing the way of the Lord and waiting on Jehovah. Here we have Anna’s testimony:
Luke 2:36-38 (NKJV)
“Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
The remnant at this time were all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. It was not that they felt they had redemption by the law, or in self-righteousness they had obtained life by their religion (Gal. 3:21), but that according to the prophecies they looked for redemption from Jehovah. They spoke to one another concerning the hopes of Israel.
Some thirty years later during the public ministry of Jesus Christ, all his disciples together formed a believing Jewish remnant, with all its properly associated character. The Scriptural evidence of this understanding is overwhelming. John the Baptist was preparing the way of Jehovah by calling for repentance in Israel. Repentance is critical to the remnant, as we will see later. This was a remnant of Israel being gathered. One thing the Lord’s baptism represented was His identification with this lowly remnant. It is a remnant still properly under the law and practicing Judaism, but looking for redemption in Israel.
Central to the hopes of the remnant was the promise of a Messiah for Israel. Mostly the anticipation created for the Christ was a longing for deliverance for Israel from Gentile civil rule. Messiah represented the promise of restoring the kingdom of God on the earth in Israel, and the throwing off the chains of Gentile dominion. Luke’s gospel not only shows us the Jewish remnant at the time of Jesus’ birth, but also then gives us the presentation of the promised Messiah to Israel (Luke 4:16-21). But it is clear that the self-righteous nation does reject Him.
Luke 4:23-30 (NKJV)
“He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.”
But there was a poor and despised remnant baptised unto repentance by John, who looked for the Messiah and found Him, becoming His disciples (small in number, but more than just the twelve when we see how many He appeared to after His resurrection – I Cor. 15:3-8).
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
It is not hard to see in the gospels that the thought of Messiah and a Messianic kingdom of God in Israel filled the hearts of a remnant with proper Jewish hopes. Even though Jesus knew He would be rejected as Messiah by the nation and that He was sent into the world to accomplish a far greater work than just to be King of the Jews, still He came unto His own (John 1:11), to which the Scriptures testify of a certain narrowness and limitation of both mission and ministry. His own words in the story of the Gentile woman of Canaan makes this point clear. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And again in the same story, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” (Matt. 15:24, 26) The following passage from John can only really be understood by the context of what we have been discussing:
John 10:1-6 (NKJV)
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.”
His own sheep are the remnant He gathers out of the sheepfold of Israel. He does not take all the sheep. The majority of the nation would reject Him. But this passage shows that He would have His own sheep, and nothing could stop this. The whole chapter speaks of the sovereign grace in which He gathers the remnant – “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out…for they know His voice…they will by no means follow a stranger.” Further in the chapter he says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” We find more evidence of a ministry to a remnant in Matthew ten – another chapter that can only be properly understood by the context of our discussion.
“These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give…for a worker is worthy of his food. “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city…”
Here we have many elements important to our discussion. The scope and range of the disciple’s mission is clearly defined – again it is narrow and limited, and exactly under the same parameters as Messiah’s ministry and mission (Matt. 15:24). Do not go to the Gentiles, do not go to the Samaritans, but go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. After all it was Jesus, as the Messiah of Israel, who gave them His power to do the things they did (Matt. 10:1). This was the children’s bread meant only for the house of Israel (Matt. 15:26). The disciples were sent to help gather out the remnant. They would be searching for those, in the many towns and cities where they went, who were “worthy.” How would we define worthy? They certainly weren’t looking for poor wretched sinners in order to preach the gospel to them. They were told to search out in every place they went those that are worthy. Worthy is the character of the remnant we found contrasted with the ungodly in Psalm one – “…those that delight in the law of the Lord, and in His law they meditate day and night.”
The consideration of a Jewish remnant in this chapter goes well beyond verse fifteen and the lifetime of Jesus on the earth. A ministry to them stretches out with these current disciples past His death, a ministry that would be fortified by the Holy Spirit after He was gone (Matt. 10:16-22). What is remarkable is how the passage then jumps to the end when He returns (Matt. 10:23). Why? Because there must also be an end time Jewish remnant in the counsels of God, to which God will fulfill all the promises He made to the forefathers. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In the time of the Lord’s ministry on earth, His disciples did not just minister and help gather the remnant, but they themselves exhibited the character and hopes of the remnant. For them this is easily shown from the Scriptures, both positively and negatively, in many passages.
Luke 19:11-12 (NKJV)
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.
