BUT THE ELECT HAS OBTAINED IT
© 2009 Don K. Preston
With six simple words Paul turns much of modern evangelical theology on its head, and yet, far too few commentators seem to realize the power of his words.
While much of what I will offer here will have a specific application to the millennial school of thought, in reality, the implications of what Paul said are relevant and have implications for all theological thought for today.
A QUICK PRIMER ON THE DISPENSATIONAL PARADIGM
To help us understand why Paul’s words in Romans 11:7 are so powerful, we must understand the dispensational view a bit, especially in regard to what was happening in Paul’s ministry and post Pentecost. There are two interconnected tenets of dispensationalism that are relevant to this study.
THE POSTPONEMENT OF THE KINGDOM
One of the most fundamental doctrines of dispensationalism is the idea that Jesus came to establish the Davidic kingdom. He offered that kingdom to Israel (Mark 1:15f), but, Israel rejected that offer. Consequently, YHVH withdrew the kingdom offer, suspending the countdown of Daniel’s Seventy Week prophecy. As an interim, unforeseen measure, since He could not fulfill His promises to Israel, God established the church. The current Christian age will continue until the time of the rapture, when the Lord will take the church out of the world, and then resume His dealings with Israel.
Thomas Ice, in his written debate with Kenneth Gentry, said: “I believe the scriptures teach that Israel could have obtained her much sought after messianic kingdom by recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. We all know the sad reality, the Jews rejected Jesus. As a result the kingdom is no longer near but postponed, awaiting Jewish belief,1 which will occur at the end of the Tribulation.”2 In 2003 Ice also said, “The Kingdom is contingent on Israel’s acceptance of its King. Because even after his resurrection, that nation refused Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (Acts 3:18-26). In fact, the tribulation period did not come; if it had, the promise of the soon coming of the Son of Man would have been a great comfort to the apostles.”3
We could multiply these quotes from virtually all leading dispensationalists. The concept of the postponed kingdom is foundational to dispensationalism. The idea of the interrupted Seventy Week countdown (The Gap Theory4), is so crucial to dispensationalism, that Thomas Ice admits: “Without a futurized (i.e. postponed, DKP), seventieth week, the dispensational system falls apart. There can be no pre-tribulational rapture, great tribulation, or rebuilt temple without the gap.”5
Keep this first tenet of dispensationalism firmly in mind as we proceed to the next element of millennialism.
THE CHURCH / KINGDOM DISTINCTION
Another critical tenet of dispensationalism is that the church, and thus the church age, was totally unforeseen and was not predicted anywhere in the O.T. Now, you must grasp the power of this point as we continue!
Noted dispensationalist John F. Walvoord wrote: “The present age (of the gathering of the church by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ) is a parenthesis or a time period not predicted by the Old Testament and therefore not fulfilling or advancing the program of events revealed in the Old Testament fore view. (my emphasis).6 Likewise, Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice claim, “The church was an unforeseen mystery in the Old Testament,”7 and, “The church began suddenly on Pentecost and will come to an abrupt end8 at the Rapture.”9 Dwight Pentecost, in his encyclopedic work said: “Inasmuch as many passages in the NT such as Ephesians 3.1-6; Colossians 1.24-27 make it clear that the church is a mystery and its nature as a body composed of Jew and Gentile alike was unrevealed in the O.T., the church could not have been in view in this or any other O.T. prophecy.”10 He adds that the church “was entirely unknown in the OT…”(p. 467).
Now, to help us come to focus on Romans 11:7, let me offer a few thoughts for consideration.
The Old Testament prophecies contain the “hope of Israel.”
The church, the body of Christ, was not foretold anywhere in the Old Testament (dispensationalism).
Therefore, the church was not- and could not be– the hope of Israel.
Okay, now keep this second tenet of millennialism firmly in mind as we explore the question: What was the hope of Israel? What was it that Israel desired?
WHAT DID ISRAEL SEEK? WHAT WAS THE HOPE OF ISRAEL?
One could make a veritable catalog of elements that constituted the hope of Israel. As a matter of fact, it would be rewarding to do so. For brevity however, we will only list some of the more prominent tenets of the hope of Israel. We will also offer the New Testament texts that comment on that hope.
The Messiah, the seed of David, was the hope of Israel (Isaiah 11; Haggai 2:7, Acts 2:29).
New Testament Commentary: Peter said that Jesus had been– not one day would be– “made Lord and Christ (Messiah!, Acts 2:29-36f). According to the promises to David, God had raised up Jesus and made him Messiah!
The hope of Israel was her restoration in the acceptable time, the day of salvation (Isaiah 49:6f). New Testament Commentary: Note that in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the prophets, said, “Now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation.”
