A FORMER "GENTILE"
By Brian J. Hennessy
The Last Puzzle Piece
There's one more important insight on this subject I'd like to share with you. I first encountered it years later in a book by Batya Wooten, called, "The Olive Tree of Israel." It is such an obvious conclusion to all I've shared, I still can't believe I never saw it. It was like having 2+2 in front of you and never saying, "four!" Let me share it with you now for your prayerful consideration, as briefly as I can.
to it earlier when I said my best explanation of how we former Gentiles got into
Abraham's family was through some form of adoption. Now I'd already begun to
feel a tad uncomfortable with this "adopted" status when I realized
there were other believers who were natural family members. These Jewish
believers, known as Messianic Jews, had been coming to the Lord in droves ever
since the Six-Day War.
Most people are aware of that miraculous Israeli military victory that took place on June 7, 1967, and how it dramatically changed the fortunes of the tiny Jewish nation. But no less dramatic was the spiritual impact it had on Jews everywhere. I was told by a retired Israeli sergeant, an admitted atheist, how when word of the capture of the Western Wall of the temple in Jerusalem reached his platoon down by the Jordan River, a divine hush fell upon them all. It caused that veteran soldier, along with many others, to weep openly and unashamedly!
This event not only marked the start of the Messianic Movement, it ignited a powerful Zionist movement in the USSR. Millions of assimilated Russian Jews suddenly awakened to their Jewish roots and desired to emigrate to Israel. It was as if on that day the veil into the Holy of Holies itself had been penetrated and God was loosed to bless His covenant people once again. The very veil that Paul referred to symbolically, when he said, "to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord the veil is taken away" (2 Cor. 3:15,16). When God manifested His Presence that day, I believe the veil which had kept them from seeing Jesus as their Messiah for centuries, began to be withdrawn.
But just because some Jews were awakening to their Messiah didn't mean they were ready to accept me as a true family member yet. I learned, that for the most part, Messianic Jews did not consider born-again Gentiles to be part of Israel. They had basically appropriated the evangelical teaching of "the two peoples of God" for their own purposes and were fast distancing themselves from "Gentile Christianity." I could appreciate that to a point. I knew how the Church, dominated as it was by Gentiles for centuries, had treated the few Jewish converts it had made. It had required them to blend in by surrendering their traditions and shedding even their Jewish identity. Today's Jewish believers wanted no part of that kind of Christianity. Especially when they also saw how corrupt it had become with pagan influences. But separating from traditional institutional Christianity was one thing. Separating from a complete unity with "Gentile" believers in all aspects of our salvation - including our relationship to Israel - was to divide the Body of Messiah once again.
For someone like myself who had also moved away from the worldly mixture that had become traditional Christianity, and who had awakened to a love for Israel and my new Jewish brethren, this rejection was especially hard. I would attend their meetings occasionally, and although they'd be pleasant and outwardly inclusive, I couldn't escape the feeling of being a second-class citizen. They clearly had both the physical and spiritual credentials to be Israel, whereas I was considered just "spiritual" Israel. From a feeling standpoint, which they did little to discourage, I was back where I started. Explaining to myself that I had been "adopted" into Israel didn't relieve those second-class feelings very much either. Someone who is adopted, no matter how legally included into the family, never quite belongs as much as the flesh-and blood member. But I'd tell myself, at least I'm in the family! I loved to quote Isaiah 56: "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord, say: 'The Lord will surely separate me from His people...for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations."
That's where I was when I read the book by Batya Wooten. Like me, she too had experienced this "second-class thing" being around Messianic Jews. That in spite of the fact that she and her husband, Angus, had poured large amounts of time and money into helping get their movement on its feet. Their reaction was to earnestly seek God's answer to exactly, "Who is Israel?" And the answer they got back was a real eye-opener.
thing I learned from reading her book was that the word "adoption" is
used only five times in the New Testament. And not once is it applied to us as
regarding Abraham's family. It is only used in reference to how we got into
God's family to become "son's of God." (Rom. 8:15,16; 23, 9:4; Gal.