The disciples show they had proper Jewish thinking concerning Jewish hopes. There was nothing incorrect concerning their expectations. Jesus doesn’t tell them their thinking is wrong. What they were unaware of was the biblical principle of human responsibility, and that the presentation of Messiah to Israel was God’s final testing of man concerning this principle (Matt. 21:37). Israel failed when given the law to obey. They were destined to fail when the Messiah of prophecy actually was sent to them (Matt. 21:38-39). But these principles the disciples did not understand, could not understand, not having been given the Comforter yet. Jesus would have to go away in order for the disciples to receive Him (John 7:39, 16:7). Even though the Lord Himself was with them, there simply were many things the disciples could not comprehend (John 16:25). Here is another example:
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
They simply could not understand this – that Jesus was going to die. They certainly did not understand that Jesus had to die, that He was sent into the world for this very purpose, and that all God’s determined counsels, especially those settled before the foundations of the world, depended on His obedience to accomplish this particular work (Acts 2:23, Heb. 10:1-10, Phil. 2:8). What the disciples held on to is the understanding that they were fortunate enough to find the Messiah of Israel in their lifetimes, and rightly then, they looked for deliverance from the Gentile powers. When Jesus rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” was it because Peter understood the counsels of God or the redemptive work that would take place through Jesus’ death? The truth is the opposite of this – Peter was not mindful of the things of God, that is, the counsels of God. Jesus tells him he is only mindful of the things of men (Matt. 16:21-23). And this conversation happens immediately after Peter’s great confession of Jesus being the Son of the living God, a confession on which Jesus would build His church. How quickly the carnal mind comes in to take over our thinking.
In this conversation with the disciples Jesus does something that is important for our understanding, even though I’m fairly sure the disciples failed to comprehend its reason. He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ (Matt. 16:20). He commanded them! The Christ He was, yet He knew that the nation had rejected this. They would not have Him as their King, although the title rightfully belonged only to Him. The presentation of Messiah to Israel this first time was based on human responsibility. Could the nation produce fruit, could they obey the law, would they receive the Messiah? All was the testing by God when man in Adam was on probation. God, in many different ways and in many different situations, was looking for fruit. Yet He never found any (Matt. 21:18-19). The title of Messiah was set aside in the counsels of God. The promises of Messiah, those that fashioned so many of the Jewish hopes of the remnant, were set aside with the title. This is why He forbids them to speak of it any longer. He now fully embraces the title of the Son of Man and goes to the cross (Matt. 20:18-19, John 12:23-24). Yet this change in the counsels of God is the very thing they couldn’t comprehend. (The phrases in italics above all represent biblical principles which are critical for understanding Scripture, especially the gospels and the life of Christ)
That the disciples and the remnant still had only Jewish and earthly hopes, even late in our Lord’s earthly ministry, may be seen easily in the following passages:
“And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
I know that saying to Jesus, “Your kingdom,” is not very descriptive, but we should be fairly sure this refers to proper Jewish hopes and prophecies that they would have clearly fixed in their minds – a Messianic kingdom over the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30). Notice that Jesus does not correct any error concerning their understanding that there actually would be a kingdom, but only that it wasn’t His to give and their attitude of self-exaltation was poor (Matt. 20:23-28). Jesus promising His twelve disciples they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel is also Messianic kingdom thinking. And there was nothing that He rebuked in these passages (Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:28-30). All through the time of our Lord’s ministry, even to the time of His crucifixion, there were disciples forming a Jewish remnant, who held closely these particular thoughts. And it is obvious in the gospels they held these thoughts in contrast to His attempts to warn them of His approaching sufferings, crucifixion, and death.
When we look at the time following the Lord’s resurrection, we come to a critical part in our discussion of the Jewish remnant – can we still recognize the character of the remnant in the disciples? Most teachers will quickly answer no – that all things are now Christian or church understandings once we pass either the resurrection or the day of Pentecost. But I believe we shouldn’t be so hasty. If we would look critically at the first seven chapters of the book of Acts, everything we see is in the character of the Jewish remnant.
Acts 1:6 (NKJV)
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
This is easily recognized as Jewish thinking – restore the kingdom to Israel? Definitely Jewish remnant character in contrast to church character. This question has nothing to do with the body of Christ, and everything to do with the nation of Israel. And it gives us a clear look at the mindset of the disciples as to what their hopes and expectations were. Also Jesus again does not correct their thinking as to the kingdom of God in Israel – it is correct thinking. It is just that the timing of these things were completely in the Father’s authority. Jesus Himself didn’t know the time, and therefore neither could the disciples.
