The Fullness of the Gentiles
Ask anyone to name the major end times passages in the new testament scriptures and I doubt anyone would say Romans 11. And yet there it is. Important end times events are recorded there especially in relation to Israel and the Gentiles. In this study, let’s be extra careful. Many people try to make Romans 11 to be about the relationship between Israel and the church, but the word church doesn’t appear anywhere in the passage. Israel and the Gentiles are the topics, and so we must not stray. The idea is there but I will use the word church only after other passages have been brought in.
The topic of the Fullness of the Gentiles should be one that intrigues us, especially if you are a Gentile and not an Israelite. Gentiles are currently being saved by becoming Christians or Messiah-ones all over the earth. A remnant of Israelites are saved even now, but the majority of the nation of Israel is in blindness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.
According to Romans 11, God has a purpose for Gentiles being saved during this time. The Apostle Paul writes that God has not cast away the people of Israel, but that there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Gentiles are currently being saved to provoke the nation of Israel to jealousy. This is a part of God’s overall plan to bring salvation to the entire world and it was forecasted way back in Deuteronomy 32:21. Moses knew (or at least foretold) about the salvation of the Gentiles, see Romans 10:19 with 11:11-12.
10:19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now wait a second. Is Paul saying that people like me, Gentiles, are only being used by God to get to His real people, the Israelites? What happens after God gets Israel to turn to Him? What happens after this temporary blindness is lifted from the nation of Israel? Paul states that Gentiles should not fret, but rejoice at the thought that the nation of Israel would repent and turn to God, see Romans 11:11-12. If God uses the failure and sin of Israel for our salvation, how much more will God use the fullness of Israel for our benefit? Paul continues this thought by asking that “if the rejection of Israel means the reconciling of the world, what will the acceptance of Israel mean but life from the dead?” Life from the dead? Wait, is Paul linking the acceptance of Israel as a nation with the resurrection? All of us are looking forward to our bodily resurrection, but what if the resurrection cannot happen until Israel repents and believes on Jesus of Nazareth as her Messiah? See Acts 3:19-21 to see this general principle that the repentance of Israel prompts the coming of Christ.
Paul goes on to explain that Gentiles who belong to Christ are currently grafted in to the believing remnant within the nation of Israel in some way, see Romans 11:16-24. In Romans 15:8-12, Paul summarizes that Christ came to Israel to confirm those promises made to them, and for this reason Gentiles should rejoice alongside the nation of Israel. In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul explains the mystery of Christ, that Gentiles who were formerly foreigners to the commonwealth of Israel are now benefactors; those who were formerly strangers to the covenants are now participants in those covenants made to Israel. The reason why Gentiles can rejoice is because Jesus was faithful to the nation of Israel. Why wouldn’t Gentiles want Christ to continue to be faithful to those covenant promises to Israel?
Thus far we have only laid the groundwork for the big event that Paul foretells in Romans 11. It’s a pretty big deal called The Fullness of the Gentiles. Paul links the end of the blindness of Israel with The Fullness of the Gentiles. I do not equate The Fullness of the Gentiles with the times of the Gentiles mentioned in Luke 21:24. The times of the Gentiles refers to Gentile dominion over the nation of Israel, specifically control over Jerusalem. The Fullness of the Gentiles refers to the salvation of the Gentiles during this current time period of Israel’s blindness. When this Fullness of the Gentiles comes in, then, Paul states, all Israel will be saved as Isaiah 59:20-21 is fulfilled.
Let’s look at Isaiah 59 as a whole. The following is a brief storyline summary. The LORD begins addressing the state of Israel by saying that His hand is not too short that it cannot save them. The problem is that their sins have separated them from God. Then Isaiah describes the sinfulness of the nation of Israel in quite graphic terms. This summary is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:15-17 when describing how people living under the law are just as sinful as Gentiles living without the law. When you read about this violence, immorality, spiritual blindness, vanity, and deceit, you might think of the world in general. But these words were originally addressed to God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel! God looked down on their pitiful state and saw that there was no one to save them, so He determined to bring salvation and righteousness to them. Toward the end of the chapter, the LORD speaks of coming against His enemies to repay as a fear of the name of the LORD will be from East to West. It doesn’t say who these enemies are. Now let’s look at the event that Paul quotes and note the differences between Isaiah’s text and Paul’s text.