Peter agreed that the restoration of Israel was underway. Writing to the diaspora, he quotes verbatim from the promise of Hosea 1:9f, and says his audience was experiencing what was promised.
The hope of Israel was the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Isaiah 51; 55; Ezekiel 37; Hosea 2:18).
New Testament Commentary: Jesus died to confirm that promised New Covenant (Matthew 26:26f). Paul who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the prophets, said that the Old Covenant was passing away (2 Corinthians 3:10f; Hebrews 8:13), and that his ministry was for the transformation from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:16-4:1-2).
The hope of Israel was the Messianic Temple (Ezekiel 37; Zechariah 6:13).
New Testament Commentary: Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the prophets, said to the church at Corinth, “You are the temple of God, as it is written, I will dwell in them and walk among them, I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16). Likewise, he said that the temple of God was, through the Spirit, under construction (Ephesians 2:20f). Peter concurred in this (1 Peter 2:4f).
The hope of Israel was to be remarried to her God (Hosea 2:19f).
New Testament Commentary: Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the prophets, said to the church at Corinth, “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Of course, John agreed with this, and proclaimed that in the imminent destruction of the city of Babylo
n, the time of the presentation, the Wedding, would take place (Revelation 19:7).
The hope of Israel, believe it or not, was the calling of the Gentiles (Deuteronomy 32:21f; Isaiah 49:6f; 61:1f).
New Testament Commentary: Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the prophets, was the apostle to the Gentiles, and he said that his ministry was in direct fulfillment of the Old Covenant prophecies! (Romans 10:19-21).
The hope of Israel was the outpouring of the Spirit to raise her from the dead (Ezekiel 37:12f; Joel 2:28f).
New Testament Commentary: Peter affirmed in the most unambiguous language possible, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15f), as he described the events of Pentecost.11 Likewise, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:3f, that the work of the Spirit was transforming them from the ministry of death to the ministry of life. He likewise said that the promised result of the outpouring of the Spirit, righteousness and peace, (Isaiah 32), was already present in Christ (Galatians 5:22f).
The hope of Israel was the New Creation (Isaiah 65-66).
New Testament Commentary: Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the Old Testament prophets, taught that the New Creation was a reality–although awaiting perfection– in Christ: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, see Ephesians 4; Colossians 3, etc.).
John anticipated the promised New Creation and posited it as a direct result of the destruction of the city Babylon, the city “where the Lord was slain” (Revelation 18; 21:1f). He said those things were at hand and coming quickly.
Notice now that not only did Paul say that the remnant was receiving what Israel longed for but in 1 Corinthians 10:11, he said: The end of the ages has come upon us.” This literally means that the goal (telos) of the previous ages had arrived. Clearly, the goal of the previous ages and the desire of Israel are the same.
All of the above is critical: Israel as a people, her land, her city, her temple, her cultus, were all anticipatory, types and shadows of better things to come (Colossians 2:14f; Hebrews 9:24; 10:1-3). The better things to come were the goal, they were the things that Israel longed for.
Israel had a noble and royal purpose as the chosen people of God, and that purpose was to point to the inclusive people, the heavenly land, city, temple and worship! YHVH would never leave Israel until He had fulfilled all of His purposes and promises to and through her (Genesis 28:15f). But, when Israel had served her purpose, and the goal of her existence had been reached, she would no longer hold that distinctive place. The arrival of the body, the substance of what she typified meant that the shadow was to pass. While unexpected and rejected by many in Israel (and today!), who wanted to hold onto the Old Covenant form, this was nonetheless God’s plan all along.
The goal of all the previous ages and God’s eternal purpose was that, “He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him” (Ephesians 1:10). This was to be accomplished in the “fullness of times,” and as we know from Ephesians 2:11f, was being accomplished, not in a restoration of national Israel but in the body of Christ!12 Jesus appeared in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4). Therefore, the time for the goal of the ages to be realized had come with the advent of Christ.
The destination anticipated by the previous ages was, in a word, the kingdom.
Paul’s words belie the millennial paradigm. For Paul, the longed for goal of the previous ages– the desire of Israel– was now upon them, and he was writing about the church.
For our present purposes, it is important to realize that the goal of the previous ages was the end of the old world, and the full arrival of the new. It was the time of the resurrection. Thus, for Paul to say that the end of the ages had come is the same as saying that the time of the resurrection had come! The end of 1 Corinthians 15:24 is not a different time of the end from that in 1 Corinthians 10:11.Nor is the resurrection of chapter 15 a totally different anticipated goal of the ages from that in chapter 10. This means, unequivocally, that the time of the resurrection had arrived.