Is it significant that this question from the disciples concerning restoring the kingdom to Israel comes a mere fifty days or so after they were told by Jesus that the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel consequent to the Jews putting Jesus to death? This I previously referred to in the explanation of the parable of the vineyard (Matt. 21:33-44). It just shows how constant and fixed the character and thinking of the Jewish remnant is, and that even after the resurrection this line of thinking wasn’t discouraged or said to be wrong.
After Jesus ascended up out of their sight, there were two men who were standing by them in white apparel (Acts 1:10). These were obviously angels, whose appearances as found in Scripture so often have Jewish character and associations. It can easily be said that this is a remnant thing, as is the ministry of angels on behalf of the elect end time Jewish remnant (Matt. 24:31). Yet it is what they say to the disciples that is even more characteristic.
Acts 1:11 (NKJV)
“…who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
Which coming of the Lord’s do you think these angels are referring to? His coming for the church, or His physical return to this earth to judge the world and save a Jewish remnant? We should know what His coming for the church looks like – it is described in detail in I Thess. 4:13-18. This is not what these angels speak of. Their testimony that He will come in like manner is descriptive of His saving the Jewish remnant at the end of the age. It is descriptive of His physical return to this earth, coming out of the clouds. After all, where were the disciples standing? On the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12, Zech. 14:1-5). “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Rev. 1:7) This is what the angels refer to – when Jesus will appear to the world and everything associated with the world. This includes the end time Jewish remnant, while it excludes the church. Notice the wording – even they who pierced Him.
Acts 1:12 (NKJV)
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.”
If we were dealing with church character here, the Spirit of God would not have used this phrase, “…a Sabbath day’s journey.” This would only be important to Jews, or better, to a Jewish remnant. When Jesus speaks prophetically of the end time remnant in Matt. 24:4-44, He uses a similar thought. After the ‘abomination of desolation,’ which marks the last 3 1/2 years (Matt. 24:15), He tells the Jewish remnant to flee, and to pray that their flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath (Matt. 24:20). He isn’t speaking to Christians here; it has no application to believers. However, those taught by the Spirit in God’s word should easily see the passage’s application to the remnant of Israel. In the following post I will discuss the main prophetic passages of our Lord from the gospels, and how a great portion of them can only be properly understood by application to the Jewish remnant.
The remainder of the first chapter of Acts has more content and statements that would have the remnant in mind. “And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” There are two things that have Jewish character here – the casting of lots and the numbering of them. The lots speak for themselves as a very earthly and Jewish way of making a decision. The numbering is typical in Judaism – a religion dependent on physical descent, families, the counting of families, and recording of names, etc.
But there is more here for us to take note of – notice the qualifications for the two proposed to replace Judas – they must have been eye-witnesses of all the ministry of Christ from the baptism of John to the ascension. It was John’s baptism that was the beginning of the gathering of the remnant. And valuing a personal witness to significant events is always the character of Judaism – a religion that is a walk by sight and in the flesh, concerning which the Spirit of God through Paul says, “For the Jews request a sign.” (I Cor. 1:22) The character of the church is “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). The church has a walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7). But the character of the Jewish remnant is found in Thomas – “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.” (John 20:26-29) And this is the same means by which all eleven apostles believed after the resurrection – they all came to faith by seeing with their eyes (John 20:19 -20, Luke 24:31-45). It is also how the entire beginning remnant came to faith, Jesus appearing to over five hundred brethren at one time (I Cor. 15:5-7). There was also Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and James, the Lord’s brother. All believing by seeing Him raised from the dead.
Acts 1:3 (NKJV)
“…to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
Notice it says He presented Himself by many infallible proofs. This wasn’t to the nation or to the leadership, but to the elect remnant in the midst of the nation. He tells Thomas to put his hand into His side and look at His hands – touch, feel, and see, and therefore believe. To a group of disciples in Luke 24 He appears to them, saying and doing these things:
Luke 24:38-43 (NKJV)
“And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.”
These are some of the infallible proofs He gave the remnant. Now look how John begins his first epistle:
1 John 1:1-3 (NKJV)
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
The dependence on being an eye-witness is prominent in this passage. So also was it important in the selection of Matthias by the casting of lots. It is a very Jewish characteristic and associates well with the Jewish remnant. In the end they will look on Him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10). The end brings on a new age in which every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7, Matt. 24:30). This new age that is coming will have this decidedly Jewish character.