Isaiah 59:20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. 21 “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.”
Romans 11:26 “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
Notice the differences. In Isaiah, The Redeemer comes TO Zion. In Romans, the Deliverer comes OUT OF Zion. In Isaiah, He comes to those who turn from sins. In Romans, He Himself is the one turning away the sins. In Isaiah, His covenant is given with His Spirit which remains upon them and on their descendants. In Romans, His covenant is that He takes away their sins.
Notice the commonality. Both use the term Jacob instead of Israel. Both describe a perpetual salvation. Isaiah describes descendants never losing the Spirit. Paul states that all Israel will be saved. In both cases, the covenant is with Jacob (Israel). In Isaiah, the fear of the LORD is from East to West, denoting Gentiles learning to trust in this Savior, see also Isaiah 42:1-4. In Romans, Gentiles are grafted in to the same olive tree. Both passages convey the grand plan of God to bring salvation to the Gentiles but fulfill His promises to Israel.
Jesus had hinted at this in His earthly ministry, especially if you examine Matthew’s account. Read Matthew 16:17-19, 21:33-44 especially verse 43, but then also notice 23:37-39. Jesus promises to build His church. The vineyard will be taken away from Israel and given to another people. The LORD longed to gather His people, but they were unwilling, and now there will be a future day when the nation of Israel will fulfill Psalm 118:26 (see also 118:22) as they believe on their Messiah. These gleanings demonstrate the transition away from the nation of Israel to the church. This church at first will be completely Israelite in nature, but will eventually include all Gentiles just as they are, saved by grace through faith.
Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
There is a transition point that Paul is trying to convey in Romans 11. Paul is foretelling the transition back to the nation of Israel when their spiritual blindness is lifted. He links this event with The Fullness of the Gentiles. This doesn’t mean Gentiles will no longer be included in the plan of God, but included on an even grander scale. In verses 28-32, Paul reminds his readers that all of us were in unbelief at one point. The nation of Israel in current unbelief is no different than any sinful person to whom God extends mercy. God’s plan to show mercy to the entire world is irrevocable, nothing can stop it. In our eschatological framework, we should include this event on our timeline. God plans to lift the blindness of the nation of Israel and this should be a cause of great rejoicing amongst all Gentiles, read again Romans 15:8-12. This should be linked with the second coming of Christ if we take literally the Redeemer coming to Zion, but also coming out of Zion. As He comes to Zion, He comes to that believing remnant, those who turn away from sin, those who have repented. As He comes out of Zion, He comes to turn them away from sin, to lead and pasture His people, see Jeremiah 23:5-8, Isaiah 11:1-11, and other related prophecies. These are two aspects of the same event.
There are so many transitions that happen at the coming of Our LORD Jesus Christ. This Fullness of the Gentiles in conjunction with the lifting of the blindness of Israel should be significant enough to get some attention. It would seem that there would be some mention of it in the book of Revelation, and there is! The language isn’t quite the same, but the full number of Gentiles, the nation of Israel, it’s all there in one chapter. Just as the baton was passed from the unbelieving nation of Israel to the believing remnant within all nations, the baton will be passed back and we read about this in Revelation 7. As with many of the transitions, such as the transition of persecution against God’s people to vengeance on behalf of God’s people (see II Thessalonians 1:4-10), the transition from Satan’s wrath to God’s wrath, the transition from great tribulation against the church to the wrath of God against unbelievers, this transition also happens at the sixth seal. The sixth seal is opened in Revelation 6:12 and Revelation chapter 7 describes the results.
