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JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP
Article 5 of 13:
THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES:
WHAT IT REALLY MEANS
by Sam Nadler
For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25, 26a).
The Mystery of Israel
In the first century great things were happening across the Roman Empire. The faith was spreading like wildfire, but the community of believers living in Rome were yet to be privileged with apostolic teaching which would establish and steady their faith (Romans 1:11, Acts 2:42, Ephesians 2:20). Though God calls Gentile believers in Yeshua to be instruments of His love toward Israel (see Romans 11:11), Paul was concerned that these Roman believers might misunderstand God’s will, and unintentionally become the pawns of Satan. Since the return of Messiah depends upon our people believing on Yeshua (Matthew 23:39; Acts 3:19-21), Satan’s goal is to destroy Israel before the Jewish people as a nation can believe in Messiah and be saved (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1). When Messiah returns Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:1), and knowing his fate, Satan’s tactic today is to get believers to lead self-absorbed lives, rather than God-dependent lives - rendering us ineffective for God’s purposes.
In Romans 11:25 Paul states how we can avoid the snares of the enemy, and understand what God’s will is regarding Israel: For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits. Gentile believers must understand this ‘mystery of Israel’, otherwise ignorance produces arrogance, and that results in disobedience to the will of God.
The Mystery Revealed
A mystery in Scripture is a concealed truth. In the context of chapter 11, Paul is explaining a mystery, not creating one. So our understanding of this mystery has to agree with the context of the rest of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Continuing in verse 25 Paul states exactly what the mystery of Israel is all about: that blindness in part (a partial hardening) is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. The hardening of Israel is partial. Some, not all, of Israel is hardened (11:7), blind (v. 8,10), and broken off from service (v. 17; see June Shmooze). The ‘blindness’ also is not only partial, but temporary as well - until. There has always been a remnant according to grace, called the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), even to this present time (Romans 11:2-5), proving that God has not forsaken a people that He foreknew (11:1,2). Thus there will come a time when, not only will there be a remnant, but all Israel will come to faith in Messiah. Paul especially wanted Gentile believers (v. 13) to understand the matter for this reason: spiritual fulfillment for Gentiles is tied to the spiritual fulfillment for Israel (11:12,15).
Is 'The Church' Israel?
So, just what does fullness of the Gentiles mean? There are three prominent views to be considered. First, some say that the ‘Church’ is Israel; thus the fullness of the Gentiles refers to the glory of the Church. The idea that the Church replaces Israel is sometimes called ‘replacement theology.’ This view of the glory of the Church is incorrect for several reasons.
First, not only is this view grammatically impossible, it is contextually impossible. All the way through Romans 11, “Israel” is referred to as the Jewish people, and distinct from the Gentile believers (vv. 2, 7, 25, 26). Also, it is redemptively impossible. In 11:25, it says blindness in part has happened to Israel, but of the Church Paul says that the eyes of our understanding have been enlightened as to who Messiah is (Ephesians 1:18). Thus the Church as Israel being blind simply makes no sense. Plus, in Romans 11:26 a ‘saved Israel’ is equated with a ‘delivered Jacob’: …The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. The Church, which is not spoken about in this chapter, is made up of those already redeemed, both Jews and Gentiles. Here blinded Israel is spoken of as one that is not yet redeemed, but will be. Finally, the view of the glory of the Church is thematically impossible. The whole theme and purpose of Romans 9-11 is to show God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people, who are Israel (see Romans 9:3,4); it simply does not speak of Israel being replaced by, or identified as the Church.
It's The Rapture, Right?
The second view sees the fullness of the Gentiles referring to the completion of, or Rapture of, the Church. This view maintains that when God fills His quota of Gentiles, and these multitudes are ‘brought in’, or saved, this is the fullness of the Gentiles. In other words, when the last Gentile is saved, then the Rapture takes place (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - 5:5), at which point God begins working among the Jews again. One reason this falls short is that it assumes the body of Messiah is made up of Gentiles only. But, the Body of Messiah is made up of Jews and Gentiles, co-equals in the Lord. And, for all we know, the last person saved before the Rapture might be a Jew!
Fulfilling God's Will
The third view held by a growing number of Messianic and other evangelical believers sees the fullness of the Gentiles as referring to the faithfulness of the Gentile believers. In Romans 11:12 how much more their [Israel’s] fullness? the word fullness has to do with the completion of Israel’s calling, as opposed to their transgression and failure to do God's will (vv. 12,30). Thus the fullness of the Gentiles means Gentile believers will be faithful to fulfill their calling toward Israel: to make Israel jealous.
The fullness of the Gentiles leading to “all Israel” being saved begs the question: When will this happen? When the greatest Jew-hater of all time, the Anti-Christ, comes on the scene. He will attempt to destroy all the Jews (Revelation 12) as well as all believers in Yeshua (Revelation 13,17), and attempt to stop the return of Messiah to rescue Israel. According to Matthew 25:31-46, at this future time Gentile believers around the world will care for the Jewish people, the ‘least of His brethren’. When the Gentiles fulfill their calling to the Jewish people their witness will bring about a turning to Yeshua at Israel’s darkest hour. Though presently the majority of Israel is in unbelief, one day all Israel will be saved. Please note that the text does not say that all Israel may be saved, but that all Israel will be saved. They will turn to Messiah and be saved even as the Prophets, along with Paul, predicted (Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 53; Psalm 118:22, etc.). Israel’s turning to Yeshua brings about His Second Coming from the ‘Heavenly Zion’ to the earthly Zion - Jerusalem! This idea of the Gentiles ministering to Israel is found throughout the Old Covenant: I will make them jealous with those who are not a people (Deuteronomy 32:21); And many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you (Zechariah 2:11; also Isaiah 49:22; 62:6,7). God has always desired the Gentiles who believed in Him to demonstrate their faith by a love for, and ministry to, the people of Israel.
So What Do I do Now?
That’s why we need to share with Jewish people today, as there is still opportunity for them to be made jealous and believe in Messiah. As followers of Messiah, we can have confidence in God’s promises for the future and for today, and fulfill His calling for our lives. If you are not yet a believer in Yeshua, know that the God who will save all Israel in the future is saving Jewish people today, and He will save you now if you will trust in His Son, Yeshua the Messiah.
For additional insight... “My Big Fat Greek Word Study”
Having a grasp of the words Paul used helps us to better understand this ‘Mystery of Israel’. Some Bible versions (NIV) translate this phrase until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. This is unfortunate, and is more of a paraphrase than a translation.
*** If Paul had meant to say full number he could have used a different Greek word: ‘arithmou’, as in Revelation 7:4, the number of those who were sealed; or ‘telestoi’, “full number of days”, even as his student, Luke, used in Luke 1:43 (NASB).
*** Paul used the word ‘pleroma’, and it is never translated anywhere else as full number, but only as fullness (as 11:12). Paul meant fulfilled as in ‘complete, the state of being full.’ In its verb form pleroma means ‘to be full, or filled up’, thus the fullness of the Gentiles has come in refers to the yielding of Gentile believers to God’s will. The result of this will be the salvation of Israel.
Links to prior studies in the Jewish Evangelism
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Sam Nadler is director of Word of Messiah Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. This article is reprinted
with permission from Word of Messiah's website, and may be viewed in its original
form at wordofmessiah.org/aug_04_1.htm. Many other fine articles
and other features may be found at Word of Messiah. Thank you, Sam.
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