The Remnant of Israel: Past, Present and Future
Recently we investigated the relationship between the Church and the Jews and today we focus on the topic of the doctrine of the remnant of Israel. We investigate the ramifications of this doctrine as well as the development of this doctrine in categories of time, namely past, present and future.
The Doctrine of the Remnant of Israel
This doctrine states that there are always some Jewish believers within the nation of Israel, with one possible exception: the moment after the rapture has taken place. The concept of the remnant of Israel refers to all the Jewish believers within the nation of Israel, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all through to the end of the millennium. According to Fruchtenbaum (2005:4), there are two Israel’s: Israel the whole and Israel the remnant. Ethnically the two Israel’s are the same, but spiritually they are not. Paul states that ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel’ (Romans 9:6; NKJV). The remnant of Israel, also known as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), refers to only those Jews who are believers. At any point in the history of the Jewish nation, the remnant of Israel may be large or small, but there is never a time when it is non-existent, except perhaps immediately after the rapture.
Ramifications of the Doctrine of the Remnant of Israel
There are five ramifications of this doctrine that may be noted. First, only believers make up the remnant of Israel. Second, not all believers are part of the remnant of Israel, for this is a Jewish remnant and comprise only of Jewish believers. Third, the remnant of Israel is always part of the nation of Israel as a whole, not detached from the nation as a separate entity, so it is distinct but not separate. Fourth, Jewish believers during the Church age (from Pentecost until the rapture) have dual citizenship: they are part of the remnant of Israel (i.e. the Israel of God) as well as the Church, the Body of Christ. Five, within the concept of the remnant, there is a twofold contrast: a contrast between the miraculous and the non-miraculous and a contrast between the noise and the quiet.
The Remnant of Israel in the Past
The concept of the remnant of Israel was present from the very beginning of Israel’s history but as a doctrine, as a theology, it only became clearly evident with Elijah the prophet. Elijah thought he was the only person in Israel who did not bow the knee before Baal, but God told him otherwise: the remnant of Israel at that time comprised seven thousand who followed God.
Isaiah described the remnant of Israel concept in theological terms, specifically in chapters 7-12. These six chapters are called the “Book of Immanuel” and show that the remnant has a quiet confidence in the God of Israel and the One to come, Immanuel (cf. also Matthew 1:23; 11:3). The Messiah, Immanuel, would become the point of division between the remnant of Israel and the non-remnant. In other words, the Messiah, Immanuel, would prove to be a sanctuary for the remnant of Israel, but for the non-remnant, He would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
The Remnant of Israel in the Present
In the New Testament, the doctrine of the remnant of Israel is found in Romans 9-11, briefly referred to in Galatians 6:16 and further dealt with in 1 Peter 2:1-10. Concerning the first book written by the apostle to the circumcision, which is clearly addressed to Jews outside the land of Israel (1 Peter 1:1-2), Peter is not drawing a distinction between Israel and the Church or between unbelieving Jews and believing Gentiles, but rather Peter is distinguishing between Jews who believe (the remnant of Israel) and Jews who do not believe. For example, the Church is not a race, but comprises of believers from all the nations. Peter, however, writes to Jewish believers in the Church age and reminds them that they are an elect race (1 Peter 2:9-10), referencing the fact that Israel as a nation was elected by God for specific purposes. Even though ‘this generation in Israel’ committed the unpardonable sin to reject Jesus the Messiah during the First Advent, does this mean God has permanently and totally rejected Israel? Paul twice answered this question most emphatically in the negative in Romans 11:1 and 11: Perish the thought! God forbid, no! Please read Fruchtenbaum (2005:8-33) for a detailed discussion of the remnant of Israel in the present age. He deals in detail with 1 Peter 2:1-10 as well as Romans 9-11. Again, keep in mind that Jewish believers during the Church age have dual citizenship: they are members of the remnant of Israel (i.e. the Israel of God) as well as members of the Body of Christ.
The Remnant of Israel in the Future
Since all Jewish believers of all time are part of the remnant of Israel, it stands to reason that all individual Jews who become believers during the seven-year Tribulation will also be part of the remnant of Israel. This includes, for example (and more examples can be given), the 144 000 Jews (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5) and the Jews of Jerusalem who will become believers during the middle of the Tribulation (Revelation 11:13).
Romans 11:25-27 states that ‘all Israel will be saved’. Does this mean Jews will be saved just because they are ethnically Jews? Of course not, they will be saved because they put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus the Messiah. Still, according to Isaiah 10:20-23, only the remnant will be saved. Is there not a contradiction? No there is not. During the Tribulation, two-thirds of all Jews will perish but one third will survive the Tribulation. Towards the end of the Tribulation, for the first time ever, every Jew physically living will have become a believer in Jesus the Messiah and therefore at that stage all Israel will be equal to the remnant of Israel (thus they will all be believers). And it is these believers who will confess Israel’s national sin, and say ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ (Matthew 23:39; cf. Hosea 5:15-6:3; Zechariah 12:10). Then the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the earth.
If you would like to find out more about the remnant of Israel, we suggest you consider reading the original article by Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, ‘The Remnant of Israel: Past, Present and Future’.
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