4:5; Eph. 1:5) So how did we get into Abraham's family then if we weren't
adopted? For it says, "If you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham's
offspring..." Saying we've been spiritually "grafted in" is fine
when you're using a tree analogy as Paul did, but for a full answer, we have to
go back 2700 years.
The Civil War
Similar to what happened in the United States, the nation of Israel experienced a massive civil rupture. It took place after the reign of Solomon, about 900 years before Messiah. But unlike in America where the union was ultimately preserved, Israel split apart into two separate kingdoms and was never reunited. As a result, ten of the twelve tribes went north and formed what came to be called the Kingdom of Israel (also called "Ephraim"). The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, became the southern Kingdom of Judah. The story is told in 1 Kings, chapters 11-13. Now the northern kingdom quickly entered into religious apostasy (which was a prophetic parallel of what would happen to the gentilized Christian church) and never recovered. After 200 more years, God had had enough. Through the prophet Hosea he pronounced judgment on them. Not only would they be exiled from the land of Israel (with the help of the Assyrian army), but they would no longer be called "My people." They had wanted so much to live like the Gentiles, now they could live among them. Except for some fragment representatives, all ten tribes disappeared into the Gentile milieu, never to be seen or heard from again.
From an historical point of view they were now ex nihilo. But from a prophetic point of view, their descendants would never be out of God's sight for a moment. The prophets of God had left a light at the end of their long, dark tunnel - a divine promise of future restoration to their God, to their homeland, and to their brother Judah." And it will come about, that in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people, it will be said to them, 'You are the sons of the living God.' And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together" (Hos. 1:10). (See also Hos. 3:4,5; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 37:19,20; Isa. 11:12.)
Now, did this promised physical restoration and reunion ever take place? No, it did not. Not to the degree that the Scriptures declare it. The Scriptures themselves tell us that the banished descendants of Ephraim were still dwelling among the Gentiles as late as 440 BC (see 1 Chron. 5:26). And Josephus, writing in the first century and quoted in the Encyclopedia Judaica, also declared them to be still out there beyond the River.
Is it possible then that those who have been called out from among the Gentiles
are the actual physical flesh-and-blood descendants of those scattered ten
tribes that God promised to restore one day? The Wootens think so. And I agree.
It's the only explanation that makes sense. As Isaiah spoke, "Listen to me,
you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you
were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your
father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain;; When he was one I called
him, then I blessed him and multiplied him..."(Isa. 51:1,2). And the writer
of Hebrews declares that "He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified
(which would include all those redeemed by Jesus, both Jew and non-Jew) are all
FROM ONE, for which reason He (Jesus) is not ashamed to call them BRETHREN.
....For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the SEED
OF ABRAHAM" (Heb. 2:11,16).
The Seed Of Abraham
The question that is most pertinent to this whole discussion is, "what does it mean to be the seed/offspring/descendant of Abraham?" For example, how should we understand Galatians 3:29 where it says, "If you belong to Messiah you are Abraham's seed...?" Does it mean we are a literal physical descendant as I have suggested, or could it be understood in a figurative sense? That is, have Gentiles merely been declared to be Abraham's seed by reason of being in the Body of Messiah - like it was an honorary title that came with believing in Jesus. After all, Jesus is the holy Seed promised to Abraham. And since He is an actual descendant, why couldn't we simply be included in His family by reason of the fact that we are in Him. If He wants to bring all His rowdy Gentile friends into the family and call us "descendants of Abraham" - who can argue?
I suspect most Christians, if pushed to explain what it means for a non-Jewish person to be called the "seed of Abraham," would explain it along those lines. But consider how much trouble God went to in order to make certain there was an unbroken line of descendants from Abraham to Jesus. Even when Abraham tried to palm off his servant Eliezer of Damascus as his heir, God stopped him and said, "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." (Gen 15:2-4) Obviously this physical lineage thing from Abraham was very important to God.