First, in Revelation 7:1-8, we see a believing remnant of Israelites, 144,000 total, sealed to remain protected through the wrath of God here on this earth. The wind is not even allowed to blow, not one leaf of a tree be harmed until these 144,000 are completely protected by God. (Bonus: read Psalm 46 with the mindset of this believing remnant being protected during this time.) God has turned His attention back to His people Israel. This should show us that the blindness has been lifted; Israel has repented, at least the first fruits. Next, in Revelation 7:9-17, a full number of Gentiles, so full that no man can number them, is present before the throne of God. God’s chosen Gentiles are in heaven while God’s chosen Israelites are on earth. Here we have the fullness of the Gentiles as the baton is passed back to Israel. Notice also the resurrection connection. Paul had stated that “life from the dead” would occur at this time. Revelation 7:17 is a clear reference to Isaiah 25:8 which is one of the most well known resurrection passages in the prophets, see I Corinthians 15:54. It is further expounded upon in Isaiah 26:19-21. Every indicator is that this is the transition point from the church back to Israel, and it occurs at the sixth seal.
Many people will not accept this position because they have a preconceived framework whereby the church has been removed well before the sixth seal. They do not believe that the church would come out from the great tribulation because they do not believe God will allow the church to go through the great tribulation. But where else in all of Revelation do you find in one passage evidence of The Fullness of the Gentiles, the believing remnant of Israelites, and the resurrection of the saints? Combine this with the fact that at the cosmic signs in Matthew 24:29-31, the nations can see Christ coming in power and glory. The cosmic signs in Revelation also occur at the sixth seal, see Revelation 6:12-17. In both passages the nations are in terror, or mourning at this sight, because as we know, every eye will see Him. Notice Revelation 1:7 uses the Greek word kopto used to describe intense lamentation which is the same word used in Matthew 24:30.
If the sixth seal is the point where Israel’s blindness has been lifted and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, it only makes sense that directly before the sixth seal that the nation of Israel was provoked to jealousy by this nation that isn’t really a nation. Just before the sixth seal, according to Romans 11, the Gentiles have successfully provoked the nation of Israel to jealousy. How did it happen? Let’s look at what is directly before the sixth seal. That would be the fifth seal. What do we see? We see souls who have given their lives for the word of God and for their testimony. They are crying out for vengeance to God. The answer given to them is to wait until more of them are killed. But that’s not quite what it says. What does it say exactly? Rest for a little while until their brothers that should be killed are “fulfilled”. The Greek word used here, pleroo, is a root word for what Paul uses to describe the fullness of the Gentiles in Romans 11:25, pleroma. The fifth seal is describing the fullness of the Gentiles in the midst of the great tribulation and the provoking of the nation of Israel to jealousy. Then the sixth seal is that transition point spoken of in Romans 11:25.
If we want to experience the resurrection at the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ, we must be ready to step out in faith and give our lives for the word of God and for our testimony that Jesus Christ is the LORD. The fullness of the Gentiles is what provokes the nation of Israel to jealousy which is what prompts the return of Christ. Believers should not be afraid to step out in faith and die for Israel’s Messiah. When Israel sees Gentiles dying for their Messiah during this time of great persecution, they will be brought to this point. The blindness will be lifted as they repent for their stubbornness, blindness, and sinfulness. It will be the finest hour for the church, but it will cost many of us our lives. Mark 13:9-11 tells us that the persecution is how the gospel will be preached to the entire world in such a short period of time. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God, Acts 14:22.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Excellent commentary on the Fullness of the Gentiles and it’s implications. Thanks and God Bless.
Oh my…oh my! How you have fed me this morning! I have been struggling with Revelation 6 and 7 for years. I could see the rapture but the timeline was not even close to making sense to me. I have been praying God would reveal to me the Truth. He has used your words to confirm with my Spirit, what the Spirit says. Thank you, and may we meet someday after our work is done.
Excellent. Besides the Orange Mailman, may I suggest anything from Alan Kurschner, or Jacob Prasch. Both have written excellent books on the subject relating to the rapture and beyond. Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks to the King of Kings!
Thank you. I suggest this post here if you want to understand Revelation chronology.
Thank you very much. I got quite a bit in there that I have been mulling over.
following your line of thought, their stubbornness to see Jesus as Messiah is what is getting Christians killed before their eyes and perhaps they finally connect Jesus’ crucifixion and our martyrdom as hinging on their unbelief. Definitely a new concept for me but it makes perfect scriptural sense! thanks for digesting this and sharing!
Thank you, yes, but all part of God’s plan.