AN OBJECTION NOTED
Millennialists sometimes seek to counter the above by arguing that what was happening in the first century was that the church was receiving the spiritual promises made to Abraham and Israel, but, that the nationalistic promises remain unfulfilled.
LaHaye and Ice say: “The church is unique in the plan of God and separate from His plan for Israel. While the church partakes of the spiritual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant as fulfilled in Christ, Israel, and not the church, will fulfill her national destiny as a separate entity after the Rapture and Tribulation during the millennium.” (Charting, p. 48– my emphasis). Unfortunately, this does not help, and is actually destructive of the millennial view. Here is why: If it is claimed that the spiritual blessings in the church are the spiritual blessings promised to Abraham and Israel, this falsifies one of the foundational pillars of dispensationalism noted above, i.e. that the church was in any way foretold, or, was the hope of Israel. If spiritual blessings were made to Abraham and Israel in the Old Testament, and if the church is enjoying those promised spiritual blessings, then patently, the church was foretold in the Old Testament. So, this objection not only does not help the millennial position, it is self defeating.
Furthermore, the claim that the nationalistic, i.e. land promises to Israel have never been fulfilled is wrong. There can be no successful argument that Israel never received all– even more!– of the land promised to her by YHVH.13
A direct corollary to the objection above appeals to the context of Romans 9-11 and argues that Paul is discussing the calling of the Gentiles, and how they have achieved righteousness in Christ and his body through the gospel (Romans 9:23-33). This, we are told, proves that Paul is not discussing the Davidic kingdom. The calling of the Gentiles into the body of Christ during the church age constitutes the “times of the Gentiles,” and only came about as a result of Israel’s disobedience and rejection of the kingdom offer. This argument is seriously flawed and overlooks several contextual facts.
Paul affirms that what was going on with the calling of the Gentiles was foretold by the Old Testament prophets. He specifically cites Deuteronomy 32:21 (Romans 10:19), and Isaiah 65:1-2 (Romans 10:20-21), as the source and justification for his ministry and the calling of the Gentiles! Now, if Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 65 foretold the gathering of the Gentiles, i.e. Paul’s ministry, then it is prima facie false to say that the Old Testament did not predict the establishment of the church, and to claim that the Gentile ministry was an unforseen mystery! Remember, Paul said he preached nothing but the hope of Israel, and he cites Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah as the source of his message. Therefore, the calling of the Gentiles was, when properly understood, part of the hope of Israel. It was not a failure of God’s promises. It was not a postponement of God’s promises to Israel. It was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. And this is proven by a closer look at the issue of the righteousness being achieved by the Gentiles.
What the objection noted above fails to honor is that righteousness was
in one way the keynote word to describe the Messianic Kingdom.
When Isaiah described the rule of the coming Branch of the root of Jesse, he described that reign with one key word, righteousness (Isaiah 11:4-5). When that same prophet anticipated the establishment of the kingdom, he said the king would reign in righteousness (Isaiah 32:16-17). As YHVH promised the coming kingdom, He said that He would bring His righteousness to Zion when He placed salvation there. As the prophet anticipated the New Creation he described it in terms of the passing of the Old Creation and the establishment of everlasting righteousness (Isaiah 51:6f; This is probably part of the source of 2 Peter 3:13– “We look for a new heavens and earth where righteousness makes its home”). Likewise, Jeremiah said that the coming king, “shall be called the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5f).
The point is that when Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the Law and prophets, wrote of the Gentiles obtaining righteousness in fulfillment of the Old Covenant prophets, he was not describing something unrelated to the Davidic kingdom promises. He was in fact describing that kingdom! Israel’s own prophecies foretold that when the kingdom was established, the Gentiles would come into that kingdom and find righteousness in the New Covenant! Paul’s discourse in Romans 9-11 then is not a discussion of the failure of Israel’s promises, the postponement of the kingdom, or the establishment of an unknown entity called the church. Paul was proclaiming the faithfulness of God to His kingdom promises.
While it may be true, and was, that Israel did not grasp or gladly accept this message, this does not detract from or negate this truth. Israel was blind to the nature of her kingdom promises, to the identity of her own Messiah, and the integral part that the Gentiles were ordained in that kingdom. In part two of this series, we will explore what Paul meant when he said “the rest were blinded.”
For now, however, please do not overlook or ignore the power of Paul’s words: “Israel has not obtained that for which she sought, but the elect has obtained it...” Since we have established beyond any doubt that the hope of Israel was the Messianic, Davidic kingdom, Paul’s words ring down to us today in resounding refutation of the millennial “postponement” doctrine. Likewise, they ring forth the wonderful message of the faithfulness of God, and, the reality of salvation for all who would call on the name of the Lord.