One could argue, perhaps, that maybe the reason God went to all that trouble to maintain a physical lineage was simply because he had to fulfill prophecy. Like He had locked Himself into this promise to Abraham and now He just had to see it through to a literal conclusion. But it could also be argued, that once the prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, why wasn't God free to make anyone or anything He liked after that to be "the descendants of Abraham." As John the Baptist had declared, "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." So then turning Gentiles into descendants shouldn't be too hard a trick for God, either. But is that what He did? Or did He do what he said He was going to do through His prophets - that is locate and bring back all those lost sheep who had long ago been cut off from the family tree (Hos. 1:10). Those who were at that time "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in this world," as Paul described the "Gentile" believer in Ephesians 2:12.
Consider Paul's telling argument in the ninth chapter of Romans where he goes to great length to explain that "they are not all Israel (i.e. not all chosen seed) who are descended from Israel." That is, just because you came from the loins of Abraham, as Ishmael did, or the loins of Isaac, as Esau did, that didn't automatically make you a part of God's chosen family. The point he was making was that God has reserved to Himself the right to choose who is, and who is not, a descendant "...in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand."
But notice Paul is not saying that the definition of Israel has been expanded to include any from outside the physical family of Abraham. He is simply saying that not all the physical descendants are to be considered chosen descendants. In other words, the expression "they are not all Israel who are from Israel," is an exclusive phrase that simply excludes certain physical descendants from being counted among the chosen descendants of Abraham. It is not an inclusive phrase intended to suggest that Gentiles can or will be included. It suggests that only from among the pool of Abraham's physical descendants will God choose those who are to be the true seed of Abraham. It is this chosen remnant who will ultimately be sanctified and manifested as the sons of the living God, as Hosea prophesied (1:10). And we know that the "mark" that distinguishes this chosen seed from the rest of Abraham's offspring (as well as the rest of humanity) is the circumcision made without hands - i.e. the circumcised heart, or born-again spirit. It is this qualifying mark of righteousness that signifies one has come into the covenant of promise that God initiated with Abraham. Now this covenant has been made available to all the descendants, those under the Law and those without the Law, through the atoning sacrifice of Messiah Jesus. This new covenant Paul explains was obtainable only by faith "...in order that the promise may be certain to all the (chosen physical ) descendants, not only to those who are of the Law (the Jews), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham (non-Jews), WHO IS THE (REAL PHYSICAL) FATHER OF US ALL. As it is written, 'A father of many nations (Gentiles) have I made you'" (Rom. 4:16,17).
If there are any real Gentiles in the Church, those who are not direct physical descendants of Abraham, then they are the exception rather than the rule. That, of course, is the opposite of what we have all thought.
Consider this fact also. Isaac was not the only son of Abraham that God promised to multiply greatly. He made the same promise to Ishmael (Gen. 16:10) who was to become the father of the Arabs. Today there are over one hundred million Arabs in the world - but only 15 million Jews! Where in the world are the rest of the descendants of Isaac? Shouldn't the chosen line of Abraham have at least as many as descendants as the line not chosen? (No doubt many are hidden among the Arab world as well.)
I believe Isaiah foresaw the time when God would find and miraculously restore
the missing descendants - much to the shock of the Jewish nation who would be
alive in that day (which I believe is this day). Isaiah writes:
"The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears, the place is too cramped for me; make room for me that I may live here. Then you will say in your heart, 'Who has begotten these for me, since I have been bereaved of my children, and am barren, an exile, and a wanderer? And who has reared these? Behold I was left alone; from where did these come?'" (Isa. 49:20, 21).
The words are reminiscent of Jacob's amazed reaction when he learned that the Gentile leader in Egypt was none other than his son Joseph, who he had long ago given up for dead. In the same way modern Jacob (the Jewish people) will be amazed when they discover that this "Gentile church" is really their long lost relatives. It will be like we came back from the dead. Which of course we did - having been resurrected with Christ!