The big portion of evidence we find in Acts chapter two relating to a Jewish remnant is Peter’s quote of the prophet Joel. If you examine the passage in Joel chapter two, you would have to admit that the prophecy refers to the Spirit of God being poured out on an end time Jewish remnant before the great and terrible day of the Lord. If you doubt what I say please read Joel 2:28-32 – the chapter ends with this phrase, “Among the remnant whom the Lord calls.” What Peter quotes in Acts 2:16-21 can only be properly applied to a Jewish remnant. Was Peter making a mistake? Or better yet, was the Holy Spirit through Peter making a mistake? The answer is no to both questions. The Holy Spirit considered the hundred and twenty in the upper room as a Jewish remnant, even giving them the possibility of being an end time Jewish remnant. On the cross Jesus had asked for Israel’s forgiveness. This was granted by the Father. The sending of the Holy Spirit would bring a testimony to Israel by that same Spirit, giving Israel its last chance in grace. The testimony was of a Messiah according to Jewish promises for Israel, but now by and through resurrection. It required the repentance of the nation. If the Jews repented God would have sent Jesus back as the Messiah and Prince of Israel (Acts. 3:19-20, 5:29-32).
A Jewish remnant would make use of the temple. This we see the disciples doing in the first seven chapters of Acts (Acts 2:46, 3:1, 11, 5:12, 5:20-25). A remnant would cling together in one place, not possessing things as their own, but holding all things in common (Acts 4:32). But all this would change after Stephen’s death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. The contrast in character is seen in this – the church would be found throughout the world. All its members worship the Father in spirit and truth, remembering the words of Jesus spoken to the woman at the well in Samaria, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (John 4:21-23) The teaching at the well by Jesus indicates the transition between Judaism and Christianity, between the Jewish dispensation and the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven. Of necessity then, there would need to be a transition between Jewish hopes and Christian hopes as animated by the ministry of the Spirit. Important for our discussion then, is that there would also be a time when the believing remnant would take on proper church character. I believe this is what we see after Stephen’s death with numerous events working in God’s providence to bring out the doctrine and true character of the church – always a Gentile assembly containing a remnant from Israel (Rom. 11:5-7).
Through the first seven chapters of Acts, Peter only preaches to Israel (Acts 2:22, 36, 3:12, 25, 4:8, 5:25). Steven’s preaching before he was stoned was a historical review of Israel’s failures from the coming out of Egypt to the time of David. It was Israel’s last chance to repent and be saved. But full of the Spirit Steven says of them, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit.” The Jews had rejected the testimony of the Holy Spirit when He was sent down to give Israel one last chance at repentance. The sin against the Son of Man would be forgiven them, but what wouldn’t be forgiven them was sinning against the Holy Spirit (Matt.12:32). Israel was set aside in the counsels of God, and God turns to the Gentiles, almost immediately. Stephen’s death is the turning point in the book of Acts. God turns away from Israel and turns to the Gentiles (Matt. 21:43, Rom. 11:7-15). It isn’t hard to see this reality taking place in all the events that follow, beginning in Acts. 8:1. But I leave this for you to investigate.
The time of Stephen’s death is when the Jewish remnant, that which the disciples together formed, started taking on church character. Stephen’s spirit is received up on high and the heavenly gathering begins. In the heavenly vision Stephen sees the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God – but from this point on He would sit, patiently waiting till His enemies be made His footstool (Heb. 10:13). The faithful would learn to keep the word of His patience, waiting as He waits (Rev. 3:10). The one tending the coats of the Jews who stoned Stephen would be saved by God in a dramatic display of sovereign grace, God also giving him the stewardship of the Gentile church (Acts 7:58, 9:1-8, Col. 1:24-27, Eph. 3:1-11). Paul would receive by revelation the doctrine of the church, and be faithful to teach his knowledge of the mystery. Paul alone teaches the doctrine of the body of Christ – Peter, James, and John never speak of it. These things are no longer the hopes of the remnant. When Jewish hopes were fully set aside, the Jewish remnant was absorbed into the church. After Stephen’s death the Son of Man sat down, and Israel was set aside.
There is no Jewish remnant today, no properly formed remnant, elect of God and sealed by God, having the mark of the seal on their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3). This sovereign work of God’s waits for the end of the age and the tribulation period. There cannot be a Jewish remnant on the earth and in the world if God refuses to acknowledge, by any measure, Israel at this time. God has set Israel aside at this present time. All His dealings are by the Spirit with the church. The body of Christ is now being gathered on the earth by the Holy Spirit sent down, consequent to the exaltation of Jesus to God’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23, John 7:39). The Spirit does not enter in to two distinct works at the same time. The true church must be taken from the earth and Christendom set aside by God, before He turns again to Israel and elects and seals a Jewish remnant. The rapture of the church must happen first, before God turns to judge the world, and all things associated with it. Only then will God seal His remnant (Rev. 7:1-8). And note, it is a Jewish remnant, and it is meticulously numbered.