A Few More Considerations
Without going into any lengthier discussion about this highly rewarding and thought-provoking revelation, let me give you just six Scriptural considerations to chew on. Like everything else in our walk with God, this whole revelation must be received by faith also. I know of no way it can be scientifically proven, unless possibly through DNA testing.
Also, this is should not be considered part of British Israelism (made unpopular by Herbert Armstrong of the Wide World Church of God), which traces the ten lost tribes to the white Anglo-Saxon nations of Europe. Hosea declares that the people were swallowed up among the nations." (8:8) Like food swallowed and absorbed and transformed into skin, hair and bone, the descendants melted into the Gentile world and became "bone of their bone." The only way they can be recognized or "found" again is through the "born-again" experience. As Hosea says in 1;10: "they will be called the sons of the living God."
Here is some more food for thought:
1. Jeremiah prophesied that God would make a new covenant "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jer. 31:31). Not with anyone else. Now if the descendants of the house of Judah were the physical Jews - the ones to whom Jesus came and cut the promised new covenant with - how can we spiritualize the descendants of the other house - the house of Israel - and say they are born-again peoples who came from some other families? That's not being consistent. In fact, it is another form of Replacement Theology.
2. In Paul's continuing argument to include Gentiles into the blessing of salvation that Israel was experiencing through faith in Jesus, he quotes Hosea 2:23: "I will call those who were not My people, 'My people,' and her who was not beloved, 'Beloved.'"(Rom. 9:25). This prophetic word, which Paul applies to the born-again Gentiles, was originally and specifically directed to the members of the banished northern kingdom.
3. In Ephesians, Paul talks about God joining Jews and Gentiles in Messiah and making them "one new man." In the passage he quotes Isaiah, saying "And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near" (Eph. 2:17). He clearly identifies the born-again Gentiles as those "who formerly were far off..."(v.13.) Although this "near and far" terminology certainly has reference to our spiritual closeness to God, in Jewish circles it was also understood geographically as referring to the Ephraimites who were "far" from Jerusalem, and the Jews who were "near.
4. Paul's olive tree analogy in Romans 11 is very revealing. He defines the Jews as "natural" (or cultivated) olive branches. And we former Gentiles as "wild olive branches." What we have overlooked is that the Bible is also identifying us both as olive branches. That means we former Gentiles aren't branches from a palm tree, or a horse chestnut tree. We're of like stock. And the fact that we're called wild (uncultivated) fits the Ephraimite scenario precisely, implying that long ago we too were once cultivated and cared for, but were simply "let go."
5. When Jacob crossed over his blessing hand upon Ephraim, the youngest son of Joseph, he prophesied that "his descendants shall become a fullness of Gentiles" (Gen. 48:19). The only other place in the Bible you find that expression - "melo goyiim" - is in Romans 11:25, 26 where Paul prophesies of the mystery hidden from all the ages but now revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit. He writes to us: "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles (melo goyiim) has come in, and so all Israel will be saved..." I believe the prophecy Ephraim received so long ago will be completed when his chosen descendants, the lost sheep of the household of Israel to whom Jesus was sent, have been found and spiritually retrieved from our wanderings among the Gentiles.
6. The parable of the Prodigal Son takes on new meaning. The Prodigal, the youngest of two brothers, could easily represent the House of Israel who went off to a far country (as Israel was taken away by Assyria). The jealousy which his joyful homecoming aroused in his older brother (representing the House of Judah) who had faithfully adhered to his father's commandments, fits perfectly with Romans 11:11. There we are told that the Law-abiding Jews would react in the very same way as the older brother when they saw the sinful Gentiles being declared righteous by faith. But the point is - the parable reveals they were blood brothers!
This revelation of the physical connection that "Gentile" believers have to Israel, although present in the writings of the New Testament, has been hidden from the Church's understanding for 2000 years. It was our peculiar blindness. Just as Judah endured her blindness through the centuries concerning her Messiah. But now the son of David is opening the eyes of all Israel to bring us forth as one nation under one King!
"Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite and have one leader; they
will return from exile together; what a day that will be - the day when God will
sow His people in the fertile field of their own land again" (Hosea 1:11
My Brother's Keeper
An immediate consequence of this unfolding revelation was that I developed a completely different attitude towards the Jewish people. They were no longer a mysterious people whose place in the big picture was shrouded with questions. They were lost family members who had now been found. A great love and compassion arose within me for their chronic plight. They had been exiled from their homeland for centuries, persecuted in every nation where they took refuge, and continually forced to move on. There were ghettos, the Inquisition, pogroms, and the horrors of the Holocaust. How did they endure? God had to have been with them. I desired to see them finally come into their long-awaited inheritance. Especially since I realized I could now join with them in their celebration.
At the same time I experienced a deep sorrow and repentance as I learned of the sad part Christianity had played in bringing so much of the persecution they suffered upon their heads. Well known Christian leaders like John Chrysostom and Martin Luther, to say nothing of 800 years of papal inquisitions, had savaged them in word and deed. If they needed any more reasons to oppose the gospel, we amply supplied them.
Today, I believe, we are seeing that "the set time to favor Zion," as promised in the Scriptures (Ps. 102:13) has no doubt arrived. God is again blessing the Jewish people as He said He would. The re-establishment of the nation of Israel is perhaps the biggest sign. It is the embryo, I believe, of the coming Kingdom of God. The nation of God that is yet to be born (Isa. 66:8). But equally as dramatic is the fact that more Jews have come to believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah today then in all the generations since the first century. It won't be long now before the final ingathering.
As I became more and more convinced that I was as much a part of Israel as Isaac, Joshua, Elijah, David, and the apostle Paul, I began to notice something else. There were an enormous number of Scriptures concerning the return of Israel to her land - like the one that first caught my attention in Ezekiel. These Scriptures have been virtually ignored in Christian teaching. I'm told there are over 700 of them, almost all in the Old Testament. There are very few subjects in the Bible that are spoken of more often than the re-gathering and restoration of Israel to the land of promise. Yet it is the rare Christian teacher who applies those Scriptures that speak of this future, earth-shaking event to the Church. If considered at all, they're either spiritualized or applied strictly to the Jewish people (an understanding most Messianic Jews support as well).
Yet, when it comes to virtually every other word of promise to Israel in the Old Testament, the Church quickly appropriates it. And rightfully so! "For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). For example, when God promises Israel that none of the diseases of Egypt will be put upon her, we also receive that as our rightful inheritance. When the psalmist tell us "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," we say Amen! When we read in the prophets that, "they that wait upon the Lord, shall mount up with eagle's wings," or "not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit," or "there is no weapon formed against us that shall prosper," - we say Amen! and Amen! and Amen! But what do we say when we read Scriptures that speak of Israel's restoration? Like... "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, ' when they will no longer say, 'As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,' but, 'As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them. Then they will live on their own soil.'"
We say, "That's not for us! That's for the Jews!"
But the truth is, this Scripture, as well as all the other 700, are very
definitely for us! As well as for the Jews! Some might argue that the
ingathering of Jews to Israel since the late 1800's has already fulfilled those
verses. I would answer, only partially. For if you look closely at the verse I
just quoted you see that the exodus described will be a lot more dramatic than
what we've seen so far. It will be an even bigger 'show stopper' than the
parting of the Red Sea under Moses (see also Isa. 11:11)! And that was probably
the most dramatic miracle in the Bible! The ingathering to date is certainly a
miracle - but as the carnival barker says, "you ain't seen nuthin
yet!" When it finally happens, it's going to include all of Israel, both
Jew and Gentile believer, from every corner of the earth. It's going to cause
the entire world to sit up and realize that our God is indeed an awesome God!
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